SANTIAGO – Thirty-three women occupying a defunct coal mine in southern Chile to protest the end of temporary jobs created after an earthquake devastated the region in February are now on hunger strike, spokespersons for the group said Wednesday.
The women are seeking talks with the Catholic archbishop of Concepcion, Ricardo Ezzati, and Bio Bio regional governor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, Jorge Orellana told journalists at the entrance to the Chiflon del Diablo mine in Lota.
He said the protesters want their temporary employment reinstated through an amendment to Chile’s 2011 budget.
The vicar of the Archdiocese of Concepcion, Jose Cartes, visited the women Wednesday and assured them that Ezzati is working on their behalf.
Dozens of people remained outside the mine entrance to show their support for the protest.
The women whose jobs were eliminated Nov. 4 decided that 33 of them would occupy the mine to draw a parallel with the case of the 33 miners rescued last month after spending 70 days trapped in a gold mine in northern Chile.
The miners, known as the “Atacama 33,” have been feted both at home and abroad since the dramatic rescue, which was watched on television by tens of millions of people around the world.
The protesters were employed under an emergency program launched after the magnitude-8.8 earthquake that caused more than 400 deaths and roughly $30 billion in damage across a broad area of south and central Chile.
Some 8,000 people were left unemployed when the program ended in the Bio Bio and Maule regions on Nov. 4, following the elimination of another 9,500 temporary jobs in the O’Higgins region.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter urged the 33 women on hunger strike to reconsider their protest and said they were “lucky” to have had jobs for a few months.
While the governor of Concepcion region, Carlos Gonzalez, told Radio Cooperativa the women’s protest was being orchestrated by Lota municipal chief of staff Vasili Carrillo, a one-time guerrilla who battled the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“We are going through a very difficult phase and we are reaching the ultimate consequences. This is what the government really wants to see, because they haven’t listened to us, they haven’t opened the doors to us,” protest spokesperson Ivannia Anabalon said.
The Chiflon del Diablo mine was the main employer in the area until the local coal industry shut down in the early 1990s due to high production costs. EFE