Image: Chilean miners Jorge Gallegillos, Carlos Barrios, Jose Henriquez, Mario Sepulveda
Evan Vucci  /  AP
Chilean miners, from left, Mario Sepulveda, Jorge Gallegillos, Carlos Barrios and Jose Henriquez, display a flag Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington during a press preview for the "Against All Odds" exhibition commemorating the rescue of 33 Chilean miners.
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updated 8/3/2011 6:01:29 PM ET 2011-08-03T22:01:29

One of the myths surrounding the 33 miners who were so dramatically rescued after being trapped for 69 days deep inside a Chilean copper mine is that they're all millionaires and no longer need to work.

The truth: nearly half the men have been unemployed since their mine collapsed one year ago Friday, and just one, the flamboyant Mario Sepulveda, has managed to live well off the fame. Most have signed up to give motivational speeches. Four, so far, have gone back underground to pound rock for a living.

"Los 33" have filed negligence lawsuits demanding $10 million from the bankrupt mine's owners and $17 million from the government for failing to enforce safety regulations, but years remain before any payout.

Despite rumors that miners got rich off media interviews, most got only paid trips, hotel stays and the kinds of gifts that don't put food on tables.

Neither did they profit from the books written about them so far. Only recently did they finally reach a deal with a Hollywood agent for an authorized book and movie, but they have yet to see any money from that, either.

The 33 miners sold the rights to their story to producer Mike Medavoy, whose films include "Shutter Island" and "Black Swan." "Motorcycle Diaries" screenwriter Jose Rivera is set to write the script.

A year after they were buried alive by a mine collapse a half-mile below the surface, the remarkable unity that many credited with helping them survive has fallen victim to misunderstandings over fame and money. Only some plan to join Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, in Copiapo and at the San Jose Mine on Friday for an anniversary mass and museum inauguration. Sepulveda is among those who want no part of the ceremonies.

All have been hoping that Pinera announce lifelong pensions of about $430 a month for the 33. The government seems willing to pay, but the exact amount has been under negotiation for some time now, several miners told The Associated Press.

Many have gotten by until now on the philanthropy of an eccentric millionaire and Chilean mine owner, Leonardo Farkas, who wrote them checks for 5 million pesos (about $10,950), threw them a lavish party and gave each a motorcycle. Farkas then doubled the amount for a miner whose baby was born while he was trapped down below, and another who skipped his baby's birth to attend the party.

Facing critics
Shift foreman Luis Urzua, who kept the men unified when nearly all hope was lost, told the AP that he's saddened by critics of the miners' lawsuits, who say they should simply be grateful they were rescued.

"We're very content, very grateful to the government and the president for what they did. We filed this lawsuit so that people understand that everyone has the right to sue when things aren't being done correctly," Urzua said.

Many Chileans don't distinguish between government agencies and the administration of Pinera, which spent as much as $20 million on the rescue only to see his approval ratings drop from 60 percent at their peak to 30 percent today, the lowest of any Chilean president since the nation recovered its democracy in 1990, according to Adimark's monthly tracking poll.

Housewife Cecilia Cruz, for example, told the AP that "the miners are a bunch of ingrates, after all the money the government spent rescuing them."

Pinera has been beset by striking miners, students, teachers, earthquake and tsunami survivors, Mapuche Indians and others marching against his government. While in Copiapo on Friday, he'll also likely face the 240 other San Jose Mine workers who escaped the collapse only to lose their jobs when the mine closed. Many are still unemployed and have only received 40 percent of their severances.

The government has resisted calls to make payments on behalf of the bankrupt mining company, fearful of a precedent that could sap profits from the entire industry, Chile's main revenue source. But the state-owned National Mining Company did lend $1.2 million this week to pay the mine owners' debts to the workers.

Only 19 of the 33 rescued men would see some of this money — the others won't get anything because they worked for outside contractors, or have had most of their salaries paid by the state while on medical leave.

Urzua is among the unemployed. Rather than return to mining, he's among the 25 miners who have signed up to give motivational speeches, and credited a university professor, Ricardo Munoz, for helping them polish their deliveries. "He's one of the few who is working with us without trying to profit from it," Urzua said. "There are a lot of people who have made off handsomely."

One-time heroes
The miners were celebrated as heroes worldwide for surviving so long in the dark, hot, wet depths of a mountain weakened by more than a century of mining, with tons of rock above them that was constantly shifting and threatening to bury them forever. Before anyone knew that they had survived the Aug. 15, 2010, collapse, the 33 stretched an extremely meager store of emergency food for 17 days, eating tiny capfuls of tuna fish and sips of outdated milk.

