Short URL for this page:
The desire for social reform became widespread among the masses of the people during the election of 1920. But this impulse was not to continue under its protagonist, Arturo Alessandri, without strong opposition. From the beginning his administration was an agitated one. It began December 23, 1920, and, after an interval of little more than six months, ended October 1, 1925.º The president came into power with the unquestioned aid of the liberal alliance which had a majority in the house of deputies but not in the senate. The renewal of both branches of congress in the election of March, 1921, did not change that situation; the alliance had a more numerous majority in the house of deputies, but did not succeed in breaking the opposing majority of the senate, which was only partially renewed. This majority represented the tendency of the political combination called national union, which in 1920 had grouped itself about the illustrious citizen, Luis Barros Borgoño, in order to raise him to the highest magistracy in opposition to Alessandri, and which, in the following year, set itself rigidly to criticize the acts of the new government.1
Thus a difficult situation was created for the president: if in the house of deputies he counted on the unconditional alliance of a powerful majority, in the senate, on the contrary, he had to face a no less compact majority disposed to oppose or delay his governmental activity. For three years the two party combinations — the alliance and the union — continued in this position, with slight variations that did not change their views or modify their action. The parliamentary system forced the ministers to keep the confidence of both houses, expressed by their majorities, a course which, in this case, was impossible because, while one regarded them with favor, the other looked on them with misgiving, if not with frank hostility, and there was no constitutional measure that would permit a solution of the conflict. The ministries lasted only a few weeks or at most three months, because they encountered the censure of the senate and at times even of their own friends in the p372 other house. Moreover, this "ministerial rotation" was not new; it had already lasted thirty years since the beginning of parliamentary in the country but had seldom presented such grave characteristics. Ministerial changes of the former administration frequently resulted from a lack of discipline in the parties, from the personal ambitions of some leaders, or the alteration in political majorities of the two branches of congress. Antagonism between the two houses had never manifested itself with such persistency and obstinacy.
The practices of the parliamentarians making up the governmental majority had not varied in respect to intervention in administrative services. As before, under the same system, they kept trying to procure employment for their friends, thus pleasing their most influential electors at the expense of the public treasury and inflating fiscal costs to an unheard-of degree. The president and, above all, the ministers were obliged to weaken their resistance in the face of this unlimited encroachment by members of congress on the state administration and had to compromise with them in order to maintain themselves in power and realize any of their aspirations for the public welfare. In the midst of these difficulties, the government of President Alessandri secured the approval of various laws of a financial character concerning loans and tax reforms — which would provide for better administrative service and carry out public works — and of other laws that were designed to protect industry, labor, and the working classes; and even approved of some laws of international importance, such as the protocol with Peru to submit to the arbitral decision of the president of the United States the final solution of the Tacna-Arica question (1922).2
But the president of the republic longed to go further along the road of economic and social reforms which constituted the foundation of his governmental program. In this he encountered the opposition of the senate, which did not permit these advances and limited itself to dispatching the laws that it considered most urgent. At the end of 1923, with the renewal of congress already approaching, an act that was to be verified in the elections of March, 1924, the conflict between the senate and the president of the representatives took on more serious aspects. Fluctuations and crises in the ministries became more frequent and legislative activity was almost p373 completely suspended in order to make room for vexatious political debates.
Public agitation then arose in favor of modifying the prevailing constitutional system. It was proposed to deprive the senate of its political attributes, especially the power of deposing ministers by censure, and to establish a system of greater governmental stability. The president took upon himself the direction of the campaign, proposed constitutional reform in manifestos and addresses, and, in order to carry it into effect, asked the electorate of the liberal parties to give him a congress with a uniform majority in both houses.
The popularity of the president, which had not abandoned him from the time of his candidacy, favored this propaganda; and the liberal alliance in March, 1924, attained an overwhelming majority in both branches of congress. But the electoral campaign had been most bitter and had left an impression of disagreeable charge and countercharge, because in some departments and provinces the intervention of the executive, with the help of the army, had been openly brought to bear in favor of certain candidates. This was, really, a useless deploying of outside forces upon the electoral body, which was decidedly inclined to support the president's policy and which would, in any case, have given him the uniform majority in both houses that he wished to get.
The new congress began its sessions in June. Many projects of importance awaited its consideration, among them the appropriation bill for the same year (1924) — which was not yet settled — and several other measures of financial and social legislation. Its work of three months was futile; discussions of electoral policy absorbed almost all its activity. The lack of discipline in the majority parties reached deplorable extremes and further complicated their debates. At the beginning of September, congress was already burdened by a sense of loss of prestige, owing to its incapacity to discuss and dispatch laws so long planned and hoped for. In those days the head of the cabinet and principal co-worker in President Alessandri's government was Pedro Aguirre Cerda, a radical politician of recognized shrewdness. Nevertheless, his influence was not sufficient to bring congress to act upon the messages submitted to its consideration. The army was anxiously awaiting the approval of one of those projects designed to better its economic condition, which was becoming impaired every day by the depreciation in the value of money and the consequent rise in the cost of living. Meanwhile, instead of approving this and p374 other urgent projects, congress passed a law for parliamentary compensation by which its own members were granted remuneration under the guise of indemnity for the time consumed in their legislative tasks.
This vote of congress produced a storm of astonished indignation throughout the country. It was not that the people rejected parliamentary compensation, which in general they considered just; it was the manifest unconstitutionality of the law, since the constitution expressly established the principle that legislative offices were gratuitous; it was a fact that members of this congress voted pay to themselves from the time they began to function; it was the increasing deficit that existed in the public treasury while the very ones who were supposed to devise measures to diminish it added several millions to it; and, finally, it was the preference given to this project above so many others of more urgent financial character — it was all these considerations together that raised against congress that formidable wave of opinion.
The officers of the army corps that garrisoned Santiago thereupon decided to become the interpreters of that public sentiment and to intervene effectively to prevent the compensation act from being passed. Although in order to accomplish this the group had also to break, as far as its members were concerned, the constitutional provision prohibiting such meetings, it organized a military committee which won the adherence of General Luis Altamirano, inspector in chief of the army, and requested the president of the republic to veto that law. It asked, further, the coöperation of the executive for the immediate dispatch of various projects then pending in congress, among which was that relative to the economic situation of the armed forces. Thus was initiated the military movement of September 5, 1924.3
The president received the petitions of the officers and called General Altamirano to the leadership of the ministry. He obtained by act of congress the approval of all those laws without any debate; but the president well understood that, as he was subjected to military force, his situation as supreme executive was indefensible, and on the evening of September 8 he resigned his office. General Altamirano assumed executive power in his capacity as vice-president, and two days later appointed a military junta of government, presided over by himself and completed by another general p375 and an admiral. His first act was to dissolve congress, and the following day, September 11, he issued a manifesto to the country, explaining the reasons for his action. Then he appointed a ministry of civilians — except the minister of war and navy, who was an admiral, which was headed by the well-known university professor, Alcibíades Roldán. Meanwhile, President Alessandri, who had taken refuge in the embassy of the United States, went abroad by way of the cordillera. He was authorized by congress, before it was dissolved, to absent himself six months from the country, but he really did not intend to return. The chief of the radical party, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, who had been the leader of the president's last cabinet, also very shortly followed him into exile.
