In Memoriam: Sebastián Piñera (1949-2024), former President and Key Figure in the Establishment of CGC Santiago

He also spoke at the World Leaders Forum in September 2013 before hundreds of students and faculty.

February 06, 2024

Today, we mourn the loss of former President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, a leader who left an indelible mark on Chilean society and beyond. President Piñera, who served two non-consecutive terms (2010-2014 and 2018-2022), played a prominent role in various domains, including politics, academia, and business.

In 2012, Then-President Piñera showcased his dedication to advancing academic collaboration by playing a central role in establishing the Santiago Center as a dynamic hub fostering academic programs, research projects, and collaborative networks. During a ceremony at the Chilean Presidential Palace, President Piñera signed a cooperation agreement with Columbia University alongside then-University President Lee C. Bollinger, then-Provost John Coatsworth, and the founding director of the Santiago Center, Karen Poniachik, who passed away in 2022.

The following year, Piñera's involvement with Columbia extended to the World Leaders Forum, where he participated in September 2013. Addressing hundreds of students and faculty, he shared insights on Chile's developmental journey, highlighting the nation's pursuit of innovation, entrepreneurship, and socioeconomic progress.

Sebastián Piñera's career spanned diverse arenas, reflecting his commitment and dedication to Chile's growth and prosperity. After earning a degree in business from Universidad Católica, he pursued postgraduate studies at Harvard University, where he obtained master's and doctoral degrees in Economics. Upon his return to Chile, Piñera distinguished himself in academia and international organizations, including the World Bank and the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). His entrepreneurial ventures in banking, finance, construction, and investments further underscored his multifaceted personality.

As President of Chile, Piñera demonstrated resilience and determination in navigating challenges. His first term (2010-2014) was marked by the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the rescue of 33 miners trapped in an underground mine in the Atacama Desert. During this period, Chile experienced robust economic growth, expanded access to education and healthcare, and fostered innovation and entrepreneurship.

In his second presidency, which began in 2018, President Piñera once again confronted complex scenarios, including a social and political crisis that erupted in October 2019 and gripped the nation for months. The scenario was further complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, posing unprecedented challenges for the nation. Throughout this period, President Piñera worked to navigate the complexities of the pandemic, implementing measures to mitigate its impact on public health and the Chilean economy.

Piñera passed away on Tuesday, February 6, in a helicopter accident while on vacation in southern Chile at the age of 74.

Upon learning of the former President's passing, CGC Santiago interim director Tom Trebat expressed his condolences: “Columbia Global Centers | Santiago extends heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of President Sebastian Piñera. I remember well and with gratitude how the former President welcomed Columbia to Chile in 2012, to a democratic Chile that he did so much to forge. He even made sure to mention his ongoing loyalty to Harvard during that time! Over the years, President Piñera strengthened the ties between Columbia and Chile, including through his visit to our University and engaging in conversations with our students, many of whom were Chileans. As we mourn his premature passing, we honor his commitment to educational cooperation in fostering international understanding. He was a man of peace and understanding in a world so much in need of both. May he now rest in peace.”

The Santiago Center extends its sympathies to the people of Chile during this time of mourning. May Sebastián Piñera's legacy of leadership and dedication to his country be forever cherished and celebrated.