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Salvador Allende
Official portrait of Allende as President of Chile, 1970.
29th President of Chile

In office
4 November 1970 – 11 September 1973
Preceded by Eduardo Frei Montalva
Succeeded by Augusto Pinochet
56th President of the Senate of the Republic of Chile

In office
27 December 1966 – 1969
Preceded by Tomás Reyes Vicuña
Succeeded by Tomás Pablo Elorza
Minister of Health and Social Welfare

In office
28 August 1938 – 2 April 1942
Preceded by Miguel Etchebarne Riol
Succeeded by Eduardo Escudero Forrastal
Personal details
Born Salvador Allende Gossens
(1908-06-26)26 June 1908
Valparaíso, Chile
Died 11 September 1973(1973-09-11) (aged 65)
Santiago, Chile
Nationality Chilean
Political party Socialist Party of Chile
Popular Unity coalition
Spouse(s) Hortensia Bussi (1914–2009)
Children Beatriz Allende (1943–1977)
Carmen Paz Allende (b. 1944)
Isabel Allende (b. 1945)
Alma mater University of Chile
Profession Medical doctor
Civil servant
Religion Agnostic

Salvador Guillermo Allende Gossens (Spanish: [salbaˈðoɾ aˈʝende ˈɣosens]; 26 June 1908 – 11 September 1973) was a Chilean physician and politician, known as the first Marxist to become president of a Latin American country through open elections.[1]

Allende's involvement in Chilean political life spanned a period of nearly forty years. As a member of the Socialist Party, he was a senator, deputy and cabinet minister. He unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in the 1952, 1958, and 1964 elections. In 1970, he won the presidency in a close three-way race. He was elected in a run-off by Congress as no candidate had gained a majority.

As president, Allende adopted a policy of nationalization of industries and collectivization; due to these and other factors, increasingly strained relations between him and the legislative and judicial branches of the Chilean government – who did not share his enthusiasm for socialization – culminated in a declaration of a "constitutional breakdown" by the parliament. A centre-right majority including the Christian Democrats, whose support had managed Allende's election, denounced his rule as unconstitutional and called for his overthrow by force. On 11 September 1973 the military moved to oust Allende in a coup d'état.[2][3] As troops surrounded La Moneda Palace, Allende gave his last speech vowing not to resign.[4] He committed suicide later that day.

Following Allende's deposition, army General Augusto Pinochet declined to return authority to the civilian government; and Chile became ruled by a military junta that was in power from 1973 to 1990, ending almost 41 years of Chilean democratic rule. The military junta that took over dissolved the Parliament of Chile and began a ruthless persecution of alleged dissidents, in which thousands of Allende's supporters were murdered, including (in exile) his Minister of Foreign Affairs Orlando Letelier and his Deputy President Carlos Prats.

Early life

Allende was born on 26 June 1908[5] in Valparaíso.[6][7] He was the son of Salvador Allende Castro and Laura Gossens Uribe. Allende's family belonged to the Chilean upper class and had a long tradition of political involvement in progressive and liberal causes. His grandfather was a prominent physician and a social reformist who founded one of the first secular schools in Chile.[8] Salvador Allende was of Belgian and Basque[9] descent.

Allende attended high school at the Liceo Eduardo de la Barra in Valparaíso. As a teenager, his main intellectual and political influence came from the shoe-maker Juan De Marchi, an Italian-born anarchist.[8] Allende was a talented athlete in his youth, being a member of the Everton de Viña del Mar sports club (named after the more famous English football club Everton and which regularly competes at the highest level in Chilean football), where he is said to have excelled at the long jump.[10] Allende then graduated with a medical degree in 1933 from the University of Chile.[8] During the medical school Allende was influenced by Professor Max Westenhofer, a German pathologist who stressed on the social determinants of disease and social medicine[11][12]

He co-founded a section of the Socialist Party of Chile (founded in 1933 with Marmaduque Grove and others) in Valparaíso[8] and became its chairman. He married Hortensia Bussi with whom he had three daughters. He was a Freemason, a member of the Lodge Progreso No. 4 in Valparaíso.[13] In 1933, he published his doctoral thesis Higiene Mental y Delincuencia (Crime and Mental Hygiene) in which he criticized Cesare Lombroso's proposals.[14]

In 1938, Allende was in charge of the electoral campaign of the Popular Front headed by Pedro Aguirre Cerda.[8] The Popular Front's slogan was "Bread, a Roof and Work!"[8] After its electoral victory, he became Minister of Health in the Reformist Popular Front government which was dominated by the Radicals.[8] While serving in this position, Allende was responsible for the passage of a wide range of progressive social reforms, including safety laws protecting workers in the factories, higher pensions for widows, maternity care, and free lunch programmes for schoolchildren.[15]

Upon entering the government, Allende relinquished his parliamentary seat for Valparaíso, which he had won in 1937. Around that time, he wrote La Realidad Médico Social de Chile (The social and medical reality of Chile). After the Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, Allende and other members of the Parliament sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler denouncing the persecution of Jews.[16] Following President Aguirre Cerda's death in 1941, he was again elected deputy while the Popular Front was renamed Democratic Alliance.

In 1945, Allende became senator for the Valdivia, Llanquihue, Chiloé, Aisén and Magallanes provinces; then for Tarapacá and Antofagasta in 1953; for Aconcagua and Valparaíso in 1961; and once more for Chiloé, Aisén and Magallanes in 1969. He became president of the Chilean Senate in 1966. During the Fifties, Allende introduced legislation that established the Chilean national health service, the first program in the Americas to guarantee universal health care.[17]

Salvador Allende in 1964.

