At the time the Spanish arrived, a variety of Amerindian societies inhabited what is now Chile. No elaborate, centralized, sedentary civilization reigned supreme, even though the Inca Empire had penetrated the northern land of the future state. As the Spaniards would after them, the Incas encountered fierce resistance from the indigenous Araucanians, particularly the Mapuche tribe, and so did not exert control in the south. During their attempts at conquest in 1460 and 1491, the Incas established forts in the Central Valley of Chile, but they could not colonize the region. In the north, the Incas were able to collect tribute from small groups of fishermen and oasis farmers but were not able to establish a strong cultural presence.
The Araucanians, a fragmented society of hunters, gatherers, and farmers, constituted the largest native American group in Chile. A mobile people who engaged in trade and warfare with other indigenous groups, they lived in scattered family clusters and small villages. Although the Araucanians had no written language, they did use a common language. Those in what became central Chile were more settled and more likely to use irrigation. Those in the south combined slash-and-burn agriculture with hunting.
The Araucanians, especially those in the south, became famous for their staunch resistance to the seizure of their territory. Scholars speculate that their total population may have numbered 1 million at most when the Spaniards arrived in the 1530s; a century of European conquest and disease reduced that number by at least half. During the conquest, the Araucanians quickly added horses and European weaponry to their arsenal of clubs and bows and arrows. They became adept at raiding Spanish settlements and, albeit in declining numbers, managed to hold off the Spaniards and their descendants until the late nineteenth century.
The Araucanians’ valor inspired the Chileans to mythologize them as the nation’s first national heroes, a status that did nothing, however, to elevate the wretched living standard of their descendants. Of the three Araucanian groups, the one that mounted the most resistance to the Spanish was the Mapuche, meaning "people of the land."
Chile’s first known European discoverer, Ferdinand Magellan, stopped there during his voyage on October 21, 1520. A concerted attempt at colonization began when Diego de Almagro, a companion of conqueror Francisco Pizarro, headed south from Peru in 1535. Disappointed at the dearth of mineral wealth and deterred by the pugnacity of the native population in Chile, Almagro returned to Peru in 1537, where he died in the civil wars that took place among the conquistadors.
The second Spanish expedition from Peru to Chile was begun by Pedro de Valdivia in 1540. Proving more persistent than Almagro, he founded the capital city of Santiago on February 12, 1541. Valdivia managed to subdue many northern Amerindians, forcing them to work in mines and fields. He had far less success with the Araucanians of the south, however.
Valdivia (1541-53) became the first governor of the captaincy general of Chile, which was the colonial name until 1609. In that post, he obeyed the viceroy of Peru and, through him, the king of Spain and his bureaucracy. Responsible to the governor, town councils known as cabildos administered local municipalities, the most important of which was Santiago,
which was the seat of a royal audiencia from 1609 until the end of colonial rule.
Seeking more precious metals and slave labor, Valdivia established fortresses farther south. Being so scattered and small, however, they proved difficult to defend against Araucanian attack. Although Valdivia found small amounts of gold in the south, he realized that Chile would have to be primarily an agricultural colony.
In December 1553, an Araucanian army of warriors, organized by the legendary Mapuche chief Lautaro (Valdivia’s former servant), assaulted and destroyed the fort of Tucapel. Accompanied by only fifty soldiers, Valdivia rushed to the aid of the fort, but all his men perished at the hands of the Mapuche in the Battle of Tucapel. Valdivia himself fled but was later tracked down, tortured, and killed by Lautaro. Although Lautaro was killed by Spaniards in the Battle of Mataquito in 1557, his chief, Caupolicán, continued the fight until his capture by treachery and his subsequent execution by the Spaniards in 1558. The uprising of 1553-58 became the most famous instance of Araucanian resistance; Lautaro in later centuries became a revered figure among Chilean nationalists. It took several more years to suppress the rebellion. Thereafter, the Araucanians no longer threatened to drive the Spanish out, but they did destroy small settlements from time to time. Most important, the Mapuche held on to their remaining territory for another three centuries.
Despite inefficiency and corruption in the political system, Chileans, like most Spanish Americans, exhibited remarkable loyalty to crown authority throughout nearly three centuries of colonial rule. Chileans complained about certain policies or officials but never challenged the regime. It was only when the king of Spain was overthrown at the beginning of the nineteenth century that Chileans began to consider self-government.
Chileans resented their reliance on Peru for governance, trade, and subsidies, but not enough to defy crown authority. Many Chilean criollos (creoles, or Spaniards born in the New World) also resented domination by the peninsulares (Spaniards, usually officials, born in the Old World and residing in an overseas colony), especially in the sinecures of royal administration. However, local Chilean elites, especially landowners, asserted themselves in politics well before any movement for independence. Over time, these elites captured numerous positions in the local governing apparatus, bought favors from the bureaucracy, co-opted administrators from Spain, and came to exercise informal authority in the countryside.
Society in Chile was sharply divided along ethnic, racial, and class lines.Peninsulares and criollos dominated the tiny upper class. Miscegenation between Europeans and the indigenous people produced a mestizo population that quickly outnumbered the Spaniards. Farther down the social ladder were a few African slaves and large numbers of native Americans.
The Roman Catholic Church served as the main buttress of the government and the primary instrument of social control. Compared with its counterparts in Peru and Mexico, the church in Chile was not very rich or powerful. On the frontier, missionaries were more important than the Catholic hierarchy. Although usually it supported the status quo, the church produced the most important defenders of the indigenous population against Spanish atrocities. The most famous advocate of human rights for the native Americans was a Jesuit, Luis de Valdivia (no relation to Pedro de Valdivia), who struggled, mostly in vain, to improve their
lot in the period 1593-1619.
Cut off to the north by desert, to the south by the Araucanians, to the east by the Andes Mountains, and to the west by the ocean, Chile became one of the most centralized, homogeneous colonies in Spanish America. Serving as a sort of frontier garrison, the colony found itself with the mission of forestalling encroachment by Araucanians and by Spain’s European enemies, especially the British and the Dutch. In addition to the Araucanians, buccaneers and English adventurers menaced the colony, as was shown by Sir Francis Drake’s 1578 raid on Valparaíso, the principal port. Because Chile hosted one of the largest standing armies in the Americas, it was one of the most militarized of the Spanish possessions, as well as a drain on the treasury of Peru.
Throughout the colonial period, the Spaniards engaged in frontier combat with the Araucanians, who controlled the territory south of the Río Bío-Bío (about 500 kilometers south of Santiago) and waged guerrilla warfare against the invaders. During many of those years, the entire southern region was impenetrable by Europeans. In the skirmishes, the Spaniards took many of their defeated foes as slaves. Missionary expeditions to Christianize the Araucanians proved risky and often fruitless.
Most European relations with the native Americans were hostile, resembling those later existing with nomadic tribes in the United States. The Spaniards generally treated the Mapuche as an enemy nation to be subjugated and even exterminated, in contrast to the way the Aztecs and the Incas treated the Mapuche, as a pool of subservient laborers. Nevertheless, the Spaniards did have some positive interaction with the Mapuche. Along with warfare, there also occurred some miscegenation, intermarriage, and acculturation between the colonists and the indigenous people.
The government played a significant role in the colonial economy. It regulated and allocated labor, distributed land, granted monopolies, set prices, licensed industries, conceded mining rights, created public enterprises, authorized guilds, channeled exports, collected taxes, and provided subsidies. Outside the capital city, however, colonists often ignored or circumvented royal laws. In the countryside and on the frontier, local landowners and military officers frequently established and enforced their own rules.
The economy expanded under Spanish rule, but some criollos complained about royal taxes and limitations on trade and production. Although the crown required that most Chilean commerce be with Peru, smugglers managed to sustain some illegal trade with other American colonies and with Spain itself. Chile exported to Lima small amounts of gold, silver, copper, wheat, tallow, hides, flour, wine, clothing, tools, ships, and furniture. Merchants, manufacturers, and artisans became increasingly important to the Chilean economy.
Mining was significant, although the volume of gold and silver extracted in Chile was far less than the output of Peru or Mexico. The conquerors appropriated mines and washings from the native people and coerced them into extracting the precious metal for the new owners. The crown claimed one-fifth of all the gold produced, but the miners frequently cheated the treasury. By the seventeenth century, depleted supplies and the conflict with the Araucanians reduced the quantity of gold mined in Chile.
Because precious metals were scarce, most Chileans worked in agriculture. Large landowners became the local elite, often maintaining a second residence in the capital city. Traditionally, most historians have considered these great estates (called haciendas or fundos) inefficient and exploitive, but some scholars have claimed that they were more productive and less cruel than is conventionally depicted.
The haciendas initially depended for their existence on the land and labor of the indigenous people. As in the rest of Spanish America, crown officials rewarded many conquerors according to the encomienda system, by which a group of native Americans would be commended or consigned temporarily to their care. The grantees, calledencomenderos, were supposed to Christianize their wards in return for small tribute payments and service, but they usually took advantage of their charges as laborers and servants. Many encomenderos also appropriated native lands. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the encomenderos fended off attempts by the crown and the church to interfere with their exploitation of the indigenous people.
The Chilean colony depended heavily on coerced labor, whether it was legally slave labor or, like the wards of the encomenderos, nominally free. Wage labor initially was rare in the colonial period; it became much more common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Because few native Americans or Africans were available, the mestizo population became the main source of workers for the growing number of latifundios, which were basically synonymous with haciendas.
Those workers attached to the estates as tenant farmers became known as inquilinos. Many of them worked outside the cash economy, dealing in land, labor, and barter. The countryside was also populated by small landholders(minifundistas), migrant workers (afuerinos), and a few Mapuche holding communal lands (usually under legal title).
The Habsburg dynasty’s rule over Spain ended in 1700. The Habsburgs’ successors, the French Bourbon monarchs, reigned for the rest of the colonial period. In the second half of the eighteenth century, they tried to restructure the empire to improve its productivity and defense. The main period of Bourbon reforms in Chile lasted from the coronation of Charles III (1759-88) in Spain to the end of Governor Ambrosio O’Higgins y Ballenary’s tenure in Chile (1788-96).
The Bourbon rulers gave the audiencia of Chile (Santiago) greater independence from the Viceroyalty of Peru. One of the most successful governors of the Bourbon era was the Irish-born O’Higgins, whose son Bernardo would lead the Chilean independence movement. Ambrosio O’Higgins promoted greater self-sufficiency of both economic production and public administration, and he enlarged and strengthened the military. In 1791 he also outlawed encomiendas and forced labor.
The Bourbons allowed Chile to trade more freely with other colonies, as well as with independent states. Exchange increased with Argentina after it became the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. Ships from the United States and Europe were engaging in direct commerce with Chile by the end of the eighteenth century. However, the total volume of Chilean trade remained small because the colony produced few items of high unit value to outsiders.
Freer trade brought with it greater knowledge of politics abroad, especially the spread of liberalism in Europe and the creation of the United States. Although a few members of the Chilean elite flirted with ideals of the Enlightenment, most of them held fast to the traditional ideology of the Spanish crown and its partner, the Roman Catholic Church. Notions of democracy and independence, let alone Protestantism, never reached the vast majority of mestizos and native Americans, who remained illiterate and subordinate.
Aristocratic Chileans began considering independence only when the authority and legitimacy of the crown were cast in doubt by Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain in 1807. Napoleon replaced the Spanish king with his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. On the peninsula, Spanish loyalists formed juntas that claimed they would govern both the motherland and the colonies until the rightful king was restored. Thus, Chileans, like other Spanish Americans, had to confront the dilemma of who was in charge in the absence of the divine monarch: the French pretender to the throne, the Spanish rebels, or local leaders. The latter option was tried on September 18, 1810, a date whose anniversary is celebrated as Chile’s independence day. On that day, the criollo leaders of Santiago, employing the town council as a junta, announced their intention to govern the colony until the king was reinstated. They swore loyalty to the ousted monarch, Ferdinand VII, but insisted that they had as much right to rule in the meantime as did subjects of the crown in Spain itself. They immediately opened the ports to all traders.