The junta of government presided over by General Altamirano maintained itself in power until January 23, 1925, or about four and a half months, when it was replaced by a new military junta composed over by a citizen, Emilio Bello Codecido, a diplomat and politician of approved governmental experience. A military revolt directed by some of the officers of the garrison corps in Santiago brought about the fall of the government of General Altamirano. He was accused of violating the purposes of the movement of the previous September fifth and of developing a policy satisfactory to the parties of the national union, which shortly before had proclaimed the presidential candidacy of their leader, Ladislao Errázuriz, a brilliant and forceful parliamentarian belonging to the groups opposing President Alessandri. Moreover, charges were made against him for not having carried out the program of social and economic reforms included in the movement of September and for not hastening the organization of the constituent assembly that was to reform the political system.
In the manifesto of January 23, 1925, with which the second military revolution hoped to justify its action, a policy of complete change in national institutions on the basis of a new constitution was proposed, as well as the immediate return to power of President Alessandri, who was travelling in Europe. Meanwhile, with feverish activity, a series of "decree-laws" was issued by the different departments, which now numbered nine ministries, for the purpose of carrying out at once the economic and social reforms called for by the needs of the country. From these efforts there p376 arose a whole new code of legislation,4 the predominant tendency of which was to protect the laboring masses of the people and to introduce better conditions of public health. José Santos Salas, a military physician, was the soul of that movement as minister of hygiene and social welfare.
These frankly revolutionary political upheavals had not aroused violent resistance or caused any loss of blood. They had merely determined the deportation of several public men for conspicuous activity in connection with those very events. Thus, just as President Alessandri and his minister, Aguirre Cerda, had to leave the country after September 5, so Ladislao Errázuriz and some of his friends, accused of conspiring against the new order of things, were also obliged to go into exile.
President Alessandri, upon insistent summons by the junta of government, by labor committees, and by party directories to renew his governmental functions and put himself at the front of this movement for national reform, left Rome for Chile a few days after January 23, and in the latter part of March reached Santiago and resumed power. The great popular demonstration with which he was received was unprecedented.
Alessandri very promptly devoted his efforts to the reform of the constitution. He called together an assemblage of men from each political group and from each national activity in order to discuss the subject; and this assembly, called the "Grand Consultative Commission," after long deliberation by their subcommittees issued a project in July, 1925, for constitutional reforms, which was to have the sanction of a plebiscite.
The reform was an entirely new political constitution5 and marked the end of the parliamentary system, which had prevailed for thirty-three years. It created a strong executive, with ample administrative powers, without diminishing public liberties and individual guarantees of long standing. It deprived the chamber of deputies and the senate of the power to depose ministries by means of censure, and authorized the first of these bodies to bring before the senate accusations against ministers and even against the president of the republic for various abuses of power. It increased to six years the term for the office of president; and established his election by direct vote. It made parliamentary offices p377 incompatible with those of the ministry; it provided for the improvement of public administration by entrusting it to special councils of experts, and it separated Church and State and guaranteed the fullest liberty of conscience in the practice of religious beliefs.
This last reform has been favored for more than forty years by a fraction of the advanced liberal groups, chiefly drawn from the radical party; but it has always encountered opposition among the conservative groups and among the clergy — opposition so stubborn that it was considered blasphemy merely to support it in principle. The slow but effective rise of culture in the country made possible, nevertheless, the definite establishment of religious tolerance and the archbishop, Crescente Errázuriz, proved no obstacle to its being included in the constitutional text. Thereupon all resistance ceased; and, as compensation during a transitory period of five years, an annual fiscal subsidy of two and a half million pesos was granted the Church.
The text of the pertinent constitutional provision is worthy of record. It reads as follows:
The Constitution assures all inhabitants of the republic . . . the expression of all beliefs, liberty of thought and the free exercise of religions not opposed to morality, good customs or public order, permitting therefore the respective religious faiths to erect and maintain churches and their appurtenances under the conditions of security and hygiene fixed by the laws and ordinances. The churches, confessions and religious institutions of any creed will have the rights which the laws now in force authorize and recognize with respect to property; but they will remain subject within the guarantees of this Constitution to the common law for the control of their future property. Churches and their dependencies, destined to the service of worship, will be exempt from taxation.
The constitution likewise made declarations of a democratic character, within the socialistic concepts already widespread. Along with the guarantee of public freedom and individual rights, it naturally recognized ownership of any kind as inviolable; but it added:
The exercise of the right of ownership is subject to the limitations or precepts necessary for the maintenance and progress of social order; and in that sense the law will be able to impose obligations or services of public utility in behalf of the general interests of the State, the health of the citizens and the public well-being.
Moreover, it at the same time assured
protection to labor, industry and works of social foresight, particularly in so far as they refer to the sanitation of dwellings and economic conditions of life, so as to provide each inhabitant with a minimum standard p378 of welfare, adequate to the of his personal needs and those of his family. The law will regulate this provision. The State will take measures for the suitable division of property and the establishment of domestic common property.
Written expressions lead one to believe that the constitution in force permits the State to carry out, within legal procedure, all the reforms which are necessary to the economic readjustment of society and for the greater benefit of the wage-earning classes. The constitution has admitted at the same time the concept that property is not an inalienable individual right, to the exclusive benefit of its owners, but a social function which these same classes practice — a function capable of being subordinated to public interest and to the needs of common progress.
Under another set of topics, the new constitutional code likewise introduced important modifications. It suppressed the conservative commission and the council of state, integral corporations, the first of which was a component part of the legislative power and the second, of the executive. Neither had ever been very useful and now was no longer justified. In place of leaving the chambers, as hitherto, to pass on the electoral qualifications of their own members and of the president of the republic, it created for this purpose a permanent "qualifying tribunal," to be renewed each four years and to be composed of five members, elected by lot, from among the former presidents or vice-presidents of both chambers and from among the ministers of the superior courts of justice. By this means it was possible to save time and avoid the ill will which arose from discussing the legality of electoral acts in so far as they had to affect this or that candidate. All in all it represented the greatest guarantees of impartiality. The new code also tended toward the decentralization of administration by providing for provincial assemblies, which were charged with looking after and presenting the needs of their respective regions to the president of the republic. They were also authorized to dictate ordinances and even to impose local taxes in order to satisfy, entirely or partly, those same needs. Up to the present time, this reform has not been introduced because of failure to provide the necessary law. Finally, reform of the constitutional text has been made much easier by having its discussion and approval submitted to a single legislature, instead of two, as was provided for in the Constitution of 1833. Reform is to be accomplished through a law, but it will have to be approved in the first passage by the chamber of deputies and the chamber of senators, by an absolute majority of the members present p379 in each. Sixty days later both chambers will meet in full congress with the quorum indicated above; and in this second step the bill will be voted upon without further discussion. In case there is no quorum, the full congress will meet the following day and will proceed to vote with such members as are present. The president of the republic cannot "veto" a reform bill so approved, but can propose amendments or modifications. In case of disagreement between the president and congress concerning all or part of the reform, it shall be definitely decided by popular vote.
The Constitution of 1925 bears the signatures of President Alessandri and of all the members of his cabinet, among whom the minister of justice and public instruction, José Maza, was the most active and efficient collaborator in the editing, phrasing, and arrangement of the approved text. It was promulgated and sworn to on September 18, 1925, in a solemn ceremony that took place in the salon of honor of the Moneda, in the presence of all members of the government, the diplomatic corps, high functionaries, and persons of distinction. Commemorative medals were struck off and distributed and its operation was begun under the most promising auspices. In conformity with it, parliamentary crises ended; the Constitution of 1833, which had ruled the country for nearly ninety-two years, was replaced by a new fundamental code, which reëstablished in another form the so‑called "presidential" system.
