Frei Montalva, Eduardo (1911–1982)

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Frei Montalva, Eduardo (1911–1982)

Eduardo Frei Montalva (b. 16 January 1911; d. 22 January 1982), president of Chile (1964–1970). Frei was born in Santiago and entered politics as a law student, founding what later became the Christian Democratic Party. After graduation from the Catholic University of Chile (1933) he specialized in labor law, then turned to editing a newspaper in the nitrate region of Tarapacá, in Chile's extreme north. He entered the Chamber of Deputies in the late 1930s, eventually becoming minister of public works in the government of President Gabriel González Videla (1946–1952). For some years he represented the province of Santiago in the Chilean Senate, running unsuccessfully for president in 1958. In 1964, however, he ran again, this time in a two-way race, and defeated Socialist Salvador Allende, who was also supported by the Chilean Communists.

Frei's campaign came at a time when the prestige of the Cuban Revolution was at its height in Latin America, and Allende its chief beneficiary in Chile. The Christian Democrats neutralized the appeal of the Left by conceding profound changes were needed to address inequality and injustice, but proposed to implement them without tampering with the country's historic commitment to the rule of law and due process (Frei's successful slogan was "A Revolution in Liberty"). Frei defeated Allende by a decisive majority, but one that owed much to the tacit support of the Chilean Right, which chose not to run a candidate of its own.

During Frei's presidency serious efforts were made at agrarian reform, tax reform, and the nationalization of the copper industry. The Right managed to obstruct some of Frei's legislative projects in Congress, often joining hands with the Left, for whom they were too conservative. Meanwhile, the Christian Democratic youth movement was pulling Frei's own party to the left, even imposing a candidate of their own, Radomiro Tomic, for the 1970 presidential elections. The result was a three-headed race in which Socialist Salvador Allende emerged with a slight plurality.

At the time of Allende's election Frei predicted that the former's Socialist-Communist government (Popular Unity) would end in "blood and horror." At first these concerns were dismissed even by members of his own party. However, three years later, Chilean society was polarized to the point of civil war. The stalemate was broken by an exceptionally bloody military coup, which produced a sixteen-year political "recess," in which the country was ruled by the iron-handed Army commander General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Frei's remaining years were spent resisting Pinochet and helping to rebuild the Christian Democratic Party. He also served on the Brandt Commission and other international bodies.

See alsoAllende Gossens, Salvador; Chile, Political Parties: Popular Unity; Chile: The Twentieth Century.


Eduardo Frei Montalva, Aun es tiempo (1942); Chile desconocido (1942); La verdad tiene su hora (1955); and Pensamiento y acción (1958).

Leonard Gross, The Last, Best Hope: Eduardo Frei and Christian Democracy in Chile (1967).

Additional Bibliography

Fontaine Aldunate, Arturo. Apuntes políticos. Santiago de Chile: Universidad Santo Tomás, 2003.

Gazmuri R., Cristián, Patricia Arancibia Clavel, and Alvaro Góngora Escobedo. Eduardo Frei Montalva (1911–1982). Santiago de Chile: Fonod de Cultura Económica, 1996.

Moulián, Luis, and Gloria Guerra. Eduardo M. Frei (1911–1982): Biografía de un estadista utópico. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Sudamericana, 2000.

Stern, Steve J. Remembering Pinochet's Chile: On the Eve of London 1998. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Vitale, Luis. Para recuperar la memoria histórica: Frei, Allende, y Pinochet. Santiago de Chile: ediciones ChileAmérica-CESOC, 1999.

                                        Mark Falcoff