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Chilean miner wants his page of history back


The Chilean miner who wrote a famous message informing the world that he and 32 colleagues had survived an accident which would leave them buried deep underground for more than two months has an announcement: he wants his note back.

Jose Ojeda said yesterday that he intends to force his country's government to return the historic scrap of paper on which he scrawled the words "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33" ("We are OK in the refuge, the 33 of us") in red felt tip pen.

The message was attached by Mr Ojeda to an exploratory drill sent deep into the San Jose gold and copper mine 17 days after the accident last August. Its unexpected appearance sparked a frantic rescue effort that would eventually see the men returned safely to the surface.

Chile's President, Sebastian Pinera, has since kept the note in a plastic bag, and is often photographed showing it off to world leaders. He would now like the item to go on display at a museum chronicling the rescue, where it will be kept alongside a selection of other memorabilia.

First, he'll have to convince Mr Ojeda. In an interview with a Chilean newspaper, La Cuarta, the miner claimed this week that the message remains his property under copyright law. It's therefore up to him to decide where it will end up, he argued, saying that for now, he'd simply like the scrap of paper to be returned.

So far, Mr Pinera has failed to co-operate with his requests to discuss the item's future, he added.

"I was told six months ago to ask for a meeting with the President; they told me to send a letter to the presidential palace but nothing happened," said Mr Ojeda. "I think it's fine for him to keep it for a few months, but he can't just take something that I wrote."

It isn't clear whether Mr Ojeda's comments are motivated by principled objection to the note being exploited for political gain, or by a straightforward desire to make a fast buck by selling what will one day be a historic artefact.

They are, however, the latest sign that relations between Mr Pinera and the 33 miners have deteriorated since early October, when the President shook hands with each of the men as they emerged from the mine. In January, a lawyer for four of the rescued men claimed that the President had quietly reneged on a pledge to pay their medical bills for at least six months.

Like many of the men, Mr Ojeda has perhaps also found that the life-altering riches he was promised after the 69-day ordeal are harder to come by than he thought.

Though the men have travelled the world, appearing everywhere from Disneyland to Old Trafford to the Vatican, they have yet to achieve financial security. Some are now working as motivational speakers. Others are considering a return to mining.

A lawsuit against the owners of the San Jose mine is in progress, though their firm is in bankruptcy. Meanwhile the Hollywood talent agency WME has for months been trying to sell the official "life rights" to "Los 33" to movie studios and publishing houses. But no deal has yet been announced.

More Mine Memorabilia

*The Phoenix Two rescue pod which brought the trapped Chilean miners to the surface has become the subject of a quarrel between the Chilean Navy (which built it) and the mine. It is now thought to be worth around $1m (£618,000).

*Mario Sepulveda, one of "Los 33", brought a bag of rocks to the surface and gave them to children as souvenirs. One was later presented to the Queen.

*Days before their rescue, the miners sent mementos of their ordeal to the surface, including signed Chilean flags and dirty clothes.