History of Chile - History

History of Chile - History

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The Spanish came to the region in the 1530s, but indigenous peoples had long populated the area. For several hundred years, Spanish rule continued but eventually the forces of independence won out in 1818. With independence did not come stability, however, and a decade-and-a-half elapsed until a constitution was promulgated that established the government format for almost the next 60 years when a civil war erupted between presidential forces and the Congress. With the defeat of the presidentialists, the system shifted to one of parliamentary dominance. This led to difficulties in political and social decision-making with the result being strikes and other problems at the turn of the century. The military, responding to the government's inability to arrange for their wages, ousted the parliamentary government in 1925. By 1933, a new constitution had been instituted, which set the tone for government for almost the next four decades. In 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens became president after an intense Congressional debate. Allende proceeded to nationalize the country's vital copper industry and the international community responded with a boycott that helped cripple the economy, particularly as the government also nationalized the coal and steel industries and much of the banks. Unhappiness in the country reached such levels that the military took action in 1973, taking over the government and killing Allende. General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte became president and the next years saw thousands of Chileans arrested and killed by the junta. Pinochet lasted until 1988 as calls for the end of the Pinochet dictatorship became impossible to resist. He was replaced by a member of the Christian Democratic Party in 1990, bringing to a close 17 years of military rule.

More History

NM Chile Tradition Popular at Inn at Pueblo Bonito – Santa Fe, NM

Green Chile Stew – traditionally named “Caldillo” in Spanish is a thin, green chile stew (or soup) made with a meat base (usually beef, pork, chicken, mutton or a mixture), potatoes, and green chiles. Dating back as early as the 1600’s! New on Inn at Pueblo Bonito- Santa Fe’s breakfast menu for 2016 is a traditional family recipe of Green Chile Chicken Stew which compliments our famous Red Chile pork Tamales! The history of Chile and its importance in New Mexico culture and family is fascinating- so we encourage you to read on!

1. The first Chileans

The first of our Chile fun facts is a discovery that astounded archaeologists in the 1980s. Hidden in marshy grassland near Monte Verde, is a 12,5000-year-old footprint. This small mark threw into question the ‘Clovis paradigm’, which claims man didn’t populate the Americas until he crossed Bering land bridge in Alaska about 11,500 years ago. The discovery laid the path for a number of new ideas about the Americas’ first inhabitants and their journey to the continent.

3 thoughts on &ldquo Red or green? &rdquo

Fantastic article. It just seems so strange that corn, beans and squash would be adopted so early on by the pre-hispanic cultures in the Southwest and yet chile would have to wait until the arrival of Onate and presumably Tlaxcalan indian allies in the 16-17th centuries to appear on the culinary scene.

Beautiful pictures, Matt and Melissa. I have always wanted to do the Hatch festival – maybe next year. And a nice historical summary.

some years ago my wife and I took trip to New Mexico. One day we found ourselves in Las Cruces and decided to try the local food. We spotted a mexican restaurant so in we went. I don’t recall what we ordered but I do recall the result. WOweee! The meal was delicious but by the time we got to our car came the feeling of sweat on my brow and a burning on my tongue. Fortunately, we spotted a Dairy Queen across the street we hussled over there and devoured a large ice cream to put the fire out.

The War of the Pacific

War of the Pacific. Photo credit: Wikimedia

The War of the Pacific (1879-83) with Peru and Bolivia resulted in Chile capturing an enormous amount of mineral-rich land from the two countries.

Chile began large-scale mining of nitrate and copper in the late 1800’s with a resulting influx of European and Chinese immigrants.

History of Chile - History

Chile was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago by a number of wandering, indigenous tribes that shared no central form of rule. Because much of the area is desert, the land never became very inhabited. Even the Incas penetrated into the northern portion of what is now Chile but were never able to develop the area for the same reasons of barrenness.

Colonial Period
Europeans first arrived in the area in 1520, though the first attempt at colonization did not occur until 1535 with the arrival of Francisco Pizarro. However, his disappoint in the region's lack of minerals and precious commodities sent him back to Peru where he was killed in the civil wars during that time. Europeans returned to Chile for a third time in 1540 led by Pedro de Valdivia. Soon after his arrival, Valdivia founded the city of Santiago in 1541. The region then became known as Chile and answered to Peru which was dependent on the Spanish crown. At this point Valdivia began expanding the territory south but had a great deal of trouble with defending the area from the local tribes. From the years 1553 to 1558 there were many battles between the Spanish and the local tribes in the southern area, which eventually took the life of Valdivia. Eventually, the important leaders of the tribes were killed and the Spanish slowly took control over the area. However, this attacks persisted to some extent for the next 300 years.

Remarkably, there was very little opposition to the Spanish thrown during three centuries of colonial rule. Although certain issues were often brought to authorities, these issues were never enough to convince Chileans to overthrow the crown. There was also a certain amount of resentment regarding their indirect dependence on Peru who controlled much of the trade and subsidies of the area. Once again however, this was never enough to lead to any sort of coup. Not until the king of Spain's own overthrow did Chileans begin to consider self rule.

Though not as rich and powerful as in other Latin American countries, the Catholic Church had a strong influence on government and social rule. Surprisingly, this institution was responsible for many of those religious figures that struggled for the rights of the indigenous population.

Chilean Independence
After the overthrow of the king of Spain by Napoleon's brother Joseph in 1808, Chile was eventually declared a autonomous republic still maintaining some dependence on Spain. However, this quickly led to the Chilean fight for complete independence.

Violence in the area began and continued until 1817 led by the famous Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's most revered patriot along with Jose San Martín, famous for his independence struggles in Argentina. The pair successfully defeated the royalists in Chile and in 1818 earned their full independence until the control of O'Higgins. Much of the social structure remained the same despite the country's newfound independence. The church remained powerful as did the wealthy landowners. Eventually, a presidency was established but still did not significantly change the country's social structure.

After more violence in the region, Chile managed to gain more land in the South with the defeat of significant indigenous tribes as well as a great amount of land in the northern regions after wars with Peru and Bolivia. The government developed into a parliamentary democracy in the late 1800s but quickly focused its interest on protecting those with the most power in the area. With the arrival of the twentieth century came a more dictatorial rule that lasted until the 1930s when a more radical sect of government began to dominate.

However, the election of Eduardo Frei-Montalva in 1964 led to a great deal of reform in the areas of housing, education, and labor. Despite this, his constituents were still displeased with the progress which led to the election of Salvador Allende who transformed many of the country's institutions to be government-run. Because the election of Allende was a split between three candidates he never actually earned the majority vote. The economy collapsed, interest was immense, and the country was being split into two hostile factions.

Allende was overthrown in 1973 by the military, led by Augusto Pinochet who became president for an eight year term after the approval of a new constitution in 1980. Since then, Chile has experienced a number of free elections as well as significant social reform such as improvements in civil rights and liberties.



