LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales confirmed Saturday that he plans to be on hand for the rescue of 32 Chileans and one Bolivian trapped for more than two months deep inside the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile.
He also said a new job awaits the Bolivian miner.
“We were thrilled to hear that the drill has reached the miners’ (underground workshop and shelter) and we’ll make every effort to finally gain back our Bolivian brother (Carlos Mamani). We have a job guaranteed for him here,” Morales told a press conference in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.
The president was responding to news that on Saturday morning one of three rescue drills broke through to the underground shelter that has housed the 33 miners for the past 64 days.
Mamani, 23, is the only trapped miner who is foreign-born.
Morales had planned to visit the mine to show solidarity with his compatriot during a visit to Chile last month, but schedule conflicts forced him to cancel the trip.
But the Bolivian president told Chilean counterpart Sebastian Piñera then of his intention to “accompany him at the time of the rescue,” Morales said Saturday.
The president recalled that in September he received Mamani’s wife and father-in-law to offer them his support “at all times,” especially following the rescue. He also told them his government “will take charge of bringing Mamani (to Bolivia) and giving him a good job here.”
He also praised Piñera’s decisive action to ensure all 33 miners make it to the surface alive.
“It’s something unprecedented, unbelievable. They’ve been practically buried alive for more than two months, 700 meters (2,300 feet below, and they’ve going to rescue them alive. It’s truly historic,” Morales added.
Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, speaking at a press conference, explained the complex process that remains to pull the miners up through the escape shaft and said it is still too early to say when they will be returned to their loved ones.
After 33 days of drilling to reach the miners, “we’re not going to hurry now in defining our important next steps, we’re taking all the time necessary,” Golborne told a press corps anxious to know the date of the final rescue.
“There’s still quite a way to go, a lot of work to do and many precautions to take, but we’ve reached an important milestone,” said Golborne, who did not specify if the shaft will be totally or partially lined with steel casing, or whether a controlled explosion will be used to widen the end of the shaft.
The 33 miners were trapped on Aug. 5 when a landslide caused a tunnel at the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile to collapse above them, but they managed to survive by taking refuge in a large underground shelter.
Rescuers made initial contact on Aug. 22 with the trapped miners, who have been receiving food, water, medical supplies and extra oxygen via small bore holes.