Latin America & Caribbean

Profile: Chile's President Sebastian Pinera

Sebastian Pinera in Santiago, Chile (18 Sept 2010)
Image caption Mr Pinera made much of his fortune by introducing credit cards to Chile

Harvard-trained economist Sebastian Pinera became Chile's first conservative president since the end of military rule in 1990 when he took office in March 2010.

As one of Chile's richest men, Mr Pinera is no stranger to politics or business and has an estimated fortune put at $1bn.

Much of his money was made in the 1980s when he introduced credit cards to Chile.

He also invested in Chile's biggest main airline, Lan Chile, the country's top football club, Colo Colo, and a television channel.

During his campaign, Mr Pinera, 60, said he would apply his business know-how to government.

He promised to focus on creating jobs and said he would set up a social development ministry to tackle poverty, while at the same time giving the private sector more involvement in stimulating the economy.

Mr Pinera presented himself as the face of change, but also as ready to continue some of the policies of President Michele Bachelet's centre-left government.

But his first major challenge was awaiting him as soon as he entered office on 11 March, as a result of the devastating earthquake that hit Chile on 27 February killing some 500 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Mr Pinera acknowledged that the new environment meant he would have to reassess his plans, and said his leadership would now oversee "a government of reconstruction".

Mine boost

Mr Pinera's efforts to portray himself as a man of the people received a huge boost in October 2010, when the operation to rescue 33 men trapped in a gold and copper mine near Copiapo was successfully completed.

During the 69 days the miners were underground, he appeared regularly at the rescue site, passing on good news to the media, and was at the top of the rescue shaft to greet the miners as they emerged.

By the time the rescue was declared a complete success, Mr Pinera's popularity rating had soared.

He said the rescue had united Chile, and would also change global perceptions of the country.

"Chile is not the same country that it was 69 days ago - we are more respected," he said.

He told BBC News: "I hope that from now on when people around the world hear the word Chile, they will not remember the coup d'etat or the dictatorship, they will remember what we had done, all the Chileans together."

As a candidate of the centre-right, Mr Pinera had been at pains to distance himself from the legacy of the right-wing, military government of Gen Augusto Pinochet, who was in power from 1973 to 1990.

Mr Pinera, some of whose supporters are former Pinochet allies, repeatedly stressed that he voted "no" in a referendum on whether the general's rule should be extended.

Mr Pinera, who was a senator between 1990 and 1998, has described himself as a Christian humanist and a compassionate conservative. He said he wanted to have a broad support base that goes beyond the traditional right to include centrists and social democrats.

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