Chile



Chile’s Presidential Era

The early years of Chile’s Presidential Era were dominated by two political figures: Arturo Alessandri Palma and Carlos Ibanez del Campo.

Learning Objectives

Define the “Presidential Era” in Chile

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • On January 23, 1925, the Chilean military overthrew the September Junta in a coup d’etat.
  • On March 20, 1925, Arturo Alessandri Palma, former president of Chile, returned from exile and drafted a new constitution, which was put in effect on September 18, 1925.
  • The new constitution reinforced presidential powers over the legislature.
  • Alessandri’s government was composed of left-wing and radical groups, but many began to distance themselves from the President after he took power.
  • Alessandri began encountering internal opposition from his own Minister of Defense, Colonel Carlos Ibanez del Campo, after the government repressed a number of demonstrations, leading to massacres. Alessandri resigned, and after a short interim period, Ibanez won the presidency.
  • Ibanez’s cabinet remained popular until the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1931 as a result of a high rate of economic growth fueled by American loans.
  • Once the effects of the economic crisis began to reach Chile, political unrest abounded and Ibanez resigned on July 26, 1931.

Key Terms

  • trade barriers: Government-induced restrictions on international trade, usually involving some sort of cost on trade that raises the price of traded products.
  • Presidential Era: The period in Chilean history from the adoption of the 1925 constitution to the fall of the Popular Unity government on September 11, 1973.

The Presidential Era is the period in Chilean history from the adoption of the constitution on September 18, 1925, to the fall of the Popular Unity government headed by President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. It coincides with what is known as the “development inwards” period in Chilean economic history.

Arturo Alessandri Palma and a New Constitution

On January 23, 1925, the Chilean military overthrew the September Junta in a coup d’etat. They handed power over to General Pedro Dartnell as interim president, but Dartnell formed another junta, the January Junta, during his time in power. On March 20, 1925, Arturo Alessandri Palma, former president of Chile, returned from exile, ending the January Junta. Alessandri drafted a new constitution, which was approved by plebiscite on August 30 and put into effect on September 18. The new constitution reinforced presidential powers over the legislature. Alessandri also created a Central Bank, breaking from Chile’s adherence to classically liberal economic policies.

image

Alessandri with his Great Dane, Ulk (1932)

Alessandri’s government was composed of a coalition of left-wing and radical groups, but many of these groups began to distance themselves from the President after he took power. Alessandri’s government repressed demonstrations, leading to notable massacres such as Marusia and La Coruna. As a result, Alessandri began encountering internal opposition from his own Minister of Defense, Colonel Carlos Ibanez del Campo, who had a popular following. Ibanez lent his support to a manifesto drafted across various political parties calling for Ibanez to run as an official candidate for president. As a result, Alessandri resigned.

Ibanez was prompted to find a candidate that all parties could agree upon. Emiliano Figueroa Larrain from the Liberal Democratic Party was chosen and elected in October 1925 with nearly 72% of the vote. Ibanez was designated the Minister of the Interior in February 1927, meaning he would become vice president in the case of a vacancy in the presidency. Ibanez convinced President Figueroa to resign two months later, took his place as vice president, and called for elections, which took place in May 1927. Ibanez overwhelmingly won the presidency with 98% of the vote.

Carlos Ibanez (1827-1931)

image

Carlos Ibanez del Campo (1927)

Ibanez’s cabinet remained popular until the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1931. As president, Ibanez exercised dictatorial powers and enjoyed being compared to Benito Mussolini. Early in Ibanez’s administration, Congress and various political parties did not protest against his increasingly dictatorial leanings. In fact, Ibanez was granted decretos con fuerza de ley (or decrees having forces of law) within a democratic framework. He suspended parliamentary elections, naming politicians to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies himself. Freedom of press was restricted with 200 politicians arrested or exiled, including former president Alessandri. The Communist Party was proscribed and the workers’ movement was strongly repressed.

Ibanez’s popularity drew heavily from American loans, which helped promote a high rate of growth throughout the country. Using these funds, Ibanez launched important public works, including the construction of canals, bridges, prisons, ports, and restoration of the facade of the presidential palace as well as the secondary presidential residence at Castillo Hill. His popularity survived the Wall Street crash of 1929, the effects of which were felt in Chile by the end of 1930. In 1930, prices of saltpeter and copper, on which the Chilean economy was strongly dependent, abruptly fell, at which point all loans were halted and called. Without an influx of foreign currency and with the U.S. and European implementation of high tariffs and return to protectionism, the Chilean economy began to suffer. Unemployment in northern mines affected tens of thousands of people. In 1931, the influx of international credit into Chile also ended, pushing the state to the edge of bankruptcy.

