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Analysis and Evaluation

An investigation into salvador allende’s effectiveness as president

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In the South American country of Chile, one may note its intricate yet fascinating history. This Extended Essay historically investigates an event in Chile’s past: the presidency of Salvador Allende. This inquiry is significant because it displays how Salvador Allende revolutionized both democracy and politics, for he was the first democratically elected Socialist in a contemporary country. However, his success as president lends itself to questioning. Consequently, one must contemplate: to what extent was Salvador Allende’s presidency considered a success? This Extended Essay explores this notion.


The investigation utilized various techniques. This conglomeration of multiple sources yielded valuable information for this Extended Essay. The first section of the investigation discusses the economic, social, political, and militaristic conditions of Chile in the middle of the twentieth century, prior to Allende’s accession as president. Some of the information gathered focuses on the 1960s, ten years prior to Allende’s victory. These different conditions serve as the foundation that allows one to evaluate Chilean affairs before 1970. This Extended Essay observed these same conditions after Allende’s presidency, in later sections. This approach allows one to observe the methods, results, and effectiveness of Allende’s administration by contrasting the conditions prior to his election with the aftermath that followed his term.


The conclusions of the investigation were notable. Overall, Allende failed to improve the economic, social, political, and militaristic conditions of Chile during his three years of president. Due to his ineffective implementation of his “road to Socialism” platform, mass discontent grew and negatively affected the other conditions. Tensions within Chile and on international levels allowed for a growing apprehension of Allende. Hence, Allende’s presidency caused mass dissatisfaction and accelerated his death in 1973.


I would personally like to express thanks to Mrs. Bonny White for all her vast help and wonderful inspiration as my Extended Essay supervisor. Her endless and altruistic dedication, in addition to her immensely valuable advice on this enormous task, truly merits massive recognition and great respect.


George Santayana once stated that “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”1 This quote illuminates an important concept in history: learning from past mistakes prevents unfavorable events in the future. However, some instances in history are so remarkable that they require a thorough investigation. Notably, in the South American nation of Chile, one such case occurred with Salvador Allende in the 1970s. Allende’s presidency was a significant era to observe how he altered the pre-existing Chilean government along with the national conditions and how he maneuvered these conditions during his years as president. Allende’s presidency is worthy of investigation because it marked a major milestone in the history of democracy for not only Chilean politics, but for global politics as well. Consequently, one must consider this notion: to what extent was Salvador Allende’s presidency considered a success? Given Salvador Allende’s management of the pre-existing social, economic, political, and additional issues in Chile, one can consider that his presidency was unsuccessful in dealing with these conditions.


Twentieth century Chile

When investigating the circumstances of Allende’s success or failure as president, it is important to understand Chile’s historical context. Since Chile obtained its independence from Spain in 1810, it has shown to the world that it is a unique and capable nation. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Chile showed great economic diversity. At the time, the major industries of Chile revolved around mining. The two most notable and profitable minerals were copper and nitrates. The copper and nitrate industry caused an ephemeral economic expansion. By the 1960s and 1970s, the production and exportation of copper and nitrates dominated 60 to 85 percent of all of Chile’s revenues. Moreover, in 1960, Chile produced 532 thousand tons of copper and 930 thousand tons of nitrates; in 1970, copper soared to 692 thousand tons, yet nitrates dropped to 674 thousand tons. This growth of economic stability and prosperity appeared favorable for the Chileans. However, this appearance of wealth was a façade; other economic issues lurked. For instance, the per capita Gross Domestic Product rate in 1960 was at 4.1 percent, while a decade later it plunged to a low of -.5 percent. During this same span, the annual inflation rate was at 5.5 percent in 1960 and ten years later, it nearly multiplied six times to 34.9 percent. Inflation was at its highest in 1963 at a rate of 45.3 percent. These figures indicated that the economy of Chile appeared unstable, but it was notably declining in the second half of the twentieth century. This implied that upcoming hardships would embody Chile.


