Edgardo Reinoso Lundstedt didn't go to work today. It's a good day to stay home, he thinks. It's morning and Reinoso, a calm man, is standing on his large patio enjoying the Pacific breeze.
There is no evidence here of the drama unfolding 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.
Rain is in the forecast, so Reinoso won't be firing up the grill today, not with this weather. He turns on the TV set and sees the same images he has been seeing for weeks. The whole of Chile is in the grips of a media frenzy. The 33 miners who had been trapped in a mine near Copiapó in northern Chile are being rescued today. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera is at the scene, together with about 2,000 international journalists, curious onlookers, the miners' families, clowns, police officers and members of the clergy.
Their attention, and that of much of the rest of the world, is focused on a 66-centimeter (2 foot 2 inch) hole in the ground. For days, there has been an ongoing discussion on Chilean television as to which momentous event in history the rescue of the 33 miners resembles -- the fall of the Berlin Wall perhaps, or maybe the Moon landing.
Reinoso turns off his TV set. From his patio, it all blurs together into random noise. He makes a pot of coffee and, feeling lethargic but in good spirits, sits down in the living room. "Shall we talk about art? My grandfather, Carlos Lundstedt, was a painter, and not a bad one at that. Isn't art a wonderful thing?"
A Small Amount of Compensation
Shortly after the accident in the San José mine, the mayor of Caldera, Brunilda Gonzalez, was looking for an attorney. Caldera is a small, bleak coastal town only 35 minutes from the mine. Some of the families of the trapped miners are from the town. The mayor had heard about Reinoso and read about him in the newspaper. He has sued prisons, hospitals, shipyards and gas companies, and once he even called for the arrest of the mayor of his native Valparaiso for his refusal to pay a compensation award. Reinoso, an expert on damage suits, was her man, Gonzalez thought to herself.
A day after speaking with the mayor on the phone, Reinoso put on a dark suit. Then he selected a dark blue tie with a subtle white embroidered pattern and called a notary public. An amateur would probably have neglected to call the notary. Then he went to the airport and boarded a plane.
The first thing Reinoso did was to explain to the families of the 33 miners what he couldn't do for them. This was important to him. He couldn't take away their pain, he said. They would all have to come to terms with the suffering they had endured at the hands of the mining company and the government mine safety agencies, he told them. But, he added, what he might be able to do for them was to win a small amount of compensation, a gesture at best. Chilean law, he told the families, included provisions for such cases.
A few days later, a letter certified by a notary arrived in Reinoso's office. The letter confirmed that he now represented 26 of the 33 miners.
The Human Element
"I'm going to let things settle down a bit first," says Reinoso. The dark leather couch squeaks whenever Reinoso, a large man, moves. He represented shipping companies in the past and was an expert on maritime law. But those experiences, he says, were all about the money, not the people, and he missed the human element.
Reinoso says that he won't travel to the mine until the tension has died down. He has plenty of time. He plans to turn his attention to other cases until then and, if the weather improves, maybe fire up the grill on his patio. He wants to make sure that everyone else has calmed down before he makes his move -- the journalists, the families, the 33 miners themselves, the president, and the rest of the hyperventilating world. And then, once everyone has calmed down, Reinoso will step in -- and all the excitement will start all over again.
Shortly after meeting with Reinoso, Mayor Gonzalez mentioned a sum. She felt that $1 million (€709,000) per miner would be suitable compensation. In Chile, damage suits function in much the same way as they do in the United States. Reinoso will be paid a percentage of the damage award. If he loses the case, he will have provided his services free of charge. But if he wins -- and Reinoso doesn't even take on cases he thinks he could lose -- he will be entitled to some of the money.
"How much will that be?" Reinoso smiles. "Oh, it's just money. Let's talk about art instead. Let's ignore all the fuss out there."
33 Human Interest Stories
Everyone was waiting for the miners, and now that they've been rescued, many are still waiting, because everyone seems to have different plans for the 33 men. Reinoso, for example, sees them as clients, not miners who were trapped and then rescued. For Chilean President Piñera and his administration, they represent 33 voices to support him in a future political campaign. For the Church, they are 33 cases to prove the existence of God. For the public, they are 33 fathers, sons and husbands, and for the journalists they are 33 human interest stories. In recent weeks, everyone has devised his own rescue plan.
There are few exceptions, except perhaps one man, the amiable Alberto Iturra, who still looks like he's wearing a costume whenever he puts on a miner's helmet. For Iturra, the miners are 33 patients.
Alberto Iturra is the rescue mission's chief psychologist, sent by the government to provide psychological assistance to the miners. He was one of the first to be allowed to speak with them two months ago when the first hole was drilled into the space where they were trapped. They had already been underground for 17 days by then, and had managed to survive on cookies, milk and a few cans of tuna fish.