Pinera staked his presidency on their rescue. He formed an expert team and rushed to the scene, offering any resources necessary to bring them out alive. When they were finally pulled out, the world's media converged on the remote desert hilltop, broadcasting Chile's success story to a global audience hungry for good news.

The 33 were deluged with invitations to all-expenses-paid television appearances and vacations to exotic destinations. A few still travel to tell their stories.

But most remain have run out of money and are back to scratching out livings in the dusty, barren, working-class neighborhoods and shantytowns that ring the desert city of Copiapo.

The El Mercurio newspaper reported that 15 are unemployed; seven regularly give motivational speeches; three hawk fruit and vegetables in the street, two have small grocery stores and four have returned underground to pound rock for copper and gold. Others are unable to work due to continuing psychological symptoms, and receive a fraction of their former salaries as government medical payments.

Two — Claudio Yanez and Pedro Cortez — said they've had to sell their motorcycles for food. Franklin Lobos, who had tasted fame earlier in life as a professional football player, is coaching in the city's youth leagues, but told Chile's Football Channel he would prefer the anonymity of his life as a mine driver.

Bolivian Carlos Mamami, the only foreigner among the 33, is out of money after his father-in-law tried to charge $33,000 per interview. Edison Pena, who ran in the New York marathon, appeared on U.S. talk shows and is known for his love of Elvis Presley, recently was invited to sing like his idol in Canada, but he confessed to El Mercurio that it has been hard to keep the celebrity-worship going. His wife told the paper that their life "is as dark as the mine was."

Omar Reygadas, 56, told The AP he's focusing on motivational speeches for now, "to show the meaning of teamwork, power and faith."

But he said nightmares still keep him up. "I try to read, to tire myself out so that I can sleep well," he said. "But if I'm alone in a closed space, it still makes me anxious — I have to get out and find someone to talk with or distract myself with something."

Sepulveda stood out among the miners by narrating their underground videos, and thrilled viewers worldwide with his ecstatic behavior when he reached the surface. Since then, he has formed a business consulting service, hired a U.S. public relations agent, and filled his calendar with trips around Chile and beyond.

Sepulveda traveled to Washington, D.C., with Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno for Wednesday's inauguration of a display about the rescue at the Smithsonian Institution.

He used the opportunity to defend the miners' lawsuits.

"Things should be done properly. If a worker commits a error of this calamity, the company isn't going to think twice" about finding those responsible, Sepulveda said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Rescued miners greeted with cheers, tears

  1. Closed captioning of: Rescued miners greeted with cheers, tears

    >>> and good morning. welcome to "today" on a wednesday morning.

    >> the ninth miner has just come out of that mine. and you think that those men have been down there for 70 days, each time one comes up, it's just a remark m image. they embrace family members and they look incredibly well.

    >> they are sending that capsule down a half a mile under ground, about one miner per hour being brought to the surface and as you mentioned, the scene when they get to the top is emotional to say the least.

    >> when the second miner came up, also named mario, he got out of the capsule, and he ran around the crowd leading them in a chant. now they're calling him supermario.

    >> some of the miners bringing rocks up with them. you would think they would have seen enough of rocks in the last few days. the makeshift village set up at the mine has been dubbed camp hope , natalee morales.

    >> it is an emotional scene, it has been a very long and exhausting night, a very long and exhausting 70 days for these families, but this is a scene that is going to be played out over and over again "today" and possibly even into tomorrow. a miracle at the mine, after 70 days trapped under ground, the first miner emerged. just after midnight local time wednesday morning, 31-year-old florencio alvaros. was brought to the surface. the raw emotion is captured by hundreds of supporters. it's impossible to have a dry eye, as you can see those very first moments, the very first hug, a very emotional experience. and seeing the grown men out there t reporters out there covering this story, everybody's crying. one hour later, the second miner emerged. mario sepulveda embraced his wife. then an unexpected moment. sepulveda reached inside his bag and brought out only rocks. and this miner known as the comedian of the bunch, laughed it up with the president of the chile. this all began on august 5 when the golden copper mine collapsed. 17 days later, a small drill broke through with remarkable news, the miners september a noa note to the surface saying they were alive. for more than two months the world watched as the miners hoped and prayed for a rescue . above ground, more than 1,000 experts planned the meticulous rescue , while family members gathered at what is now called camp hope , tuesday many of the women spent the last few hours getting ready, having their hair done, putting on makeup. baby esperanza which means hope is waiting for her father. throughout the overnight, almost every hour on the hour, rescue after rescue after rescue . over and over these brave men won the hearts of people all over the world. 33 miners, once strangers, now international heroes . and as you just saw, the ninth miner just pulled out of that hole. he's actually mario gomez , he's been taken into the triage area where they're going to do a medical evaluation. mario gomez is the oldest miner, he's 63 years old and they had some concern about his medical condition , he does have a heart condition and he has some respiratory conditions as well. they brought him up with an oxygen mask . they put the oxygen mask once again over his face as they sent him to the triage area. all of the miners have been in incredible physical and mental condition. the minute they jump out of that capsule, and some of them have literally jumped out of that cab suddenly. -- capsule.

