Lucia Hiriart, widow of Chilean dictator Pinochet, dies at age 99

Hiriart aroused strong reactions among Chileans for the perceived influence she had on Pinochet, who ruled for 17 years.

Chile's former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet (Right), listens to his wife Lucia Hiriart during a ceremony in 1998 marking his retirement from the army command [File: Cris Bouroncle/AFP]

Lucia Hiriart, the widow of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, has died at the age of 99, her family said.

Her death on Thursday came three days before a polarised presidential runoff in Chile in which one of the two candidates defended the legacy of Pinochet’s military regime.

Hiriart aroused strong reactions among Chileans for the perceived influence she had on Pinochet and for the fortune accumulated by her family. Her estate managed a controversial foundation, which was subjected to several judicial probes.

“At the age of 99 and surrounded by family and loved ones, my beloved grandmother passed away. She leaves an immense mark on our hearts,” her granddaughter, who goes by Karina Pinochet on Twitter, posted on the social network.

“She gave her life to the service of Chileans and history will know how to value her great work and her work for our beloved country. Rest in Peace.”

A person holds a placard reading ‘Goodbye old lady’ as demonstrators congregate after Hiriart passed away in Santiago, Chile on December 16, 2021 [Pablo Sanhueza/Reuters]

Pinochet, a military general, overthrew the nation’s democratically elected leftist government in a bloody 1973 coup. During his 17-year reign, more than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and tens of thousands tortured.

During the dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, Chile also established much of its current market-oriented economic system, which helped drive decades of growth but also spurred inequality.

In a biography by the journalist Alejandra Matus, Hiriart is portrayed as a tough character who often criticised her husband. The two were married from 1943 to 2006, when Pinochet died.

Chileans will vote for a new president on Sunday between progressive Gabriel Boric and far-right Jose Antonio Kast, who has previously defended Pinochet’s legacy and said the former dictator would have voted for him if he were still alive.

“Lucia Hiriart lived with impunity, despite the deep pain and division that she caused our country,” Boric tweeted following her death. He called for “more respect” for the victims of the dictatorship and for Chileans to work for “justice and a dignified life”.

Kast did not immediately comment on Hiriart’s death on the social networking site.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from a Kast rally in the capital Santiago on Thursday, the final day of campaigning ahead of the election, said the race is extremely close and “every single vote will count” on Sunday.

For many Chileans, Kast – an ultra conservative and a staunch Catholic who is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage – represents the past, Newman said.

But he also is the candidate of law and order, “and that is something that many Chileans are yearning for after two years of social upheaval“, she reported. “That is why a lot of people have turned to him at this moment of polarisation.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters