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Allende was born in 1908 in the port of Valparaíso, the son of Salvador Allende Castro and Laura Gossens Uribe. He attended high school at the Liceo Eduardo de la Barra in Valparaíso and medical school at the University of Chile, graduating as medical doctor in 1933. He married Hortensia Bussi , and had 3 daughters.
He was also an ardent Marxist and an outspoken critic of the capitalist system. As president, Allende declared his intention for far-reaching socialist reforms. His political opponents accused him of planning to turn Chile into a Communist dictatorship, but Allende always dismissed such allegations.
Allende joined the socialist party of Chile very young and became its undisputed leader. He also served at different times as cabinet minister, deputy, senator and finally as president of the Chilean Senate. He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency on three occasions: in the 1952, 1958, and 1964 elections. He used to joke that his epitaph would be "Here lies the next president of Chile".
Allende was a deeply unpopular figure within the administrations of successive US Presidents. Because of his strong Marxist ideas, it was claimed that there was a danger of Chile becoming a Communist state and joining the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.
In addition, the United States had substantial economic interests in Chile (through ITT, Anaconda, Kennecott, and other large corporations). The Nixon administration in particular was the most strongly opposed to Allende, a hostility that Nixon admitted openly. During Nixon's presidency, US officials attempted to prevent Allende's election by financing political parties that opposed him. Allende also received financial backing from foreign communist groups, but these amounts were not comparable.
Allende finally won the 1970 Chilean presidential election as leader of the Unidad Popular ("Popular Unity") coalition. He obtained a very narrow plurality of 36,2% to 34,9% over Jorge Alessandri, a former president, with 27,8% going to a third candidate (Radomiro Tomic ) of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Since no candidate had obtained a majority of the popular vote, the election was shifted to the Chilean Congress. In this body, the tradition was to vote for the candidate with most popular votes, regardless of margin.
After the popular election, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency ran operations attempting to incite Chile's outgoing president, Eduardo Frei, to persuade his party (PDC) to vote in Congress for the second place-getter, Conservative-Liberal Party candidate Jorge Alessandri. Under the plan, Alessandri would resign his office immediately after assuming it and call new elections. Eduardo Frei would then be constitutionally able to run again (the Chilean Constitution forbidding more than two consecutive terms), and presumably easily defeat Allende. See also: U.S. Intervention in Chile.
However, in the end the Congress rejected the plan and chose to appoint Allende president, on the condition that he would sign a "Statute of Constitutional Guarantees" affirming that he would respect and obey the Chilean Constitution, and that his socialist reforms would not undermine any element of it.
After his inauguration, Allende began to carry out his platform of implementing sweeping socialist programs in Chile, called "La vía chilena al socialismo" ("The Chilean Way to Socialism"). This included nationalization of large-scale industries (notably copper and banking), a thorough reform of the health care system (including a much-touted program of free milk for children), a reform of the educational system, and a furthering of his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva's agrarian reform. .
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. He also froze all prices while raising salaries at the same time. These moves angered some middle-class and almost all upper-class elements, while greatly increasing Allende's support among the working class and the poorer strata of society.
Throughout his presidency, Allende remained at odds with the Chilean Congress, which was dominated by the Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democrats had campaigned on a left-wing platform in the 1970 elections, but they began to drift more and more towards the right during Allende's presidency, eventually forming a coalition with the right-wing National Party. They continued to accuse Allende of leading Chile toward a Cuban-style dictatorship and sought to overturn many of his more radical reforms. Allende and his opponents in Congress repeatedly accused each other of undermining the Chilean Constitution and acting undemocratically.
In 1971, following 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 (the only exception being Mexico, which had refused to adopt that convention), Cuban president Fidel Castro, with whom he had a close friendship, started a a month-long visit. This visit, in which president Castro participated actively in the internal politics of the country, holding massive rallies and giving public advice to Allende, did much to alter the public perception of the Chilean Way to Socialism.
Allende's increasingly bold socialist policies (partly in response to pressure from some of the more extreme members within his coalition), combined with his close contacts with Cuba, heightened fears in Washington. The Nixon administration began exerting economic pressure on Chile via multilateral organizations, and continued to back his opponents in the Chilean Congress.
