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All Chile miners freed: Rescue succeeds

All Chile miners are freed, will their rescue benefit President Pinera?

When it came to financing reconstruction, Pinera again surprised friends and foes by suggesting an increase in mining royalties, another apparent affront to the corporate world he comes from. Ultimately, the higher royalties will be voluntary and temporary, but the effect on Pinera’s public image lasting.

Today’s prime time reality show in the Atacama desert has turned into a virtual public, international test of the government’s drive and efficiency in confronting crises, but it has eclipsed other equally, if not more, pressing problems.

“It’s all so absurd. With the mine rescue it seems as if the earthquake never happened. It’s been forgotten,” added Huneeus.

Pinera’s four-year presidential term began only two weeks after the biggest earthquake and tsunami in Chilean history that struck about one-third of the country. Eight months later, some quake-stricken communities feel they still haven’t overcome the first stage of the emergency.

Last week, neighborhood associations from devastated areas like Talca, Dichato and Talcahuano, as well as old residential areas in Santiago, the capital, met to discuss their situation. They criticized the lack of community participation in reconstruction plans and claimed that at least Talca and Dichato are still “in crisis.”

Of the 2,800 emergency housing units promised for Talca, only 1,300 had been delivered, according to Guillermo Retamal, director of Talca con Todos, a non-governmental organization.

“We haven’t received any subsidies and there are still people sleeping in tents. … The emergency is not over,” he said.

Estimated losses caused by the earthquake total $29.7 billion (14.9 percent of GDP), according to the State of Public Finances report issued earlier this month. The cost of rebuilding public infrastructure is equivalent to nearly 4.2 percent of GDP.

No one understands how the costly mine rescue is being financed and why those funds, which appeared immediately out of nowhere, have not been available for reconstruction. It's a subject no government official seems comfortable talking about.

“The government has handled the miner issue very well, and that isn’t easy. Its response to the emergency of the earthquake was also adequate, but not so when it comes to reconstruction. But what has a lasting impact in the media are the first emergency efforts, so people’s perception is not bad,” said Diaz.