The second Government of Arturo Alessandri Palma was developed in Chile between 1932 and 1938, after being the winner in the elections held that same year. Alessandri attended the voting supported by the left and radical parties, although the former soon distanced themselves from his administration.
The politician had already held the presidency between 1920 and 1925. The balance of his government was clouded by the economic problems caused by the drop in the price of nitrate, the most important resource in the country. At the end of the mandate, he suffered the so-called Saber Rumble and, later, a coup that forced him to go into exile.
After the end of the government of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, with the country badly hit by the world crisis of 1929, Alessandri returned to the country, being elected senator for Tarapacá and Antofagasta.
Given the dire economic situation, Alessandri’s first measures were dedicated to improving unemployment figures, being able to pay off the debt and increasing production. Likewise, he tried to stabilize the political atmosphere . His mandate ended with a bloody event that would mark that government: the slaughter of the Seguro Obrero.
Arturo Alessandri Palma, known as the “lion of Tarapacá”, is considered one of the most important figures in Chilean history during the first half of the 20th century. In a very troubled time, Alessandri held the presidency of the Republic on two occasions.
The first of his mandates occurred between 1920 and 1925, after a campaign in which he had promised to enact laws in favor of the most popular classes. However, the drop in the price of nitrate led the country to an economic crisis, so that a good part of its promises were not fulfilled.
The economic situation was joined by the political system of the moment. Alessandri’s supporters were a minority and Congress paralyzed all his social projects.
Coup d’état and exile
The year before his term ended, in 1924, a group of low-ranking military officers staged a protest, called “saber rattling.” The reason was economic, since the military was suffering the consequences of the economic crisis.
These officers organized a Military Committee, which proceeded to express their demands to Alessandri. All of them were progressive in nature, such as the limitation of child labor or the eight-hour workday. The President promised to study them on condition that they return to the barracks.
Fearing a military coup, Congress passed a package of laws in a single day. However, the Military Committee did not dissolve and asked the President to dissolve Congress. Alessandri responded by resigning and applying for asylum at the US Embassy. Although his resignation was not accepted, he was granted a 6-month leave,
In 1925 there was a coup led by Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, who demanded the return of Alessandri to fulfill the rest of his mandate and to draft a new Constitution, of a presidential character.
Finally, Ibáñez del Campo and Alessandri ended up facing each other, which caused the latter to resign again from his position.
For most of the period between 1925 and 1931, Alessandri lived in exile. The situation changed when Ibáñez Campo lost power in July 1931.
Alessandri returned to the country and was elected senator. However, a new Military Junta dissolved Congress. The new Chilean leader was Marmaduke Grove, who established a Socialist Republic that lasted only until 1932.
The elections were held on October 30 of that same year. Arturo Alessandri appeared supported by the liberals, the democrats, the radicals and the social republicans. His rivals were Rodriguez de la Sotta, for the Conservatives, Marmaduke Grove, for the Socialists, and Elías Lafertte, for the Communists.
The result was very clear in favor of Alessandri, who took office on December 24.
Chile’s economy when Alessandri became president was disastrous. The latest coup d’état had thrown the country into disorder, which had aggravated an already bad situation.
There were no approved budgets for 1933 and the fiscal debt reached 400 million pesos. Likewise, the agreed commitments totaled 1,060 million and the internal debt exceeded one billion. For its part, the external debt, whose payment was deferred, reached 450 million dollars.
On the social front, the main concern was unemployment, which affected 160,000 people. Finally, according to Alessandri himself, the Chilean Saltpeter Company (Cosach) had bankrupted the nitrate industry by losing international markets and allowing rather dubious deals to be executed.
At first, Alessandri’s government had the support of left-wing groups and radicals.
Fixing the economy
Faced with the bad situation of the economy, Alessandri began his term with some measures to overcome the crisis.
Together with his Minister of Finance, Gustavo Ross, he applied a program to increase production and consumption capacity. Similarly, he founded the Salitre y Yodo Sales Corporation, an organization that made the activity reputable.
With the money obtained, the payment of the foreign debt was restarted and an ambitious public works plan was carried out. Among them, the construction of the civic neighborhood of Santiago, the National State, schools, roads and railway lines stood out.
Despite the economic improvement, the social situation remained very tense. Alessandri tried to handle this turmoil by relying on the Republican Militia, a group made up of middle and upper class youth.
The objective of this Militia was to maintain order and defend, by all necessary means, the Constitution and the laws. For a time, he had been in hiding, but on May 7, 1933, he held a parade in front of the President. Once they considered that they had achieved their objective, that Militia was disbanded in 1936.
On the other hand, Alessandri asked Congress several times to declare a state of exception. This measure led to some clearly illegal acts, such as the burning of an issue of Topaze magazine that included a cartoon of the President.
Apart from the measures taken to improve the economy, the Alessandri government enacted a series of laws of a political and social nature. Thus, in 1934, women were granted the right to vote in municipal elections. Similarly, it passed a law that established a decent minimum wage for workers in commerce and industry.
In the field of health, in 1937, the government legislated a Preventive Medicine law, which promoted medical examinations for the early detection of diseases.
One of the characteristics of Alessandri’s second government was the emergence of stronger political parties. In October 1933, various liberal factions united and formed the Liberal Party. Something similar happened with leftist sectors, which ended up forming the Socialist Party.
On the other hand, some forces were created following the new ideologies that were emerging in Europe. Among them, they highlighted the National Socialist Movement of Chile, of a Nazi character and the Conservative Falange, inspired by two papal encyclicals,
Somewhat later, in 1937, the Popular Front appeared, a coalition made up of the Radical, Democratic, Socialist and Communist Parties. The success of this new political force, which had the support of the unions, led Pedro Aguirre Cerda to succeed Alessandri as president.
Massacre of the Workers’ Insurance
The event that marked, in the negative, the presidency of Alessandri, was the Slaughter of the Workers’ Insurance. A group of young people belonging to the Chilean Nazi party occupied the building of the Caja del Seguro Obrero, on September 5, 1938.
His intention was for a military uprising to take place that would return Ibáñez del Campo to power.
The young Nazis opened fire from the occupied building towards La Moneda. Finally, they were caught. The problem happened once they were in the hands of the security forces: unarmed, they were killed in cold blood.
Although Alessandri denied ever having given the order for the execution or even having known in advance that it would take place. However, to this day many continue to blame him for the event.
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- Chilean Memory. Arturo Alessandri Palma (1868-1950). Obtained from memoriachilena.gob.cl
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