Saturday, October 16, 2010

The miners are rescued, and their memories unearthed

LUIS URZUA led the shift underground, and was last to be freed. Luis was used to hardship and responsibility young, looking after the younger kids. His father and his stepfather were both murdered by Pinochet's regime

NOW that we have all been delighted to see the Chilean miners rescued, witness and share in the joy of their families, it is not a bad time to look at some of the circumstances.

We'll note in passing another piece of good news, that Baroness Thatcher was too ill to attend her 85th birthday party. Maybe we'll get the news we've been waiting for in time for those street parties by the end of the year after all.

To those brought up in Thatcher's (and Blair's) Britain and used to its right-wing press, it must have come as a shock to see men come crawling from underground, and be told that down there, children, is where wealth is created, and not in the City finance houses or by 'celebrities' on catwalks.

We know now that the miners had warned about dangers in this mine, and in the methods being used to speed up the extraction of ore. We know that the mine owners in their generosity did not pay the men's wages while they were trapped underground. And now the companies are excited that in the course of the rescue operation richer gold and copper deposits were found.

But here's John Pilger, of whom it has been said, "For more than a generation, he has been an ever stronger voice for those without a voice and a thorn in the side of authority, the Establishment.

'The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and the
inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely
changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is
Chile’s gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits.
There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in
Chile’s privatised
mines. The San Jose mine, where the men work, became so
unsafe in
2007 it had to be closed – but not for long. On 30 July last, a
department report warned again of “serious safety deficiencies”,

but the minister took no action.
Six days later, the men were entombed.

'For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a
country of the unspoken. At the Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the
capital Santiago, a sign says: “The forgotten past is full of memory.” This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that General Augusto Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beauty of the Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams".

It was on September 11, 1973, "Chile's own 9/11", as Pilger reminds us, that reforming Chilean president Salvador Allende's elected Socialist government was overthrown by Thatcher's friend General Pinochet.
Allende's government had been held up as proof that you could advance to socialism by a "peaceful road", but the CIA and the military put a stop to that after he expropriated American-owned copper mining companies.

Thousands of Chilean workers and students were rounded up by the junta, or fled as refugees. The labour movement and Left here were horrified by mass executions and torture in Chile, but with Pinochet came Chicago school monetarist economics,and the Right took it as inspiration.

A group of print trade unionists picketing over an in-house dispute on Fleet Street one-night were approached by two lubricated 'gentlemen of the press', who asked what it was about. They explained their issue politely (they were members of the now long-merged Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Engravers, SLADE, real gentlemen and ladies). "Well, I should not worry about", one of the editors said, "in six months time your union will be destroyed, and you will be lying dead in the gutter".

Peregrine Worsthorne visited the Chilean prison camp on Dawson Island, and saw no sign of brutality or torture. The left-wing prisoners were lucky to still be alive, he thought. Besides, if a British socialist government tried to "turn this country into a Communist State, I hope and pray our armed forces would intervene to prevent such a calamity as efficiently as the armed forces did in Chile."

When Pinochet came to Britain it was only right that Tories like Worsthorne and Thatcher stood by their man. In Chile, according to Pilger, you see little sign of Allende's name being remembered, though plainly what people remember may not be reflected in official public memory.

"Today, Chile is a democracy, though many would dispute that,
notably those
in the barrios forced to scavenge for food and steal
electricity. In 1990,
Pinochet bequeathed a constitutionally
compromised system as a condition of
his retirement and the
military’s withdrawal to the political shadows. This
ensures that
the broadly reformist parties, known as Concertacion, are

permanently divided or drawn into legitimising the economic
designs of the
heirs of the dictator.

At the last election, the right-wing Coalition for
Change, the
creation of Pinochet’s ideologue Jaime Guzman, took power
president Sebastian Piñera. The bloody extinction of
true democracy that
began with the death of Allende was, by
stealth, complete.
Piñera is a billionaire who controls a slice
of the mining, energy and
retail industries. He made his
fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup
and during the
free-market “experiments” of the zealots from the University
of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys. His brother and
former business
partner, Jose Piñera, a labour minister
under Pinochet, privatised mining
and state pensions
and all but destroyed the trade unions.

This was
applauded in Washington as an “economic miracle”,
a model of the new cult
of neo-liberalism that would sweep
the continent and ensure control from
the north. Today Chile
is critical to President Barack Obama’s rollback of the

independent democracies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Piñera’s closest
ally is Washington’s main man, Juan Manuel
Santos, the new president of
Colombia, home to seven US
bases and an infamous human rights record
familiar to
Chileans who suffered under Pinochet’s terror.

Post-Pinochet Chile has kept its own enduring abuses in shadow.
families still attempting to recover from the torture or
disappearance of a
loved one bear the prejudice of the state and

Those not silent are
the Mapuche people, the only indigenous nation
the Spanish conquistadors
could not defeat. In the late 19th century,
the European settlers of an
independent Chile waged their racist War
of Extermination against the
Mapuche who were left as impoverished
outsiders. During Allende’s thousand
days in power this began to change.
Some Mapuche lands were returned and a
debt of justice was recognised.
Since then, a vicious, largely unreported war has been waged against the

Mapuche. Forestry corporations have been allowed to take their land,
their resistance has been met with murders, disappearances and
prosecutions under “anti terrorism” laws enacted by the
dictatorship. In
their campaigns of civil disobedience, none of the
Mapuche has harmed

The mere accusation of a landowner or businessman that the
“might” trespass on their own ancestral lands is often
enough for the
police to charge them with offences that lead to
Kafkaesque trials with
faceless witnesses and prison sentences
of up to 20 years. They are, in
effect, political prisoners.