Chile is about twice the size of Montana. Situated south of Peru and west of Bolivia and Argentina, Chile fills a narrow 2,880-mi (4,506 km) strip between the Andes and the Pacific. One-third of Chile is covered by the towering ranges of the Andes. In the north is the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert, and in the center is a 700-mile-long (1,127 km) thickly populated valley with most of Chile's arable land. At the southern tip of Chile's mainland is Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world, and beyond that lies the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, an island divided between Chile and Argentina. The southernmost point of South America is Cape Horn, a 1,390-foot (424 m) rock on Horn Island in the Wollaston group, which belongs to Chile. Chile also claims sovereignty over 482,628 sq mi (1,250,000 sq km) of Antarctic territory the Juan Fernndez Islands, about 400 mi (644 km) west of the mainland and Easter Island, about 2,000 mi (3,219 km) west.

Chile shares borders with three neighboring countries. In order of shared border length, these are: Argentina (4,158 km), Bolivia (585 km), and Peru (104 km).


Chile is a republic. The current constitution was adopted in 1980 in a rather unique occurence, the constitution was approved by a national referendum. The first two decades afterward were a period of transition to democracy from the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Since the turn of the new millennium, the democratic process has been much stronger.

Until the most recent election, Chilean elections were based around a system known as binomialism. This system was designed to create a stable government from election to election. In effect binomialism meant that unless the most popular party was more than twice as popular as the next most popular party, each district of the country would elect one representative from each of the two biggest political parties. Critics claimed that this was an undemocratic feature of the government that made it harder for small parties to gain seats, and didn't reflect the opinions of the general public. For the 2017 general election, the binomial system was abandoned.

International Affairs:

International Disputes: Chile and Peru rebuff Bolivia's reactivated claim to restore the Atacama corridor, ceded to Chile in 1884, but Chile has offered instead unrestricted but not sovereign maritime access through Chile to Bolivian natural gas Chile rejects Peru's unilateral legislation to change its latitudinal maritime boundary with Chile to an equidistance line with a southwestern axis favoring Peru in October 2007, Peru took its maritime complaint with Chile to the ICJ territorial claim in Antarctica (Chilean Antarctic Territory) partially overlaps Argentine and British claims the joint boundary commission, established by Chile and Argentina in 2001, has yet to map and demarcate the delimited boundary in the inhospitable Andean Southern Ice Field (Campo de Hielo Sur)

Illicit Drugs: Transshipment country for cocaine destined for Europe and the region some money laundering activity, especially through the Iquique Free Trade Zone imported precursors passed on to Bolivia domestic cocaine consumption is rising, making Chile a significant consumer of cocaine

Refugees and Displaced Persons: 86,726 (includes Venezuelans who have claimed asylum or have received alternative legal stay) (2018)


In the arts world, Chile is known for its incredible literary tradition. Some of the world?s most widely acclaimed poets come from Chile, including Nobel Prize winners Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda the poetry scene in Chile is also a major venue for Mapuche artists, who often work in both Mapudungun and Spanish. Chilean novelists have achieved global success. Authors Roberto Bolao and Jos Donoso are literary darlings. Isabel Allende (cousin to the late President Salvador Allende) is perhaps the most popular Spanish-language writer in the world, even above literary titans like Marquez and Borges. Allende was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Chile is also relatively well-known for its music, as one of the most prominent nations during the Nueva Cancin movement. Chilean bands reached particular importance during the presidency of Salvador Allende, as part of his broader cultural policies of bringing art and culture to all levels of Chilean society.

Chile has a strong cultural heritage from its indigenous peoples, especially the Mapuche, Patagonians, and the Rapa Nui. The most famous ethno-tourist destination is Easter Island, which hosts many megalithic monuments left by the island's historical Rapa Nui population. Despite some disputes and shortcomings (such as the current conflict over Mapuche autonomy), the country of Chile has made some notable efforts to preserve local cultures. For example, while indigenous languages are dying out in many places, the Mapuche still speak their cultural language (Mapudungun) at a sustainable rate.


Chile has historically undergone major booms and busts based on the performance of its copper industries. The economy did expand greatly during the years under Pinochet, coming out of a recession caused in part by strict U.S. trade restrictions against the Allende administration. Since the return to democracy, Chile has continued to have a strong (largely services-based) economy.


GDP/PPP: $425.1 billion, $28,900 per capita (2017 est.)
Growth Rate: 1.4% (2017 est.)
Inflation: 2.3% (2017 est.)
Government Revenues: 21.6% of GDP (2017 est.)
Public Debt: 25.2% of GDP (2017 est.)

Labor Force

Working Population: 8.881 million (2017 est.)
Employment by Occupation: Agriculture: 9.2%, Industry: 23.7%, Services: 67.1% (2013 est.)
Unemployment: 7% (2017 est.)
Population Below the Poverty Line: 14.4% (2013 est.)

Total Exports: $64.51 billion (2017 est.)
Major Exports: Copper, fruit, fish products, paper and pulp, chemicals, and wine.
Export Partners: China 28.6%, US 14.1%, Japan 8.6%, South Korea 6.9%, Brazil 5% (2016)

Total Imports: $59.92 billion (2017 est.)
Major Imports: Petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, electrical and telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, vehicles, natural gas.
Import Partners: China 24.3%, US 14.7%, Brazil 9.3%, Argentina 4.4%, France 4.2% (2016)

Agricultural Products: grapes, apples, pears, onions, wheat, corn, oats, peaches, garlic, asparagus, beans beef, poultry, wool fish timber
Major Industries: copper, lithium, other minerals, foodstuffs, fish processing, iron and steel, wood and wood products, transport equipment, cement, textiles

Natural Resources: copper, timber, iron ore, nitrates, precious metals, molybdenum, hydropower
Land Use: Agricultural land: 21.1% (arable land 1.7% permanent crops 0.6% permanent pasture 18.8%), Forest: 21.9%, Other: 57% (2011 est.)


Fixed Lines: 3,375,037, 20 per 100 residents (2016 est.)
Cell Phones: 23,302,603, 131 per 100 residents (2016 est.)
International Country Code: 56

Internet Country Code: .cl
Internet Users: 11,650,840, 66.0% (2016 est.)

Broadcast Media

national and local terrestrial TV channels, coupled with extensive cable TV networks the state-owned Television Nacional de Chile (TVN) network is self-financed through commercial advertising revenues and is not under direct government control large number of privately owned TV stations about 250 radio stations (2007)

Transportation Infrastructure

Total Airports: 481 (2013)
With Paved Runways: 90
With Unpaved Runways: 391

Registered Air Carriers: 9
Registered Aircraft: 173
Annual Passengers: 15,006,762

Total: 7,281.5 km
Broad Gauge: 3,428 km 1.676-m gauge
Narrow Gauge: 3,853.5 km 1.000-m gauge

Total: 77,764 km
Paved: 18,119 km (includes 2,387 km of expressways)
Unpaved: 59,645 km (2010)

Merchant Marine: 211 ships (bulk carrier: 10 container ship: 5 general cargo: 54 oil tanker: 12 other: 130) (2017)
Ports and Terminals: Coronel, Huasco, Lirquen, Puerto Ventanas, San Antonio, San Vicente, Valparaiso

The Inca and the Mapuche

Archaeological evidence indicates that societies settled throughout Chile as early as the 600s BC. The country encompasses a wide range of biomes, but by and large the country proved fruitful for growing populations. The peoples of Chile practiced various forms of megalithic construction, and are otherwise famous for their unique textiles and silverworking.

