The disappointment of the relatives of the 10 miners trapped in Coahuila Mexico almost a month ago

Khushbu Kumari

The families of the miners trapped in Coahuila lose hope of seeing them alive after the government assured that their rescue will take another 6 to 11 months.

Just a month after the tragedy this coming Saturday, the hope of the relatives of the ten miners trapped in a coal pit in Mexico is slowly fading.

The first setback was when, after the galleries where they worked were flooded on August 3 by water from nearby abandoned mines in Sabinas, in the northern state of Coahuila, a new flood ruined the work of almost two weeks of pumping. of liquid and had to start over.

The final blow for the families was when the authorities informed them last Thursday that the strategy to follow now would be to make an open pit to descend 60 meters and reach the men in the El Pinabete mine.

The biggest problem? That it will take at least six months to do it, which ended up destroying the spirits of the families.

“Six to 11 months of work is a lot, what are they going to give us from my brother then?” Magdalena Montelongo, sister of Jaime, one of the trapped miners, tells BBC Mundo.

“In the beginning we had a lot of hope. But time went by and when the other wave of water came… it was lost. Right now, since they are going to do this, it is difficult for us to see them alive”, the woman admits resignedly.

In all this time there has been no contact with the miners, who had no food or drinking water. The government, however, has officially denied that they are presumed dead.

He returned to the mine to help his companions

At 61 years old, Jaime Montelongo is the veteran of the group of trapped men.

The son and father of miners, he has been working on it since he was 14 years old and, although he had already retired since last year, he decided to return to the mine because “it felt good”.

His sister Magdalena speaks of him interspersing verb tenses in the present and past, probably the result of uncertainty. She remembers how one of the surviving miners told her that Jaime could have escaped with him, but decided to help his companions.

“They heard a loud crash, and then another. My brother started talking to the rest on the radio: 'people, people!', but there was no response. So he told this colleague to leave in the boat and came back to warn the group,” the woman says.

His surviving colleague climbed into the boat and, within seconds, was practically covered by all the water that was coming in force. He managed to get out, but Jaime never heard anything more.

“I don't know, I think he felt the duty and responsibility to bring the other classmates... he never thought about the magnitude of the problem that was coming,” says his sister, who defines him as someone “very noble” and good. “The boys from the mine said that he does get angry, but that he didn't scold them.”

About the new rescue method chosen, the woman says she does not agree. The authorities, however, defended that this is the most solid and least risky proposal for the rescuers according to the analyzes of specialists.

“The other (option) is that we continue pumping, that we remove all the water from Pinabete, from Conchas Norte, from Mina 6, remember that Pinabete is surrounded by mines, but this (…) would take 24 months. The issue is that there may be a great risk of collapse,” said Laura Velázquez, coordinator of Civil Protection.

Rejection and compensation

Family members initially refused to accept this new strategy for as long as it will take. Montelongo does not understand why this technique was not chosen from the beginning or why the Mexican authorities took two weeks to ask for advice from foreign specialists.

“A lot of time was allowed to pass, I think that in the first week they could have been rescued but more qualified people were needed for this type of situation,” he says.

Finally, last weekend, the miners' wives accepted the open pit technique.

A memorial will be erected in the area and the government will also give them compensation “above what is conventional,” according to the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador , although the amount has not been determined.

“For us, our brother has no economic value . At that moment we said 'there is nothing to do but resign ourselves and give our brother to God'. We are disappointed and powerless, they have left us no other option”, laments Montelongo.

López Obrador, who insisted that the rescue efforts will not stop and that “the Pasta de Conchos is not going to happen” - in reference to another mine in Coahuila where a gas explosion in 2006 left 65 dead, of which 63 bodies were never recovered, he said he understood the pain of the families.

This Sunday, the president admitted that the relatives were not satisfied at first with the rescue option proposed by the government.

“They did not accept because of the time. They were very sad, it's a very difficult situation, they were very upset and didn't want anything, and that's it, they've accepted,” said the president, who promised to “work very quickly to remove the bodies.”

The role of relatives and wives

Magdalena Montelongo also does not hide her disappointment at the fact that the authorities have not taken into account the opinion of other relatives of the miners, but only met with the wives "one by one and a closed door" to propose the option of the open pit. , to which they finally gave yes.

The Pasta de Conchos Family Organization (OFPdC), a group that defends the rights of miners, criticized the fact that only the wives' opinions are heard.

“It is not fair or correct because, before being spouses, they were sons and brothers. They are all victims. But the government talks to the wives because that way it saves fights: family members can be more objective and they can't be pressured with compensation... widows, yes”, says Cristina Auerbach, human rights defender at OFPdC.

The group does not approve of the new strategy either, considering that it is unrealistic, not even the period of six to 11 months. “If it is an open-pit mine, they require moving at least five million tons of earth (equivalent to filling the Azteca stadium three times), more than 1,600 workers, 200- and 300-ton cargo trucks…”.

“When the foreign specialists were here, there was talk of encapsulating and putting up barriers to isolate the well from the water from the nearby mines. There was never any talk of an open pit," Auerbach questions in an interview with BBC Mundo.

He also criticizes that the proposal does not come from rescue teams from companies in the region or from experts in coal mines, but is led by Civil Protection and the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE).

“The CFE does not have coal mines, it only buys it, nor does it have experience in mining rescue. Then why is he going to handle the rescues? It's absurd, we don't know why,” he says.

Largest coal region in Mexico

After what happened, the Prosecutor's Office has so far only charged a young man as “probably responsible for illegal exploitation of the subsoil.”

According to López Obrador himself, this could not be the owner of the company responsible for the mine, but a simple front man without real power with whom he tries to prevent the name of the concessionaire from being known.

Coahuila has become a real black spot to develop this profession. Not counting large open-pit mines, at least 153 people have died in the state since 1996 in shafts and small mines and caves, according to an OFPdC count.

“The worker is in the mine out of necessity, but they do it in inhumane conditions and for 200 pesos (about US$10) per ton of coal. Who are the beneficiaries? The owners, who are the ones who earn the most. And the Secretary of Labor should also inspect these conditions,” Magdalena Montelongo responds to the question about who is responsible for this situation.

Coahuila produces 99% of the coal used in Mexico by the CFE, a key state company in the president's energy project. Despite this high figure, Auerbach points out that coal only represents “4% of the energy matrix” of the country.

“If you hear about the 99%, you think it's crazy to ask for production to stop because they say it generates development in the region… but what it leaves is a trail of brutal death. If we were more sensitive, after this tragedy we should stop consuming that 4%,” he says.

The OFPdC member says she is surprised by the fact that not all mining concession contracts in the area are being reviewed.

“Everyone continues to extract coal as if nothing had happened. So it's a matter of time before it happens again,” she concludes.

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