COPIAPÓ, Chile – Bernardo Córdova has a goal.
Córdova launched a signature campaign to make Copiapó the permanent home of the Fénix 2 capsule, used to rescue the 33 trapped miners on Oct. 13.
“The rescue happened here, therefore the original capsule should stay here,” said Córdova, who started campaigning at the rescue site with a hand-written poster.
Córdova, who lives in Rancagua, 87 kilometers (54 miles) south of Santiago, went to the San José gold and copper mine on Aug. 20, 15 days after the news of the cave-in was reported. He resided in a tent at Camp Esperanza, where he supported the miners’ families during the 10-week rescue.
“VI Región is present for the miners of Copiapó,” his poster read then, referring to the Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins Region, one of the country’s 15 regions.
Córdova, a 69 year-old retired miner, works as a potter and plumber, since his monthly $45,000 pesos (US$93) pension isn’t enough for him to make a living, he said.
This is not the first time Córdova, who wore a miner’s hardhat with his name inscribed on it, along with a Facebook logo, used his creativity to launch a massive campaign.
Eight years ago, he crafted posters to protest corrupt officials, causing him to earn the nickname “poster man.”
Córdova, who has been married to Pilar for 38 years, moved to downtown Copiapó and set up in the Plaza de Armas to collect signatures after the unprecedented rescue.
He also had spent time during the campaign residing at the home of one of his five children, Lorena, 33, and at the Hogar de Cristo foundation.
He said Copiapó’s mayor gave him $40,000 pesos (US$82) to cover daily expenses, meals and transportation costs back to Rancagua.
Córdova said he had about 9,800 signatures before heading home Oct. 23.
“The Fénix 2 is ours and no one else’s,” said Luis Naranjo, a 56 year-old miner who lives in Copiapó, as he added his name to the list of signatures in one of the books that Córdova said he will give to President Sebastián Piñera to request that the “epic trophy” return to its place of origin.
Yuvitza Osorio Muñoz, regional counsel for Culture and the Arts in the Atacama Region, said Córdova’s goal is good for Copiapó.
“If the (Fénix 2) capsule stays in our city, we could have a very relevant tourist attraction,” Osorio said.
The regional counsel already has filled out the necessary paperwork to set up a temporary museum with objects that were used in Camp Esperanza and during the rescue. In two salons of Copiapó’s Culture House, letters, flags, foreign press credentials, videos and pots are exhibited.
“We are looking for a bigger space to put all the things, and of course, the Fénix 2 capsule as well, in a permanent place,” Osorio said.
The Fénix 2 is being exhibited in front of Chile’s presidential palace in Santiago, until Oct. 25, when the 33 miners meet Sebastián Piñera before playing a friendly soccer match against government officials at Chile’s national stadium.
Gianni Delpero, regional director of tourism for the Atacama Region, said it would be beneficial to have the Fénix 2 capsule in Copiapó, since it would help spur tourism.
Delpero said he hopes the number of visitors to Copiapó increases this year after the city hosted 61,063 tourists, including 4,422 foreigners, in 2009.
The residents of Copiapó, a city of 129,000, are happy the Fénix 3 capsule, which was not used in the rescue, but was built with the same features of the Fénix 1 and Fénix 2, is being showcased in their city.
The Fénix 1 is being exhibited at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, China, and the Fénix 2 will be taken on a tour through the nation’s main cities.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told residents of Copiapó he will try to make arrangements for the Fénix 2 to be brought back, but Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said the capsule doesn’t belong to Copiapó.
It belongs to future generations.
“No matter what [Hinzpeter] says, the Fénix 2 has to stay here,” Córdova said.