BY DAVID AGREN
Unionized miners marked the third anniversary of a mine disaster that claimed 65 lives with a boisterous rally at union headquarters in Mexico City in support of their exiled leader, who is wanted on fraud and embezzlement charges.
On the other side of the capital, a group of widows and relatives of the deceased miners, along with social activists, also gathered on Thursday. But instead of spewing acerbic denunciations, they celebrated a Mass outside the corporate offices of Grupo México, owner of the ill-fated Pasta de Conchos coal mine, which blew up during the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 2006. Another group of relatives also celebrated Mass at the mine in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila.
Still, the sentiments expressed by the union and those at the Masses were similar.
"This is the murder of miners," mining union boss Napoleón Gómez Urrutia said from Vancouver, where he has resided for more than two years to avoid apprehension on charges pertaining to the alleged mismanagement of a union trust fund. "Never again will there be another Pasta de Conchos. Never again will they play with the health and lives of miners."
Outside the Grupo México offices in Polanco, Bishop Raúl Vera of Saltillo promised, "We're going to throw [Grupo México president] Germán Larrea out of here," pointing to the office tower.
The union, family members and church-affiliated activists working with relatives of the deceased all demand the same things: The retrieval of 63 bodies still trapped in the mine and a more thorough investigation into the actions of Grupo México. (The company has paid each family 750,000 pesos in compensation. No guilt was admitted.)
Their tactics differ radically, however - and mistrust between the two groups is mutual. A group of family members affiliated with the Diocese of Saltillo and the labor ministry of the Mexican Bishops' Conference accuse the union of only showing interest in Pasta de Conchos as a means of attacking Grupo México and opposing apprehension orders against Gómez Urrutia.
"The only rescue that the union wants is the rescue of Napoleón Gómez," said Cristina Auerbach, a lawyer with the labor ministry of the Mexican bishops' conference. She also expressed skepticism of the union's recent promotion of worker safety. Union officials availed the safety of Pasta de Conchos just 12 days before the disaster.
"Of course there's concern on the part of the mining union for its workers after Pasta de Conchos, but that doesn't excuse their prior responsibilities," she said.
At least one widow, Rosa María Mejía, backed the union leader Thursday. "Napoleón Gómez has always been at our side," she said. But she also reiterated that the pain and frustration of all the widows and relatives of the victims was first and foremost.
"It's a wound that is still open and will only be closed when the bodies of the miners are returned to us," she said.