The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits The Military Coup of 1973-1975

Events leading up to the coup

Prior to the mid-sixteenth century, the land that now makes up the Republic of Chile was inhabited by indigenous tribes. The capital city of Santiago was founded in 1540 by a conquistador named Pedro de Valdivia, and the Chilean territory came under Spanish control for the first time. Valdivia and the others wresting the land from the hands of the Indians were inspired by its great agricultural potential. In the coming centuries, colonists and Indians such as the Mapuche tribe were constantly at war with one another. In 1810 Chile was proclaimed an autonomous territory within the Spanish empire, and support began to build for its full independence. The Spanish royalists attempted to wrest Chile back from the hands of such believers during a period known as the "Reconquista" ("Reconquering"). 1817 brought with it the heroism of Bernardo O'Higgins, who along with war hero Jose San Martin brought the supporters of the throne to their knees. A year later Chile gained its independence, although its social structure was largely unchanged from the royal model established by the colonists.

During the late 1800s, as the colonists expanded their territory northward, the Chilean government became increasingly aggressive towards the Mapuche tribe. 1891 marked a great divide in the Republic with the onset of the Civil War, after which it changed its political model to balance power between the President and Congress. Yet the aristocracy managed to sway the government's decisions to protect its own interests until the election of Arturo Alessandri Palma, a reformer who attempted - with limited success - to support the middle and working classes. Throughout the 1920s, popular support for Marxist ideals increased, leading up to the military coup of 1924, which was led by Luis Altamirano. The Republic was thrown into nearly two decades of political unpredictability, after which the Radical Party reigned for another two decades. By the 1960s, Democrat Eduardo Frei Montalva found himself trying to strike a balance between the demands of the conservatives and leftists, both of whom disapproved of his attempts at social, urban, and agrarian reform.

The coup

In 1970, the Socialist candidate Salvador Allende Gossens (Isabel Allende's uncle) was elected President of the Republic. He used his time in office to steer Chile towards Communist ideals by calling for the nationalization of foreign stakes in the Republic, redistribution of land, and government control of industry. In the first year of Allende's leadership, the working and middle classes triumphed as supplies and employment skyrocketed. Eventually, however, supplies waned and inflation robbed the working and middle classes of their newfound purchasing power. When the economy plummeted in 1972, political sentiments, both pro- and anti-government, began to run high. Reportedly, the fervently anti-Socialist United States under the advisement of President Nixon attempted to oust Allende by encouraging opposition groups. Despite Allende's attempts to reorganize his administration and compensate for the country's market losses, he was unable to prevent the increasing political polarization and unrest that gripped the Republic. Finally in 1973, the Chilean military under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte staged a successful coup in which they stormed the presidential palace. Certain records claim that Allende committed suicide before the military could get its hands on him, while others verify that he died fighting off the military insurgents with a rifle. Many people fled the country or tried to do so, including Allende's surviving family and his niece, Isabel Allende. After the coup, the notoriously oppressive and repressive era of Pinochet began. The new President had thousands of adversaries and innocents murdered or "disappeared," and the populace lived in constant fear of his secret police. International organizations including the Roman Catholic Church denounced Pinochet's orchestration of such egregious human rights violations. After Pinochet's internal terrorism, the 1980s through the turn of the 21st century were relatively calm. In 2006 the Republic of Chile elected its first female President, the Socialist Michelle Bachelet Jeria.