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|Salvador Allende Gossens
President of Chile, 1970-1973
Salvador Isabelino del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Allende Gossens was born into an upper-class familyin Valparaiso, Chile, on July 26, 1908. His grandfather was one of the founders of the Chilean Radical Party in the 1860's, and his father and uncles were active members of the party.
After graduating from secondary school at the age of 16, Allende enrolled in the Coraceros Cavalry Regiment and, after a tour of duty, entered the University of Chile Medical School. Attracted to Marxism while at the university, he became an activist and was arrested twice and expelled twice before graduating in 1932. His student radicalism prevented him from getting hired by a major hospital, so he was forced to take work as a pathology assistant, performing autopsies on the cadavers of the poor. He eventually established a practice among public welfare patients in Valparaiso.
In 1933, Allende was one of the founders of the Chilean Socialist Party, which was based on Marxist principles. In 1937, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, where he introduced legislation on public health, social welfare, and the rights of women. In 1939, he was named Minister of Health, Prevention, and Social Assistance, a position he held until 1942. During his tenure as Minister of Health, he helped implement such social reforms as higher pensions, a free school lunch program, and safety laws for factory workers.
In 1940, Allende married Hortensia Bussi, with whom he had three daughters, Carmen Paz, Isabel and Beatriz.
In 1939, Allende published La Realidad Médico-Social Chilena (The Chilean Socio-Medical Reality), which focused on on specific health problems generated by the poor living conditions of the working class. He concluded the book with proposals for health improvement that emphasized social change rather than medical intervention.
Allende became the leader of the Chilean Socialist Party in 1942. In 1945, he was elected to the Senate, where he remained until 1970. During his tenure in the Senate, he introduced the legislation that created the Chilean National Health Service, the first program in the Americas to guarantee universal health care.
Allende was an unsuccessful candidate for President in 1952, 1958, and 1964. On September 4, 1970, he won 36.3 per cent of the vote in a three-way race (with former President Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez and Christian Democratic candidate Radomiro Tomic Romero). Since neither candidate polled a clear majority, the choice of President fell to Congress, which, thanks to a deal made with the Christian Democrats, ultimately elected Allende. He was inaugurated on November 3.
When Allende took office, unemployment was high and an estimated half of the country's children under the age of 15 were suffering from malnutrition. Allende immediately implemented a socialist agenda, increasing wages and freezing prices while taking steps to reform the education system, health care, and government administration. One of his first major actions was to decentralize health care by empowering local health councils to serve the people directly. The focus on public rather than private care threatened the income of the nation's private physicians, who became part of a major opposition bloc. He also nationalized many large-scale industries and expropriated American-owned copper industries without compensation.
Allende's Marxist leanings made him unpopular with other American nations, especially the United States, which gave millions of dollars to his opponents. His presidency was further undermined by political opposition from within Chile, as well as by continuing economic instabilty. His inability to control his own radical left wing brought further hostility from the middle class, though he remained popular among workers and peasants. On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup d'état to overthrow Allende, who refused to surrender and barricaded himself in the presidential palace. During the siege, a large number of civilians were killed or wounded and many were imprisoned. Allende was found dead that same day, with suicide given as the official cause of death.
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This page was last updated on July 12, 2018.