Millions Worldwide Share In Chilean Celebration

Hundreds of journalists descended on Chile's San Jose Mine to cover the rescue of 33 trapped miners, and millions watched on live television. Chileans share their reactions to the remarkable rescue and reflect on the national pride many are feeling.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, Host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Few events capture the world's attention the way the rescue of 33 miners in Chile has for the past several days. Hundreds of journalists from around the world descended on the San Jose Mine to cover what's been called a miracle. Millions watched the men climb out of the sleek rescue pod on live television.

And with all of this attention, the nation of Chile is feeling enormous pride. In a moment, we'll be joined by Eliana Loveluck, a friend of the program and a native of Chile who's been taking it all in.

If you are Chilean, we'd love to hear from you. What were you feeling as you saw the miners emerge? Our number here in Washington is 800-989- 8255. Or you can email us. The address is talk@npr.org. Or join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Bill Bryson traces the history of the world through our homes. But first, Chile's moment of glory.

Eliana Loveluck was born in Concepcion, Chile and spent some of her childhood there. She still has family and friends in Chile, and she's been glued to the television since the rescue began Tuesday night. We managed to pull her away for a few moments. Eliana joins us from her home here in Washington. Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.

ELIANA LOVELUCK: Thank you so much.

LUDDEN: So when did you first hear that this rescue was imminent?

LOVELUCK: I've actually been following this story for quite some time, even before the final plans were made for the rescue and the Phoenix capsule. So I've been waiting to hear when this would happen, monitoring pretty much three, four times a day.

So when I heard that the operation was going to start, I was very excited, also very, very nervous and worried that something might go wrong.

LUDDEN: Hmm. And everyone would be watching it live. Yeah, that would be a tragedy.

LOVELUCK: Yes, it would. One of the interesting things about the commentary that has been shown on television - a lot of discussion about how impressed people are with the level of unity of this group of miners, and I think it's really important for everyone out there to know that in Chile, there is a great spirit of solidarity, and solidarity is highly valued in our culture and in our country.

So for we Chileans to see - that was really not surprising at all. We also heard, you know, people were impressed with the level of organization within the group, and that also is not surprising because this is an area of the country that has traditionally been very active in labor issues, labor unions, and miners have been very, very involved in all of these types of activities. So organization is something that has been there for quite some time.

LUDDEN: So as you were watching and in touch with your family and friends, what were you all saying and talking about?

LOVELUCK: I think the most common thing that was said was that every time a miner emerged, we would start to cry again. It was incredibly emotional, and we kept track of every single miner. And even though I think a lot of people, you know, stayed for the first or the second miner, there was such an intensity and desire to be there to the very, very end.

So most of us watched the entire operation, and indeed, it was amazing. It was a true mission accomplished.

LUDDEN: You stayed up through the night.

LOVELUCK: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOVELUCK: Yes, yes.

LUDDEN: And are there specific images that will stay with you, you know?

LOVELUCK: I think obviously the first miner emerging was something that none of us will ever forget. It was I think the most hopeful thing that we had seen for some time. So that image definitely stays with me.

But also the image of the families, the flags flying everywhere, the fact that 32 Chilean flags and one Bolivian flag were planted at the top of the hill for everyone to see.

There were so many things that were just amazing, but those were two that stand out in my mind.

LUDDEN: Now, I understand that you read something today by a Chilean writer that really captured your attention. Can you tell us who this is and read a bit of it for us?

LOVELUCK: I would be so happy to do that. The writer is Hernan Rivera Letelier, and he's one of Chile's greatest living writers. It also happens that he lived in the desert, in this area, for 45 years. And he worked as a miner. So he has a very unique perspective and really puts what has happened in historical context.

And if I may, I would like to read a small portion...

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

LOVELUCK: The history of the Atacama Desert is crowned with tragedy, endless strikes, hunger marches, deadly accidents, and miners murdered in unimaginable massacres, all of this as a result of a long list of labor, social and moral injustices against miners.

It is understood that when we utter the word Atacama, we are talking about drama, exploitation and death. That is why it was time for an epic story with a happy ending. It was time for the desert, nourished for so long - excuse me - nourished for so long by the blood, sweat and tears of miners to give birth to greenery from its womb.

Again, I think that the history of miners in Chile is one of great suffering. Obviously this is an incredibly dangerous, dangerous job, and so I think these words really, really speak to that. And I think the other thing that is so important about this story is that it really has brought to the world a reminder of the dire need to ensure safe working conditions for miners everywhere.

LUDDEN: And Chile's President Sebastian Pinera has said that he will have an investigation into what happened and looking at improving safety. I mean, this is a very good story that may be followed by more exploration of some of the problems you've talked about. Do you expect this will happen?

LOVELUCK: Yes, I believe that that will be the case, and I think that because of the commitment of the miners, they also will keep that issue very alive in - whenever they talk to the press or in whatever they write.

LUDDEN: May this never happen again. And I believe that that commitment has been made by everyone in Chile. We're very hopeful.

LUDDEN: On the other side, you know, this must be benefitting the president very much - I mean so much attention at such a, as you said, happy story.

LOVELUCK: Without a doubt, without a doubt. Much of what was seen on television was actually filmed and produced by the government. President Pinera's approval ratings were plummeting before this rescue mission, and now, of course, his approval ratings have skyrocketed.

So yes, there's a certain amount of taking advantage of the situation for political gain. But I just want to couch that within the context of the fact that the government response was excellent, well-organized, and all Chileans are extremely grateful.

LUDDEN: Now, some listeners may recall that, you know, all this jubilation is only months after a devastating earthquake struck the country. Do you think that this in some way might help Chile recover, you know, continue its recovery from that?

LOVELUCK: I certainly think so. When I talked about the earthquake some months ago, I mentioned again the spirit of solidarity among Chileans. And obviously that was a great tragedy.

This I think really has brought the country together again and reminded us of what we are capable of both in tragedy and in success. And I do believe that this will help to motivate and continue to motivate all of the effort for reconstruction.

It is ironic also - one of the miners actually lost his business in Talcahuano, which was at the epicenter of the earthquake, and he moved to Copiapo to work as a miner.

LUDDEN: Oh no.

LOVELUCK: He's gone through these two tragedies, which really are very representative of Chile.

LUDDEN: Was there anything you found surprising? I mean, as a viewer, you know, I guess I just - they were so well-groomed coming out of there. You know, you thought they were going to kind of fall out and stagger to the stretcher, and they were in great - looked to be in great shape and just all clean-shaven.

LOVELUCK: It's true, and...

LUDDEN: I don't think Americans would have emerged that way. They'd have their two-month-old beards, you know.

LOVELUCK: I would say that there's a certain level of pride among Chileans in terms of their physical appearance. I think that's especially true for Chilean men. They knew they were going to be greeted by their families, and apparently there was some sort of a small waterfall where they were able to take showers, and they had requested shaving kits and shampoo so that they could, you know, maintain this level of cleanliness.

I think that also helped them, the fact that they were able to get changing of clothes, that they were able, you know, to pay some attention to themselves individually. I think that was very helpful to them as well.

LUDDEN: All right, well, we'll let you get back to communicating with friends there and taking it all in. Eliana Loveluck is a native of Concepcion, Chile and joined us from her home in Washington. Thank you so much.

LOVELUCK: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Stay with NPR News in coming days as we continue to learn more about the condition of the miners and what happens next.

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