Chile is home to many different indigenous peoples, with a diverse range of cultural practices and languages. These include the Anikenk (commonly called by their Mapuche name Tehuelche), who were erroneously identified as giants in early colonial literature. For the most part, though, pre-Columbian Chile was under the control of the Inca in the north and the Mapuche (also known as the Araucanos) in the south. The Inca are known around the world as a wealthy and expansive empire, and they projected their power and control throughout large stretches of the Andes. They extended their control as far as central Chile before their collapse and conquest by the Spanish.

The Mapuche were much less centralized/organized than the Inca, but they fought together to resist the Inca and maintain their independence. The Mapuche won an important pyrrhic victory at the Battle of the Maule that would define the Incas' southern border for decades.


In the mid-1500s, the Spanish followed the same route of conquest out of Peru as had the Inca. In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, marched into Chile founded Santiago. The colony would provide substantial mineral and agricultural value, but its remoteness would make it difficult to protect from raids by local amerindian nations and by the English. The defense of the Chile colony would prove a significant drain on Spain's finances.

For nearly three hundred and fifty years, in a long-running conflict called the Arauco War, Mapuche groups would harass and resist Spanish rule. The Spanish made significant headway over the first fifty years of expansion, but by 1598 the native people were able to score major victories and establish a frontier between Spanish Chilean and Mapuche territory. They would remain largely independent until after Chile won its independence, and because of this the Mapuche have a heroic reputation in many circles.


Chile began its bid for independence after the Spanish crown changed hands in the Napoleonic Wars. Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and an Argentinian, Jos de San Martin. O'Higgins, dictator until 1823, laid the foundations of the modern state with a two-party system and a centralized government.

The dictator from 1830 to 1837, Diego Portales, fought a war with Peru from 1836?1839 that expanded Chilean territory. Chile fought the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1883, winning Antofagasta, Bolivia's only outlet to the sea, and extensive areas from Peru.

The Beginning of the Republic

Pedro Montt led a revolt that overthrew Jos Balmaceda in 1891 and established a parliamentary dictatorship lasting until a new constitution was adopted in 1925. Industrialization began before World War I and led to the formation of Marxist groups. Juan Antonio Ros, president during World War II, was originally pro-Nazi but in 1944 led his country into the war on the side of the Allies.

The Presidency of Salvador Allende

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist program. Allende quickly established relations with Cuba and the People's Republic of China, introduced Marxist economic and social reforms, and nationalized many private companies, including U.S.-owned ones. In Sept. 1973, Allende was overthrown and killed in a military coup covertly sponsored by the CIA, ending a 46-year era of constitutional government in Chile.

The Pinochet Regime & Return to Democracy

The coup was led by a four-man junta headed by Army Chief of Staff Augusto Pinochet, who eventually assumed the office of president. Committed to eliminating Marxism the junta suspended parliament, banned political activity, and severely curbed civil liberties. Pinochet's brutal dictatorship led to the imprisonment, torture, disappearances, execution, and expulsion of thousands of Chileans. A government report in 2004 indicated that almost 28,000 people had been tortured during his rule, and at least 3,200 murders and disappearances had taken place.

The economy, in tatters after the recession that afflicted the Allende administration, gradually improved after Chile's privatization under Pinochet. In 1989, Pinochet lost a plebiscite on whether he should remain in power. He stepped down in Jan. 1990 in favor of Patricio Aylwin. In Dec. 1993, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the candidate of a center-left coalition and son of a previous president, was elected president.

Pinochet, who had retained his post as army commander in chief after the 1989 plebiscite, retired in March 1998. In Oct. 1998, he was arrested and detained in England on an extradition request issued by a Spanish judge who sought Pinochet in connection with the disappearances of Spanish citizens during his rule. British courts ultimately denied his extradition, and Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000. He died in Dec. 2006 at age 91, before facing trial for the abuses of his 17-year dictatorship.

Socialists Return to Power

Ricardo Lagos became president in March 2000, the first Socialist to run the country since Allende. Chile's economic growth slowed to 3% for 2001, partly the result of a drop in international copper prices and the economic turmoil in neighboring Argentina. In 2003, there were several minor financial scandals involving insider information and bribery. In response, Lagos introduced new reforms promising greater transparency. In 2004, Chile passed a law permitting divorce for the first time.

In 2006 presidential elections, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won 53% of the vote. The former pediatrician is a survivor of the Pinochet dictatorship, which was responsible for her father's death and subjected her to prison, torture, and exile. Bachelet took office on March 11, becoming Chile's first female chief of state. She promised to continue Chile's successful economic policies while increasing social spending. The president's first major challenge came when 700,000 of the nation's students organized a national boycott in May demanding educational reform. The students called off the strike in June after the government agreed to address their concerns.

In January 2008, president Bachelet swore in six new ministers to her 22-member cabinet. The major change was the appointment of Christian Democrat leader Edmundo Perez Yoma for Interior Minister, the top political post of the cabinet. Bachelet also replaced ministers of economy, public works, mining, agriculture, and planning. The cabinet changes are not expected to affect government policy.

Earthquake Devastates Beginning of Right-Wing Rule

In January 2010, for the first time in 50 years?since the rule of Pinochet?Chile elected a right-wing president. Billionaire businessman Sebastin Piera narrowly defeated Eduardo Frei of the Concertacion, the center-left alliance that has been in power for 20 years, in the second round of voting. Piera, who was elected to the Senate in 1990, owns a television station, a soccer club, and a large stake in the country's main airline, Lan Chile. He lost to outgoing Bachelet in the 2006 election, his first run for the presidency. Piera said he would use his business acumen to create jobs give private industry a more prominent role in the economy. He has distanced himself from the Pinochet regime, and his cabinet is made up of a group of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet.

Chile was hit by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in February 2010. Fatalities were relatively low, with some 500 people killed in the devastation. However, as many as 1.5 million people were displaced. The country, long known to be at high risk for earthquakes, has enforced strict building codes in urban areas, which helped to limit the amount of damage in these areas. But buildings and homes in poorer areas?many built with adobe?did not fare as well. Chile's electricity grids, communication, and transportation systems were badly damaged, severely hampering rescue and aid efforts. The epicenter of the quake was 70 miles northeast of Concepcion in central Chile. Massive waves caused additional damage along the coast.

In March 2010, Sebastin Piera was sworn in as President of Chile, immediately following three major aftershocks from the recent massive earthquake. Piera is the first right-wing president since Pinochet. He made an effort to distance himself from the former dictator, and he assembled a cabinet of technocrats with no ties to Pinochet. He faced the widespread devastation of his country following the February earthquake, visiting the quake zone directly after his inauguration. One of his first acts as the new president was to form an emergency response team to deal with the country's reconstruction in the aftermath of the disaster.

