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History, The World Wars

Emiliano Figueroa, liberal reforms, military coup, separation of church, military dictatorship

Chile was neutral in World War I (1914-1918). After the war, great strife developed in the country between liberal and conservative elements. The Liberals gained power with the election in 1920 of former minister of the interior Arturo Alessandri Palma, but he was unable to gain adoption of his proposals for reform. In 1924 a group of military figures accomplished a coup d’etat, ostensibly for the purpose of forcing liberal reforms, driving Alessandri from office and establishing a military dictatorship. The dictatorship was overthrown early in 1925 in another military coup. A new constitution was written that reformed the electoral system, reduced the power of the congress, and established the separation of church and state. Alessandri was restored to the presidency, but his term lasted for less than a year. Under the next president, Emiliano Figueroa, governmental authority was actually wielded by an army officer, Carlos Ibanez del Campo, who ruled as president from 1927 until 1931. Following additional coups and changes of administration, Alessandri was elected president again in 1932 and served until the end of his term in 1938.

In the election of 1938 a liberal government, with Radical Party member Pedro Aguirre Cerda as president, was elected by a coalition of democratic groups united in a popular front. His ambitious New Deal program was disrupted in 1939 by a devastating earthquake that killed about 28,000 people. This coalition was successful again in 1942, when Radical Party member Juan Antonio Rios was elected president, governing moderately amid the political tensions engendered by pro-U.S. and pro-Axis elements during World War II (1939-1945). Rios led his country into a pro-Allies position, entering the war on the side of the United States in 1944. During the war the Communist Party emerged as one of the strongest political organizations in Chile. The country became a charter member of the United Nations in June 1945.

Article key phrases:

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