A three-year investigation into the mine collapse in Chile that trapped 33 men for 69 days has concluded that the owners should not face criminal charges, a decision met with widespread public anger.

Prosecutors close investigation into 2010 San Jose mine collapse in which 33 men spent 10 weeks trapped underground

Prosecutors this week closed their inquiry into the causes of the disaster at the San Jose mine, allowing its owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, to avoid a trial and a possible jail sentence.

Criticism of the decision was immediate. Chile’s former mining minister Laurence Golborne called it “unbelievable”, while Isabel Allende, a senator for Atacama region where the mine is located, described it as “painful.”

“I feel frustration, pain and in the morning I started crying,” Mario Sepulveda — the charismatic leader of the miners who dubbed themselves the “Los 33” — told Associated Press. “It is time to speak the truth. Psychiatrically and psychologically, we were badly treated ... The majority of us are very bad in terms of emotional (health).”

“Today, I want to dig a deep hole and bury myself again. Only this time, I don’t want anybody to find me.”

The 33 miners have also found themselves blacklisted from working in mines, said Omar Reygadas, one of the men who was trapped nearly 700m underground for ten weeks. “Most mine owners are afraid to hire us because they think that if there’s ever a problem, everyone will immediately find out about it since we get a lot press. We’re well known.”

Renato Prenafeta, a lawyer who represents 31 of the 33 miners, is analysing the prosecutor’s decision before announcing whether he will fight it. A civil suit seeking millions of dollar in compensation was not affected by the decision to drop the criminal investigation. He confirmed the men have a host of emotional and psychological problems and said it was nearly impossible for them to find jobs.

Immediately following their dramatic rescue, the miners were showered with gifts including $20,000 cash, a trip to Disneyland in the US, and a cruise around the Greek islands. Today many of the men are struggling to balance their emotional health with day-to-day financial needs.

A film about the rescue, starring Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, and Martin Sheen is scheduled to be filmed this year and released in 2014. That could provide financial gain to the miners but given the long list of broken promises, few of the men expect much.

Sepulveda said he was so frustrated by the prosecutor’s decision that he thought to immolate himself in front of the Chilean presidential palace. “The only reason I don’t do it,” he said, “is out of respect for my colleagues.”

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2013

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