World

The 33 Are Human Too

These “Angels of the Bicentennial” are human too. The 33 Chilean miners are now beginning to face the real life drama above-ground, unemployment, family strains, and poverty.

Riches may come, but for now, many face an uncomfortable present: Most live in improvised homes in marginal neighborhoods. Some have strained relationships with the families who held vigil, praying for their survival. All face a search for work since the mine that employed them has filed for bankruptcy.

Seven of the miners held a news conference to plead for job training and government benefits. They also pleaded for privacy, citing the media's treatment of fellow miners Johnny Barrios and Claudio Yáñez.

Barrios' wife and lover, who live a block away from one another, both arrived at the mine following the Aug. 5 collapsed that trapped them, launching a high-profile soap opera.

Yáñez's strained relationships also were on display when the media waited outside his mother's house, where his family had prepared a welcome-home party, and he didn't show up. He went instead to the home of the mother of his two children, a woman he proposed marriage to while underground. Yáñez's sister, cameras in tow, later threw a rock at the woman's house, and yelled that he can forget having his family to support him.

Other miners returned to lives of poverty in the hard scrabble neighborhoods that climb the hills around Copiapo, the gritty capital of Chile's northern Atacama region.

Carlos Mamani, the only Bolivian in the group, lives in a small green wooden house on an unpaved road in Padre Negro.

On a clear night, the glittering street lights of Copiapo stretch out like a beautiful carpet below mountains that hold the promise of copper and gold.

But Padre Negro's 38 houses lack access to sewers and running water. Mamani and his neighbors -- mainly Bolivians and Peruvians -- must walk for blocks to two public taps to get water and then carry it back up the hill.

"This area is dangerous at night. Drugs are sold here and there is theft. I've lived here for a while and I still have to be careful to avoid problems," said one of Mamani's neighbors, José Vadillo, a 15-year-old Bolivian, to The Associated Press.

Barrios and Yanez live near Mamani, but closer to central Copiapo in a neighborhood where gangs mark their territory with old sneakers hanging from electricity poles.

Other miners live in Tiltil Bajo, a neighborhood of wood and tin houses that lack sewage connections. There, relatives of Pedro Cortéz and Carlos Bugueño had no money to buy balloons, so they blew air into white plastic bags and hung them along Corona del Inca street to welcome them home. They had a huge party anyway -- Bugueño's small house is shared by 17 people, including his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

Chile's government has promised to look out for the rescued miners, and each has received about $12,000 in donations, but their futures remains uncertain.

"Three months from now, what will I be doing? Selling candy on the beach? Wondering what the government has done for us? Nothing," said Edison Peña. "I'm very afraid and I would like for things to change."

The San José mine where the men worked is inoperable following the cave-in. At month's end, a judicial arbiter will decide on its bankruptcy. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera and his appointees have already said it must remain closed as a safety hazard, with 700,000 tons of fallen rock in danger of collapsing still further into the bottom of the mine.

Some of the men have new opportunities outside mining.

Franklin Lobos, a former professional soccer player who drove trucks at the San José mine, is wanted by the world soccer body FIFA to give motivational talks, Chilean soccer director Harold Mayne-Nicholls said.

And Bolivian President Evo Morales has offered Mamani a job in his government.

Others feel their future remains underground.

Copiapo's residents mainly work in mines or vineyards. But locals say the vineyards demand special training the miners don't have.

Omar Reygadas said he will keep on working in mines.

"It is my work. It is my way of earning pesos," he said. "I am a mole, and I'm happy when I am underground."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.