Chile’s first experiment with self-government, the Old Fatherland (Patria Vieja, 1810-14), was led by José Miguel Carrera Verdugo (president, 1812-13), an aristocrat in his mid-twenties. The military-educated Carrera was a heavy-handed
ruler who aroused widespread opposition. One of the earliest advocates of full independence, Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme, captained a rival faction that plunged the criollos into civil war. For him and for certain other members of the Chilean elite, the initiative for temporary self-rule quickly escalated into a campaign for permanent independence, although other criollos remained loyal to Spain. Among those favoring independence, conservatives fought with liberals over the degree to which French revolutionary ideas would be incorporated into the movement. After several efforts, Spanish troops from Peru took advantage of the internecine strife to reconquer Chile in 1814, when they reasserted control by winning the Battle of Rancagua on October 12. O’Higgins and many of the Chilean rebels escaped to Argentina.
During the Reconquest (La Reconquista) of 1814-17, the harsh rule of the Spanish loyalists, who punished suspected rebels, drove more Chileans into the insurrectionary camp. More and more members of the Chilean elite were becoming convinced of the necessity of full independence, regardless of who sat on the throne of Spain. As the leader of guerrilla raids against the Spaniards, Manuel Rodríguez became a national symbol of resistance.
When criollos sang the praises of equality and freedom, however, they meant equal treatment for themselves in relation to the peninsulares and liberation from Spanish rule, not equality or freedom for the masses of Chileans. The criollos wanted to assume leadership positions previously controlled by peninsulares without upsetting the existing social and economic order. In that sense, the struggle for independence was a war within the upper class, although the majority of troops on both sides consisted of conscripted mestizos and native Americans.
In exile in Argentina, O’Higgins joined forces with José de San Martín, whose army freed Chile with a daring assault over the Andes in 1817, defeating the Spaniards at the Battle of Chacabuco on February 12. San Martín considered the liberation of Chile a strategic stepping-stone to the emancipation of Peru, which he saw as the key to hemispheric victory over the
Spanish. Chile won its formal independence when San Martín defeated the last large Spanish force on Chilean soil at the Battle of Maipú on April 5, 1818. San Martín then led his Argentine and Chilean followers north to liberate Peru; and fighting continued in Chile’s southern provinces, the bastion of the royalists, until 1826.
From 1817 to 1823, Bernardo O’Higgins ruled Chile as supreme director (president). He won plaudits for defeating royalists and founding schools, but civil strife continued. O’Higgins alienated liberals and provincials with his authoritarianism, conservatives and the church with his anticlericalism, and landowners with his proposed reforms of the land tenure system. His attempt to devise a constitution in 1818 that would legitimize his government failed, as did his effort to generate stable funding for the new administration. O’Higgins’s dictatorial behavior aroused resistance in the provinces. This growing discontent was reflected in the continuing opposition of partisans of Carrera, who was executed by the Argentine regime in Mendoza in 1821, like his two brothers were three years earlier.
Although opposed by many liberals, O’Higgins angered the Roman Catholic Church with his liberal beliefs. He maintained Catholicism’s status as the official state religion but tried to curb the church’s political powers and to encourage religious tolerance as a means of attracting Protestant immigrants and traders. Like the church, the landed aristocracy felt threatened by O’Higgins, resenting his attempts to eliminate noble titles and, more important, to eliminate entailed estates.
O’Higgins’s opponents also disapproved of his diversion of Chilean resources to aid San Martín’s liberation of Peru. O’Higgins insisted on supporting that campaign because he realized that Chilean independence would not be secure until the Spaniards were routed from the Andean core of the empire. However, amid mounting discontent, troops from the northern and southern provinces forced O’Higgins to resign. Embittered, O’Higgins departed for Peru, where he died in 1842.
After O’Higgins went into exile in 1823, civil conflict continued, focusing mainly on the issues of anticlericalism and regionalism. Presidents and constitutions rose and fell quickly in the 1820s. The civil struggle’s harmful effects on the economy, and particularly on exports, prompted conservatives to seize national control in 1830.
In the minds of most members of the Chilean elite, the bloodshed and chaos of the late 1820s were attributable to the shortcomings of liberalism and federalism, which had been dominant over conservatism for most of the period. The abolition of slavery in 1823–long before most other countries in the Americas–was considered one of the liberals’ few lasting achievements. One liberal leader from the south, Ramón Freire Serrano, rode in and out of the presidency several times (1823-27, 1828, 1829, 1830) but could not sustain his authority. From May 1827 to September 1831, with the exception of brief interventions by Freire, the presidency was occupied by Francisco Antonio Pinto Díaz, Freire’s former vice president. In August 1828, Pinto’s first year in
office, Chile abandoned its short-lived federalist system for a unitary form of government, with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. By adopting a moderately liberal constitution in 1828, Pinto alienated both the federalists and the liberal factions. He also angered the old aristocracy by abolishing estates inherited by primogeniture ( mayorazgo and caused a public uproar with his anticlericalism. After the defeat of his liberal army at the Battle of Lircay on April 17, 1830, Freire, like O’Higgins, went into exile in Peru.
Scholars have long pondered why Chile was the first country in Latin America to achieve stable civilian rule in a constitutional, electoral, representative republic. They have also asked why Chile was more successful at constitutional government thereafter than its neighbors. One part of the answer is that Chile had fewer obstacles to overcome because it was less disturbed by regional, church-state, and ethnic conflicts. The geographically compact and relatively homogeneous population was easier to manage than the far-flung groups residing in many of the other new states of the hemisphere. As the nineteenth century
wore on, slow settlement of the frontiers to the north and south provided a safety valve without creating a challenge to the dominance of the Central Valley.
As with regionalism, the church issue that rent many of the new republics was also muted in Chile, where the Catholic Church had never been very wealthy or powerful. Some historians would also argue that Chilean criollos, because they lived on the fringe of the empire, had more experience at self-government during the colonial period. In addition, the Chilean elite was less fearful than many other Spanish Americans that limited democracy would open the door to uprisings by massive native or black subject classes. At the same time, the ruling class was cohesive and confident, its members connected by familial and business networks. The elite was powerful partly because it controlled the main exports, until foreigners took over trade late in the nineteenth century. The rapid recovery of the export economy from the devastation of the wars of independence also helped, as economic and political success and stability became mutually reinforcing. Capitalizing on these advantages, however, would require shrewd and ruthless political engineers, victory in a war against Chile’s neighbors, continued economic growth, and some luck in the design, timing, and sequence of political change.
Members of the first political parties, the Conservatives (pelucones, or bigwigs) and the Liberals (pipiolos, or novices), began to coalesce around the church-state issue. Not only more favorably inclined toward the church, the Conservatives were also more sympathetic than the Liberals toward the colonial legacy, authoritarian government, the supremacy of executive powers, and a unitary state. After their victory at the Battle of Lircay, the Conservatives took charge, spearheaded by a Valparaíso merchant, Diego Portales Palazuelos.
Although never president, Portales dominated Chilean politics from the cabinet and behind the scenes from 1830 to 1837. He installed the "autocratic republic," which centralized authority in the national government. His political program enjoyed support from merchants, large landowners, foreign capitalists, the church, and the military. Political and economic stability reinforced each other, as Portales encouraged economic growth through free trade and put government finances in order.
Portales was an agnostic who said that he believed in the clergy but not in God. He realized the importance of the Roman Catholic Church as a bastion of loyalty, legitimacy, social control, and stability, as had been the case in the colonial period. He repealed Liberal reforms that had threatened church privileges and properties.
Portales brought the military under civilian control by rewarding loyal generals, cashiering troublemakers, and promoting a victorious war against the Peru-Bolivia Confederation (1836-39). After defeating Peru and Bolivia, Chile dominated the Pacific Coast of South America. The victory over its neighbors gave Chile and its new political system a psychological boost. Chileans experienced a surge of national enthusiasm and cohesion behind a regime accepted as legitimate and efficacious.
Portales also achieved his objectives by wielding dictatorial powers, censoring the press, and manipulating elections. For the next forty years, Chile’s armed forces would be distracted from meddling in politics by skirmishes and defensive operations on the southern frontier, although some units got embroiled in domestic conflicts in 1851 and 1859. In later years, conservative Chileans canonized Portales as a symbol of order and progress, exaggerating the importance of one man in that achievement.
The "Portalian State" was institutionalized by the 1833 constitution. One of the most durable charters ever devised in Latin America, the Portalian constitution lasted until 1925. The constitution concentrated authority in the national government, more precisely, in the hands of the president, who was elected by a tiny minority. The chief executive could serve two consecutive five-year terms and then pick a successor. Although the Congress had significant budgetary powers, it was overshadowed by the president, who appointed provincial officials. The constitution also created an independent judiciary, guaranteed inheritance of estates by primogeniture, and installed Catholicism as the state religion. In short, it established an autocratic system under a republican veneer.
The first Portalian president was General Joaquín Prieto Vial, who served two terms (1831-36, 1836-41). President Prieto had four main accomplishments: implementation of the 1833 constitution, stabilization of government finances, defeat of provincial challenges to central authority, and victory over the Peru-Bolivia Confederation. During the presidencies of Prieto and his two successors, Chile modernized through the construction of ports, railroads, and telegraph lines, some built by United States entrepreneur William Wheelwright. These innovations facilitated the export-import trade as well as domestic commerce.
Prieto and his adviser, Portales, feared the efforts of Bolivian general Andrés de Santa Cruz y Calahumana to unite with Peru against Chile. These qualms exacerbated animosities toward Peru dating from the colonial period, now intensified by disputes over customs duties and loans. Chile also wanted to become the dominant South American military and commercial power along the Pacific. Portales got Congress to declare war on Peru in 1836. When a Chilean colonel who opposed the war killed Portales in 1837, this act and the suspicion that Peruvians were involved in the assassination plot inspired an even greater war effort by the government.
Chile defeated the Peruvian fleet at Casma on January 12, 1839, and the Bolivian army at Yungay, Peru, on January 20. These Chilean victories destroyed the Peru-Bolivia Confederation, made Chile lord of the west coast, brought unity and patriotism to the Chilean elites, and gave Chile’s armed forces pride and purpose as a military with an external mission. The successful war also helped convince the European powers and the United States to respect Chile’s coastal sphere of influence. Subsequently, the country won additional respect from the European powers and the United States by giving them economic access and
concessions, by treating their citizens well, and by generally playing them off against each other.
Since its inception, the Portalian State has been criticized for its authoritarianism. But it has also been praised for the stability, prosperity, and international victories it brought to Chile, as well as the gradual opening to increased democracy that it provided. At least in comparison with most other regimes of the era, the Portalian State was noteworthy for being dominated by constitutional civilian authorities. Although Portales deserves some credit for launching the system, his successors were the ones who truly implemented, institutionalized, legitimized, and consolidated it. From 1831 to 1861, no other country in Spanish America had such a regular and constitutional succession of chief executives.
Manuel Bulnes Prieto (president, 1841-51), hero of the victories over the Chilean Liberals at the Battle of Lircay in 1830, and over the Bolivian army at Yungay in 1839, became president in 1841. As a decorated general, he was the ideal choice to consolidate the Portalian State and establish presidential control over the armed forces. He reduced the size of the military and solidified its loyalty to the central government in the face of provincial uprisings. As a southerner, he was able to defuse regional resentment of the dominant Santiago area. Although Bulnes staffed his two administrations mainly with Conservatives, he conciliated his opponents by including a few Liberals. He strengthened the new political institutions, especially Congress and the judiciary, and gave legitimacy to the constitution by stepping down at the end of his second term in office. Placing the national interest above regional or military loyalties, he also helped snuff out a southern rebellion against his successor.
Intellectual life blossomed under Bulnes, thanks in part to the many exiles who came to Chile from less stable Spanish American republics. They clustered around the University of Chile (founded in 1842), which developed into one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Latin America. Both foreigners and nationals formed the "Generation of 1842," led mainly by liberal intellectuals and politicians such as Francisco Bilbao Barguin and José Victorino Lastarria Santander. Through the Society of Equality, members of the group called for expanded democracy and reduced church prerogatives. In particular, they defended civil liberties and freedom of the press, seeking to constrain the government’s authoritarian powers.
