SANTIAGO: Chile’s ex-president Sebastian Pinera died in a helicopter crash in the south of the country on Tuesday, plunging the country he led for two terms into mourning and prompting an outpouring of condolences from Latin American leaders.

Interior Minister Caroli­­na Toha confirmed the dea­th of the 74-year-old former president, who held the office from 2010 to 2014 and from 2018 to 2022.

Three other passengers survived the helicopter crash in the southern town of Lago Ranco. Pinera’s body had been recovered, said Toha.

Pinera, also a successful businessman, oversaw quick economic growth and a steep fall in unemployment during his first 2010 to 2014 presidency, at a time when many of Chile’s trade partners and neighbours were facing sharply slower growth.

His second presidency from 2018 to 2022 was marked by violent protests against inequality that led to accusations of human rights violations and ended with the government promising to draft a new constitution.

Pinera also oversaw the country’s Covid-19 pandemic response, which included one of the fastest vaccination rates in the world.

One of his first administration’s high points, touted often by Pinera himself, was the spectacular rescue in 2010 of 33 miners who were trapped underneath the Atacama desert. The event became a global media sensation and was the subject of a 2014 movie, The 33.

The son of a prominent centrist politician, Sebastian Pinera was a Harvard-trained economist who made his fortune introducing credit cards to Chile in the 1980s.

Known to have a driven and competitive personality, one friend described Pinera as someone who could be a bully, reluctant to delegate responsibility.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2024

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