The Ruido de Sables (Chile) was a symbolic protest carried out by a group of soldiers in 1924. The gesture was made inside the country’s Senate, in full celebration of an ordinary plenary session. It was the first military intervention in Chilean politics since the civil war of 1891.
The president at that time was Arturo Alessandri, who encountered a country with many economic problems that affected the most disadvantaged layers and workers. Alessandri, who had promised to improve his conditions, met with opposition from a largely conservative Congress.
On the other hand, the military were not having a good time either. The crisis had affected salaries, especially those of common soldiers. This caused a strong malaise between the uniformed ones.
The session of Congress in which the military made that Saber Noise, had been called to approve a series of beneficial measures for the population.
Instead, the senators decided to vote for a rise in parliamentary allowances. This provoked the anger of the soldiers present who hit the floor of the room with their sabers.
Arturo Alessandri, known politically as the Lion of Tarapacá, had reached the presidency of the country with an eminently social speech.
His speeches were famous in which he flattered what he called “my dear rabble”, the less favored layers of the population. Thanks to his proposals for improvement, he managed to win in the 1920 elections.
The economic situation of Chile when Alessandri reached the presidency was quite precarious. After 30 years of oligarchic state, the outbreak of the First World War and the initial symptoms of the crisis that led to the Great Depression, hit the country in a very negative way.
Saltpeter, their main source of wealth for many decades, was beginning to decline due to the emergence of a synthetic version. In addition, the rulers of the oligarchy had spent a good part of the financial reserves in great works without much practical sense.
Thus, in the early 1920s Chile found its economy at a low level. The expenses were enormous, without there being a source of wealth that could cover them.
This especially affected workers, peasants and the rest of the lower classes, although it also began to cause problems for the middle class.
To compound the problems, the strike on February 14, 1921 – held at the San Gregorio nitrate works – ended with the death of 73 people. They all accused the government of this massacre, and soon the labor movements spread throughout the country.
It was not only civilians who were having a bad time in Chile. The military were also suffering the consequences of the economic crisis, especially the lower-ranking officers. These had been ignored since the Balmaceda government and received very low salaries.
In a way, their situation equated them with the lower middle classes, which were a part of the voter base that raised Alessandri.
Noise of sabers
One of the main problems the president encountered in keeping his promises was the composition of Congress. This was dominated by the conservatives, supporters of the oligarchy and little given to benefit the popular classes.
From the beginning of his term, all presidential proposals had been paralyzed by the parliamentary majority, increasing tension in the country. In this way, the year 1924 arrived without anything seeming to improve.
The discontent was noted during the 71st ordinary session of the Senate of Chile. That day, September 3, 1924, the parliamentarians had on the agenda the increase of their salaries, postponing the improvements to other social groups.
In the Chamber there was a group of soldiers, all young officers. At one point they began to protest because the parliamentary diet was going to be approved instead of legislating for the majority of the population.
The Minister of War ordered them to leave the room. While obeying their superior, the soldiers began to beat their sabers against the marble floor of the compound, in order to show their discontent and their support for the president’s social proposals.
From that moment on, that saber rattling became synonymous with possible military mobilizations against a government.
Once their discontent was demonstrated, the military proceeded to create a Committee to negotiate with Alessandri. In the subsequent meeting, which took place in the Palacio de La Moneda, they requested that the promised social improvements be carried out.
Approval of the measures
The actions of the military and their determination created a climate of fear in the parliamentarians. Alessandri took the opportunity to call another session in the Chamber. This, which took place between September 8 and 9, approved several reforms aimed at improving the situation in the country.
The laws approved were the 8-hour working day, the prohibition of child labor, a law on workplace accidents and another on cooperatives. In addition, the unions were legalized, collective work was regulated, and conciliation and arbitration tribunals were created.
In reality, these were proposals already presented previously, but stopped by the conservatives.
Resignation of the president
Despite its triumph, the military committee continued to function. The pressure on Alessandri was increasing and he decided to resign. The military accepted it, making it a condition that he leave the country for six months.
After this, a governing board was formed, headed by General Luis Altamirano, and the Congress was dissolved.
The work of the board did not get Chile to improve, so they proposed to Alessandri that he return. However, a coup d’état led by Army Colonel Carlos Ibáñez del Campo was anticipated on January 23, 1925. A civic-military junta was then formed that made Alessandri return immediately.
Constitution of 1925
The first thing the new government did was enact a new Constitution. In this a presidential system was established, with separation between the Church and the State.
Shortly after, faced with the instability in which the country was still mired, Alessandri resigned again, leaving Luis Barros Borgoño at the head of the government since he did not want Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, who was Minister of War, to replace him.
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