When the last miner emerged from 2,041 feet below the ground, President Sebastián Piñera wrapped him in a hug and said what many in this nation of 17 million may have been thinking: "You are not the same, and the country is not the same after this."
As Chile continues to celebrate the stunning rescue of 33 miners trapped since Aug. 5, some sobering questions remain: What does the future hold for the once-anonymous survivors who have been thrust into the international spotlight? What is the fate of the mine -- and industry -- that almost killed them? And what will Piñera do with the political gold he has reaped from the rescue?
Even before the men emerged from the longest underground entrapment in history, there was talk of book deals, movie rights and riches well beyond the $1,600 monthly salary the men scratched out in the San José mine.
Some of them, like Luis Urzua, the leader of the group and the last one out, can probably spin their fame into new careers. Others have already been offered jobs.
But once the cameras stop rolling and the crowds thin, some of the men will face a stark choice: Stay above ground or return to the mines.
If they do go back to work, it won't be to the gold and copper mine that almost became their tomb. Piñera has vowed to shut the mine and punish the owners if their neglect was responsible for the collapse.
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