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Reading: Environmental Justice in Chile: The Price of Success


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Environmental Justice in Chile: The Price of Success


Ernesto Sagás

Colorado State University
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On August 5, 2010, a collapsed tunnel at the San José copper mine in northern Chile trapped one of the mine’s fortified shelters when tunnels above them collapsed. They not only managed to survive the accident, but had on hand two days’ worth of food. These meager supplies—strictly rationed—enabled them to survive until small supply boreholes reached them on August 22nd. It took sixty-nine days to rescue the miners by drilling a larger borehole and using a rescue capsule to pull them out, one miner at a time. The saga of Los 33 (“The thirty-three ones,” as they became popularly known) riveted the Chilean public and the international community for weeks, and the climatic final extraction of the miners (accomplished in less than twenty-four hours) was watched live by millions across the world. thirty-three miners some 700 meters underground. Luckily for them, they were gathering for lunch in The story was punctuated by developments like the mining company (Empresa Minera San Esteban) declaring bankruptcy and the Chilean government taking over the rescue efforts, the heart-tugging messages between the trapped miners and their relatives who were literally camping on the surface, the swarm of international media outlets descending on the site to cover the event, the surge in the polls for newly-installed Chilean President Sebastián Piñera (who turned the rescue of Los 33 into a personal matter and a top priority for his administration), and even the birth of a baby girl named Esperanza (Spanish for Hope) to one of the miners while he was trapped underground. In the end, all thirty-three miners and six rescuers came out alive and well, and were received as heroes, with job offers and TV interviews aplenty. There is even a Hollywood movie being planned.

How to Cite: Sagás, E., (2012). Environmental Justice in Chile: The Price of Success. Middle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies. 25(1), pp.5–19. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2012.
Peer Reviewed


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