As a matter of fact, that regime was not new in Chile. Without expressly saying so, the Constitution of 1833 had permitted its practice, with slight modification, until 1891. Only the conflict between the president and congress, started in 1890, and the revolution that accompanied it, cast doubt upon its legitimacy and definitely replaced it. But parliamentarism was not a deliberate creation of the conquerors of 1891. Political activity immediately conformed to this system through opposition to that just overthrown. If it had not been for the disgraceful, and oftentimes violent, electoral intervention of the government, it is probable that the power of the president would not have ended even at that time. The return to it, sanctioned by the Constitution of 1925, reëstablished, then, a certain continuity in Chilean political life.
However, the leaders of the parties which had alternated in power before that date did not acquiesce in the new situation with good grace. Excluded from the immediate business of government, deprived of all influence in the management of public service, and reduced simply to the rôle of legislators, they showed little sign of vitality, Many of their members withdrew; and others were forced p380 to abstain from taking part in public affairs. Aside from this, the policy of the next few years, until 1932, displayed the unforeseen character of every period of transition and readjustment.
Scarcely was the Constitution of 1925 promulgated when a new congress had to be elected in place of the one dissolved the previous year. As President Alessandri ended his term at the end of the same year, it was almost necessary to hold the presidential election at the same time. The incidents arising from that state of electoral agitation led to the resignation of President Alessandri on October 1, when only about three months remained for the completion of his term. Colonel Carlos Ibáñez was then serving as minister of war and in that office represented the armed forces which had made the revolution of January 23. It had been proposed that the parties should present only one candidate and by this agreement avert an electoral struggle for the presidency of the republic. As this agreement was not brought about, a group of prominent citizens offered the presidential candidacy to the minister of war, who accepted it. President Alessandri told Colonel Ibáñez that his status as candidate disqualified him for continuing in office as minister of war. The colonel refused to give up this office and the president had to resign. In doing so, he surrendered the leadership of the cabinet to the very statesman who had been his competitor in the presidential election, Luis Barros Borgoño, who assumed power in the capacity of vice-president. Alessandri again went into exile.
Under the vice-presidency of Barros Borgoño the parties came to an agreement. Colonel Ibáñez resigned his candidacy; and then Emiliano Figueroa was proclaimed the only candidate for the presidency of the republic. He was an influential politician who in 1910 had been vice-president when critical conditions threatened the country and who, moreover, had rendered meritorious services as a diplomat. The election was won without difficulty and at the end of 1925 the new executive began has work. But he carried it on only a year and a quarter. From the beginning his policy was very similar to that of former presidents. He was surrounded by co-workers familiar with the party battles of the generation in which parties directed the government and exercised all the power. But he showed no appreciation of the considerable change that had been produced in national public life by the reform movements of p381 September, 1924, and January, 1925, whose ideology was frankly revolutionary.
From 1925 Colonel Ibáñez continued as minister of war and, acting in accordance with the intention of the revolution, sought to set the government on a different course — a course that should firmly establish the predominance of the executive over congress and allow him to put into practice the program of reforms favored by the army. By the first months of 1927 that policy of reform was resolutely inaugurated by the minister of war; and the president began to withdraw from the direction of public affairs and to yield his authority to the minister, who assumed it. A change in the cabinet necessarily followed. Its head, Manuel Rivas Vicuña, a liberal politician of well-earned prestige, resigned. Colonel Ibáñez assumed the ministry of the interior and then the office of vice-president, while the president availed himself of a permission to retire temporarily. Soon afterward, on the fourth of May, President Figueroa resigned. The country being thus summoned to a new election, Colonel Carlos Ibáñez, on the twenty-second of the same month, was chosen president of the republic without opposition.6
President Ibáñez, having arisen to the rank of general, was above all a man of the sword, distinguished for the vigor and rectitude of his character. In keeping with the revolutionary movement that raised him for the first time to the government as minister of war, he gave a vigorous impulse to the reform of administrative services and national institutions. Assisted by various efficient collaborators, he broadened the intervention and activity of the state in a manner until then unknown in Chile. Administrative reorganization and the introduction of new services demanded considerable expenditures. At the same time a vast plan of construction — railways, harbors, roadways, irrigation systems, canals and other public works — was completed. The credit of the country abroad and at home remained almost intact. In order to meet a mass of simultaneous payments it was necessary to contract loans to the amount of billions of pesos. Thus a budget was formed which was called "extraordinary," in order to differentiate it from the ordinary p382 budget, which received the regular taxes and defrayed the ordinary expenses.
Not always were the payments from the extraordinary budget made with due economy. The contract, for example, for the services of the Foundation Company, a North American construction firm, proved a very bad transaction for the treasury because of the excessive cost and lack of care in respect to the works with which it was entrusted. The abundance of resources developed a certain spirit of extravagance in public administration, as was shown in the multitude of new employees, in the high salaries of their superiors and in the number of automobiles at their disposal, in expensive commissions abroad, and in other respects. All in all, a sensation of well-being pervaded the country, because, along with the opportunities for profit among the various social classes, consumptive power increased and money circulated in corresponding proportion.
Among the co-workers of the government of General Ibáñez, the minister of the treasury, Pablo Ramírez, had an important rôle. He was a politician who had figured in the radical ranks and whose financial operations aroused sharp criticism on the one hand and decided praise on the other. From his office he controlled all the public services and for some time came to be a sort of universal minister. Under his influence the public debt increased out of all proportion to the national resources; but he likewise brought about reforms and undertook enterprises which later were to be considered very honorable to that administration.
The services of public instruction were appreciably improved and became objects of laborious effort. The University of Chile became autonomous and enjoyed a sufficient budget. The branches of secondary, primary, normal, and technical education were completely reorganized; progress was made in school construction.7 The police in their turn were reorganized and unified throughout the country, forming the carabinero corps, a much more efficient form and one affording personal security in the country and in the cities. The navy and the army, as is known, received preferential treatment and the aviation division secured its rightful place among the forces destined for national defense. Likewise the internal government was modified on the basis of a new scheme of geographic and administrative units, composed of sixteen provinces and two territories. This scheme was chiefly entrusted to Alberto Edwards, the writer p383 and demographer, who was a conservative politician upon whose help President Ibáñez counted, especially during the last years of his administration. This scheme for redistricting the country has not been carried out, but it is worth while to remember that it helped give value to the territories of Aysen and Magallanes, whose cattle and lumber developments have opened up to the country an extensive field of prosperity.
In another field of activity the old problem of Tacna and Arica was finally settled by means of direct negotiation with Peru. The department of Tacna definitively remained in the power of the latter country and the department of Arica in the power of Chile. Likewise Chile had to pay Peru an indemnity and grant it other compensations. The treaty was signed in Lima in June, 1929, and it was put into execution at once, joint commissions of engineers fixing the boundaries.8 This treaty was a great relief and a token of peace on the international horizon of South America. Participating in its immediate solution, aside from the president, were the minister of foreign relations, Conrado Ríos Gallardo, and the envoy extraordinary of Chile in Peru, Emiliano Figueroa Larraín.
By 1930 a sharp financial crisis became visible, which was then complicated by the lessened demand for Chilean products in foreign markets, and this brought with it a general economic depression. In this emergency the government determined upon the creation of the Nitrate Company of Chile, the so‑called Cosach (Companía del salitre de Chile). This financial operation was widely discussed and censured in influential political circles. The capital of the company was evaluated at three billion pesos. Half of the shares were to belong to the treasury and the other half to the capitalistic enterprises which were exploiting the nitrate fields. In that same year, 1930, and in the three following years the company was to hand over to the state 660,000,000 pesos in quarterly payments.9 The decrease in the consumption of Chilean nitrate abroad and some of the provisions of the law, which rightly held up its execution, did not permit the law to be wholly carried out, and its unpopularity contributed much toward undermining the prestige of the government.
In 1931 the monetary situation became acute, with the relative paralysis of business, the devaluation of mineral and agricultural p384 products, and the almost complete closing of foreign markets in these products. There was discontent and dissatisfaction throughout the country. The government found itself obliged to suspend service on the foreign debt, which absorbed a great part of the ordinary receipts. In order to silence the censure of which it had been the object, it resorted by means of laws, or decrees with force of law, to measures in restraint of public opinion. In this sense the government did not respect constitutional guarantees. Imprisonment, banishment, and deportation were carried out without regard to legal formalities, freedom of the press, or parliamentary prerogative. In 1930 there was constituted by executive decree the so‑called "Thermal Congress," because its members were appointed during a summer's sojourn of government deputies at the termas (hot baths) of Chillán. This strange method of setting up a legislative body was based on an electoral law which permitted parties in any department to avoid a contest in designating the candidates to be elected, provided there was an agreement to that effect. What could be done in one department could be done legally in all the departments of a province and in the entire country; so it came about that there were no elections in March of that year, thanks to the agreement of the representatives of the principal parties, whose agency, however, was very doubtful, and a supreme decree filled all the vacancies in both chambers. It is understood that the prestige of this congress was undermined by the basis on which it was selected and that the procedure itself was a very grave error.
Be that as it may, this congress as well as that which preceded it gave the executive every facility for doing his work. On more than one occasion that body vested him with extraordinary and most ample faculties to legislate in its name. Thus, while the years of prosperity lasted, the system of government had come to be a legal dictatorship, authorized by the legislative power, supported by the army, and consented to by the citizenry, and the impulse for reform which was to develop under a such a system was totally obscured. Reproaches and protests arose from the civilian elements when the resources at the disposal of the government became scarce and exhausted, that is to say, when the financial and economic crisis clearly showed itself.
In a way unforeseen by the public and after several abortive conspiracies, the political situation reached a crisis in July, 1931.10 p385 In order to inspire confidence in the public and to give assurance that repressive measures would not be adopted against the discontented and that strict legal order would be maintained, there was brought to the ministry of the interior the well-known jurist and professor, Juan Esteban Montero, and to the ministry of the treasury the engineer and former railway director, Pedro Blanquier,11 a man of upright character. In a few days they had to retire from office. Restlessness increased. On July 23, the university students resorted to an open strike against the government, accompanied by demands for real freedom of expression. A group took possession of the university building and made a fortress of it, thus giving the signal for public agitation which precipitated resistance. Their action was complicated by several unfortunate happenings, above all by the death of a student and a professor, both persons of wide and distinguished social connections. There followed confusion and suspension of work in industry and commerce. In the midst of that state of affairs General Ibáñez on July 26 resigned and fled the country.
The intervention of the armed forces in the internal politics of the country, from 1924 until the termination of the government of General Ibáñez and even during a short period afterward, constituted an unaccustomed event in the republican practices of Chile. It was exactly one century since such a thing had occurred. The difficult era of institutional organization, which culminated in a period of anarchy between the years 1826 and 1830, after the dictatorships of O'Higgins and Freire, presented a case in which the army performed an active political rôle.12 But from 1830 onward, only in the civil wars of 1851 and 1891 did army and the navy assume a corporative rôle in action developed by the strife of civic groups. The conflict over and order reëstablished, those forces returned to their ordinary tasks and ceased to be preoccupied with exercising corporate control of the government. The Constitution of 1833 had prescribed that the public force was to remain "essentially obedient" and that no armed body could deliberate. The Constitution of 1925 reiterated the same prescription.
p386 All in all, from 1924 to 1932 the military forces set up and destroyed governments, often exercised power, counted upon the public confidence, and obtained the support of many well-known civilians, experts in political or administrative affairs. If we seek to explain the fact, we would find it above all in the social prestige of the sponsors and officers of the armed forces, a prestige derived from their organization, their discipline, and their culture, and heightened besides by the glory which these same institutions had gained in memorable campaigns. The people have always looked upon these institutions as their own and therefore the military profession has always enjoyed relative preëminence. Let us see how that institution has been maintained.
The frequent threats of war arising during the fitful negotiation of international affairs with Argentina and Peru at the end of the last and the beginning of the present century led to a great supply of warlike materials and a more or less complete reorganization of military establishments. The task has been an earnest and persistent one. In regard to the army, the reform first of the service of the national guard and next the establishment of compulsory service in 1900 brought a considerable number of men to the barracks, but in a somewhat irregular way. According to the Law of Recruits and Substitutes which this latter legislation created, all Chileans between eighteen and forty-five years of age were obliged to enroll themselves in military registers and to be incorporated in the army by lot and divided accordingly into active and passive, or reserve, contingents. Individuals from twenty to twenty-one years of age belonged to the active contingent and were the ones who must serve as soldiers for the term of a year or a year and a half. But at first it happened that after casting lots — and after those selected in conformity with it were called — only a few responded for service. The rest found exemption under the provisions of the law, always alleging important engagements. For that reason, therefore, the casting of lots was later omitted and it was decided that all the active contingents must join the ranks each year. The situation, however, was not greatly bettered, and those excluded from service were always numerous, especially as the system of casting lots had again to be employed on account of the impossibility of giving space in the barracks for the entire contingent of the year.
The regular army corps, amounting to a total of ten or twelve thousand men, form the instruction units, and, with the conscripts of each year who number about the same, make up the permanent army, which fluctuates around twenty thousand men of all classes p387 of arms and equipment — infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers, pontoon and aviation units. These forces are divided into four military zones, each of which has in charge the guarding of a determined number of provinces. With the force of carabineros, also militarized, the services have come to include more than fifty thousand men.
The first organization of this army was under General Emilio Körner, who bore the rank of captain in Germany, when engaged by the Chilean government, years before the revolution of 1891. The revolution, in whose ranks he acted as tactician, gave him prestige. Aided by other German and Chilean leaders, he introduced the Prussian regime into the army and the most modern armament on the Mauser and Krupp systems.
Beside the regular troops there are many other military establishments, namely, "directive," as the general inspection of the army; "administrative," as the department of military administration; "instruction," as the academy of war, the military school — this latter designed for the preparation of officers — and the school of subofficers. Moreover, the navy yards and arsenals have a separate personnel, charged respectively with the manufacture of projectiles and other military equipment and the preservation of arms and equipment.
The navy also has been increasing and augmenting its war equipment with new acquisitions until it includes about ten armored vessels and numerous submarines, torpedo boats, destroyers, and transports. These forces still lack unity in type so that the materials of one vessel cannot be adapted to another. The law of compulsory military service also applies here, but the number of "naval conscripts" has always been so few that it has not filled the personnel for the vessels and it has been necessary to resort to "enlistment" or voluntary contract.
The navy, like the army, has its own directive, administrative, and instruction departments. Within the latter are the naval school and the schools for pilots and cabin boys. The navy, moreover, has its health service, its arsenals, navy yards, and dry docks in Talcahuano. This bay, and that of Valparaiso, which are well defended, have become the fortified posts of the republic. The general direction of the fleet for many years was in charge of Vice-admiral Jorge Montt, president of the republic after the revolution of 1891. He obtained that rank when he gave up the supreme magistracy. Like Körner in the army, Montt inspired and executed reforms in the navy.
These institutions are maintained and directed with a certain p388 autonomy. They are ruled by special laws and their investment of funds as well as their discipline and evolutions are in charge of their directing personnel; that is, under the inspection and care of the ministry of the respective branch to which they belong. The national defense made up of these elements has cost the treasury annually between one fourth and one fifth of its general income.13 Laws for the protection of those invalided by the War of the Pacific, and insurance and retiring pensions, granted during recent years with great frequency, also enter into those budgets.
Aside from their own peculiar ends, the army and the navy render also positive cultural benefits to the country. The navy has several establishments devoted to meteorological observations and designates vessels for hydrographic explorations, all of which contribute to the subject matter of national geography in a very appreciable form. Its Anuario hidrográfico (Hydrographic Annual) records these studies. Among those of greatest ability who have devoted themselves to this form of service are Captain Francisco Vidal Górmaz, author of the Geografía náutica de Chile (Nautical Geography of Chile), who is considered one of the most eminent of the geographers and sailors of the country; and Vice-admiral Luis Uribe Orrego, author of several works on naval history. In the case of the army, the preparation of topographical charts of different regions by the most competent officials has also greatly contributed to the exact knowledge of the country. One of the most learned leaders, General Jorge Boonen Rivera, wrote a Geografía militar de Chile of unquestioned value; and another, no less distinguished, General Indalicio Téllez, wrote the Historia militar de Chile.
The above exposition permits one to understand the passive and at times active adherence which public opinion lent to the de facto governments, depending as they did on armed forces, from 1924 to 1931. The government of General Ibáñez rested principally on the prestige of those forces; and the electoral act which brought him to the presidency in 1927 was like a reiteration of the confidence which the military organization inspired in the mass of the people. In various political sectors these marks of confidence seemed imposed by circumstances which the people were compelled to accept. But the spirit of a civilian regime that had been in practice for a century remained latent in many men, and once more in 1931 made itself felt.
With the resignation of President Ibáñez there followed an agitated period during which civilian control was reëstablished. The general had turned over the command to the president of the senate, Pedro Opazo Letellier, who on the following day, July 27, 1931, appointed Juan Esteban Montero as minister of the interior and to him transmitted the command, making him vice-president in accordance with the constitution. Montero was popular, chiefly because of his upright civic attitude during the last days of the Ibáñez administration, and from the start proposed to adjust his actions strictly to legal norms. There were to be no more decree laws; in spite of the faults of its election, congress was to continue its functions; and the economic problems of the hour, accentuated by unemployment and popular misery, were to be solved through the orderly courses of government. On the other hand, it was necessary to normalize the political situation, for which purpose the free action of parties was to be reëstablished and presidential elections were to be called at once. These were set for October fourth.
Montero did not remain in the vice-presidency a month. In the middle of August a convention of professional men met in Santiago and, in spite of his insistent refusal to accept the appointment, proclaimed him candidate for the presidency of the republic. Feeling the candidacy to be incompatible with the vice-presidency, Montero transferred this office to the minister of the interior, Manuel Trucco, on the twenty-second of that same month.
The vice-presidency of Trucco, which lasted for three and a half months, was threatened in the early days of September by a revolt of the navy. The government was struggling to solve its financial difficulties when the crew of the Admiral Latorre, anchored in Coquimbo, revolted against its officers. The movement spread to other ships and extended to the naval stations of Valparaiso and Talcahuano. It appeared inspired by extremist tendencies, but within a week the army and the air corps stifled the revolt.
The election of October fourth gave a great majority to Montero over the opposing candidate, the former President Alessandri. A powerful political combination of the center, formed by the conservative and radical elements, under the name of Civic Union, brought victory to Montero. The candidacy of Alessandri was supported by leftist groups, of radical, liberal, and democratic affiliation. Montero assumed power on December 4, 1931.
p390 The same criterion of strict legality was again in control of the government and was necessary in order to solve existing problems. Expenditures had to be reduced, salaries lessened, employees decreased — in short, a policy of the severest economy had to be adopted. It was necessary to reëstablish foreign credit by arbitrating for measures to meet the payments on the public debt, and at the same time to look after and secure places for more than two hundred thousand idle laborers who constituted a social menace. Nitrate sales had become paralyzed. The import trade resorted to the Central Bank in order to convert bank notes into gold with which to pay its creditors. It was necessary to ration the gasoline supply and for this reason to stifle the strike of the taxi drivers' union, in April, 1932. In the same month was dictated the law which created the Exchange Commission, in order to control the conversion of drafts into gold available for the creation of credits abroad. The same law ordered the conversion of bank notes into gold to be suspended for an indefinite time in order to maintain the specie reserve of the Central Bank, which already had decreased considerably. This policy was a return to the fiduciary regime which had ruled for more than half a century.
After the resultant devaluation of the peso there followed a rise in the cost of living and chaos in the domestic market and in commerce abroad. From all sides were heard complaints which demanded quick governmental action and instantaneous results. The enemies of the combination called Cosach clamored for its dissolution and blamed it for the closing of the nitrate markets and for having placed this source of wealth at the mercy of foreign imperialism. Meanwhile, the government searched for solutions to this problem in Europe, but without hope of success.
In the midst of such a complex and difficult situation, both the civilian and military sectors of the population plotted to overthrow the government. The best known among the conspirators was Carlos Dávila, former Chilean ambassador to Washington during the Ibáñez administration and agile journalist of former years. In April, 1932, he had proposed a political plan of national economy to be directed by the State. The authorities sought him as a conspirator but failed to find him. On the other hand, Colonel Marmaduke Grove, named chief of aviation under the title of "Commodore of the Air," likewise harbored revolutionary proposals in order to implant a socialist regime in Chile. With similar purpose a lawyer of prestige, Eugenio Matte Hurtado, separated himself from another political group.
These representative men having been brought together, an insurrection p391 of the armed forces followed. At midday on June 4, 1932, Commodore Grove gave the signal for the coup d'état. Airplanes, crossing the center of Santiago in all directions, scattered subversive proclamations and threatened the Moneda. After the uprising of the air forces came that of the School of Application of Infantry. Its commander, Colonel Pedro Lagos, was ready to support irrevocably the political plan of Dávila. In the evening of that day the rebels besieged the Moneda, demanding the resignation of President Montero and the surrender of command to a junta comprised of Dávila, Matte Hurtado, and General Arturo Puga. The president refused to resign, but under pressure he had to abandon the government and the country. The blow had been delivered without any counter movement among the remaining troops of the garrison. The junta started to function immediately and Commodore Grove assumed the ministry of national defense, whence he proclaimed the "Socialistic Republic of Chile."
In accordance with that plan, congress was dissolved and the government resorted once more to the despatch of decree laws. Through these decrees it was ordered, among other things, that the Bank of Popular Credit should return to its clients the articles of clothing, the sewing machines, and other implements given as security, and that the collection of pending commercial obligations should be suspended for thirty days. With respect to past obligations, the National Savings Bank (Caja nacional de ahorros) was ordered to give credit up to 50 per cent of its active funds to merchants and industrialists whose capital did not exceed two hundred thousand pesos, so that these might meet their obligations. With these and other similar measures the new regime seemed suddenly to become popular, and the meetings and parades in the capital, with radical mottoes and declarations, widely extended this popularity. Nevertheless, the junta lacked unity of purpose and agreement on active measures. It was a heterogeneous coalition. Echoing the indignation and alarm which the policy aroused among the upper classes, Dávila resigned; but in four days Colonel Lagos, with the forces at his command and with the aid of other regiments, again restored Dávila to power, displacing the rest of the members of the junta, and creating a new one. This occurred on the sixteenth of June; the socialist republic had lasted twelve days. Its leaders, Matte and Grove, were relegated to the island of Pascuaa and to utter their names in public was forbidden.
