He was born in Chile on June 29, 1908. Allende, a Marxist activist who was born into an upper-middle-class family, obtained his medical degree from the University of Chile in 1932. He was a founder member of Chile’s Socialist Party in 1933. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1937 and served as Minister of Health in President Pedro Aguirre Cerda’s liberal leftist coalition from 1939 until 1942. In 1945, Allende won the first of his four Senate elections.
In 1952, Allende campaigned for President for the first time, but was briefly banned from the Socialist Party for receiving support from the outlawed Communists; he came in fourth place in a four-man contest. In 1958, he ran again, this time with the support of the Socialist Party and the then-legal Communist Party, and came in second against the Conservative-Liberal candidate, Jorge Alessandri. He expropriated US-owned copper enterprises in Chile without compensation, putting him in conflict with the US government and undermining international investors’ trust in his administration.
His administration also took moves to buy several key privately held mining and industrial companies, as well as significant agricultural holdings to be used by peasant cooperatives. He allowed big pay hikes and price freezes in an attempt to redistribute earnings. To cover the budget shortfall caused by the government’s purchase of basic industries, Allende issued vast sums of unbacked money. Chile had stagnated output, decreasing exports and private-sector investment, depleted financial reserves, numerous strikes, growing inflation, food shortages, and internal upheaval by 1972.
Many workers and peasants remained loyal to Allende, and his electoral alliance received 44 percent of the vote in the March 1973 legislative elections. On September 11, 1973, however, his administration was deposed by a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet.
Allende was assassinated during a coordinated attack on the presidential palace, and his death became a point of contention. Military officials stated he killed himself, but others suspected he was slain and a fake suicide staged. His remains were unearthed from an unmarked cemetery in 1990 and laid to rest in a public ceremony in Santiago.