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Eduardo Frei Montalva

Eduardo Frei Montalva (19111982) was a Chilean-Swiss political figure and president of Chile from 1964 to 1970. His eldest son, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, also became president of Chile (1994-2000). Recently, Chilean justice has accused that Frei was murdered with small dozes of toxic substances while he was recovering from a low-risk surgery.

Early life

Eduardo Frei Montalva was born in Santiago on January 16, 1911, the son of Eduardo Frei Schlinz, a Swiss-born ethnic German from Austria, and Victoria Montalva Martinez. In 1914, his family moved to Lontue, where his father had been contracted as an accountant in a vineyard. In addition, his other two siblings, Arturo and Irene, were born. He attended the Escuela Publica de Lontue (Public School of Lontue).

In 1919 the family returned to Santiago and Eduardo, as a young man, entered the boarding School Seminario Conciliar de Santiago where he remained until 1922. In 1923, he entered Instituto de Humanidades Luis Campino, where he graduated in 1928, at the age of 17.

As an 18 years old, he entered Universidad Catolica School of Law in 1929. For two years, he had been visiting Maria, the sister of his friend, Alfredo Ruiz-Tagle. He attended high school at the and went on to study law at the graduating as a lawyer in 1933. He married Maria Ruiz-Tagle with whom he had 7 children. His eldest son, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, was President of Chile from 1994 to 2000.

Political career

He began his political career in the Conservative Party, but was among a group of young men who founded their own party in 1938: the Falange Nacional. He was minister of Public Works in 1945, and in 1949, Frei was elected senator for Atacama and Coquimbo. The same year he published Historia de los Partidos Politicos Chilenos (History of Chilean Political Parties) in collaboration with Albert Edwards Vives. In 1950, he traveled to New York as a UN delegate. In 1952, at 41 years of age, Frei Montalva announced his first candidacy in the presidential elections.

The 1952 election was won by Carlos Ibanez del Campo. Later, President Ibanez requested Frei to organize an executive committee. However, this never came to be. In 1954, the UN appointed him President of the Commission in charge of elaborating the report of the Conference of Chancellors held in Rio de Janeiro. Some of its members were: Carlos Lleras Restrepo, former President of Colombia, and Raul Prenisch director of ECLAC. The report served as a basis for subsequent studies on economic development and the integration of Latin America. In 1956 he was elected Senator in Santiago by first majority.

On July 27, 1957, the Falange Nacional became the Christian Democratic Party of Chile, and he became the undisputed leader. Frei Montalva was offered once more the candidacy for president of the Republic in the 1958 elections. Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez was elected president while Eduardo Frei Montalva took only third place.

During these years he published three more books: Sentido y Forma de una Politica (Meaning and Shape of Politics), La Verdad Tiene Su Hora (Truth Has Its Time), y Pensamiento y Accion (Thought and Action). In 1960, he lectured at conference The Mission of Universities in Latin America in Montevideo; a widely promoted conference at that time. In 1961, he was elected President of the First World Christian Democratic Party Congress, held in Santiago, Chile. The congress was attended by delegations from throughout Latin America, European, North American, and African countries. That year he was invited as special guest to a seminar on the problems of Developing Nations, held at Oxford University. The seminar was attended by delegates from all over the world.

Between 1960 and 1962, he lectured at Columbia University on problems in Latin America. In 1962, he gave a conference at Notre Dame University on the development and the integration of Latin American countries.

He ran for president again in 1964. That year he was elected with his "Revolucion en Libertad" ("Revolution in Liberty") slogan by a large margin (56%), defeating Socialist candidate Salvador Allende who only received 39% of the vote, but who subsequently won the 1970 Chilean presidential election.


Frei's administration began many reforms in Chilean society. "Promocion Popular" (Social Promotion), "Reforma Agraria" (Agrarian Reform), "Reforma Educacional" (Education Reform), and "Juntas de Vecinos" (Neighborhood Associations) were some of his main projects. He also took measures to rationalize drug supply.

On September 4, 1964, having one of the highest turnouts in Chilean history, Eduardo Frei Montalva was elected President of the Republic of Chile. He then, took office on November 4 of the same year.

In 1965, he started a presidential tour through France, the United Kingdom, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and the Vatican. During this time, he also visited countries in Latin America such as: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela; places where he delivered important speeches on international issues.

On his return, he initiated important plans involving housing, education, reforestation, land reform, health, and the nationalization of copper. The Comision Nacional de Cultura (National Culture Commission), the Consejeria Nacional de la Promocion Popular and the Juntas de Vecinos (Neighborhood Committees) were created.

1966 is the year of the Andean Group, officially created through its Declaration, signed in January 1965. However, the group culminated with the famous speech delivered by Eduardo Frei Montalva in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota. The same year the pacts on Chilean copper are signed.

In January, 1967 the National Congress refused his constitutional permission to travel to the United States where he has been invited by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In April, he participates in the Meeting of Presidents from American countries, carried out in Montevideo, Uruguay.

In 1970, he was awarded with the Doctor Honoris Causa title by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. On November 4, he left office, handing over the Presidency to Salvador Allende.

Positions on Allende and Pinochet

After Allende's 1970 victory, Frei became convinced of what he called a "totalitarian project" to impose a Communist tyranny. His Christian Democratic Party supported the Armed Forces intervention to remove Allende from office in 1973, after the Chamber of Deputies, on August 22, 1973, accused Allende of violating the Constitution. In November 1974 Frei wrote an historic letter to Mariano Rumor, President of the International Christian Democrats, endorsing the Armed Forces intervention and denouncing what he alleged was an attempt by Allende to impose a Communist dictatorship in Chile.

In 1971, he gave conferences at universities in Dayton, Ohio, Boston, and the Council of the Americas in New York.

In the 1973 parliamentary elections he was elected Senator for Santiago by a first majority. He was also appointed as President of the Senate.

He published a new book entitled Un Mundo Nuevo (A New World)

On September 11, 1973, after the coup detat, the Armed Forces rose to power; President Salvador Allende committed suicide. The Parliament was dissolved and the political parties were left in recession.

Between 1973 and 1977, Eduardo Frei Montalva was invited to different countries and participated in conferences, such as: The Altlantic Conference in 1976.

In 1975 he published his book El Mandato de la Historia y las Exigencias del Porvenir (The Mandate of History and Demands of the Future), and in 1977 his quintiessential book America Latina: Opcion y Esperanza which has been translated into several languages.

In the period between 1977 and 1982, he was invited to participate in the Brandt Commission, led by Willy Brandt. As a member, he attended meetings held in Germany, Switzerland,Mali, United States, Malaysia, France, Austria, Belgium, and Great Britain. As a Brandt Commission delegate he engaged with important executives from IDB, OAS, and ECLAC.

In 1980, he participated in the Meeting of Former Democrat Presidents of Latin America held in Caracas, Venezuela.

In 1981, he was invited to the Club of Rome International Conference on the Alternatives for Humanity: Latin America Mission also held in Caracas. His last book El Mensaje Humanista (The Humanist Message) was published.

Later, Frei became an opponent of Pinochet's military government. Frei "was not only robust but also had become the most prominent opponent of Augusto Pinochet's bloody dictatorship". On January 22, 1982, Eduardo Frei Montalva died in Santiago, six days after turning 71.


In 1981, Frei was suffering from chronic acid reflux, stemming from a hiatal hernia, a very uncomfortable but essentially low risk condition. He decided to have it treated via surgery. He died in Santiago, on January 22, 1982, and his death at the time was attributed to an infection, septicaemia, stemming from surgery. He was buried in the Cementerio General de Santiago.

Frei's death is a matter of controversy due to allegations that he was poisoned by the DINA, the intelligence service of the military government, allegedly using a toxin produced by biochemist Eugenio Berrios. After Belgian researchers from the University of Ghent reportedly found mustard gas in Frei's body, the former president's family filed a lawsuit, which is still pending as of 2009. Frei's personal doctor, Patricio Rojas, who was also his Minister of Interior, has denied the accusations. El Mercurio columnist Hermogenes Perez de Arce disputes even the existence of the Belgian report, citing the denial by the University's chief of communications, Tom de Smedt, that an investigation had been done in that university. Tissue samples sent to FBI labs and to the labs at the University of Ghent showed no evidence of toxic substances. A Chilean doctor reportedly found residues of sulfonic salts which can be the result of the decomposition of mustard gas but can also be the result of the decomposition of a corpse.

In December 2009, six persons were arrested for their roles in the alleged assassination of Frei. Judge Alejandro Madrid based his decision on a report that determined that Frei was administered low doses of thallium and mustard gas over an extended period while he was hospitalized at the Santa Maria Clinic in Santiago, and that these toxic substances had the effect of decreasing Frei's immune system, making him too weak to survive his surgery". Nonetheless, the report has been widely criticized on scientific basis as well as by the medical team that participated in the surgery. The arrests are widely seen as a desperate attempt to influence the 2009-2010 Presidential Elections, given their timing and the lack of credible evidence. The Appeals Court has suspended Judge Madrid from the case and the accused have been set free on bail. Criticism of the case and the judge has been almost universal, adding to the generalized public view that the Chilean Justice system is corrupt, inept, and subject to political manipulation.

Additional information

See also

Frei family


History of Chile



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