    >> it's so emotional up here, you and natt have been up all night. can you describe the emotions there?

    >> it's electric, everybody's running on adrenaline. the folks who have been camping out here for 69, 70 days, who never gave up are wired. they are wired. and what i find interesting is some of the family members after their loved ones have come up, because we now have nine miners who have come up, the loveds ones aone s are remaining here to watch the others come up. it's they have bonded the way the 33 miners have bonded. the nation here has unified in a way that rarely happens in any country.

    >> and in fact, if our cameraman, carlos, can pan over there, you can see an example of the crowds with each rescue you see there, a show of solidarity, a celebration here, this is what is going on over and over again now with the ninth rescue , next will be number ten and of course this is a very long process. it's going to be a very long day following a very long and emotional night. so clearly everybody's still on pins and needles until number 33 is out, they're not going to breathe a sigh of relief.

    >> to see the engineers pull this off, but it is working like clock work, everything they said this fenix capsule was supposed to do, it is doing. all indications are that it's working like a charm.

    >> natalee , as we understand, the last guy out will be the shift supervise from that day, someone who has become kind of a leader down there? it's interesting because they were all fighting over not who would be first out there, but who would be last and he is leader, luis, osua who actually helped them, who said we're going to ration the food like nobody's business, we're only going to have two spoon fulls of tuna each a day. in all crisis situations, it takes one person to take the helm. and the reason he's coming up last, is like the captain of a ship, he's the last one coming up.

    >> so many hugs here, meredith, and a lot of thanks to the rescuers and all of the people who have been involved in this really superhuman and miraculous effort.

    >> it really is, natalee and kerry in copiapo, chile this morning, in a great moment of national pride .

Photos: Chilean mine collapse

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  1. Carlos Galleguillos and Tabita Galleguillos, relatives of trapped miner Jorge Galleguillos, wait for news outside the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Monday, Oct. 11. The engineer leading Chilean rescue efforts, Andres Sougarett, said Monday his team successfully tested a rescue capsule nearly all the way down to where 33 miners are trapped. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Drill operators Jeff Hart, left, and James Staffel, both U.S. citizens, wave as the drill that made the hole reaching the miners is transported away from the mine on Monday. (Jorge Saenz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Surrounded by media crews, onlookers and mine staff, the main rescue drill leaves the mine on Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rescuers test a capsule similiar to the one that will be used to recover the trapped miners at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Sunday, Oct. 10. (Hugo Infante / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A relative of one of the miners is hugged by a policeman after the drilling machine completed an escape hole at the mine on Oct. 9. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Workers of the T-130 drill celebrate in the arid Atacama desert on Oct. 9. The crew drilling with the T-130 drill, part of an effort dubbed "Plan B" - one of three shafts attempting to reach 33 miners trapped deep underground - finally made contact with the miners' shelter. (Francesco Degasperi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A clown named Rolly shows a flag that was sent by the 33 trapped miners as a gift at the camp where relatives wait for news outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, on Wednesday, Oct. 6. The words on the flag read in Spanish, "A souvenir for clown Rolly, from the San Jose mine, thanks for making our children laugh." Thirty-three miners have been trapped deep underground in the copper and gold mine since it collapsed on Aug. 5. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A helmet sits on a rock covered with the names of the 33 miners trapped in the collapsed San Jose mine. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aurelia Navarro, a volunteer missionary, prays on Oct. 5 during a small ceremony marking the 60 days since miners became trapped. (Dario Lopez-mills / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A relative of one of the trapped miners writes a message on a Chilean national flag on Oct. 4. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A team tests a possible rescue capsule designed by the Chilean Army's Shipyards on Sept. 30. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Workers on Sept. 30 test a capsule that will be used to rescue trapped miners. (Chile's Presidency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A worker checks part of a drill pulled from Rigg 421 on Sept. 24 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, where 33 miners remain trapped. (Ivan Alvarado / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Children play Oct. 2 as a worker hangs a sign identifying a module to be used as school room for relatives of the trapped Chilean miners trapped. Many of the families of the miners are living in what is called "Camp Esperanza" or "Camp Hope." (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Relatives of the trapped miners watch a video of them at the San Jose mine on Saturday, Sept. 18. (Aliosha Marquez A / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A crane lifts a capsule that will be used as part of rescue operation for the miners at the San Jose copper and gold mine on Saturday, Sept. 25. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nelly Bugueno, mother of trapped miner Victor Zamora, checks her cell phone as she walks past the tents where families of the 33 trapped miners are living as they await rescue on Friday. (Stringer/chile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Jesica Cortez, wife of Victor Zamora, one of the 33 miners trapped down in the shaft, rejoices as she reads a letter from her husband, at San Jose mine, near Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago, on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Relatives of trapped miners Claudio Yanez and Dario Segovia write a message to them with painted stones outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, Thursday, Sept. 23. (Photographer: Aliosha Marquez A / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Members of a folkloric ballet perform at the camp where relatives of trapped miners wait for news outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Sept. 1. Thirty-three miners have been trapped alive deep underground in the copper and gold mine since it collapsed on Aug. 5. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A composite image captured from a video on Tuesday, Sept. 1 shows four of 33 trapped miners waving at mine San Jose, near of Copiapo, Chile. (Codelco / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A sample of what it will be the first hot meal the miners still trapped in the San Jose Mine will have since the accident, Tuesday, Sept. 1 near Copiapo, Chile. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Evangelic Minister Javier Soto dedicates one of the 33 mini-bibles that will be given to the miners trapped in the San Jose mine, Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. View of 33 Chilean national flags placed outside the San Jose mine by the relatives of the 33 trapped miners in Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago on Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A worker checks the drill machine digging an escape hole for the 33 miners trapped underground in a copper and gold mine at Copiapo, north of Santiago, Chile, on Monday, Aug. 30. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Work to rescue the trapped miners continues on Aug. 30 at the mine, which is located 450 miles north of Santiago. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Samuel Avalo, left, and his wife Herminda Acuna, parents of Samuel Avalo Acuna, one of the trapped miners, sit outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, on Aug. 30. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Relatives of miners carry candles during a vigil outside the mine on Sunday, Aug. 29. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Trapped miners wave at a camera from underground on Aug. 29. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Chilean pianist Roberto Bravo performs during a show for the relatives of the trapped miners in Copiapo on Aug. 29. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Relatives of those trapped underground in a copper and gold mine gather around a screen showing the miners inside the mine at Copiapo, north of Santiago, Chile, on Thursday, Aug. 26. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Marion Gallardo, the granddaughter of trapped miner Mario Gomez, writes a letter to her grandfather on Wednesday, Aug. 25. The 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo, north of Santiago, since Aug. 5 say they are "enduring hell" underground, putting urgency into the rescue operation. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A combined photo shows the 33 miners trapped in the mine in Copiapo, Chile. (Diario Atacama / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Elias Sepulveda and her cousin Katherine embrace in front of a tribute to their relatives, Esteban Rojas and Pablo Rojas, two of the miners trapped in the collapsed mine. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. An officer stands in front of the machine that will be used to rescue the miners. The miners were trapped when the shaft they were working in collapsed. (Claudio Reyes / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Relatives of the trapped miners wave to rescue workers outside the collapsed mine. Rescue teams bored a small hole down more than 2,000 feet and used a video camera to confirm the miners were alive on Aug. 22. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Florencio Avalos, one of the trapped miners, is seen Aug. 23 in an image from video. The camera was lowered more than 2,000 feet into the copper and gold mine. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Lilianette Ramirez, wife of trapped miner Mario Gomez, holds a letter from her husband outside the mine on Aug. 23. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Relatives of trapped miners embrace after learning that the 33 miners were found alive Aug. 22. (Stringer/chile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Chilean workers operate a drilling machine at the San Esteban gold and copper mine on Aug. 17. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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