His three unsuccessful bids for the presidency (in the 1952, 1958 and 1964 elections) prompted Allende to joke that his epitaph would be "Here lies the next President of Chile." In 1952, as candidate for the Frente de Acción Popular (Popular Action Front, FRAP), he obtained only 5.4% of the votes, partly due to a division within socialist ranks over support for Carlos Ibáñez. In 1958, again as the FRAP candidate, Allende obtained 28.5% of the vote. This time, his defeat was attributed to votes lost to the populist Antonio Zamorano. In 1964, once more as the FRAP candidate, he lost again, polling 38.6% of the votes against 55.6% for Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei. As it became clear that the election would be a race between Allende and Frei, the political right – which initially had backed Radical Julio Durán– settled for Frei as "the lesser evil".

Relationship with the Chilean Communist Party

Allende had a close relationship with the Chilean Communist Party from the beginning of his political career. On his fourth (and successful) bid for the presidency, the Communist Party appointed him as the alternate for its own candidate, the world-renowned poet Pablo Neruda.

During his presidential term, Allende took positions held by the Communists, in opposition to the views of the socialists. Some argue, however, that this was reversed at the end of his period in office.[18]


Chilean workers marching in support of Allende in 1964.

Allende won the 1970 Chilean presidential election as leader of the Unidad Popular ("Popular Unity") coalition. On 4 September 1970, he obtained a narrow plurality of 36.2 percent to 34.9 percent over Jorge Alessandri, a former president, with 27.8 percent going to a third candidate (Radomiro Tomic) of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), whose electoral platform was similar to Allende's. According to the Chilean Constitution of the time, if no presidential candidate obtained a majority of the popular vote, Congress would choose one of the two candidates with the highest number of votes as the winner. Tradition was for Congress to vote for the candidate with the highest popular vote, regardless of margin. Indeed, former president Jorge Alessandri had been elected in 1958 with only 31.6 percent of the popular vote, defeating Allende.

One month after the election, on 20 October, while the senate had still to reach a decision and negotiations were actively in place between the Christian Democrats and the Popular Unity, General René Schneider, Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army, was shot resisting a kidnap attempt by a group led by General Roberto Viaux. Hospitalized, he died of his wounds three days later, on 23 October. Viaux's kidnapping plan had been supported by the CIA, although the then U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger claims to have ordered the plans postponed at the last moment. Many believe Kissinger's statement to be false and evidence points towards CIA director Richard Helms following orders directly from President Nixon to do whatever was necessary in order "to get rid of him", referring to Allende. Nixon handed over a blank check to Helms, which allowed him to use full discretion in ridding Chile of Allende's presence and "making the economy scream". Schneider was a defender of the "constitutionalist" doctrine that the army's role is exclusively professional, its mission being to protect the country's sovereignty and not to interfere in politics.

General Schneider's death was widely disapproved of and, for the time, ended military opposition to Allende,[19] whom the parliament finally chose on 24 October. On 26 October, President Eduardo Frei named General Carlos Prats as commander in chief of the army to replace René Schneider.

Allende assumed the presidency on 3 November 1970 after signing a Statute of Constitutional Guarantees proposed by the Christian Democrats in return for their support in Congress. In an extensive interview with Régis Debray in 1972, Allende explained his reasons for agreeing to the guarantees.[20] Some critics have interpreted Allende's responses as an admission that signing the Statute was only a tactical move.[21]


Upon assuming power, Allende began to carry out his platform of implementing a socialist programme called La vía chilena al socialismo ("the Chilean Path to Socialism"). This included nationalization of large-scale industries (notably copper mining and banking), and government administration of the health care system, educational system (with the help of a U.S. educator, Jane A. Hobson-Gonzalez from Kokomo, Indiana), a programme of free milk for children in the schools and shanty towns of Chile, and an expansion of the land seizure and redistribution already begun under his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva,[22] who had nationalized between one-fifth and one-quarter of all the properties listed for takeover.[23] Allende also intended to improve the socio-economic welfare of Chile's poorest citizens;[citation needed] a key element was to provide employment, either in the new nationalised enterprises or on public work projects.[citation needed]

Upon coming into office, Allende and his government implemented various policies to boost employment and diffuse social unrest. In November 1970, 3,000 scholarships were allocated to Mapuches children in an effort to integrate the Indian minority into the educational system, payment of pensions and grants was resumed, an emergency plan providing for the construction of 120,000 residential buildings was launched, all part-time workers were granted rights to social security, a proposed electricity price increase was withdrawn, diplomatic relations were restored with Cuba, and political prisoners were granted an amnesty. In December that same year, bread prices were fixed, 55,000 volunteers were sent to the south of the country to teach writing and reading skills and provide medical attention to a sector of the population that had previously been ignored, a central commission was established to oversee a tri-partite payment plan in which equal place was given to government, employees and employers, and a protocol agreement was signed with the United Centre of Workers which granted workers representational rights on the funding board of the Social Planning Ministry.[24] Free milk was introduced for nursing mothers, rent reductions were carried out, and the construction of the Santiago subway was rescheduled so as to serve working-class neighbourhoods first. Workers benefited from increases in social security payments, an expanded public works program, and a modification of the wage and salary adjustment mechanism (which had originally been introduced in the Forties to cope with the country's permanent inflation), while middle-class Chileans benefited from the elimination of taxes on modest incomes and property.[25] In addition, state-sponsored programs distributed free food to the country's neediest citizens,[26] and in the countryside, peasant councils were established to mobilise agrarian workers and small proprietors. In the government's first budget (presented to the Chilean congress in November 1970), the minimum taxable income level was raised, removing from the tax pool 35% of those who had paid taxes on earnings in the previous year. In addition, the exemption from general taxation was raised to a level equivalent to twice the minimum wage. Exemptions from capital taxes were also extended, which benefitted 330,000 small proprietors. The extra increases that Frei promised to the armed forces were also fully paid. According to one estimate, purchasing power went up by 28% between October 1970 and July 1971.[27]

