Chile bids final farewell to former President Sebastian Pinera

By Thomson Reuters Feb 9, 2024 | 8:21 AM

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A state funeral for two-time President Sebastian Pinera began at the country’s former Congress in Santiago on Friday to bid a final farewell to the former leader.

Pinera, 74, died on Tuesday after the helicopter he was piloting crashed into a lake in southern Chile. State funeral services began on Wednesday in the capital with a private viewing before opening up to the public.

“Today we share the shock of the tragic departure of a man, a father, husband, grandfather and public figure that was a leader in our transition to democracy,” President Gabriel Boric said during the ceremony at the former congress.

Pinera, a conservative billionaire first elected from 2010 to 2014, oversaw times of strong economic growth, but also continued protests. Boric himself was a student protest leader during Pinera’s first term, demanding education reforms.

“These days some have remembered we were political adversaries. It’s true,” Boric said, adding that the two were able to reach compromise and even spoke the day before his death to discuss the recent deadly wildfires that killed 131 people in central Chile.

Pinera also oversaw the rescue 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.”

One of the miners, Juan Carlos Aguilar, who went to pay his respects to Pinera on Thursday, remembers the excitement after hearing the former president when they first made contact.

“Imagine you’re hearing the president say ‘We will search for you as if you were our children.’ I will never forget that,” Aguilar said.

During Pinera’s second term from 2018-2022, large-scale, often violent protests against inequality erupted in 2019 and ended with promises to draft a new constitution. Pinera also oversaw the country’s pandemic response.

Following the ceremony in the former Congress, Pinera’s casket will be escorted to the metropolitan cathedral and La Moneda presidential palace in central Santiago before being taken to the Parque del Recuerdo cemetery.

(Reporting by Alexander Villegas and Natalia Ramos; editing by Jonathan Oatis)