On September 4, 1973, as the Chilean military prepared to overthrow Salvador Allende in a US-backed coup d’état, the country’s President remained defiant as he spoke to an unprecedented one-million-strong pro-Allende demonstration in Santiago. The demonstrators filed past La Moneda, the country’s Presidential Palace, and shouted “Allende, Allende, el pueblo te defiende” (“Allende, Allende, the people will defend you”). Following months of crippling strikes and an unsuccessful coup attempt in June of that year, the Chilean leader warned of those who “do not respect the majoritarian will of Chile”, and promised: “Let them know that I will not take a single step back! I will leave when I have carried out the people’s mandate! I have no alternative.” On the afternoon of September 11, as forces loyal to General Augusto Pinochet and the military junta surrounded the besieged Palace, Allende honoured the promise he made in his last radio broadcast to never resign to an unconstitutional government. By choosing to take his own life, he symbolically died as the freely elected President of Chile.
Forty years after his death, Salvador Allende, the first democratically chosen Marxist leader in Latin America, remains a hero of the left, of the poor and of the underprivileged. A tenacious leader, he secured Chile’s top political post on his fourth attempt following his election in September 1970. Despite his Marxist credentials, Allende was quintessentially a Chilean nationalist who committed his life’s work to the betterment of his fellow countrymen and countrywomen, and to freedom from economic dependence or servitude to any outside power. As a close political confidant, Sergio Vuskovic, has testified: “He was not a Marxist in the classical literal sense, and frowned upon communist dogmas that emphasized a single party dominated ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
What he did take from Marxism was a preoccupation with the workers and the poor, and the idea of equality. For these reasons, it would be more accurate to describe Allende as a libertarian socialist." He respected and enjoyed close ties with militant revolutionaries such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro but rejected the violent revolutionary approach for Chile and faithfully espoused social and political reforms within his country via democratic means.
His left-wing politics were informed by the dire poverty experienced by most Chilean citizens that he witnessed as a doctor and as a politician. Upon securing the Presidency, Allende immediately set out to implement major social reforms. Examples included social security rights for all workers, land redistribution, rent reductions, improved health care facilities, improved housing and sanitation, free milk for nursing mothers and school children, anti-illiteracy campaigns, the raising of the minimum wage, and the granting of three thousand scholarships for the marginalized Mapuches Indian community. Positive results from such initiatives included an increase in school enrollments and a reduction of nearly 20 per cent in malnutrition rates amongst the very young. In order to finance such programs, Allende embarked on an ambitious program encompassing the accelerated nationalization and expropriation of industries.
Such policies were of deep concern to US corporations such as Kennecott, Anaconda, PepsiCo, and International Telephone and Telegraph. Such corporations played a major role in lobbying the US government to implement measures aimed at asphyxiating the freely elected government of Chile. According to Lubna Qureshi, an expert on the coup of 1973, the strategic threat of Soviet infiltration was not the foremost American concern in the Chilean case, rather “the predominant motivation was a fear of a demonstration effect and a diminution of US economic and political power and influence in Latin America.”.. read more: