Eduardo Frei Montalva

Eduardo Frei Montalva bigraphy, stories - President of Chile

Eduardo Frei Montalva : biography

January 16, 1911 – January 22, 1982

Eduardo Frei Montalva (January 16, 1911 – January 22, 1982) was a Chilean political leader. In his long political career, he was Minister of Public Works, president of his Christian Democratic Party, senator, President of the Senate, and the 28th president of Chile from 1964 to 1970. His eldest son, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, also became president of Chile (1994–2000).

Frei’s Christian Democratic Party supported the Armed Forces intervention to remove his successor Salvador Allende from office in 1973, after the Chamber of Deputies, on August 22, 1973, denounced Allende of violating the Constitution and called for his overthrow. He was later a vocal opponent of the Augusto Pinochet regime, and it is popularly attributed that he was poisoned by orders of the junta.


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., BBC, 23 January 2007 Frei’s personal doctor, Patricio Rojas, who was also his Minister of Interior, has denied the accusations. El Mercurio columnist Hermógenes Pérez 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 María 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 Appeals Court has suspended Judge Madrid from the case and the accused have been set free on bail.


Frei’s administration began many reforms in Chilean society. "Promoción 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 took office on November 4 of the same year.

The Frei presidency did much to tackle poverty, as characterised by the growing share of wages as a proportion of GNP. By the end of the Frei presidency, the wage and salaried sector received close to 51% of GNP, compared with 42% at the end of the Alessandri presidency. This positive redistribution of wealth was encouraged by government policies, particularly in the rural sector, where wages rose by 40% in real terms. Between 1964 and 1970, total enrolment in education increased by 46%, while around 250,000 houses were built, mostly for the poor.Alan Angell, "Chile since 1958," in Latin America Since 1930: Spanish South America, ed. Leslie Bethell, vol 8 in Cambridge History of Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press), 1991. DOI:10.1017/CHOL9780521266529.007