The rate of inflation fell from 36.1% in 1970 to 22.1% in 1971, while average real wages rose by 22.3% during 1971. Minimum real wages for blue-collar workers were increased by 56% during the first quarter of 1971, while in the same period real minimum wages for white-collar workers were increased by 23%, a development that decreased the differential ratio between blue- and white-collar workers’minimum wage from 49% (1970) to 35% (1971). Central government expenditures went up by 36% in real terms, raising the share of fiscal spending in GDP from 21% (1970) to 27% (1971), and as part of this expansion, the public sector engaged in a huge housing program, starting to build 76,000 houses in 1971, compared to 24,000 for 1970.[28] Although the acceleration of inflation in 1972 and 1973 eroded part of the initial increase in wages, they still rose (on average) in real terms during the 1971-73 period.[29]

Allende's first step in early 1971 was to raise minimum wages (in real terms) for blue-collar workers by 37%-41% and 8%-10% for white-collar workers. Educational, food, and housing assistance was significantly expanded, with public-housing starts going up twelvefold and eligibility for free milk extended from age 6 to age 15. A year later, blue-collar wages were raised by 27% in real terms and white-collar wages became fully indexed.[30] Price controls were also set up, while the Allende Government introduced a system of distribution networks through various agencies (including local committees on supply and prices) to ensure that the new rules were adhered to by shopkeepers.[31]

The new Minister of Agriculture, Jacques Chonchol, promised to expropriate all estates which were larger than eighty "basic" hectares. This promise was kept, with no farm in Chile exceeding this limit by the end of 1972.[32] Within eighteen months, the Latifundia (extensive agricultural estates) had been abolished. The agrarian reform had involved the expropriation of 3,479 properties which, added to the 1,408 properties incorporated under the Frei Government, made up some 40% of the total agricultural land area in the country.[27]

Salvador Allende

Particularly in rural areas, the Allende Government launched a campaign against illiteracy, while adult education programs expanded, together with educational opportunities for workers. From 1971 through to 1973, enrollments in kindergarten, primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools all increased. The Allende Government encouraged more doctors to begin their practices in rural and low-income urban areas, and built additional hospitals, maternity clinics, and especially neighborhood health centers that remained open longer hours to serve the poor. Improved sanitation and housing facilities for low-income neighborhoods also equalized health care benefits, while hospital councils and local health councils were established in neighborhood health centers as a means of democratizing the administration of health policies. These councils gave central government civil servants, local government officials, health service employees, and community workers the right to review budgetary decisions.[33]

The Allende government also sought to bring the arts (both serious and popular) to the mass of the Chilean population by funding a number of cultural endeavours. With eighteen-year olds and illiterates now granted the right to vote, mass participation in decision-making was encouraged by the Allende government, with traditional hierarchical structures now challenged by socialist egalitarianism. The Allende Government was able to draw upon the idealism of its supporters, with teams of "Allendistas" travelling into the countryside and shanty towns to perform volunteer work.[32] In 1971, the purchase of a private publishing house by the state gave rise to "Editorial Quimantu," which became the center of the Allende Government's cultural activities. In the space of 2 years, 12 million copies of books, magazines, and documents (8 million of which were books) specializing in social analysis, were published. Cheap editions of great literary works were produced on a weekly basis, and in most cases were sold out within a day. Culture came into the reach of the masses for the first time, and responded enthusiastically. "Editorial Quimantu" encouraged the establishment of libraries in community organizations and trade unions. Through the supply of cheap textbooks, it enabled the Left to progress through the ideological content of the literature made available to workers.[27]

To improve social and economic conditions for women, the Women's Secretariat was established in 1971, which took on issues such as public laundry facilities, public food programs, day-care centers, and women's health care (especially prenatal care).[34] The duration of maternity leave was extended from 6 to 12 weeks,[35] while the Allende Government veered the educational system towards poorer Chileans by expanding enrollments through government subsidies.[36] A "democratisation" of university education was carried out, making the system tuition-free. This led to a 89% rise in university enrollments between 1970 and 1973. The Allende Government also increased enrollment in secondary education from 38% in 1970 to 51% in 1974.[37] Enrollment in education reached record levels, including 3,600,000 young people, and 8 million school textbooks were distributed among 2,600,000 pupils in primary education. An unprecedented 130,000 students were enrolled by the universities, which became accessible to peasants and workers. The illiteracy rate was reduced from 12% in 1970 to 10.8% in 1972, while the growth enrollment in primary school enrollment increased from an annual average of 3.4% in the period 1966–70 to 6.5% in 1971/72. Secondary education grew at a rate of 18.2% in 1971/72, and the average school enrollment of children between the ages of 6 and 14 rose from 91% (1966–70) to 99.%[27]

Social spending was dramatically increased, particularly for housing, education, and health, while a major effort was made to redistribute wealth to poorer Chileans. As a result of new initiatives in nutrition and health, together with higher wages, many poorer Chileans were able to feed themselves and clothe themselves better than they had been able to before. Public access to the social security system was increased, while state benefits such as family allowances were raised significantly.[32] The redistribution of income enabled wage and salary earners to increase their share of national income from 51.6% (the annual average between 1965 and 1970) to 65% while family consumption increased by 12.9% in the first year of the Allende Government. In addition, while the average annual increase in personal spending had been 4.8% in the period 1965–70, it reached 11.9% in 1971.[27]

The National Supplementary Food Program was extended to all primary school and to all pregnant women, regardless of their employment or income condition. Complementary nutritional schemes were applied to malnourished children, while antenatal care was emphasized.[38] Under Allende, the proportion of children under the age of 6 with some form of malnutrition fell by 17%.[39] Apart from the Supply and Prices councils (community-based bodies which controlled the distribution of essential groups in working-class districts, and was a popular, not government, initiative)[40] which already existed, community-based distribution centers and shops were developed, which sold directly in working-class neighborhoods. The Allende Government felt obliged to increase its intervention in marketing activities, and state involvement in grocery distribution reached 33%.[27] The CUT (central labor confederation) was accorded legal recognition,[41] and its membership grew from 700,000 to almost 1 million. In enterprises in the Area of Social Ownership, an assembly of the workers elected half of the members of the management council for each company. These bodies replaced the former board of directors.[27]

Minimum pensions were increased by amounts equal to two or three times the inflation rate, and between 1970 and 1972, such pensions increased by a total of 550%. The incomes of 300,000 retirement pensioners were increased by the government from one-third of the minimum salary to the full amount. Labour insurance cover was extended to 200,000 market traders, 130,000 small shop proprietors, 30,000 small industrialists, small owners, transport workers, clergy, professional sportsmen, and artesans. The public health service was improved, with the establishment of a system of clinics in working-class neighborhoods on the peripheries of the major cities, providing a health center for every 40,000 inhabitants. Statistics for construction in general, and house-building in particular, reached some of the highest levels in the history of Chile. Four million square metres were completed in 1971–72, compared to an annual average of two-and-a-half million between 1965 and 1970. Workers were able to acquire goods which had previously been beyond their reach, such as heaters, refrigerators, and television sets. As further noted by Ricardo Israel Zipper,

"By now meat was no longer a luxury, and the children of working people were adequately supplied with shoes and clothing. The popular living standards were improved in terms of the employment situation, social services, consumption levels, and income distribution."[27]

Chilean presidents were allowed a maximum term of six years, which may explain Allende's haste to restructure the economy. Not only was a major restructuring program organized (the Vuskovic plan), he had to make it a success if a Socialist successor to Allende was going to be elected. In the first year of Allende's term, the short-term economic results of Minister of the Economy Pedro Vuskovic's expansive monetary policy were highly favorable: 12% industrial growth and an 8.6% increase in GDP, accompanied by major declines in inflation (down from 34.9% to 22.1%) and unemployment (down to 3.8%). However, by 1972, the Chilean escudo had an inflation rate of 140%. The average Real GDP contracted between 1971 and 1973 at an annual rate of 5.6% ("negative growth"); and the government's fiscal deficit soared while foreign reserves declined.[42] The combination of inflation and government-mandated price-fixing, together with the "disappearance" of basic commodities from supermarket shelves, led to the rise of black markets in rice, beans, sugar, and flour.[43] The Chilean economy also suffered as a result of a US campaign against the Allende government.[44] The Allende government announced it would default on debts owed to international creditors and foreign governments. Allende also froze all prices while raising salaries. His implementation of these policies was strongly opposed by landowners, employers, businessmen and transporters associations, and some civil servants and professional unions. The rightist opposition was led by the National Party, the Roman Catholic Church (which in 1973 was displeased with the direction of educational policy),[45] and eventually the Christian Democrats. There were growing tensions with foreign multinational corporations and the government of the United States.

Allende also undertook Project Cybersyn, a system of networked telex machines and computers. Cybersyn was developed by British cybernetics expert Stafford Beer. The network was supposed to transmit data from factories to the government in Santiago, allowing for economic planning in real-time.[46]

In 1971, Chile re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, joining Mexico and Canada in rejecting a previously-established Organization of American States convention prohibiting governments in the Western Hemisphere from establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Shortly afterward, Cuban president Fidel Castro made a month-long visit to Chile. Originally the visit was supposed to be one week, however Castro enjoyed Chile, and one week turned to another.

In October 1972, the first of what were to be a wave of strikes was led first by truckers, and later by small businessmen, some (mostly professional) unions and some student groups. Other than the inevitable damage to the economy, the chief effect of the 24-day strike was to induce Allende to bring the head of the army, general Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister.[43] Allende also instructed the government to begin requisitioning trucks in order to keep the nation from coming to a halt. Government supporters also helped to mobilize trucks and buses but violence served as a deterrent to full mobilization, even with police protection for the strike breakers. Allende's actions were eventually declared unlawful by the Chilean appeals court and the government was ordered to return trucks to their owners.[47]

Throughout this presidency racial tensions between the poor descendants of indigenous people, who supported Allende's reforms, and the white settler elite increased.[48]

Allende raised wages on a number of occasions throughout 1970 and 1971, but these wage hikes were negated by the in-tandem inflation of Chile's fiat currency. Although price rises had also been high under Frei (27% a year between 1967 and 1970), a basic basket of consumer goods rose by 120% from 190 to 421 escudos in one month alone, August 1972. In the period 1970–72, while Allende was in government, exports fell 24% and imports rose 26%, with imports of food rising an estimated 149%.[49]

Export income fell due to a hard hit copper industry: the price of copper on international markets fell by almost a third, and post-nationalization copper production fell as well. Copper is Chile's single most important export (more than half of Chile's export receipts were from this sole commodity[50]). The price of copper fell from a peak of $66 per ton in 1970 to only $48–9 in 1971 and 1972.[51] Chile was already dependent on food imports, and this decline in export earnings coincided with declines in domestic food production following Allende's agrarian reforms.[52]

Throughout his presidency, Allende remained at odds with the Chilean Congress, which was dominated by the Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democrats (who had campaigned on a socialist platform in the 1970 elections, but drifted away from those positions during Allende's presidency, eventually forming a coalition with the National Party), continued to accuse Allende of leading Chile toward a Cuban-style dictatorship, and sought to overturn many of his more radical policies. Allende and his opponents in Congress repeatedly accused each other of undermining the Chilean Constitution and acting undemocratically.

Allende's increasingly bold socialist policies (partly in response to pressure from some of the more radical members within his coalition), combined with his close contacts with Cuba, heightened fears in Washington. The Nixon administration continued exerting economic pressure on Chile via multilateral organizations, and continued to back Allende's opponents in the Chilean Congress. Almost immediately after his election, Nixon directed CIA and U.S. State Department officials to "put pressure" on the Allende government.[53]

Foreign relations during Allende's presidency

Allende's Popular Unity government tried to maintain normal relations with the United States. When Chile nationalized its copper industry, Washington cut off U.S. credits and increased its support to opposition. Forced to seek alternative sources of trade and finance, Chile gained commitments from the Soviet Union to invest some $400 million in Chile in the next six years.[citation needed] Allende's government was disappointed that it received far less economic assistance from the USSR than it hoped for. Trade between the two countries did not significantly increase and the credits were mainly linked to the purchase of Soviet equipment. Moreover, credits from the Soviet Union were much less than those provided to the People's Republic of China and countries of Eastern Europe. When Allende visited the USSR in late 1972 in search of more aid and additional lines of credit, after 3 years, he was turned down.[54]

Foreign involvement in Chile during Allende's presidency

US involvement

Declassified documents related to the military coup have shown that although the CIA didn't "instigate" the 1973 coup, they were well aware of it and knew about it in advance. However, the US refused to "provide any assistance" because it was "strictly an internal Chilean matter." According to CIA documents, the United States "probably appeared to condone [the coup]," considering their intelligence collection and active participation in positively slanting propaganda in 1974 to place Pinochet and his military government in a positive light.[1]

The possibility of Allende winning Chile's 1970 election was deemed a disaster by a US administration that wanted to protect US geopolitical interests by preventing the spread of Communism during the Cold War.[55] In September 1970, President Nixon informed the CIA that an Allende government in Chile would not be acceptable and authorized $10 million to stop Allende from coming to power or unseat him.[56] Henry Kissinger's 40 Committee and the CIA planned to impede Allende's investiture as President of Chile with covert efforts known as "Track I" and "Track II"; Track I sought to prevent Allende from assuming power via so-called "parliamentary trickery", while under the Track II initiative, the CIA tried to convince key Chilean military officers to carry out a coup.[56]

Additionally, some point to the involvement of the Defense Intelligence Agency agents that allegedly secured the missiles used to bombard La Moneda Palace.[57]

During Nixon's presidency, U.S. officials attempted to prevent Allende's election by financing political parties aligned with opposition candidate Jorge Alessandri and supporting strikes in the mining and transportation sectors.[58] After the 1970 election, the Track I operation attempted to incite Chile's outgoing president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, to persuade his party (PDC) to vote in Congress for Alessandri.[1] 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 (since the Chilean Constitution did not allow a president to hold two consecutive terms, but allowed multiple non-consecutive ones), and presumably easily defeat Allende. The Chilean Congress instead chose Allende as 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 reforms would not undermine any of its elements.

Track II was aborted, as parallel initiatives already underway within the Chilean military rendered it moot.[59]

During the second term of office of Democratic President Bill Clinton, the CIA acknowledged having played a role in Chilean politics before the coup, but its degree of involvement 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.[60]

Much of the internal opposition to Allende's policies came from the business sector, and recently released U.S. government documents confirm that the U.S. indirectly[44] funded the truck drivers' strike,[61] which exacerbated the already chaotic economic situation prior to the coup.

The most prominent U.S. corporations in Chile before Allende's presidency were the Anaconda and Kennecott copper companies and ITT Corporation, International Telephone and Telegraph. Both copper corporations aimed to expand privatized copper production in the city of El Teniente in the Chilean Andes, the world's largest underground copper mine.[62] At the end of 1968, according to US Department of Commerce data, U.S. corporate holdings in Chile amounted to $964 million. Anaconda and Kennecott accounted for 28% of U.S. holdings, but ITT had by far the largest holding of any single corporation, with an investment of $200 million in Chile.[62] In 1970, before Allende was elected, ITT owned 70% of Chitelco, the Chilean Telephone Company and funded El Mercurio, a Chilean right-wing newspaper. Documents released in 2000 by the CIA confirmed that before the elections of 1970, ITT gave $700,000 to Allende's conservative opponent, Jorge Alessandri, with help from the CIA on how to channel the money safely. ITT president Harold Geneen also offered $1 million to the CIA to help defeat Allende in the elections.[63]

After General Pinochet assumed power, United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told President Richard Nixon that the U.S. "didn't do it," but "we helped them...created the conditions as great as possible." (referring to the coup itself).[64] Recent documents declassified under the Clinton administration's Chile Declassification Project show that the United States government and the CIA sought to overthrow Allende in 1970 immediately before he took office ("Project FUBELT"). Many documents regarding the U.S. intervention in Chile remain classified.

