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After 7 years, Mexico may renew search for missing miners' bodies

February 21, 2013|By Daniel Hernandez
  • Coal miners walk from the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006 after working in rescue efforts for 65 miners who were trapped by an explosion in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila, Mexico.
Coal miners walk from the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in 2006 after working… (Sharon Steinmann / Houston…)

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's new government is considering relaunching an abandoned rescue effort to reach the bodies of 63 miners in a coal mine in northern Mexico since 2006, one of the worst mining disasters in the country's history.

The Pasta de Conchos tragedy left 65 dead and exposed poor and dangerous working conditions for miners in one of Mexico's largest but also most under-regulated industries. Relatives of the victims have insisted in protests that the recovery operation be resumed and in recent days sought support from members of the new federal Cabinet.

A methane explosion trapped the miners on Feb. 19, 2006. The recovery effort was abandoned in April 2007 after only two bodies had been brought out.

The Pasta de Conchos disaster deepened rifts between representatives of the victims -- their families and unions -- and Grupo Mexico, the mining conglomerate that owns the coal mine in the municipality of San Juan Sabinas, Coahuila state.

This week, after a fresh push by relatives of the victims before the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the attorney general's office indicated it was open to examining the investigation and possibly reopening the recovery effort.

Speaking Wednesday at Mexico's Senate, the deputy attorney general for human rights, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, said the Pasta de Conchos case is a reminder that poorly regulated mines known as pozitos should be closed.

"We should prohibit pozitos, because since Pasta de Conchos they've generated an unjustified number of dead," Garcia said. "They're an avoidable human pain."

By one count of victims' relatives, at least 67 more miners have died since Pasta de Conchos in accidents or explosions in Mexico through early 2012.

No dates or guidelines have been been set yet for a reexamination of the case, said Armando Seguro, a spokesman in the attorney general's office.

Juan Rebolledo, vice president for international relations at Grupo Mexico, told The Times that the company has not received any formal petition to reenter the mine and would not comment further.

The explosion occurred during the mine's overnight shift. Some basic figures about the incident, such as at what depth it occurred, remain in dispute. In 2008, widows of the miners and volunteers from other mining regions of northern Mexico converged at Pasta de Conchos and attempted to storm the mine and launch their own effort to reach the bodies.

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