Duped Chilean miners warn Thai boys to beware fraudsters

Group says they never got a dime for their story of 69 days underground, which made millions at the box office, and worry the recently rescued soccer team may suffer the same fate

The rescued Chilean miners during a visit to Israel in 2011. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)
The rescued Chilean miners during a visit to Israel in 2011. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AFP) — Guard against exploitation: that’s the message Chilean miners have offered the 12 Thai boys and their football coach following the harrowing ordeal of spending 18 days trapped in a cave.

Before even the clothes of the Wild Boar football team players had dried following the last dramatic escape mission on Tuesday from the flooded cave, already plans were being made to turn their heroic tale into a Hollywood movie.

Eight years ago, 33 Chilean miners were stuck underground for 69 days after a cave-in, before their torment was turned into a motion picture starring Antonio Banderas.

But although “The 33” grossed $25 million at the box office, the miners never saw a penny of that.

“Hopefully they’ll make a film, a television series, a best-selling novel, but that they do it well, that they are smart and don’t get taken for a ride by fraudsters,” Mario Sepulveda, who was played by Banderas in “The 33,” told AFP.

The boys are aged 11 to 16 and even their coach is only 25, whereas the Chilean miners were all grown men.

Many of them have suffered terribly since their traumatic experience in the San Jose mine in the Atacama desert.

In this image made from video, released by the Thailand Government Spokesman Bureau, three of the 12 boys are seen recovering in their hospital beds after being rescued along with their coach from a flooded cave in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, July 11, 2018. (Thailand Government Spokesman Bureau via AP)

“The most important thing is that the authorities and their families protect these kids because many people just want to take advantage,” said Luis Urzua, another miner.

On Tuesday night, the managing partner of US faith-based production house Pure Flix, Michael Scott revealed on Twitter his plans to turn the story into a film.

‘They destroyed us’

But before worrying about how to sell their stories, Urzua warns that recovering from the “the experience of a lifetime” won’t be easy.

“It’s been eight years but there are still many things we can’t overcome,” added Urzua.

Another miner, Jose Ojeda, had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

And there is bitterness at having been exploited by lawyers, producers and others who wanted to benefit from their story.

“Once they’d got the information off us, they disappeared,” said Urzua.

In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, left, is embraced by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera after his rescue Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP)

He says they were badly advised and fell for promises they would be made millionaires so “ceded all (intellectual) rights for life.”

Urzua is amongst a group of miners who want to rescind that decision.

Despite spending more than two months 600 meters below the surface, “we can’t even sell one line of ‘the 33,'” he lamented.

Urzua says the miners never received a penny from the film, directed by Mexican Patricia Riggen, or the book written by Los Angeles Times journalist Hector Tobar, whom the Chileans picked to write the official account of their trauma.

“They destroyed us,” said Urzua, who praised the protective circle that has enveloped the Thai boys.

Motorists pass a billboard with a photograph showing members of the Thai children’s football team “Wild Boar” and their coach with a message “welcome home brothers” displayed in Chiang Rai as the boys and their coach were all rescued in the Tham Luang cave in Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in the Mae Sai district on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / TANG CHHIN Sothy)

Urzua says all he got was “less” than the five million pesos (less than $8,000 in today’s exchange rate) that Chilean businessman Leonardo Farkas handed each miner as they left their captivity.

Sepulveda, though, has faith in the Thai footballers saying the “strength of these boys is different to ours.”

“If they keep training, they’ll handle it really well, as long as they stick together,” he told AFP.

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