Sebastián Piñera Echenique was born in Santiago, Chile, on December 1, 1949. His parents are José Piñera Carvallo (1917-1991) and Magdalena Echenique Rozas (1919-2000). In 1973, he married Cecilia Morel Montes. Together they have four children and four grandchildren.
He graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile as a Commercial Engineer with a minor in Economics and also received a Masters and Doctorate degree from the University of Harvard in the United States.
He is the third of six children born to José Piñera and Magdalena Echeñique. He received a Christian, well-rounded, liberal education from his parents, emphasizing a deep sense of duty and a strong calling to public service.
In 1950, he set off along with his family to the United States, where his father had recently been appointed as a representative in the first overseas office of the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO in Spanish).
Upon his return to Chile, he enrolled in the Verbo Divino school, run by German priests. There, he coursed his elementary studies and part of high school (1955-1964). He stood out as one of the top students of his class and had an active participation in the Boy Scouts.
After President Eduardo Frei Montalva won the 1964 election, his father was appointed Ambassador to Belgium, so he moved to Europe and continued his high school curriculum at the Saint Boniface School, in Brussels. It was there that he became drenched in the spirit of the great university movements that were sweeping across Europe at the time. In 1967, when his father took over the position of Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), he returned to Verbo Divino to complete his senior year.
In 1968, he enrolled in the Economics Faculty of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Early on, he understood that this social science was a formidable tool to help improve the quality of life of the less fortunate. In 1971, he received his degree as a Commercial Engineer and was honored with the Raúl Iver award for graduating at the top of his class.
In 1973 he travelled to the United States to obtain a Doctorate in Economics at Harvard University. His thesis, which earned him his doctor’s degree, was entitled: “The Economics of Education in Developing Countries: A Collection of Essays”.
During his time as a Harvard student, he met noted economists -several of whom are Nobel Prize winners-, he was an assistant professor and he began to appreciate the value of freedom and democracy, as well as the opportunities a country like the United States had to offer.
The family man
In 1973, before going to the United States, he married Cecilia Morel Montes. She graduated as a family and youth counselor at the Carlos Casanueva Institute and also holds a degree in Family and Human Relations from Universidad Mayor. They are the proud parents of Magdalena (1975), a History and Geography Teacher; Cecilia (1978), a Pediatrician; Sebastián (1982), a Commercial Engineer and Cristóbal (1984), a Psychologist.
During his spare time, he likes to be with his family and friends, enjoying all kinds of outdoor activities, sports and cuisine. He is a fervent reader with a special passion for world history.
He returned to Chile in 1976 and focused mainly on teaching. He was a professor at the Economics Faculties of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the University of Chile, Adolfo Ibañez University and at the Valparaíso Business School.
During the same period, he was a consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) (1974-1976), consultant for the World Bank (1975-1978) and he worked for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). At this last institution, he contributed actively to a macro project called “Latin American poverty map and policies for overcoming poverty”, 1976.
In 1976, he obtained representation rights in Chile for Visa and MasterCard and created Bancard S.A., granting Chileans access to this new payment and credit system. Continuing along these same lines, he participated in the creation of CMB S.A., Las Américas Real Estate Company S.A., Aconcagua Constructing Company and Los Andes Publishing House S.A. At the same time, he was the official representative in Chile of transnational giant Apple, and a few years later he became a major shareholder in companies such as Lan Chile, Chilevisión and Blanco y Negro (sports club), among others.
The public servant
For the Plebiscite of October 5, 1988, he was actively involved in bringing back democracy, voting NO to continue with the Military Regime.
En 1989, along with his wife Cecilia Morel, he created, and still supports, the Mujer Emprende Foundation. The idea behind this institution is to encourage training and development for economically challenged women. (www.mujeremprende.cl)
In addition, in 1993, he created the Futuro Foundation. The driving force behind Futuro is making a contribution towards bringing culture to all Chileans. In order to achieve this goal, educational programs were created, such as “El arte se acerca a la gente” (Art approaches the people), “Yo descubro mi ciudad” (Discovering my city), “Museo a la mano” (Museum within arms reach) and “Pasantías culturales para profesores” (Cultural internships for teachers). Likewise, the foundation set in motion citywide projects like “El Mapocho navegable” (Navigable Mapocho river), “Transformación del Estero Margamar” (Transformation of the Margamar marsh) and “Estadios para Chile” (Stadiums for Chile). (www.fundacionfuturo.cl)
The Futuro Foundation has also developed environmental initiatives. In 2005, Tantauco Park was inaugurated on the southern shores of Chiloé Island. The park spans 346,000 acres, featuring 136 miles of trails and camp sites where visitors can go hiking, fishing, bird-watching and even enjoy the migration habits of blue whales. Endangered species and ecosystems are preserved and protected within the park. Tantauco encourages sustainable ecotourism programs and carries out research to help achieve this goal. (www.parquetantauco.cl)
On top of all of the above, for many years he was an advisor to Hogar de Cristo (Christ’s Home, a local not-for profit organization) and participated in a number of pro-bono commissions. Just to name a few, he was a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Advisory Council and of the Comisión Bicentenario (Bicentennial Commission), which was created by former President Ricardo Lagos.