The political atmosphere of Chile in the middle of the 1900s was also somewhat troubled and problematic; it was a time of mass politics. Marxists, particularly Communists and Socialists, were initially divided over the issues of the middle class workers, such as their living conditions. Another key political party rivaling the Marxists was the Christian Democrat Party. This group claimed to be a “breakaway faction from the Conservative Party”, yet it was essentially moderate; it positioned itself in between the two Marxist groups and the traditional Right party of Chile. The effectiveness of each party would be evident in the different election years. In the 1958 presidential election, the Rightist candidate Jorge Allesandri won 31.6 percent of the votes while the Christian Democrats seized power in 1964 with their candidate, Eduardo Frei, with 56.1 percent of votes. This victory by the Christian Democrats alarmed the divided Leftists. Consequently, the Leftists formed a political coalition known as “La Unidad Popular”, or the Popular Unity. The Popular Unity consisted of Communist, Socialist, Radical, the Christian Left, and other political parties. Since the Socialists and Communists held great influence over international and domestic affairs, Allende held a favorable position in the Left. Allende participated as a presidential candidate since the 1952 election, and it appeared that by participating with the Popular Unity that victory could ultimately be possible for the experienced political figure.


In noting the economic and political conditions, one must not forget to note the underlying social and militaristic situations as well. In a 1970 survey, 2.6 million Chilean workers showed that the three most popular occupations involved 38 percent of the population as manual workers, 23 percent as artisans, and 18 percent as self-employed workers. This situation seemed favorable to the Marxist ideology, in which Karl Marx claimed that the proletariats could overthrow their contemporary society and revolutionize it. As a result, many of the people favored the notions of the Popular Unity over the Christian Democrats; the latter group lost much support. In addition, a militaristic confrontation known as “Tacnazo” occurred in 1969 that upset the masses. This clash occurred because of Frei’s questionable policies, which led to frustration among senior officials due to low wages and poor military equipment. Hence, these military figures argued against the government, but the conflict settled as the government and military reached an agreement soon afterwards. Strikes also displayed the conditions of the masses. Ever since the 1950s, an increasing number of Chileans took to organizations such as trade unions; for instance, in 1950, about 44,000 people participated in strikes while three years later the participants more than doubled to 109,000 strikers. This showed the people’s power and potential to address grievances. Ultimately, these brief yet pertinent extracts of the economic, political, social, and militaristic conditions prior to the 1970 election serve as the foundation in which to evaluate the success of a man attempting to revolutionize his nation.

The 1970 election and results

As the year 1970 drew closer, the presidential election and the various candidates attracted a great deal of attention. The Christian Democrats, who had been in an unsteady state of maintaining loyal party members, continued to lose support. In fact, 20 percent of the agricultural workers formerly dedicated to the Christian Democratic Party, who promised “A Revolution in Liberty”, were affiliating and supporting other political parties. One explanation claims that this continual dissatisfaction with the Christian Democrats prompted many voters to affiliate with the Popular Unity. The presidential candidates included Salvador Allende under the Popular Unity, while Jorge Alessandri represented the Rightist National Party, and Radomiro Tomic represented the Christian Democrats. However, fierce competition soon emerged between Allende and Alessandri for the election; this struggle culminated when the votes were calculated. One interpretation claims that on September 4, 1970, Allende obtained 36.8 percent of votes, Allesandri obtained 35 percent of votes, and Tomic obtained 28 percent of votes. However, another analysis views that Allende received 36.3 percent, Alessandri received 34.9 percent, and Tomic received 27.8 percent of all votes; a margin of 40,000 votes allowed Allende to win. Although the voting percentages differ by a mere decimal value, one may note how some historians differ and hence have different interpretations of history. Regardless, Allende won the presidency. Consequently, Salvador Allende displayed an important highlight in the history of democracy: he was the first democratically elected Socialist president of Chile. On a global and domestic scale, this shocked and worried many; the threat of Marxism spreading worldwide caused many people and nations to closely scrutinize Chilean affairs.


As a presidential candidate, Allende advocated a platform known as “the road to Socialism” in order to stimulate Chile. With this process, Allende planned to nationalize copper, perform an agrarian reform, nationalize industries, and deal with other national issues. As a result of this platform, the United States and other superpowers would not wield large spheres of influence in Chile; supposedly, it would also allow Chile to develop into a more secure nation. Upon obtaining the presidency, Allende had to implement these notions, yet his efficiency at revolutionizing these issues remained questionable. Notably on the international context, the actions of Richard Nixon, the United States’ president at the time, and the National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, showed their disdain for Allende’s rise to power and they decided to “save Chile from Allende.” This appeared justifiable since the United States was in the midst of the Cold War era, wherein the superpower attempted to minimize the threat of Communism from spreading globally. Communism had already consumed Cuba by this time and the United States worried about more nations falling to this “red sandwich” threat, especially since both Chile and Cuba were within the Western Hemisphere and the remainder of Latin America was susceptible. This instance was not the first, and certainly not the last, of the United States’ involvement in Chilean affairs.

