Allende's Last Stand

1973
Photograph by Luis Orlando Lagos

‘With my life I will pay for defending the ­principles dear to our nation.

Salvador Allende

Allende's Last Stand

  • Luis Orlando Lagos
  • 1973

Salvador Allende was the first democratically elected Marxist head of state, and he assumed the presidency of Chile in 1970 with a mandate to transform the country. He nationalized U.S.-owned companies, turned estates into cooperatives, froze prices, increased wages and churned out money to bankroll the changes. But the economy faltered, inflation soared, and unrest grew. In late August 1973, Allende appointed Augusto ­Pinochet as commander of the army. Eighteen days later, the conservative general orchestrated a coup. Allende refused to leave. Armed with an AK-47 and protected only by loyal guards at his side, he broadcast his final address on the radio, the sound of gunfire audible in the background. As Santiago’s presidential palace was bombarded, Luis Orlando Lagos, Allende’s official photographer, captured one of his final moments. Not long after, Allende committed suicide—though for decades many believed he was killed by the advancing troops. Fearing for his own life, Lagos fled. During Pinochet’s nearly 17-year rule, 40,000 Chileans were interrogated, tortured, killed or disappeared. Lagos’ picture appeared anonymously. It won the 1973 World Press Photo of the Year award and became revered as an image that immortalized Allende as a hero who gladly chose death over dishonor. It was only after Lagos’ death in 2007 that people learned the photographer’s identity. 

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