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Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera dies in a helicopter crash at 74

Sebastián Piñera, former Chilean president, is pictured in Santiago on Nov. 16, 2017. Piñera died on Tuesday in a helicopter crash in Lago Ranco, Chile.
Luis Hidalgo
Sebastián Piñera, former Chilean president, is pictured in Santiago on Nov. 16, 2017. Piñera died on Tuesday in a helicopter crash in Lago Ranco, Chile.

VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile — Sebastián Piñera, the two-time former president of Chile who faced social upheaval followed by a pandemic in his second term, died Tuesday in a helicopter accident. He was 74.

Chile Interior Minister Carolina Tohá confirmed the death of the former president. No further details were immediately released about the cause of the accident.

Serving as president from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022, he led the South American nation during devastating natural disasters, including the fallout of an earthquake and a tsunami.

He also governed during the coronavirus pandemic and placed Chile among the top five countries for vaccination rates for the illness.

His legacy is marred by violent police repression in October 2019 against protesters who were demonstrating against the country's education, health and pension systems dating to the country's 1973-1990 military dictatorship. International organizations cited mass violations of human rights in the crackdown.

The social unrest ultimately led to two attempts to update the constitution inherited from the military government, but both have failed.

Piñera was the owner of the fifth largest fortune in Chile, estimated at some 3 billion dollars. He worked as an academic in several universities for almost 20 years and as a consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

As a businessman in the 1970s through the 1990s, he worked in a variety of industries, including real estate. He held shares in major airlines, telecommunication, real estate and electricity companies. He also created one of the largest credit card companies in the country. In 2009, he handed over the management of his businesses to others.

He entered politics representing the center-right, which was the civilian support of the military regime. However, when he served as an independent senator, he voted against the extension of dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

He ran three times for president of Chile. In 2006, he lost to socialist Michelle Bachelet; then in 2010 he defeated former President Eduardo Frei and was elected in 2010. Four years later, in 2018, he won a second four-year term after defeating a leftist independent.

Twelve days before the beginning of his first term, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami claimed the lives of 525 people and devastated the infrastructure of central-southern Chile.

Piñera's government agenda was postponed in order to take on emergency reconstruction. In 2010, he also led the unprecedented rescue of 33 miners trapped for 69 days at the bottom of a mine, which captured the world's attention.

He closed his administration having created an estimated 1 million jobs.

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The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]