Salvador Allende Biography

President (non-U.S.)(1908–1973)
Salvador Allende became Chile's first socialist president in 1970 before committing suicide during a 1973 military coup.

Synopsis

Born on July 26, 1908, in Valparaíso, Chile, Salvador Allende co-founded Chile's Socialist Party and ran for the Chilean presidency several times before winning the 1970 election. His regime was supported by working-class constituencies, but was opposed in covert actions by U.S. President Richard Nixon. Following a military coup led by General Augustine Pinochet, Allende took his own life on September 11, 1973.

Early Life

Salvador Isabelino del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Allende Gossens was born on July 26, 1908, in Valparaíso, Chile. The son of Salvador Allende Castro and Doña Laura Gossens Uribe, he was part of an upper-middle-class family that had a long tradition in progressive politics.

In his youth, Allende was influenced by an anarchist shoemaker, Juan De Marchi, who promoted revolution and radical politics. Allende was arrested multiple times while a student at the University of Chile for protesting against the government. After receiving his medical degree in 1932, he co-founded Chile's Socialist Party.

Entry Into Politics

Allende was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1937, and eventually served as minister of health. During this time, he helped implement such social reforms as higher pensions, a free school lunch program and safety laws for factory workers. In 1940, he married Hortensia Bussi, with whom he had three daughters, Carmen Paz, Isabel and Beatriz.

Allende was elected to the Chilean Senate four times from 1945 to 1969. Early on, he declared his commitment to Marxism and desire to promote a socialist Chile. In the Senate, Allende consistently defended the interests of the working class and attacked capitalism and imperialism, siding with the Cuban Revolution. During this time, Allende also ran for president unsuccessfully in 1952, 1958 and 1964, before finally winning in 1970.

President of Chile

When Allende took office, Chile was enduring a severe economic crisis. Unemployment was high and an estimated half of the country's children under the age of 15 were suffering from malnutrition. Allende immediately implemented his socialist agenda, increasing wages and freezing prices while taking steps to reform the education system, health care and government administration.

In addition to nationalizing many large-scale industries, Allende expropriated American-owned copper industries without compensation. This solidified opposition from U.S. President Richard Nixon's administration, which increased support to Allende's political opponents and led efforts to cut off international lines of credit to Chile.

Poor economic planning and a growing dysfunctional relationship between Allende and Congress deepened the country's economic difficulty. The president's inability to control his own radical left wing brought further hostility from the middle class, though he remained popular among workers and peasants.

Final Days

On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup d'état to overthrow Allende, who refused to surrender and barricaded himself in the presidential palace. During the siege, a large number of civilians were killed or wounded and many were imprisoned.

There were conflicting reports regarding whether Allende committed suicide or was killed by soldiers storming the palace after it was attacked by the Chilean Air Force. The CIA later acknowledged its support of the political opposition and advance knowledge of the coup, though it continues to deny any direct involvement in the event itself. In 2011, Allende's body was exhumed, and a scientific autopsy confirmed he had died by suicide.

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