Bulnes presided over continued prosperity, as production from the farms and mines increased, both for external and for internal consumption. In response to foreign demand, especially for wheat during the California and Australia gold rushes, agricultural exports increased. Instead of importing scarce and expensive modern capital and technology, landowners expanded production. They did this primarily by enlarging their estates and absorbing more peasants into their work forces, especially in the central provinces, where the vast majority of Chileans toiled in agriculture. This expansion fortified the hacienda system and increased the numbers of people attached to it. The growth of the great estates also increased the political power of the landed elites, who succeeded in exercising a veto over agrarian reform for a century.
In the mid-1800s, the rural labor force, mainly mestizos, was a cheap and expanding source of labor. More and more of these laborers became tenant farmers (inquilinos). For a century thereafter, many workers would remain bound to the haciendas through tradition, lack of alternatives, and landowner collusion and coercion. Itinerant rural workers and even small landowners became increasingly dependent on the great estates, whether through part-time or full-time work. The landed elites also inhibited industrialization by their preference for free trade and the low wages they paid their workers, which hindered rural consumers from accumulating disposable income. For a century, the lack of any significant challenge to this exploitive system was one of the pillars of the social and political hierarchy.
Liberals and regionalists unsuccessfully took up arms against Bulnes’s conservative successor, Manuel Montt Torres (president, 1851-61). Thousands died in one of the few large civil wars in nineteenth-century Chile. The rebels of 1851 denounced Montt’s election as a fraud perpetrated by the centralist forces in and around Santiago. Some entrepreneurs in the outlying provinces also backed the rebellion out of anger at the government’s neglect of economic interests outside the sphere of the central landowning elites. Montt put down the uprising with help from British commercial ships.
From 1851 to 1861, Montt completed the construction of the durable constitutional order begun by Portales and Bulnes. By reducing church prerogatives, Montt eased the transition from a sequence of Conservative chief executives to a series of Liberals. As a civilian head of state, he was less harsh with his liberal adversaries. He also promoted conciliation by including
many northerners as well as southerners in the government.
Benefiting from the sharp growth in exports and customs revenues in the 1850s, Montt demonstrated the efficacy of the central government by supporting the establishment of railroads, a telegraph system, and banks. He created the first government-run railroad company in South America, despite his belief in laissezfaire . He also initiated the extension of government credit to propertied groups. Under President Montt, school construction accelerated, laying the groundwork for Chile to become one of the most literate nations in the hemisphere. Expanding on the initiative started by Bulnes, Montt also pushed back the southern frontier, in part by encouraging German immigration.
As the next presidential succession approached, a second rebellion ensued in 1859. The rebels represented a diverse alliance, including Liberals who opposed the right-wing government and its encroachments on civil liberties, Conservatives who believed the president was insufficiently proclerical, politicians who feared the selection of a strongman as Montt’s successor, and regionalists who chafed at the concentration of power in Santiago. Once again, Montt prevailed in a test of arms, but thereafter he conciliated his opponents by nominating a successor acceptable to all sides, José Joaquín Pérez Mascayano (president, 1861-71).
Under Bulnes and Montt, economic elites had resisted paying direct taxes, so the national government had become heavily dependent on customs duties, particularly on mineral exports. Imports were also taxed at a low level. The most important exports in the early years of independence had been silver and copper, mined mainly in the northern provinces, along with wheat, tallow, and other farm produce. The Chilean elites eagerly welcomed European and North American ships and merchants. Although these elites debated the issue of protectionism, they settled on low tariffs for revenue. Despite some dissent and deviations, the dominant policy in the nineteenth century was free trade–the exchange of raw materials for manufactured items, although a few local industries took root. Britain quickly became Chile’s primary trading partner. The British also invested, both directly and indirectly, in the Chilean economy.
Following Pérez’s peaceful ten-year administration, Chilean presidents were prohibited from running for election to a second consecutive term by an 1871 amendment to the constitution. Pérez was succeeded as president by Federico Errázuriz Zañartu (1871-76), Aníbal Pinto Garmendia (1876-81), and Domingo Santa María González (1881-86), the latter two serving during the War of the Pacific (1879-83). All formed coalition governments in which the president juggled a complicated array of party components.
The Liberal Party (Partido Liberal–PL), the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador–PC), and the National Party (Partido Nacional–PN) were formed in 1857. Once the Liberal Party replaced the Conservative Party as the dominant party, the Liberal Party was in turn challenged from the left by the more fervent reformists of the Radical Party (Partido Radical–PR). A spin-off from the Liberal Party, the Radical Party was founded in 1861. Reformists of the Democrat Party (Partido Demócrata), which in turn splintered from the Radical Party in 1887, also challenged the Liberal Party. The National Party also vied with the Conservatives and Liberals to represent upper-class interests. Derived from the Montt presidency, the National Party took a less proclerical, more centrist position than that of the Conservatives. Party competition escalated after the electoral reform of 1874 extended the franchise to all literate adult males, effectively removing property qualifications.
Like Montt, most Liberal chief executives were centrists who introduced change gradually. Their administrations continued to make incremental cuts in church privileges but tried not to inflame that issue. Secularization gradually gained ground in education, and Santa María transferred from the church to the state the management birth, marriage, and death records.
Even during internal and external conflicts, Chile continued to prosper. When Spain attempted to reconquer Peru, Chile engaged in a coastal war (1864-66) with the Spaniards, whose warships shelled Valparaíso. Once again, Chile asserted its sway over the west coast of South America. Farming, mining, and commerce grew steadily until the world depression of the 1870s, when Chile again turned to a war against its Andean neighbors.
Chile’s borders were a matter of contention throughout the nineteenth century. The War of the Pacific began on the heels of an international economic recession that focused attention on resources in outlying zones. Under an 1866 treaty, Chile and Bolivia divided the disputed area encompassing the Atacama Desert at 24° south latitude (located just south of the port of Antofagasta) in the understanding that the nationals of both nations could freely exploit mineral deposits in the region. Both nations, however, would share equally all the revenue generated by mining activities in the region. But Bolivia soon repudiated the treaty, and its subsequent levying of taxes on a Chilean company operating in the area led to an arms race between Chile and its northern neighbors of Bolivia and Peru.
Fighting broke out when Chilean entrepreneurs and mine-owners in present-day Tarapacá Region and Antofagasta Region, then belonging to Peru and Bolivia, respectively, resisted new taxes, the formation of monopoly companies, and other impositions. In those provinces, most of the deposits of nitrate–a valuable ingredient in fertilizers and explosives–were owned and mined by Chileans and Europeans, in particular the British. Chile wanted not only to acquire the nitrate fields but also to weaken Peru and Bolivia in order to strengthen its own strategic preeminence on the Pacific Coast. Hostilities were exacerbated because of disagreements over boundary lines, which in the desert had always been vague. Chile and Bolivia accused each other of violating the 1866 treaty. Although Chile expanded northward as a result of the War of the Pacific, its rights to the conquered territory continued to be questioned by Peru, and especially by Bolivia, throughout the twentieth century.
War began when Chilean troops crossed the northern frontier in 1879. Although a mutual defense pact had allied Peru and Bolivia since 1873, Chile’s more professional, less politicized military overwhelmed the two weaker countries on land and sea. The turning point of the war was the occupation of Lima on January 17, 1881, a humiliation the Peruvians never forgave. Chile sealed its victory with the 1883 Treaty of Ancón, which also ended the Chilean occupation of Lima.
As a result of the war and the Treaty of Ancón, Chile acquired two northern provinces–Tarapacá from Peru and Antofagasta from Bolivia. These territories encompassed most of the Atacama Desert and blocked off Bolivia’s outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The war gave Chile control over nitrate exports, which would dominate the national economy until the 1920s, possession of copper deposits that would eclipse nitrate exports by the 1930s, greatpower status along the entire Pacific Coast of South America, and an enduring symbol of patriotic pride in the person of naval hero Arturo Prat Chacón. The War of the Pacific also bestowed on the Chilean armed forces enhanced respect, the prospect of steadily increasing force levels, and a long-term external mission guarding the borders with Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. In 1885 a German military officer, Emil Körner, was contracted to upgrade and professionalize the armed forces along Prussian lines. In subsequent years, better education produced not only a more modern officer corps but also a military leadership capable of questioning civilian management of national development.
After battling the Peruvians and Bolivians in the north, the military turned to engaging the Araucanians in the south. The final defeat of the Mapuche in 1882 opened up the southern third of the national territory to wealthy Chileans who quickly carved out immense estates. No homestead act or legion of family farmers stood in their way, although a few middle-class and immigrant agriculturalists moved in. Some Mapuche fled over the border to Argentina. The army herded those who remained onto tribal reservations in 1884, where they would remain mired in poverty for generations. Like the far north, these southern provinces would become stalwarts of national reform movements, critical of the excessive concentration of power and wealth in and around Santiago.
Soon controlled by British and then by United States investors, the nitrate fields became a classic monocultural boom and bust. The boom lasted four decades. Export taxes on nitrates often furnished over 50 percent of all state revenues, relieving the upper class of tax burdens. The income of the Chilean treasury nearly quadrupled in the decade after the war. The government used the funds to expand education and transportation. The mining bonanza generated demand for agricultural goods from the center and south and even for locally manufactured items, spawning a new plutocracy. Even more notable was the emergence of a class-conscious, nationalistic, ideological labor movement in the northern mining camps and elsewhere.
Prosperity also attracted settlers from abroad. Although small in number compared with those arriving in Argentina, European immigrants became an important element of the new middle class; their numbers included several future manufacturing tycoons. These arrivals came from both northern and southern Europe. People also emigrated from the Middle East, Peru, and Bolivia. Although most immigrants ended up in the cities of Chile, a minority succeeded at farming, especially in the south. In the early twentieth century, a few members of the Chilean elite tried to blame the rise of leftist unions and parties on
foreign agitators, but the charge rang hollow in a country where less than 5 percent of the population had been born abroad.
The controversial downfall of President José Manuel Balmaceda Fernández (1886-91) represented the only occasion when power was transferred by force between 1830 and 1924. This event resulted in the most important alteration in the constitutional system between 1833 and 1925. In many respects, the Balmaceda episode was the culmination of two trends: the growing strength of Congress in relation to the president, and the expanding influence of foreign capital in the mining zone. In essence, the rebels opposed Balmaceda’s plans to expand the role of the executive branch in the political and economic systems.
Although scholars have debated whether the uprising against Balmaceda was mainly a fight over political or economic privileges, the bulk of research has supported the primacy of political over economic issues. From the 1830s to the 1880s, Congress had gradually asserted more and more authority over the budget and over cabinet ministers. Balmaceda tried to circumvent that budgetary power and break the hold of congressmen and local bosses on congressional elections.
Complaining about the heavy-handed rule of the president, and in particular his interference in congressional elections, Congress led a revolt against Balmaceda in 1891. Conservatives generally supported the rebels; Liberals and Democrats backed the president. Along with some renegade Liberals, the newly emergent Radical Party aligned with the so-called congressionalists, not wishing to see legislative prerogatives curtailed just as the party was gaining clients and strength. Those provincials resentful of the growing centralization of political and economic power in and around Santiago also backed the rebellion, especially in the north. Initially, the navy, the armed service that included the highest percentage of aristocrats, sided with the rebels; the army sided with the president.
The rebellion also attracted British entrepreneurs worried by Balmaceda’s threat to encroach on the independence and revenues of the foreign-owned nitrate mines. Although not opposed to foreign investment, Balmaceda had proposed a greater role for the state and higher taxes in the mining sector. Tension mounted because nitrate sales were in a slump, a recurring problem because of the volatility of that commodity’s price on international markets. The most famous British mine owner was John North, the "nitrate king," who was angry that his nitrate railroad monopoly had been terminated by Balmaceda. Although not directly involved, the United States supported Balmaceda as the legal president.
The insurgents won the bloody but brief Civil War of 1891, when the army decided not to fight the navy. As a result of the rebel victory, Congress became dominant over the chief executive and the nitrate mines increasingly fell into British and North American hands. Having gained asylum in the Argentine embassy, Balmaceda waited until the end of his legal presidential term and then committed suicide. As Portales became a legendary hero to the right, so Balmaceda was later anointed by the left as an economic nationalist who sacrificed his life in the struggle for Chilean liberation.
Already tense as a result of the civil war over Balmaceda, United States-Chilean relations deteriorated further as a result of the Baltimore incident. In late 1891, sailors from the U.S.S. Baltimore brawled with Chileans during shore leave in Valparaíso. To avert a war with an angry United States, the Chilean government apologized and paid reparations.
The so-called Parliamentary Republic was not a true parliamentary system, in which the chief executive is elected by the legislature. It was, however, an unusual regime in presidentialist Latin America, for Congress really did overshadow the rather ceremonial office of the president and exerted authority over the chief executive’s cabinet appointees. In turn, Congress was dominated by the landed elites. This was the heyday of classic political and economic liberalism.
For many decades thereafter, historians derided the Parliamentary Republic as a quarrel-prone system that merely distributed spoils and clung to its laissez-faire policy while national problems mounted. The characterization is epitomized by an observation made by President Ramón Barros Luco (1910-15), reputedly made in reference to labor unrest: "There are only two kinds of problems: those that solve themselves and those that can’t be solved." At the mercy of Congress, cabinets came and went frequently, although there was more stability and continuity in public administration than some historians have suggested.
Political authority ran from local electoral bosses in the provinces through the congressional and executive branches, which reciprocated with payoffs from taxes on nitrate sales. Congressmen often won election by bribing voters in this clientelistic and corrupt system. Many politicians relied on intimidated or loyal peasant voters in the countryside, even though the population was becoming increasingly urban.
The lackluster presidents and ineffectual administrations of the period did little to respond to the country’s dependence on volatile nitrate exports, spiraling inflation, and massive urbanization. They also ignored what was called "the social question." This euphemism referred mainly to the rise of the labor movement and its demands for better treatment of the working class. Critics complained that the upper class, which had given Chile such dynamic leadership previously, had grown smug and lethargic thanks to the windfall of nitrate wealth.
In recent years, however, particularly when the authoritarian regime of Augusto Pinochet is taken into consideration, some scholars have reevaluated the Parliamentary Republic of 1891-1925. Without denying its shortcomings, they have lauded its democratic stability. They have also hailed its control of the armed forces, it respect for civil liberties, its expansion of suffrage and participation, and its gradual admission of new contenders, especially reformers, to the political arena.
In particular, two young parties grew in importance–the Democrat Party, with roots among artisans and urban workers, and the Radical Party, representing urban middle sectors and provincial elites. By the early twentieth century, both parties were winning increasing numbers of seats in Congress. The more leftist members of the Democrat Party became involved in the leadership of labor unions and broke off to launch the Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero Socialista–POS) in 1912. The founder of the POS and its best-known leader, Luis Emilio Recabarren Serrano, also founded the Communist Party of Chile (Partido Communista de Chile– PCCh), which was formed in 1922.
Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, Chile’s cities grew rapidly. They absorbed a trickle of immigrants from abroad and then vast numbers of migrants from the Chilean countryside. Improved transportation and communications in the second half of the nineteenth century facilitated these population movements. Although Santiago led the way, smaller cities such as Valparaíso and Concepción also swelled in size.
The founding of the Industrial Development Association (Sociedad de Fomento Fabril–Sofofa) in 1883 was another indication of urbanization. It promoted industrialization long before the intense efforts of the 1930s to the 1960s. Manufacturing grew in importance in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the opening decades of the twentieth. Most industry remained small scale, with most of the labor performed by artisans. Protected industrialization did not become the vanguard of economic development until the period between the world wars.
The urban middle class also grew in size and became more politically assertive by the turn of the century. Whereas the economy and the society became more urban and diversified, the political system lagged behind, remaining mainly in the hands of the upper class. Nevertheless, more members of the middle class began appearing in party leadership positions, especially among the Democrats and Radicals. They were also prominent in the Chilean Student Federation (Federación de Estudiantes de Chile–FECh), based at the University of Chile. Equally important was their presence among the top commanders in the armed forces, who increasingly identified primarily with middle-class interests.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century, labor organizations gathered force, first as mutual aid societies and then increasingly as trade unions. In the opening decades of the twentieth century, labor organizing, unrest, and strikes reached new levels of intensity. In the northern nitrate and copper mines, as well as in the ports and cities, workers came together to press demands for better wages and working conditions. Attracted strongly to anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, and socialist ideologies, they were harshly repressed during the Parliamentary Republic. The government carried out several massacres of miners in the nitrate camps; the most notorious took place in Iquique in 1907. Thus, a pattern of violent clashes between soldiers and workers took shape.
Organizational efforts in the mines and cities culminated in the creation of the first national labor confederation, the Workers’ Federation of Chile (Federación Obrera de Chile–FOCh) in 1909. The organization became more radical as it grew and affiliated with the PCCh in 1922, under the leadership of Recabarren. Its greatest strength was among miners, whereas urban workers were more attracted to independent socialism or to anarchosyndicalism . The latter movement grew out of resistance societies and evolved into the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Unlike the FOCh, the IWW spurned ties with political parties.
The emergence of working-class demands and movements spawned the so-called social question. Intellectuals and writers began criticizing the ruling class and the Parliamentary Republic for their neglect of workers and of social ills. New census data and other studies at the beginning of the twentieth century shocked the proud Chilean elite with revelations about the extent of poverty, illiteracy, and poor health among the vast majority of the population. Especially alarming were infant mortality figures that far exceeded those of Western Europe. Realization of the squalor and anger of the working class inspired new reform efforts.
President Arturo Alessandri Palma (1920-24, March-October 1925, 1932-38) appealed to those who believed the social question should be addressed, to those worried by the decline in nitrate exports during World War I, and to those weary of presidents dominated by Congress. Promising "evolution to avoid revolution," he pioneered a new campaign style of appealing directly to the masses with florid oratory and charisma. After winning a seat in the Senate representing the mining north in 1915, he earned the sobriquet "Lion of Tarapacá." As a dissident Liberal running for the presidency, Alessandri attracted support from the more reformist Radicals and Democrats and formed the so-called Liberal Alliance. He received strong backing from the middle and working classes as well as from the provincial elites. Students and intellectuals also rallied to his banner. At the same time, he reassured the landowners that social reforms would be limited to the cities.
Alessandri also spoke to discontent stemming from World War I. Although Chile had been neutral, the war had disrupted the international commerce that drove the economy. German development of artificial nitrates was especially damaging, and thereafter copper would gradually surpass nitrates as the leading export, taking over conclusively in the 1930s. Inflation and currency depreciation compounded the country’s economic woes.
During and after the war, the United States displaced Britain as Chile’s most important external economic partner, first in trade and then in investments. American companies, led by Kennecott and Braden, took control of the production of copper and nitrates. As corporate investors, bankers, salesmen, advisers, and even entertainers, such as actor and humorist Will Rogers, came to Chile, a few Chileans began to worry about the extent of United States penetration.
As the candidate of the Liberal Alliance coalition, Alessandri barely won the presidency in 1920 in what was dubbed "the revolt of the electorate." Chilean historians consider the 1920 vote a benchmark or watershed election, along with the contests of 1938, 1970, and 1988. Like other reformers elected president in the twentieth century–Pedro Aguirre Cerda (1938-41), Gabriel González Videla (1946-52), and Salvador Allende Gossens (1970-73)– Alessandri had to navigate skillfully through treacherous waters from the day he was elected until his inauguration, warding off attempts to deny him the fruits of victory. Mass street demonstrations by his middle- and working-class supporters convinced the conservative political elite in Congress to ratify his narrow win.
After donning the presidential sash, Alessandri discovered that his efforts to lead would be blocked by the conservative Congress. Like Balmaceda, he infuriated the legislators by going over their heads to appeal to the voters in the congressional elections of 1924. His reform legislation was finally rammed through Congress under pressure from younger military officers, who were sick of the neglect of the armed forces, political infighting, social unrest, and galloping inflation.
In a double coup, first military right-wingers opposing Alessandri seized power in September 1924, and then reformers in favor of the ousted president took charge in January 1925. The latter group was led by two colonels, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo and Marmaduke Grove Vallejo. They returned Alessandri to the presidency that March and enacted his promised reforms by decree. Many of these reforms were encapsulated in the new constitution of 1925, which was ratified in a plebiscite.
As in 1891 and 1973, the military intervened in national politics in the 1920s partly because of economic distress, partly to break a stalemate between the legislative and executive branches, and, above all, to change the political system. Colonel Ibáñez (president, 1927-31, 1952-58), quickly promoted to general, became the dominant power. He ruled, either behind or on the seat of power, until the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression in 1931 prompted his resignation.
The 1925 constitution was the second major charter in Chilean history, lasting until 1973. It codified significant changes, including the official separation of church and state, which culminated a century of gradual erosion of the political and economic power of the Roman Catholic Church. The constitution also provided legal recognition of workers’ right to organize, a promise to care for the social welfare of all citizens, an assertion of the right of the state to infringe on private property for the public good, and increased powers for the now directly elected president in relation to the bicameral Congress, in
particular concerning the removal of cabinet ministers, which heretofore had often been removed at the whim of the legislature.
Presidential and congressional elections were staggered so that a chief executive could not bring a legislature in on his coattails. The new constitution extended presidential terms from five to six years, with immediate reelection prohibited. It established a system of proportional representation for parties putting candidates up for Congress. The government was divided into four branches, in descending order of power: the president, the legislature, the judiciary, and the comptroller general, the latter authorized to judge the constitutionality of all laws requiring fiscal expenditures.
The Office of Comptroller General of the Republic (Oficina de la Contraloría General de la República) was designed by a United States economic adviser, Edwin Walter Kemmerer. In 1925 he also created the Central Bank of Chile and the position of superintendent of banks, while putting the country on the gold standard. His reforms helped attract massive foreign investments from the United States, especially loans to the government.
Although a labor code was not finalized until 1931, several labor and social security laws enacted in 1924 would govern industrial relations from the 1930s to the 1970s. The legislation legalized unions and strikes but imposed government controls over unions. Union finances and elections were subjected to government inspection. The laws also restricted union activities and disallowed national confederations, which therefore subsequently arose outside the legal framework. Only factories with at least twenty-five workers could have an industrial union, even though approximately two-thirds of the industrial enterprises employed four or fewer workers, in effect artisans. Workers in smaller shops could form professional unions with workers of the same skill employed nearby. Agricultural unions remained virtually outlawed or extremely difficult to organize until the 1960s. The code left unions disadvantaged in their bargaining with employers and therefore reliant on political parties as allies. Those allies were crucial because the new code made the state the mediator in labormanagement disputes.
After a weak successor served in the wake of Alessandri’s resignation in 1925, Ibáñez made himself president in a rigged election in 1927. He based his reign on military support (especially from the army), on repression (especially of labor unions, leftists, and political parties), and on a flood of loans from private lenders (especially from New York). He also created the national police, known as the Carabineros. His expansion of the central government found favor with the middle class. While Ibáñez promoted industry and public works, the economy fared well until torpedoed by the Great Depression.
According to the League of Nations, no other nation’s trade suffered more than Chile’s from the economic collapse. Unemployment approached 300,000, almost 25 percent of the work force. As government revenues plummeted, deficits grew. Chile suspended payments on its foreign debt in 1931 and took its currency off the gold standard in 1932. Expansion of the money supply and increased government spending thereafter generated inflation and rapid recovery. Also helpful was an emphasis on
import-substitution industrialization and the revival of exports, especially copper.
Rather than run the risk of civil war, Ibáñez went into exile in Argentina in July 1931 to avert clashes with demonstrators protesting his orthodox economic response to the depression and generally oppressive rule. His regime was followed by a kaleidoscope of governments, made and unmade through elections and military coups. The most notable short-lived administration was the twelve-day Socialist Republic of 1932, led by an air force commander, Marmaduke Grove, who would establish the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista–PS) in 1933. Exasperated by depression and instability, Chileans finally restored civilian rule by reelecting Alessandri to the presidency in 1932. Although the depression capsized civilian governments in most of Latin America, it discredited military rule in Chile. Now the 1925 constitution took full effect; it would remain in force until the overthrow of Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973.
From 1932 to 1973, Chile was the only country in Latin America to sustain electoral democracy at a time when major Marxist parties led the workers. Its stable multiparty political system bore more resemblance to West European than to Latin American models. Chileans took great pride in their representative democracy, and many looked with contempt on their more tumultuous neighbors.
