Salvador Allende, President of Chile, has inspired a variety of perceptions regarding his policies, personality and performance as a head of state. Around the world, journalists, polling organizations and others have documented the expression of an evolving array of opinions about him. More than thirty years after his death, Allende remains a controversial figure. Since Allende's death before the end of his presidential term, there has been much speculation as to what Chile would have been like had he been able to remain in power.
Allende is often cited in non-academic discussions about whether a 'communist' government has ever been democratically elected. While Allende legitimately won a democratic election, the significance of this has been disputed by some because he only had a plurality, not a majority, in the popular vote. This voting pattern is not unknown in representative democracies.
His supporters argue that he did not win an outright majority because Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomić, running on a leftist platform similar to Allende's, split the Centrist vote. Tomic and Allende together gathered 64% of the vote, a clear majority. His opponents maintain that Allende went much farther to the left than the Centrist voters who supported Tomic could have expected. The Christian Democratic Party was supportive of a military intervention to remove Allende from office but began to disassociate itself from the 1973 coup d'état because of the violently repressive nature of the Pinochet regime.
Allende is seen as a hero to many on the political Left. Some view him as a martyr who died for the cause of socialism. His face has even been stylized and reproduced as a symbol of Marxism, similar to the famous images of Che Guevara. Many view him as a victim of American imperialism. For his supporters, his greatest legacy was his conviction that socialism can be reached through a democratic and pacifist path. His legacy can be seen in the election of governments professing socialism in Venezuela and Bolivia.
Others view Allende much less favorably. He is criticized for his government's mass nationalization of private industry, alleged friendliness with more militant groups such as the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, and the supply shortages and hyperinflation that occurred during the latter years of his presidency; all these had combined to cause a strong polarization in the country and the committed opposition of the Christian Democratic Party at the time of the coup. He is also accused of having had an autocratic style, attempting to circumvent the Congress and the courts, and having a hostile attitude toward critical media.
A common claim among opponents was the belief that Allende's closeness with Fidel Castro and Eastern bloc countries meant that he was planning to model the Chilean state along Cuban lines. Such allegations are highly controversial. One of the military junta's statements accused him of formulating the supposed "Plan Z", in which the Popular Unity government was accused to have planned a bloody coup of its own to install Allende as dictator. The junta alleged that the plot was to be no less than a blueprint for assassinations of military leaders and general "mass murder". The CIA later concluded, on September 18, 2000 that "Plan Z" was probably disinformation. Nevertheless, according to his opponents, Allende's own refusal to obey and/or enforce more than 7,000 Chilean Supreme Court and other legislative rulings (as detailed in the Resolution of August 22, 1973) was a sign of dictatorial style in defiance of Chile's democratic government institutions.
Most of the analyses on the Chilean situation by Marxists were based on political literature and studies published by Trotskyists. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution (1905) and Lenin’s work State and Revolution (1917) were heavily cited and referenced in light of Allende’s reformist ideas. The overthrow of his UP democratically elected government and its replacement with a capitalist military dictatorship only served to reinforce among orthodox Marxist the theoretical infallibility of applied Marxism.
Shortly after the military coup one of the most prominent opponent of Salvador Allende’s reformist policies, the young physician and MIR leader Miguel Enriquez stated:
Controversy has surrounded Allende's 1933 doctoral dissertation "Mental Hygiene and Delinquency", the subject of the book Salvador Allende: Anti-Semitism and Euthanasia by Victor Farías, a Chilean-born teacher at the Latin America Institute of the Free University of Berlin. In his book, Farías claims that Allende held racist, homophobic and anti-semitic views, as well as believing at that time that mental illnesses, criminal behaviour, and alcoholism were hereditary.
Farías' allegations have been challenged by the Spanish President Allende Foundation, which published various relevant materials on the internet, including the dissertation itself and a letter of protest sent by the Chilean Congress (and signed among others by Allende) to Adolf Hitler after Kristallnacht. The Foundation claims that in his thesis Allende was merely quoting Italian-Jewish scientist Cesare Lombroso, whereas he himself was critical of these theories. Farías maintains the affirmations that appear in his book. The President Allende Foundation replied publishing the entire original text of Lombroso and in April 2006 filed an anti-libel claim against Farías and his publisher in the Court of Justice of Madrid (Spain).
Farías paraphrases of Lombroso have been much quoted; for example The Daily Telegraph (UK) reported 12 May 2005 that "Allende... wrote: 'The Hebrews are characterised by certain types of crime: fraud, deceit, slander and above all usury. These facts permits the supposition that race plays a role in crime.' Among the Arabs, he wrote, were some industrious tribes but 'most are adventurers, thoughtless and lazy with a tendency to theft'
The Telegraph's quotation about the Jews appears to be a combination of two sentences that are not adjacent in the dissertation. Both are part of Allende's summary of Cesare Lombroso's views on different "tribes", "races" and "nations" being prone to different types of crime; the latter is misquoted. Allende's passage about the Jews reads "The Hebrews are characterized by certain types of crime: fraud, deceit, defamation and, above all, usury. On the other hand, murders and crimes of passion are the exception." After recounting Lombroso's views, Allende writes, "These data lead one to suspect that race influences crime. Nonetheless, we lack precise data to demonstrate this influence in the civilized world." The passage about Arabs is "Among the Arabs there are some honored and hardworking tribes, and others who are adventurers, thoughtless and lazy with a tendency to theft." There is no statement that the latter applies to "most" Arabs.
Farías further claims to have found evidence that Allende had tried to implement his ideas about heredity during his period as Health Minister 1939-1941, and that he received help from German Nazis E. Brücher and Hans Betzhold in drafting of an unsuccessful bill mandating forced sterilisation of alcoholics. The President Allende Foundation has challenged Farias in the Court of Justice of Madrid (Spain) to prove that any bill on this issue has been proposed by Minister Allende to the Chilean Government or Parliament, and to prove as well Farías' allegation that Allende was bribed by the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop without providing any evidence of it.
Surviving personal friends of Allende have completely rejected the validity of Victor Farías accusations of "racism" and "anti-semitism" for two major reasons: Allende's mother, Laura Gossens Uribe, was of Jewish descent and Allende considered himself a Marxist and socialist internationalist for most of his adult life.
Allende’s supposed “anti-semitism” is left unfounded not only because of Allende’s own Jewish ancestry, which was well known in Chile, but by the fact that it was often used by his political detractors against him. The renowned neo-Nazi intellectual and former Chilean diplomat Miguel Serrano (who was the mentor to many in the fascist “Patria y Libertad” movement, which was instrumental in overseeing the CIA’s backed programme of destabilization in Chile) often spoke about Allende’s “Jewishness” or his “Judeo-Bolshevik” agenda.
During his term in office, Allende - who was himself an atheist - supported a more ecumenical approach to national festivities and encouraged participation from the small Chilean Jewish community in celebrating Chile’s Independence Day, which had always been sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church. During his term in office, the Great Rabbi of Santiago, spiritual leader of the Jewish Community, had a principal role in the preparation of an ecumenical service for this event.
Further countering accusations of anti-semitism is the fact that Allende entrusted two of the most important tasks of his government to Chilean Jews: Jacques Chonchol to direct and implemented the successful agrarian reform which completely transformed the country’s agricultural structure, and David Silberman Gurovich, who was in charge of consolidating the nationalization of the most important industry in the country, Codelco-Chuquicamata (the largest open-pit copper mine in the World).
In 1972, Salvador Allende suggested the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal ask the Chilean Supreme Court to extradite former SS Colonel Walter Rauff to Germany. The letters exchanged between Wiesental and President Allende are published in CLARIN.