United for 69 days under the ground, divided after six days on the surface

Despite vowing that they would share any proceeds from their story, the Chilean miners are now breaking ranks
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The Independent US

For 69 days, the solidarity of the trapped Chilean miners enabled them to survive their subterranean prison, solemnly vowing to maintain a silence about their experience once confronted by the media circus that awaited them some 2,000ft above. Less than a week after their deliverance, cracks are beginning to emerge in that unity forged underground.

Amid offers of free holidays to Greece and tickets to see Manchester United, "Los 33" have started speaking about their ordeal, with some openly requesting money in return for interviews with the sizable phalanx of broadcasters and journalists that remains at the San Jose mine and the nearby city of Copiapo, where many of the miners live.

Quite where the opening of bidding for interviews sits with a reported agreement between the men to split evenly the proceeds from the telling of their stories – in particular the first 17 days of their captivity – is unclear.

But as the heroes of Chile began to be released from hospital over the weekend, a market was rapidly developing for access to the miners whose entombment captivated a global audience of one billion people.

Veronica Quispe, the wife of Carlos Mamani, 24, the Bolivian national who was the only non-Chilean in the group, told reporters arriving at their home in a slum in Copiapo that they were charging for interviews. She told The New York Times: "We're poor – look at the place we live. You live off our stories, so why can't we make money from this opportunity to feed our children?"

The going price for an audience with one of the 33 varies dramatically. The partner of one miner asked for a bottle of Argentine alcohol while some miners have requested only $40 (£25). Others, however, are asking for substantially more, with figures of $25,000 being discussed by some families.

The Mail on Sunday this weekend published an exhaustive account from Mario Sepulveda, the flamboyant machine operator who led rescuers in a chorus of singing when he became the second to emerge from the escape capsule six days ago. The newspaper said Mr Sepulveda, known as "Super Mario", had granted the interview because of what he described as the "dignity and kindness" with which the paper had treated his family.

Other media groups are willing to go further, with broadcasters, magazines and newspapers offering to fly miners to Italy, Japan and America. The US broadcaster ABC News said it had obtained an exclusive interview with Mr Sepulveda but denied it had paid for access, saying instead that it had "licensed material from the family".

The compelling nature of the narrative of the group, in particular those first 17 days when the miners had no idea whether they would be found and eked out meagre rations in darkness, means there is intense pressure on the men and their pact to keep some elements of their experience private. Negotiations for interviews even began while the group were still underground with tentative offers being made via letters sent down a plastic tube.

Jonathan Franklin, an American-born journalist who has signed a deal to publish a book on the miners, said: "There are some secrets that they should keep. I know things that I'm never going to publish in my book. But we're going to know what happened down there."

The material compensations for their physical and mental traumas are already being provided to the men. A Chilean mining magnate, Leonardo Farkas, has written a cheque for 5m pesos (£6,500) to each of the miners, while a Greek mining firm has offered a free one-week holiday to each man and a companion. They have also received invitations from Real Madrid and Manchester United to see the clubs play.

But with film rights reaching as much as £300,000 per miner and television rights £6,000, the most substantial sums lie in the details of what took place some 2,060ft beneath the ground.

Mr Sepulveda said: "There are certain things which need to be told. I want the world to know the truth about what we went through down there. We were swallowed into the bowels of hell but we have been reborn and now I feel it is my duty to tell what went on and the lessons to be learnt."

Others are more reticent, for the moment at least. Omar Reygadas, 56, this weekend went to look at the tent in the San Jose copper mine where his family had camped during his ordeal, followed by a crowd of cameramen and photographers. Turning to the reporters, he said: "I've had nightmares these days. But the worst nightmare is all of you."

The first of the deals

* With the San Jose miners charging between $40 and $25,000 for an interview, at $500 Florencio Avalos is at the cheaper end of the scale. That was the amount he charged Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, "and it felt like he was withholding details", said reporter Ari Hirayama.

* While the miners may have agreed a pact before they were rescued, their wives may have different ideas. Jessica Chilla, the wife of Dario Segovia, told the media that her husband would charge for media appearances as "compensation" for his ordeal. "He will not give interviews for free, not now or later," she said. And only hard currency will do. The family now want offers of cash after being promised too many trips, she added.

* Not having endured 69 days trapped nearly half a mile under the Chilean desert seems to be no bar to cashing in. Marcos Aciares, who was drafted to work during the fateful shift on 5 August, has been doing the rounds of Chilean television, talking about his "experience". He has been charging more than $4,000 per interview, despite not actually being a member of "Los 33" after being late for work.

How other groups have coped after being rescued

Flight 571

The 1993 film Alive told the story of the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which crashed into the Andes in 1972. Initially, the 16 that survived the crash and the 72 days on the freezing mountainside, told rescuers that they had survived by eating cheese. In fact, they had eaten the bodies of those that died. They had agreed not to tell the world about their survival methods, but the details emerged after rescuers found the bodies of those that had been eaten.

Quecreek coal mine

Rather than being trapped for 69 days like the San Jose survivors in Chile, nine miners at the Quecreek coal mine in the US 'only' had to endure 77 hours before they were rescued in July 2002. Initially, 18 men were trapped when they mistakenly drilled into a disused chamber of an old mine, quickly flooding the area they were working in. Nine of the men managed to escape, but with water levels rising rapidly, fears that the remaining men had drowned intensified on the surface. After all were successfully rescued, instead of arguing about the event, the miners co-wrote a book about their experience.

Ingrid Betancourt

The French-Colombian politician was captured by the Marxist revolutionary FARC group as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency in 2002. She was freed along with a number of fellow captives six years later, but rather than forging deep friendships with those she was held with, Ms Betancourt attracted a wave of criticism from other prisoners. In their book about being held by the FARC, Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes accused Ms Betancourt of being selfish and demanding better treatment than the other captives because of her political and social standing.