Out of the turmoil of the depression, new political forces arose that shifted the political spectrum to the left. The Conservatives and the Liberals grew closer together as the combined forces on the right, now more fearful of socialism than of their traditional enemies in the anticlerical camp. The Radicals replaced the Liberals as the swing party in the center, now that they were outflanked on the left by the growing PCCh and the Socialist Party. A small group of Catholics known as the Falange broke away from the Conservative Party in 1938 to form a new party, the National Falange (Falange Nacional). It offered
a non-Marxist, centrist vision of dramatic reform, a vision that would take wing in the 1950s under the name of Christian Democracy.
Under the steady hand of the veteran Alessandri, reelected in December 1932 with 55 percent of the vote, Chile rapidly reinstated its interrupted democracy and revived its shattered economy. Although still a centrist reformer at heart, Alessandri now became the paladin of the right because the new socialist left had outflanked him. He put into practice both the 1925 constitution and the 1931 labor code; reshuffled military commands; supported a 50,000-member civilian paramilitary force, the Republican Militia (Milicia Republicana) during 1932-36 to keep the armed forces in the barracks and to threaten leftists; and cut
unemployment by promoting industry and public works.
In accordance with long-standing Chilean foreign policy principles, Alessandri sought to avoid entanglement in European conflicts. He cultivated good relations with both Britain and Germany, while remaining friendly with the United States. He declared neutrality in the Spanish Civil War, as the Chilean government had done during World War I.
The Socialists, Communists, and Radicals denounced Alessandri for insufficient economic nationalism and inadequate attention to the needs of working people. Heeding the new policy of the Comintern, adopted in 1935, the Chilean Communists backed away from proletarian revolution, which they had advocated obediently from 1928 to 1934. Now they promoted broad, reformist electoral coalitions in the name of antifascism. With slight deviations and emendations, the PCCh sustained this
accommodative approach from 1935 until 1980.
Prodded by the Communists, the Radicals and Socialists aligned in 1936 with the Confederation of Chilean Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de Chile–CTCh), a by-product of union growth and solidarity, to forge the Popular Front. The Popular Front was given impetus by Alessandri’s crushing of a railroad strike that year. The coalition also included the old Democrat Party, which was gradually supplanted by the Socialist Party until the former disappeared in the early 1940s. Similar to multiparty alliances in Europe and to populist coalitions in Latin America, the Popular Front galvanized the middle and working classes on behalf of democracy, social welfare, and industrialization. Its redistributive, populist slogan was "Bread, Roof, and Overcoat," coined by the 1932 Socialist Republic.
The Popular Front barely beat Alessandri’s would-be rightist successor in the presidential contest of 1938 with 50.3 percent of the vote. One key to the Popular Front’s victory was its nomination of a mild-mannered Radical, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, rather than the inflammatory Socialist, Marmaduke Grove. The other key was a bizarre sequence of events in which a group of Chilean fascists (members of the National Socialist Movement), backing Ibáñez’s independent bid for the presidency, staged an unsuccessful putsch on the eve of the election. The slaughter of the putschists by forces of the Alessandri government prompted the fascists to throw their votes to the Popular Front. Although not numerous, those ballots put the Popular Front over the top.
The incongruous alignment of Nazis behind the antifascist Popular Front showed how far Chilean politicians would go to subordinate ideology to electoral considerations. Thus, a coalition that included Socialists and Communists captured the presidency quite early in twentieth-century Chile. Future president Salvador Allende served briefly as minister of health in this period.
Running under the slogan "To Govern Is to Educate," Aguirre Cerda (president, 1938-41) won an electoral majority in 1938. However, less than 5 percent of the national population actually voted for him. Until the rapid expansion of the electorate in the 1950s, less than 10 percent of the national population voted for presidential candidates. Only literate males over the age of twenty-one could vote in most elections until the 1950s; of those eligible to vote, approximately 50 percent usually registered, and the vast majority of those registered cast ballots. Women were allowed to exercise the franchise in
installments, first for municipal elections in 1935, then for congressional contests in 1951, and finally for presidential races in 1952.
As had been the case with other Chilean electoral victories by left-wing candidates, tense days passed between the counting of the ballots and the ratification of the results by Congress. Opponents of the left schemed to prevent the takeover by their nemeses or to extract concessions before accepting defeat. Aguirre Cerda assured rightists of his moderate intentions, and the Alessandri government presided over his peaceful inauguration. The military quashed a single coup attempt in 1939.
Led by the centrist Radical Party, the administration of the Popular Front assimilated the Socialists and Communists into the established bargaining system, making potentially revolutionary forces into relatively moderate participants in legal institutions. Although the official Popular Front ended in 1941, that bargaining system, with Marxist parties usually backing reformist Radical presidents, lasted until 1952.
Aguirre Cerda, like all Chilean presidents in the 1930s and 1940s, essentially pursued a model of state capitalism in which government collaborated with private enterprise in the construction of a mixed economy. The Popular Front promoted simultaneous importsubstitution industrialization and welfare measures for the urban middle and working classes. As in the rest of Latin America, the Great Depression and then the onset of World War II accelerated domestic production of manufactured consumer items, widened the role of the state, and augmented dependence on the United States. All these trends dissuaded Marxists from demanding bold redistributive measures at the expense of domestic and foreign capitalists.
Aiming to catch up with the more affluent West, Chile’s Popular Front mobilized the labor movement behind national industrial development more than working-class social advances. Although workers received few material benefits from the Popular Front, the number of legal unions more than quadrupled from the early 1930s to the early 1940s. Still, unions represented only about 10 percent of the work force.
Prior to his illness and death in November 1941, President Aguirre Cerda labored to hold his coalition together, to overcome the implacable opposition of the right-wing parties, and to fulfill his promises of industrialization and urban social reform. The Socialists and Communists quarreled incessantly, especially over the PCCh’s support of the 1939 German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin. Early in 1941, the Socialist Party withdrew from the Popular Front coalition because of its animosity toward the PCCh, its rival claimant to worker loyalty and Marxist inspiration. Because the Conservatives and Liberals blocked nearly all legislation in Congress, little social reform was accomplished, except for improvements in housing and education. To appease rightwingers, the president clamped down on rural unionization.
From the 1920s into the 1960s, this modus vivendi between urban reformers and rural conservatives held fast. Progressives carried out reforms in the cities for the middle and working classes, while denying peasants union rights. Thus were preserved the availability of low-cost foodstuffs for urban consumers, control of the countryside for latifundistas (large landowners), and domination of the rural vote by right-wing politicians. From time to time, Marxist organizers threatened to mobilize the rural work force, and time and again they were restrained by their centrist political allies, who needed to reassure the economic and political right-wingers. When peasants protested this exploitation, they were repressed by landowners or government troops.
The greatest achievement of the Popular Front was the creation in 1939 of the state Production Development Corporation (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción–Corfo) to supply credit to new enterprises, especially in manufacturing. Partly with loans from the United States Export-Import Bank, Corfo contributed greatly to import-substitution industrialization, mainly for consumer items. The economically active population working in industry grew from 15 percent in 1930 to 20 percent in 1952, where it hovered for two decades. From the end of the 1930s to the start of the 1950s, Corfo supplied almost one-fourth of total domestic investments.
A Radical even more conservative than Aguirre Cerda, Juan Antonio Ríos Morales (president, 1942-46), won the 1942 presidential election with 56 percent of the vote. Although the formal Popular Front had been terminated, the Socialists and Communists still gave their votes to Ríos to avoid a return of Ibáñez as the candidate of the Conservatives and Liberals. Under the
stringencies of wartime, the new president further soft-pedaled social reform and emphasized industrial growth, under the slogan, "To Govern Is to Produce." Although he made some improvements in housing and health care, Ríos concentrated on promoting urban enterprises.
Ríos continued his predecessor’s policy of neutrality in World War II. Although sympathetic to the Allies, many Chileans worried about the vulnerability of their Pacific Coast. Because of a desire for closer economic and security ties with the United States, Ríos finally bowed to pressure from Socialists, Communists, and other staunch antifascists, severing relations with
the Axis in January 1943.
Even after breaking relations, Chile was never satisfied with the amount of aid and Lend-Lease military equipment it received from the United States. The United States, in turn, was equally discontent with languid Chilean action against Axis agents and firms. Nevertheless, Chile subsidized the Allied cause by accepting an artificially low price for its copper exports to the United States while paying increasingly higher prices for its imports. The war boosted Chile’s mineral exports and foreign-exchange accumulation. At the same time, United States trade, credits, and advisers facilitated state support for new enterprises, including steel, oil, and fishing.
Not unlike Ibáñez in the 1920s, Ríos hoped to develop the national economy through external alignment with the "Colossus of the North." After displacing Britain as Chile’s most important economic partner in the 1920s, the United States faced a period of German competition in the 1930s and then reasserted its economic dominance in the 1940s. That economic domination would last until the 1980s.
As Ríos’s health deteriorated in 1945, another Radical, Alfredo Duhalde Vásquez (president, June-August 1946), took over as interim chief executive. Reacting against Ríos’s conservatism and Duhalde’s antilabor policies, progressive factions of the Radical Party joined with the Communists to field a left-wing Radical, Gabriel González Videla, for president in the 1946 election. González Videla also received the backing of most Socialists.
Trying to revive the reformist spirit of 1938, González Videla eked out a plurality of 40 percent against a field of rightist contenders. Once again, the candidate of the left had to walk a tightrope from election to inauguration because Congress had the right to pick either of the two front-runners when no one polled an absolute majority. González Videla ensured his congressional approval by granting landowners new legal restrictions on peasant unionization, restrictions that lasted from 1947 until 1967. He also appeased the right by including Liberals in his cabinet along with Radicals and Communists, the most exotic ministerial concoction Chileans had ever seen, again demonstrating the politician’s ability to cut deals transcending ideology.
Chile quickly became enmeshed in the cold war, as Moscow and especially Washington meddled in its affairs. That friction resulted in the splitting of the CTCh in 1946 into Communist and Socialist branches and then the outlawing of the PCCh. The Socialists were now opposed to the Communists and aligned with the (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO), having grown closer to United States labor interests during World War II.
Once in office, González Videla (president, 1946-52) rapidly turned against his Communist allies. He expelled them from his cabinet and then banned them completely under the 1948 Law for the Defense of Democracy. The PCCh remained illegal until 1958. He also severed relations with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.
Controversy still swirls around the reasons for this aboutface . According to González Videla and his sympathizers, the repression of the Communists was necessary to thwart their plots against his government, although no evidence has been found to substantiate that claim. According to the Communists and other critics of González Videla, he acted under pressure from the United States and out of a desire to forge closer economic and military bonds with the dominant superpower. Historians have established that the president wanted to appease the United States, that the United States encouraged a crackdown on Chilean
Communists, and that the United States government appreciated González Videla’s actions and thereafter expanded the scope of its loans, investments, and technical missions to Chile. The United States and Chile also agreed to a military assistance pact while González Videla was president. However, no conclusive evidence has come to light that the United States directly pushed him to act.
Although González Videla feared Communist intentions and respected the wishes of the United States government, he also turned against the PCCh for other reasons. He hoped to mollify right-wing critics of his government, especially landowners, to whom he guaranteed a continuing moratorium on peasant unionization. He sought to remove any ideological justification for a military coup. He also wanted to weaken the labor movement in a time of economic uncertainties, slow growth, and rising inflation, when the PCCh was promoting strikes. González Videla’s banning of the Communists coincided with his movement away from social reform in favor of the promotion of industrial growth.
As the Radical years (1938-52) drew to a close, Popular Frontstyle coalition politics reached a dead end. The Radicals had swerved to the right, the Socialists had splintered and lost votes, and the Communists had been forced underground. Although the middle and upper classes had registered some gains in those fourteen years, most workers had seen their real income stagnate or decline. Often a problem in the past, inflation had become a permanent feature of the Chilean economy, fueled by the deficit spending of a government that had grown enormously under the Radical presidents. Progress had been made in industrialization, but with little benefit to the majority of the population. Promoting urban industries did not generate the growth, efficiency, employment, or independence promised by the policy’s advocates. World War II had left the country more dependent than ever on the United States, which by then had become the dominant economic power in Latin America.
