Former Chilean president Sebastián Piñera dies in helicopter crash

Former two-time Chilean president Sebastián Piñera died in a helicopter crash, the government said Tuesday afternoon.

In a national address, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said Piñera, 74, was killed and three people escaped.

“President Piñera governed us and we will remember him for the way he dedicated his life to public service,” Tohá said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash in the Los Rios region, where rain fell Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement, Chile’s National Disaster Prevention and Response Service said a helicopter crashed in Lago Ranco, a rural town in southern Chile. First responders recovered Piñera’s body. Tohá did not identify the other passengers.

President Gabriel Boric said in a televised address that he had ordered three days of mourning.

“President Piñera contributed to great agreements for the good of the country,” Boric said. “He was a democrat from the very beginning.”

Boric cited the reconstruction Piñera led after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 500 people, his role in rescuing 33 miners after the San Jose mine collapsed and his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

Piñera, a billionaire center-right politician, served two nonconsecutive presidential terms — one from 2010 to 2014, then from 2018 to 2022. His second was marked by major protests over social inequality and two opposition-led attempts to impeach him. Presidents are not allowed to serve consecutive terms in Chile.

One of those attempts involved the findings of an investigation by The Washington Post and media partners led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that showed a mining company owned in part by Piñera’s children was sold for $152 million to a close friend of Piñera’s, Chilean businessman Carlos Alberto Délano. The sale was made in December 2010, almost nine months into Piñera’s first term as president.

The last payment in the deal was contingent on the government’s declining to impose environmental protections on the mining area, a clause criticized by opposition politicians as a “serious” conflict of interest.

The lower parliamentary house voted to impeach him, and the senate voted against.

Piñera denied wrongdoing.

Key findings from the Pandora Papers investigation

News of Piñera’s death reverberated across the region, spurring condolences from former and current leaders.

“I feel the greatest pain for the death of my great friend and colleague Sebastián Piñera,” Iván Duque, Colombia’s right-wing president from 2018 to 2022, wrote on X. “Dear Sebastián you will always be in our memory and we will defend your legacy.”

Throughout his presidencies, Piñera defended democracy and human rights in the region — particularly in Venezuela, where he became a key supporter of the opposition’s efforts to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

In 2017, Chile, under Piñera’s mandate, helped form the Lima Group, a consortium of over a dozen Latin American nations that was created to find a peaceful solution to the humanitarian and political crises in Venezuela. He criticized what he depicted as “a dictatorship that only does harm and does not intend to leave power,” and he often called for international involvement in restoring Venezuelan democracy.

After hearing news of Piñera’s death, exiled Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma praised his “firm solidarity with the struggle of the Venezuelan people.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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