297. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1
- Chile: Frei Suffers Another Setback
President Frei seems to have suffered another setback yesterday when the Christian Democratic candidate for a Senate by-election in the conservative, agricultural 8th District of southern Chile lost by 58 votes to the Communist-backed Radical nominee. Lavendero, a young dynamic, middle-of-the-road Christian Democrat who strongly supports Frei, waged a vigorous personal campaign. But the party machinery, now controlled by the more leftist elements of the PDC, sat on their hands. Baltra, an old-time Radical politician of extreme left bent and president of the Chilean-Soviet Friendship Institute, ran in combination with the FRAP coalition. The Communists, in a quiet, sophisticated way, campaigned hard for him.
The Baltra victory—if sustained2—is expected to consolidate the Radicals joining forces with FRAP in a move to beat the PDC in the 1970 Presidential elections.
It will also weaken Frei’s hold over the PDC by giving the more radical elements—already unhappy over Frei’s moderation—ammunition to swing the party further left.
Frei has had a rough year on the political front. It started off with the Senate denying him permission to visit the US. The PDC made a poor showing in the spring municipal elections. At the summer party convention, the radical young turks took over the party leadership. They embarrassed Frei with their sympathetic statement on the LASO conference.3 More recently Frei has had a hard time getting his party to back him on his anti-inflationary wage readjustment program.
There are still three years to the next elections. If the Christian Democrats are to stay in power, they will have to show more cohesion and success than they have during the past 12 months.