LONDON – Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Monday gave Britain’s queen and prime minister each a rock taken from the bottom of the collapsed San Jose mine – a symbol of his effort to turn the disaster-turned-success story into an international image makeover.
The rescue of 33 men from the stricken mine, where they had been trapped for more than two months, united Chileans and elicited a wave of sympathy around the world. Pinera’s European tour, which began over the weekend in London, may help brighten the image of a country many still associate with the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Pinera told reporters that economic relations, clean energy and education were among the topics he discussed with Prime Minister David Cameron. He also highlighted how Chile has changed and acquired more international respect since the mine collapse.
“Down the mine, but also up on the surface, the miners are not the same – they have come back to life,” he said. “And the Chilean people are not the same. … I am sure that Chile now is a more united country, a stronger country, one prepared to face the new challenges, defeat poverty and (its) under development.”
Cameron’s office said the prime minister gave Pinera 33 bottles of Fuller’s London Pride ale – one for each rescued miner – and an early edition of “Robinson Crusoe.” The Daniel Defoe novel was based on the adventures of a real-life castaway on a Chilean island.
Pinera also met with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace later Monday and gave her another piece of palm-sized rock from the San Jose mine.
The 69-day saga of the miners drew attention to the progress Chile has made since Pinochet relinquished power in 1990.