Although Ibanez’s government increased export taxes to 71% and established trade barriers, he did not manage to make balance of trade more equitable for Chile, which led to a depletion of gold reserves. With the economic situation showing no sign of improvement, the exiled Alessandri began to plan a comeback and a number of conspiracies were undertaken to oust Ibanez from power, although they all proved unsuccessful. Public unrest abounded. Students at the University of Chile and the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile initiated demonstrations. Physicians and lawyer groups also joined in public demonstrations. In the midst of all the demonstrations, police forces killed more than 10 people, and as a result, Ibanez was forced to resign on July 26, 1931. Juan Esteban Montero, a member of the Radical Party, was proclaimed president by Congress after Ibanez’s designated replacement also resigned.

Instability and Coups

The various coups that rocked Chile increased political divisiveness and instability throughout the country.

Learning Objectives

Explain the effect of the various coups that rocked Chile.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Shortly after President Juan Montero’s inauguration in December 1931, revolutionaries took control of some military ships and sunk them in the Bay of Coquimbo in what became known as the Escuadra uprising.
  • Shortly thereafter, on June 4, 1932, planes from El Bosque Air Base flew over La Moneda, the presidential palace, causing Montero’s government to resign, leading to the proclamation of a socialist republic.
  • After a period of political instability under the socialist republic, during which time leadership of the country exchanged hands frequently, the Radical Party came to power in 1938.
  • Internal discord within the Radical Party and associated coalitions eventually led to the re-election of General Carlos Ibanez as an independent candidate.

Key Terms

  • import substitution
    industrialization
    : A trade and economic policy that advocates replacing foreign imports with domestic production.
  • Ariostazo: A brief revolt that occurred on August 25, 1939, led by General Ariosto Herrera, in what turned out to be a non-violent attempt against the government of Chilean President Pedro Aguirre Cerda.
  • Ibanistas: A movement aimed at creating a dictatorship under General Carlos Ibanez during his presidency in the mid-1950s, consisting mainly of young army officers. It was inspired in large part by Argentinian President Juan Domingo Peron’s rise to power.

Shortly after President Juan Montero’s inauguration in December 1931, revolutionaries took control of some military ships and sunk them in the Bay of Coquimbo in what became known as the Escuadra uprising. Although the uprising was peacefully resolved, the string of events demonstrated to the public how fragile the new government was. Shortly thereafter, on June 4, 1932, planes from El Bosque Air Base flew over La Moneda, the presidential palace, causing Montero’s government to resign rather than call upon the army to put down the coup. That same night, the victorious revolutionaries, including Marmaduque Grove, Carlos Davila, and Eugenio Matte, proclaimed the Socialist Republic of Chile.

The Socialist Republic (1931-1932)

image

Socialist Republic March: March in support of the proclamation of the Socialist Republic of Chile, in front of La Moneda Palace (June 12, 1932). Source: El Nuevo Sucesos.

The proclamation of a socialist republic took the country by surprise and divided public opinion immediately. The Communist Party of Chile (PCCh) and many trade unions opposed the Republic because they believed it to be militarist. The business community and many students also heatedly opposed the new political entity on ideological grounds. Ultimately, the new republic only received the guarded support of other socialists and some employees’ associations.

A few days following the establishment of the new republic, the junta dissolved Congress and, among other measures, stopped evictions from low-rental properties, decreed a three-day bank holiday, placed strict limits on bank withdrawals, and ordered the Caja de Credito Popular, a savings and loan bank for Chileans of modest means, to return pawned materials. Half-a-million free meals were ordered to be served daily to Chile’s unemployed. The government quickly ran short of funds, however, and ordered the police to raid all jewelry shops in Santiago, providing jewelers receipts that could be used to cash in for paper pesos by means of compensation in order to avoid the act being termed a confiscation. Credits and deposits in foreign currency in national and foreign banks operating within the country were also declared property of the state. Meanwhile, a General Commissariat of Subsistence and Prices was also established with the authority to fix the price of staple foods.

Within the junta, differences of opinion began to sharpen. Followers of General Ibanez opposed the radicalization of the socialist movement, which was headed by Marmaduque Grove and Eugenio Matte. On June 13, 1932, Carlos Davila resigned in protest, and three days later on June 16, he expelled the socialist members of government and replaced them with his own supporters with the support of the army. Grove and Matte were arrested and exiled to Easter Island and Davila proclaimed himself provisional president of the socialist republic. He also declared a state of emergency, press censorship, and a number of centrally-planned economic measures.

However, Davila did not have enough support from the public or the military to remain in his position indefinitely, and he was forced to resign on September 13, 1932. The presidency then passed on to General Bartolome Blanche, who was subsequently replaced due to the threat of a military uprising by President of the Supreme Court Abraham Oyanedel. Oyanedel immediately called for presidential and congressional elections. Tired of political instability, the Chilean people voted center-right candidate and former president Arturo Alessandri into office. Alessandri relied upon republican forces during the first four years of his presidency to repress revolts and asked Congress on several occasions to declare a state of emergency in order to act against perceived insubordination before it could turn violent. These precautions were not unwarranted either, with the rise of the Nazi-inspired National Socialist Movement of Chile and a number of rural rebellions occurring.

Meanwhile, economic recovery in the wake of the Great Depression was under way. Treasury Minister Gustavo Ross, a pragmatic liberal, balanced the fiscal deficit with new taxes and resumed payments of external debts. When a surplus was achieved, public works became the new focus of the government, and projects like the construction of the National Stadium in Santiago began.

The Radical Governments (1938-1952)

The Radical Party of Chile was founded during the mid-19th century based upon the principles of the 1789 French Revolution, upholding values of liberty, equality, solidarity, participation, and well-being. It finally succeeded in achieving power from 1938 to 1952 due to the Popular Front left-wing coalition, although its cabinets were haunted by ongoing parliamentary instability. The first Radical President, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, was a teacher and lawyer from University of Chile. He was elected in 1938 as a candidate from the Popular Front, narrowly defeating conservative Gustavo Ross due to the political backlash caused by the Seguro Obrero massacre, which followed an attempted coup d’etat by the National Socialist Movement of Chile.

Cerda promoted the development of technical-industrial schools as a means of promoting the industrialization of the country and created thousands of new primary, secondary, and higher education schools. Following a devastating earthquake that hit Chile on January 24, 1939, Cerda’s cabinet created the Corporacion de Fomento de la Produccion (CORFO) to encourage an ambitious program of import substitution industrialization. During this time, the Empresa Nacional del Petoleo (ENAP) state oil company was created, as well as a state electricity company, steel holding,and sugar company. He faced military opposition to his plans, particularly in the first year of his presidency. Opposition boiled over with the Ariostazo in August 1939, an attempted putsch led by General Ariosto Herera and General Carlos Ibanez del Campo. General Herera had been strongly influenced by Italian fascism.

The German- Soviet Non Aggression Pact of 1939 led to a dismantling of left-wing coalitions and the Comintern denounced the Popular Front strategy. However, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Chilean Communist Party joined the government again and the left-wings’ coalition remained intact following Cerda’s resignation and death. An election was held in February 1942 and Juan Antonio Rios, a member of the conservative wing of the Radical Party, won with 55.7% of the votes. Rios’ presidency was marked by parliamentary instability and rivalries among cabinet members who held different political stances. The Chilean Communist Party opposed Rios on the grounds that he chose neutrality in the Second World War and refused to break off diplomatic relations with Axis Powers. Meanwhile, members of the right-wing accused him of complacency in dealing with left-wing infractions. The Chilean Socialist Party accused Rios of going too easy on large firms and criticized his refusal to pass labor legislation protecting workers.

The Radical Party itself touted policy in 1944 that Rios found unacceptable. Their propositions included an end to relations with Francoist Spain, political recognition of the USSR, and stacking Rios’ cabinet with Radical members. Rios had already been forced via economic and diplomatic pressure to break off relations with Axis Powers in 1943, which made Chile eligible for the U.S. Lend-Lease program, aiding in economic recovery. Unfortunately, the close relations with the United States that this entailed created further problems for Rios at home, and his continued refusal to implement Radical Party policies caused the entirety of his cabinet to resign, effectively leaving the President without a party. As a result, the Radical Party lost a number of parliamentary seats in the legislative elections of 1945, and the right-wing gained in congressional representation. Faced with a diagnosis of terminal cancer and unrest at home, Rios gave up his presidential powers in January 1946, and for the second time in five years, a presidential election was held on September 4, 1946.

Left-wing Radical Party candidate Gabriel Gonzalez Videla won the September 1946 election, this time with the Radical Party allying itself with the Communist Party instead of the Democratic Alliance. However, because Gonzalez only received 40% of the votes, Congress had to confirm his appointment, which led to various party negotiations and the creation of a composite cabinet of liberals, radicals, and communists. Once in office, Gonzalez had a fall out with the communists when he refused to grant them more cabinet seats following their success in municipal elections. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, threatened by the successes of the Communist Party, withdrew from the cabinet. Eventually, due to pressure from the United States, President Gonzalez enacted a Law of Permanent Defense of the Democracy, which outlawed the Communist Party and banned more than 20,000 people from electoral lists. These actions gleaned new supporters for Gonzalez’s government from among conservatives and liberals.

Detention centers were re-opened and used to jail communists, anarchists, and other revolutionaries, though no detainee was executed during this period. Many prominent communists, such as Senator Pablo Neruda, fled into exile, and a number of pro-communist strikes and demonstrations were suppressed. In fact, a number of strikes in the sectors of public transportation and mining throughout the year 1947 prompted Gonzalez to make increasing use of emergency laws, which in turn led to further protest demonstrations. On the far right of the spectrum, the pig trotters’ conspiracy attempted a military  coup to bring Carlos Ibanez back to power. The coup was unsuccessful and an investigation was ordered on the coup leaders, leading to many arrests. Ibanez himself was absolved of all responsibility, however.

In the parliamentary elections of 1949, pro-government parties triumphed, however, the unity between right-wing parties and radicals and socialists did not last long. Radicals were unhappy with the economic policies of the right-wing finance minister Jorge Alessandri, though they were moderately successful in controlling inflation. When a protest by government employees erupted in 1950, radicals immediately sided with the protesters and right-wingers resigned en masse from Gonzalez’s cabinet. As a result, Gonzalez lost the pro-government majority in Congress and was unable to achieve much policy-wise thereafter. Nonetheless, he remained a champion for women’s rights, installing the first woman cabinet minister, the first woman ambassador, and creating the Oficina de la Mujer.

The Birth of Mass Politics (1952-1964)

Due to the protectionist policies of the radical governments and their predecessors, Chile had developed a strong, national industry, which led to a renewal of the economic and socia  structure of the country. For the first time in its history, agriculture ceased being the primary productive sector, and mining and the service sector became increasingly important to the national economy. At the same time, Chile’s political climate was becoming increasingly divided. The 1952 presidential election was carved up among many competing parties, including conservatives, liberals, socialists, radicals, and an emerging centrist Christian Democrat Party, which had support from a large specter of personalities. Additionally, for the first time in Chile’s history, women’s suffrage was legalized.

image

Allende supporters: A crowd of people marching to support the election of Salvador Allende for president in Santiago, Chile.

Four candidates stood up in the 1952 election. Arturo Matte was the centrist candidate presented by the Conservative and Liberal parties; Salvador Allende served as the Socialist Party’s candidate in his first candidacy to the presidency; the Radical Party supported Pedro Enrique Alfonso; and General Carlos Ibanez ran for the office as an independent. Ibanez campaigned on a platform of eliminating political corruption, but remained vague in his proposals and provided no clear position as to his position within the political spectrum. He won the election on September 5, 1952, with 46.8% of the popular vote. Ibanez’s election was ratified by Congress and he took office on December 4.

Once in office, Ibanez focused on rallying his supporters to win a majority in the 1953 legislative elections. His supporters consisted of the right-wing Partido Agrario Laborista (PAL) and dissidents within the Socialist Party, which had formed the Popular Socialist Party. Some feminist political unions also lent their support to Ibanez. Many such supporters stacked Ibanez’s initial cabinet, which despite its internal fragility, helped to win some seats in the 1953 elections. Nonetheless, Ibanez remained at the mercy of an unified opposition during his tenure as president.

Ibanez left much of the governing during his second term to his cabinet, and indeed his second term progressed as a modest political success. Ibanez won the support of many left-wingers by repealing the Ley de Defensa de la Democracia (Law for th  Defense of Democracy), which had banned the Communist Party. However, in 1954, a copper mine strike spread across the country, and Ibanez proclaimed a state of siege in response. Congress immediately opposed this executive measure and put an end to it. Ibanez also froze wages and prices in order to put an end to the chronic inflation of the Chilean economy. Unfortunately, these same policies stopped growth and inflation continued to skyrocket, leading to relative civil unrest.

A movement of Ibanistas, consisting mainly of young army officers and inspired by the movement surrounding Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron, formed groups aimed at creating a new dictatorship under Ibanez. Controversy erupted when the public learned that Ibanez met with these conspirators. Additionally, Ibanez’s hostility towards the Federacion de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile student trade union led to outbreaks of violence during demonstrations. As a result, PAL withdrew itself from Ibanez’s government, leaving him isolated. Meanwhile, the Radicals, Socialists, and Communists organized the Frente de Accion Popular (Front for Popular Action) and concentrated their efforts around presidential candidate Salvador Allende.

Allende and Popular Unity

The United States was distrustful of Chile’s President Salvador Allende due to his Marxist beliefs and policies, leading to a military coup ousting Allende from power that was strongly encouraged by the CIA.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate why the United States was distrustful of Allende’s policies

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Salvador Allende was the president of Chile from 1970 until 1973 as well as the head of the Popular Unity government. He was the first Marxist to be elected to the national presidency of a democratic country.
  • There was an active campaign against Allende’s presidential confirmation within Chile’s Congress, including clandestine efforts to prevent Allende from being inaugurated. In the end, his presidency was only ratified once he signed a Statute of Constitutional Guarantees.
  • While in office, Allende pursued a policy he called “La via chilena al socialismo”, or “the Chilean way to socialism”, which included nationalization of certain large-scale industries such as copper and healthcare, land redistribution, the continuation of the educational policies of his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, and a program guaranteeing free milk for children.
  • The Popular Unity coalition was not perfectly united around Allende’s platform due to the president’s more moderate leanings and commitment to the principles of democracy.
  • During his first year in office, Allende’s government achieved economic growth, reductions in inflation and unemployment, redistribution of income, and increases in consumption.
  • Despite his predecessor’s deepening of Chile’s relations with the USSR, Allende attempted to maintain normal relations with the United States. However, after the United States cut off credits and increased its support to Allende’s opposition, the government was forced to seek alternative sources of trade and finance from the USSR.
  • The U.S. government encouraged Allende’s resignation, overthrow, or electoral defeat due to a fear of.Marxism and dissatisfaction with the nationalization of U.S copper concerns within Chile.
  • On August 22, 1973, the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies voted 81 to 47 in favor of a resolution that asked the authorities to preserve Chilean democracy in face of the threat Allende’s government presented.
  • Two days later, Allende responded point-by point to the accusations and accused Congress in return of encouraging sedition, civil war, and even a coup.
  • The Chilean military seized the opportunity created by the Chamber of Deputies’ August 22nd Resolution to oust Allende on September 11, 1973. As the Presidential Palace was surrounded and bombed, Allende committed suicide.

Salvador Allende was the president of Chile from 1970 until 1973 and the head of the Popular Unity government. He was the first ever Marxist to be elected to the national presidency of a democratic country. Although the 1970 Chilean presidential election was lawful, the Chilean Senate declared the Allende government unlawful in August 1973 due to its practice of unconstitutional expropriation
of private property. Allende’s presidency was cut short by a military coup shortly thereafter.

Photo portrait of Salvador Allende Gossens

Salvador Allende Gossens: President of Chile from 1970 to 1973

Chilean Presidential Election, 1970

Allende ran with the Popular Unity coalition during the 1970 presidential election. Succeeding the FRAP left-wing coalition, it was comprised primarily of leftist political parties, including the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Radical Party, the Party of the Radical Left (until 1972), the Social Democratic Party, MAPU, or Movimient de Accion Popular Unitario, and the Christian Left, which joined the coalition in 1971. Allende won a plurality of the popular vote at 36.2% with a platform promising nationalization of the mineral industry as well as income and land redistribution. Conservative former president Jorge Alessandri, the candidate from the National Party, received slightly fewer votes, approximately 34.9%. According the Chilean constitution, Congress had to decide between the two candidates with the most votes, and according to precedent, Congress tended to choose the candidate with the largest number of votes.

However, there was an active campaign against Allende’s confirmation within Congress at the time, including clandestine efforts to prevent Allende from being inaugurated. In the end, his presidency was only ratified once he signed a Statute of Constitutional Guarantees, convincing the majority of Christian Democratic senators who favored Alessandri of Allende’s allegiance to democracy. Having signed this statute, members of the Christian Democratic Party in the Senate were willing to vote in favor of granting the presidency to Allende.

“The Chilean Way to Socialism”

While in office, Allende pursued a policy he called “La via chilena al socialismo,” or “the Chilean way to socialism,” which included nationalization of certain large-scale industries such as copper and healthcare, land redistribution, the continuation of the educational policies of his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, and a program guaranteeing free milk for children. Eduardo Frei’s government already partially nationalized the copper industry by acquiring a 51% share in foreign-owned mines, but copper remained the primary U.S. business in Chile during this time. Early on, Congress supported Allende’s extensive vision for government involvement in the economy, especially since the Popular Unity and Christian Democratic parties combined had a clear majority in the legislature. However, the government’s efforts to pursue these policies led to strong outpouring of opposition from landowners, some middle class sectors, financiers, the Roman Catholic Church, and the rightist National Party. Eventually, the Christian Democrats united with the National Party in Congress as opposition grew.

The Popular Unity coalition itself was far from perfectly united around the platform of the president. Allende himself was a more moderate representative of the Socialist Party and was committed to the principles of democracy. He was supported by the Communist Party, which, although less committed to the principles of representative democracy, favored a cautious and gradual approach to the vast reforms that had been proposed. By contrast, the radical left wing of the Socialist Party wanted an immediate disruption to the existing capitalist system, even if it meant resorting to violent means.

During his first year in office, Allende’s government achieved economic growth, reductions in inflation and unemployment, redistribution of income, and increases in consumption. The government also significantly increased salaries and wages, reduced taxes, and introduced free distribution of certain items deemed necessities. Groups previously excluded from the state labor insurance scheme, such as the self-employed or those employed by small businesses, were included for the first time. Additionally, pensions were increased for widows, invalids, orphans, and the elderly. The National Milk Plan provided more than 3 million liters of milk per day in 1970, free of charge.

Foreign Relations

Soviet Union

Allende’s predecessor, Eduardo Frei, had improved relations with the USSR, and in February 1970, Frei’s government signed Chile’s first cultural and scientific agreement with the Soviet Union. When Allende assumed the presidency, he attempted to maintain normal relations with the United States. However, as a result of Chile’s nationalization of the copper industry, the US cut off credits and increased its support to the opposition. As a result, Allende’s government was forced to seek alternative sources of trade and finance. Chile gained commitments from the USSR to invest approximately $400 million in Chile over the course of the next six years, though that number was smaller than the amount Allende hoped to receive. Trade between the two countries did not significantly increase and mainly involved the purchase of Soviet equipment. When Allende visited the USSR in late 1972 to request more aid and additional lines of credit, he was turned down.

In mid-1973, the USSR approved the delivery of weaponry to the Chilean army. However, when news of an attempted army coup to overthrow Allende reached Soviet officials, the shipment was redirected to another country.

U.S. Opposition to Allende

U.S. opposition to Allende began several years before he was elected President of Chile, but escalated once the prospect of a second Marxist regime being established in the Western Hemisphere became more likely (the first being Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba). The administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon was already embroiled in the Vietnam War and the broader Cold War with the Soviet Union. The U.S. government intended to encourage Allende’s resignation, overthrow, or defeat by the presidential election of 1976. To this end, the Nixon administration clandestinely funded independent and non-state media and labor unions within Chile and directed other governmental entities that no new bilateral economic aid commitments should be undertaken with the government of Chile. The United States did however provide humanitarian aid to Chile in addition to forgiving old loans valued at $200 million from 1971 to 1972. The United States also did not invoke the Hickenlooper Amendment, which would have required an immediate cut-off of U.S aid due to Allende’s nationalizations. Allende received new sources of credit valued between $600 million and $950 million in 1972 and $547 million by June 1973. The International Monetary Fund also loaned $100 million to Chile during the Allende years.

The U.S. government used two tactics when countering Allende’s government. “Track I” was a State Department initiative designed to thwart Allende by subverting Chilean elected officials within the bounds of the Chilean constitution. This tactic excluded the CIA. Track I expanded to encompass a number of policies with the ultimate goal of creating conditions that would encourage a coup. “Track II” was a CIA operation overseen by Henry Kissinger and the CIA’s director of covert operations, Thomas Karamessine. Track II excluded the State Department and Department of Defense. The goal of Track II was to find and support Chilean military officers who would engage in a coup.

Crisis

Congressional Resolutions

On August 22, 1973, the Christian Democrats and the National Party members of the Chamber of Deputies voted 81 to 47 in favor of a resolution that asked the authorities to preserve Chilean democracy in face of the threat Allende’s government presented. They believed Allende’s policies infringed upon the freedoms guaranteed by the Chilean constitution and accused Allende of attempting to establish a totalitarian order upon the country. Most accusations centered around a perceived disregard for the separation of powers and the erosion of legislative and judicial prerogatives in favor of granting these powers to the executive branch of government. Finally, the resolution condemned the creation and development of government-protected armed forces. President Allende’s efforts to reorganize the military and police forces were characterized as nefarious attempts to use the armed and police forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks.

Two days later on August 24, 1973, Allende responded point-by point to the accusations. He accused Congress of encouraging sedition, civil war, and even a coup. He also pointed out that the declaration failed to obtain the required two-thirds majority constitutionally required to bring an accusation against the president and argued that the legislature was trying to usurp the executive role.

1973 Chilean Coup D’etat

In early September 1973, Allende floated the idea of resolving the congressional resolution crisis with a referendum. However, the Chilean military seized the opportunity created by the Chamber of Deputies’ August 22nd Resolution to oust Allende on September 11, 1973. As the Presidential Palace was surrounded and bombed, Allende committed suicide.

A September 2000 report released by the CIA using declassified documents related to the military coup found that the CIA had probably approved of and encour.aged the 1973 coup, but there was no evidence that the U.S actually participated in it.

This view has been challenged by some historians, such as Tim Weiner and Peter Kornbluh, who have stated that the covert support of the United States was crucial to the preparation for the coup, the coup itself, and the consolidation of the regime afterward.

The Pinochet Years

Pinochet’s regime represented a violent swing to authoritarianism following Allende’s Marxist administration.

Learning Objectives

Contrast the Pinochet regime with Allende’s before it

Key Takeaways

Key Terms

  • disappeared: A person who is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization, or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization. Following abduction, there is a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate or whereabouts, essentially placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
  • military junta: An oligarchic form of government that differs from a civilian dictatorship in a number of ways, including motivations for seizing power, the institutions through which rule is organized, and the ways in which leaders leave positions of power. Many military juntas have viewed themselves as saving the nation from corrupt or myopic civilian politicians. Military leaders often rule as a junta, selecting one as the head.

Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte was the President of Chile between 1973 and 1990 as well as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army from 1973 to 1998. He was also the president of the Government Junta of Chile between 1973 and 1981. His rule of Chile is considered a dictatorship. Pinochet assumed power in Chile following a U.S.-backed coup d’etat on September 11, 1973, which overthrew the democratically elected Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende and ended civilian rule. In December 1974, the ruling military junta appointed Pinochet the Supreme Head of the Nation by joint decree.

image

Official portrait of Augusto Pinochet: Circa 1974

Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations during the military government of Chile refer to human rights abuses, persecution of opponents, political repression, and state terrorism committed by the Chilean armed forces and the police, government agents, and civilians in the service of security agencies. According to the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig Commission) and the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (Valech Commission), the number of direct victims of human rights violations in Chile accounts for at least 35,000 people: 28,000 tortured, 2,279 executed, and 1,248 missing. In addition, some 200,000 people suffered exile and an unknown number went through clandestine centers and illegal detention. The systematic human rights violations committed by the military government of Chile under Pinochet included gruesome acts of physical and sexual abuse as well as psychological damage. From September 11, 1973, to March 11, 1990, Chilean armed forces, the police, and those aligned with the military junta were involved in institutionalizing fear and terror in Chile.

