Ex-Chile President Dead in Helicopter Crash

(RepublicanJournal.org) – Sebastian Pinera, who served as president of Chile twice, has died in a helicopter accident. A former economist, he was his country’s first conservative president in decades.

A Life of Service

Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique was born in Santiago de Chile on December 1, 1949. His father was a diplomat and Sebastian spent most of the first six years of his life in Belgium and the US. Later he earned a degree in engineering from a private Chilean college, before returning to the US and gaining a Master of Arts and PhD in economics from Harvard.

After returning from Harvard, Pinera became an economics lecturer at the University of Chile. He also became a political activist. In 1973 he set up a foundation aimed at helping Chile develop justice, freedom, and democracy. Later that year, the country’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a military coup and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet, who ran the country as a right-wing dictatorship until 1989.

Alongside his academic career, Pinera used his economics knowledge in business. He helped introduce credit cards to Chile in the 1970s and invested in many successful businesses. His business dealings had ups and downs, though; in 1982 he spent more than three weeks in hiding after the Pinochet government issued a warrant for his arrest on tax evasion charges. Despite that, he managed to build a fortune of around $2.8 billion.

In 1988, Pinochet called a referendum to decide whether he should stay in power or hand over to an elected president. He lost that referendum, and Pinera backed a centrist candidate to replace him. However, Chileans elected a socialist instead. In 1990, Pinera was elected senator for the province of Eastern Santiago and served two four-year terms.

After returning to business for several years, Pinera ran in the 2009 presidential election. Nobody won an overall majority, so Pinera — representing the conservative National Renewal party — and centrist Eduardo Ruiz-Tagle faced off in a runoff in January 2010. Pinera won the close race by 51.61% and was sworn in as president on March 11, 2010. He lost the 2013 presidential election to socialist Michelle Bachelet, but was returned to office in 2017.

Pinera’s second presidency saw multiple challenges, including anti-government protests in 2019 and the 2020 pandemic. He also faced the “Pandora Papers” scandal in 2021, when he was accused of taking money from a mining company that wanted to operate in a nature reserve. An impeachment attempt failed, but he didn’t run again in the 2021 presidential election.

On February 6, Pinera was flying his Robinson R44 light helicopter near his vacation home on Lake Ranco when he lost control and crashed into the water. His three passengers escaped, but Pinera didn’t manage to unfasten his safety harness and drowned when the wreck sank. He leaves behind a widow and three children.

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