Chilean president brings rock souvenir to Britain’s queen

Monday, October 18, 2010

LONDON - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Monday presented Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with a piece of rock from the bottom of the copper mine where 33 men were rescued last week.

Handing over the memento in a presentation box at Buckingham Palace, Pinera gave the monarch a personal account of the rescue mission, which the queen is known to have keenly watched on TV along with viewers around the world.

He was accompanied by his wife, Cecilia Morel, during the 40-minute private meeting.

Earlier, the Chilean leader, who is on a two-day visit to Britain, had given a piece of rock from the San Jose mine - brought up by one of the rescued miners - to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The British leader responded by giving the president 33 bottles of real ale - one for each miner - and an early edition of Robinson Crusoe, a book about a real-life castaway on a Chilean island.

Pinera said he believed ties between Britain and Chile are “stronger than ever” and that global respect for Chile had grown in the wake of the rescue mission, which freed the men after 69 days underground.

He had discussed economic cooperation, education and clean energies with Cameron, said Pinera.

“We are meeting again with more responsibility but with the same enthusiasm and commitment,” he said.

In an interview with the BBC, Pinera pledged that Chile would adopt “first-world standards” for mining safety regulations within the next three months.

His government was revising all mining regulations and had tripled the budget for safety measures, Pinera said. “We are changing everything because we have learnt our lesson,” Pinera said.

“We cannot guarantee that there will not be an accident in the future. But we can guarantee that we will do what is necessary to have a more secure mining industry in our country.”

Pinera said the mine’s owners bore a “huge responsibility” because they had been negligent and failed to comply with safety regulations, including one requiring a “second way out” from the mine.

However, the government was also to blame because it had not been “able to make sure that regulations were being put in place”, he said.

Asked whether there had in the past been a “culture of silence” in Chile over mining accidents, Pinera said: “If there was a culture of fear, I can tell you … that is over.”

Pinera said Chile would sign International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 176 on health and safety rules for mines, which would allow miners to talk about their conditions.

“We will have first-world standards, and we will do that in the next 90 days,” said Pinera.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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