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"Workers of my fatherland, have faith in Chile and her destiny. Others will overcome this grey, sad moment when treason strains to conquer. Go forward knowing that much more sooner than later, the great avenues will open anew to let pass free people to build a better society."

– Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973

Salvador Allende addressing a rally

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Salvador Allende

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Salvador Allende

Salvador Allende (1908-1973) was a physician, helped found the Chilean Socialist party in 1933, was Minister of Health (1939-42) and President of the Senate (1965-69). Four times a presidential candidate, he won in 1970 by a narrow plurality.

In early September 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile in a democratic election. Attempting to implement socialism by democratic means (“the Chilean road to socialism”), he called for minor redistribution of wealth to help the poor, he instituted a free milk program for half a million very poor, malnourished children. He called for nationalization of major industries like copper mining, and for a policy of international independence — believing that Chile would not simply subordinate itself to the US, but would take more of an independent path.

President Allende attempted to hold together his coalition and to deal with ever more intense internal opposition along with economic sanctions, both overt and covert, applied by the United States. Allende's commitment to socialism, though more moderate than many of his allies, nevertheless generated significant polarization of Chilean society. Economic difficulties, caused both by poor economic planning and by internal and external adversaries, exacerbated political conflict within the country.

By mid-1973 the Chilean economy was experiencing high levels of inflation and serious declines in productivity as the internal opposition to the government became more militant. There was a massive destabilization and disinformation campaign. The CIA planted stories in El Mercurio (Chile's most prominent paper) and fomented labor unrest and strikes.

Finally, on September 11, 1973, armed forces supported heavily by the United States to destabilize Allende's government mounted a nationally coordinated coup d'etat in which thousands of people were being imprisoned, tortured and slaughtered. President Allende refused to surrender and leave the country as the coup leaders demanded, deciding instead to fight against the military from the presidential palace with an automatic weapon given to him by Fidel Castro. Allende was murdered by the soldiers who stormed the presidential palace after it was attacked by air force planes.

CIA sponsored General Augusto Pinochet exploited the situation to seize total power and establish an anti-communist military dictatorship which lasted until 1990.

The economic aid from the United States which had been cancelled immediately after Allende was elected began to flow again. As a reward for the military junta's achievement in reversing Chilean democracy, the US gave massive support to the new government.

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