The dramatic rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground for over 70 days trumped a Hollywood blockbuster in terms of its cost, casting, emotion and ridiculously happy ending.
The pride and sentiment the world witnessed was authentic, but the orchestration of the entire endeavor — from the media training the miners received before their ascent; to the flags, chants and presidential hugs that greeted them upon exit; right down to releasing the brand of sunglasses the miners wore — was incredibly savvy. It revealed the country and it’s already impressive brand in a powerful new light.
The rescue comes on the heels of a powerful earthquake earlier this year, measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale — 500 times greater than the magnitude of the quake in Haiti — yet with a mere fraction of the deaths (around 800 in Chile compared to more than 200,000 in Haiti). Chile’s post-quake response and reconstruction also moved forward far more rapidly, utilizing far less of the world’s limited foreign aid resources. (Chile even resisted accepting foreign aid for the first two days.)
Of course, several socioeconomic factors play into this: Chile is by far a richer country with an established middle class, thriving economy and impressive foresight. Not only did it prepare for the inevitable years prior to the earthquake by adhering to strict construction codes in its building and infrastructure developments, it also used a portion of its spoils from the commodity boom of the past decade to create an emergency fund to tap into in the event of just such a disaster.
But compare this remarkable organization, efficiency and national unity to the U.S. — the richest in the hemisphere — and its pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina and the damage wrought after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and one thing seems clear: The next time a disaster hits the U.S., either natural or otherwise, I know where I’d like FEMA to outsource.
Chile’s rapid planning and response even overshadows that of other “sexier” emerging nations that are given plenty of advance notice. Just look at how India bungled the start of this year’s Commonwealth Games, with seemingly little regard for how this opportunity to pull off a global athletic event of such scale could only serve to enhance its country brand.
Much has been written in the past few months about the South American revival: Brazil is leading the hemisphere in growth and innovation, won the 2016 Summer Olympics and is now regarded as one of the world’s most influential emerging powers. South American teams dominated most of the
rounds at the most recent World Cup, and Latin America as a region overall will outpace the U.S. and Europe this year in economic growth and production. Chile is a huge part of this story, setting the trend last century as the first Latin “Tiger” economy and remaining consistently on target since then, becoming the most middle-class country in the region while also innovating a national pension and public healthcare system that the U.S. could not even begin to emulate.
But within a region known for the dramatic, Chile has set itself apart even further by responding to drama in a manner that, quite simply, was not dramatic. Ask anyone who’s a little more versed in the distinct national characters and complicated cultural quirks that serve to differentiate each Latin American nation, and the adjective most often used to refer to Chile is “boring.” (A current running joke from Argentina — Chile’s greatest regional rival — revolves around the fact that Chilean doctors hesitated for weeks before agreeing to give the miners access to one of the simple pleasures many craved the most: cigarettes. The doctors never capitulated on the miners’ requests for wine.)
This perception is the result of a number of political, social and geographic factors that historically have led Chile to develop in isolation. But if “boring” has come to epitomize Chile in the manner that “buoyant” has perhaps come to symbolize its exact regional opposite, Brazil, then consider what that brand has accomplished: around the time the immediate hype from the miners’ rescue is likely to begin to die down, Nov. 1, Chile will join the OECD, the exclusive club of the world’s richest economies, the first Latin American country to gain acceptance. Chile is known for its planning and, with this, the timing could not have been better.
Chile’s savvy response to each disaster has afforded the country a brand new authority that, true to form, it will likely continue to capitalize on as it continues on its trajectory into the world’s elite. And while this opportunity was not a staged event like the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, it does confirm that proper crisis management can be an exercise of Olympic proportion with a huge impact. And in this case, quite clearly, Chile takes gold, silver and bronze.