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  • 7/24/2004

Salvador Allende


July 26,1908 -September 11,1973)

Allende was born inValparaíso and was a medical doctor by profession. He was also an ardentMarxist and an outspoken critic of thecapitalist 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'ssocialist party, and served as cabinet minister and president of the Chilean Senate.

After running in vain for president three times, he waselected to the presidency in1970 as leader of the Unidad Popular ("Popular Unity") coalition. Although he did not win a majority of the popular vote, he obtained a narrowplurality of 36% to 34% overJorge 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 successiveUS Presidents. Because of his socialist ideas, it was claimed there was a danger of Chile becoming a "communist state" and joining theSoviet sphere of influence. In addition, theUnited States had substantial economic interests in Chile. 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 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 foreigndebt 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 theconservativeChristian 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 presidentFidel Castro, with whom he had a close friendship, Allende announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations withCuba, despite a previously establishedOrganization of American States convention that no nation in theWestern 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.

By September 1973, highinflation and shortages had plunged the country into near chaos. OnSeptember 11 of that year, the Chilean military led byGeneral Augusto Pinochet, staged theChilean coup of 1973 against Allende. During the capture of theLa Moneda Presidential Palace, Allende was said by his personal doctor to have committed suicide with a submachine gun given to him byFidel Castro, although others believe he was killed in the defense of 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'shuman rights abuses left more than three thousand Chileans dead or missing during the long period ofdictatorship.

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. TheCIA 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.

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