Fate of Trapped Miners Rivets the Nation

On Aug. 5, 2010, a tunnel collapsed at the San Jos mine, trapping 33 miners 2,000 feet below ground. Remarkably all of the miners survived. Rescuers drilled a small borehole to provide the miners with food, lights, and liquids and to allow them to send notes to and from family members as they wait to be rescued. The miners have become national heroes throughout Chile. They were rescued in mid-October, weeks earlier than planned, lifted to safety one by one in a rescue capsule. Each of the miners emerged jubilant and in overall good health considering the ordeal.

Plan for Hydroelectric Dams Causes Outrage

Immediately following the successful rescue of 33 miners in 2010, Chilean President Sebastin Piera had an approval rating of 63 percent. By June 2011 however, Piera had a disapproval rating of 56%, the highest of any Chilean president since democracy returned to the country in 1990. The main reason for the approval rating nosedive was Piera's support for the Hidroaysn electricity project, a plan to build five dams on two rivers and flood over 14,000 acres of nature reserves in the Patagonia region.

A government environmental commission approved the $3.2 billion Hidroaysn project in May 2011, prompting a country-wide protest movement. The protests caused injuries to 28 police officers and over one hundred thousand dollars in property damage. One protest in early June involved 30,000 demonstrators marching to the presidential palace, with some protestors throwing stones and pieces of wood at police vehicles. The police fired back with water cannons. Since the commission's decision, the focus has turned to the yet to be approved transmission line for the project. Patagonia, considered by Chileans to be a national treasure with its breathtaking glaciers and lakes, attracts thousands of tourists each year.

Chilean Youth Call for Reform

Throughout 2011, partly inspired by the Arab Spring, activists continued to protest and started a movement which came to be known as the Chilean Winter. On August 4, 2011, some protestors set up barricades around Santiago, the nation's capital, while others banged on pots and pans. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of high school and college students. About 900 demonstrators were arrested. Also in August, nearly three dozen university and high school students went on a hunger strike to show their disapproval of President Piera's government. These education protests have taken over several schools, forcing some to stop classes. Students organized rallies which were attended by 100,000 people. The protestors were demanding a more accessible and affordable university system as well as higher quality and equal funding for elementary and middle schools.

In October 2011, student representatives attempted to negotiate with government representatives led by Felipe Bulnes, the education minister. However, the students withdrew from the negotiations, reporting that Bulnes attacked a student representative, David Urrea. Bulnes reportedly accused Urrea of trying to break up the negotiations. A spokesperson for the government blamed extremists within the student movement for the breakdown of negotiations. Bulnes was replaced by Harald Beyer as education minister two months later.

Although the student protestors did not get all their demands met, they did influence a huge drop in President Piera's approval rating. As of January 2012, Piera's approval rating hovered around 26?30%.

U.S. Department of State Background Note



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The northern Chilean desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area also is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century, when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests and grazing lands and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The Andes Mountains are located on the eastern border.


About 85% of Chile's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. A small, yet influential number of Irish and English immigrants came to Chile during the colonial period. German immigration began in 1848 and lasted for 90 years the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Osorno show a strong German influence. Other significant immigrant groups are Italian, Croatian, Basque, and Palestinian. About 800,000 Native Americans, mostly of the Mapuche tribe, reside in the south-central area. The Aymara and Diaguita groups can be found mainly in Chile??s northern desert valleys.


About 10,000 years ago, migrating Indians settled in fertile valleys and along the coast of what is now Chile. The Incas briefly extended their empire into what is now northern Chile, but the area's barrenness prevented extensive settlement. The first Europeans to arrive in Chile were Diego de Almagro and his band of Spanish conquistadors, who came from Peru seeking gold in 1535. The Spanish encountered hundreds of thousands of Indians from various cultures in the area that modern Chile now occupies. These cultures supported themselves principally through slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The conquest of Chile began in earnest in 1540 and was carried out by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro's lieutenants, who founded the city of Santiago on February 12, 1541. Although the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley, and Chile became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru.

The drive for independence from Spain was precipitated by usurpation of the Spanish throne by Napoleon's brother Joseph in 1808. A national junta in the name of Ferdinand--heir to the deposed king--was formed on September 18, 1810. The junta proclaimed Chile an autonomous republic within the Spanish monarchy. A movement for total independence soon won a wide following. Spanish attempts to reimpose arbitrary rule during what was called the "Reconquista" led to a prolonged struggle.

Intermittent warfare continued until 1817, when an army led by Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's most renowned patriot, and José San Martí­n, hero of Argentine independence, crossed the Andes into Chile and defeated the royalists. On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an independent republic under O'Higgins' leadership. The political revolt brought little social change, however, and 19th century Chilean society preserved the essence of the stratified colonial social structure, which was greatly influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. A strong presidency eventually emerged, but wealthy landowners remained extremely powerful. Toward the end of the 19th century, the government in Santiago consolidated its position in the south by ruthlessly suppressing the Mapuche Indians. In 1881, it signed a treaty with Argentina confirming Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan. As a result of the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879-83), Chile expanded its territory northward by almost one-third and acquired valuable nitrate deposits, the exploitation of which led to an era of national affluence. Chile established a parliamentary democracy in the late 19th century, but degenerated into a system protecting the interests of the ruling oligarchy. By the 1920s, the emerging middle and working classes were powerful enough to elect a reformist president, whose program was frustrated by a conservative congress. In the 1920s, Marxist groups with strong popular support arose.

Continuing political and economic instability resulted with the rule of the quasidictatorial Gen. Carlos Ibanez (1924-32). When constitutional rule was restored in 1932, a strong middle-class party, the Radicals, emerged. It became the key force in coalition governments for the next 20 years. During the period of Radical Party dominance (1932-52), the state increased its role in the economy.

The 1964 presidential election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei-Montalva by an absolute majority initiated a period of major reform. Under the slogan "Revolution in Liberty," the Frei administration embarked on far-reaching social and economic programs, particularly in education, housing, and agrarian reform, including rural unionization of agricultural workers. By 1967, however, Frei encountered increasing opposition from leftists, who charged that his reforms were inadequate, and from conservatives, who found them excessive. At the end of his term, Frei had accomplished many noteworthy objectives, but he had not fully achieved his party's ambitious goals. In 1970, Senator Salvador Allende, a Marxist and member of Chile's Socialist Party, who headed the "Popular Unity" (UP) coalition of socialists, communists, radicals, and dissident Christian Democrats, won a plurality of votes in a three-way contest and was named President by the Chilean Congress. His program included the nationalization of private industries and banks, massive land expropriation, and collectivization. Allende's program also included the nationalization of U.S. interests in Chile's major copper mines.

Elected with only 36% of the vote and by a plurality of only 36,000 votes, Allende never enjoyed majority support in the Chilean Congress or broad popular support. Domestic production declined severe shortages of consumer goods, food, and manufactured products were widespread and inflation reached 1,000% per annum. Mass demonstrations, recurring strikes, violence by both government supporters and opponents, and widespread rural unrest ensued in response to the general deterioration of the economy. By 1973, Chilean society had split into two hostile camps.

