Allende Gossens, Salvador (Chile)
Salvador Allende Gossens was president of Chile from 1970–73, representing the Partido Socialista de Chile (PS). During his 3 year term, Allende tried to democratically transform Chile from capitalism to democratic socialism. His efforts led Chile into economic chaos, resulting in a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte in which Allende lost his life.
Allende was born in Valparaíso on 26 July 1908. The son of a lawyer and a solicitor he studied medicine between 1926–32 at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago where he was an active Marxist. In 1930 he was vice-president of the Chilean students’ union. A year after receiving his degree, Allende was instrumental in the founding of the PS, an amalgam of six left-wing parties dedicated to Marxist-Leninist principles. In 1936 Allende was elected to the chamber of deputies representing Valparaíso and Quillota. In Pedro Aguirre Cerda’s administration, he served as health minister from 1939–42. Allende was nominated Secretary General of the PS in 1942. In 1945 he was elected Senator for the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, Chiloé, Aysén and Magallanes. From 1948–57 the PS split into two factions, the Partido Socialista de Chile and the Partido Socialista Popular, the latter led by Allende.
Allende first stood in presidential elections in 1952, receiving 5% of votes. Six years later with the PS reunified, he stood again as the Frante de Accion Popular candidate, a combination of the PS and the Partido Comunista. This time he came a close second to the right-wing Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez. In his third attempt at presidency in 1964, Allende received 35% of votes, being beaten by Partido Demócratica Cristiana representative (Christian Democrats; PDC) Eduardo Frei Montalva.
Backed by the Unidad Popular––an alliance of Socialists, Radicals and Communists set up in 1969–– Allende stood for his fourth presidential elections in 1970. His two main rivals were the right-wing representative Alessandri, who gained 34.9%, and the PDC candidate, Radomiro Tomic, who gained 28%. Allende led with 36% of votes. His victory was sealed with the backing of the PDC, despite strong right-wing opposition and little PDC enthusiasm. On his election, Allende set about changing Chile from a capitalist into a socialist state, albeit with a basis of democracy. Nationalization was the priority. Foreign control was removed from finance and mining. US-owned companies were expelled without compensation. Chile’s primary export, copper, was the first industry nationalized. Banks and other businesses followed. Allende then enacted a series of land reforms based on collectivization, expropriating many farms. Aiming to promote equality of wealth, Allende agreed to large wage increases.
The reforms gained popularity, and the Unidad Popular increased its standing in the 1971 municipal elections, winning 50% of votes, and in the 1973 constitutional elections, 45% of votes with an increased parliamentary representation. Allende’s reforms were less popular with the middle classes. Economic problems started when heavy industries were affected by international boycotts. Land reforms slowed production, inflation increased and exports decreased as did foreign investment. Food shortages coupled with an inflation rate of 1000% led to violent clashes between government supporters and opponents. Right-wing and centrist opposition parties united with anti-government factions of the military relied on financial backing from the US government.
On 11 Sept. 1973 a military coup led by Pinochet deposed Allende. Armed forces attacked the La Moneda presidential palace and with Allende still inside, military aircraft bombed the presidential palace. Over 3,000 people were killed during the coup. Allende died, although there is controversy over whether he was killed or committed suicide. In July 2011 a scientific autopsy confirmed that he did commit suicide. Replaced by a military junta, Chile, thus far the longest surviving Latin American democracy, entered 17 years of dictatorship.