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President Barack Obama took to the podium well before President Sebastian Piñera did. Chile’s president bided his time patiently with the group of rescue workers in hard hats, until all 33 miners had surfaced from deep within the San José copper-gold mine, in northern Chile, where they had been entombed for 69 days.
If not for the translator’s running commentary, I would not have guessed that the man with a beaming smile – so different from Obama’s gleam of dentition and Bush’s demented grin – last in-line to meet and greet the miners who ascended from hell, was none other than Chile’s president. Sebastian Piñera’s wife, first lady Cecilia Morel, was equally low-key, fading into the background and ceding to the heroes of the unfolding drama.
The images transmitted from Camp Esperanz showed no swat teams, personal body guards, or retinues of handlers and props – the sort of “presidential comitatus” that accompanies the head of the American hyperpower everywhere.
At “Camp Hope,” the pensive group of rescuers and their president looked like a band of brothers. The media scrum did nothing to shatter what was almost a religious atmosphere. All present – mining men, the rescued and the rescuers, and their families – seemed oblivious to the din from the outside world. Nobody appeared star-struck; few were playing to the cameras. All present had eyes for one another alone. Expressions of joy were all the more poignant because so dignified. There was no slobbering, no Geraldo-Rivera hyperbole.
Never would an American president have tolerated being talked down to by a rescuer. Not from the vertiginous heights of this office. Nor would The Emperor – Barack, “W,” Bill; they’re interchangeable – have deigned to decamp to the equivalent of an American “Camp Hope.” Yet after he was hoisted last from the 2,041-foot deep mineshaft, Manuel Gonzalez scolded Sebastian Piñera:
“Mr. President, I hope this never happens again. I hope Chilean mining will be different; I hope things will be done correctly in [mining].”
Something else distinguished the atmosphere at the Chilean mine. A genuine Christian religiosity was in the air. A miner knelt and signed the cross on forehead, lips and heart. Women clasped both hands. Lips moved in silent prayer. The metaphors of choice were purely Christian. “My father was born again today,” declared one family member. And President Piñera glanced to the heavens fleetingly before declaring:
This “has ended as a true blessing from God.” “I would like to thank especially God.” “Chile showed its unbreakable faith.” “The church bells are chiming across our country.”
Just imagine an American president looking to the skies above, as did the obviously devout President Piñera. Or expressing so Christian a faith without any of the obligatory homage to America’s alleged multi-ethnic, multi-faith religion. I cannot. Seventy percent of Chileans are Roman Catholic, and 15 percent are evangelical. Indeed, Chileans appear unapologetic in asserting their common culture, secular and sacred.
President Piñera has flung Chile open to free trade. Commensurate with his knowledge of the divine properties of the voluntary division of labor, Piñera solicited the best technology Americans, Germans and Japanese had to offer; the United States was not the only country to pitch in with it expertise. Yet, no sooner had the first few miners emerged from the pit, than Obama was milking the rescue for all it was worth. No other leader that I know of muscled in on what was a Chileans moment:
“From the NASA team that helped design the escape vehicle to American companies that manufactured and delivered parts of the rescue drill to the American engineer who flew in from Afghanistan to operate the drill.”
Was there any significance in the fact that President Piñera mentioned the congratulatory calls he took from the British, Israeli and the Latin American heads of state, but omitted Obama?
Newsweek complained that Piñera oversaw the rescue at San Jose “like a field marshal on the front.” The magazine went on to accuse this manifestly approachable man of “grabbing the limelight in the miners’ rescue,” reminding Newsweek’s few remaining readers that Piñera was “arrogant, ultraconservative, a onetime chum of dictator Augusto Pinochet.”
The American neoconservative “right” wants to make client-states of countries around the world. The American left (also in control of Foggy Bottom) has yet to pardon Pinochet for his undeniable role in saving Chile from becoming a Soviet satellite.
Contrast the free-thinking, highly accomplished Piñera with the Obama and Bush statist “solutions” to the Gulf oil spill and to the Katrina calamity, respectively. It is quite clear that the only thing American about this Chilean president are his giant, gleaming teeth.