By Meritxell Freixas
Santiago de Chile, Feb 9 (/EFE).- Chile bid farewell to former President Sebastián Piñera, who died in a helicopter crash on a lake in southern Chile on Tuesday, with an emotional and solemn state funeral.
Ministers from President Gabriel Boric’s cabinet, parliamentarians, members of the judiciary, and representatives from across the political spectrum arrived at the Old Congress in Santiago to bid farewell to the former president on the third and final day of national mourning.
Boric, the last of the representatives of the three branches of government and former presidents to speak, said that “he was a man who always put Chile first, who never let himself be carried away by fanaticism or rancor.”
“He was a leader who paved the way for a modern and democratic right-wing,” added Boric, who during his time as a senator was a fierce opponent of Piñera and also challenged him as a student leader during the massive protests of 2011.
Earlier, former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000) said that “he always sought to serve the country with his values, his inexhaustible energy, and his great passion.”
Meanwhile, former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) stressed that he was “an interlocutor capable of dialog and listening to criticism.”
After an emotional embrace with the widow and former first lady, Cecilia Morel, and the family’s gratitude for the speeches, the ceremony ended with a symbolic “guard of honor” led by Boric and the former presidents, who escorted the coffin for a few minutes.
Former President Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), who announced his retirement from public life last week, excused himself from attending the funeral due to health problems.
Government spokeswoman Camila Vallejo also apologized, citing “health reasons” on her social networks.
Tribute at La Moneda
After the tribute at Congress, the funeral procession went to the Metropolitan Cathedral, where the Archbishop of Santiago, Fernando Chomalí, celebrated a mass.
The procession then passed by La Moneda (the seat of government), where hundreds of supporters were waiting.
Frédéric Chopin’s “Funeral March” was played while the coffin advanced surrounded by the public in mournful silence. Afterward, Boric and the palace guard paid their last respects.
Piñera, 74, was the first right-wing politician to come to power after the military dictatorship. He governed for two non-consecutive terms (2010-2014 and 2018-2022), and his sudden death shook Chile.
An estimated 12,000 people came to the Hall of Honor of the former Congress to bid him farewell at the public wake.
The tour ended at the Parque del Recuerdo cemetery, where the body was buried in the family crypt.
The helicopter Piñera was piloting crashed over Lago Ranco, an exclusive resort more than 800 kilometers south of the capital where he spent summers with his family.
The three people traveling with him, including his sister Magdalena, managed to escape, and prosecutors are still investigating the accident. EFE