Jorge Alessandri's Rightist Term, 1958-64

Chile Table of Contents

Once again, Congress approved the front-runner as president. Alessandri promised to restrain government intervention in the economy and to promote the private sector, although he did not envision reliance on the market to the extent that later would occur under Pinochet. With a slender mandate, the opposition in control of the legislature, and a modest program, the president accomplished little of great note.

Alessandri did, however, maintain political and economic stability. He temporarily dampened inflation, mainly by placing a ceiling on wages. This measure sparked mounting labor protests in the early 1960s. The economy grew and unemployment shrank. He also passed mild land-reform legislation, which would be implemented mostly by his successors. His action was partly the result of prodding by the United States government, which backed agrarian reform under the auspices of the Alliance for Progress in hopes of blunting the appeal of the Cuban Revolution. At the same time, Alessandri tried to attract foreign investment, although he had no intention of throwing open the economy, as would be done under Pinochet. By the end of Alessandri's term, the country was burdened with a rising foreign debt.

In the 1964 presidential contest, the right abandoned its standard-bearers and gave its support to Frei in order to avert an Allende victory in the face of rising electoral support for the leftists. The center-right alliance defeated the left, 56 percent to 39 percent. The reformist Frei enjoyed strong United States support, both during and after the campaign. He also had the backing of the Roman Catholic Church and European Christian Democrats. Frei ran particularly well among women, the middle class, peasants, and residents of the shantytowns (callampas or poblaciones). Allende was most popular with men and bluecollar workers.

Although Frei and Allende were foes on the campaign trail, they agreed on major national issues that needed to be addressed: greater Chilean control over the United States-owned copper mines, agrarian reform, better housing for the residents of the sprawling shantytowns, more equitable income distribution, expanded educational opportunities, and a more independent foreign policy. They both criticized capitalism as a cause of underdevelopment and of the poverty that afflicted the majority of Chile's population. To distinguish his more moderate program from Allende's Marxism, Frei promised a "Revolution in Liberty."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress