According to the constitution, Congress had to decide between the two candidates who had received the most votes. The precedent set on the three previous occasions this situation had arisen since 1932 was for Congress simply to choose the candidate with the largest number of votes; indeed, former president Alessandri had been elected in 1958 with 31.6% of the popular vote.
In this case, however, there was an active campaign against Allende's confirmation by Congress, including clandestine efforts to prevent him taking office, and his presidency was ratified only after he signed a "Statute of Constitutional Guarantees". This statute was suggested as a means to convince the majority of Christian Democrat senators that favoured Allessandri, as they doubted Allende's allegiance to democracy, or at least the UP's. After signing the statute, members of the Christian Democrat party in the Senate gave their vote in favor of Allende. It has been argued than given that less than the majority of the voters voted for him, Allende did not have a clear "mandate" to embark in the policies put forward on his program. But the legality of the election itself is not in dispute.
Chilean presidents were allowed a maximum of 6 years, which may explain Allende's haste to restructure the economy. Not only did he have a significant restructuring program organised, it had to be a success if a successor to Allende was going to be elected.
At the beginning there was broad support in Congress to expand the government's already large part of the economy, as the Popular Unity and Christian Democrats together had a clear majority. But the government's efforts to pursue these policies led to strong opposition by landowners, some middle-class sectors, the rightist National Party, financiers, and the Roman Catholic Church (which in 1973 was displeased with the direction of the educational policy ). Eventually the Christian Democrats united with the National Party in Congress.
The land-redistribution that Allende highlighted as one of the central policies of his government had already begun under his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, who had expropriated between one-fifth and one-quarter of all properties liable to takeover [Collier & Sater, 1996]. The Allende government's intention was to seize all holdings of more than eighty basic irrigated hectares [Faundez, 1988]. Allende also intended to improve the socio-economic welfare of Chile's poorest citizens; a key element was to provide employment, either in the new nationalised enterprises or on public works projects.
Towards the end of 1971, Fidel Castro toured Chile extensively during a four-week visit. This gave credence to the belief of those on the right that "The Chilean Way to Socialism" was an effort to put Chile on the same path as Cuba.
In addition to the earlier-discussed provision of employment, Allende also raised wages on a number of occasions throughout 1970 and 1971. These rises in wages were negated by continuing increases in prices for food. Although price rises had also been high under Frei (27% a year between 1967 and 1970), a basic basket of consumer goods rose by 120% from 190 to 421 escudos in one month alone, August 1972. In the period 1970-72, while Allende was in government, exports fell 24% and imports rose 26%, with imports of food rising an estimated 149% [figures are from Nove, 1986, pp. 4-12, tables 1.1 & 1.7]. Although nominal wages were rising, there was not a commensurate increase in the standard of living for the Chilean population.
The falls in exports were mostly due to a fall in the price of copper. Chile was at the mercy of international fluctuations in the value of its single most important export. As with almost half of developing countries, more than 50 per cent of Chile's export receipts were from a single primary commodity [Hoogvelt, 1997]. Adverse fluctuation in the international price of copper negatively affected the Chilean economy throughout 1971-2. The price of copper fell from a peak of $66 per ton in 1970 to only $48-9 in 1971 and 1972 [Nove, 1986]. In addition to the hyperinflation, the fall in the value of copper and lack of economic aid would further depress the economy.
Despite declining economic indicators, Allende's Popular Unity coalition actually increased its vote to 43 percent in the parliamentary elections early in 1973. However, by this point what had started as an informal alliance with the Christian Democrats was anything but that. The Christian Democrats now leagued with the right-wing National Party to oppose Allende's government, the two parties calling themselves the Confederación Democrática (CODE). The conflict between the executive and legislature paralyzed initiatives from either side.
"Kuznetsov arranged his regular meetings with Allende through the President’s personal secretary, Miria Contreras Bell, known as La Payita and codenamed Marta by the KGB. La Payita was Allende’s favourite mistress during his presidency. Kuznetsov reported that Allende was spending 'a great deal of time' in her company. 'His relationship with his wife has more than once been harmed as a result.' Despite Allende’s affairs, however, his wife, Hortensia, remained intensely loyal to him. Kuznetsov did his best to cultivate her as well as her husband." (The Times extract from the Mitrokhin Archive volume II, by Mitrokhin and historian Christopher Andrew).
The U.S. administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon, then embroiled in the Vietnam War and Cold War with the Soviet Union, was openly hostile to the possibility of a second Marxist regime (after Cuba) in the Western Hemisphere. There were clandestine efforts by the U.S. government to prevent Allende from taking office after election: On October 16, 1970, a formal instruction was issued to the CIA base in Chile, saying in part, "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October, but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end, utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden...
Regarding the botched attempted-kidnapping and manslaughter of Chilean Army Commander René Schneider on October 22, 1970 (Schneider was a constitutionalist opposed to the idea of a coup preventing Allende from taking office or removing him after the fact), the Church Committee observed: "The CIA attempted, directly, to foment a military coup in Chile. It passed three weapons to a group of Chilean officers who plotted a coup. Beginning with the kidnaping of Chilean Army Commander-in-Chief Rene Schneider. However, those guns were returned. The group which staged the abortive kidnap of Schneider, which resulted in his death, apparently was not the same as the group which received CIA weapons." However, the group which killed Schneider had previously been in contact with the CIA. The agency later paid that group $35,000, according to the Hinchey report, "in an effort to keep the prior contact secret, maintain the good will of the group, and for humanitarian reasons. CIA documents indicate that while the CIA had sought his kidnapping, his killing was never intended. Public outrage over the killing of Schneider cooled sentiments for a coup, and neither the U.S. nor Chilean military attempted other removal actions in the early years of the Allende administration. On October 26, President Eduardo Frei (Salvador Allende was inaugurated November 3) named General Carlos Prats as commander in chief of the army in replacement of René Schneider. Carlos Prats was also a constitutionalist.
With Allende in office, the U.S. reduced economic aid to the Chilean government.
In 1973, the CIA was notified by contacts of the impending Pinochet coup two days in advance, but contends it "played no direct role in" the coup. After Pinochet assumed power, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told Nixon that the U.S. "didn't do it" (referring to the coup itself) but had "created the conditions as great [sic] as possible."
It was soon joined by the small businessmen, some (mostly professional) unions, and some student groups. Its leaders (Vilarín, Jaime Guzmán, Rafael Cumsille, Guillermo Elton and Eduardo Arriagada) expected to topple the government through the strike. Other than the inevitable damage to the economy, the chief effect of the 24-day strike was to bring the head of the army, general Carlos Prats, into the government as Interior Minister, as a sign of appeasement . Carlos Prats had succeeded General René Schneider after his assassination on October 24, 1970 by two groups, General Roberto Viaux and General Camilo Valenzuela, whom had benefitted from logistical and financial support from the CIA. Prats was a supporter of the legalist Schneider doctrine and refused to involve the military in a coup against Allende.
That failed coup was followed by a further strike at the end of July, joined this time by the copper miners of El Teniente as well.
In July 1973, the far-right paramilitary group Fatherland and Liberty (Patria y Libertad) received a plan from the Marines, who opposed the legalist Schneider Doctrine, to sabotage the country's infrastructures. The collaboration between Fatherland and Liberty with the Chilean Armed Forces increased after the failed October 1972 strike which had aimed at overthrowing the Allende administration. In agreement with the anti-Constitutionalist sectors of the military, the group assassinated on 26 July 1973 Allende's naval aide, Arturo Araya . The first sabotage was committed this same day. Others include creating a power outage while Allende was being broadcasted .
On August 9, General Prats, a supporter of the Schneider Doctrine opposing military intervention in politics, was made Minister of Defense. Because of discontent from anti-Constitutionalist sectors of the military, he was forced to resign on August 22 of all of his functions, and replaced as Commander-in-Chief of the Army by General Augusto Pinochet.
In August 1973, a constitutional crisis was clearly in the offing: the Supreme Court publicly complained about the government's inability to enforce the law of the land and on August 22, the Chamber of Deputies of Chile (with the Christian Democrats now firmly uniting with the National Party) accused Allende's government of unconstitutional acts, and called on the military ministers to "put an immediate end" to what they described as "breach[es of] the Constitution...with the goal of redirecting government activity toward the path of Law and ensuring the constitutional order of our Nation and the essential underpinnings of democratic coexistence among Chileans." They accused Allende's government of a "breakdown of the Rule of Law by means of the creation and development of government-protected armed groups which...are headed towards a confrontation with the Armed Forces. For some months now, the government had been afraid to call upon the national police known as the carabineros, for fear of their lack of loyalty. Allende's efforts to re-organize the military and police (which he clearly had reason to fear in their then-current forms) were characterized as "notorious attempts to use the Armed and Police Forces for partisan ends, destroy their institutional hierarchy, and politically infiltrate their ranks." (See Chamber of Deputies' Resolution.) Two days later (August 24, 1973), Allende responded (See 1973 coup in Chile; full text of the response is at in Spanish), responding point-by point to their accusations and, in turn, accusing Congress of "facilit[ing] the seditious intention of certain sectors" and promoting a coup or a civil war by "invoking the intervention of the Armed Forces and of Order against a democratically elected government". He pointed out that the declaration had failed to obtain the required two-thirds majority constitutionally required to bring an accusation against the president and argued that the legislature was trying to usurp the executive role.
"Chilean democracy," he wrote, "is a conquest by all of the people. It is neither the work nor the gift of the exploiting classes, and it will be defended by those who, with sacrifices accumulated over generations, have imposed it… With a tranquil conscience… I sustain that never before has Chile had a more democratic government than that over which I have the honor to preside." He concluded by calling upon "the workers, all democrats and patriots" to join him in defense of the constitution and of the "revolutionary process."