Argentinian Diary – A Miner’s Statue – where there’s no mines
My interest in Socialist Realist statues and other art forms from the former socialist countries also encompasses those realist examples in capitalist countries. Coming from the UK there are few representations of working people in the streets – that area being dominated by the monarchy or their hangers-on, with the addition of a number of do-gooders (many of these statues being paid for by ‘public subscription’, i.e., the people paying for the immortalisation of their oppressors).
So it’s always interesting to see such representations and references to working people in other countries. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to encounter a statue of a miner in a city in Chilean Patagonia (Puerto Natales) which doesn’t really have any mines.
In the past there was work for coal miners but they had to cross the border to the Argentinian town of Rio Turbio, no more than a normal commute for many workers, the only difference being the need to go through a border control.
I didn’t catch a date for this statue (or the name of the artist) but it could become quite poignant if developments are as I understand.
The coal from Rio Turbio used to be transported by train to the Atlantic Argentinian port of Rio Gallegos but that all came to an end in the 1990s when the railway was virtually run to destruction. There was no investment and the trains literally fell apart. For anyone who likes trains the Railway Museum in the town is extremely depressing. The British made for TV video that is shown really chronicling forced decline due to lack of investment.
As far as I can understand the coal extracted in Rio Gallegos is mainly to provide fuel for the coal fired power station on the outskirts of the town. But coal is not the fuel of the moment with climate change and global warming. This allows the neo-liberal government in Buenos Airies the opportunity to destroy, and dispose of, yet another aspect of public property without the trouble of actually privatising the industry
This struggle to maintain jobs was linked to the recovery by Argentina of the Malvinas – as depicted on a mural in the Rio Gallegos port area – where the infrastructure for the export of coal still exists but in an abandoned state.
And here we have a real dilemma. Coal is dirty (but not the worst polluter in the overall view of things) but closing down mines – as has been demonstrated in many places throughout the world – is not that simple. Coal mining dominates a town, close the mines down you might as well close down the town. If there were, and still are, problems in the UK, when the mines were closed at an alarming rate after the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5, that will be multiplied many fold in a town like Rio Turbio, a border town at what is always referred to as ‘the end of the world’.
No mine in Rio Turbio will mean no Rio Turbio.
So a few pictures of this statue. It doesn’t really say anything, it just represents an underground miner using a manual drill, which I thought would have been a thing of the past, even in this border region in Patagonia.
The statue is located in the middle of a dual carriageway that runs beside the new bus station in Puerto Natales. Across from the main statue, on the other side of an access road, are two triangular pillars united by two iron rails, possibly representing the iron rails of the mine railway.
On four of those six faces there are some simple sketches reflecting the work that miners carry out underground. Very basic, monochrome sketches and lacking in detail but they do convey a message of the working man in Puerto Natales/Rio Turbio – even though that future might be under threat.