Populist development strategies had proved viable during the 1930s and 1940s. The protection and credit that went along with import-substitution industrialization had kept manufacturers satisfied. Although penalized and forced to accept low prices for their foods, agriculturalists welcomed expanding urban markets, low taxes, and controls over rural workers. The middle class and the armed forces had applauded state growth and moderate nationalism. The more skilled and organized urban workers had received consumer, welfare, and union benefits superior to those offered to other lower-class groups.
These allocations postponed any showdown over limited resources, thus enabling right and left to compromise. Political institutionalization and accommodation prevailed, partly because the unorganized urban poor and especially the rural poor suffered, in effect, frommarginality. Starting in the 1950s, however, social demands outpaced slow economic growth, and the political arena became increasingly crowded and heated. In addition, accelerated mobilization, polarization, and radicalization by ideologically competing parties placed more and more stress on the "compromise state" to reconcile incompatible demands and projects.
By 1952 Chileans were alienated by multiparty politics that produced reformist governments, which would veer to the right once in office. Chileans were tired of politiquería (petty politics, political chicanery, and pork-barrel politics). Citizens were also dismayed by slow growth and spiraling inflation. They showed their displeasure by turning to two symbols of the past, the 1920s dictator Ibáñez and the son of former president Alessandri.
In an effort to "sweep the rascals out," the voters elected the politically unaffiliated Ibáñez back to the presidency in 1952. Brandishing his broom as a symbol, the "General of Victory" ran against all the major parties and their clientelistic system of government. He made his strongest attacks on the Radicals, accusing them of mismanagement of the economy and subservience to the United States.
Along with the short-lived Agrarian Labor Party (1945-58), a few Communists backed Ibáñez in hopes of relegalizing the PCCh; a few Socialists also supported him in hopes of spawning a workers’ movement similar to Peronism in Argentina. Other leftists, however, endorsed the first token presidential campaign of Salvador Allende in order to stake out an independent Marxist strategy for future runs at the presidency. Allende received only 5 percent of the vote, while Ibáñez won with a plurality of 47 percent. As it always did when no candidate captured an absolute majority, Congress ratified the top vote-getter as president.
Like the Radicals before him, Ibáñez entered office as a reformer governing with a center-left coalition and ended his term as a conservative surrounded by rightists. Along the way, he discarded his promises of economic nationalism and social justice. Also like the Radicals, he left festering problems for subsequent administrations.
Early in his administration, Ibáñez tried to live up to his billing as a nationalistic reformer. He rewarded those who had voted for him in the countryside by setting a minimum wage for rural laborers, although real wages for farm workers continued to fall throughout the decade. He also postured as a Latin American spokesman, hailing Juan Domingo Perón when the Argentine leader visited Chile.
After two years of expansionary fiscal policies in league with reformers and a few leftists, Ibáñez converted to a conservative program to stem inflation and to improve relations with the United States copper companies. As the effort to move import-substitution industrialization beyond the stage of replacing foreign consumer goods bogged down, the economy became mired in stagflation. The rates of industrialization, investment, and growth all slowed. Monetarist policies proposed by a team of United States experts, known as the Klein-Saks Mission, failed to bring inflation under control. Price increases averaged 38 percent per year during the 1950s.
Persistent inflation stoked a debate among economists over causes and cures. Emphasizing deep-rooted causes and long-term solutions, advocates of structuralism blamed chronic inflation primarily on foreign trade dependency, insufficient local production (especially in agriculture), and political struggles over government spoils among entrenched vested interests. Their opponents, avocates of monetarism, attributed rising prices principally to classic financial causes such as currency expansion and deficit spending. Like the Klein-Saks Mission, the monetarists recommended austerity measures to curb inflation. The structuralists denounced such belt-tightening as recessionary, inimical to growth, and socially regressive. The monetarists replied that economic development would be delayed and distorted until expansionary monetary and financial policies were corrected.
Adopting a monetarist approach, in 1955 Ibáñez made concessions to the United States copper companies, chiefly Anaconda and Kennecott, in an effort to elicit more investment. These measure reduced the firms’ taxes and raised their profits but failed to attract much capital. Discontent with this experience underlay subsequent campaigns to nationalize the mines.
Ibáñez also enacted reforms to increase the integrity of the electoral system. Under the new plan, the secret ballot system was improved in 1958, and stiff fines for fraud were established. These reforms reduced the sway of landowners and facilitated the growth of the Christian Democrat and Marxist political movements among peasants.
Ibáñez’s middle- and working-class support flowed over to the Christian Democrats and the Marxists. The Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano–PDC) was founded in 1957 with the merger of three conservative elements: the National Falange, founded in 1938; the Social Christian Conservative Party; and the remnants of the Agrarian Labor Party that had backed Ibáñez. The Christian Democrats espoused reformist Catholic doctrines that promised a society based on communitarianism. The new party appealed strongly to the middle class, women, peasants, and ruralurban migrants. Its displacement of the Radicals as the preeminent centrist party meant that a pragmatic organization was replaced by an ideological group less amenable to coalition and compromise. At the same time that the center was hardening its position, the right and the left were also becoming more dogmatic and sectarian.
Relegalized by Ibáñez in 1958, the PCCh formed an enduring electoral alliance with the Socialists known as the Popular Action Front (Frente de Acción Popular–FRAP). The Marxist parties embraced more militant projects for the construction of socialism and disdained alliances behind centrist parties. They replaced Popular Front politics with "workers front" politics. The PCCh and the Socialist Party became more exclusive and radical in their ideological commitments and in their dedication to the proletariat. Of the two parties, the Socialist Party posed as more revolutionary, especially after the 1959 Cuban
As they had in the 1930s, the Marxist parties experienced success in the 1950s in tandem with a unified national trade union movement. Dismayed by runaway inflation, the major labor unions replaced the fractionalized CTCh with the United Federation of Chilean Workers (Central Única de Trabajadores de Chile–CUTCh) in 1953. The Communists and Socialists, with their enduring strength in older unions in mining, construction, and manufacturing, took command of the new confederation.
As the 1958 election approached, the electorate divided into three camps well-defined by their predominant class and ideology. The right represented mainly Conservatives and Liberals, the upper class, rural dwellers, the defenders of capitalism, and the status quo. In the center, the Christian Democrats and Radicals spoke largely for the middle class and the proponents of moderate social reforms to avoid socialism. On the left, the Socialists and Communists championed the working class, advocating a peaceful transition to socialism. Rural-urban migrants and women had gained social and political importance. The percentage of the population registered to vote in presidential contests had risen from about 11 percent in the 1940s to 17.5 percent in 1952 and then to 21 percent in 1958. In the 1958 election, the right–Conservatives and Liberals–hoped to return to power for the first time since 1938. Their standard-bearer was Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez, an engineering professor and the son of Chile’s most recent rightist president. He posed as an independent who was above party politics, offering technocratic solutions to the nation’s problems. In the center, the Radicals, with candidate Luis Bossay Leyva, and the Christian Democrats, who nominated Eduardo Frei Montalva, vied for moderate votes. On the left, the reunited Socialists and Communists backed Salvador Allende.
In a preview of the 1970 election, the 1958 vote split three ways: 31 percent for Alessandri, 29 percent for Allende, and 40 percent for the rest, including a strong third-place showing by Frei with 21 percent. If it had not been for the 3
percent of the votes snared by a populist defrocked priest, the 15 percent won by the Radicals, and the low percentage (22 percent) of women casting ballots for Allende, the Marxists could easily have captured the presidency in 1958, several months before the Cuban Revolution. As it was, they and the Christian Democrats were highly encouraged to build their electoral forces toward another
face-off in 1964. An especially noteworthy shift was the transfer of many peasant votes from the right to the columns of Christian Democrat and Marxist politicians promising agrarian reform.
Once again, Congress approved the front-runner as president. Alessandri promised to restrain government intervention in the economy and to promote the private sector, although he did not envision reliance on the market to the extent that later would occur under Pinochet. With a slender mandate, the opposition in control of the legislature, and a modest program, the president accomplished little of great note.
Alessandri did, however, maintain political and economic stability. He temporarily dampened inflation, mainly by placing a ceiling on wages. This measure sparked mounting labor protests in the early 1960s. The economy grew and unemployment shrank. He also passed mild land-reform legislation, which would be implemented mostly by his successors. His action was partly the result of prodding by the United States government, which backed agrarian reform under the auspices of the Alliance for Progress in hopes of blunting the appeal of the Cuban Revolution. At the same time, Alessandri tried to attract foreign investment, although he had no intention of throwing open the economy, as would be done under Pinochet. By the end of Alessandri’s term, the country was burdened with a rising foreign debt.
In the 1964 presidential contest, the right abandoned its standard-bearers and gave its support to Frei in order to avert an Allende victory in the face of rising electoral support for the leftists. The center-right alliance defeated the left, 56 percent to 39 percent. The reformist Frei enjoyed strong United States support, both during and after the campaign. He also had the backing of the Roman Catholic Church and European Christian Democrats. Frei ran particularly well among women, the middle class, peasants, and residents of the shantytowns (callampas or poblaciones). Allende was most popular with men and bluecollar workers.
Although Frei and Allende were foes on the campaign trail, they agreed on major national issues that needed to be addressed: greater Chilean control over the United States-owned copper mines, agrarian reform, better housing for the residents of the sprawling shantytowns, more equitable income distribution, expanded educational opportunities, and a more independent foreign policy. They both criticized capitalism as a cause of underdevelopment and of the poverty that afflicted the majority of Chile’s population. To distinguish his more moderate program from Allende’s Marxism, Frei promised a "Revolution in Liberty."
After the 1965 elections gave them a majority of deputies in Congress, the Christian Democrats enacted ambitious reforms on many fronts. However, as a single-party government, they were often loath to enter into bargains, compromises, or coalitions. Consequently, rightists and leftists often opposed their congressional initiatives, especially in the Senate.
One of the major achievements of Eduardo Frei Montalva (president, 1964-70) was the "Chileanization" of copper. The government took 51 percent ownership of the mines controlled by United States companies, principally those of Anaconda and Kennecott. Critics complained that the companies received overly generous terms, invested too little in Chile, and retained too much ownership. Nevertheless, copper production rose, and Chile received a higher return from the enterprises.
Frei believed that agrarian reform was necessary to raise the standard of living of rural workers, to boost agricultural production, to expand his party’s electoral base, and to defuse revolutionary potential in the countryside. Consequently, in 1967 his government promoted the right of peasants to unionize and strike. The administration also expropriated land with the intention of dividing it between collective and family farms. However, actual redistribution of land fell far short of promises and expectations. Conflict arose in the countryside between peasants eager for land and landowners frightened of losing
their rights and their property.
During the tenure of the Christian Democrats, economic growth remained sluggish and inflation stayed high. Nevertheless, Frei’s government improved income distribution and access to education, as enrollments rose at all levels of schooling. Under the aegis of "Popular Promotion," the Frei government organized many squatter communities and helped them build houses. This aided the PDC in its competition with the Marxists for political support in the burgeoning callampas. At the same time, Frei enacted tax reforms that made tax collection more efficient than ever before. The Christian Democrats also pushed through constitutional changes to strengthen the presidency; these changes later would be used to advantage by Allende. The PDC also revised electoral regulations, lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen and giving the franchise to people who could not read (about 10 percent of the population was illiterate).
Although friendly to United States investors and government officials, the Frei administration took an independent stance in foreign affairs–more collegial with the developing nations and less hostile to the Communist bloc nations. For instance, Frei restored diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and most of its allies. Chile also gave strong backing to multilateral organizations, including the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA), the Andean Group, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United Nations. Meanwhile, aid and investment from the United States multiplied. Under Frei, Chile received more aid per capita from the United States than did any other country in Latin America.
After the two governments that followed the Christian Democrats, Chileans would look back with nostalgia on the Frei administration and its accomplishments. At the time, however, it was hounded by the right for being too reformist and by the left for being too conservative. While some on the right began forming paramilitary units to defend their property, some on the left began encouraging illegal seizures of farms, housing plots, and factories. Among the masses, the Christian Democrats raised expectations higher than they intended.
As the next presidential election approached, Frei remained personally popular, but his party’s strength ebbed. With no clear winner apparent, the 1970 campaign shaped up as a rerun of 1958, with the right, center, and left all fielding their own candidates. The right hoped to recapture power and brake the pace of reform with former president Jorge Alessandri as the candidate of the National Party (Partido Nacional–PN), established in 1965 by Conservatives and Liberals. In the center, the Christian Democrats promised to accelerate reform with a progressive candidate, Radomiro Tomic Romero. The left vowed to head down
the road toward socialism with Salvador Allende as its nominee for the fourth time.
