Pasta de Conchos: Mexico will recover the bodies of 63 miners 14 years after the tragic accident

Three previous administrations decided not to try to recover the bodies of the miners

Pasta de Conchos: Mexico will recover the bodies of 63 miners 14 years after the tragic accident
In 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sided with the family and pointed at a series of irregularities - Photo: Francisco Rodríguez/EL UNIVERSAL
English 15/09/2020 13:24 Pedro Villa y Caña Mexico City Actualizada 13:30

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This week, the Mexican government announced plans to fulfill a longstanding promise to recover the bodies of 63 coal miners killed in a 2006 mine collapse and get some coal to burn at the same time.

Only two bodies were recovered after the explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila on February 19, 2006. Sixty-three miners are still buried beneath tons of rock and coal. Now, 14 years later, Mexico will spend around USD 75 million to recover the miners’ bodies. 

Three previous administrations decided not to try to recover the bodies of the miners, saying it would be too dangerous and costly, with no guarantee of success. But victims’ relatives have continued to press authorities on the issue and López Obrador had promised them he would try.

On September 14, President López Obrador ordered the recovery effort to begin “immediately,” and put the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in charge of the dig.

After the miners’ families met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for over three hours, Human Rights Minister Alejandro Encinas announced the operation to rescue the bodies will begin immediately. Moreover, the Mexican government will also compensate the victims’ families, and it will also build a memorial for the miners. 

One of the clauses of the agreement states that “the families present give their consent so that once the recovery is concluded, the CFE can remove the coal to supply itself.”

The Mexican utility still operates power plants that burn coal and heavily polluting fuel oil. The CFE recently made it harder for private renewable energy companies to bring wind and solar facilities, arguing they had been given unfair advantages in pricing and transmission.

Some observers say the decision was influenced by Mexico’s need to get rid of fuel oil it produces as part of refining.

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López Obrador has also made building new refineries and finding more oil a central part of his economic plan.

President López Obrador will visit the mine on October 23 to supervise the operation. 

Pasta de Conchos

According to human rights group Centro Prodh, the miners were working in deplorable security conditions. Additionally, security issues had been reported since 2000, six years before the tragic event. In 2004, authorities registered 43 violations of security and hygiene norms, many of which were urgent. In a controversial move, the mining company hired the same company in charge of security and hygiene to rescue the bodies but later canceled the operation.

The victims’ families argue that Grupo Mexico canceled the rescue because the deplorable working and security conditions will become evident.

In 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sided with the family and pointed at a series of irregularities.

“Grupo México expresses its wish that the efforts undertaken by the government are successful and translate into peace for the families,” the company said in a statement.
 
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged to recover the bodies in 2019, but the firm’s chief executive warned that past efforts to find the bodies of miners killed in the blast had been risky. The Mexican President previously described the rescue mission as a humanitarian promise made to victims’ families.

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In 2006, 65 miners were killed in a mine explosion when methane gas caused the collapse of the mine in the northern state of Coahuila. Only two bodies were recovered.

Years ago, investigators determined that many of the miners might have been incinerated as the explosion sent temperatures soaring to 593° C.

Grupo Mexico, which operated the mine, has maintained that it was an unfortunate accident and that the firm had compensated families.
 
A special prosecutor for the case blamed Grupo Mexico for allowing a deadly mix of methane, heat, and oxygen to build up in the mine, failing to build proper ventilation shafts or to neutralize explosive coal dust. Government inspectors who failed to enforce the necessary safety precautions were also implicated in the case.

Grupo Mexico is also involved in other tragic cases, including the pollution of the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers, which has caused kidney failure and other serious health issues among the population.

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