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Chile's global drama

An extraordinary Latin American country gifts another story to the world. But Chile's latest epic carries many ghosts in its train, writes Isabel Hilton.

In the instant metrics of the digital universe, twelve hours after their rescue, thirty-three Chilean miners were collectively four times more famous than Barack Obama, with 270 million Google hits to his 70 million.

The miners' helmet, worn by everyone from the billionaire president, Sebastián Piñera, to the almost-orphaned children who waited for the return of their fathers, is now a more potent national symbol than the Chilean flag. The men's narrative of endurance, dedication and faith rewarded has launched the Chilean miners, their nation and their rescuers as a universal fable.

The helmet symbolises the transformative power of this story. Until the men were resurrected from entombment and relaunched as global media stars, their headgear marked them out as labourers obliged to risk their lives in a mine with a notoriously poor safety record.

In their rescue, though, the helmet became the statement of Chile's new values, worn not as protective headgear but as a badge of the zeitgeist. How long has it been, away from the theatre of the football field, since any Latin American country led global headlines with a story that combined technical skill and human solidarity?

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About the author

Isabel Hilton is the editor of, and was editor of openDemocracy from March 2005-July 2007. She is a journalist, broadcaster, writer and commentator.

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Isabel Hilton is the editor of, and was editor and editor-in-chief of openDemocracy from March 2005-July 2007. She is a journalist, broadcaster, and writer

Also by Isabel Hilton in openDemocracy:

"Justice in the world's light" (14 June 2001) - with Geoffrey Bindman and Juan Garces

"Semper Fidel" (24 June 2001)

"Colombia: in evil hour" (4 March 2004)

"Torture: who gives the orders?" (12 May 2004)

"China and Japan: a textbook argument" (19 April 2005)

"Letter from wounded London" (7 July 2005)

"China's freedom test" (8 September 2005)

"Álvaro Uribe's gift: Colombia's mafia goes legit" (24 October 2005)

"Guantánamo: the inside story" (23 November 2005) - with Clive Stafford Smith

"Alfredo Stroessner: revisiting the general" (17 August 2006)

"The Economist and Britain's future" (2 February 2007)

"openDemocracy: a farewell salute" (17 July 2007)

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