Allende’s economic policies

In observing Allende’s economic effectiveness, it is crucial to note some limitations on the data obtained from that era. Remarkably, information from 1970 to 1973 is scarce, and hence restricts a comprehensive analysis of the time. However, a compilation of different investigations allows for a somewhat complete depiction of the economic changes that occurred during Allende’s years as president. Foremost, Pedro Vuskovic served as the Minister of Economics and led some new financial policies under Allende’s term. Vuskovic proposed to widen the support of the government through the Popular Unity and other agendas to secure the economy. Allende’s platform of “the road to Socialism” yielded to the government to control 70 percent of all investments in Chile. The results initially seemed favorable for Allende’s presidency, since he appeared to accomplish a significant portion of his platform. Foreign trade, labor market controls, subsidies for basic products also increased, showing the growing power of the government in economic affairs. Alas, the economy worsened as time progressed. By 1971, the price of copper decreased tremendously to two thirds of what it used to cost just a year earlier, inflation took a 15.6 percent rise and consumer prices increased afterwards. Another analysis shows that the GDP rate declined to -7.1 percent and inflation peaked at 508.1 percent, but copper productivity actually increased to 735 thousand tons by 1973.28 With the first part of the “road to Socialism” involving the nationalization of copper as an almost universal failure, it appeared clear that other parts of the economy also suffered.


The declining national wealth of Chile in Allende’s three years in office also involved other economic indications. Outstandingly, exports, imports, and debts plagued the nation. Chile owed nearly two billion dollars in debt on an international level and of this great amount, it owed the United States roughly one billion dollars, prior to negotiations to resolve the debts. This extreme sum of money reiterated the unsuccessful nature of Allende’s presidency. In addition, the fiscal deficit was also 25 percent of GDP while tariffs reached 600 percent by the end of 1973. By 1973, the exportation of copper reached its highest at 83.3 percent of distribution, while Chile’s largest import, at 34 percent, involved transportation and machinery. Furthermore, the Popular Unity lost much support and power that it formerly had; opposition in government increased partly due to the failing economic situations. In the March 1973 congressional election, the Popular Unity received 1.6 million favorable votes while the opposition demonstrated nearly 1.98 million votes against Allende. With the appalling conditions of the Chilean economy, it leaves little doubt as to why both government officials and even citizens grew upset with Allende and his presidency.

Social situations and concerns

The next major part of Allende’s platform for revolutionizing Chile involved an agrarian reform. Although the Chileans were already upset at the failure of nationalizing copper, almost nothing seemed comparable to the controversial nature of the collectivization of farms. Allende’s Minister of Agriculture, Jacques Choncol, desired to confiscate farms in surplus of eighty hectares; by 1972, no farm exceeded this order. This caused an awkward position for Allende. Since he was a Socialist, it seemed almost deceitful to remove and reorganize the land that belonged to the people that voted for him and won him the presidency. Due to the agrarian reform, Chile’s landscape greatly changed. The new policies seized nearly 1,700 properties; countryside peasant councils and unions organized due to these abuses received from the government.Even though this instance of social unrest showed dissatisfaction with the government, even more civil upheaval loomed.


The conditions of the masses epitomized the unusual nature of Allende’s presidency. The unemployment rate steadily decreased from 7.1 percent in 1970 to 4.6 percent in 1973, while in 1970, the average real wages initially increased, but by 1973, they decreased nearly 30 percent. The unstable fluctuation of unemployment and wages caused much distress to the majority of people, and hence many strikes emerged as a result of annoyance with Allende. One analysis views that a truckers’ strike in October 1972 caused almost 200 million dollars in losses for the Chilean economy. The truckers’ strike began because of a fear of nationalizing transportation in addition to monetary pressures. Generally, the social context of Chile under Allende’s presidency seemed tense, and this mood affected other areas, for Allende’s government exhausted the patience of many people.

Political and militaristic problems

The three most notable nations to manipulate and influence Chile during Allende’s presidency were Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Allende’s policies allowed a moderate amount of trade with Communist-controlled Cuba; Frei’s administration formerly abandoned trade to the country. This new action resembled an attempt on behalf of Allende’s government to stimulate the dreadful economic conditions, yet the new markets did not aid Chile’s deteriorating economic, political, and social settings. On November 10, 1971, Fidel Castro visited Chile, allegedly to illustrate to “the world that Cuba was no longer alone . . . and judge [Chile’s] chances of success.” Fundamentally, Castro observed the Chilean government; he seemed suspicious on how Allende maneuvered the nation’s issues. Discovering that Socialism and democracy seemed possible shocked both the Cuban leader and the entire world as well. On the other hand, Castro and other Cuban officials noted afterwards that Allende failed to revolutionize Chile to the full extent that Castro had originally imagined. Despite Castro’s support, the tense political atmosphere continued to intensify. More people were succumbing to political polarization, the opposition of more political parties grew, class struggle conflicts increased, and the military grew more upset. The aftermath of Castro’s visit appeared to reveal the successful nature of democratic practices along with the notions of Socialism, but also depicted the unproductive example that Allende created.


