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The Chilean Revolution & Augusto Pinochet

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  • 0:03 Salvadore Allende
  • 1:27 Allende's Rise to Power
  • 3:01 Socialism the Chilean Way
  • 4:49 The Chilean Economy Collapses
  • 6:02 A Military Coup d'Etat
  • 10:03 Pinochet's Dictatorship
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.

In this video, we learn about the circumstances under which Salvador Allende, South America's first democratically elected president, was removed from power in a military coup d'etat. We also learn about the role of the United States in the removal of Allende and the rise of a military dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

Salvador Allende

On May 23rd, 2011, the remains of Chilean politician Salvador Allende were exhumed from his grave. For nearly 40 years, Allende's body had remained at rest in his coffin draped by the Chilean national flag. The exhumation was ordered by a Chilean judge in order to solve one of Chile's greatest unsolved mysteries: how was Salvador Allende killed? Was his death a suicide? Was his death a failed suicide mercifully completed by a friend of his? Or was he outright murdered? But before we can learn the answers to these questions, we must first learn the historical background of Allende's death.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, Chile was considered one of the relatively stable democracies of South America. All that changed, however, from 1970 to 1973, when the President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by a military coup d'etat, or military overthrow of the government. In this video, we are going to learn more about:

  • The historical background of Allende's rise to power
  • The role of the United States CIA in Chile
  • The coup d'etat that ousted Allende from power
  • The rule of Augusto Pinochet and his regime's human rights violations

Allende's Rise to Power

Salvador Allende was a physician-turned-politician who pushed for socialism in Chile. Although from a modestly well-to-do family, Allende expressed considerable concern about the high levels of poverty in Chile, especially among peasants in the countryside. Allende was also particularly upset about the high levels of economic control that foreign countries exerted over Chile. For example, Chile's largest industry, mining, was predominantly controlled by foreign businesses.

  • Physician-turned-politician who pushed for socialism in Chile
  • Concerned about high levels of poverty in Chile
  • Disliked high levels of economic control exerted by foreigners over Chile

As a politician, Allende unsuccessfully ran for president three times - in 1952, 1958, and 1964. In two of these elections, he finished as the runner-up. In 1970, Allende ran for president again and this time he received the plurality of vote (36%), but not the majority. According to the Constitution of Chile, when no candidate achieves a majority of the vote, Congress must select between the top two finishers. Allende made an agreement with the Christian Democratic Party, a political party in Chile, in which he promised to support constitutional amendments in order to get their support. Allende became the first ever socialist president to be democratically elected in South America.

Socialism the Chilean Way

Allende established a policy that he called La Vía Chilena al Socialismo, the Chilean Path to Socialism. Allende went right to work on implementing socialism in Chile. For the most part, his first year was a success. He was able to:

  • Expand schooling
  • Implement free milk for poor children
  • Expand health care for all
  • Eliminate taxes on the poor
  • Raise the minimum wage level
  • Expand public housing options

And Allende was able to do all of this while lowering inflation. This is pretty amazing.

Some of the actions of Allende's government were controversial. Allende wanted to nationalize the mining and farming industries of Chile. When a government nationalizes an industry, they essentially take over control of the industry from a private business.

In the case of Chile, the government took control of all mining and declared that no individual could have a farm bigger than 8 hectares. Because of this policy, tension between rich white farmers and the poor mestizo peasants who were being given the land acquired by the government arose. Foreign investors lost a lot under Allende's regime.

In addition to mining disputes, the Chilean government had problems with debts. Chile received $1.1 billion from the United States and multilateral lending agencies between 1964 and 1970, leaving Allende with a heavy burden of debt. Unlike many other capitalist countries, the U.S. refused to renegotiate the Chilean foreign debt. Allende was anti-capitalist and eventually declared that Chile would not pay its foreign debts.

The Chilean Economy Collapses

Despite the relatively decent first year of Allende's government, the Chilean economy completely collapsed. Four factors contributed heavily to this collapse. First, the price of copper fell dramatically worldwide. Copper is Chile's number one export, so a drop in price really hurt the Chilean economy. Likewise, Allende's nationalization of the mining industry resulted in an overall drop of production.

Third, Allende placed high tariffs on foreign goods in order to try and stimulate the Chilean domestic economy. This is a policy known as import-substitution industrialization. The problem was that Chile was completely dependent on foreign food products because it did not produce enough food to sustain itself.

Fourth, Allende funded all his spending by printing more money, causing widespread inflation. In fact, inflation in 1972-1973 rose from 22% in 1971, to 163% in 1972, to 508% by 1973. Widespread havoc started to break out in Chile, as support for Allende quickly dwindled.

A Military Coup D'etat

At the time of Allende's presidency, the United States and Soviet Union were engaging in a worldwide Cold War. The Soviet Union was trying to spread communism worldwide, while the United States was going to considerable lengths to contain its spread. Indeed, the United States government contributed tons of money to Allende's opponent in the 1970 election, while the Soviet Union, likewise, went to whatever length possible to support Allende's government.

Allende's election had a negative effect on American business. Allende's nationalization of industries cost private American companies millions of dollars and Allende's socialist leanings made him a natural enemy in the context of the Cold War. United States President Richard Nixon instructed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to 'Do whatever it takes to deal with Allende.' Kissinger and the CIA came up with plans to prevent Allende from becoming president and, if necessary, remove him from power.

Although Allende was democratically elected, the souring of the Chilean economy caused him to lose considerable support. The Christian Democratic Party, which had made the agreement with Allende that allowed him to become president, turned on Allende and declared him to be abusing the constitutional power. In the end, the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army Augusto Pinochet intervened and sought to forcibly remove Allende from power by storming La Moneda, the Presidential Palace of Chile on September 11, 1973. Allende gave one last speech on Chilean radio, stating:

'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!'

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