Friends in need: President Sebsatian Pinera (left) shakes hands with miner Yonni Barrios during the ceremony in Copiapo, near the San Jose mine where the 33 were trapped
By Liz Thomas – The miners rescued after 69 days trapped underground in Chile have become the targets of anti-government protesters.
Demonstrators threw fruit and stones at the group as they commemorated the first anniversary of the accident, accusing them of being ungrateful and cashing in on their fame.
Most of the 33 men rescued last October joined President Sebastian Pinera and his ministers at a Roman Catholic Mass and the inauguration of a regional museum about their rescue.
But scuffles between riot police and students, teachers, environmentalists and other miners marred the events in Copiapo, near the San Jose mine where the 33 were trapped.
Some of the activists threw oranges and apples at the miners, accusing them of getting too cozy with Pinera’s government.
The activists were protesting over a number of issues, including pay and education, and accused the miners of being too close to Pinera’s government.
Some also claimed the miners were trying to get rich with the £10million lawsuit launched by 31 of them against Chile’s mine regulator, which they accuse of failing to enforce safety requirements.
Pinera’s ministers also are defending the government against the miners’ suit, saying that they have to protect the Chilean taxpayers.
Omar Reygadas, one of those rescued after part of the San Jose mine in Chile’s Atacama desert collapsed on August 5 last year, was among those at the events.
His son said: ‘My father was deeply saddened. He doesn’t understand how people could act this way.
‘When I got home I found him sitting alone, very sad. I asked him what happened and at first he wouldn’t say anything, but gradually he let on what happened.’
Some Chilean newspapers called the attack a low blow, especially considering how many of the miners still suffer from psychological problems after being stuck for 69 days underground.
Psychologist Alberto Iturra, who was part of the medical team that participated in the mine rescue, criticized the incident, saying the attack on the miners was ‘irrational, crazy’.
The miners were clearly grateful for Pinera’s leadership of the rescue mission, which succeeded in bringing them all out alive more than two months after the collapse.
‘I wouldn’t be here talking with you today” if Pinera hadn’t become personally involved, miner Jose Fuentes said.
‘We were down there praying that he would do it.’
Pinera’s popularity has plunged recently, with a growing wave of protests hitting Chile.