A military coup overthrew Allende on September 11, 1973. As the armed forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende reportedly committed suicide. A military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet, took over control of the country. The first years of the regime in particular were marked by serious human rights violations. A new Constitution was approved by a plebiscite on September 11, 1980, and General Pinochet became President of the Republic for an 8-year term. In its later years, the regime gradually permitted greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, to include trade union activity. In contrast to its authoritarian political rule, the military government pursued decidedly laissez-faire economic policies. During its 16 years in power, Chile moved away from economic statism toward a largely free market economy that fostered an increase in domestic and foreign private investment. In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, General Pinochet was denied a second 8-year term as president. Chileans voted for elections to choose a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress. On December 14, 1989, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate of a coalition of 17 political parties called the Concertacion, was elected president. Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994 and was succeeded by another Christian Democrat, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of the previous President), leading the same coalition, for a 6-year term. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party and the Party for Democracy led the Concertacion to a narrower victory in 2000 presidential elections. His term ended on March 11, 2006, when President Michelle Bachelet Jeria took office.


Chile's Constitution was approved in a September 1980 national plebiscite. It entered into force in March 1981. After Pinochet's defeat in the 1988 plebiscite, the Constitution was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the Constitution. In September 2005, President Ricardo Lagos signed into law several constitutional amendments passed by Congress. These include eliminating the positions of appointed senators and senators for life, granting the President authority to remove the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces, and reducing the presidential term from six to four years.

Presidential and congressional elections were held December 2005 and January 2006. In the first round of presidential elections, none of the four presidential candidates won more than 50% of the vote. As a result, the top two vote-getters--center-left Concertacion coalition??s Michelle Bachelet and center-right Alianza coalition??s Sebastian Pinera--competed in a run-off election on January 15, 2006, which Michelle Bachelet won. This was Chile??s fourth presidential election since the end of the Pinochet era. All four have been judged free and fair. The President is constitutionally barred from serving consecutive terms. President Bachelet and the new members of Congress took office on March 11, 2006.

Chile has a bicameral Congress, which meets in the port city of Valparaiso, about 140 kilometers (84 mi.) west of the capital, Santiago. Deputies are elected every 4 years, and Senators serve 8-year terms. Chile's congressional elections are governed by a unique binomial system that rewards coalition slates. Each coalition can run two candidates for the two Senate and two Deputy seats apportioned to each electoral district. Historically, the two largest coalitions (Concertacion and Alianza) split most of the seats in a district. Only if the leading coalition ticket out-polls the second-place coalition by a margin of more than 2-to-1 does the winning coalition gain both seats.

In the December 11, 2005 congressional elections, the Concertacion coalition won a majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. In the 38-member Senate, the Concertacion coalition holds 20 seats and the Alianza opposition holds 17. There is one independent. In the 120-member Chamber of Deputies, the Concertacion coalitions holds 65 seats and the Alianza holds 54. There is one independent.

Chile's judiciary is independent and includes a court of appeal, a system of military courts, a constitutional tribunal, and the Supreme Court. In June 2005, Chile completed a nation-wide overhaul of its criminal justice system. The reform has replaced inquisitorial proceedings with an adversarial system more similar to that of the United States.

Principal Government Officials
President--Michelle BACHELET Jeria
Minister of Interior--Belisario Velasco
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Alejandro FOXLEY Rioseco
Ambassador to the United States--Mariano Fernández
Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS)--Pedro OYARCE Yuraszeck
Ambassador to the United Nations--Heraldo MUNOZ Valenzuela

Chile maintains an embassy in the United States at 1732 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036 tel: 202-785-1746, fax: 202-659-9624.


Chile's Armed Forces are subject to civilian control exercised by the President through the Minister of Defense. The President has the authority to remove the commanders-in-chief of the armed forces.

The commander in chief of the Chilean Army is General Oscar Izurieta Ferrer. The Chilean Army is 45,000 strong and is organized with an Army headquarters in Santiago, seven divisions throughout its territory, an Air Brigade in Rancagua, and a Special Forces Command in Colina. The Chilean Army is one of the most professional and technologically advanced armies in Latin America.

Admiral Rodolfo Codina directs the 23,000-person Navy, including 2,500 Marines. Of the fleet of 29 surface vessels, only eight are operational major combatants (frigates). Those ships are based in Valparaiso. The Navy operates its own aircraft for transport and patrol there are no Navy fighter or bomber aircraft. The Navy also operates four submarines based in Talcahuano.

Air Force (FACH)
Gen. Ricardo Ortega Perrier heads a force of 12,500. Air assets are distributed among five air brigades headquartered in Iquique, Antofagasta, Santiago, Puerto Montt, and Punta Arenas. The Air Force also operates an airbase on King George Island, Antarctica. The FACH took delivery of 14 F-16 aircraft in 2006 and will take delivery of 14 more in 2007.

After the military coup in September 1973, the Chilean national police (Carabineros) were incorporated into the Defense Ministry. With the return of democratic government, the police were placed under the operational control of the Interior Ministry but remained under the nominal control of the Defense Ministry. Gen. Jose Bernales is the head of the national police force of 30,000 men and women who are responsible for law enforcement, traffic management, narcotics suppression, border control, and counter-terrorism throughout Chile.


After a decade of impressive growth rates, Chile began to experience a moderate economic downturn in 1999, brought on by unfavorable global economic conditions related to the Asian financial crisis, which began in 1997. The economy remained sluggish until 2003, when it began to show clear signs of recovery, achieving 3.3% real GDP growth. The Chilean economy finished 2004 with growth of 6.1%. Real GDP growth reached 6.3% in 2005 before falling back to 4.0% growth in 2006. Higher energy prices as well as lagging consumer demand were drags on the economy in 2006. Higher Chilean Government spending and favorable external conditions (including record copper prices for much of 2006) were not enough to offset these drags. For the first time in many years, Chilean economic growth in 2006 was among the weakest in Latin America.

Chile has pursued generally sound economic policies for nearly three decades. The 1973-90 military government sold many state-owned companies, and the three democratic governments since 1990 have continued privatization, though at a slower pace. The government's role in the economy is mostly limited to regulation, although the state continues to operate copper giant CODELCO and a few other enterprises (there is one state-run bank). Chile is strongly committed to free trade and has welcomed large amounts of foreign investment. Chile has signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with a whole network of countries, including an FTA with the United States, which was signed in 2003 and implemented in January 2004. Over the last several years, Chile has signed FTAs with the European Union, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, China, and Japan. It reached a partial trade agreement with India in 2005 and began negotiations for a full-fledged FTA with India in 2006. Chile plans to continue its focus on its trade ties with Asia by negotiating in 2007 trade agreements with Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia.

High domestic savings and investment rates helped propel Chile's economy to average growth rates of 8% during the 1990s. The privatized national pension system (AFP) has encouraged domestic investment and contributed to an estimated total domestic savings rate of approximately 21% of GDP. However, the AFP is not without its critics, who cite low participation rates (only 55% of the working population is covered), with groups such as the self-employed outside the system. There has also been criticism of the inefficiency and high costs due to a lack of competition among pension funds. Critics cite loopholes in the use of pension savings through lump sum withdraws for the purchase of a second home or payment of university fees as fundamental weaknesses of the AFP. The Bachelet administration plans substantial reform, but not an overhaul, of the AFP during the next several years.

Unemployment stubbornly hovered in the 8%-10% range after the start of the economic slowdown in 1999, well above the 5%-6% average for the 1990s. Unemployment finally dipped to 7.8% at the end of 2006, due largely to the fact that fewer Chileans were entering the workforce rather than to a substantial and sustained creation of new jobs. Most international observers place some of the blame for Chile??s consistently high unemployment rate on complicated and restrictive labor laws. Wages have risen faster than inflation as a result of higher productivity, boosting national living standards. The percentage of Chileans with incomes below the poverty line--defined as twice the cost of satisfying a family of four??s minimal nutritional needs--fell from 46% in 1987 to around 18% by 2004.

Chile's independent Central Bank pursues an inflation target of between 2% and 4%. Inflation has not exceeded 5% since 1998. Chile registered an inflation rate of 3.2% in 2006. The Chilean peso??s rapid appreciation against the U.S. dollar in recent years has helped dampen inflation. Most wage settlements and loans are indexed, reducing inflation's volatility. Under the compulsory private pension system, most formal sector employees pay 10% of their salaries into privately managed funds.

Total foreign direct investment (FDI) was only $3.4 billion in 2006, up 52% from a poor performance in 2005. However, 80% of FDI continues to go to only four sectors: electricity, gas, water and mining. Much of the jump in FDI in 2006 was also the result of acquisitions and mergers and has done little to create new employment in Chile. The Chilean Government has formed a Council on Innovation and Competition, which is tasked with identifying new sectors and industries to promote. It is hoped that this, combined with some tax reforms to encourage domestic and foreign investment in research and development, will bring in additional FDI and to new parts of the economy. As of 2006, Chile invested only 0.6% of its annual GDP in research and development (R&D). Even then, two-thirds of that was government spending. The fact that domestic and foreign companies spend almost nothing on R&D does not bode well for the Government of Chile??s efforts to develop innovative, knowledge-based sectors. Additionally, on January 8, 2007, Chile was placed on the U.S. Trade Representative??s Priority Watch List due to its poor record on protecting intellectual property rights. Chile is only the second U.S. FTA partner ever to be placed on the Priority Watch List. Chile has a poor and deteriorating record of protecting copyrighted music, films, and software. Combined with this is its institutional structure allowing local companies to produce and market pharmaceutical generics that violate existing patents. Beyond its general economic and political stability, the government also has encouraged the use of Chile as an "investment platform" for multinational corporations planning to operate in the region, but this will have limited value given the developing business climate in Chile itself. Chile's approach to foreign direct investment is codified in the country's Foreign Investment Law, which gives foreign investors the same treatment as Chileans. Registration is simple and transparent, and foreign investors are guaranteed access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate their profits and capital. While Chile and the EU have signed a double taxation treaty, no such agreement exists between the U.S. and Chile.

Foreign Trade
2006 was a record year for Chilean trade. Total trade registered a 31% increase over 2005. During 2006, exports of goods and services totaled U.S. $58 billion, an increase of 41%. This figure was somewhat distorted by the skyrocketing price of copper. In 2006, copper exports reached a historical high of U.S. $33.3 billion. Imports totaled U.S. $35 billion, an increase of 17% compared to the previous year. Chile thus recorded a positive trade balance of U.S. $23 billion in 2006.

The main destinations for Chilean exports were the Americas (U.S. $39 billion), Asia (U.S. $27.8 billion) and Europe (U.S. $22.2 billion). Seen as shares of Chile??s export markets, 42% of exports went to the Americas, 30% to Asia and 24% to Europe. Within Chile??s diversified network of trade relationships, its most important partner remained the United States. Total trade with the U.S. was U.S. $14.8 billion in 2006. Since the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement went into effect on January 1, 2004, U.S.-Chilean trade has increased by 154%. Internal Government of Chile figures show that even when factoring out inflation and the recent high price of copper, bilateral trade between the U.S. and Chile has grown over 60% since then.

Total trade with Europe also grew in 2006, expanding by 42%. The Netherlands and Italy were Chile??s main European trading partners. Total trade with Asia also grew significantly at nearly 31%. Trade with Korea and Japan grew significantly, but China remained Chile??s most important trading partner in Asia. Chile??s total trade with China reached U.S. $8.8 billion in 2006, representing nearly 66% of the value of its trade relationship with Asia.

The growth of exports in 2006 was due mainly to a strong increase in sales to the United States, the Netherlands, and Japan. These three markets alone accounted for an additional U.S. $5.5 billion worth of Chilean exports. Chilean exports to the United States totaled U.S. $9.3 billion, representing a 37.7% increase compared to 2005 (U.S. $6.7 billion). Exports to the European Union were U.S. $15.4 billion, a 63.7% increased compared to 2005 (U.S. $9.4 billion). Exports to Asia increased from U.S. $15.2 billion in 2005 to U.S. $19.7 billion in 2006, a 29.9% increase.

During 2006, Chile imported U.S. $26 billion from the Americas, representing 54% of total imports, followed by Asia at 22%, and Europe at 16%. Mercosur members were the main suppliers of imports to Chile at U.S. $9.1 billion, followed by the United States with U.S. $5.5 billion and the European Union with U.S. $5.2 billion. From Asia, China was the most important exporter to Chile, with goods valued at U.S. $3.6 billion. Year-on-year growth in imports was especially strong from a number of countries--Ecuador (123.9%), Thailand (72.1%), Korea (52.6%), and China (36.9%).

Chile??s overall trade profile has traditionally been dependent upon copper exports. The state-owned firm CODELCO is the world's largest copper-producing company, with recorded copper reserves of 200 years. Chile has made an effort to expand nontraditional exports. The most important non-mineral exports are forestry and wood products, fresh fruit and processed food, fishmeal and seafood, and wine.

Successive Chilean governments have actively pursued trade-liberalizing agreements. During the 1990s, Chile signed FTAs with Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Chile also concluded preferential trade agreements with Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. An association agreement with Mercosur--Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay--went into effect in October 1996. Continuing its export-oriented development strategy, Chile completed landmark free trade agreements in 2002 with the European Union and South Korea. Chile, as a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization, is seeking to boost commercial ties to Asian markets. To that end, it has signed trade agreements in recent years with New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, India, China, and most recently Japan. In 2007, Chile plans to begin negotiations with Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia.

After two years of negotiations, the United States and Chile signed an agreement in June 2003 that will lead to completely duty-free bilateral trade within 12 years. The U.S.-Chile FTA entered into force January 1, 2004 following approval by the U.S. and Chilean congresses. The bilateral FTA has inaugurated greatly expanded U.S.-Chilean trade ties, with total bilateral trade jumping by 154% during the FTA??s first three years.

Chile unilaterally lowered its across-the-board import tariff for all countries with which it does not have a trade agreement to 6% in 2003. Higher effective tariffs are charged only on imports of wheat, wheat flour, and sugar as a result of a system of import price bands. The price bands were ruled inconsistent with Chile's World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations in 2002, and the government has introduced legislation to modify them. Under the terms of the U.S.-Chile FTA, the price bands will be completely phased out for U.S. imports of wheat, wheat flour, and sugar within 12 years.