Political Suppression

Following its assumption of power in 1973, the government junta formally banned socialist, Marxist, and other leftist parties that comprised former President Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity coalition. On September 13, 1973, the junta dissolved Congress and outlawed or suspended all political activities, including suspension of the 1925 constitution. Eduardo Frei, Allende’s predecessor as president, initially supported the coup along with other Christian Democratic politicians. Later, however, they assumed opposition roles to the military rulers, though by that time many of them already lost much of their public influence. The Catholic Church, which first expressed its approval of military rule over Allende’s Marxist government, was now led by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez, one of the most outspoken critics of the regime’s social and economic policies.

From 1974 to 1977, the DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) and other agencies such as the Joint Command were the main institutions that committed acts of repression. It was during this period that most forced disappearances took place. In DINA-established interrogation and detention camps, former members of Allende’s Marxist government and Leftist movements like Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario were incarcerated and brutally tortured. A large proportion of the Chilean population was vulnerable to government surveillance.

Disappearances

image

The Politically Executed: Funeral urns of political activists executed under the Chilean military regime (1973-1990) in a cemetery in Santiago.

“Disappearing subversives” was a central instrument of state terror administered by the Chilean military regime. According to the Rettig Report, 1,248 people were ” disappeared ” by the Pinochet regime. This number remains a source of contention, however, as hundreds of bodies have yet to be discovered. Many who disappeared were neither given the chance to escape nor to become asylum seekers elsewhere, and their bodies were deliberately hidden in undisclosed locations. Many people were last seen in detention or torture centers run by intelligence agencies of the military regime.

Following General Pinochet’s arrest in 1998, Chile made a renewed effort to uncover the atrocities of the past. For the first time in several decades, human rights lawyers and members of the armed forces investigated where the bodies of the disappeared were buried. On January 7, 2000, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos made a 15-minute nationwide address, revealing that the armed forces had uncovered information on the fate of approximately 180 people who had disappeared. According to Lagos, the bodies of at least 150 of these people were thrown into lakes, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean. The whereabouts of hundreds of more bodies remain unknown.

Economy and Free Market Reforms

After the military took over the government in 1973, a period of dramatic economic changes began. The Chilean economy was still faltering in the months following the coup. As the military junta itself was not particularly skilled in remedying the persistent economic difficulties, it appointed a group of Chilean economists who were educated at the University of Chicago. Given financial and ideological support from Pinochet, the United States, and international financial institutions, the Chicago Boys advocated laissez-faire, free-market, neo-liberal, and fiscally conservative policies in stark contrast to the extensive nationalization and centrally-planned economic programs supported by Allende. Chile was drastically transformed from an economy isolated from the rest of the world with strong government intervention into a liberalized, world-integrated economy where market forces were left free to guide most of the economy’s decisions.

From an economic point of view, the era can be divided into two periods. The first, from 1973 to 1982, corresponds to the period when most of the reforms were implemented. The period ended with the international debt crisis and the collapse of the Chilean economy. Unemployment was extremely high, above 20 percent, and a large proportion of the banking sector had become bankrupt. The following period was characterized by new reforms and economic recovery. Some economists argue that the recovery was due to a turnaround of Pinochet’s free market policy; during this time he nationalized many of the industries that were nationalized under Allende and fired the Chicago Boys from their government posts.

Social Consequences

The economic policies espoused by the Chicago Boys and implemented by the junta initially caused several economic indicators to decline for Chile’s lower classes. Between 1970 and 1989, there were large cuts to incomes and social services. Wages decreased by eight percent. Family allowances in 1989 were 28% of what they had been in 1970 and budgets for education, health, and housing dropped more than 20% on average. Massive increases in military spending and cuts in funding to public services coincided with falling wages and steady rises in unemployment. The junta relied on the middle class, huge foreign corporations, and foreign loans to maintain itself.

Financial conglomerates became major beneficiaries of the liberalized economy. Large foreign banks reinstated the credit cycle, and international lending organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Inter-American Development Bank also lent vast sums to Pinochet’s regime. Additionally, many foreign multinational corporations such as International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), Dow Chemical, and Firestone, which was previously expropriated by Allende, returned to Chile.

Relationship with the United States

Overall, the United States maintained significantly friendlier relations with Pinochet than it did with Allende. A document released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2000 titled “CIA Activities in Chile” revealed that the CIA actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende and made many of Pinochet’s officers paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military despite records detailing human rights abuses. The United States provided substantial support to the military regime between 1973 and 1979, although it criticized Chile in public. In 1976, the United States went beyond verbal condemnation of the regime and placed an embargo on arms sales to Chile that remained in effect until the restoration of democracy in 1989. Presumably, as international concerns grew surrounding Chilean repression, the United States did not want to be seen as an accomplice to the junta. Other prominent U.S. allies like the UK, France, and West Germany, however, did not block arms sales to Pinochet and benefited from the lack of American competition.

