The Chilean government closed down the San José mine—where 33 miners are still trapped underground—in 2007 over health and safety failures.
This followed a series of accidents at the copper and gold mine, including two deaths.
“I did not want to, nor did I agree to, reopen the mine,” said former mines inspector Anton Hraste, who had ordered the closure.
The owners reopened the mine without following an order to install an alternative shaft that would allow miners to escape.
Management now face criminal charges.
A member of the mining union at a nearby pit said, “A basic issue is whether the regulations are being adhered to or not. Practically, we’re selling copper with blood.”
Reports say that the mine’s management has stopped paying the 33 miners who are still trapped underground and may not be rescued for months.
The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet crushed workers’ rights in Chile. Though it ended in 1990, more recent governments kept much of Pinochet’s anti-union legislation.
Union activists say it was bribery that got the mine reopened. Mining—particularly of copper—is vital to the Chilean economy.
Every time mining companies win the removal of more health and safety “red tape”, it is the workers who suffer.
Chile has 16 mine inspectors to cover 4,500 mines. Some 31 miners have died in accidents so far this year.