Soviet involvement

Material based on reports from the Mitrokhin Archive, the KGB said of Allende that "he was made to understand the necessity of reorganising Chile's army and intelligence services, and of setting up a relationship between Chile's and the USSR's intelligence services". It is also claimed that Allende was given $30,000 "in order to solidify the trusted relations" with him.[65] According to Vasili Mitrokhin, a former KGB major and senior archivist in the KGB intelligence central KGB office in the Yasenevo area of Moscow, Allende made a personal request for Soviet money through his personal contact, KGB officer Svyatoslav Kuznetsov (codenamed LEONID), who urgently came to Chile from Mexico City to help Allende.[66] The original allocation of money for these elections through the KGB was $400,000, a personal subsidy of $50,000 was sent directly to Allende, with an additional $100,000 funneled through funds provided to the Chilean Communist Party.[66]

Historian Christopher Andrew has argued that help from the KGB was a decisive factor, because Allende won by a narrow margin of 39,000 votes of a total of the 3 million cast. After the elections, the KGB director Yuri Andropov obtained permission for additional money and other resources from the Central Committee of the CPSU to ensure an Allende victory in Congress. In his request on 24 October, he stated that the KGB "will carry out measures designed to promote the consolidation of Allende's victory and his election to the post of President of the country". In his KGB file, Allende was reported to have "stated his willingness to co-operate on a confidential basis and provide any necessary assistance, since he considered himself a friend of the Soviet Union". He willingly shared political information.[66]

Andrew writes that regular Soviet contact with Allende after his election was maintained by his KGB case officer, Svyatoslav Kuznetsov, who was instructed by KGB's the 'Centre' to "exert a favorable influence on Chilean government policy". Allende was said to have reacted "positively."

Political and moral support came mostly through the Communist Party and unions. For instance, Allende received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union in 1972. However, there were some fundamental differences between Allende and Soviet political analysts who believed that some violence – or measures that those analysts "theoretically considered to be just" – should have been used.[67] According to Andrew's account of the Mitrokhin archives, "In the KGB's view, Allende's fundamental error was his unwillingness to use force against his opponents. Without establishing complete control over all the machinery of the State, his hold on power could not be secure."[65]

Declarations from KGB General Nikolai Leonov, former Deputy Chief of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, confirmed that the Soviet Union supported Allende's government economically, politically and militarily.[67] Leonov stated in an interview at the Chilean Center of Public Studies (CEP) that the Soviet economic support included over $100 million in credit, three fishing ships (that distributed 17,000 tons of frozen fish to the population), factories (as help after the 1971 earthquake), 3,100 tractors, 74,000 tons of wheat and more than a million tins of condensed milk.[67]

In mid-1973 the USSR had approved the delivery of weapons (artillery, tanks) to the Chilean Army. However, when news of an attempt from the Army to depose Allende through a coup d'état reached Soviet officials, the shipment was redirected to another country.[67]


On 29 June 1973, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace, La Moneda, with his tank regiment but failed to depose the government.[68] That failed coup d’état – known as the Tanquetazo ("tank putsch") – organised by the nationalist Patria y Libertad paramilitary group, was followed by a general strike at the end of July that included the copper miners of El Teniente.

In August 1973, a constitutional crisis occurred, and the Supreme Court of Chile publicly complained about the inability of Allende government to enforce the law of the land. On 22 August, the Chamber of Deputies (with the Christian Democrats uniting with the National Party) accused the government of unconstitutional acts through Allende's refusal to promulgate constitutional amendments, already approved by the Chamber, which would have prevented his government from continuing his massive nationalization plan[69] and called upon the military to enforce constitutional order.[70]

For months, Allende had feared calling upon the Carabineros ("Carabineers", the national police force), suspecting them of disloyalty to his government. On 9 August, President Allende appointed General Carlos Prats as Minister of Defence. On 24 August 1973, General Prats was forced to resign both as defense minister and as the commander-in-chief of the army, embarrassed by both the Alejandrina Cox incident and a public protest in front of his house by the wives of his generals. General Augusto Pinochet replaced him as Army commander-in-chief the same day.[70]

According to Chilean political scientist Arturo Valenzuela (later becoming a U.S. citizen and Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs in the Obama administration), a greater share of the blame for the breakdown in Chilean democracy lay with the leftist Allende government. While each side increasingly distrusted the other, the extreme leftists accelerated the process and left less room for political moderation than the extreme rightists. He writes "By its actions, the revolutionary Left, which had always ridiculed the possibility of a socialist transformation through peaceful means, was engaged in a self-fulfilling prophecy."[71]

Supreme Court's resolution

On 26 May 1973, the Supreme Court of Chile unanimously denounced the Allende government's disruption of the legality of the nation in its failure to uphold judicial decisions, because of its continual refusal to permit police execution of judicial decisions contrary to the government's own measures.

