Feb 27, 2006
February 19, a ball of methane gas was ignited at the Mexican coal mine in San Juan de las Sabinas near the Texas border. It caused the three main tunnels into the mine to cave in. Fifteen miners outside one of the entrances were immediately rescued. But 65 others remain trapped deep underground.
One week later, company bosses finally came out from where they had been in hiding. They told angry relatives that evacuation efforts had come to a halt for at least a few days because high levels of methane gas threatened search crews and could cause further explosions in the tunnel. And that rescuers had “been unable to find any bodies, clothing or even a shoe.” As of this writing, officials and inspectors predicted all 65 miners were dead.
Everything about the mining operation reveals the primitive equipment and lack of modern technology in a poor country, where coal miners earn between $50 and $100 a week. The supply of oxygen the miners carried with them was enough to last only six hours. The “pick-and-shovel” rescue effort of trained rescuers and a good number of volunteers was hampered from the beginning by more cave-ins, blocked shafts and “unbreathable” air, requiring rescuers to wear oxygen masks.
On the third day of keeping vigil, tears began turning to anger as families expressed outrage at the slow pace of rescue efforts, the lack of updated information, and the disappearance of government and company officials. As days dragged by, they shouted when officials told them to be patient. Relatives angrily reminded officials that miners many times over the years had pointed out specific unsafe conditions to government officials, but nothing was done about it. Families hurled insults at officials when told of the halt to rescue efforts.
This sounds tragically familiar to our ears, having just gone through three recent coal-mining disasters here. In January a total of 16 miners were killed in three accidents in West Virginia. The worst disaster was at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where 12 miners died.
If it sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because capitalism exists in both countries, with the coal mine owners driven to maximize profits at the expense of the health and safety of the workforce.
But Mexican miners carry a double burden. U.S. imperialism has long sought its close neighbor Mexico as a source of cheap labor, with maquiladora plants, abuse of the environment and huge tax breaks. The U.S. bourgeoisie has looked for ways to suck the wealth out of Mexico to the advantage of U.S. capitalists. Mexican coal miners are paying the price for this double layer of exploitation.