Under the leadership of the Socialist Party and the PCCh, the leftist coalition of 1970 called itself Popular Unity (Unidad Popular–UP). Joining the alliance were four minor parties, including the shrunken Radical Party and defectors from the Christian Democrats, most notably the United Popular Action Movement (Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario–MAPU). The coalition was reminiscent of the Popular Front of 1936-41, except that it was led by the Marxist parties and a Marxist candidate. Further to the left, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria–MIR), a small organization headed by radicalized students, scoffed at the electoral route, called for armed struggle, and undertook direct assaults on the system, such as bank robberies.
To the surprise of most pollsters and prognosticators, Allende nosed out Alessandri 36.2 percent to 35 percent in the September 4, 1970, elections; Tomic trailed with 27.8 percent of the vote. In the cold war context of the times, the democratic election of a Marxist president sent a shock wave around the globe. The seven weeks between the counting of the ballots and the certification of the winner by Congress crackled with tension. Attempts by the United States and by right-wing groups in Chile to convince Congress to choose the runner-up Alessandri or to coax the military into staging a coup d’état failed. A botched kidnapping planned by right-wing military officers resulted in the assassination of the army commander in chief, General René Schneider Chereau, on October 22, 1970, the first major political killing in Chile since the death of Portales in 1837. That plot backfired by ensuring the armed forces’ support of a constitutional assumption of power by Allende.
After extracting guarantees of adherence to democratic procedures from Allende, the Christian Democrats in Congress followed tradition and provided the votes to make the front-runner Chile’s new president. Although a minority president was not unusual, one with such a drastic plan to revolutionize the nation was unique. Allende was inaugurated on November 3, 1970.
The Allende experiment enjoyed a triumphant first year, followed by two disastrous final years. According to the UP, Chile was being exploited by parasitic foreign and domestic capitalists. The government therefore moved quickly to socialize the economy, taking over the copper mines, other foreign firms, oligopolistic industries, banks, and large estates. By a unanimous vote of Congress in 1971, the government totally nationalized the foreign copper firms, which were mainly owned by two United States companies, Kennecott and Anaconda. The nationalization measure was one of the few bills Allende ever got through the opposition- controlled legislature, where the Christian Democrats constituted the largest single party.
Socialization of the means of production spread rapidly and widely. The government took over virtually all the great estates. It turned the lands over to the resident workers, who benefited far more than the owners of tiny plots or the numerous migrant laborers. By 1972 food production had fallen and food imports had risen. Also during 1971-72, the government dusted off emergency legislation from the 1932 Socialist Republic to allow it to expropriate industries without congressional approval. It turned many factories over to management by the workers and the state.
In his first year, Allende also employed Keynesian measures to hike salaries and wages, thus pumping up the purchasing power of the middle and working classes. This "consumer revolution" benefited 95 percent of the population in the short run because prices were held down and employment went up. Producers responded to rising demand by employing previously underused capacity.
Politically, Allende faced problems holding his Popular Unity coalition together, pacifying the more leftist elements inside and outside Popular Unity and, above all, coping with the increasingly implacable opposition. Within Popular Unity, the largest party was the Socialist Party. Although composed of multiple factions, the Socialist Party mainly pressed Allende to accelerate the transition toward socialism. The second most important element was the PCCh, which favored a more gradual, legalistic approach. Outside the Popular Unity, the most significant left-wing organization was the MIR, a tiny but provocative group that admired the Cuban Revolution and encouraged peasants and workers to take property and the revolutionary process into their own hands, much faster than Allende preferred.
The most important opposition party was the PDC. As it and the middle sectors gradually shifted to the right, they came to form an anti-Allende bloc in combination with the Natinal Party and the propertied class. Even farther to the right were minuscule, paramilitary, quasi-fascist groups like Fatherland and Liberty (Patria y Libertad), determined to sabotage Popular Unity.
The Popular Unity government tried to maintain cordial relations with the United States, even while staking out an independent position as a champion of developing nations and socialist causes. It opened diplomatic relations with Cuba, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and Albania. It befriended the Soviet Union, which sent aid to the Allende administration, although far less than Cuba received or than Popular Unity had hoped for.
Meanwhile, the United States pursued a two-track policy toward Allende’s Chile. At the overt level, Washington was frosty, especially after the nationalization of the copper mines; official relations were unfriendly but not openly hostile. The government of President Richard M. Nixon squeezed the Chilean economy by terminating financial assistance and blocking loans from multilateral organizations, although it increased aid to the military, a sector unenthusiastic toward the Allende government. It was widely reported that at the covert level the United States worked to destabilize Allende’s Chile by funding opposition political groups and media and by encouraging a military coup d’état. Most scholars have concluded that these United States actions contributed to the downfall of Allende, although no one has established direct United States participation in the coup d’état and very few would assign the United States the primary role in the destruction of that government.
During the second and third years of the UP, demand outstripped supply, the economy shrank, deficit spending snowballed, new investments and foreign exchange became scarce, the value of copper sales dropped, shortages appeared, and inflation skyrocketed, eroding the previous gains for the working class. A thriving black market sprang up. The government responded with direct distribution systems in working-class neighborhoods. Worker participation in the management of enterprises reached unprecedented proportions. The strapped government could not keep the economy from going into free fall because it could not impose austerity measures on its supporters in the working class, get new taxes approved by Congress, or borrow enough money abroad to cover the deficit.
Although the right was on the defensive in Allende’s first year, it moved on the offensive and forged an alliance with the center in the next two years. In Congress this center-right coalition erected a blockade against all Popular
Unity initiatives, harassed Popular Unity cabinet ministers, and denounced the administration as illegitimate and unconstitutional, thus setting the stage for a military takeover. The most acrimonious battle raged over the boundaries of Popular Unity’s "social property area" (área de propriedad social), which would incorporate private holdings through government intervention, requisition, or expropriation. The Supreme Court and the comptroller general of the republic joined Congress in criticizing the executive branch for overstepping its constitutional bounds.
Allende tried to stabilize the situation by organizing a succession of cabinets, but none of them guaranteed order. His appointment of military officers to cabinet posts in 1972 and 1973 also failed to stifle the opposition. Instead, it helped politicize the armed services. Outside the government, Allende’s supporters continued direct takeovers of land and businesses, further disrupting the economy and frightening the propertied class.
The two sides reached a showdown in the March 1973 congressional elections. The opposition expected the Allende coalition to suffer the typical losses of Chilean governments in midterm elections, especially with the economy in a tailspin. The National Party and PDC hoped to win two-thirds of the seats, enough to impeach Allende. They netted 55 percent of the votes, not enough of a majority to end the stalemate. Moreover, the Popular Unity’s 43 percent share represented an increase over the presidential tally of 36.2 percent and gave Allende’s coalition six additional congressional seats; therefore, many of his adherents were encouraged to forge ahead.
In the aftermath of the indecisive 1973 congressional elections, both sides escalated the confrontation and hurled threats of insurgency. Street demonstrations became almost daily events and increasingly violent. Right-wing groups, such as Fatherland and Liberty, and left-wing groups, such as the MIR, brandished arms and called for a cataclysmic solution. The most militant workers formed committees in their neighborhoods and workplaces to press for accelerated social change and to defend their gains. The opposition began openly knocking on the doors of the barracks in hopes that the military would provide a solution.
The regular armed forces halted an attempted coup by tank commanders in June 1973, but that incident warned the nation that the military was getting restless. Thereafter, the armed forces prepared for a massive coup by stepping up raids to search for arms among Popular Unity’s supporters. Conditions worsened in June, July, and August, as middle- and upper-class business proprietors and professionals launched another wave of workplace shutdowns and lockouts, as they had in late 1972. Their 1973 protests against the government coincided with strikes by the trucking industry and by the left’s erstwhile allies among the copper workers. The Nationalists, the Christian Democrats, and conservative students backed the increasingly subversive strikers. They called for Allende’s resignation or military intervention. Attempts by the Catholic Church to get the PDC and Popular Unity to negotiate a compromise came to naught. Meanwhile, inflation reached an annual rate of more than 500 percent. By mid-1973 the economy and the government were paralyzed.
In August 1973, the rightist and centrist representatives in the Chamber of Deputies undermined the president’s legitimacy by accusing him of systematically violating the constitution and by urging the armed forces to intervene. In early September, Allende was preparing to call for a rare national plebiscite to resolve the impasse between Popular Unity and the opposition. The military obviated that strategy by launching its attack on civilian authority on the morning of September 11. Just prior to the assault, the commanders in chief, headed by the newly appointed army commander, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, had purged officers sympathetic to the president or the constitution.
Allende committed suicide while defending (with an assault rifle) his socialist government against the coup d’état. Although sporadic resistance to the coup erupted, the military consolidated control much more quickly than it had believed possible. Many Chileans had predicted that a coup would unleash a civil war, but instead it ushered in a long period of repression.
Debate continues over the reasons for Allende’s downfall. Why did he fail to preserve democracy or achieve socialism? Critics of the left blamed Allende for going to extremes, destroying the economy, violating the constitution, and undermining the spirit if not the letter of democracy. Right-wing critics in particular accused the left of even plotting an armed takeover, a charge that was never proved. Critics also assailed the UP for being unclear about the limits of its reforms and thus frightening the middle class into the arms of the opposition. Critics of the right accused Popular Unity, in conjunction with the
United States, of ruining the economy and of calling out the armed forces to protect its property and privileges. Observers in general scolded the far left for its adventurous excesses. The far left retorted that Popular Unity failed because it was too timid to arm the masses. Critics of the Christian Democrats chastised them for refusing to compromise, locking arms with the rightist opposition, and failing to defend democracy.
Many analysts would concur that there was ample blame to go around. In the view of many Chileans, groups at all points on the political spectrum helped destroy the democratic order by being too ideological and too intransigent. Many observers agree that a minority president facing adamant domestic and foreign opposition was extremely unlikely to be able to uphold democracy and create socialism at the same time. In the late 1980s, polls also showed that most Chileans did not want to try the Popular Unity experiment again, especially in light of its aftermath.
The armed forces justified the coup as necessary to stamp out Marxism, avert class warfare, restore order, and salvage the economy. They enshrined the National Security Doctrine, which defined their primary task as the defeat of domestic enemies who had infiltrated national institutions, including schools, churches, political parties, unions, and the media. Although civilians filled prominent economic posts, military officers took most government positions at the national and local levels. Immediately on seizing power, the military junta–composed of the commanders in chief of the army, navy, air force, and national police–issued a barrage of decrees to restore order on its own terms.
The first phase of the dictatorship (1973-75) was mainly destructive, aimed at rapid demobilization, depoliticization, and stabilization. The armed forces treated the members of the UP as an enemy to be obliterated, not just as an errant political movement to be booted from office. The military commanders closed Congress, censored the media, purged the universities, burned books, declared political parties outlawed if Marxist or in recess otherwise, and banned union activities.
The worst human rights abuses occurred in the first four years of the junta, when thousands of civilians were murdered, jailed, tortured, brutalized, or exiled, especially those linked with the Popular Unity parties. The secret police, reporting to Pinochet through the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia–DINA), replaced in 1977 by the National Information Center (Centro Nacional de Información–CNI), kept dissidents living in fear of arrest, torture, murder, or "disappearance."
Throughout the second half of the 1970s, the Roman Catholic Church and international organizations concerned with human rights denounced the widespread violations of decency in Chile. Although officially neutral, the Roman Catholic Church became the primary sanctuary for the persecuted in Chile from 1975 to 1985 and so came into increasing conflict with the junta.
The former members of Popular Unity went underground or into exile. In the early years of the dictatorship, their main goal was simply to survive. Although the Communists suffered brutal persecution, they managed to preserve their organization fairly intact. The Socialists splintered so badly that their party nearly disappeared by the end of the 1970s. Draconian repression left the Marxists with no capacity to resist or counterattack. They did, however, manage to rally world opinion against the regime and keep it diplomatically isolated. By the end of the 1970s, most Christian Democrats, after initially cooperating with the junta, had also joined the opposition, although not in any formal coalition with any coherent strategy for restoring democracy.
