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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Salvador Allende

Although he served as president of Chile for just three short, tumultuous years—1970 to 1973—Salvador Allende is a key figure in Chilean history. Remembered by some as a martyr for the cause of socialism and vilified by others as a dangerous radical, Allende was the first Marxist to win political power in a democratic election. Allende had run for president of Chile three times prior to 1970, and while identifying as a socialist, he was personally opposed to the Soviet Union. Despite this, however, conservative elements in Chile and abroad vociferously opposed his policies from the get-go, and he was eventually overthrown in a 1973 coup supported by the United States. General Augusto Pinochet replaced Allende and ruled Chile until 1990.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Salvador Allende.


Allende won the Chilean Presidency at the head of a left-wing coalition known as the Popular Unity Party. The Popular Unity Party consisted of the elements of the Chilean Left, including the Chilean Socialist Party and the Chilean Marxist Party. There were other elements in the Popular Unity coalition as well, including some representatives of the Christian Democrats. In the 1970 presidential election Allende and his coalition won a narrow plurality of the vote, defeating Jorge Alessandri. However, Allende’s troubles were just beginning.


Allende’s victory made the United States very unhappy. Henry Kissinger, then U.S. National Security Advisor, wanted to prevent Chile’s National Congress from proclaiming Allende president. United States operatives and conservative elements in Chile approached Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, and attempted to convince him to launch a coup. Schneider was a staunch constitutionalist, and he refused to overthrow a democratically-elected president. Right-wingers in Chile attempted to kidnap Schenider several times and eventually successfully assassinated him. This action only served to galvanize support for Allende, clearing the path to his confirmation as president.


Allende took office with many ambitious plans. He wanted to nationalize Chile’s copper mines, initiate wage increases, and set price controls. Allende also wanted to use the newest technology to efficiently manage Chile’s economy. This commitment to technological innovation was exemplified by Project Cybersyn. The proposed project would allow Chile’s factories to rapidly communicate to a central computer via telex machines. This computer, in turn, would help make decisions to increase output and grow the economy.


Not everyone was enthralled with Allende’s plans. Continuing economic turmoil in Chile, coupled with pressure from abroad, led some conservative elements in Chile’s military to attempt a coup in June of 1973. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper, this coup attempt was known as the “Tanquetazo.” Tanquetazo roughly translates to “tank putsch” and refers to the fact that Souper’s officers primarily used tanks in their attack on the presidential palace. However, the Tanquetazo was successfully quelled thanks to the intervention of Rene Schenider’s replacement as Army Commander-in-Chief, Carlos Prats. Unfortunately for Allende, the reprieve was only temporary.


By September of 1973 the situation in Chile had deteriorated. The United States had pressured the World Bank to cut off all loans to Chile, and numerous companies had fled the country out of fear of nationalization. Chile’s economy was in bad shape, and the military used this situation to launch a coup on September 11th, 1973. Allende held out in La Moneda, the presidential palace, issuing a defiant message over Radio Magallanes, Chile’s communist radio station. However, once the air force began bombing La Moneda Allende was done for. According to some, the president killed himself, but according to others—Fidel Castro among them—he was executed by the soldiers carrying out the coup. Following his death Pinochet seized power in Chile and unleashed a brutal campaign against Allende’s supporters.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • Although never realized, Project Cybersyn offers a fascinating glimpse into what a centrally-managed economy might look like in the computer age.

  • Allende had several famous relatives.

  • The assassination of Rene Schneider led to a lawsuit against Henry Kissinger.

  • Watch this video to hear the words of Allende’s last speech.

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