Eduardo Nicanor Frei Montalva

Eduardo Nicanor Frei Montalva

Frei Montalva, Eduardo Nicanor, 1911-82, president of Chile (1964-70). A lawyer and editor, he was a founder (1938) of the National Falange, an independent party based on progressive Christian principles, which in 1957 became the core of the new Christian Democratic party. Frei served as minister of roads and public works (1945-49) and in the senate after 1949. On his second try for the presidency (1964), he won a decisive victory. A popular president, he introduced sweeping social and economic reforms within a democratic framework and secured Chilean control of the copper industry. After turning the presidency over to his elected successor, Salvador Allende Gossens, he remained active as head of the Christian Democratic party. He later was a leading opponent of General Pinochet's rule. In 2009 a Chilean judge charged several persons in connection with Frei's death after routine surgery, saying that there was evidence the death was due to poisoning.

His son Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, 1942-, also president of Chile (1994-2000), was a civil engineer and businessman before he helped found (1988) the Committee for Free Elections and campaigned against the extension of Pinochet's term as president. Elected to the senate in 1989, Frei became head of the Christian Democratic party in 1991 and its candidate for president in 1993. Benefiting from his late father's popularity, he was elected handily. The policies of the Aylwin government were largley continued during Frei's term in office. He was succeeded as president by Ricardo Lagos. the first Socialist to hold the office since Allende. Frei failed to win a second presidential term in 2010, losing to conservative businessman Sebastián Piñera.

Eduardo Nicanor Frei Montalva (1911–1982) was a Chilean political figure and president of Chile from 1964 to 1970. His eldest son, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, also became president of Chile (1994-2000).

Early life

Eduardo Frei Montalva was born in Santiago on January 16, 1911, the son of Eduardo Frei Schlinz, a Swiss-born ethnic German from Austria, and Victoria Montalva Martínez. He attended high school at the Instituto de Humanidades Luis Campino and went on to study law at the Universidad Católica de Chile, graduating as a lawyer in 1933. He married María Ruiz-Tagle and had 5 children.

He began his political career in the Conservative Party, but was among a group of young men who founded their own party in 1938: the Falange Nacional. In 1957, the Falange became the Christian Democratic Party of Chile, and he became the undisputed leader.

He was minister of Public Works in 1945, and senator in 1949. He ran for president in 1958 before being elected in 1964. That year he was elected with his "Revolución en Libertad" ("Revolution in Liberty") slogan by a large margin (56%), defeating Socialist candidate Salvador Allende who only received 39% of the vote, but who subsequently won the 1970 Chilean presidential election.

His campaign had been supported by the CIA, who feared an Allende victory, with US$ 3 million, mostly used in the Chilean media.


Frei's administration began many reforms in Chilean society. "Promoción Popular" (Social Promotion), "Reforma Agraria" (Agrarian Reform), "Reforma Educacional" (Education Reform), and "Juntas de Vecinos" (Neighborhood Associations) were some of his main projects. He also took measures to rationalise drug supply.

Furthermore, in 1966, the Rapa Nui of Easter Island gained full Chilean citizenship. The Easter Island had been annexed in 1888 by Chile. However, until 1953 the Island had been rented to the Williamson-Balfour Company as a sheep-farm, while the surviving Rapanui were confined to the settlement of Hanga Roa and the rest of the island managed by the Chilean Navy, until its opening to the public in 1966.

Position on Pinochet

After Allende's 1970 victory, Frei became convinced of what he called a "totalitarian project" to impose a Communist tyranny. His Christian Democratic Party supported the Armed Forces intervention to remove Allende from office in 1973, after the Chamber of Deputies on August 22, 1973, accused Allende of violating the Constitution. In November 1974 Frei wrote a historic letter to Mariano Rumor, President of the International Christian Democrats, endorsing the Armed Forces intervention and denouncing what he alleged was an attempt by Allende to impose in Chile a Communist dictatorship.

Frei later became part of the opposition against the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.


Frei died in Santiago, on January 22, 1982, after undergoing surgery for a stomach illness. His death was attributed to an infection, septicaemia, stemming from surgery. He is buried in the Cementerio General de Santiago.

His death is a matter of controversy due to allegations that he was poisoned by the Pinochet regime, allegedly using a toxin produced by the DINA biochemist Eugenio Berrios. After Belgian researchers from the University of Ghent reportedly found mustard gas in Frei's body, the former president's family filed a lawsuit, which is still pending as of 2007. Some commentators, notably conservative columnist Hermógenes Pérez de Arce, dispute the existence of the Belgian report, citing the denial by the University's chief of communications, Tom de Smedt, that an investigation had been done in that university.


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