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

Lucia Hiriart, the widow of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, died Dec. 16 in the Santiago apartment where she led a secluded life in her final years, away from the luxuries and power she held during her husband’s repressive 17-year rule. She was 99.

Her death, three days before a polarized presidential election in Chile, was confirmed by her son Marco Antonio. She was hospitalized for respiratory problems earlier this year.

Ms. Hiriart never had public words of regret for the bloody legacy of her husband’s dictatorship, which resulted in more than 3,000 opponents killed, thousands of political prisoners tortured and tens of thousands forced into exile. Pinochet assumed power in a 1973 coup and ruled until 1990. He died in 2006 at 91.

Known for her strong character, Ms. Hiriart on many occasions influenced her husband’s decisions on whom to appoint to public office. She also was known for expensive tastes in clothes and in the furnishing of her family’s homes.

Ms. Hiriart faced two judicial investigations related to a fortune that Pinochet was discovered to have in more than 100 bank accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington. In 2005, she was accused along with her son Marco Antonio of complicity in an $8.7 million tax fraud. Two years later, Ms. Hiriart, her five children and 17 other people from the dictator’s entourage were charged with embezzlement of public funds.

In both cases, Chile’s courts overturned the prosecutions of Ms. Hiriart and her family. After Pinochet’s death, the charges against him were dropped. The Chilean high court confiscated about 20 pieces of real estate from the family and seized $1.6 million from Pinochet’s bank accounts.

Pinochet’s accounts at Riggs Bank had been discovered by chance in 2004 during a U.S. congressional investigation into an unrelated matter. An accounting audit valued Pinochet’s accounts at about $21 million, with the origin of $17.8 million undetermined. The former dictator claimed at the time that his funds abroad were “life savings.”

Maria Lucia Hiriart Rodriguez was born in Antofagasta, a port city in northern Chile, on Dec. 10, 1922. She married Pinochet at age 20.

In recent years, she was rarely seen in public. One of those occasions was in 2015, when she attended a Mass in memory of her husband, with whom she had three daughters and two sons. The information on the survivors of her death was not available immediately.

After news of her death surfaced Thursday, about 200 people, most of them born after democracy was restored in Chile, gathered to celebrate at a central square in Santiago, the capital. The protestors waved banners and denounced Ms. Hiriart.

“Lucia Hiriart dies in impunity despite the deep pain and division she caused our country,” said Gabriel Boric, the leftist candidate in Chile’s presidential runoff election. His opponent, far-right politician Jose Antonio Kast, has defended Pinochet’s legacy, and he said that Ms. Hiriart’s death “will not move the election for either side.”

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