More political predicaments emerged once Allende’s government became suspiciously involved with the Soviet Union. Many sources do not fully inquire into the Soviet Union’s influence in Chilean affairs, yet one analysis presents a somewhat speculative yet documented inspection. Since Chile owed a debt of nearly a billion dollars, Allende went to Moscow, Russia in 1972 to seek half a billion dollars to reconcile the enormous debt. Eventually, Soviet officials gave approximately 230 million dollars in aid in the form of short, medium, and long-term credit lines and even attempted to renegotiate 103 million dollars in bilateral debt. It seemed that help for Allende was successful, but other more important discussions happened during his visit to Moscow. Military plans between the Chilean government and the Soviets’ military occurred. Supposedly, the Soviets offered fifty million dollars for military equipment, such as arms and vehicles, through “fifty-year credits at 1 percent interest.” These negotiations seemed to cause praise for Allende’s term, suggesting that the great debt and discontented military would revive Chile and allow it to lead in a positive manner. However, opponents of this view, such as Vice President and the military’s Commander-in-Chief, Carlos Prats, argued that Chile should not have entirely relied on the Soviets’ “one line of supply.” With both Cuba and the Soviet Union aiding Chile, the partiality for Communism caught the interest of the First World’s great superpower: the United States.


The United States appeared to exert the greatest and most controversial pressure over Chilean affairs both before and during Allende’s term as president. From around the time of President Eisenhower’s administration in the 1950s and the 1960s, Chile appeared most interesting, especially since the Cuban revolution in 1959. Once Cuba fell to Communism, the United States worried that other nations, notably Latin American countries, would follow this model and jeopardize prospective markets and international relations. The Domino Effect embodied this concern. As a result, the United States adopted a global policy, known as the Alliance for Progress, of advocating democracy while managing economic and social factors to benefit wary countries. The United States closely watched the 1970 Chilean election and once Allende obtained office, the superpower assumed some new approaches to deal with these unfavorable series of events. By late 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered a recommencement of American aid to the Chilean military. This notion, perhaps based on the ideology of Containment, instigated more opposition towards Allende. It appeared successful, since Allende’s ineffective treatment of the economy, in addition to the other national issues, caused mass discontent. Special arrangements, such as the four million dollars extended from the Commodity Credit Corporation to Chileans for purchasing agricultural goods, displayed the grand position of American foreign policy. In addition, by 1973, the Central Intelligence Agency oversaw a loan of ten million dollars intended for military airplanes for the Chilean military; the American government also gave one hundred million dollars in debt relief to Chile. Despite the indirect opposition that the United States gave to subvert Allende through military and economic aid, President Nixon allotted eight million dollars to the CIA to thwart Allende openly. The political strain between the United States and Chile allowed for the governments of both nations to execute stealthy actions, however one must note the problematic conditions that Chile experienced at the time. Also, one must not fail to notice the implications that another Communist nation might have influenced on American policies and the Western Hemisphere as a whole; the visits to and from Cuba and the Soviet Union caused panic. Still, Allende’s third year in office would serve as a remarkable year: it would be his last.


In this environment of impending collapse, the Chilean military seemed to assume a position of great importance. By late 1972, Allende’s political rivals often subjected military officials to political polarization, causing the armed forces to feel deeply enraged at the government’s lack of fulfilling guarantees and its indecisiveness. These conditions seemed to leave little doubt as to why the following events occurred regarding Allende’s final moments as president. One notable action against Allende occurred on June 29, 1973 known as “El Tanquetazo” where Commander-in-Chief Prats led a coup d’état against Allende but failed. This event epitomized the military’s discontent for the Popular Unity’s government. On August 21, 1973, General Prats resigned from the military and General Augusto Pinochet assumed the role as the military’s new Commander-in-Chief. Eventually, on September 9, 1973, the leaders of the armed forces arranged for another coup, and the date settled for September 11.


