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Salvador Allende Gossens

Allende was born July 26, 1908, in Valparaiso, Chile, into a radical political family. As a medical student, he was arrested several times because of his opposition to the dictatorship of General Carlos Ibanez. In 1933 he became co-founder of the Chilean Socialist Party. In 1937 he was elected to Chile's national legislature, and in 1939 he became minister of health. He joined the Senate in 1945 and eventually became its president.

In 1952, Allende made his first run for the presidency, finishing a distant fourth. The same year, he was suspended from his party because of his support for the outlawed Communist Party of Chile. In 1958 and 1964, he again ran for the presidency, now as the joint candidate of the (legalized) Communists and Socialists. He had become an admirer of Cuban Fidel Castro and his revolution. By this time, the U.S. government, frightened by Allende's Castro-inspired program, was lending considerable support to Allende's domestic opponents.

Despite U.S. efforts, Allende managed to finish first in a field of four contenders for the presidency in 1970. He was the candidate of the so-called Popular Unity Coalition, consisting of the Socialists, Communists, left Christian Democrats and others. He gained only 36.3 percent of the vote, but in October parliament confirmed him as Chile's new president.

In office, Allende pursued a leftist program, pushed ahead in part by more radical allies he did not control. His government established diplomatic relations with Cuba and moved Chile closer to communist countries such as China, North Korea and North Vietnam. At home, Allende's regime began to nationalize various industries, several of which had significant U.S. business interests. This line of action quickly cost the president the support of Chile's business community.

By early 1972, with the United States continuing its support of the opposition and working systematically to weaken Chile's economy, the government began to lose control of a deteriorating situation. In order to control a strike by shopkeepers and truck owners, Allende temporarily brought senior military officers into his cabinet. With inflation out of control and his country becoming polarized between the extreme left and the extreme right, Allende slowly but steadily lost his grip.

In September 1973, the army, encouraged by the United States, joined the conservative opposition, attacked the presidential palace in Santiago and deposed Allende. When the attackers entered the palace on September 11, Allende was dead from a gunshot wound -- possibly self-inflicted -- in his office.

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