Iturra is standing in the morning sun, giving a short interview to an Italian television station. For the journalists, Iturra, who bears a slight resemblance to Brazilian President Lula da Silva and who always seems to be smiling, is probably the most important man at the site. He is the only one who can assess the psychological state of the trapped miners.
Journalists Interview Each Other
The Italian reporter about to interview Iturra is wearing a tight blouse. Her photo will appear in a tabloid tomorrow. The paper will feature the hottest female reporters at "Campamento Esperanza" (Camp Hope). A female reporter from the British tabloid The Sun will also be part of the lineup.
There are reportedly 2,000 accredited journalists at the mine site. The reporters have to do something to kill time. Some interview each other. Others make plans for the future. A well-known Chilean tabloid journalist had asked a member of one of the miners' familes to shoot a short video. The family member was supposed to give it to Victor Segovia, one of the trapped miners. Segovia had reportedly been keeping a journal, writing down everything that had happened since the day of the accident.
"Dear Victor," the journalist said into the camera, "our hearts are with you. We love you and we hope that you get out soon. We are deeply affected by your fate. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. I heard that you want to write a book. I can help you find a publisher. I can also advise you on how to market it. I love you, my friend. Call me."
The family member put away the small camera and promised to send the tape to his relative down the shaft by which the miners received their supplies.
There are others, too, who are apparently too impatient to wait until the men are rescued. The Spanish newspaper El País reported that one of the miners had already signed a deal while still trapped underground. The first offer, according to the paper, was for 10 million pesos, or about €15,000. After a bit of bargaining, El Pais, wrote, the miner agreed to a sum of 20 million pesos, or €30,000 -- enough to buy a small house in the area.
Always the Same Version
The Italian journalist asks chief psychologist Iturra what the men who have spent so much time down in the depths of the mine are like. Iturra knows what is expected of him. It's always the same version, the one everyone wants to hear. The heroic version. The version that paints the miners as 33 hellhounds stuck inside a mountain. "They're terrific men. They have big hearts. Their time in the mine has made them more mature and united." He has been saying the same thing for days and weeks. Iturra describes the instructions he has given everyone, both the miners and the rescue crew. "Walk tall, with your heads held high, because it conveys confidence. Those who walk tall are demonstrating that they know what they're doing. It exudes hope."
With each new interview, Iturran expands the epic. The saga of a group of men, trapped 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground, grows with each sentence. For 17 days, the miners were thought to be dead, but then they were found and, after two months, triumphantly extracted from the bowels of the earth by an entire nation. It is the story of the year -- straightforward, exciting, easy to follow and easy to broadcast live.
The Italian reporter is finished with the interview, and Iturra has a little time to catch his breath. He takes off the helmet, which he doesn't like to wear.
Therapy for Two Groups
It took a while for Iturra to realize that they had called him so that he could provide therapy to two groups, a small group and a very large one. The 33 miners needed help. That was obvious. They were in a dangerous situation deep underground. He was called to help them first, but the public also had its needs. The world outside gradually became the second group. It too needed comforting, because it also had its expectations, hopes and needs. It was up to Iturra to ensure that the world continued to believe in the tale he had been weaving, a tale in which the power of good wins out in the end. "I have never learned so much about people as I have in the last two months," says Iturra.
He was the best psychologist in the area, which doesn't mean very much. He has a practice in Caldera, but he has very few patients, because most of the people living here are miners. Miners don't talk about their problems. They drink instead. But Iturra knows what miners are like, and he is familiar with the mine, where he sometimes completes personnel evaluations for mining companies. Besides, no one else was available, and he wasn't entirely unknown, either. He hosts a show on a local radio station called "Let's Share a Dream." Listeners can call in and talk about their dreams, and Iturra listens. The show airs on Thursdays.
"At first I had no idea what I was supposed to do," says Iturra. A few family members are walking behind him carrying balloons in Chile's national colors.
Iturra is standing about 20 meters in front of a barrier that separates the tent city from the rescue site. Suddenly a silver SUV approaches and the police officers salute. The vehicle comes to a stop. A blonde, heavily made-up woman with very white teeth gets out. It is Cecilia Morel, the wife of President Piñera. She looks just as healthy, in a North American kind of way, as her husband.
Morel walks up to Iturra and gives him a hug. It isn't quite clear whether she knows whom she is hugging. Her smile could mean anything. But she nods pleasantly and says: "This is an important time for Chile."
The president's wife is right. The world doesn't know much about Chile. It did fairly well in the last football World Cup. It had a dictator who was never sent to prison. The Chileans largely have Argentina to thank for their independence from Spain. Chile is a long, narrow country at the end of the Earth. In February, more than 500 people died in an earthquake in the southern part of the county, but hardly anyone in the rest of the world paid much attention to that. But now 33 men were stuck in a mountain, and suddenly Chile was the center of the world.
