Pedro Aguirre Cerda

For the city and municipality in Chile, see Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Chile.
Pedro Aguirre Cerda
President of Chile
In office
December 25, 1938  November 25, 1941
Vice President Jerónimo Méndez
Preceded by Arturo Alessandri
Succeeded by Jerónimo Méndez
Personal details
Born (1879-02-06)February 6, 1879
Pocuro, Chile
Died November 25, 1941(1941-11-25) (aged 62)
Santiago, Chile
Political party Radical Party
Spouse(s) Juana Rosa Aguirre Luco

Pedro Aguirre Cerda (February 6, 1879 – November 25, 1941) was a Chilean political figure. A member of the Radical Party, he was chosen as the Popular Front's candidate for the 1938 presidential election, and was triumphally elected. He governed Chile until his death in 1941. Pedro Aguirre Cerda was of Basque descent.[1]

Early life

He was born in Pocuro, a small village near the city of Los Andes, in Chile. The seventh of a total of eleven children of Juan Bautista Aguirre and Clarisa Cerda. His father, a farmer, died when he was eight years old in 1887. His mother had to run the farm and raise him and all his brothers alone.

He finished his university studies in Santiago, at the Pedagogic Institute and became a teacher of Spanish in 1900. In 1904 he became a lawyer. He married his cousin Juana Rosa Aguirre Luco, with whom he had no children. In 1910, thanks to a government scholarship he studied administrative and financial law at La Sorbonne, plus political economy and social legislation at the College de France. He returned to Chile in 1914 and took a position as a teacher at the Instituto Nacional. He also became president of the National Society of Teachers.

He was a very distinguished teacher, attorney, deputy and senator. He was also the first dean of the new school of economy of the Universidad de Chile. As a member of the Radical Party, he was minister of Public Instruction and of the Interior during the administrations of Juan Luis Sanfuentes and Arturo Alessandri. During the period of military domination, he was persecuted and became an active opposition leader to the government of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo.

For the presidential elections of 1938, he was the candidate of the Popular Front, and narrowly defeated conservative candidate Gustavo Ross, mostly because of the political backlash caused by the Seguro Obrero Massacre.


Monument commemorating Pedro Aguirre Cerda in Santiago
Further information: Presidential Republic

Pedro Aguirre Cerda was elected and assumed as president on December 25, 1938 under the slogan "Gobernar es educar" (to govern is to educate.) As a teacher, his priority in government was education. As such, he promoted the development of the technical-industrial schools as a means to promote the formation of technicians for the nascent industrialization of the country. He also created thousands of new regular schools and encouraged the growth of the university system to cover the whole of the country. Aguirre’s government also redistributed some land, encouraged the formation of agricultural settlements, built low-cost housing and schools, and integrated the Marxist parties into the political system.[2]

During his first year he had to face the military opposition to his plans, that boiled over with the so-called Ariostazo. He also promoted and campaigned for a Nobel prize for Gabriela Mistral, which only came to fruition under his successor, Juan Antonio Ríos.

On the economic side, and prompted in part by the devastating earthquake of 1939, he created the Production Development Corporation (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción - CORFO) to encourage with subsidies and direct investments an ambitious program of import substitution industrialization. This was the basis for the industrialization of Chile. From there sprung the steel, manufacturing and sugar industries.

In 1941 due to his rapidly escalating illness, he appointed his minister of the Interior, Jerónimo Méndez as vice-president. He died soon after, of tuberculosis, on November 25, 1941 in Santiago, Chile. Méndez served as acting President until Juan Antonio Rios, elected on February 1, 1942, took office on April 2.


A map highlighting of the Danco Coast near the Aguirre Passage on the Antarctic Peninsula.

In the Chilean Antarctic Expedition in 1950–51, the explorers named the Aguirre Passage between Lemaire Island and Danco Coast after Don Pedro Aguirre Cerda.[3]

See also


  2. A History of Chile, 1808-1994, by Simon Collier and William F. Sater
  3.  This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Geological Survey document "Aguirre Passage" (content from the Geographic Names Information System).
Political offices
Preceded by
Pedro García de la Huerta
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Héctor Arancibia
Preceded by
Domingo Amunátegui
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
José Maza
Preceded by
Cornelio Saavedra Montt
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Luis Altamirano
Preceded by
Arturo Alessandri
President of Chile
Succeeded by
Jerónimo Méndez
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