Chile is a strong proponent of pressing ahead on negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and is active in the WTO??s Doha round of negotiations, principally through its membership in the G-20 and Cairns Group.

Chile's financial sector has grown quickly in recent years, with a banking reform law approved in 1997 that broadened the scope of permissible foreign activity for Chilean banks. The Chilean Government implemented a further liberalization of capital markets in 2001, and there is further pending legislation proposing further liberalization. Over the last ten years, Chileans have enjoyed the introduction of new financial tools such as home equity loans, currency futures and options, factoring, leasing, and debit cards. The introduction of these new products has also been accompanied by an increased use of traditional instruments such as loans and credit cards. Chile's private pension system, with assets worth roughly $70 billion at the end of 2006, has been an important source of investment capital for the capital market. Chile maintains one of the best credit ratings (S&P A+) in Latin America. There are three main ways for Chilean firms to raise funds abroad: bank loans, issuance of bonds, and the selling of stocks on U.S. markets through American Depository Receipts (ADRs). Nearly all of the funds raised through these means go to finance domestic Chilean investment. The government is required by law to run a fiscal surplus of at least 1% of GDP. In 2006, the Government of Chile ran a surplus of $11.3 billion, equal to almost 8% of GDP. The Government of Chile continues to pay down its foreign debt, with public debt only 3.9% of GDP at the end of 2006.


Since its return to democracy in 1990, Chile has been an active participant in the international political arena. Chile completed a 2-year non-permanent position on the UN Security Council in January 2005. Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean national, was elected Secretary General of the Organization of American States in May 2005. Chile is an active member of the UN family of agencies and participates in UN peacekeeping activities. Chile hosted the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in 2002 and the APEC summit and related meetings in 2004. Chile hosted the Community of Democracies ministerial in April 2005. An associate member of Mercosur and a full member of APEC, Chile has been an important actor on international economic issues and hemispheric free trade.

The Chilean Government has diplomatic relations with most countries. It settled its territorial disputes with Argentina during the 1990s. Chile and Bolivia severed diplomatic ties in 1978 over Bolivia's desire to reacquire territory it lost to Chile in 1879-83 War of the Pacific. The two countries maintain consular relations and are represented at the Consul General level.

A History of Chile, 1808-2002

This book is written pretty much like a history textbook, which means it was probably not the best choice for casual reading. Nevertheless, I felt that I should know a bit about the history of Chile, given that I was going to be there for three months.

The book goes into quite a bit of depth about politics (details of campaigns, detailed outcomes of elections) which gets a bit boring and hard to retain. There is also discussion of economic policy and how this affected the country, along with brie This book is written pretty much like a history textbook, which means it was probably not the best choice for casual reading. Nevertheless, I felt that I should know a bit about the history of Chile, given that I was going to be there for three months.

The book goes into quite a bit of depth about politics (details of campaigns, detailed outcomes of elections) which gets a bit boring and hard to retain. There is also discussion of economic policy and how this affected the country, along with brief discussions of important social changes and revolutions.

Unfortunately it's all a bit dry and the names quickly start to blur together. You don't get a real sense of each era of Chilean history, though perhaps that is too much to ask from what is essentially a history textbook. At least now I know who all the streets and towns were named after. . more


The major landforms of Chile are arranged as three parallel north–south units: the Andes mountains to the east the intermediate depression, or longitudinal valley, in the centre and the coastal ranges to the west. These landforms extend lengthwise through the five latitudinal geographic regions into which the country is customarily subdivided. From north to south, with approximate boundaries, these are Norte Grande (extending to 27° S) the north-central region, Norte Chico (27° to 33° S) the central region, Zona Central (33° to 38° S) the south-central region, La Frontera and the Lake District (38° to 42° S) and the extreme southern region, Sur (42° S to Cape Horn).

History in Chile

Little is known of Chile's history before the arrival of the Spaniards. Archaeologists have reconstructed what they can of Chile's indigenous history from artifacts found at burial sites, in ancient villages, and in forts. Because of this, much more is known about the northern cultures of Chile than their southern counterparts: The north's extraordinarily arid climate has preserved, and preserved well, objects as fragile as 2,000-year-old mummies. Northern tribes, such as the Atacama, developed a culture that included the production of ceramic pottery, textiles, and objects made of gold and silver, but for the most part, early indigenous cultures in Chile were small, scattered tribes that fished and cultivated simple crops. The primitive, nomadic tribes of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego never developed beyond a society of hunters and gatherers because severe weather and terrain prevented them from ever developing an agricultural system.

In the middle of the 15th century, the great Inca civilization pushed south in a tremendous period of expansion. Although the Incas were able to subjugate tribes in the north, they never made it past the fierce Mapuche Indians in southern Chile.

In 1535, and several years after Spaniards Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro had successfully conquered the Inca Empire in Peru, the conquistadors turned their attention south after hearing tales of riches that lay in what is today Chile. Already flushed with wealth garnered from Incan gold and silver, an inspired Diego de Almagro and more than 400 men set off on what would become a disastrous journey that left many dead from exposure and famine. De Almagro found nothing of the fabled riches, and he retreated to Peru.

Three years later, a distinguished officer of Pizarro's army, Spanish-born Pedro de Valdivia, secured permission to settle the land south of Peru in the name of the Spanish crown. Valdivia left with just 10 soldiers and little ammunition, but his band grew to 150 by the time he reached the Aconcagua Valley, where he founded Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura on February 12, 1541. Fire, Indian attacks, and famine beset the colonists, but the town nonetheless held firm. Valdivia succeeded in founding several other outposts, including Concepción, La Serena, and Valdivia, but like the Incas before him, he was unable to overcome the Mapuche Indians south of the Río Biobío. In a violent Mapuche rebellion, Valdivia was captured and suffered a gruesome death, sending frightened colonists north. The Mapuche tribe effectively defended its territory for the next 300 years.

Early Chile was a colonial backwater of no substantive interest to Spain, although Spain did see to the development of a feudal land-owning system called an encomienda. Prominent Spaniards were issued a large tract of land and an encomienda, or a group of Indian slaves that the landowner was charged with caring for and converting to Christianity. Thus rose Chile's traditional and nearly self-supporting hacienda, known as a latifundo, as well as a rigid class system that defined the population. At the top were the peninsulares (those born in Spain), followed by the criollos (Creoles, or Spaniards born in the New World). Next down on the ladder were mestizos (a mix of Spanish and Indian blood), followed by Indians themselves. As the indigenous population succumbed to disease, the latifundo system replaced slaves with rootless mestizos who were willing, or forced, to work for a miserable wage. This form of land ownership would define Chile for centuries to come, and traces of this antiquated system hold firm even in modern Chilean businesses today.

Chile Gains Independence

Chile tasted independence for the first time during Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 and the subsequent sacking of King Ferdinand VII, whom Napoleon replaced with his own brother. On September 18, 1810, leaders in Santiago agreed that the country would be self-governed until the king was reinstated as the rightful ruler of Spain. Although the self-rule was intended as a temporary measure, this date is now celebrated as Chile's independence day.