Chamber of Deputies' resolution

On 22 August 1973, the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies joined together to vote 81 to 47 in favor of a resolution that asked the authorities to "put an immediate end" to "breach[es of] the Constitution . . . with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of law and ensuring the Constitutional order of our Nation, and the essential underpinnings of democratic co-existence among Chileans."

The resolution declared that Allende's government sought "to conquer absolute power with the obvious purpose of subjecting all citizens to the strictest political and economic control by the State . . . [with] the goal of establishing . . . a totalitarian system" and claimed that the government had made "violations of the Constitution . . . a permanent system of conduct." Essentially, most of the accusations were about disregard by the Socialist government of the separation of powers, and arrogating legislative and judicial prerogatives to the executive branch of government.

Specifically, the Socialist government of President Allende was accused of:

  • Ruling by decree, thwarting the normal legislative system
  • Refusing to enforce judicial decisions against its partisans; not carrying out sentences and judicial resolutions that contravened its objectives
  • Ignoring the decrees of the independent General Comptroller's Office
  • Sundry media offenses; usurping control of the National Television Network and applying economic pressure against those media organizations that are not unconditional supporters of the government
  • Allowing its Socialist supporters to assemble with arms, and preventing the same by its right-wing opponents
  • Supporting more than 1,500 illegal takeovers of farms
  • Illegal repression of the El Teniente miners’ strike
  • Illegally limiting emigration

Finally, the resolution condemned the creation and development of government-protected [socialist] armed groups, which . . . are headed towards a confrontation with the armed forces. President Allende's efforts to re-organize the military and the police forces were characterized as notorious attempts to use the armed and police forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks.[72]

President Allende's response

Two days later, on 24 August 1973, President Allende responded,[73] characterising the Congress's declaration as destined to damage the country’s prestige abroad and create internal confusion, predicting It will facilitate the seditious intention of certain sectors. He noted that the declaration (passed 81–47 in the Chamber of Deputies) had not obtained the two-thirds Senate majority constitutionally required to convict the president of abuse of power: essentially, the Congress were invoking the intervention of the armed forces and of Order against a democratically-elected government and subordinat[ing] political representation of national sovereignty to the armed institutions, which neither can nor ought to assume either political functions or the representation of the popular will.

Allende argued he had obeyed constitutional means for including military men to the cabinet at the service of civic peace and national security, defending republican institutions against insurrection and terrorism. In contrast, he said that Congress was promoting a coup d’état or a civil war with a declaration full of affirmations that had already been refuted beforehand and which, in substance and process (directly handing it to the ministers rather than directly handing it to the President) violated a dozen articles of the (then-current) Constitution. He further argued that the legislature was usurping the government's executive function.

President Allende wrote: Chilean democracy is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it . . . With a tranquil conscience . . . I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside . . . I solemnly reiterate my decision to develop democracy and a state of law to their ultimate consequences . . . Parliament has made itself a bastion against the transformations . . . and has done everything it can to perturb the functioning of the finances and of the institutions, sterilizing all creative initiatives.

Adding that economic and political means would be needed to relieve the country's current crisis, and that the Congress were obstructing said means; having already paralyzed the State, they sought to destroy it. He concluded by calling upon the workers, all democrats and patriots to join him in defending the Chilean Constitution and the revolutionary process.

The coup

In early September 1973, Allende floated the idea of resolving the constitutional crisis with a plebiscite. His speech outlining such a solution was scheduled for 11 September, but he was never able to deliver it. On 11 September 1973, the Chilean military staged a coup against Allende.


Statue of Allende in front of the Palacio de la Moneda

Just prior to the capture of La Moneda (the Presidential Palace), with gunfire and explosions clearly audible in the background, Allende gave his farewell speech to Chileans on live radio, speaking of himself in the past tense, of his love for Chile and of his deep faith in its future. He stated that his commitment to Chile did not allow him to take an easy way out, and he would not be used as a propaganda tool by those he called "traitors" (he refused an offer of safe passage), clearly implying he intended to fight to the end.[74]

"Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!"
President Salvador Allende's farewell speech, 11 September 1973.[4]

Shortly afterwards, the coup plotters announced that Allende had committed suicide. An official announcement declared that the weapon he had used was an automatic rifle. Prior to his death he had been photographed several times holding an AK-47, a gift from Fidel Castro.[75] He was found dead with this gun. In his 2004 documentary Salvador Allende, Patricio Guzmán incorporates a graphic image of Allende's corpse in the position it was found after his death. According to Guzmán's documentary, Allende shot himself with a pistol and not a rifle.

For years, the Chilean left-wing maintained that Allende had been assassinated, considering that a suicide would weaken Allende's figure. His doctor, José Quiroga, witness of Allende's suicide, who kept silence for a long time, said "It was more important the political issue of everybody believing that Allende had been killed by the military".[76] In recent years the view that he committed suicide has become more broadly accepted, particularly as different testimonies appear to confirm details of the suicide reported in news and documentary interviews.[77][78][79][80][81] According to the BBC News, when Pinochet's troops reached him he was already dead; his personal doctor believed his death was a suicide, and his family have never objected to the finding. The theory that he was assassinated persists and is referenced in the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine.[82]

