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Chilean Rescue Effort Holds Lessons in Spirit, Ingenuity

October 14, 2010 at 6:09 PM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown gets three views on the successful rescue of 33 trapped Chilean, what techniques were used to cause the rescue to run smoothly and what it means for Chile.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And we return to the story in Chile. As proud as anyone today in that very proud country is President Sebastian Pinera, who, as we saw earlier, greeted each rescued miner. Pinera, who has an economics Ph.D. from Harvard, spoke last night to Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News.

SEBASTIAN PINERA, Chilean president: I feel extremely happy. I’m so proud of what my country and the Chileans have done. This is an example for the whole world of leadership, faith, hope, teamwork. And I think it was extremely difficult. This was an accident that in many other countries would have never been solved the way it was solved in Chile.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we get three perspectives now on this enormous technical and human accomplishment.

Joining us are Nick Evans, a freelance producer working on a documentary about the rescue efforts for the PBS show “NOVA.” He’s at the hospital where the miners are being treated. Francisco Javier Diaz, who served as an adviser to the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, he’s now a senior fellow at a think tank in Santiago. And Beatriz Manz, an anthropologist and professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, she was born in Chile.

Nick Evans, I want to start with you, because you’re the one there who witnessed the scene. What do you think was the key to pulling this off, as a technological feat?

NICK EVANS, “NOVA”: I think the key was that the president brought in the best experts from all over the world.

There was no kind of territorialism. There was no determination that Chile could do this by themselves. He’s obviously well-connected. Francisco will know more than I do about this, but he’s obviously got some good contacts, particularly in the U.S.

We were filming with a team on plan B, who actually made the successful breakthrough, and now some small — small companies from the U.S., small family-run firms that kind of actually made the difference.

And, basically, I think they just organized this very well from the very — from day one. There were obviously a few hiccups along the way, but in the end they exceeded everyone’s expectations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Francisco Javier Diaz, I will move to you in the capital of Santiago. You’re a political scientist. You know the political system there. How did it work so well in this case?

FRANCISCO JAVIER DIAZ, former Chilean presidential adviser: I think that the ability of the president to assemble this huge teams that was able to, of course, hire all this technology abroad, but also to organize the large team of Chilean engineers, to organize the police, to organize the doctors, social workers.

I mean, it was a huge and a massive enterprise that had to be assembled in a couple days. And they did it. I think it’s a very big accomplishment for the current government.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a huge task that they pulled off.

FRANCISCO JAVIER DIAZ: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: But was it within character of the Chilean government, that sense of being able to pull together different parts like that?

FRANCISCO JAVIER DIAZ: Well, listen, I believe that Chile has been showing that it does have efficient government since long ago.

Maybe the former government would have done something very similar to this. But — well, we are — now we are talking about this government and we’re talking about this case. And one has to admit that President Pinera did — he made a big bet on solving this issue, and he succeeded. And we are proud and grateful about that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Beatriz Manz, I want you to fill in the picture a bit, so we understand more about your country and countrymen. Just is there anything like this in the experience of Chile in terms of trying to deal with a disaster like this and pull people together?

BEATRIZ MANZ, professor, University of California, Berkeley: Well, yes. I mean, there have been — unfortunately, Chile experienced recurrent natural disasters, especially earthquakes. I’m sure there are very few Chileans that have not experienced in one form or another one of these disasters.

So, we expect the government to respond effectively and learn from the past response and build on it. So, we have — as Francisco said, we have strong institutions, and the society does expect a lot from — from the government.

And, in this case, it was extraordinary. It was a monumental task. And it was pulled off with help from outside, and, of course, the talents within Chile.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Beatriz Manz, staying with you, I mean, I want you to put on your anthropologist hat a bit, if you would, the professional hat. When you look at society, you look at institutions, dare I say sort of national character, help us understand how you pulled — how they were able to pull together different groups to come together.

BEATRIZ MANZ: Well, I think you cannot separate the national character from the geography of the place, where Chile’s located, at the end of the world, very isolated, the shape of the country.

We’re sort of — we have boundaries that, you know, bind us within country, the majestic Andes to the east, the Pacific Ocean, the driest desert in the world in the north, and then the large glaciers in the south.

