When the ship lands, Ernesto and Alberto bid farewell to the crew. Next, they want to visit the Chuquicamata copper mine, where some of Chile’s most valuable mineral resources are extracted. but they have to visit various bureaucratic government offices in order to get permission to do so.
That Ernesto has to get permission from the government to visit a privately-owned mine shows the extent to which public institutions and private companies are intertwined. Moreover, the fact that ordinary people don’t have access to one of the most important mines in the country shows that the people lack control over their own mineral resources.
On their way to the Chuquicamata, they fall in with two mine workers, a husband and wife, who are out of work and homeless after being blacklisted from the mines for advocating Communism in the workplace (the Communist party was illegal in Chile at the time), even though all they wanted was better wages and safer working conditions. Now they are heading towards Chuquicamata because conditions there are so dangerous and wages so low that the bosses aren’t picky about their employees’ political convictions.
By presenting Communism not as a frightening or abstract ideology but as a system that advocates for basic rights, Ernesto makes this political system much more relatable to the reader. He also introduces the ideology of Communism through two ordinary and unthreatening individuals—a husband and wife looking for work—whose characters and aspirations are easy for most people to identify with.
All four travelers share a spartan meal and pot of mate, while the husband describes in “simple, expressively language” his time in prison and the plight of his starving family. Ernesto feels deeply sympathetic towards the couple, not just because of their personal struggles but because they are an example of a universal problem; he describes them as “a living representation of the proletariat in any part of the world,” and that turning to Communism is a sensible choice for people who are denied basic rights.
With lyrical language, Ernesto paints a compelling portrait of the mine workers as ordinary people fighting heroically against impossibly large forces. By mythologizing the characters in this way, he makes their politics seem much more appealing. Furthermore, by making the connection between the individual characters and the proletariat as a whole, he continues his tendency to base his political convictions on individual experiences.
Seeing the mine itself, Ernesto is disgusted with the arrogance of the foreign managers, whom he describes as “blond and arrogant,” only concerned with squeezing as much profit out of the land as possible. The native workers mock the bosses as “ignorant gringos,” but they are unable to challenge their bosses’ complete power over the natural resources and local economy. the mine’s profits.
Chuquicamata shows Ernesto that the presence of foreign corporations does twofold damage to South American countries: it removes sources of natural wealth that could benefit local people, and it keeps the native workforce trapped in poverty. Here, Ernesto starts to conclude that capitalist economics are fundamentally detrimental to the proletariat.
Ernesto makes a point of asking the foreman how many people have died due to unsafe working conditions since the mine’s inception. The foreman doesn’t know the answer, but he thanks Ernesto for taking an interest in the employees rather than asking only about the mine’s profits.
The issues whose importance seems self-evident to Ernesto, like worker safety, are ignored by most other people. This shows that Ernesto’s ideas are truly novel and have the potential, if pursued, to be game-changing.