This is a competent, detailed, probably definitive study of a small topic. Historian Cristian Garay Vera makes good use of primary materials, electoral data, and interviews. He presents his material directly and clearly at a brisk pace. The author’s descriptions, interpretations, and judgments are accurate, balanced, and convincing.
Reflecting the renewed interest in political parties in democratic Chile, this book offers a careful, thorough analysis of the electoral rise and fall of the minuscule Partido Agrario Laborista (PAL) from 1945 to 1958. That party’s greatest success came during the 1952-58 presidency of its candidate, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, when it fetched 15 percent of the votes for deputies in 1953. Thereafter, the frustrations and dilemmas of being in power tore the party asunder and shrank its base back down to single digits. By the end of the 1950s, the PAL had disappeared. Most of its adherents switched to the rising Christian Democratic Party, while a few migrated to the traditional right-wing organizations (united in the 1960s in the National party).
Despite its trivial size and impact, the Partido Agrario Laborista deserves some attention because it exhibited important continuing strains in Chilean politics. It is noteworthy for spawning politicians of enduring national significance, such as Sergio Onofre Jarpa, Alejandro Hales, and Julio von Mühlenbrock. It also echoed significant themes. The PAL represented regional resentments against the domination of the central zone, agricultural complaints against government favoritism for the cities and manufacturing, and middle-class hostility against political horse trading, shenanigans, and corruption (all denounced as politiquería) by mainstream political parties. Although it was a centrist party, some of the PAL’s ideas resurfaced in the authoritarian regime of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte; notably the disdain for petty politics, the praise for corporatist models, the desire to shrink the state, the effort to decentralize administration, the glorification of rightist nationalism, and the abhorrence of communism. Garay helps us trace the roots of these refrains.