Fernando Matthei Chile's ex commander of the Air Force and member of the military Junta, led by Augusto Pinchet, died on Sunday at the age of 92. The former pilot, was the father of Evelyn Matthei, who run and lost against Michelle Bachelet in the 2013 presidential election and since 2016 is mayor of Providencia, one of the main districts fo the capital Santiago.
But General Matthei will be remembered for other recent events which made history in Chile. Following the 1973 military coup, (he did not participate since at the time he was military attaché in London), Matthei was named Public Health minister and later, July 1978, member of the ruling military Junta, when the ex Air Force representative was forced to resign because of discrepancies with Pinochet.
His greatest moment was in 1988, when Pinochet organized a referendum to amend the constitution and have himself automatically re-elected, but contrary to expectations it was rejected by the Chilean electorate, and Matthei on the very night of the results was the first member of the Junta to admit the resounding NO to those intentions.
This apparently was crucial since Pinochet was preparing that same night to ignore the results, but Matthei's comments picked up in the media when he was heading for an urgent meeting at the presidential palace in La Moneda, turned the situation around. His words helped open a glimpse of light for the return of democracy and if effect two years later Pinochet stepped down from office, although keeping power as head of the Army. Anyhow it was an irreversible moment of recent Chilean democratic history.
Another standing event of his career was when he was instructed to coordinate efforts to help Britain with logistics and information to defeat the Argentine invasion of the Falklands in 1982. Recent books by former UK officers following the disclosure of documents in London, point out that most probably without Chilean support the war would have been more prolonged and of difficult if not uncertain outcome.
The RAF officer Sidney Edwards who coordinated the Chilean support wrote in his book that Matthei was a pragmatic man who knew perfectly well that if the Argentines beat the British in the Falklands, the Chilean Beagle would have been the next target of the Argentine invasion. Besides an internationally isolated Chile, supporting UK, would then have access to arms, equipment, and intelligence.
Years later interviewed by the Argentine media Matthei admitted that Argentines have a reason to loathe him, but his mission and duty was to ensure the security of Chile.
Another interesting side of his life is that when Chilean magistrates went after him for the death in Air Force barracks of his peer General Alberto Bachelet, father of the current president Michelle Bachelet, the widow and family said that on the contrary Matthei had been one of the very few supports they had during the Pinochet dictatorship.
The Chilean Air Force also pointed out his contribution to the force and the fact that he was the main proponent and creator of the International Air and Space Fair, FIDAE, which has since been held annually in Chile and is the most important of its kind in the Southern hemisphere.