Chilean leader to give rock from mine to queen

AP News
Posted: Oct 18, 2010 3:42 PM
Chilean leader to give rock from mine to queen

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'd 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 here 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 underdevelopment."

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.

Pinochet's brutality_ he is blamed for hundreds of disappearances in his campaign to crush opposition _ turned him into a personification of right-wing repression in Latin America. And his detention in London in 1998 on a Spanish arrest warrant kept Chile's troubled history in the eye of the European public.

Media here and elsewhere have lingered on the implications of the mining rescue for Chile's past. One recent Times of London headline read: "Chile's big heart has buried its history of dictatorship."

Pinera is carrying tokens of the mine rescue on his tour. One is the rock from the mine destined for the British monarch. Another went to Cameron. Manchester United, which has invited the freed miners to visit the soccer club, is also getting a memento of the mining drama.

Pinera is visiting France and Germany after London.