Gómez Urrutia says rescue of Pasta de Concho miners would have been easier than
rescue in Chile
[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for October 15. See original article here and related article here. Following an explosion in February, 2006, that killed 65 miners in the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Coahuila, in northern Mexico, the Mexican secretary of labor withdrew official recognition of miners’ union president Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who had been sharply critical of the government and of the mine owners, Grupo México, over safety violations. Gómez, who had also been criminally charged with misappropriation of union funds, fled the country for Canada, where he has lived ever since. With strong support from inside and outside the country, the union and family members have campaigned vigorously for retrieval of the miners’ remains and compensation for the families.]
By Patricia Muñoz Ríos
The explosion in the Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila, in which 65 workers were killed, was an industrial homicide for which no one has yet been punished. No criminal charges have been lodged against the guilty parties nor has the owner of the Grupo México consortium, Germán Larrea, faced a jail sentence, for which reasons the case, now stalled in the federal courts, should be re-opened.
This is the opinion expressed in a telephone interview by miners’ union leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who added that “the lesson Chile taught Mexico” with the rescue of the 33 miners forces us to point out that behind the disaster that occurred in Pasta de Conchos in February, 2006, the company, with the complicity of the Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS – Secretariat of Labor and Social Security), evaded the demands of family members that the workers or their remains be retrieved.
Nor did Grupo México give just compensation to the widows and orphans of the deceased, even though it brought in profits of 2.6 billion dollars during that year.
From Canada, the union leader declared that it can be proven that the 65 workers were deliberately not rescued due to the “collusion” of the mine owners and STPS authorities, since Javier Salazar Sáenz, the head of the agency at that time, was, and still is, a supplier to Grupo México and did not want to lose business with the consortium and that he thus covered up the homicide.
As he did in 2006, Salazar Sáenz supplies Grupo México through two companies he owns, Productos Químicos de San Luis and Latinoamericana de Productos Químicos de San Luis. Furthermore, his son-in-law, Pedro Camarillo, was STPS representative in Coahuila and so “the inspections that should have been carried out in that mine were never performed.”
Concerning statements by the secretary of labor to the effect that what happened in Chile had nothing to do with what happened in Pasta de Conchos and that it was not possible to perform rescue operations, he declared that this was just an attempt to avoid direct responsibility for the explosion because he did not heed the calls of workers and the union over an increase in the level of gasses in the mine. The union even held three strikes before the date of the explosion to demand better safety conditions, he affirmed.
The rescue in Mexico would have been easier, he added, since the mine in San José, Chile, is in a mountainous area, with harder rock and a more complex terrain and is 700 meters deep, and the first news that the 33 miners were alive came 17 days after the incident.
At Pasta de Conchos, the miners were 120 meters below the surface, in softer ground, and there were ventilation shafts through which it would have been possible to lower cameras to see where they were and what condition they were in. Nevertheless, rescue operations were given up after five days, the army removed the families and the workers were abandoned at the bottom of the mine, without knowing whether or not they were still alive. That is called “corporate murder,” he insisted.
He demanded an investigation of the amount of money involved in Salazar Saénz’s contracts with Grupo México.
He added that Marta Sahagún, wife of former president Vicente Fox, accepted funds from Germán Larrea for operation of Fundación Vamos México, and that the businessman is a member of the board of directors of Televisa. “It was all a collusion,” Gómez Urrutia holds.
Due to those vested interests, the proposal to bring experts from Spain, Canada or the United States for the rescue attempt, or that Mexicans perform the work, was not attended to, he pointed out. It is clear that the process of investigating the complicity of functionaries and the businessman should be opened and penal sanctions should be applied, he stressed.
He indicated that there was a “serious possiblity” that some miners had survived the explosion at Pasta de Conchos and had waited to be rescued.
But nothing was done, so that the “criminal negligence” of the company, which is headed by the second richest man in Mexico, would not be revealed, he stated. In that sense, “Chile taught us a moral lesson,” he said.
In 2008, a group of union members tried to retrieve the remains and were a few meters away from them when they were forced by public security forces to abandon the mine, he charged.
He charged that after the explosion in the mine a political persecution against the leadership of the union was unleashed, and [then President Vicente] Fox ordered the governor of Coahuila, Humberto Moreira, to “arrest me on whatever charges he liked, and when the governor answered that there was no basis for doing so, he said to invent one.”
In compensation, after the catastrophe Grupo México received another concession for the exploitation of natural gas in Coahuila and from then onward it has gotten another 400 concessions; that is, criminal negligence was rewarded with more business, he declared.
He commented that the current secretary of labor, Javier Lozano Alarcón, “Has been on the Grupo México payroll as an adviser, which is shameful, and so this crime has been concealed during this administration as well.”
He holds that persecution against him and the union is “obsessive and sick.”
“You would have to do a deep psychological study of Javier Lozano to know why he has this obvious phobia against the working class, against workers; it should be analyzed. It is either a sick hatred or it is corruption, because he has supported, without restrictions and beyond measure, a mad businessman who has paid billions of dollars to pursue an endless legal action instead of paying the workers better, or compensating the widows, or giving them homes… it’s incredible. We Mexicans don’t deserve these beusinessmen or this government.”
Felipe Calderón said “that he was the jobs president and that he arrived with clean hands, and he has turned out to be the opposite,” he stated. He insisted that investigations be re-opened and he applauded the legislators who have proposed it.