The Chilean Constitution of 1988

Due to pressure from big business, the international community, and general unease with his rule, Pinochet was denied a second eight-year term as president during the 1988 national plebiscite.

Learning Objectives

Describe the circumstances of the 1988 national plebiscite

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Following the September 11, 1973, coup d’etat, General Pinochet was designated president of the newly established military junta government on what was supposed to be a rotating basis with three other junta members.
  • Shortly thereafter, the junta established an advisory committee and Pinochet staffed it with his loyal Army officers. One of the first recommendations brought forward by the committee was to do away with the idea of a rotating presidency.
  • On September 11, 1980, a constitutional referendum took place in which the new Chilean constitution was approved by 67% of voters.
  • The new constitution established a transition period of eight years during which Pinochet would continue to exercise executive power. Before the end of that period, a candidate for president was to be proposed and ratified by registered voters in a national plebiscite.
  • On August 30, 1988, Pinochet was declared the presidential candidate, and on October 8, 1988, Pinochet was denied a second eight-year term by 54.5% of the vote.
  • Open presidential and congressional elections were held in December 1989, and the new democratically elected president, Patricio Aylwin of the Christian Democratic Party, assumed power on March 11, 1990.

Key Terms

  • military junta: An oligarchic form of government that differs from a civilian dictatorship in a number of ways, including motivations for seizing power, the institutions through which rule is organized, and the ways in which leaders leave positions of power. Many military juntas have viewed themselves as saving the nation from corrupt or myopic civilian politicians. Military leaders often rule as a junta, selecting one as the head.
  • plebiscite: A type of voting or method for proposing laws, often to change the constitution or government of a country.

Leadership and the 1980 Constitution

Following the September 11, 1973, coup d’etat, Army General Augusto Pinochet was designated president of the newly established military junta government. He and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, Navy Admiral Jose Toribio Merino, and Carabinero Chief General Cesar Mendoza verbally agreed to rotate presidential duties, but shortly thereafter, the junta established an advisory committee and Pinochet staffed it with his loyal Army officers. One of the first recommendations brought forward by the advisory committee was to do away with a rotating presidency, arguing it would lead to too many administrative problems and confusion. In March 1974, Pinochet verbally attacked the Christian Democratic Party and stated there was no set timetable for the country’s return to civilian rule. Concurrently, a commission set up by the junta was working on drawing up a new constitution. By October 5, 1978, the commission had finished its work. During the next two years, the proposed outline was studied by the Council of State, presided over by former president Jorge Alessandri. In July 1980, a draft of the constitution was presented to Pinochet and the governing junta.

On September 11, 1980, seven years after the coup d’etat that brought the military junta to power, a constitutional referendum took place in which the new constitution was approved by 67% of voters. Some observers, however, argued that the referendum was carried out in a highly irregular way and the outcome was thus fraudulent. Nonetheless, the new constitution took effect on March 11, 1981, and established a transition period of eight years during which Pinochet would continue to exercise executive power and the junta would yield legislative powers. Before the end of that period, a candidate for president was to be proposed by the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces and Carabinero Chief General for a subsequent term of eight years, and the proposed candidate would need to be ratified by registered voters in a national plebiscite. On August 30, 1988, Pinochet was declared the presidential candidate.

image

Original ballot from the 1988 plebiscite

Plebiscite of October 8, 1988

The military junta began to shift leadership tactics in the late 1970s. Due to increasing resistance and attendant problems with General Pinochet’s rule, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh was expelled from the junta in 1978 and replaced by General Fernando Matthei. Throughout the 1980s, the government gradually permitted greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, including trade union activities. In 1985, Cesar Mendoza, a member of the junta since 1973, was forced to resign as a result of the Caso Degollados (“slit throats case”) in which three Communist Party members were assassinated. The following year, Carmen Gloria Quintana, a woman detained by an army patrol during a street demonstration against Pinochet, was burned alive in what became known as the Caso Quemado (“burnt alive case”), rallying those who believed the country should move towards a more democratic form of governance. It was in this context that the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite took place, in which voters would accept or reject a single candidate proposed by the military junta.

Photograph of Carmen Gloria Quintana showing burn scars all over her face

Carmen Gloria Quintana in 1987: Quintana, a Chilean woman detained during a street demonstration against Pinochet, was burned alive in what became known as the Caso Quemado (“burnt alive case”).

The plebiscite presented two choices to voters: vote yes and extend Pinochet’s mandate for another eight years, or vote no and Pinochet and the junta would continue in power for only one more year. The outcome was that Pinochet was denied a second eight-year term by 54.5% of the vote. Presidential and parliamentary elections would take place three months before Pinochet’s term expired, with the newly elected president and Congress taking office March 11, 1990. The fact that the dictatorship respected the results is attributed to pressure from big business, the international community, and general popular unease with Pinochet’s rule. Open presidential and congressional elections were held in December 1989, and the new democratically-elected president, Patricio Aylwin of the Christian Democratic Party, assumed power as planned in March. Due to the transitional provisions of the constitution, Pinochet remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Army until March 1998