Chile History From 1964 to 1974 Part I

By | December 13, 2021

President J. Alessandri (1958-1964), slightly prevailing over the socialist Allende, faced the task of reviving the Chilean economy. The effort to boost industrialization, however, went to the detriment of agriculture, while copper exports faced disastrous international competition. The financial situation led the government to impose austerity measures, with a wage freeze. The cost of living quadrupled within a few years, obviously affecting the lower classes. The end of Alessandri’s mandate, which had passed in relative calm, found the country in the grip of restlessness.

For the 1964 elections, the defeat of the conservative candidate, J. Durán, was a foregone conclusion, after the disappointment of the Alessandri presidency. Two strong groups were preparing to give the rise to power: the Frente de Acción Popular (FRAP), a social-communist coalition headed by S. Allende, which promised the “transition to socialism”, and the Christian Democrats who re-proposed the prestigious name of E. Frei. The electoral promises did not differ, in essence, from one another: land for the peasants, vote for the illiterate, nationalization of the copper mines (total for Allende, partial for Frei), abolition of monopolies. Frei was considered a faithful friend of the USA while Allende proclaimed his sympathy for F. Castro. The elections (4 September) recorded the clear victory, for the first time in the history of Latin America, of a new party, the Christian Democrat, born in the 1930s (national Falange), aligned to the left within the framework of traditional political alliances and inspired by the appeals of Leo XIII and John XXIII, as well as the theories of Catholic philosophers such as J. Maritain and the Belgian Jesuit, who lived for a long time in Chile, R. Vekemans. However, the movement was not linked to the clergy, it rejected both communism and capitalism and fought for social renewal, revolución en la libertad, in the context of legality.

Frei immediately had to face the distrust of Congress, in which his party was in a clear minority, while the country presented a depressing economic situation: galloping inflation, insufficient agricultural production, shortage of housing, poor farming conditions. The congressional elections of March 1965 represented a triumph for Christian democracy which saw its seats in the Chamber increase from 23 to 82. Frei was thus able to proceed with the “Chileanization” of the copper mines which were almost entirely in the hands of North American companies. Production of the metal was expected to double within six years. The “Chileanization” occurred at the end of 1966, after long debates in Congress, and was followed by an agreement with Peru, Congo and Zambia for the unification of prices. But in 1967 a drop in world demand for the product caused a crisis and the plan on which Frei had based his estimates was wrecked. The courageous agrarian reform, which touched the interests of the landowners, had to overcome fierce opposition, which lasted over two years, in the legislature. The law, passed on July 16, 1967, was triumphantly welcomed by the masses, as wealthy landowners felt cheated and left-wing radicals accused the government of swindling the landowners. It was expected, however, that by 1972 no less than one hundred thousand families would have their rural property. The expropriations were immediately initiated under the control of CORA (Corporation of Agrarian Reform) and the peasants had their own unions.

In foreign policy, President Frei’s pragmatism reconciled maintaining good relations with Washington with criticism of US intervention in the Dominican Republic (April 1965); support for the OAS with opposition to the project of an inter-American armed force; the pressure for a return of Cuba to the OAS with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the USSR. On the other hand, Frei brought to a solution long-standing border issues with Argentina, with which he initiated greater economic collaboration. In 1965 he traveled to Italy, France, England and West Germany, making important contacts and receiving a warm welcome. The results of the reforms, however, inevitably appeared slow. Squeezed in the struggle of extremisms, Strong in the House but tenaciously opposed to the Senate (which in 1965 refused him permission to travel to the USA to meet with Johnson), Frei began to lose the confidence of the impatient masses. The municipal elections of 1967 gave Christian democracy only 36.5% of the votes (42.3% in 1965) while the other parties strengthened. The results obtained were undeniable – 1224 expropriated haciendas, lands distributed to 30,000 families, 260,000 homes built, tripled the number of schools, curbed inflation – but they could not quickly solve the complex problems linked to the secular social structure still dominated by powerful oligarchies. Frei has the merit of having attempted to initiate a social revolution by peaceful means.

After the Christian-democratic attempt, the elections of 4 September 1969 showed that Chile was ready to experiment with a socialist orientation. Three candidates were in contention for Frei’s succession, which the constitution prevented from reappearing: the Christian Democrat R. Tomic, the former president J. Alessandri, conservative, and S. Allende, socialist, supported by six small parties of the left, including the well-organized Chilean Communist Party, opposed to the armed struggle, which has risen to leadership of the Confederation of Labor. The response from the polls assigned Allende 36.3% of the votes, Alessandri 34.9% and Tomic 27.8%. The result meant that two-thirds of the voters had voted for social reform. There was no absolute majority, but Congress confirmed Allende, thanks to the unanimous support from the Christian Democrats, in exchange for certain guarantees: survival of opposition parties, freedom of the press, trade union autonomy. The first freely elected socialist president on the American continent was installed on November 4, 1970, at the head of a government of popular unity in which three socialists, three communists, three socialist-radicals and two social democrats were included.

Chile History From 1964 to 1974 Part I