Chile... One of the corners of the world

Main Easter Island North Center South

General Information:
Capital:    Santiago
Language: Spanish
Area:     756,950 km²
Population:    16,5 million (June 2007 estimate)
Ethnic groups:  95.4% White and Mestizo, 4% Mapuche, 0.6% Other indigenous groups
GDP per capita:    $13,936 (54th global rank in April 2008)
Time zone:   UTC -4 (winter), UTC -3 (summer)
Currency:   Chilean Pesos (CLP)
Internet TLD:   .cl
Coding Zone: +56
Other interesting facts: Longest country in the world, average of 3.7 people per household, 17th biggest wine drinkers in the world, 67.8 Mobile Telephones per 100 population

Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape —4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide— has given it a hugely varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desert - the Atacama - in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes. 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.


The politics of Chile takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Chile is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative Power is invested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Congress. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Chile's Constitution was canceled in a national plebiscite in September 1980, under the military government of dictator Augusto Pinochet. 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.

In 2006, Michelle Bachelet from the National Socialist Party became the first woman president with over 53% in a runoff, beating center-right billionaire businessman and former senator Sebastian Pinera. She campaigned on a platform of continuing Chile's free market policies, while increasing social benefits to help reduce the country's gap between rich and poor, one of the largest in the world. She was inaugurated on March 11, 2006.

    Michelle Bachelet, Chilean President
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Brief history:
When the first Spanish settlers arrived in the sixteenth century three main tribes controlled Chile. Quechua tribes occuMoneda_1.jpgpied the northern region and Araucanian tribes occupied the central and northern part of the southern region. The Incas occupied northern and parts of central Chile. The first Spanish settlements were, Santiago in 1541 and Concepcion in 1550 mainly because of the pleasant climate and fertile soil. Repeated assaults from the Araucanians lasted into the second half of the nineteenth century.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the population of the Spanish settlements and their surroundings numbered approximately 100,000. This population grew to about 500,000 by mid-eighteenth century and to one million by 1830. Those with European blood were concentrated in central Chile, between Santiago and Concepcion; few settled in the northern and southern regions. This pattern of dispersion began to change only in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the rapid growth of mining activities and the immigration of non-Iberaian Europeans.

Under Spanish colonial rule, northern and central Chile were part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The south remained under the control of the Araucanians almost until the nineteenth century. Independence was first declared in 1810. At that time, central Chile was to a large extend controlled by a small, upper class of Creoles (locally born Europeans), most of them owned large estates. A period of internal instability and strife followed, which resulted in the restoration of Spanish rule in 1814. Combined Argentinean and Chilean forces under Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O'Higgins, who crossed the Andes from Argentina, managed to defeat and drive out the Spanish army and restore Chile's independence (1818). O'Higgins became Chile's first president.

Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in a war (1879-1883) for the control of the Atacama Desert and its rich mineral deposits. In the course of this war, Chilean troops occupied Lima. Chile won the disputed territory. Bolivia lost its outlet to the open sea and Peru the Tarapaca district.ohiggins.jpg

A multiparty, parliamentary regime came into being in 1891, however, the interests of the upper class, comprised mainly of owners of large states and wealthy business people, continued to predominate. After a short period of military rule (1924-1925), followed by the reinstatement of the democratically elected president Arturo Alessandri, a new, more progressive, constitution came in force (1925). Left-wing parties, including communist, gained much influence from 1930s onward and played an important role in elections of several presidents. However, the right-wing parties remained in actual control.

A presidential candidate of the left-wing parties, Salvador Allende, won the elections in 1970. Upon assuming office, he nationalized the mines, industries, and public services. Allende was deposed and died in a military coup in September 1973, which was followed by 16 years of military dictatorship by General Augusto Pinochet. Democratic elections were held in 1989. Democracy was restored in 1990 with the assumption of the presidency by Patricio Alwin Azocar, following free elections.

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