In 2011, the controversy over the cause of death was reopened as the subject of an official investigation. On the basis of the original 1973 autopsy, Luis Ravanal, a medical examiner, expressed the opinion that the wounds on the body were not consistent with the theses of the alleged witnesses, as there were wounds caused by different guns.[83] In January 2011, a Chilean judge ordered an inquiry,[84] the first judicial investigation of the death. On 23 May 2011, Allende's body was exhumed in order to have an autopsy performed by an international forensic team.[85] On 31 May, TVN, the state television station, reported the discovery of a secret 300-page military account of Allende's death. The document had been kept in the home of a former military justice official, and was discovered when his house was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. After reviewing the report, two forensic experts told TVN "that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated."[86] This belief is supported by forensic expert Luis Ravanal who has been studying Allende's autopsy since 2007. Ravanal says he found details in the autopsy that were not in line with the official version of Allende's death. The cranium, he says, shows evidence of a first shot with a small gun, like a pistol, and then, a second shot from a larger weapon — like an AK-47 — which could mean that Allende was shot and killed, then shot a second time with his own gun, to make it look like suicide.[87] Chile's Legal Medical Service confirmed on 19 July 2011 that the death was suicide, consistent with the beliefs of Allende's family.[88] Dr. Patricio Bustos, the director of Chile's LMS, described the conclusions as "definitive". Briton David Prayer, an expert in ballistics, stated that the former president died as the result of two gunshot wounds which came from an assault rifle placed between his legs and aimed at his chin.[89] The scientific autopsy team delivered a unanimous finding that Allende used an AK-47 rifle given to him by Fidel Castro. The gun was set to fire automatically and the shots tore off the top of his head, killing him instantly.[90]


An East German stamp commemorating Allende

Well-known relatives of Salvador Allende include his daughter politician and a cousin author.


Memorials to Allende include a statue in front of the Palacio de la Moneda.


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  3. "Chile: The Bloody End of a Marxist Dream... Allende's downfall had implications that reached far beyond the borders of Chile. His had been the first democratically elected Marxist government in Latin America...".,9171,907929,00.html. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Salvador Allende's Last Speech
  5. [1]
  6. Profile: Salvador Allende, BBC News
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  15. Salvador Allende by Hedda Garza
  16. "Telegram protesting against the persecution of Jews in Germany". El Clarín de Chile's.  (Spanish)
  18. Gonzalo Rojas Sanchez; Columna Centenaria, 2008.
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  20. Régis Debray (1972). The Chilean Revolution: Conversations with Allende. New York: Vintage Books. 
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  22. (Spanish) "La Unidad Popular". Archived from the original on 7 March 2005. , archived 7 March 2005 on the Internet Archive
  23. Collier & Sater, 1996.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 27.4 27.5 27.6 27.7 Politics and Ideology in Allende’s Chile by Ricardo Israel Zipper
  30. The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America by Rüdiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards
  31. The Cambridge History of Latin America Volume VIII edited by Leslie Bethell
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 A History of Chile, 1808–1994, by Simon Collier and William F. Sater
  42. Flores, 1997: source requires title/publisher
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  46. Eden Medina, "Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation: Socialist Cybernetics in Allende's Chile," Journal of Latin American Studies 38 (2006):571–606.
  47. Edy Kaufman, "Crisis in Allende's Chile: New Perspectives", Praeger Publishers, New York, 1988. 266–267.
  48. Richard Gott.Latin America is preparing to settle accounts with its white settler elite. Guardian Unlimited, 15 November 2006. Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  49. Figures are from November 1986, pp. 4–12, tables 1.1 & 1.7
  50. Hoogvelt, 1997
  51. Nove, 1986
  52. Tier, Mark, 1973, "Allende Erred", Nation Review (Melbourne, Australia), 12–18 October
  53. Still Hidden: A Full Record Of What the U.S. Did in Chile, Peter Kornbluh, The Washington Post, Sunday 24 October 1999; Page B01
  54. The USSR and Latin America By Eusebio Mujal-León
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  57. Axelsson, Sun Chili, le Dossier Noir. (Chile: The Black File) Paris, France: Gallimard, 1974, p. 87
  58. CIA Reveals Covert Acts In Chile, Admits Support For Kidnappers, Links To Pinochet Regime – CBS News
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  69. Historia de Chile. Accessed online 15 May 2009.
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  72. English translation on Wikisource.
  73. (Spanish) respuesta del Presidente Allende on Wikisource. (English) English translation on Wikisource. Retrieved 22 September 2006.
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  75. A Victim of the U.S. Cold War Rises from the Grave
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  80. Parkinson, William (16 September 1973). "The death of Allende: Officially a suicide". Chicago Tribune. 
  81. Camus, Ignacio Gonzalez, El dia en que murio Allende ("The day that Allende Died"). Instituto Chileno de Estudios Humanísticos (ICHEH) and Centro de Estudios Sociales (CESOC), 1988. p. 282 and following.
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  84. Bonnefoy, Pascale (27 January 2011). "Chilean Judge Orders Investigation Into Allende’s Death". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2011. 
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  89. Scotsman Newspaper website 20 July 2011
  90. Chilean president Salvador Allende committed suicide, autopsy confirms The Guardian, 20 July 2011.


Further reading

  • Comite central del Partido comunista de Cuba: Comisión de orientación revolucionaria. Rencontre symbolique entre deux processus historiques [i.e., de Cuba et de Chile]. La Habana, Cuba: Éditions polituques, 1972.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Miguel Etchebarne
Minister of Public Health,
Social Assistance and Welfare

Succeeded by
Eduardo Escudero
Preceded by
Tomás Reyes
President of the Senate of Chile
Succeeded by
Tomás Pablo
Preceded by
Eduardo Frei Montalva
President of Chile
Succeeded by
Augusto Pinochet

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