Allende Gossens, Salvador (1908–1973)

views updated

Allende Gossens, Salvador (1908–1973)

Salvador Allende Gossens served as president of Chile from 1970 to 1973. Born in Valparaíso on July 26, 1908, to an upper-middle-class family, Allende studied in the public schools and graduated from the University of Chile with a medical degree in 1932. He was an active Mason throughout his adult life. Allende was attracted to socialist doctrine during his youth. He participated in university politics and in 1933 was a founding member of the Socialist Party. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1937 and served as minister of health (1939–1942) in the Popular Front government of Pedro Aguirre Cerda. His long career in the senate began in 1945 and continued until 1969. As a senator he gained a reputation as an expert in parliamentary procedure and rose to the presidency of the senate (1965–1969). Allende held various offices in the Socialist Party, serving twice as secretary-general.

Allende ran for the presidency of Chile four times. In 1952 he garnered only 5.4 percent of the vote. In 1958 and 1964 he ran as the candidate of the Popular Action Front (FRAP), founded in 1956 to unite the Communist, Socialist, and smaller leftist parties. With coalition support, Allende received 28.9 percent of the vote in 1958, losing to Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez by only 33,500 of 1,236,000 votes cast. The leftward movement of Chilean politics in the wake of the Cuban Revolution (1959) raised expectations of an Allende victory in the 1964 presidential election. To prevent that possibility, the rightist Conservative and Liberal parties broke their alliance with the Radical Party and threw their support to reformist Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei. After an intense campaign featuring Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) financing and scare tactics equating Allende with Fidel Castro, Frei won with 55.6 percent of the vote to Allende's 38.6. Throughout the Frei administration, Allende was the most visible spokesman of the opposition Left and an advocate of more vigorous reform.

The 1970 presidential election offered Chileans clear choices. The Right reorganized as the National Party in reaction to Frei's reforms and selected former president Jorge Alessandri as its candidate. The Christian Democrats ran Radomiro Tomic of the party's left-center bloc. Allende was the candidate of Popular Unity (UP, or Unidad Popular), a new coalition of the Socialists and Communists and four non-Marxist parties, including the historic Radical Party. Allende won a close race, receiving 36.5 percent of the vote to Alessandri's 35.2 and Tomic's 28.0. After two months of U.S.-orchestrated attempts to block congressional ratification of the popular election and to foster a military coup, Salvador Allende took office on November 3, 1970.

Allende's election fixed the world's attention on Chile, which would provide the laboratory for testing the question: Is there a peaceful road to socialism? Allende had promised to move Chile rapidly toward socialism through the acceleration of agrarian reform and extensive nationalization in key economic sectors. His first year in office was highly successful in meeting those goals and in building popular support. Thereafter, mounting problems began to plague his government, compounding the difficulties imposed by opposition control of congress and the judiciary. By the end of 1971 accelerating inflation, the exhaustion of foreign currency reserves, and disinvestment in the private sector had weakened the economy. Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats and the National Party formalized an anti-UP alliance, the Nixon administration stepped up its destabilization campaign, and critical divisions within the UP and Allende's own Socialist Party began to surface.

Although the pace of reform rose dramatically under the UP, popular expectations rose faster, resulting in widespread extralegal worker occupations of haciendas and factories. Torn between his legal obligations and his commitment to the pueblo, Allende vacillated on the wave of takeovers; he lost crucial middle-class support by appearing soft on the rule of law. The opposition struck a major blow in an October 1972 "bosses' strike." Called by the gremio (guild) movement, a broad coalition of business and professional groups, the strike paralyzed the economy, revealed the government's vulnerability, and forced Allende to bring military officers into his cabinet. From this point forward, confrontation escalated and much of the opposition embraced the goal of overthrowing the government.

Despite the growing polarization and the rise of violence, Allende achieved an impressive record of reform. Under his administration, the traditional rural estate virtually ceased to exist, the state took control of the "commanding heights" of the economy, and progress was made in income redistribution. The final test of UP popularity was the March 1973 congressional election. The UP received 44 percent of the vote, down from the 49.7 percent it had won in the April 1971 municipal elections but still 7.5 points above the 1970 presidential vote tally. Nonetheless, the UP's failure to achieve a congressional majority and the opposition's failure to attain the two-thirds majority necessary to impeach the president signaled three and a half more years of conflict before the next scheduled presidential election in 1976. A second gremio strike took place in July and August 1973. With the country in chaos and the government near collapse, the military staged a coup on September 11. Salvador Allende, compañero presidente to Chile's poor, committed suicide in the Moneda Palace while it was under military attack. The overthrow and death of Allende marked the end of the transition to socialism and the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990).

Allende was buried following a private ceremony in a small Viña del Mar cemetery; visits to his grave were prohibited for several years. The military dictatorship initially demonized Allende as justification for the coup and its mission of eradicating the Chilean left. Through its absolute control of publishing, the media, and school curricula, the regime subsequently attempted to erase Allende from the collective memory. However, when mass protests erupted in 1982, the figure of Allende reemerged as a symbol of democracy in the struggle to end the dictatorship.

Since the return of elected government in 1990, Allende's figure has been rehabilitated. On September 4, 1990, exactly twenty years after his election as president, Allende was given the public funeral he had been denied in 1973. Following mass in the Santiago cathedral, Allende's remains were buried in Santiago's venerable Cementerio General, where all but one of Chile's dead presidents repose. In 2000, Allende's Socialist Party returned to the presidential palace with the election of Ricardo Lagos; the same year, Allende became only the third president to be honored with a statue in the Plaza de la Constitución, adjacent to the Moneda Palace. In 2003, the thirtieth anniversary of the coup and Allende's death, his daughter Isabel Allende Bussi assumed the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies and Allende was commemorated in multiple ceremonies, including the naming of streets and plazas around the country. While Chileans remain deeply divided over their recent past, the figure of Salvador Allende has assumed its rightful place in national history.

See alsoChile, Political Parties: Popular Unity; Chile, Political Parties: Popular Action Front; Chile: The Twentieth Century; United States-Latin American Relations.


Allende Gossens, Salvador. Chile's Road to Socialism, edited by Joan Garcés, trans. J. Darling. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1973.

Bitar, Sergio. Chile: Experiment in Democracy, trans. Sam Sherman. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1986.

De Vylder, Stefan. Allende's Chile: The Political Economy of the Rise and Fall of the Unidad Popular. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Garcés, Joan. Allende y la experiencia chilena: Las armas de la política. Barcelona: Ariel, 1976.

González Pino, Miguel, and Arturo Fontaine Talavera, eds. Los mil días de Allende. 2 vols. Santiago de Chile: Centro de Estudios Públicos, 1997.

Jorquera, Carlos. El chicho Allende. Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Bat, 1990.

Puccio, Osvaldo. Un cuarto de siglo con Allende: Recuerdos de su secretario privado. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Emisión, 1985.

Sigmund, Paul E. The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964–1976. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

Veneros, Diana. Allende: Un ensayo psicobiográfico. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Sudamericana, 2003.

                                       Thomas C. Wright

About this article

Allende Gossens, Salvador (1908–1973)

Updated About content Print Article