Eight months before Chileans go to the polls, former President Sebastián Piñera is the frontrunner among a crowded field of candidates. The center-right businessman who was president from 2010 to 2014 leads public opinion polls, and has clearly benefited from the unpopularity of Michelle Bachelet, who preceded him in power – and replaced him when his term ended in 2013.
If Piñera returns, it would be an amazing comeback – and the latest surprising chapter in a career full of ups and downs.
A 67-year old economist who is also Chile’s sixth-wealthiest person, Piñera has enjoyed success in business and politics. After getting a Ph.D. in Economics at Harvard, Piñera returned to Chile in the early 1980s. He briefly worked as an academic, but soon began his own private ventures, bringing credit cards to Chile. At the time, the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) was opening up the economy. Though Piñera benefited from the market-friendly reforms, he kept his distance from the authoritarian government. In 1988, he quietly supported the democratic opposition that defeated Pinochet in the plebiscite. But in 1989, Piñera was elected senator representing the right-wing coalition comprised by parties that had previously supported Pinochet. During his eight years in the Senate, Piñera actively participated in legislative debates, brokering deals with the center-left Concertación government to make the market-friendly neoliberal economic system more inclusive. At the same time, Piñera expanded his business empire. As one of the key shareholders of the privatized LAN airline, Piñera began to accumulate a sizable fortune.
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