As the economic problems heightened, Allende tried to rule by decree, using what he termed resquicios legales (legal loopholes), thus ignoring Congress and the office of the General Comptroller. He also angered the Judicial branch when he refused to allow the use of public force to carry out the judicial sentences that he felt were against “the revolutionary process”.
His agrarian reform led to a massive shortage of basic foodstuffs. Big rural properties were broken up and handed to peasants, but there was no financial or technical support behind such a move. Without money or knowledge on how to run the properties, production fell to almost nothing.
A similar process happened with the nationalized companies, which were supposed to be run by workers' committees. Internal dissent and political appointments led to the collapse of production. Foreign interests had pulled out of Chile out of fear of nationalization. Lack of foreign currency also led to a shortage of spare parts and replacements, and many industries ground to a halt.
Runaway inflation led to massive discontent within the middle-classes, that segment of the population most affected by the lack of basic foodstuffs and daily necessities. Allende responded with massive price control measures and by a constant raising of the minimum wage in order to keep pace with the inflation. For the bottom half of society, which had little, it was a marked improvement to the situation before. But for the middle- and upper-classes, it meant long queues and increased insecurity. Chilean society became highly polarized. This discontent in turn led to two massive strikes that completed the destruction of the economy. Soon Allende began to lose control over the course of events, and what was worse, over his own coalition. Political violence became a daily occurrence. Hyper-inflation and shortages plunged the country into chaos.
See Chilean coup of 1973.
The fear of a coup was in the air for a long period before it actually happened; there were rumors since at least 1972. About a week before the coup, a congressional majority call passed, asking the normally apolitical Chilean military to "reestablish the rule of law". This document, signed by Patricio Aylwin as president of the senate, was much-used later on as a justification for the coup, even though at the time it went almost unnoticed.
By late 1973, the whole country had come to a complete stop. The national truck drivers', miners', small business', doctors', lawyers', an important part of the workers', and most of the teachers' and the students' unions were all on strike. People were gathering firmly on the streets to ask for the resignation of the president. Ironically, his strongest support was from the army. That changed on August 24 when the army commander-in-chief, General Carlos Prats, resigned, and Allende chose as his replacement General Augusto Pinochet.
As a result of his unpopularity (his high-water mark for the popular vote was 42%, versus a 57% for the opposition), and partly as a result of the economic and political chaos and the approaching specter of a civil war, Allende decided to call a plebiscite to settle the basic points of contention, with the promise of resignation if defeated by the popular vote. His speech outlining such a solution was scheduled for September 12, but he was never able to deliver it.
On that September 11, the Chilean military, led by General Pinochet, staged the Chilean coup of 1973 against Allende. During the capture of the La Moneda Presidential Palace, Allende, according to the junta's official version, committed suicide with a machine gun. The stock of the gun bore a golden plate with the words "To my good friend Salvador Allende from Fidel Castro" engraved on it. However, some supporters believe that he was killed during the coup.
It is known that the United States played a role in Chilean politics prior to the coup, but its degree of involvement in the coup itself is debated. The CIA was notified by its Chilean contacts of the impending coup two days in advance, but contends it "played no direct role in" the coup. 
After Pinochet assumed power, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told U.S. President Richard Nixon that the U.S. "didn't do it" (referring to the coup itself) but had "created the conditions as great as possible" , including leading economic sanctions. Recently declassified documents show that the United States government and the CIA had sought the overthrow of Allende in 1970, immediately before he took office ("Project FUBELT "), through the incident that claimed the life of then Commander-in-Chief, General René Schneider, but claims of their direct involvement in the 1973 coup are not proven by publicly available documentary evidence; many potentially relevant documents still remain classified. See U.S. intervention in Chile.
Legacy and debate
More than thirty years after his death, Allende remains a controversial figure. Since his life ended before his presidential term was over, there has been much speculation as to what Chile would have been like had he been able to remain in power.
