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    Chile Gabriel González Videla's Presidency, 1946-52
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    Chile quickly became enmeshed in the cold war, as Moscow and especially Washington meddled in its affairs. That friction resulted in the splitting of the CTCh in 1946 into Communist and Socialist branches and then the outlawing of the PCCh. The Socialists were now opposed to the Communists and aligned with the (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO), having grown closer to United States labor interests during World War II.

    Once in office, González Videla (president, 1946-52) rapidly turned against his Communist allies. He expelled them from his cabinet and then banned them completely under the 1948 Law for the Defense of Democracy. The PCCh remained illegal until 1958. He also severed relations with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.

    Controversy still swirls around the reasons for this aboutface . According to González Videla and his sympathizers, the repression of the Communists was necessary to thwart their plots against his government, although no evidence has been found to substantiate that claim. According to the Communists and other critics of González Videla, he acted under pressure from the United States and out of a desire to forge closer economic and military bonds with the dominant superpower. Historians have established that the president wanted to appease the United States, that the United States encouraged a crackdown on Chilean Communists, and that the United States government appreciated González Videla's actions and thereafter expanded the scope of its loans, investments, and technical missions to Chile. The United States and Chile also agreed to a military assistance pact while González Videla was president. However, no conclusive evidence has come to light that the United States directly pushed him to act.

    Although González Videla feared Communist intentions and respected the wishes of the United States government, he also turned against the PCCh for other reasons. He hoped to mollify right-wing critics of his government, especially landowners, to whom he guaranteed a continuing moratorium on peasant unionization. He sought to remove any ideological justification for a military coup. He also wanted to weaken the labor movement in a time of economic uncertainties, slow growth, and rising inflation, when the PCCh was promoting strikes. González Videla's banning of the Communists coincided with his movement away from social reform in favor of the promotion of industrial growth.

    As the Radical years (1938-52) drew to a close, Popular Frontstyle coalition politics reached a dead end. The Radicals had swerved to the right, the Socialists had splintered and lost votes, and the Communists had been forced underground. Although the middle and upper classes had registered some gains in those fourteen years, most workers had seen their real income stagnate or decline. Often a problem in the past, inflation had become a permanent feature of the Chilean economy, fueled by the deficit spending of a government that had grown enormously under the Radical presidents. Progress had been made in industrialization, but with little benefit to the majority of the population. Promoting urban industries did not generate the growth, efficiency, employment, or independence promised by the policy's advocates. World War II had left the country more dependent than ever on the United States, which by then had become the dominant economic power in Latin America.

    Populist development strategies had proved viable during the 1930s and 1940s. The protection and credit that went along with import-substitution industrialization had kept manufacturers satisfied. Although penalized and forced to accept low prices for their foods, agriculturalists welcomed expanding urban markets, low taxes, and controls over rural workers. The middle class and the armed forces had applauded state growth and moderate nationalism. The more skilled and organized urban workers had received consumer, welfare, and union benefits superior to those offered to other lower-class groups.

    These allocations postponed any showdown over limited resources, thus enabling right and left to compromise. Political institutionalization and accommodation prevailed, partly because the unorganized urban poor and especially the rural poor suffered, in effect, from marginality (see Glossary). Starting in the 1950s, however, social demands outpaced slow economic growth, and the political arena became increasingly crowded and heated. In addition, accelerated mobilization, polarization, and radicalization by ideologically competing parties placed more and more stress on the "compromise state" to reconcile incompatible demands and projects.

    By 1952 Chileans were alienated by multiparty politics that produced reformist governments, which would veer to the right once in office. Chileans were tired of politiquería (petty politics, political chicanery, and pork-barrel politics). Citizens were also dismayed by slow growth and spiraling inflation. They showed their displeasure by turning to two symbols of the past, the 1920s dictator Ibáñez and the son of former president Alessandri.

    In an effort to "sweep the rascals out," the voters elected the politically unaffiliated Ibáñez back to the presidency in 1952. Brandishing his broom as a symbol, the "General of Victory" ran against all the major parties and their clientelistic system of government. He made his strongest attacks on the Radicals, accusing them of mismanagement of the economy and subservience to the United States.

    Along with the short-lived Agrarian Labor Party (1945-58), a few Communists backed Ibáñez in hopes of relegalizing the PCCh; a few Socialists also supported him in hopes of spawning a workers' movement similar to Peronism (see Glossary) in Argentina. Other leftists, however, endorsed the first token presidential campaign of Salvador Allende in order to stake out an independent Marxist strategy for future runs at the presidency. Allende received only 5 percent of the vote, while Ibáñez won with a plurality of 47 percent. As it always did when no candidate captured an absolute majority, Congress ratified the top vote-getter as president.

    Data as of March 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Chile on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Chile Gabriel González Videla's Presidency, 1946-52 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Chile Gabriel González Videla's Presidency, 1946-52 should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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