On the prearranged date, pandemonium exploded. Some military units moved into Chile’s capital, Santiago, and naval forces left the port city of Valparaíso and allegedly convened with an American navy fleet to blockade Santiago. The fighting commenced in Santiago as the military attacked the Chilean governmental building, known as La Moneda. The armed forces conquered their opponents, but Allende refused to escape the conflict; as a Chilean air force helicopter launched a rocket towards La Moneda, the infantry entered the burning building. One analysis speculates that, “At around two o’clock that afternoon, Salvador Allende . . . shot himself through the head with a machine gun.” Although the definite cause of Allende’s death remains somewhat uncertain, alas, Salvador Allende rested dead on September 11, 1973 inside of La Moneda.


Ultimately, Salvador Allende failed to revolutionize and improve the economic, social, political, and militaristic conditions of Chile during his term of three years as president of the country in the 1970s. Foremost, his economic strategies did not alleviate the already declining Chilean economy. In fact, several economic indicators, such as inflation, increased dynamically during his three years in office. Furthermore, because of economic failure, the social situations of Chile after Allende’s victory appeared tense. Strikes and mass unhappiness exemplified the unsettling tension of the Chileans and their dislike and distrust of Allende’s government. Lastly, the political and militaristic atmosphere gradually grew disgruntled with Allende. More opponents, both within Chile and even international figures and nations, commenced to influence power over Chile and its affairs. Evidently, Salvador Allende failed as president and his platform of transforming Chile through the “road to Socialism” did not succeed either. Notably, this man was the first Socialist to obtain the position of president in a modern nation, but was also killed by his own citizens. However, some unresolved questions remain. What was his actual cause of death? How responsible was the United States at instigating the 1973 coup? Despite these inquiries, one thing seems significant: Salvador Allende maintained his policies, though they were ineffective and unpopular, until the very moment of his death. Overall, in this particular case, Winston Churchill appears to have described it best when he claimed, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure.”

Analysis and Evaluation

A History of Chile, 1808-1994, compiled by American historians Simon Collier and William F. Sater, is a comprehensive report of Chile’s history, published in 1999 in Cambridge, England. This book discusses Chile from its colonial beginnings to contemporary events that occurred during the last decade. Collier and Sater wrote A History of Chile with the purpose “to provide a general account of modern Chilean history.” This source is valuable to the study of Chile because these two men studied Latin America extensively while at the University of Cambridge. Hence, they provide a broad view of Chilean history, spanning nearly 190 years. However, this source has several limitations. Foremost, since the authors of this book are American and by working in England, they might have a predisposition to not fully comprehend the implications that they discuss; they originate from Capitalist nations, and hence might express a dislike for Socialist Chile under Allende’s presidency. In addition, the focus of the book is to report on all of Chile’s history; it does not investigate to the extensive depth necessary to fully evaluate Allende’s presidency. Overall, this source forfeits breadth over depth of information.


Conversely, The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende, written by Nathaniel Davis and published in 1985 in New York, examines exclusively on the years of Allende’s presidency. Davis served as the United States’ Ambassador to Chile, in addition to other positions as a global diplomat, for more than 30 years. The book aims to describe Davis’s visit to Chile and recount the events and situations of Chile during the 1970s. This source is useful because it demonstrates Chilean conditions through the perspective of a renowned diplomat. Thus, this source gains credibility because of Davis’s expertise in international relations. On the other hand, this book contains several restrictions as well. Most notably, Davis uses a first person point of view in his account of Allende’s presidency; he uses the first-person singular pronoun “I” often. This may cause subjectivity to occur and as a result allow objectivity to decline. As an American who wrote The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende, Davis may be reluctant to admit American involvement in Chilean affairs, for instance with the circumstances around Allende’s death. Ultimately, this source centers on the years of Allende’s presidency and fails to consider the necessary foundation of Chile’s past, prior to Allende’s term as president, for evaluating his effectiveness.


Churchill, Winston S. Never Give in!: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches. New York: Hyperion, 2003.


Collier, Simon, and William F. Sater. A History of Chile, 1808-1994. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.


Davis, Nathaniel. The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.


Faúndez, Julio. Marxism and Democracy in Chile: From 1932 to the Fall of Allende. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988.


James, Clive. As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.


Mesa-Lago, Carmelo. Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance.

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000.


O’Brien, Philip, ed. Allende’s Chile. New York: Praeger, 1976.


Ronning, C. Neale, and Albert P. Vannucci, eds. Ambassadors in Foreign Policy: The Influence of Individuals

on U.S.-Latin American Policy. New York: Praeger, 1987.


Sigmund, Paul E. The United States and Democracy in Chile. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.