Patricio Aylwin, Who Reconciled a Divided Chile, Dies at 97

  • Aylwin was first president of Chile after military dictator
  • The Christian Democrat died at home on Tuesday aged 97

Patricio Aylwin, 97, the former president who led Chile’s transition to democracy from dictatorship in 1990, has died. He was 97.

He died Tuesday at his home in Santiago, his son Miguel Aylwin said. In December 2015, Patricio Aylwin fell and was hospitalized in an intensive care unit. Since then, his health has deteriorated. He will be buried in a state funeral on Friday.

A lawyer and a member of the Christian Democratic party, Aylwin helped restore democracy in a nation torn apart by 17 years of military rule by Augusto Pinochet, while overseeing the “economic miracle” that went on to make Chile the wealthiest country in South America. He also published the Truth and Reconciliation report into human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. The report was taken as a model by other countries transitioning to democracy, such as South Africa.

“We owe a lot to Patricio Aylwin, Chile has lost a great democrat,” President Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday. “Aylwin sought, through dialog and agreement, to advance toward a fully democratic country.”

Economic growth averaged 7.2 percent during his presidency as he continued the pro-market policies implemented by Pinochet.

National Reconciliation

Aylwin “was the father of national reconciliation and Chile’s restored democracy,” said fellow Christian Democrat Senator Patricio Walker.

Still, Chile’s democracy in the early 1990s was overshadowed by the power of the military. Pinochet became an un-elected senator for life and named others, while the National Security Council, of which he was a member, retained the right to rule on key issues. There was little Aylwin could do.

Presenting the Truth and Reconciliation report, Aylwin asked for forgiveness in the name of the nation from the families of the victims. The report listed the circumstances behind the murder of more than 3,000 people, though the army refused to cooperate.

Complicated Past

Aylwin’s ability to reconcile the nation was all the more remarkable given that he had originally supported the coup in 1973, saying it saved the country “from a civil war or a communist tyranny.” But during the late 1970s and the 1980s, Aylwin and the Christian Democrats became more critical of the military regime.

The extent of his popularity was showed by the condolences to the family that poured in today from both sides of Chile’s political divide, where the ruling and opposition blocs still equate to those who supported and those who opposed Pinochet.

In 1988, Aylwin participated in a campaign asking Chileans to cast a “No” vote in a referendum to allow Pinochet to rule for eight more years. The victory of the ’No’ campaign triggered Chile’s first democratic presidential election since 1970.

“He had a long life dedicated to family, justice and public service,” his son Miguel said. “He fought for his profound democratic convictions.”

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