So, that — even though it’s a very long and narrow country, it does bring people together because of that sort of geographical isolation within the world. And the natural disasters are part of that — that character. As I said, there are few Chileans that have not experienced this kind of…

FRANCISCO JAVIER DIAZ: May I add something?

BEATRIZ MANZ: … and therefore can sympathize with what these miners are going through, because many of us have experienced floods or volcano eruptions, or earthquakes especially. We had a huge one in February.

So, we are watching. There is tension. And, remember, the first 17 days, it was just a lonely Chilean experience. We didn’t know whether the miners were alive or not, and, I’m sure, every day, the ups and the downs and the joy of finding out that they were alive, and then the tension and anxiety, whether we would be able to bring them out.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

BEATRIZ MANZ: So, it — it was a wonderful moment for Chile.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Nick Evans, you got to witness the people there at the site. I know you have covered a lot of things as a journalist in the past. What stood out for you about the camp itself, about the families, about the way authorities worked with them there?

NICK EVANS: I arrived on the 5th of September, which was the anniversary, the first month after the mine collapse. And what struck me was, Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, is appropriately named, because people were so positive. All the families were so positive.

What struck me, I think, was that spirit of optimism and that complete faith that their loved ones would be saved. And I think this came from the fact that they spent 17 — 17 days not knowing whether they were alive or dead.

Once they were discovered, once they were found, and once the Chilean government kind of rolled the rescue operation into progress, they had complete confidence that everything would go well — go well. And their faith was rewarded in the end. It has been a genuine — genuine miracle.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Nick, there was, of course, much talk about how well the government choreographed the whole thing. That includes working with those families, keeping them informed of what was going on, including the dangers.

Did you get to see that? Did you feel that the families understood all that?

NICK EVANS: Yes. I mean, look, there were some bad days. There was a day kind of towards the end of September, middle of September, end of September, when all the plans — plan — plan C wasn’t yet up and running. Plans A and B had a few technical problems, and, suddenly, the drilling stops.

What would reassure the families was always this noise, constant noise in the background of the drilling. When there was silence, suddenly, it was disturbing. And the miners below were upset. And that was communicated to their families, who they talk with, a daily conference.

And there was this kind of — almost this spirit of rebellion in the camp: What’s going on?

And I think the problem was, sometimes, the government sort of shut down when things were going wrong. And they didn’t communicate to the media. They didn’t communicate to the families for a few hours.

And, in those hours, people kind of got upset. Rumors went around the camp. But that was — there were very few moments like that, to be honest. Generally, everything was very well — very well-organized and everyone was very well — kept very well appraised of the situation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Francisco Javier Diaz, what about the political and social impact of this going forward? What kind of legacy in the long term, but even in the short term? What do you see happening?

FRANCISCO JAVIER DIAZ: Well, I guess that, in the short term, of course, this will bring a good approval rating for the government and for the president.

Of course, they have been exposed to long hours in — on TV, with — you know, with the good news there. So, they will, of course, enjoy good approval ratings. In the long term, what we hope is that this will lead us to enhance our labor law, our security and safety for workers to better wages in an industry as mining, which is enjoying, you know, very good revenues, so, the overall better working conditions for the miners.

JEFFREY BROWN: Beatriz Manz, coming back to you, the kind of social cohesion that we have seen, now, of course, you have the president and the government looking at how to make the mining safe in the future. You have got the possibility of these miners as sort of celebrities.

What do you see going forward? What do you look for here?

BEATRIZ MANZ: Well, once again, Chileans will feel very proud of what the country was able to do with this rescue. I’m sure every Chilean felt very proud when they saw a handwritten sign held by a miner saying, “Mission accomplished.” That was a very proud moment for Chile.

I think the lasting legacy will be to make sure this never happens again, and more broadly in the world. I mean, the world was watching Chile. And it brought smiles to hundreds of millions of faces around the world. And, hopefully, we will also around the world figure out that we need certain regulations and inspections and accountability on the part of companies or government-run enterprises.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Francisco Javier Diaz, Nick Evans, and Beatriz Manz, thank you all very much.