‘If the miners had been Mexican…’ The Chilean mine rescue as Mexican ‘politics machine’ (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)


  • Elizabeth Emma Ferry

    1. Associate Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. She has been studying silver mining in the central Mexican city of Guanajuato since 1994. Her book, Not ours alone: Patrimony, value and collectivity in contemporary Mexico (Columbia, 2005) examines the experiences of members of one of Mexico's last mining cooperatives, which sold its holdings to a Canadian corporation in 2005. She is co-editor of Timely assets: The politics of resources and their temporalities (School of Advanced Research Press, 2008). Her email is ferry@brandeis.edu.
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The operation in October 2010 to rescue 33 miners trapped in the San José mine near Copiapó, Chile, which culminated in a technologically and emotionally dramatic rescue after 69 days of captivity and the expenditure of at least 10 million dollars, captured the world's attention. The story acted as a kind of ‘accidental Olympics’, evoking national sentiment and global communitas, and offering more than a billion people the chance to peek into the lives of the miners and their families. But responses to the rescue were not the same everywhere. This article examines responses in Mexico. Whereas elsewhere the story's appeal lay in its capacity to be presented as a ‘politics-free zone’, this seemed to be less the case in Mexico. Some Mexican publics, at least, were relatively immune to the apolitical ‘inspiration’ offered by the media and enthusiastically taken up elsewhere. This is because many Mexicans see a painful contrast between circumstances in their country and those in Chile. This sense of contrast manifested itself not only in a lower degree of ‘buy-in’ to the feel-good aspect of the story in Mexico, but also in a surge of ill-feeling and protest against the Mexican government, and in a telling spate of jokes that did the rounds in October and November, which were disseminated on Twitter and YouTube and reported in television and print media. The jokes followed the formula: ‘If the [Chilean] miners had been Mexican…’ and drew on strains of social and political satire with a long history in Mexico.