It was with great sadness that I received a letter from the Ambassador at the Embassy of Chile in London advising me that the former Chilean President, Patricio Aylwin, had died on the 19th April at the age of 97. This sad loss for the people of Chile was followed by three days of national mourning and a State Funeral in Santiago on the 22nd April.
He was the first democratically elected president (1990-1994) following the Pinochet military dictatorship. He won widespread praise for combining a booming economic growth with the establishment of democracy during his period of rule for what became one of Latin America’s most stable countries. The coalition that he helped launch then ruled uninterrupted until 2010.
President Michelle Bachelet said; “Chile has lost a great statesman, a man who put unity before our differences, a man who made possible a democratic country once he assumed the presidency of the republic, and in that sense we owe Patricio a lot.”
Patricio was a Catholic who joined the Falange Nacional in 1945. When that party became the Christian Democratic Party he served seven terms as its president between 1958 and 1989. He was central to the movement that democratically and peacefully defeated General Pinochet in a plebiscite. In December 1989 he won the presidency with 55.2% of the vote, easily defeating Pinochet’s candidate. Shortly after taking office as national President he established a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, which in nine months prepared a bulky and rigorous report detailing abuses and giving the names of more than 3,200 people killed between 1973 and 1990, mostly by agents of the Chilean security forces. Reparations, amounting to $18m in 1992, and taking the form of pensions, health care and educational grants, were made to the relatives of the dead and disappeared. This resulted in an impressive degree of national consensus of the reality of what had gone on under Pinochet.
He was constitutionally limited to one term as president and left office in 1994. He continued to promote justice and was the catalyst for a UN summit on poverty in 1995. In 1997 the Council of Europe awarded the North-South Prize to Patricio and to Mary Robinson (former Irish president) for their contribution to fostering human rights, democracy, and cooperation between Europe and Latin America.
Patricio died surrounded by his family. Patricio was survived by his wife, Leonor Oyarzun, two daughters and three sons, and fourteen grandchildren.
We send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family and the whole Chilean nation. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. Eternal rest grant unto Patricio O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him. May the divine assistance remain always with the Chilean people and may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of Almighty God rest in peace.