Salvador Allende
Bombs on Santiago de Chile

Everyone in the Chilean capital of Santiago could feel in that first week of September 1973 that something was going to happen. The opposition against the democratically elected president Salvador Allende had increased in intensity during the previous months. The socialist government and the right-wing opposition faced each other with increasing rage. Political violence disrupted the country and resulted in economic chaos.

Salvador Allende’s victory in the 1970 elections had been a celebration for all the socialist powers in the world. Hundreds of reporters descended on Santiago de Chile from all corners of the world in the wake of thousands of volunteers who wanted to contribute to the peace-loving left-wing experiment. The ‘Unidad Popular’ alliance forged by Allende, comprising socialists, communists and some of the Christian Democrats, was taken up exuberantly in the poor working-class districts of the larger towns, the overpopulated ‘poblaciones’.

But the promises of nationalizing the large industries and agriculture in the name of the people resulted in an unwilling majority in the house of representatives, the Congress. Despite the enthusiastic support of the population, Allende was forced more and more on the defensive. The differences were settled more and more on the street. And were experienced there with a great deal of South American passion.

That didn’t fit in the tradition of the Chilean people. In contrast to most of the surrounding countries, Chile had always been one of the most moderate democracies of the entire continent. The oldest university on the continent was in Santiago. It was one of the countries in the world that had seen an extensive social legislation system come into being. Elections usually ran in an orderly fashion and results were accepted.

But the social eruption of unprecedented freedom, happiness and fraternity was apparently too much of a good thing in the view of the conservative population. Moreover, they led to the northerly neighbour, the United States, becoming hugely irritated; the US had already had more than enough with one socialist rebel, Cuba, in their southern back garden.

On 11 September 1973 a small bomber that accurately released its fatal load above the presidential palace of La Moneda in the centre of Santiago brought a sudden end to the passionate expectations of very many Chileans.