Semi-independence did not satisfy many criollos, and soon thereafter Jose Miguel Carrera, the power-hungry son of a wealthy criollo family, appointed himself leader and stated that the government would not answer to Spain or the viceroy of Peru. But Carrera was an ineffective and controversial leader, and it was soon determined that one of his generals, Bernardo O'Higgins, would prove more adept at shaping Chile's future. Loyalist troops from Peru took advantage of the struggle between the two and crushed the fragile independence movement, sending Carrera, O'Higgins, and their troops fleeing to Argentina. This became known as the Spanish "reconquest." Across the border in Mendoza, O'Higgins met José de San Martín, an Argentine general who had already been plotting the liberation of South America. San Martín sought to liberate Chile first and then launch a sea attack on the viceroyalty seat in Peru from Chile's shore. In 1817, O'Higgins and San Martín crossed the Andes with their well-prepared troops and quickly defeated Spanish forces in Chacabuco, securing the capital. In April 1818, San Martín's army triumphed in the bloody battle of Maipú, and full independence from Spain was won. An assembly of prominent leaders elected O'Higgins as Supreme Director of Chile, but discontent within his ranks and with landowners forced him to quit office and spend his remaining years in exile in Peru.

The War of the Pacific

The robust growth of the nation during the mid- to late 1800s saw the development of railways and roads that connected previously remote regions with Santiago. The government began promoting European immigration to populate these regions, and it was primarily Germans who accepted, settling and clearing farms around the Lake District.

Growing international trade boosted Chile's economy, but it was the country's northern mines, specifically nitrate mines, that held the greatest economic promise. Border disputes with Bolivia in this profitable region ensued until a treaty was signed giving Antofagasta to Bolivia in exchange for low taxes on Chilean mines. Bolivia did an about-face and hiked taxes, sparking the War of the Pacific that pitted allies Peru and Bolivia against Chile in the fight for the nitrate fields. The odds were against Chile, but the country's well-trained troops were a force to reckon with. The war's turning point came with the capture of Peru's major warship, the Huáscar. Chilean troops invaded Peru and pushed on until they had captured the capital, Lima. With Chile as the final victor, both countries signed treaties that conceded Peru's Tarapacá region and Antofagasta to Chile that, incredibly, increased Chile's size by one-third with nitrate- and silver-rich land, and cut Bolivia off from the coast. More than a century later, Bolivia and Peru are still rallying against the Chilean government for wider access to the coastal waters off northern Chile.

The Military Dictatorship

No political event defines current-day Chile better than the country's former military dictatorship. In 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende, Chile's first socialist president, was narrowly voted into office. Allende vowed to improve the lives of Chile's poorer citizens by instituting a series of radical changes that might redistribute the nation's lopsided wealth. Although the first year showed promising signs, Allende's reforms ultimately sent the country spiraling into economic ruin. Large estates were seized by the government and by independent, organized groups of peasants to be divided among rural workers, many of them uneducated and unprepared. Major industries were nationalized, but productivity lagged, and the falling price of copper reduced the government's fiscal intake. With spending outpacing income, the country's deficit soared. Worst of all, uncontrollable inflation and price controls led to shortages, and Chileans were forced to wait in long lines to buy basic goods.

Meanwhile, the United States (led by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger) was closely monitoring the situation in Chile. With anti-Communist sentiment running high in the U.S. government, the CIA allocated $8 million (£5.3 million) to undermine the Allende government by funding right-wing opposition and supporting a governmental takeover.

On September 11, 1973, military forces led by General Augusto Pinochet toppled Allende's government with a dramatic coup d'état. Military tanks rolled through the streets and jets dropped bombs on the presidential palace. Inside, Allende refused to surrender and accept an offer to be exiled. After delivering an emotional radio speech, Allende took his own life.

Wealthy Chileans who had lost much under Allende celebrated the coup as an economic and political salvation. But nobody was prepared for the brutal repression that would haunt Chile for the next 17 years. Pinochet shut down congress, banned political parties, and censored the news media, imposed a strict curfew, and inexperienced military officers took over previously nationalized industries and universities. Pinochet snuffed out his adversaries by rounding up and killing more than 3,000 citizens and torturing 28,000 political activists, journalists, professors, and any other "subversives." Thousands more fled the country.

Pinochet set out to rebuild the economy using Milton Freeman-inspired free-market policies that included selling off nationalized industries, curtailing government spending, reducing import tariffs, and eliminating price controls. From 1976 to 1981, the economy grew at such a pace that it was hailed as the "Chilean Miracle," but the miracle did nothing to address the country's high unemployment rate, worsening social conditions, and falling wages. More importantly, Chileans were unable to speak out against the government and those who did often "disappeared," taken from their homes by Pinochet's secret police never to be heard from again. Culture was filtered, and artists, writers, and musicians were censored.

The End of the Military Dictatorship

The worldwide recession of 1982 put an end to Chile's economic run, but the economy bounced back again in the late 1980s. The Catholic Church began voicing opposition to Pinochet's brutal human-rights abuses, and a strong desire for a return to democracy saw the beginning of nationwide protests and international pressure, especially from the United States. In a pivotal 1988 "yes or no" plebiscite, 55% of Chileans voted no to further rule by Pinochet, electing centrist Christian Democrat Patricio Alywin president of Chile, but not before Pinochet promulgated a constitution that allowed him and a right-wing minority to continue to exert influence over the democratically elected government. It also shielded Pinochet and the military from any future prosecution.

It is difficult for most foreigners to fathom the unwavering blind support Pinochet's followers bestowed upon him in spite of the increasing revelation of grotesque human rights abuses during his rule. Supporters justified their views with Chile's thriving economy as testament to the "necessity" of authoritarian rule and the killings of the left-wing opponents. Following Alywin's election, Pinochet led a cushy life protected by security guards and filled with speaking engagements and other social events. What Pinochet hadn't counted on, however, was the dogged pursuit by international jurists to bring him to trial, and when in London in 1998 to undergo surgery, a Spanish judge leveled murder and torture charges against the former dictator and issued a request for his extradition.

Sixteen months of legal wrangling ended with Pinochet's release and return to Chile, but the ball was set in motion and soon thereafter Chile's Supreme Court stripped Pinochet and his military officers from immunity in order to face prosecution. Pinochet began pointing fingers, and old age and dementia shielded him from prosecution -- but not from public humiliation. In 2004, it emerged that Pinochet had stashed $28 million (£19 million) in secret accounts worldwide, quashing his support by even his closest allies given that Pinochet advocated austerity and rallied against corruption as proof of his "just" war. Endless international news reports and the publication of torture victims' accounts furthered the humiliation that many believe caused Pinochet more harm than any trial ever could.

The election of Chile's first female president, Michele Bachelet, in 2006 grabbed headlines around the world and proved how far Chile had come since the brutal repression of Pinochet. Bachelet, a Socialist who was tortured and exiled during Pinochet's rule, is also a divorcee who worked her way up the political ranks, including a post as the Minister of Defense. Shortly after Bachelet's election, Pinochet died at age 91.

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Watch the video: Very Brief Chilean History in Songs (August 2022).