The first days were the most difficult. The group was divided, says Iturra. Five had withdrawn to their own area. José Henriquez, Juan Illanes, Juan Carlos Aguilar, Raul Bustos and Richard Villarroel were not employees of the company that operates the mine. They worked for an outside company called Armamit. They refused to take orders from the foreman, Luis Urzua, who was also trapped. He wasn't their boss. There was a dispute. Iturra is unwilling to say how far it went, but apparently far enough that the five men wanted to have nothing to do with the others. They appeared only briefly in the first videotaped message from inside the mine.
Argument over Football Jerseys
When experts from the US space agency NASA were brought in, they told Iturra that he had to try to bring the groups together. There always has to be a leader in this type of situation. The structure cannot be questioned. Iturra tried to persuade the foreman, but it was no use. The groups were irreconcilable. Only after the owner of Armamit became involved could the five men be convinced to join the larger group.
"Let's not fool ourselves. These are simple, hard-working miners," says Iturra. They are the kinds of people who would never come to see him in his practice.
An argument erupted over two football jerseys autographed by David Villa, the striker on Spain's national team. Villa, whose father was a miner, had sent the men two jerseys from his club, FC Barcelona. One was meant for miner Franklin Lobos, a retired Chilean footballer. The second one was for the group.
Most of the 33 miners are football fans, supporting either Colo Colo or Universidad de Chile, the two biggest Chilean clubs. Above ground, fans of the two clubs normally avoid each other, but that was impossible in the mine. Everyone wanted the Villa jersey, and although Iturra couldn't understand the problem, he knew he had to do something about it. Eventually he convinced the men to postpone the dispute until after the rescue.
"After a while, outside influences became responsible for the biggest problems. The miners wanted newspapers," says Iturra. "The conflicts started becoming more frequent, and eventually I had to step in."
Iturra told the wives to be careful about being photographed for the papers. Three copies of the biggest Chilean dailies were sent down to the men every day. When one paper printed a photo of the wife of one of the men standing next to a good-looking journalist with a smile on her face, the other miners drew two large horns on the miner's helmet while he was sleeping, symbolizing that he was a cuckold. After that, the man berated his wife in the letters he sent to her.
Iturra likes the men. "They're real jokers down there," he says. When one of the miners was forced to celebrate his birthday in the mine, the others gave him a large birthday card. Their signatures were on the front, and they drew a large penis on the back. On another occasion, they sent their psychologist a letter via the tube. One of the miners made a joke in the letter, writing: "Doctor, I have never been in a mina for such a long time. Signed: Your friend in the mountain, who suffers from premature ejaculation." In Chile, the world "mina" can mean both "mine" and "woman."
'A Certain Percentage'
Iturra puts on his helmet and walks over to the trailers housing the communications center. He is scheduled to give another short press conference in the afternoon. His large group of patients wants to know how the small group is doing.
Reinoso, the lawyer, could be watching all of this on television, but he isn't interested in the present, only the future. His daughter comes into the room with a tray.
"In Chile, lawyers normally receive a 30 percent fee for damage suits," he says. "But I can't tell you exactly how much I'll be paid in this case. I can say, however, that when I visited the families, I proposed a certain percentage. The families thought it was too low. I'll be getting more now, but it's less than 30 percent."
Reinoso launches into a long summation. He is starting to earn his money. "What are the facts? The facts are that my clients are grateful. They are grateful that the government rescued them. They acknowledge this achievement without reservations. But it's also a fact that, as taxpayers and miners, they have the right to be protected by the government. No one should have to risk his life in a mine. The mine operators and the regulatory authorities are clearly responsible. I see competing responsibilities here. These people must be compensated for their suffering."
An Open-and-Shut Case
He believes that it's an open-and-shut case. "Our president is a businessman. I suspect that he'll look at the situation and will know that a quick solution is the best thing for everyone involved."
Reinoso stands up, walks a few steps into the foyer of his villa, and then turns right into his office. Photos depict him posing with former President Ricardo Lagos. "I anticipate a short trial," says Reinoso. "Half a year, seven months, not much longer. The evidence is clear, and public pressure will take care of the rest. The government has managed to completely sideline the opposition during this time. Between you and me, that will naturally have its price."
In Reinoso's opinion, it's all a big party. The live broadcasts, the newspaper stories, the tabloids' relentless pursuit of the families of the miners, the popularity of the presidential couple and the media circus surrounding the 33 trapped miners. Parties usually cost money. Reinoso is unwilling to confirm or deny the reported figure of $1 million for each miner. It is clear, however, that someone will have to pay up.
And Reinoso is ready to collect the money.