by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
October 17, 2010
KILLING DEMOCRACY, ONE DOLLAR AT A TIME
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 13, 2010 -- On the broad shoulders of a young Chilean miner the hopes and hearts of a battered nation and a worried world were lifted to the surface of a remote desert mine where he once labored in obscurity, only to find himself Tuesday night in a glaring spotlight cast by more than 2,000 journalists from 200 countries after he spent 68 days in captivity with 32 colleagues half a mile beneath the earth.
There has been little in history to rival the saga of these men trapped by a cave-in in a subterranean shelter where for 17 days no one above knew if they were dead or alive. When discovered the first shouts of jubilation were quickly replaced with expressions of doubt and worry about the competence of the mine's owners and the Chilean government to lift from their underground hell, while the only food, two cans of tuna, was carefully doled out over weeks to sustain their lives.
For Chileans, it became a test of whether their South American nation, devastated by a global recession and struck just months ago by a shattering earthquake, could muster the strength to overcome the many and daunting obstacles to rescue and bring the trapped miners back to their families. Chileans soon found they were not alone.
An outpouring of technical aid from from around the world, including high-tech drill bit technology from the United States - where at least two similar mine disasters claimed lives in recent years - overcame the most profound of those challenges, grinding through strata of marble with teeth of steel that cut the anticipated Christmas rescue date by more than two months.
On the surface their wives and children waited with a stoic, prayerful patience, focusing their prayers through simple shrines of candles, family photos, favorite things and memory to the Creator that made them all. An army of journalists from across the globe made their noisy way to the Chilean town of Copiapo, where they would soon find accommodations in plain tents on hard earth as they waited for a change in fortunes, if it would come, that would electrify the world.
As rescue work progressed and tensions among corporate, governmental, familial, technical and media camps gave way to the stirring hope of rescue, narrow tubes reached the miners to resupply them with everything from low-calorie foods and cell phones to antibiotics and cigarettes. Images of the miners in their rocky cell were soon beamed to a world that was probably on the verge of forgetting them entirely when the moving images of them singing patriotic songs beneath a sea of rock finally arrived in the living rooms of the globe.
The rescue of the ninth man at 6AM Chilean time this morning was particularly stirring. Mario Gomez is the oldest of the trapped men at 63, and when he stepped from the capsule his first act before embracing his waiting, tearful wife was to unfold a Chilean flag signed by all the men beneath the surface; then, he knelt down and prayed. On this 69th day of the rescue effort, familiar faces waited and cheered at the surface - engineers who had worked a killing schedule without rest for two months to turn their skills and ingenuity to the machinery of salvation for men like them who worked without notice to bring copper out of the mine.
Success, it is said, has many fathers, while failure is an orphan. Today there are no orphans. The team of engineers, nutritionists, medical personnel and politicians who weaved today's magic at Camp Esperanza from a rent and ragged cloth of hope was selfless, steadfast and inspiring. Today they lifted not just nine miners but a nation and planet so desperately in need of those precious qualities.