Pinochet soon emerged as the dominant figure and very shortly afterward as president. After a brief flirtation with corporatist ideas, the government evolved into a one-man dictatorship, with the rest of the junta acting as a sort of legislature. In 1977 Pinochet dashed the hopes of those Chileans still dreaming of an early return to democracy when he announced his intention to institutionalize an authoritarian regime to preside over a protracted return to civilian rule in a "protected" democracy.
Pinochet established iron control over the armed forces as well as the government, although insisting that they were separate entities. He made himself not only the chief executive of the state but also the commander in chief of the military. He shuffled commands to ensure that loyalists controlled all the key posts. He appointed many new generals and had others retire, so that by the 1980s all active-duty generals owed their rank to Pinochet. He also improved the pay and benefits of the services. The isolation of the armed forces from civil society had been a virtue under the democracy, inhibiting their involvement in political disputes; now that erstwhile virtue became an impediment to redemocratization, as the military remained loyal to Pinochet and resisted politicization by civilians.
Although aid and loans from the United States increased spectacularly during the first three years of the regime, while presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford were in office, relations soured after Jimmy Carter was elected president in
1976 on a platform promising vigorous pursuit of human rights as a major component of his foreign policy. During the Carter administration, a significant source of contention was the 1976 assassination in Washington of the former Chilean ambassador to the United States by agents of Pinochet’s secret police. The victim, Orlando Letelier, had served under Allende. In response to United
States criticism, General Pinochet held his first national plebiscite in 1978, calling for a yes or no vote on his defense of Chile’s sovereignty and the institutionalization of his regime. The government claimed that more than 75 percent of the voters in the tightly controlled referendum endorsed Pinochet’s rule.
By the mid-1970s, the dictatorship switched from destroying the old order to constructing its version of a new Chile. The junta not only overturned decades of democratic government but also decades of statist economic policies, which had mainly protected industrialists and organized workers. The new economic program was designed by civilian technocrats known as the "Chicago boys" because many of them had been trained or influenced by University of Chicago professors. The government instituted a dramatic conversion to free-market economics in 1975.
After curbing inflation and returning a significant amount of property to its former owners, the administration embarked on a radical program of liberalization and privatization, slashing tariffs as well as government welfare programs and deficits. As a result, the economy grew rapidly from 1976 to 1981, a feat heralded as the "Chilean miracle." That growth was fueled by the influx of private foreign loans until the debt crisis of the early 1980s. Financial conglomerates became the major beneficiaries of the open economy and the flood of foreign bank loans. Exports of nontraditional commodities, especially fruit, timber, and fish products, also grew impressively; the value of new exportables came to equal that of copper sales. Despite high growth in the late 1970s, income distribution became more regressive and unemployment stayed in double digits. The underemployed informal sector also mushroomed in size. The regime responded with a "minimum employment" public works program.
In conjunction with the liberalization of the economy, the junta implemented a series of social reforms to reduce the role of the central government in social security, labor disputes, health care, and education. These reforms fit with the desire to shrink the central government, decentralize administration, and privatize previous state functions. Critics charged that the welfare state was being dismantled to leave citizens at the mercy of the marketplace. The regime retorted that it was focusing its social assistance on the poorest of the poor to meet basic needs, and it pointed with pride to improvement in such indicators as infant mortality.
The most important of the government’s so-called modernizations in social policy was the 1979 Labor Plan. The regime had already outlawed the CUTCh, Marxist union leaders, several Marxist unions, union elections, strikes, and collective bargaining. Nevertheless, after bearing the brunt of repression in 1973-74, unions gradually revived in the late 1970s. Little by little, cooperation increased between Marxist and Christian Democrat union leaders, the latter making gains because the former were outlawed. Although a few unions supported the government, most firmly opposed the regime and its economic program. The Labor Plan sought to codify the dictatorship’s antilabor policies. It placed stringent limits on collective bargaining, strikes, and other union activities, especially any participation in politics. Almost all labor unions rejected the Labor Plan and aligned with the opposition.
At the height of the economic boom, the regime moved to legitimize and regularize its reforms and its tenure. Its new "constitution of liberty" was approved in a controlled plebiscite in 1980, in which the government claimed to have received 67 percent of the vote. Both leftists and Christian Democrats had called for a no vote. Because there were no safeguards for the opposition or for the balloting, most analysts expressed doubts about the government’s percentage and assumed that the constitution may have won by a lesser margin. According to the new constitution, Pinochet would remain president through 1989; a plebiscite in 1988 would determine if he would have an additional eight years in office. The document provided for military domination of the government both before and after the 1988 plebiscite.
The constitution’s approval marked the institutionalization of Pinochet’s political system. In the eyes of the military, a dictatorship had now been transformed into an authoritarian regime, rule by exception having been replaced by the rule of law. When the new charter took effect in 1981, the dictatorship was at the peak of its powers, politically untouchable and economically successful. At that moment, few would have predicted that the dispirited and fragmented opposition would take power by the end of the decade.
The imposition of the authoritarian constitution cast further gloom on the divided and dejected opposition. The PCCh now made a historic reversal, claiming that all forms of struggle, including armed insurrection, were justified against the dictatorship. Most political parties on the left or in the center, however, continued searching for a peaceful path to redemocratization
From 1982 to 1990, Chile underwent a prolonged journey back to democracy. During that process, the country experienced five crucial changes. First, the economic collapse in 1982 provoked some adjustments to the neoliberal model and sparked widespread protests against the regime. That recession was compounded by the international debt crisis.
Second, although most of the regime’s supporters in the business community and the armed forces held fast, the 1980s witnessed a weakening of their attachment to authoritarianism and a few defections from their ranks. Third, civil society became emboldened. A series of demonstrations against Pinochet during 1983-85 spread from organized labor to the middle class and finally ended up concentrated among the residents of the urban shantytowns. Fourth, the previously repressed and dormant political parties came back to life. They took charge during the 1988 plebiscite that effectively ended the Pinochet regime and the subsequent 1989 elections for president and Congress. Fifth, after being surrounded by like-minded dictators in South America, Pinochet became isolated as a tide of democratization swept the continent, and the United States and Europe began applying pressure for Chile to join the trend.
In sum, from its apogee in the 1980 plebiscite to its exit in 1990, the authoritarian regime lost support and saw its opponents gain momentum and eventually power. During its first decade, however, the dictatorship had brought about profound and seemingly durable changes. Politically, it had pulverized the revolutionary Marxist left. Economically, it had moved Chile’s focus from the state to the market. Socially, it had fostered a new emphasis on individualism and consumerism, widening the gap between rich and poor, even while helping some of the most destitute. What it had failed to do was to extirpate the preference
of most Chileans for democracy.
In December 1989, since the 1970 election won by Salvador Allende. Patricio Aylwin Azocár had gathered around him 3,850,023 votes (55.17%), while the center-right supermarket tycoon Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who represented the UCCP party, managed to take 15.05% of the vote, which had as main effects to lower right-wing candidate Hernán Büchi’s score to 29.40% (approximately 2 million votes, almost half of Patricio Aylwin).
The Concertación coalition would dominate Chilean politics for the next two decades, with its most recent victory being the 2006 election of Socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet. It established in February 1991 the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, which released in February 1991 the Rettig Report on human rights violations during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. This report, contested by human rights NGOs and associations of political prisoners, counted 2,279 cases of "disappearances" which could be proved and registered. Of course, the very nature of "disappearances" made such investigations very difficult, while many victims were still intimidated by the authorities, and did not dare go to the local
police center register themselves on lists, since the police officers were the same as during the dictatorship. The same problem arose, several years later, for the Valech Report, released in 2004 and which counted almost 30,000 victims of torture, among testimonies from 35,000 persons. However, the Rettig Report did list important detention and torture centers, such as the Esmeralda ship, the Víctor Jara Stadium, Villa Grimaldi, etc. The registering of victims of the dictatorship, and then, in the 2000s, trials of militaries guilty of human right violations, would dominate the next few years.
In the 1993 election, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle of the Christian Democratic Party was elected president for a 6-year term leading the Concertacion coalition, and took office in March 1994. Following an agreement between Pinochet and Andrés Zaldívar Larraín, president of the Senate, the latter voted to abolish the date of 11 September as a National Holiday which celebrated the 1973 coup. Supporters of Pinochet had blocked until then any such attempt. The same year, Pinochet traveled to London for an operation. But under orders of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, he was arrested there, lifting world-wide attention, not only because of the past history of Chile and South America, but also because this was one of the first arrest of a dictator based on the universal juridiction principle. Pinochet tried to defend himself by referring to the State Immunity Act of 1978, an argument rejected by the British justice. However, UK Home Secretary Jack Straw took the responsibility to release him on medical grounds, and refused to extradite him to Spain. Thereafter, Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000. Upon descending the plane on his wheelchair, he stood up and saluted the cheering crowd of supporters, including an army band playing his favorite military march tunes, which was awaiting him at the airport in Santiago. President Ricardo Lagos, who had just sworn in on March 11, said the retired general’s televised arrival had damaged the image of Chile, while thousands demonstrated against him.
Representing the Concertación coalition for democracy, Ricardo Lagos had won the election just a few months before, by a very tight score of less than 200,000 votes (51,32%) against Joaquín Lavín (less than 49%), who represented the right-wing Alliance for Chile. None of the six candidates had obtained an absolute majority on the first turn held on December 12, 1999. Lagos was sworn in March 11, 2000, for a 6-year term.
In 2002 Chile signed an association agreement with the European Union (comprising FTA, political and cultural agreements), in 2003, an extensive free trade agreement with the United States, and in 2004 with South Korea, expecting a boom in import and export of local produce and becoming a regional trade-hub.
Meanwhile, the trials concerning human rights violations during the dictatorship continued. Pinochet was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in August 2000 by the Supreme Court, and indicted by judge Juan Guzmán Tapia. Guzmán had ordered in 1999 the arrest of five militaries, including General Pedro Espinoza Bravo of the DINA, for their role in the Caravan of Death following the 11 September coup. Arguing that the bodies of the "disappeared" were still missing, he made
jurisprudence which had as effect to lift any prescription on the crimes committed by the militaries. Pinochet’s trial continued until his death on December 10, 2006, with an alternance of indictments for specific cases, lifting of immunities by the Supreme Court or to the contrary immunity from prosecution, with his health a main argument for, or against, his prosecution. The Supreme Court affirmed in March 2005 Pinochet’s immunity concerning the 1974 assassination of General Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires, which had taken place in the frame of Operation Condor. However, he was deemed fit to stand trial for Operation Colombo, during which 119 political opponents were "disappeared" in Argentina. The Chilean justice also lifted his immunity on the Villa Grimaldi case, a detention and torture center in the outskirts of Santiago. Pinochet, who still benefited from a reputation of righteousness from his supporters, lost legitimacy when he was put under house arrest on tax fraud and passport forgery, following the publication by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of a report concerning the Riggs Bank in July 2004. The report was a consequence of investigations on financial funding of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US. The bank controlled between USD $4 million and $8 million of Pinochet’s assets, who lived in Santiago in a modest house, dissimulating his wealth. According to the report, Riggs participated in money laundering for Pinochet, setting up offshore shell corporations (referring to Pinochet as only "a former public official"), and hiding his accounts from regulatory agencies. Related to Pinochet’s and his family secret bank accounts in United States and in Caraïbs islands, this tax fraud filing for an amount of 27 million dollars shocked the conservative sectors who still supported him. Ninety percent of these funds would have been raised between 1990 and 1998, when Pinochet was chief of the Chilean armies, and would essentially have come from weapons traffic (when purchasing Belgian ‘Mirage’ air-fighters in 1994, Dutch ‘Léopard’ tanks, Swiss ‘Mowag’ tanks or by illegal sales of weapons to Croatia, in the middle of the Balkans war.) His wife, Lucía Hiriart, and his son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, were also sued for complicity. For the fourth time in seven years, Pinochet was indicted by the Chilean justice.
The Chilean authorities took control in August 2005 of the Colonia Dignidad "community", directed by
ex-Nazi Paul Schäfer.
The Concertación again won the 2006 presidential election. Michelle Bachelet, first woman president, won against Sebastián Piñera (Alliance for Chile), with more than 53% of the votes.