452 Politics of Latin America
Christian Democratic party gained ascendancy, and revolutionary splinter groups of the Communist and Socialist parties gathered visibility.
Confident that center-Right Christian Democratic voters would abandon the party's center-Left candidate Radomiro Tomic—whose platform was very similar to that of the traditional Left—the National party ran Jorge Alessandri for the presidency in 1970. He offered honesty, austerity, and proven ability to govern. The Left, now in a coalition of parties dominated by socialists and communists called Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) offered their perennial candidate Salvador Allende. Unidad Popular also included the Radical party, the firebrand Revolutionary Movement of the Left (Movi-miento Revolucionario de Izquierda), and a breakaway faction of the Christian Democrats. Their platform promised a democratic, peaceful road to socialism. It stressed nationalization, income redistribution, a reform of labor relations in favor of workers, creation of a unicamerical congress, and reform of the education and judiciary system. Tomic was expected to run a distant third or to withdraw his candidacy altogether. To the shock of the overconfident Right and the surprise of the Left, Unidad Popular won the presidential election, albeit with a plurality of the slimmest margin 36.3 percent to Alessandria 34.9 percent. The event was one of the defining moments of Chile's contemporary political history. Allende's government and defeat are still key reference points for contending political forces.
Maneuvers to block Allende's ascension to office began immediately. A U.S.-backed plan to induce a coup d'etat by kidnapping the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Rene Schneider, failed when the general was killed in the bungled attempt. Conservatives tried to get the Christian Democratic party to join with them in ratifying runner-up Jorge Alessandri as president, a legal move within the rules set by the constitution of 1925. Christian Democrats declined the invitation. Instead, they extracted acquiescence to a reduction in presidential powers from Unidad Popular. With this, Christian Democrats believed they could moderate the new government's policy proposals.
Unidad Popular took office in early 1971 amid great expectations by both supporters and detractors. Initial policies for the Chilean path to socialism followed three tracks. One track stressed demand-stimulus measures to increase the purchasing power of wage labor, thereby boosting the sales of manufactured goods and services to the benefit of industrialists and merchants. The idea was to ally the fears of upper and middle classes by fueling economic growth that all could benefit from while simultaneously wooing labor votes away from centrist parties, especially the Christian Democrats. The strategy worked in 1971 as Chile experienced strong wage and GDP growth. The second component involved nationalization of industry. Unidad Popular sought to build up the state sector, encourage joint ventures between the public and private sectors, arid maintain a substantial private sector. Initial efforts concentrated on foreign concerns in mining, manufacturing, and services. These led to strong confrontations with U.S.-owned Anaconda and Kennecott mining and the International Telegraph and Tele-