In 1989, he ran for senator as an independent backed by the Pacto Democracia y Progreso (Democracy and Progress Pact). He won in the 8ª Circunscripción de la Región Metropolitana (8th Voting District of the Eastern Metropolitan Region) and served during the legislative period running between 1990 and 1998. It was then that he entered the ranks of the Renovación Nacional (National Renewal) party.
During his term as senator, he was part of permanent commissions that dealt with Treasury issues, Human Rights, Healthcare, the Environment and National Assets. His concern for the environment was illustrated by the introduction of the Environment and Nature Protection Bill.
His democratic spirit was proven thanks to another Bill introduced to modify the Organic Constitutional Laws governing political parties, popular votes and tallying and municipalities. This allowed independent candidates to run head to head with party member candidates in presidential, congressional and municipal elections. He also presented a Bill that simplified the process needed to create a political party.
Another area he participated in involved a Bill regulating the judicial and ethical principles behind human reproduction, including assisted reproduction, establishing penalties for whoever violates these regulations.
He was chosen best Senator of his term by his peers along with Andrés Zaldívar, a former Senator who served during the same period.
He was President of the Renovación Nacional (National Renewal) party between 2001 and 2004. During the Renovación Nacional National Council of May 2005, he was proclaimed the party’s presidential candidate. During the presidential elections of December 2005, Sebastián Piñera obtained 25.4% of the votes, while Michelle Bachelet received 45.9%. Both candidates faced-off in a second round of elections in January, 2006, where Michelle Bachelet won with 53.5% of the total ballots. Sebastián Piñera obtained 46.5%.
Ever since then, he centered his daily agenda around three core activities: travelling across Chile listening to the needs and demands of the people; campaigning alongside the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile, a group of political parties) candidates during the 2008 Municipal Elections; and, creating the “Tantauco Groups”, made up of over 1,200 professionals split into 37 working commissions devoted to research and proposing public policies for future administrations.
In May 2009, the Coalición por el Cambio (Coalition for Change) was founded. This new political alliance brought together Renovación Nacional (National Renewal) and the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union), which were part of the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile), as well as newer parties, such as Chile Primero (Chile First), Humanismo Cristiano (Christian Humanism), Norte Grande (Greater North) and the Independents. This new coalition appointed Sebastián Piñera as their official candidate for the Presidency of the Republic.
The calling card of that presidential campaign was direct contact with the men and women of Chile, who were united under two slogans: “Cambio, Futuro y Esperanza” (Change, Future and Hope) and “Súmate al Cambio” (Be Part of the Change). Even though there was no law in place forcing him to do so, when he was still a presidential candidate, Sebastián Piñera handed over the administration of his participation in public corporations to four investment fund administrators, creating a Voluntary Blind Trust.
Sebastián Piñera obtained 44% of the votes in the presidential elections held on December 13, 2009, moving on to a second round along with the candidate representing the Concertación (Concert of Parties for Democracy), Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. When the ballots were tallied on January 17, 2010, Sebastián Piñera obtained 51.6% of the votes, making him the new President elect.
On March 11, 2010, at the National Congress building, Sebastián Piñera was sworn in as the 47th President of the Republic of Chile.
During his first months as President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera has led a government characterized by a strong emphasis on excellence, a sense of urgency, a commitment to meeting goals and obtaining concrete results and continuous accountability.
On taking office, he had to deal with the emergency caused by the earthquake and tsunami of February 27, 2010, while at the same time move forward with his government program. The natural disaster cost the lives of over 500 Chileans and caused the greatest level of property damage ever seen in Chile. Faced by this devastation, the Government implemented a 4-year reconstruction plan.
Among the key achievements during President Piñera’s first year in government were a recovery in Chile’s economic growth (5.2% projection for 2010), the creation of 385,000 new jobs and a fall in the rate of unemployment. Other measures have included the creation of 30 flagship schools, an increase in the Preferential School Subsidy (Subvención Escolar Preferencial or SEP), and the introduction of a Law on Educational Quality and Equity. Waiting lists for the health conditions included in Plan AUGE (priority conditions) fell by 62% and a special March Bonus was provided to 3.8 million people in 2010. During the same period, the government undertook the reform of the Anti-terrorist Law and Military Justice, proposed legislation on the death of women in situations of domestic violence, proposed a constitutional reform for recognizing indigenous peoples, took steps to extend and improve democracy, passed legislation to recruit 10,000 new Carabineros (uniformed police officers) and 1,000 new detectives for the investigative police (OPP-PDI). In this period, there was a decrease in the number of crimes in people’s homes and the fear of crime fell to its lowest level in a decade.
The tragedy of the 33 miners, who were trapped 700 meters underground for a period of 70 days, shocked and moved people in Chile and around the world. The efforts to rescue them revealed the new form of government and reinforced our national spirit, showing just what we can achieve.
The government’s objective continues to be the creation of a society in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential, which creates the security so people can take the risks involved in starting up a business, innovating and working hard, and which is based on values such as respect for life, personal responsibility, family, diversity and environmental protection.