Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

In Chile, love moves the sun and stars

By Arturo Fontaine, Special to CNN
  • Arturo Fontaine says there are bad guys (mine company), good guys (miners) in Chilean saga
  • He wonders how waiting miners were able to organize themselves so altruistically
  • President, he says, emerged as leader displaying good instincts and guts
  • Fontaine: As miners emerge, it is as though love moves the sun and all the other stars

Editor's note: Arturo Fontaine is a Chilean novelist, poet and essayist. His most recent novel, "Double Life," was published this year in Spain by Tusquets. Earlier work includes "Oír Su Voz" (To Hear Her Voice) and "Mis Ojos x Tus Ojos" (My Eyes x Your Eyes.

(CNN) -- Bad guys, you know, do exist: the owners of the mine of San José, where 33 workers have been trapped for so long. San Esteban Mining Company has obvious problems with the law, has flouted safety regulations and, of course, cannot explain the drama their greed has caused. But in spite of this, they were shameless enough to declare that they were not willing to pay the salaries of these 33 workers, claiming bankruptcy.

But, fortunately, good guys also exist. Down there, with almost no hope, these 33 miners spontaneously built an organization. They freely generated a method of collective decision-making and were able to control their instincts and appetites and use their minds to the benefit of each and every one of them.

How was this possible? Leadership? Yes, but why were there leaders in a position to lead for the well-being of everybody as opposed to only a few? What was it like to live down there just waiting for Godot?

The miners came out of the mine

wrote César Vellejo, the great Peruvian poet

Shod with infinite paths

And eyes of physical weeping,

Creaters of the profundity,

They know, from the ladder's intermittent sky

How to climb down looking up,

They know to climb up looking down

Experts were predicting little chance of finding them. Wise men who advise President Sebastián Piñera were all suggesting to him that, obviously, the wise thing was to distance himself from this drama that would end sadly.

The families were getting angry. There was so little hope! People were unhappy with the way the search was being handled. The experts were too slow. Certainly, one could go down more quickly using dynamite.

The police were sent to keep order. Piñera is famous because of his intelligence and his wealth and his knowledge and his shrewdness. Everybody expected of him a careful cost-benefit analysis, a well-calculated bet.

However, he did nothing of that. He did not, apparently, consider the opinion of his cautious advisers. No clever calculation was employed by the president. He simply did the right thing.

Polls show that his popularity, as well as that of his minister of mining, has gone up. Machiavelli wrote that in a republic, people do not judge the knowledge of their leaders but rather their character. Piñera has proved that he has good instincts and guts.

In the past I've criticized Mr. Piñera for showing his intelligence and not his heart. Not this time.

Last night was silent. No cars on the streets. Every Chilean was sitting in front of the TV set and waiting to see the first face emerging from the bottom of the earth.

Hope was what we all were feeling. Only hope.

A technological device, a system designed to lift human beings that are at the bottom and bring them up is a powerful image. It is what we would like our socioeconomic system to be able to do with the poor. What we have been watching is somewhat linked to that dream, I think.

Of course, the most impressive moment was when the capsule Phoenix 2 appeared up there. Then it gradually went down and gently, tentatively, with shyness touched the floor of the hard rock.

Technology + poetry = humanity.

The first miner, Florencio Avalos, appears--like a newborn. His kid and wife are there. He hugs them. He looks fine. After 68 days under the Earth, his eyes, with sunglasses though, are the first to look up at the stars.

And we feel, with old Dante, that on this night in Chile, love moves the sun and all the other stars.

Sometimes, after all, life is as it should be.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arturo Fontaine.