From that moment, Dávila's predominance in the government was admitted without contradiction. Several weeks later the junta, which had suffered modifications in its personnel, was dissolved. p392 Dávila himself then assumed complete power, with the title of provisional president. This change of front was not resisted by the higher social elements who expected Dávila to curb the advances of demagogical socialism, apparently becoming a serious danger. Besides, the improvised government counted upon obedience through the adherence of the public forces. Nevertheless, those same elements did not lend it active coöperation. The parties did not rally around it and the people showed no confidence in its course.
Meanwhile, the provisional government worked actively to ward off economic depression. It organized the development of the gold washings, mainly in the province of Coquimbo. It created the Amortization Bank for service on the foreign debt, an institution which later was perfected and enlarged; and it adopted other measures of relative merit. Nevertheless, deportations and other acts of violence continued. The Central Bank issued bank notes to defray public expenses outside the budget. Disorder in several divisions of the administration resulted from the haste or cunning with which measures were carried out. There was delay in determining the reëstablishment of normal constitutional conditions. These were obstinate factors which day by day increased the isolation of the government and finally precipitated its downfall.
With the purpose of silencing criticism arising from these conditions, Dávila in August dictated a decree law, summoning parliamentary elections for the end of October, 1932. This congress was to have a constituent character, and it was designed to discuss constitutional reform of an accentuated socialistic hue. The Constitution of 1925 already seemed to favor that tendency and permitted any measure in that direction to be put into practice by legal paths. The announced reform therefore appeared superfluous and well devised to distract public opinion from the problem that it was most urgent to solve; that is, the return to normality. Therefore, the determination of Dávila did not arouse favorable echo and was destined to fail.
In fact from early September it was observed that the provisional president was becoming increasingly isolated; that he was being abandoned by all sections of public opinion. Financial wastefulness led to a deficit of funds, thus leaving the public treasury in a critical state. The army no longer supported him unitedly and lost faith in his executive capacity. Thus it was that a slight military movement, headed by the air corps, was sufficient to force his resignation on September 13, which was scarcely one hundred p393 days from that coup d'état which on the previous June fourth had brought him to power.
Dávila's government had marked the maximum point of disorganization in the political forces of the country. That such an ambiguous dictatorial regime, partly military and partly civil, could be maintained, even for a brief time, can only be explained by the chaotic state of public opinion and an ill-defined anxiety for social reform among the masses of the people. After him civilian reaction again made itself felt within a few weeks.
Dávila had surrendered the government to General Bartolomé Blanché and had embarked for the United States. Blanché had been one of the most loyal of the co-workers of General Ibáñez. In the last days of September, General Pedro Vignola,14 at the head of the Antofagasta garrison, ignored the authority of Blanché and proclaimed a return to the constitutional system. In the south, the Concepción garrison followed him. Blanché, who was not particularly fond of power, yielded; and by constitutional procedure handed over the command to the president of the supreme court, Abraham Oyanedel, who took it over on October 2 in the capacity of vice-president. In order to fill the ministry of the interior, he called upon Javier Ángel Figueroa, who had been his colleague in legal affairs and, long years before, a liberal politician of the first rank.
Oyanedel, making valid former decrees, set the date of parliamentary and presidential elections for the thirtieth of October, when Arturo Alessandri, the same statesman who had already held the office during the years 1920‑1925, was elected president by a tremendous majority. In the parliamentary elections, the traditionalist parties, styled those of the right or of order, won a majority of seats in both chambers. Alessandri commenced his second administration on December 24, 1932; and he made it from the beginning a return to constitutional and civic normality. Thus ended that turbulent period of nearly a year and a half which followed the resignation of President Ibáñez.
It may not yet be the moment to appreciate the political development of recent years, under the second presidency of Alessandri. p394 But we shall complete our sketch of this aspect of national life by describing several facts of noteworthy importance. The situation under which the new government was inaugurated could not have been more disturbing. On one side, the unemployed, estimated at a hundred and sixty thousand persons, continued to present a very serious problem. The public treasury was in arrears and acknowledged a foreign debt close to four billion pesos (in gold of six pence), besides an internal debt of more than nine hundred million in current money. Service on the foreign debt had not been met during the preceding year, but it would have been imprudent to suspend service on the internal debt. The fall in the value of circulating money began to stimulate exports, but imports decreased, and this situation clearly disturbed the market. The sanitary state of the country, made more acute by unemployment and misery, had become deplorable. Typhus fever, the plague of lower civilizations, had already appeared in the capital as well as in the provincial towns; and in 1933 its prevalence became alarming. Lack of social discipline, fruit of so many fluctuations and upheavals like those which had just occurred, developed a tendency to discontent and encouraged peremptory demands for relief from existing evils. The government had to move in several directions at once and in the most rapid manner, in order to satisfy public clamor.
Alessandri's record decidedly shows his interpretation of the presidential regime established by the Constitution of 1925; and he set it up without condescension or vacillation. In filling the ministries, only the will of the president was to prevail, notwithstanding party agreements or even parliamentary majorities. The ministers were to remain in the government as long as they had the confidence of the chief of state, in spite of the censures of congress. There was no method other than that of accusation, constitutionally conducted, to remove them from office if the president should insist on keeping them and they decided not to resign. Such was the theory of the new regime.
Under that doctrine, ministerial stability, unknown in the country for half a century, has been achieved; and with it a certain methodical continuity in governmental operations. Ministers Gustavo Ross and Miguel Cruchaga Tocornal continued in office as ministers of the treasury and foreign relations respectively for more than four years. And the minister of national defense, Emilio Bello Codecido, had already (in 1937) served his ministry more than five years, from the very first day of the new administration. Other ministers have remained in their positions one or two years. p395 Not always has the conduct of these secretaries of state been considered wise. There have been instances of bitter criticism or frank censure. But the presidentialist theory, in so far as the immovability of ministers is concerned, has remained unchanged. Not only, then, the text of the constitution but the practice of the government itself has firmly established the presidential regime, or, the personification of public power in the supreme magistrate.
To administer this order of things in a permanent fashion would not have been an easy task without the support of an organized civil force. Political uncertainty and opposition, arising from different sources, threatened new upheavals. In 1933, then, there was created the Republican Militia, a regular institution composed of armed and disciplined volunteers. Its organization began in 1932 and in the following year it already extended throughout the country, with over fifty thousand members. Its chief organizer and head was Eulogio Sánchez Errázuriz. The militia planned to prevent by armed force alteration of the legal order, and consequently it was to be at the service of every government conforming to normal constitutional standards. A whole century had passed since Portales reëstablished the "civic bodies" of the colonial era with a similar purpose; and since then the country had not resorted to such a forceful remedy. It happened, however, that in the two years of its existence the Republican Militia began to be transformed into a partisan corporation, with a perceptible tendency toward the right. This was due, of course, to the social status of the majority of its members — young men from the upper or the comfortable middle class. Its unpopularity then became manifest. From the parties of the left, attacks against it increased because it was thought to be illegally constituted and even a menace to the public peace. Its dissolution was brought about in 1935 not exactly because of that distrust but because it was thought that it was no longer indispensable to the ends for which it had been established. The constitutional government had strengthened its position.
The most arduous task of this government was unquestionably of an economic nature: to encourage by all possible means agricultural, mineral, and industrial production in order to absorb unemployment. The government had to find places for the one hundred and sixty thousand or more day laborers and artisans who eventually were thrown out of work because of the paralyzation of the nitrate plants and the general restriction on industry. It had to increase the capacity of the budget and balance public receipts and expenditures. This called for a financial reconstruction that Minister Ross undertook with resolute spirit. This reform had to p396 be based upon the simultaneous increase of productive sources and the consumptive capacity of the population. For such purposes it seemed necessary for the Central Bank to increase the amount of paper money in circulation; and, from five hundred and fifty million pesos which this circulation had approximately reached in 1932, it rose to about one billion in 1937, while at the same time the metallic reserves of the bank decreased. This monetary inflation brought with it a maximum devaluation of the unit of exchange, the peso, and a resultant rise in the cost of living, from which the proletarian classes suffered grave harm. The increase in wages and salaries did not compensate them for the higher price of food, clothing, rent, and other individual necessities. The cost of daily and other periodicals measures this increase — in the last five years this cost has tripled.
