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Salvador Allende
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Salvador Allende

Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens (pronounced, SAMPA: [salvaDor aj\\EndE]; IPA: salƀaðoɽ aʝεnde) (July 26, 1908-September 11, 1973) was president of Chile from 1970 until 1973, when he was overthrown in a military coup d'état, during which he died.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Election
3 Presidency
4 The coup
5 Legacy and Debate
6 Quotes about Allende
7 Articles about Allende/Pinochet coup d'état in Chile
8 See also
9 External links


Allende was born in Valparaíso and was a medical doctor by profession. 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, but he remained vague on how exactly he planned to implement them. His political opponents accused him of planning to turn Chile into a Communist dictatorship, but Allende dismissed such allegations.

Allende co-founded Chile's socialist party, and served as cabinet minister and president of the Chilean Senate.


After running in vain for president three times, he was elected to the presidency in 1970 as leader of the Unidad Popular ("Popular Unity") coalition. Although he did not win a majority of the popular vote, he obtained a narrow plurality of 36% to 34% over Jorge Alessandri, a former president; 27% went to a third candidate. As provided in the Chilean constitution, the national legislature had to choose between Allende and the next-highest vote-getter.

Even before he became president, Allende was a deeply unpopular figure within the administrations of successive US Presidents. Because of his socialist ideas, it was claimed there was a danger of Chile becoming a "communist state" and joining the Soviet 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. Some suspected Allende of receiving financial backing from foreign Communist groups, but this remains disputed.

After Allende was finally elected, the US Central Intelligence Agency ran operations in an attempt to incite Chile's outgoing president, Eduardo Frei, to veto Allende's Congressional ratification as the new president. The CIA's plan was to persuade the Chilean Congress to appoint Allende's runner-up, Conservative-Liberal Party candidate Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez as president. Under the plan, Alessandri would promptly resign his office immediately after assuming it, and call new elections. Eduardo Frei would then be constitutionally able to run again (the Chilean Constitution forbids more than two consecutive terms), and presumably easily defeat Allende. See also: U.S. Intervention in Chile.

However, in the end the Congress rebuked the plan and chose to appoint Allende president, on the condition that he would sign a "Statute of Constitutional Guarantees" affirming that his socialist reforms would not undermine any element of the Chilean Constitution.


After his inauguration, Allende began to carry out his platform of implementing socialist programs in Chile. Many corporations were nationalized, and 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. These moves angered middle- and upper-class elements and polarized the country.

Throughout his presidency, Allende remained at odds with the Chilean Congress, which was dominated by the conservative Christian Democratic Party. The Christian Democrats continued to allege that Allende was leading Chile toward a Cuban-style dictatorship and sought to overturn many of his more radical constitutional reforms. Some members even called for the normally apolitical Chilean military to stage a coup to "protect the constitution".

In 1971, following a month-long visit of Cuban president Fidel Castro, with whom he had a close friendship, Allende announced 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.

Allende's increasingly aggressive socialist policies (partly a response to pressure from some of the Marxists 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.

The coup

By September 1973, high inflation and shortages had plunged the country into near chaos. On September 11 of that year, the Chilean military led by General Augusto Pinochet, staged the Chilean coup of 1973 against Allende. During the capture of the La Moneda Presidential Palace, Allende died. The nature of his death is unclear: His personal doctor said that he committed suicide with a machine gun given to him by Fidel Castro, while others say that he was murdered by Pinochet's military forces while defending the palace.

The coup that many Chileans hoped would protect the constitution actually resulted in its destruction. Pinochet ruled, unelected, for seventeen years. His government's human rights abuses left more than three thousand Chileans dead or missing during the long period of dictatorship.

In the aftermath of the coup, many Allende supporters began to allege that the president's overthrow had been the result of an US-orchestrated scheme. The CIA denies having actively supported the coup, although it has admitted the advance knowledge of it that the U.S. government had previously denied. Declassified documents indicate that the CIA had been at least supportive of a coup to overthrow Allende, though not necessarily in favour of bringing Pinochet himself to power.

Legacy and Debate

More than thirty years after his death, Allende remains a controversial figure. Since his life ended before his presidency, 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, saying that Allende went much farther to the left than voters could have expected.

In many western countries, Allende is seen as a hero to the more radical factions of the political left. Many 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. His close relationship with Fidel Castro has led many to accuse him of being a communist who was destined to eventually transform Chile into a Castro-style dictatorship. They also argue the socialist reforms he implemented while in power badly crippled the country's economy.

The unclear nature of the US involvement in the coup that deposed Allende remains a heated debate topic in the context of US 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 Chilean coup of 1973).

Quotes about Allende

Articles about Allende/Pinochet coup d'état in Chile

See also

External links