Popular discontent favored the strengthening of left-wing parties (socialist and communist) and Christian democracy, a center reformist party founded in 1957, which sought to end the traditional right-wing social and political power through economic reforms, especially in the agrarian sector. .
The Christian Democratic government and the socialist experience. In the 1964 elections, the left was divided and the Christian Democratic Party achieved a devastating electoral victory. With the motto of “revolution in freedom”, Eduardo Frei Montalva became the new president of the country. He developed a “Chileanization” program that was supported by the middle class. Its most important accomplishment was the agrarian reform, initiated in 1967, which expropriated, through indemnity, the uncultivated lands and limited the properties to eighty hectares. In 1970, some 200,000 hectares had already been expropriated. The reformist policy of the Christian Democrats increased the expectation of social improvements among the popular classes. Workers began to participate actively in politics and were increasingly leaning to the left.
In 1969 a left-wing coalition was created with a view to the presidential elections. This new formation comprised the Popular Unity, socialists, communists and small groups of the Marxist and non-Marxist left. A year later, the socialist Salvador Allende, candidate of the Popular Unit, was elected president of the republic.
The Popular Unity program was intended to make a peaceful transition to socialism while maintaining the democratic system. To achieve these goals, the government believed it was necessary to end the political and economic power of banks, nationalize companies in the hands of foreigners, develop agrarian reform and redistribute wealth in favor of the most disadvantaged classes. With this program of social change, the Allende government increased its popular support in the municipal and legislative elections of 1971 and 1972.
From 1971, however, support for Allende by the middle class decreased, unhappy with the economic difficulties caused by nationalizations (copper mines and basic industries) and the boycott of foreign capital, especially in the United States. The appearance of strong inflation and economic stagnation allowed the forces against the socialist experience to regroup. The Allende government, pursuing its goal of implanting socialism, came into frequent conflict with other organs of power, such as the judiciary and the courts of auditors, while illegal occupations of factories and properties were taking place. The right, represented by the National Party, and the Christian Democratic centrists, joined their anti-government efforts and sought support from the military.
On September 11, 1973, the armed forces seized power. The military coup was supported by the middle and upper classes, while the Christian Democratic Party remained neutral. Salvador Allende, besieged in the La Moneda palace, did not surrender and was killed during the bombing and invasion of the palace.
The military junta, chaired by General Augusto Pinochet, commander of the Army, reversed Allende’s policies and applied monetarist recipes to stabilize the economy and fight inflation, while prescribing political organizations. The chosen economic model was initially successful in controlling inflation, but the international economic crisis did not allow its negative effects to be overcome.
In 1981, a new constitution extended the current regime until 1989, after which it would return to the civilian government. However, the 1980s were marked by a progressive hardening of the positions of the regime’s opponents and by fluctuations in official policy, which at times sought support through limited openness and, on occasions, failing to achieve the desired response, suspended the dialogue.
The conflict with Argentina over the possession of some islands in the Beagle Channel was resolved through papal arbitration. In 1987, Pinochet survived an attack. In 1988, when the economy was showing a strong recovery, the government lost a referendum that should keep Pinochet in power until 1996. In 1989 general elections were held, when the opposition candidate, the civilian Patricio Aylwin, was chosen, who counted on the support of a broad front of political organizations. However, the presence of the military and Pinochet continued to make itself felt. In 1994, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle was elected president, son of Eduardo Frei.
In 1973, the military junta revoked the longest-standing constitution in Chile’s history, that of 1925. Until 1980, the government maintained an institutional vacuum that ended with the promulgation of the 1981 presidential constitution. Until its full entry into force, the president of the republic and head of the army also commanded the government board, which temporarily concentrated the executive, legislative and military powers.
The 1981 constitution adopted specific formulas for defining the social system, such as the division of powers and the participation of citizens in public life, although their development remained restricted during the envisaged transition period.
Chile has a very centralized administrative organization. The president appoints the stewards or governors of each of the 51 provinces and they, in turn, choose delegates who oversee municipal management. The mayors of cities with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants are also appointed by the president.