Arturo Alessandri Palma (1868-1950) was twice president of Chile. He substantially altered Chilean society and paved the way for sweeping social and economic changes of later years.
The grandson of an Italian immigrant, Arturo Alessandri was born near Linares on Dec. 20, 1868. He graduated from the University of Chile with a degree in law in 1893. His political career began with his election as deputy to Congress in 1897, in which capacity he served until 1915, when he was elected senator. While in Congress he also held several Cabinet posts.
Alessandri, popularly known as "The Lion of Tarapacá" because of his oratorical abilities, felt that Chile desperately needed social reformation, and he quickly became a leader of the Liberal Alliance, a coalition of parties organized to support this effort. For the presidential election of 1920, Alessandri was selected as the alliance's candidate. He won by a slim margin. His efforts to secure reform legislation were hampered by conservative control of the Senate, however, and not until March 1924 did the alliance secure majorities in both houses. But when the alliance broke up into bickering factions, the military intervened to force Congress to pass the reform bills in September 1924. Alessandri then resigned, seeing that the military demanded the dissolution of Congress and further political reforms, and left for Europe. The military group controlling the government increasingly was managed by conservatives, and a second military coup in January 1925 overturned the junta and recalled Alessandri.
Alessandri returned in March and immediately called a constitutional convention. The resultant Constitution of 1925 was designed to overhaul the political structure of the country and fortify executive power. However, Alessandri resigned again in October, when Carlos lbáñez, his minister of war, refused to obey presidential orders. During the subsequent dictatorship of lbáñez, Alessandri was forced to leave Chile and return to Europe.
After a short but intense period of chaos following the downfall of lbáñez in July 1931, Alessandri was reelected president in October 1932. He inherited a country with an economy in shambles and on the brink of social revolution. He ruled sternly and, with the assistance of able but unpopular subordinates, managed to restore order and bring back a semblance of prosperity. He served out his full term and in December 1938 turned over the government to Pedro Aguirre Cerda. Alessandri returned to public service in 1944, when he was elected to the Senate, and remained there until his death on Aug. 24, 1950.
A short and well-balanced summary of Alessandri's career appears in Robert J. Alexander, Prophets of the Revolution: Profiles of Latin American Leaders (1962). One of the best studies of the Alessandri era is in John R. Stevenson, The Chilean Popular Front (1942).
Alexander, Robert Jackson, Arturo Alessandri: a biography, Ann Arbor: Published for Latin American Institute, Rutgers University, by University Microfilms International, 1977.