Chile's Rescued Miners: From iPods to Poverty

By Cindy Waxer October 18, 2010

The 33 Chilean miners trapped for more than two months surfaced last week to the cheers of onlookers – and a menagerie of gifts.

According to Reuters, a local singer-turned-businessman gave each of the miners $10,000. Real Madrid and Manchester United have invited them to watch them play in Europe. A Greek firm has offered an islands tour. Oakley handed out pairs of sunglasses. And even Apple’s Steve Jobs joined in the celebrations, sending each of the men an iPod. Not bad considering that each of the miners earned a mere $1,600 per month.

The story of these Chilean miners has captivated the world for more than two months, ever since the 33 men became trapped beneath 700,000 tons of rock in a collapsed mine. Last Wednesday, a 190-by-54-centimetre metal capsule, dubbed Phoenix 1, painstakingly carried each miner to the surface one by one through a rescue shaft, which took weeks to drill. The 20-hour operation involved using a winch that hoisted the capsule to the surface at a speed of 7/10ths of a meter per second. The capsule could be pulled as fast as three meter per second if needed.

In the meantime, Chile’s government has already deposited $12,000 in donations in the miners’ bank accounts, and promises of book and movie deals abound. And the rescued men have been offered jobs with larger mining operations with reassuring safety records. The collapsed San Jose mine is now inoperable, and its owners have declared bankruptcy.

Despite iPod hand-outs, the rescued miners return to lives of abject poverty. Currently more than 40 percent of the country's wealth is concentrated in the hands of just 10 percent of the population. In Latin America, only Brazil and Guatemala have less equitable income distribution. The result: a socio-economic divide in which a tiny middle class is caught between a huge poverty-stricken rural population and a small and powerful elite, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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