Aguirre Cerda, Pedro (1879–1941)

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Aguirre Cerda, Pedro (1879–1941)

Pedro Aguirre Cerda (b. 6 February 1879; d. 25 November 1941), president of Chile (1938–1941). Born to a modest family in Pocuro, a village in Aconcagua Province, Aguirre Cerda graduated from the University of Chile with degrees in pedagogy and law. A member of the Radical Party, he served in the Chamber of Deputies from 1915 to 1921 and in the Senate from 1921 to 1924. He also held ministries in the administrations of Juan Luis Sanfuentes and Arturo Alessandri Palma. He was elected president in 1938 as the candidate of the Popular Front, a coalition of the Radical, Socialist, Communist, and Democratic parties and the Chilean Labor Confederation, narrowly defeating Conservative candidate Gustavo Ross. Rightist strength in Congress and Aguirre Cerda himself, who had parlayed law and politics into a personal fortune, assured that Chile's first government of the working and middle classes would not pursue radical objectives. Aguirre Cerda had originally opposed the Popular Front concept, which originated in Moscow as an anti-Fascist strategy; Chile's was the only Popular Front government elected in Latin America.

As president, Aguirre Cerda vetoed the efforts of his Marxist allies to unionize agricultural workers, thus preserving the overrepresentation of landowners in Congress. He faced the rebuilding of the south-central provinces in the wake of the devastating 1939 earthquake centered in Chillán. Among his major achievements were the founding of the Chilean Development Corporation (CORFO), the state agency charged with fostering industrialization, establishing the minimum wage for urban workers, reforming education, and recognizing Chilean territorial claims in Antarctica. A genuinely popular president, Aguirre Cerda died unexpectedly after less than three years in office.

See alsoChile, Organizations: Development Corporation (CORFO); Chile, Political Parties: Radical Party.


John Reese Stevenson, The Chilean Popular Front (1942).

Alberto Cabero, Recuerdos de don Pedro Aguirre Cerda, 2d ed. (1948).

Alberto Baltra Cortés, Pedro Aguirre Cerda (1960).

Additional Bibliography

Palma Zúñiga, Luis. Pedro Aguirre Cerda, maestro, estadista, gobernante. Santiago: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1963.

Quezada Vergara, Abraham. Pedro Aguirre Cerda, o, La trayectoria de un ideal educativo. Santiago: Universi-dad de Chile, Facultad Ciencias Económicas y Admini-strativas, Editorial de Economía y Administración, 1991.

                                    Thomas C. Wright