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Chile Trapped Miners Boon for Pinera as Rating Soars

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera’s approval surged to the highest level since he took office in March because of his handling of the search and rescue of 33 miners trapped in an underground mine in the Atacama Desert.

Pinera’s approval rating rose to 56 percent in August from 46 percent in July, Santiago-based research company Adimark GfK said today in a statement on its website. The poll of 1,315 people had a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points.

Pinera’s boost in popularity is directly related to the rescue at the San Jose mine, Adimark said. Rescuers may take as long as four months to free the workers through a 700-meter (2,300-foot) shaft. There is no guarantee Pinera’s approval will remain at these levels after the rescue, said Mauricio Morales, a political scientist at Universidad Diego Portales.

“The fact that this rating hinges on a specific event could indicate that his approval is experiencing a short-term peak,” Morales said in a telephone interview from Santiago.

Pinera, a billionaire entrepreneur-turned-politician, has shown he is a risk-taker by playing a prominent role in the search and setting ambitious deadlines for the rescue, Patricio Navia, a specialist in Chilean politics at New York University, said in an interview. The miners were discovered Aug. 22 after being trapped underground since Aug. 5, when the only access to the mine collapsed.

“Pinera, who made his fortune in the stock market, knows how to gamble,” Navia said Aug. 24. “The most convenient and politically responsible thing to do would have been to lower expectations and tell the public that it would be very difficult to find the miners alive and get them out. The miners were found alive and his government has found direction.”

New Footage

Video footage released last night on Television Nacional shows the smiling, clean-shaven miners dressed in new clothes, contrasting footage released Aug. 26 when they were appeared gaunt and bearded. They will receive their first hot meal in almost a month today, Radio Cooperativa quoted Jorge Diaz, head doctor at the Chilean Safety Association, as saying.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, who led the search and was shown on television rejoicing with family members when contact was made, had the highest approval rating of Pinera’s cabinet with 78 percent, according to the Adimark poll. Golborne previously worked as chief executive officer of Cencosud SA, Chile’s biggest retailer by sales.

“Golborne is in a very good position right now,” Miguel Angel Lopez, a professor of political science at Universidad de Chile, said in an Aug. 24 interview.

Rescue teams began drilling this week a hole big enough to lift the miners out of tunnels where temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). The rescue effort may be shortened to two months from an original estimate of four, Walter Herrera, whose company is installing the drilling machine to bore a second tunnel, said Aug. 28.

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