Biography of the President of the Republic

Sebastián Piñera Echenique

Thursday, April 15, 2010  
Sebastián Piñera Echenique

Sebastián Piñera Echenique was born in Santiago, Chile, on 1 December 1949. His parents were José Piñera Carvallo (1917-1991) and Magdalena Echenique Rozas (1919-2000). In 1973 he married Cecilia Morel Montes; they have four children and four grandchildren.

He is a Commercial Engineer majoring in Economics from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and has Masters and Doctoral degrees in Economics from Harvard University, U.S.A.

The boy

He is the third of the six children of José Piñera and Magdalena Echenique. They gave him a Christian, pluralistic education with an emphasis on personal freedom, a sense of duty and a strong vocation for public service.

In 1950 he and his family went to live in the United States, where his father was named representative of the first office of the Corporación de Fomento abroad.

On his return to Chile, he was accepted at the Verbo Divino school, run by German priests, where he completed his primary and part of his secondary education (1955-1964). He excelled as one of the best students in his class and participated actively in the scout movement.

When President Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964) took office, he named José Piñera Chilean Ambassador to Belgium. The family moved to Europe, where Sebastián studied at the Saint Boniface school in Brussels. While there, he got caught up in the spirit of the great university movements that were occurring in Europe at the time. In 1967, when his father was named Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, Sebastián returned to Chile and completed his last year of secondary school at the Verbo Divino.

The student

In 1968, he entered the Faculty of Economics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. From the start, he understood that this social science offered great opportunities to improve the quality of life of the more dispossessed. In 1971 he received his degree as a Commercial Engineer. He was distinguished with the Raúl Iver award for the best student of his year.

He traveled to the U.S. (1973) to obtain a PhD in Economics at Harvard University. The title of his doctoral thesis was: “Economics of Education in Developing Countries. A Collection of Essays”.

In his years as a student at Harvard he was able to meet and exchange ideas with renowned economists, several of them Nobel Prize winners. He was an assistant professor and came to appreciate the value of freedom, democracy and the opportunities offered by a country like the U.S.

The family man

In 1973 he married Cecilia Morel Montes, a family and youth counselor from the Instituto Carlos Casanueva with a degree in Family and Human Relations from the Universidad Mayor. They are parents of Magdalena (1975), teacher of History and Geography; Cecilia (1978), Pediatrician; Sebastián (1982), Commercial Engineer, and Cristóbal (1984), Psychologist.

In his spare time, Mr. Piñera enjoys a variety of outdoor, sports and culinary activities with his family and friends. He is a great reader and has a passion for world history.

The academic

He returned to Chile in 1976, and devoted his time mainly to teaching at the Faculties of Economics of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Universidad de Chile, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez and the Escuela de Negocios de Valparaíso.

At the same time, he was a consultant to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) (1974-1976) and the World Bank (1975-1978), and worked at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The entrepreneur

In 1979 he obtained the representation for Chile of the Visa and Master Card credit cards. He then created Bancard S.A. that allowed Chileans to have access to this new form of payment and credit. He also participated in the creation of CMB S.A., Inmobiliaria Las Américas S.A. and Aconcagua, Editorial Los Andes S.A. At the same time he was the official representative of the Apple transnational corporation in Chile. Years later, he became a shareholder in companies such as Lan Chile, Chilevisión, Blanco y Negro, among others.

The public servant

For the plebiscite that was held on 5 October 1988, he participated, together with a majority of Chileans, in the recovery of democracy by voting NO to the continuation of the military regime.

In 1989, together with his wife Cecilia Morel, he created (and still maintains) Fundación Mujer Emprende. The objective of the foundation is to promote entrepreneurial skills and development in young women with scant resources.

In 1993, he created Fundación Futuro. Its objectives were (and continue to be) to provide and make culture more accessible to all Chileans. This led to the creation of educational programs such as “Art in close contact with people”, “I discover my city”, “Museums close to hand” and “Cultural internships for teachers”. The foundation also set in motion citizen projects such as  “Navigable Mapocho”, “Transformation of the Estero Margamar” and “Stadiums for Chile”.

The Fundación Futuro has also developed environmental initiatives. In 2005, it inaugurated the Parque Tantauco in the south of the island of Chiloé. In this park extending over 140,000 hectares, including 220 km of paths and camping sites, visitors can enjoy trekking, fishing, bird watching and sighting of blue whales. The park seeks to conserve and protect ecosystems and species in danger of extinction. It also carries out research work and promotes sustainable ecotourism programs.

In addition, Mr. Piñera was a counselor to the Hogar de Cristo welfare institution and participated in many commissions ad honorem. Among these, he was a member of the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bicentennial Commission created by former President Ricardo Lagos.

The politician

In 1989 he was an independent candidate for senator of the Democracy and Progress Pact for the 8th. District in the Eastern Metropolitan Region and was elected for the 1990-1998 period. He then joined the ranks of Renovación Nacional, a center-right political party.

During his period as a senator, he was part of permanent commissions for the Treasury, Human Rights, Health and Environment and National Property. His concern for the environment was reflected in the presentation of a bill regarding the Protection of the Environment and Nature.

His democratic spirit became manifest in the bill that modifies the Constitutional Basic Laws of the political parties, popular voting, counting of votes and Municipal votes. The aim of the bill is to allow presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections to include independent candidates as part of political parties, and also to simplify the formalities for establishing a political party.

Another project in which he participated was the bill that regulates the juridical and ethical principles of  human and assisted reproduction techniques, and establishes penalties for those who breach the principles.

During his legislative period he was elected Best Senator by his peers, together with the then Senator Andrés Zaldívar.

The candidate

He was president of Renovación Nacional between 2001 and 2004. In the National Congress of the party in May 2005, he was proclaimed presidential candidate for the elections held in December 2005. In the first round, Sebastián Piñera obtained 25.4% of the votes against Michelle Bachelet’s 45.9% and in the run-off election of January 2006 Michelle Bachelet won by 53.5% of the votes against Mr. Piñera’s 46.5%.

From then on, he focused his work on three major activities: he traveled throughout the country listening to the needs and demands of the people; he accompanied the candidates of the Alliance for Chile, a center-right political coalition, during the municipal elections of 2008 and created the “Tantauco Groups”, made up of more than 1,200 professionals integrated into 37 working commissions dedicated to studying and proposing public policies for the future government.

In May 2009 the Coalition for Change was founded. This new political alliance brought together the Renovación Nacional and Unión Demócrata Independiente political parties that were part of the Alliance for Chile, as well as new partners such as Chile Primero, Humanismo Cristiano, Norte Grande and Independents. This new coalition proclaimed Sebastián Piñera as their official candidate for the presidency of the Republic in the 2009 campaign.

The presidential campaign was marked by Mr. Piñera’s direct contact with the Chilean people under a call for “Change, Future and Hope” and “Become Part of Change”. Although there was no law governing the issue, in April 2009, while he was still only a presidential candidate he handed over the management of his share in open stock companies to four investment fund administrators, thus constituting a Voluntary Blind Trust Fund.

The President

In the first round of the presidential elections of 13 December 2009, Sebastián Piñera obtained 44% of the votes, and participated in a run-off election with the Concertación candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. The result of the run-off held on 17 January 2010 led to Sebastián Piñera being elected President with 51.6% of the votes.

On 11 March 2010, Sebastián Piñera was invested as the 47th President of the Republic of Chile at a ceremony held at the National Congress building in Valparaíso.