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The Chilean Miners: What Comes Next?

As you no doubt know if you’ve been following the news at all today or yesterday, the effort to rescue the Chilean miners who have been trapped underground for sixty-nine days is currently underway, and thus far, things are mercifully going well, with sixteen of the thirty-three miners rescued as of posting. We’ll leave the wall-to-wall coverage and rescue videos to other outlets — our sister site Mediaite has been doing a good job documenting the media response . But once the livestreams and live-Tweets and gamification of the rescue wind down and all of the miners are hopefully brought to the surface safely, what comes next? It’s more complicated than you might think:

Medical aftermath:

While the Chilean miners weren’t trapped as long as had been initially feared, sixty-nine days underground makes for some potential medical complications. Per CBS News, doctors say that some miners may need to be treated for respiratory infections, due to the poor air quality in the mine; fungal infections like athlete’s foot and jock itch, for which, while not life-threatening, it could “take months to get rid of the offending fungi”; and eye problems due to the low light in which the miners have been living for these past two months. CBS: “There had been some concern that long exposure to darkness could result in eye damage – or that exposure to sunlight again after months in darkness could result in retinal damage. The men were given sunglasses to wear upon returning to the surface, and, in any case, it should not take them long to adjust.”

Emotional aftermath:

Esquire’s Chris Jones poetically expresses how the miners’ experience underground will define them for the rest of their lives:

No doubt they will suffer, some of them. They will have nightmares and mysterious aches. For some of them, anger and resentment will replace their joy. Some of them will have trouble adjusting to the light.

But the ones who are lucky enough to survive twice, they will become astronauts. They will become men who’ve walked on the moon.

They will be men who know true deprivation, who know true fear, who know true darkness. And now, one by one, in that singular instant, they learned true joy, true beauty, true love. They will understand how good a steak really tastes. They will know how lucky we are to be able to turn on a tap and feel hot water coming out of it. They will hear a baby’s crying differently in the night. They will stand in the rain with their faces up rather than down. They will never get mad about being stuck in traffic. They will never try to figure out magic tricks. They will be believers.

As the photo above shows, Jones’ “astronauts” comparison is apt for more than metaphorical reasons. (The New York Times has a slideshow demonstrating the great technical challenges of the rescue effort, and there are more good photos at The Big Picture.)

Financial aftermath:

Twitter has been replete with cynical little quips about the miners’ inevitable book deals; what’s not widely known, however, is that the miners have drawn up a legal contract among themselves and signed legally binding paperwork to prevent any individual miner from profiting at the expense of the group.

Telegraph: (h/t Marginal Revolution)

“We have received offers to be filmed and interviewed by national television,” Yonni Barrios, 50, wrote in the letter sent up to the surface last week. “But we didn’t accept because we are going to form a foundation and all our daily experiences during our time down here will go into a book and other projects.”

“We want to make this legal then everything that will come out from us will be negotiated for the future. If we do this properly we won’t have to work for the rest of our lives.”

At that, some details won’t be made public for any amount of money:

It is understood that the men have vowed never to talk about exactly what went on during the 17 initial days after the mine collapsed and before a borehole reached their refuge and rescuers found them alive.

“Things went on down there which will never be spoken of,” one miner’s wife said. “They have taken a pledge of silence.”

Cartel arrangements like this tend to be tricky, given the great incentives an individual has to defect and profit for themselves at the expense of the group; that said, these men have shared an unimaginable experience which no doubt bonds them more closely than any normal group trying to cooperate. Plus, the consequences for any miner who defected for personal gain (and for whatever media outlet encouraged him to) would be scathing.

Further complications:

Boing Boing directs our attention to one particularly thorny consequence of the Chilean miners’ highly publicized rescue: Some men’s wives have been pitted against their mistresses (often mistresses that the wives had just discovered existed) in the line to get government compensation, along with their men back. According to the Telegraph (different article), one miner has four women fighting over him. The miners’ return to the surface may be jubilant, but the real world presents a set of problems less pressing than immediate survival, but still by no means easy to reckon with.

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