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Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez

Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez

Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez (1896-1986/1987) was a president of Chile who attempted to restore national prosperity while dealing with problems of reconstruction following the catastrophic earthquake of 1960.

Jorge Alessandri, son of the Chilean president Arturo Alessandri, was born on May 19, 1896. More reserved than his father and less drawn to politics, he graduated in 1919 with a degree in civil engineering and at first taught engineering. Also a successful businessman, he held the directorship of the major paper factory in Chile and was vice president of the Bank of South America.

Alessandri's introduction to politics, aside from a brief career as a congressman in 1925, came when he was named minister of finance (1948-1950) during the presidency of Gabriel González Videla. Alessandri balanced the nation's budget and actually secured a surplus, an unusual achievement in inflation-ridden Chile. In 1956 he was elected senator from Santiago.

Alessandri earned a reputation for being aloof and austere but able. A bachelor, he was said to be a father figure for the Chileans. Alessandri possessed a well-known name, was not closely connected officially with the traditional political parties, and was an outspoken critic of the increasingly unpopular Ibáñez administration (1952-1958). Thus, he was nominated for the presidency in 1958 by a coalition of independent and conservative groups. Alessandri promised to give the nation an efficient administration manned not with politicians but with technical experts. His program appealed to the wealthy and middle classes, and in one of the closest elections in Chilean history, Alessandri won over Salvador Allende, the Socialist-Communist nominee.

Alessandri kept his campaign promises and attempted to deal with Chile's runaway inflation by instituting a strict austerity program. Between 1958 and 1960 he had some success in stemming the rise in the cost of living and in stabilizing the currency. However, his efforts at economy were halted when devastating earthquakes rocked southern Chile in May 1960. Huge outlays of money to rebuild the territory were required. Alessandri's essentially rightist orientation and his reluctance to attack the pressing problems of agrarian reform, unemployment, and housing resulted in a loss of popularity for the conservative parties. In the presidential election of 1964, Eduardo Frei, a Christian Democrat, was victorious, and conservative domination of Chile was shattered.

Alessandri's political fortunes subsequently took a turn for the better, and in 1970 he was supported by a revitalized conservative coalition for the presidency. Beaten in the election by Socialist Salvador Allende, Alessandri endorsed the winner in the subsequent run-off election in Congress which had become necessary because of Allende's narrow margin of victory in the general elections. Alessandri then retired but maintained his independent political stance. He died around 1986.

Further Reading

There is no adequate study of Alessandri in English. Two works which deal with Chile during his administration are Federico G. Gil, The Political System of Chile (1966), and Frederick B. Pike, Chile and the United States, 1880-1962 (1963; 2d ed. 1965). Both provide valuable insights into the character of the Alessandri government. □

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