MAC: Mines and Communities

Mexico's Fox Under Fire For Handling Of Mine Blast

Published by MAC on 2006-03-01

Mexico's Fox under fire for handling of mine blast

by Catherine Bremer, REUTERS, MEXICO CITY

1st March 2006

Mexican President Vicente Fox is under fire for his handling of a coal mine disaster that left hundreds of relatives waiting days for news of 65 men killed in an underground explosion.

Fox opted not to visit the mine in the bleak northern state of Coahuila, where families kept vigil for a week awaiting news of the missing miners, finally pronounced dead on Saturday.

Fox's office is beating back accusations that his government put pressure on local officials not to tell families sooner that the miners likely had died instantly.

"At no point was information refused," Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said on Tuesday, after Coahuila's governor, Humberto Moreira, said he had been muzzled by the federal government.

Up until the weekend, mine manager Ruben Escudero told families waiting at the Pasta de Conchos mine they should not give up hope.

On Saturday, officials admitted the February 19 explosion generated temperatures above (600degC) and filled the mine with lethal levels of methane and carbon monoxide.

"The authorities treated the people in an inhuman way and told them they had to hope for a miracle when technically it was clear there was no possibility of life," Moreira told reporters on Monday.

"I don't understand why they delayed announcing the miners' deaths. You can understand a tragedy, but not a lie."

Mine owner Grupo Mexico said it could not have told relatives the men had died until it knew for sure.

"The company's responsibility to the families was to tell them what we knew, not what we didn't know or what we believed," Juan Rebolledo, Grupo Mexico's vice president of international relations, said.

Fox is also under fire for failing to visit the site of Mexico's worst mining accident in nearly 40 years, and not declaring a national day of mourning. Aguilar said there was still no plan for Fox to visit the mine.

Moreira -- who spent last week at the mine with Labor Minister Francisco Salazar representing Fox -- also accused the government and mine owners of trying to cut off food and services local civil groups provided to the miners' families.

"I want to say it and denounce it now -- they pressured us to take away the food, take away the toilets, to eliminate all kinds of assistance," Moreira, a member of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, told Mexican daily Milenio.

"If anyone had seen what I saw there, they would have vomited to see the lack of compassion, care, sympathy (and) responsibility on the part of those leading the rescue operation," he told the newspaper.

The government has said it will fully investigate the accident, which could lead to the mine's closure, and punish anyone found responsible. Grupo Mexico has already pledged compensation to the victims' families.

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