On June 4, 1932, Air Force Colonel Marmaduke Grove led a coup d’état and created the Chilean Socialist Republic. Due to infighting and lack of public support, however, it was dissolved just 101 days later. Chile Today takes a look back at the Chilean Socialist Republic.
From 1931 through much of 1932, Chile was politically unstable and reeling from the ripple effects of the stock market crash in 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. Chile’s president in 1931, fascist Carlos Ibáñez del Campo’s was exiled, and the country then saw a string of more than half a dozen different presidents in a year’s time. The Great Depression also left many Chileans in poverty, and a typhus epidemic was spreading across the country.
Ibáñez’s successor, President Juan Esteban Montero, was seen as an ineffectual leader because he failed to help those affected by the economic crisis. This led to two different attempts to depose him. The second was successful and established the Chilean Socialist Republic which lasted 101 days.
The Failure of President Montero
As of July 1931, President Ibáñez’s administration had failed to contain the effects of the 1929 global economic crash. After numerous days of violent protests, he resigned from his position and left the country in exile. This created a power vacuum, with three different men serving as president before formally holding elections in October of that year.
Montero won the election and was sworn in on Dec. 4, 1931. Montero was a conservative member of the left wing Radical Party, which left him without proper political support as he was seen as too conservative by the left and too leftist by the conservatives.
Less than a month after he was sworn in, a group of Communist rebels attempted to take over a military regiment in the north. This attack was quickly subdued by the army’s superior firepower. When Montero heard of the attack, he ordered members of the Communist party apprehended, but authorities were unable to enter the Communist headquarters and instead blew it up, killing 36 people.
This caused Montero’s already dwindling popularity to evaporate. Fearing a revolution, his government declared a state of siege, only delaying the inevitable.
Establishing the Socialist Republic
Then, on June 3, 1932, the people of Santiago saw a strange sight, a red plane flew over the center of the city at a low altitude dropping leaflets. It told workers to gather near the presidential palace on June 4 at 4 p.m., to show their support for the troops that would be coming from the Air Force base in El Bosque, with the purpose of establishing a new Republic.
That night, soldiers led by Air Force Colonel Marmaduke Grove, gathered in the Air Force base in El Bosque along with retired Military General Arturo Puga, Socialist politician Eugenio Matte, and former Ibañez supporter Carlos Dávila.
When Montero heard of this, he declared an emergency meeting and contacted former president Arturo Alessandri to act as mediator with Colonel Grove. After a brief discussion with the Colonel, Alessandri told Montero that there was no way that he could sustain his administration.
The morning of June 4, Montero resigned and allowed Colonel Grove to enter the presidential palace with no resistance. After a brief discussion between the two, Montero left the palace on foot along with his cabinet members.
Once Montero left, Dávila, Puga, and Matte entered the palace and announced the creation of the Chilean Socialist Republic. General Arturo Puga was proclaimed president while the others were placed in his cabinet. Two days later, they dissolved Congress and forced the Caja de Crédito Popular (a government run money lending operation) to hand back all the goods it had repossessed from workers unable to pay back their loans.
Downfall of the Socialist Republic
Dubbing the new government a “Socialist Republic” caused much of the public to outright reject it. Ironically, members of the Communist and Socialist party were the government’s biggest critics, declaring them undemocratic and militaristic in their approach.
This also caused a rift between Dávila and other members of the newly established government. Dávila was a long-time supporter of Ibáñez and openly rejected the Socialist ideals that were being pushed by Grove and Matte.
On the night of June 16, 1932, Dávila, with the support of the army, had Matte and Grove detained and exiled them to Easter Island (also called Rapa Nui), forced Arturo Puga to resign from the presidency, and proclaimed himself the new president of Chile. Dávila also granted a pardon to Ibáñez, allowing him to return to the country.
On July 6, 1932, Ibáñez returned and Dávila and military leaders met with him, but he soon discovered that much of the public still condemned him, and he fled to Argentina. Indeed, the meeting with Ibáñez was seen as a betrayal by the Chilean people.
On Sept. 13, 1932, Air Force Commodore Arturo Merino Benítez, who had remained on the sidelines, saw an opportunity and attempted to overthrow Dávila. Benítez was quickly captured in Ovalle, but on that same day many military divisions across the country also revolted against the government, aided and supported by the public.
Fearing a military coup, Dávila left Chile for the United States on that same day and placed General Bartolomé Blanche in charge of the government, bringing the Chilean Socialist Republic to an end after 101 days.
Blanche was kept in charge until Oct. 2, 1932, when Supreme Court Judge Abraham Oyanedel took over the executive branch to oversee new elections which former President Arturo Alessandri won. On Dec. 24, Alessandri was sworn in, putting an end to the political instability. His administration quickly managed to ease the economic burdens and control the raging epidemic.
Before the elections, Grove and Matte were allowed to return to mainland Chile. Grove ran for president but lost against Alessandri. Meanwhile, Matte won a bid for senator.
Together they would establish the official Socialist Party in 1933. One year later, Matte died as a result of a pulmonary infection, leaving Grove as his replacement in the senate. Grove was reelected and stayed in the senate until 1949. After finishing his last senatorial term, he retired from politics and lived a quiet life before passing away in 1954.
Dávila remained in the United States and joined numerous international organizations. In 1954, he was elected the General Secretary of the Organization of American States and served for one year before dying in 1955.
The Chilean Socialist Republic only lasted 101 days, with only 12 of those used to enact changes, but those few changes remain to this day. They include the creation of the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, and the basis for a state bank that later became Banco Estado.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.