Nevertheless, productive development has continued. With the aid of the banks of agricultural credit, industries, including coal and other forms of mining, have, on the one hand, greatly expanded, while on the other hand through the opening of foreign markets to many Chilean products, the sources of national wealth have experienced an effective increase. The amount of exports has been rising year after year. Nitrate sales have again expanded in the market abroad. With the dissolution of the hated Cosach in 1933, the Corporation of Nitrate and Iodine Sales (Corporación de ventas de salitre i yodo) was established and entrusted with the propaganda and distribution of these products.15 In centers of nitrate exploitation, production has been renewed since then, at least partially; and from the fiscal duties on the exportation of these products the government had decided to reëstablish abroad serviceb on the public debt. Finally, thanks to the economic expansion in the different phases to which we have been referring, unemployment disappeared almost entirely in the course of three years.
An increase in budgetary capacity has been another easily perceptible fact. From a billion in 1934, the budget reached two billion in 1938,16 thanks to the reforms introduced principally in the customs tariffs and in the taxes on commerce and industries. Their p397 prosperity, which also is evident, has permitted these activities to withstand the taxes. This situation of comparative fiscal ease has favored the improvement or extension of administrative services in their various ramifications and the execution of important public works — above all, road construction, irrigation, and health. There have been complaints, nevertheless, with respect to deficiencies in these types of service, but they arise in large part from the contrast between what should be done in these directions and what could be realized only by counting upon extraordinary measures. Alessandri's government has not resorted to such means, and what he has been able to accomplish has been paid for out of ordinary receipts.
Social legislation for the direct benefit of the proletarian masses has since 1920 been one of the national aspirations furthered by President Alessandri. During his second administration, as during his first, the program he sponsored has been only partially realized because of opposition from the traditionalist parties, whose individualism is still their most distinguishing characteristic. Nevertheless, some additional legislation has been adopted since that date. This has been supplemented by the law dictated in 1937 on a minimum living wage for employees in commerce and industry — a far-reaching law among the measures demanded by the middle classes in recent times. It must be followed by a law of minimum wage for the dayworkers on farms and in cities. A bill to this end is still (in 1938) being held up in the legislative chambers. Aside from this, there have not been any serious labor conflicts in this period except for a railway strike in 1936.
Internal tranquillity also has kept pace with the policy of peace and friendship which the republic for many years has been practicing with all countries of the world and particularly with its neighbors. In that policy there has been stressed, through choice, a certain Americanist feeling or tendency to coöperate with the rest of the republics on the continent in preserving reciprocal harmony and understanding. Chile intervened amicably in 1935 together with Argentina to put an end to the "Chaco War" between Paraguay and Bolivia. Sincere good will has characterized relations between Chile and Peru since the Tacna and Arica dispute was settled. This was very satisfactorily confirmed in the same year with the signing and approval of a commercial treaty between both countries.17 Similar pacts, although not of that same scope, have p398 been made or are in the process of being made, with Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, Brazil, and other countries. The Inter-American Peace Conference,18 held in Buenos Aires at the end of 1936, permitted Chile to reiterate its proposals of continental cordiality and its willingness to coöperate in maintaining unity of purpose among all the republics of the continent. The minister of foreign relations, Miguel Cruchaga Tocornal, took part personally in this conference. His reputation as an internationalist, confirmed by the leading rôle he has taken in Europe and America, helped during four years to supply a certain tone of security and confidence to the conduct of Chile's foreign policy.
Alessandri's administration has not been above reproach and criticism, but this is not the place to examine it. Several reforms have not been realized because of the resistance of the parties which, through chance parliamentary majorities, have made up the basis of government. Several measures for the public good, particularly those destined to alleviate the misery of the lower classes, have not been adopted because of that same resistance or lack of sufficient funds; and other measures, such as the full application of the law of compulsory primary education, have suffered delays through various circumstances. The conservative forces have exerted the most influence in the government because they have succeeded in maintaining unity of action and a majority in both branches of congress. In the elections of March, 1937, they again obtained a triumph over the leftist parties, although resorting once more to the systematic buying of votes — a practice which appeared to have been abandoned.
Be that as it may, the president has not yielded to the extreme claims of the rightist parties which in 1936 armed him with full repressive authority against any demonstration by word or deed contrary to the established order. This was the so‑called law of "internal security," which up to the present the government applied only on rare occasion.19 According to the declaration of the chief of state himself, it
p399 is limited exclusively to prosecuting crimes committed by those who want to substitute and replace the democratic régime of government by a dictatorship, be it of the proletariat or of any other kind. It seeks equally to defend the republic from red or white dictatorship. It does not prosecute those who criticize the government with the intention to better its methods, but punishes those who transgress against the republic and democracy, and try to destroy them.
[Thanks in part to the above law and to the activity displayed in government circles, the conservative forces secured a majority of the seats in congress in the elections of 1937. This result apparently led its opponents to seek greater unity among themselves. Accordingly, the various parties that were inclined toward the left — socialists, communists, a portion of the democrats, and the major part of the radicals — united in 1938 to form a left wing popular front, somewhat similar to the French model. In due time, after considering the claims of Colonel Marmaduke Grove, this combination selected as its standard-bearer Pedro Aguirre Cerda, a former associate of Alessandri in the latter's more liberal days and a prominent educational and social leader. The conservative elements, made up largely of the old conservative and liberal parties, with some recruits from the radical and democratic ranks, settled upon Gustavo Ross, who had headed the treasury during the first four years of Alessandri's administration and whose conduct of that ministry had done much to reëstablish the financial credit of Chile. Each of these candidates, it may be added, belongs to the group of Chilean millionaires.
[As a further disturbing element in what promised to be a bitterly fought campaign, General Carlos Ibáñez, who had returned to the country in May, injected his candidacy. The principles he espoused seemed nazistic in tendency. The faction that professed them had become increasingly noisy during the past few years and, in view of his own record as president, Ibáñez might seem a fitting candidate. Whatever strength the movement may have had was entirely dissipated when on September 5, 1938, a premature uprising led the government to repress the disturbing faction and to place its candidate under arrest. In the struggle to recapture certain buildings seized by the Nazis, about a hundred people were killed. Later, when the fascistic chief, Jorge González von Maree, assumed all responsibility for the uprising, Ibáñez was released, but withdrew his candidacy. A few of his followers voted for Ross, the conservative candidate, but most of them supported Aguirre Cerda.
p400 [Much bitter discussion and a few minor outbreaks characterized the closing days of the campaign. When the result was declared, Aguirre Cerda was credited with some 212,000 votes, to 199,000 for Ross. The defeated party claimed that the actual majority was less than a thousand and had been obtained by fraud. The demand for a recount threatened to precipitate civil strife, and in November, Ross, upon being assured that the army would not support him, withdrew his demand. His action, plus the decision of President Alessandri to accept the leftist victory, meant that Chile was to have the first popular front government in South America. This triumph seemed to assure a continuance of the measures for social betterment that have characterized recent years of Chilean history. Public sentiment in the capital and in other centers indicated popular acceptance of this result.
[The new administration started promptly on its program for social betterment. It proposed to increase national production, improve the status of the common people, provided financial security and internal defense, reorganize public instruction, reduce the prices of foodstuffs, and make extensive appropriations for highway construction, public housing, and other social projects.
