Bernardo Leighton

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The Honorable
Bernardo Leighton
Bernardo Leighton.jpg
Leighton in the early 1970.
Chilean Minister of the Interior
In office
November 3, 1964 – February 5, 1968
President Eduardo Frei Montalva
Preceded by Sótero del Río
Succeeded by Edmundo Pérez Zujovic
Chilean Minister of Education
In office
February 27, 1950 – February 4, 1952
President Gabriel González Videla
Preceded by Manuel Rodríguez Valenzuela
Succeeded by Eliodoro Domínguez
Chilean Minister of Labor
In office
May 24, 1937 – March 12, 1938
President Arturo Alessandri
Preceded by Roberto Vergara Donoso
Succeeded by Juan José Hidalgo
Member of the Chilean Chamber
In office
May 15, 1969 – September 21, 1973
Constituency Santiago
In office
May 15, 1945 – May 15, 1949
Constituency Antofagasta
Personal details
Born Bernardo Leighton Guzmán
(1909-08-16)August 16, 1909
Nacimiento, Chile
Died January 26, 1995(1995-01-26) (aged 85)
Santiago, Chile
Nationality Chilean
Political party National Falange
Christian Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Ana María Fresno Ovalle (m. 1940–95); his death
Parents Bernardino Leighton Gajardo and Sinforosa Guzmán Gallegos
Alma mater Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
Profession Lawyer

Bernardo Leighton Guzmán (August 16, 1909, Nacimiento, Bío Bío Province – January 26, 1995, Santiago) was a Chilean Christian Democratic Party politician and lawyer. He served as minister of state under three presidents over a 36-year career. Exiled as a critic of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, he was targeted for assassination by Operation Condor.


Early life[edit]

Bernardo Leighton was the son of Judge Bernardino Leighton Gajardo and Sinforosa Guzmán Gallegos. He grew up with admiration for his father, a reputed "justice man". Leighton spent his childhood in Los Angeles, Chile, in the Province of Bío Bío. In 1921, Leighton moved to Concepción for studies and an apprenticeship in the lay section of a seminary. In 1922, he moved to Santiago to work in the local Jesuit school, St. Ignacio.[1]

Political life[edit]

As the student leader at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, he participated in the 1927 riots against Carlos Ibáñez del Campo's dictatorship, which was deposed in 1931. During the same year, Leighton was sent by the Minister Marcial Mora to Coquimbo to placate the local military riots supported by the population.[2] In 1933, he graduated as a lawyer with a thesis on rural works.[1]

In 1937, Leighton was appointed Minister of Labor by Arturo Alessandri Palma. During this time he founded – along with his friends and associates, Eduardo Frei Montalva, Radomiro Tomic, and José Ignacio Palma – the National Falange which merged with the Christian Democratic Party in 1957.[3] At various times, he served as the party's vice-president.

In 1945, he was elected a deputy in the Chamber of Deputies, for a Antofagasta constituency. Leighton also served as Minister of Education in the Videla Government (1946–1952), and as Minister of the Interior in the Montalva Government (1964–1970).

He was re-elected in 1969, and served as legislator until the Chilean coup d'état of 1973.

Exile and assassination attempt[edit]

Leighton's criticism of the military government resulted in his exile from Chile. In February 1974, he and his wife fled to Rome, Italy, where he started a campaign against Augusto Pinochet's junta.[4]

According to CIA documents released by the National Security Archive, Italian terrorist and neo-fascist sympathizer Stefano Delle Chiaie met with DINA agent Michael Townley and Cuban Virgilio Paz Romero in Madrid in 1975 to prepare for the murder of Bernardo Leighton with the help of Francisco Franco's secret police. On October 6, 1975, at 8:20 p.m., Leighton and his wife were shot and severely injured by Stefano Delle Chiaie.

The day after the attack, Leighton's brain was operated on in an attempt to prevent loss of speech; however, his brain was severely damaged. This event brought about the end of his pacification intentions to reunite the various groups opposing Pinochet, including the lefts.

In 1978, the Chilean government allowed Leighton to return to Chile from Italy,[5] and he retired to a private life.

He died on January 26, 1995, in Santiago, Chile.

Personal life[edit]

On August 15, 1940, Leighton married Ana María Fresno Ovalle, a relative of Juan Francisco Fresno. Ana Maria became a paraplegic due to the murder attempt on the couple in October 1975 and died in 2011. The couple had no children.


  1. ^ a b El Mercurio. January 27, 1995. p. 1.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ La Segunda. January 26, 1995. p. 12.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Armando de Ramón y Otros (2003). Biografías de chilenos: miembros de los poderes Ejecutivo, Legislativo y Judicial (1876-1973). Catholic University of Chile. 
  4. ^ "Anita Fresno y Bernardo Leighton, Una pareja que volvió de la muerte" (PDF). 
  5. ^ "Chile to Allow a Top Politician To Return From Exile in Italy". New York Times. 1978-05-14.