Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s former president who helped strengthen the nation’s young democracy after becoming the first conservative leader after the military dictatorship, died in a helicopter crash in Chile on Tuesday, the government said. He was 74 years old.
The helicopter, carrying four people, crashed on Tuesday on Lake Ranco, in the Los Ríos region of southern Chile, Carolina Tohá, Chile’s interior minister, said in a televised address. Three people survived and swam to shore, Ms. Toha said, but Mr. Piñera died and the Chilean Navy recovered his body. It is unclear who was flying the plane, but Mr. Piñera was known to fly his own helicopter.
Piñera was a billionaire businessman and investor who served two terms as president of Chile, from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022.
A conservative, Piñera ushered in pro-business policies that helped spur growth and make the nation of 19 million, in his words, “a true oasis” in Latin America.
But he also faced huge protests from citizens who said his government did not respect the poor – Chile is one of the most economically unequal nations in the world – and left office both times with low approval ratings.
Perhaps his most significant legacy was helping Chile’s conservative movement seize power for the first time since the end of Chile’s brutal military dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
After 20 years of left-wing rule following dictatorship, its first elections in 2010 showed that Chile’s democracy was strong and healthy, said Robert Funk, a political science professor at the University of Chile.
“He pretty much did it on his own,” Mr. Funk said. “He pushed the right-wing parties to participate and accept the rules of the game at a time when they were not so convinced.”
Mr. Piñera made his fortune as a bank executive and investor in airlines, television and soccer clubs; he also successfully introduced credit cards in Chile during the dictatorship.
This is a developing story.
John Bartlett contributed reporting from Valdivia, Chile.