Allende's story is often cited in discussions about whether a Communist government has ever been elected in a democratic election. Communist sympathizers say yes, and consider Allende's plurality a mandate for communism. Anti-Communists say no, claiming that Allende went much farther to the left than voters could have expected. Nevertheless, he legitimately won a democratic election.
Allende is seen as a hero to many on the political Left. Some view him as a martyr who died for the cause of socialism. His face has even been stylized and reproduced as a symbol of Marxism, similar to the famous images of Che Guevara. Members of the political Left tend to hold the United States, specifically Henry Kissinger and the CIA, directly responsible for his death, and view him as a victim of American imperialism.
Members of the political Right, however, tend to view Allende much less favorably. He is criticized for his government's mass nationalization of private industry, alleged friendliness with more militant groups such as the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, and the supply shortages and hyperinflation that occurred during the latter years of his presidency; all these had combined to cause a significant decline in his popularity and the committed opposition of the Christian Democratic Party at the time of the coup. They also accuse him of having an autocratic style, attempting to circumvent the Congress and having a hostile attitude toward critical media. A common and more severe criticism is that because of his closeness with Fidel Castro and socialist bloc countries, he was planning to convert Chile into a totalitarian state. Such allegations are controversial, and the supposed "Plan Z" disclosed by the military junta (in which Allende's government was said to have planned to preempt the military by launching a bloody coup of their own and installing him as dictator) was false propaganda.
The nature of U.S. involvement in the coup that deposed Allende remains a heated debate topic in the context of U.S. conduct during the Cold War. While there were several coups in Latin America during this period, Allende's downfall remains one of the most controversial. See also: Chilean coup of 1973.
By Salvador Allende
- "Symbol of peace and construction, flagship of the revolution, of creating execution, of human feeling expanded until its plenitude." -- Speaking with ocassion of the death of Joseph Stalin.
- "As for the bourgeois state, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it." -- In an interview with French Journalist Regis Debray in 1970.
- "I am not the president of all the Chileans. I am not a hypocrite that says so." -- At a public rally, quoted by all Chilean newspapers, January 17, 1971
- "¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva el pueblo! ¡Vivan los trabajadores!" ("Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!") -- last known words (in a radio broadcast on the morning of September 11, 1973)
About Salvador Allende
- "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves." -- Henry Kissinger
- "Make the economy scream [in Chile to] prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him" -- Richard Nixon
- "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden..." -- A communique to the CIA base in Chile, issued on October 16, 1970
- "Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty." -- Edward M. Korry, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, upon hearing of Allende's election.
- "Allende is seeking the totality of power, which means Communist tyranny disguised as the dictatorship of the proletariat." -- Statement from the National Assembly of the Chilean Christian Democratic party, May 15, 1973.
- "Of all of the leaders in the region, we considered Allende the most inimical to our interests. He was vocally pro-Castro and opposed to the United States. His internal policies were a threat to Chilean democratic liberties and human rights." -- Henry Kissinger, Years of Renewal.
- "The Popular Unity government represented the first attempt anywhere to build a genuinely democratic transition to socialism — a socialism that, owing to its origins, might be guided not by authoritarian bureaucracy, but by democratic self-rule." -- North American Council on Latin America (NACLA) editorial, July 2003.
- History of Chile
- 1970 Chilean presidential election
- Chilean coup of 1973
- Augusto Pinochet
- U.S. intervention in Chile
- Carlos Prats
- René Schneider
- Project Cybersyn
- Salvador Allende's first parliamentary speech after his election
- Salvador Allende's Last Speech
- Isabel Allende, niece of Salvador Allende (an author)
- Isabel Allende (politician), daughter of Salvador Allende (a Chilean politician)
1 Pronunciation: SAMPA: [salvaDor aj\EndE];
2Biography of Allende from the official website of the Presidency of Chile. The current administration is headed by socialist Ricardo Lagos a former Allende supporter. (See last paragraph) http://www.presidencia.cl/view/viewGaleriaPresidentes.asp?id=31&seccion=Galeria%20Presidentes&interfazseccion=Galeria%20Presidentes#a31
- The Myth of Allende
- History of Chile under Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity by Ewin Martinez
- Official Government biography (in Spanish)
- Allende Memorial Site (in Spanish)
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