Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens (July 26, 1908September 11, 1973) was president of Chile from 1970 until 1973, when he was overthrown in a bloody military coup during which he died.

Salvador Allende

Table of contents
1 A socialist President
2 The coup
3 Quotes about Allende
4 See further

A socialist President

Allende was born in Valparaiso, Chile and was a medical doctor by profession. He was also an ardent Marxist and an outspoken critic of the capitalist system. Allende declared his intention for far-reaching socialist reforms, but he remained vague on how exactly he planned to implement them. His political opponents accused him of planning to turn Chile into a Communist dictatorship, but Allende dismissed such allegations.

Prior to being elected president, Allende co-founded Chile's socialist party, and served as cabinet minister and Chairman of the Chilean Senate. After running in vain for president three times, in 1970, he obtained a narrow plurality with 36% of the vote as leader of the Unidad Popular coalition party.

At the time, the United States had substantial economic interests in Chile (through ITT, Anaconda, Kennecott, and other large corporations), and the Nixon administration was strongly opposed to Allende. It attempted to prevent his election by financing political parties that opposed him (including the moderate Chilean Communist Party).

That having failed, the CIA ran operations after the election to try and incite Chile's outgoing president Eduardo Frei to veto Allende's Congressional ratification as the new president. The CIA's plan was to persuade the Chilean Congress to appoint Allende's runner-up, Conservative-Liberal Party candidate Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez as president. Under the plan, Alessandri would promptly resign his office immediately after assuming it, and call new elections. Eduardo Frei would then be constitutionally able to run again (the Chilean Constitution forbids more than two consecutive terms), and presumably easily defeat Allende.

However, in the end Congress rebuked the plan and chose to appoint Allende president, on the condition that he would sign a "Statute of Constitutional Guarantees" affirming that his socialist reforms would not undermine any element of the Chilean Constitution.

After his inauguration, Allende began to carry out his platform of implementing socialist programs in Chile. Many corporations were nationalized, and a new "excess profit tax" was created. The government announced a moratorium on foreign debt payments and defaulted on debts held by international creditors and foreign governments. These moves angered middle- and upper-class elements and polarized the country.

Throughout his presidency, Allende remained at odds with the Chilean Congress, which was dominated by the conservative Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democrats continued to believe Allende was leading Chile toward a Cuban-style dictatorship and sought to overturn many of his more radical constitutional reforms. Some members even called for the normally apolitical Chilean military to stage a coup to "protect the constitution."

In 1971, following a month-long visit of Cuban president Fidel Castro, with whom he had a close friendship, Allende announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, despite a previously established Organization of American States convention that no nation in the Western Hemisphere would do so.

Allende's socialist policies combined with his close contacts with Cuba caused panic among high-ranking members of the United States government that Chile was in danger of becoming a "communist state" and joining the Soviet sphere of influence. The Nixon administration began exerting economic pressure on Chile via multilateral organizations, and continued to back his opponents in Congress. Allende's presidency was further complicated by radical Marxist forces within his coalition of supporters who were pushing for an even more rapid implementation of socialism in Chile.

Pinochet and Allende

The coup

By September, 1973, high inflation and shortages had plunged the country into near chaos. The Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet, staged a coup against Allende. During the capture of the Presidential Palace, Allende was said by his personal doctor to have committed suicide, with a submachine gun given to him by Fidel Castro, although others believe he was killed in the defense of the Presidential Palace. The coup occurred on September 11, 1973.

Ironically, the coup that many Chileans hoped would protect the constitution from further destruction actually accelerated the process. Many human rights abuses ensued, leaving more than three thousand Chileans dead or missing and plunging the country into a long period of dictatorship.

In the aftermath of the coup, many Allende supporters began to allege that the president's overthrow had been the result of an American orchestrated scheme. Although the CIA denies having actively supported the coup and claims that it was merely informed of it, recently declassified documents have indicated that the CIA was much more directly involved in the coup than it has previously admitted.

Quotes about Allende

See further

  • Isabel Allende, Salvador Allende was the uncle of the Chilean writer
  • Pop culture images of Salvador Allende