14 Oct 2010

Chile’s uplifting coup that reminds me of the Kursk

The popular comparisons are the moon landings and Apollo 13. But the one I can’t get away from is the Kursk.

The comparisons I keep hearing are the moon landings and Apollo 13. Not since these historic moments of exploration and potential disaster have millions around the world watched the fate of a small group of men unfolding on television.

And watching the miners emerge from their capsule last night was certainly amazing. But the comparison I can’t get away from is the Kursk : the Russian submarine that went down in the Barents Sea after an explosion in August 2000.

All 118 on board perished and the world knew little about their fate, or the fact some of the men definitely survived the initial explosion, until long after they were dead. Perhaps had the Chilean miners been buried in a land still run by the dictator Pinochet things might have turned out differently for them too.

President Pinera’s political career would of course have been buried with the miners had this ended badly. Instead, apart from sending his personal ratings soaring into the stratosphere as he hugged the heroes, the whole rescue has chimed with Chile’s rebirth as an emerging nation of the twenty first century. Just as Mario Sepulveda jumped for joy and led the chorus of “Chile, Chile, Chile” you couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing turnaround of a nation known before for its dark secrets and disappearances. When Pinera comes to Britain next week he comes with the goodwill of the world surrounding him. What would have been a story about preventable tragedy, commercial exploitation and establishment complicity has turned into one of big hearts in a new nation pulling together for the kind of happy ending that comes once in a generation. It is another Chilean coup – but a PR coup this time.

How different it was for the sailors on the Kursk. Although Britain and Norway offered to help mount a rescue Russia seemed resigned to the crew’s death from the start. The Russian President by comparison stayed in his holiday home for days. News of the disaster was carefully controlled and the government suggested the sailors were mostly killed in the initial explosion. It was only after rescuers entered the vessel and found a note pinned to a body that we discovered at least twenty three had survived. For how long we will never know.

P.S. Do you think the fact the miners triumphed in post-Pinochet Chile on Margaret Thatchers birthday is proof God has a sense of humour?!