While the world rejoices at the spectacle of the miners’ rescue,
Mapuche hunger strikers have not been news. They are
demanding an end to
the Pinochet laws used against them,
such as “terrorist arson”, and the
justice of a real democracy.
On 9 October, all but one of the hunger
strikers ended their
protest after 90 days without food. A young Mapuche,

Luis Marileo, says he will go on.
On 18 October, President Piñera is due to
give a lecture
on “current events” at the London School of Economics.
should be reminded of their ordeal and why.

And now, about a working class hero against whom Chile's rulers had committed their crimes well-before he was old enough to go down the mine.

The difficult life of Luis Urzua, the last miner to come to the surface

Translation of extracts from an article in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo

... Urzua was the first to speak to the outside world and the last to
leave the mine .. The Chilean government and NASA describe him as a natural leader
.. He has become the man who has spent longest underground ever
.. His father and stepfather were killed during the Pinochet

Little is known of Luis Urzua (54) and his family, he is the one who
has spoken least out of the 33 rescued. But this shift leader, from
Vallenar, was as important as the mining minister, Laurence Golborne or the
Codelco engineer, Andre Sougarret, who led the rescue operation. Without him,
there would have been no rescue.

The shift leader in San Jose, a topographer by trade, was the first to
speak to the outside world. “Hallo, who am I talking to?” said
Golborne. “can you hear me?” asked a voice from 650 metres down. “we can hear you
loud and clear, who am I talking to?” “you are talking to the shift
leader. Luis Urzua. We are OK. Waiting to be rescued”.

…….After 67 days of suffering and happiness, the man deserves his world
record. But few know how hard the life of this born fighter has been.
A calm person, the oldest of six children, he helped bring up the younger
ones. He had to. While Luis was still a child, his father, also Luis
Urzua, was killed by the dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He was a member of
the Communist Party. His stepfather, Benito Tapia, was also killed, by
the “caravan of death” (a squad led by generals that went from prison to
prison carrying out assassinations).

He was a member of the Socialist Party.
NASA says that Luis Urzua is a “natural leader”…..The mother of the
“hero of Copiapo”, Nelly Iribarren, says “My son has always been very
disciplined, he was the one in charge among the children. As my husband
died when they were small, Luis was the man of the house,, he helped me
bring them up and he always made the rules”.

“Luis has been a miner for 31 years, he knows about underground rescue
and first aid, and so we knew that he would look for some way to get out.
And I can imagine “mi negro” going round and sorting everyone out, rationing
food and handing out tasks because he is like that, bossy but organised”
said his mother, who did not go to Camp Hope set up round the mine
because of her health.

What this good woman does not talk about is the suffering caused her and
her children, which includes the time Luis has spent underground. Of
Luis’ first father we know little. Just that he was also called Luis Urzua
and he disappeared under the Pinochet dictatorship. We know more about
Nelly Iribarren’s second husband.

Benito Tapia Tapia, 32, worked for Cobresal and was Luis Urzua’s
stepfather, all the father Luis had. He was a national leader of the
Confederation of Copper miners and member of the Central Committee of
the Socialist Youth. On 17th September 1973, he was arrested and taken to
Copiapo prison. From there to the barracks and then he lived no more.
Benito was assassinated by the Caravan of Death along with the managing
director of Cobresal, Ricardo Garcia Posada and Maguindo Castillo
Andrade, another trade union leader like him.

At nine in the morning on Wednesday 17th October, major Carlos Brito of
the Atacama Regiment based in Copiapo took Ricardo out of the public
prison, and at 19.20 the same day sergeant Oscar Pasten did the same
with Benito Tapia and Maguindo Castillo. All three were taken to the
barracks. From there they went to the cemetery. “The shooting of Garcia, Castillo
and Tapia was led by lieutenant Ramon Zuniga Ormeno along with sub
lieutenant Fernando Castillo Cruz” was the statement given to judge Juan
Guzman by Diaz Araneda a few years ago. Arturo Araya, who was Juan
Mendoza (the legal doctor)’s assistant, arrived at the Copiapo morgue early on
the morning of 18th October. He saw three bodies lying covered by white
sheets on slabs. He went to uncover one to undress it and start the autopsy
but the cemetery administrator stopped him “these bodies are untouchable”
he said.

The three bodies were buried with no coffins in an open trench in Patio
16. In the register, Garcia was given number 13, Tapia 14 and Castillo
15. some days later, Bernardo Pinto, a worker in Cobresal, paid a
gravedigger to open the grave and never forgot what he saw. When they came to the
surface, “they had no coffins and the three bodies were destroyed, with
deep cuts to the face, trunk, legs, in some you could see the bones in
the wounds” said Bernardo. Soon afterwards, the three bodies, including
Benito’s, disappeared forever from the cemetery.

Maglio Cicardini, mayor of Copiapo and Sergio Iribarren, Luis’ cousin,
corroborate the story. “It is true, his father and stepfather were
assassinated”. Jaime Tapia, brother of the murdered Benito, was in Camp
Hope and represents Luis. Asked if his brother was assassinated by the
dictatorship, he replied “I can tell you nothing, it will all come out
when it should, after they are rescued”.

(thanks to Sue Lukes for making this available).

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