[By-elections to fill vacancies in the Chamber of Deputies demonstrated the popularity of this program, but it was immediately neutralized by the great earthquake of January 24, 1939 — the most disastrous in all Chilean history. Six of the richest agricultural provinces of the country, including such rich cities as Concepción, Chillán, and Valdivia, were laid waste, with the loss of nearly 50,000 lives and a property damage of $30,000,000 to $40,000,000. Without hesitation the new government faced the appalling task of giving aid to the sufferers and beginning the process of reconstruction — tasks in which it was assisted by help from Argentina and other neighboring countries, and from the United States and Europe.
[This calamity naturally checked the administration's policy of internal development and for a time stilled partisan clamor. In undertaking recovery, the government planned to combine its previous program for increasing national production with reconstruction of the devastated regions. The president asked congress to authorize loans of two and a half billion pesos to finance the combined program. This proposal called for an increase in taxes on incomes, inheritances, and corporations that would especially affect the more wealthy element of the population. For a time the rightist opposition in congress promised to neutralize the policy p401 of President Aguirre, but in the end he secured substantial approval of these twin proposals, which were to be financed in part through a credit of $5,000,000 from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, later increased to $12,000,000, but depended largely upon an increase in internal taxes and control over economic enterprises of foreign ownership.
[Opposition to this program further heightened conservative discontent with the president and his supporters. An attempt to drive the minister of the interior from his ministry failed, but the warlike situation abroad threatened still further difficulties. The actual outbreak of war greatly reduced Chile's imports and exports, but its trade balance for 1939 was more favorable than that of the previous year. Nazi elements among the population, of both Spanish and German origin, while not numerous, had already become vociferous and difficult to control. The government, however, promptly suppressed these manifestations of unrest by weeding out the less dependable military and police officials and exiling agitators of foreign birth. In this way an incipient revolt of July, 1939, was suppressed and ultimately its putative leader, former President Ibáñez, was once more forced into exile.
[Meanwhile party division developed among the groups supporting the administration. In both the radical and socialist parties, its chief supporters, one faction veered more directly toward the left while the leaders of the liberal party sought to attract the more conservative elements of these parties to the right. These maneuvers, with some support from the communist element of the Popular Front, forced a reorganization of the cabinet in which, however, the controlling element still supported President Aguirre. In a measure these political changes reflected charges of fraud in connection with Jewish and Spanish refugees, brought against the administration. Furthermore, continued opposition from the right, in July, 1940, pointed toward congressional measures to suppress the communist party. On the other hand, the leftists charged their opponents with "flirting with the Nazis" and building up a private army, in order to bring themselves into power.
[In its foreign policy the new government brought about closer commercial affiliation with Argentina and the settlement of a minor boundary dispute. Uniformly supporting a wider Pan-American policy, including closer relations with the United States, Chile in common with other Latin American countries has accepted military and other missions from the United States and has further coöperated in defense of the Western hemisphere. The government, p402 however, refused to join other American nations in protest against the Russian invasion of Finland, but its favor to Spanish Loyalists threatens to lead to a brief diplomatic break with the Franco government. Meanwhile it is taking measures to protect itself from further Nazi infiltration.]20
So it is that Chile has come to be considered abroad as a regularly constituted democracy, which seeks the path of betterment without violent disturbance. Chile is a democracy where one can speak and write with the utmost freedom, where individual guarantees are respected, where refuge is offered to those persecuted elsewhere for the expression of their ideas, and where one is justified in hoping for a better and more harmonious understanding among all social classes.
1 For a convenient summary of the political struggles of the period, consult Clarence H. Haring, "Chilean Politics, 1920‑1928," in Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev., IX (February, 1931), 1‑26.
2 For a brief view of this arbitration, see Dennis, Tacna and Arica, chaps. ix‑xiii. Selected documents on the negotiations will be found in his Documentary History of the Tacna-Arica Dispute.
3 See General Juan Bennett A., La revolución del 5 de setiembre de 1924, pp1‑37; Enrique Monreal, Historia completa y documentada del período revolucionario, 1824‑1825.
4 See Recopilación de leyes por orden numérico (Santiago, 1925) Vol. XII. This volume covers the first three hundred decree laws issued between September 15, 1924, and March 9, 1925.
5 For a complete commentary on this constitution, consult Guillermo Guerra, La Constitución de 1925 (Santiago, 1929).
6 In a personal interview which took place in August, 1935, General Ibáñez assured the translator and editor that his purpose was to carry out the policy initiated by Balmaceda (see p342). Aquiles Vergara, in Ibáñez, César criollo (2 vols. Santiago, 1931), presents an unfavorable study of Ibáñez, his purposes and his methods. For a brief summary of political and economic conditions during his rule, see Charles A. Thomson, "Chile Struggles for National Recovery," in Foreign Policy Reports, IX (February, 1934), 283, et seq.
7 For a personal account of educational conditions under the Ibáñez administration, see Mariano Navarrete C., Los problemas educacionales (Santiago, 1934).
8 See The New International Year Book, 1929 (New York, 1898‑1902, 1909‑ . . .), p183; also Dennis, Tacna and Arica, chap. xiii.
9 For a reference to the formation of Cosach, consult the biographical sketch of Pablo Ramírez Rodríguez in V. Figueroa, Diccionario histórico, V, 603. See also New International Year Book, 1932, p173; Thomson, op. cit., pp288‑291.
10 C. H. Haring, "The Chilean Revolution of 1931," in Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev. (May, 1933), XIII, 197‑203, gives details of the overthrow of Ibáñez, based on personal observation. See also Current History, Vols. XXXIII, XXXIV, passim, and especially Henry Grattan Doyle, "Chilean Dictatorship Overthrown," ibid., XXXIV (September, 1931), 918‑922.
11 Blanquier had performed notable work in financing and organizing the railroads of Chile. For this purpose he floated a large loan in New York in 1928. See V. Figueroa, op. cit., II, 226.
13 In the budget for 1935 the estimates for defense (war, navy, and aviation) were 284,872,950 pesos in a total of 997,301,053 pesos. See Ley de presupuesta de entradas y gastos de la administración pública de Chile para el año 1935 (Santiago, 1934).
14 A contemporary writer, quoting Col. Marmaduke Grove, says of him: "He was a good cadet, an excellent officer, but a bad chief." See Hoy, November 26, 1936, p22.
15 This law passed the Chilean congress on January 3, 1934, and was signed by President Alessandri on January 8. Under the law, the private companies which had been absorbed in Cosach were reëstablished. See New International Year Book, 1934, p141; Thomson, op. cit., p290.
16 The ordinary expenditures for 1938 were estimated at 1,589,100,000 pesos. For the three years ending December 31, 1937, it was estimated that Chile had redeemed some 13 per cent of its total foreign debt with an allowance of 1.8 per cent interest. See New International Year Book, 1937, p149.
17 The United States Department of Commerce reported that 1937 was the most prosperous year for Chile since 1929. See La Hora (Santiago, Chile), June 6, 1938.
18 See Michael F. Doyle (ed.), "The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace," in International Conciliation, Pamphlet 328 (March, 1937), pp193‑289, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
19 The columns of Hoy for the issues from October, 1936 to February, 1937, are filled with references to this law, which was passed February 12, 1937, the anniversary of the declaration of Chilean independence. According to its opponents, the law was designed to repress freedom of speech and of the press and was passed in time to influence the congressional elections of March, 1937.
20 The editor has supplied the part enclosed in brackets from the files of the New York Times for 1938‑1940, and from contemporary Chilean newspapers.
a Easter Island.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 27 Oct 09