According to National Statistics Institute or INE, our country has a population of more than 15 million people.
Women constitute more than 50% of this figure. At the moment, Chile presents an annual population growth of 1.5%.
The Metropolitan region, which is the capital of the nation, represents the 32% of the total population of the country.
Chile is situated between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in a narrow stretch of land that does not exceed a maximum width of 350 kilometers. The country extends from its frontiers with Peru and Bolivia in the north till the Antarctic territories where we have various military and scientific bases. These, in turn, constitute the Chilean Antarctic Territories. The maximum extension of our territories reaches a 4329 kilometers.
Contrast and diversity characterizes our geography. In the north, the climate conditions the existence of the most ardent desert in the world located in the Atacama region. While in the center and the south of Chile, green and fertile valleys multiply and provide fruits and vegetables for the population and the international markets that are used to the high quality of our fruits, wines and grapes among others.
Chile is a Republic governed by a democratic government. There is a clear delimitation and independence of the three powers of the state. The President of the republic, who is also the Head of State, exercises the Executive power. The Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, which enforces the justice and is supported by the Appeals Court. The legislative power is bicameral. It is constituted by the Chamber of Deputies and Senators. The former is constituted by 20 deputies representing the 13 regions of the country, while the latter, the high Chamber, is constituted by 49 Senators.
The three powers of the state carry on their activities according to the Political Constitution of the State 1980. The Constitution has been periodically reformed with the objective to faithfully accommodate the changes that our society has underwent since the return of Chile to democratic rule in 1990, a date when Patricio Aylwin has assumed the presidency of the Republic.
The official currency of Chile is the Chilean Peso. Its approximate value against the US$ is 700 pesos for each dollar.
The official language is Spanish. However, there are certain indigenous groups in the north of the country that still maintain their original language.
80% of the population are Catholics. However, the state is atheist yet respectful of the faiths of other religions.
The typical food preparation is principally based in meat, potatoes, maize and fruits and vegetables. The extended shores provide us with delicious fish and seafood amongst which are salmon, trout, eel, sea scallops and lobsters.
History of Chile
When the Conqueror Pedro de Valdivia arrived to Chile in 1542 and founded Santiago, a city that is still maintained as the capital, there had already been organized people with a distinct life system that was accommodated according to the climate and the geography of their habitat. Further down to the south, we can identify such primitive people as the following groups:
The Aymaras: High lands people who had an economy based in agriculture and cattle raising.
The Atacameños: Together with the Diaguitas, it is one of the most advanced people of the north of the country. They established their civilization in the ravines of the Andes between Arica and San Pedro de Atacama.
The Changos: Nomad fishermen that spread along the coasts from Arica to Copiapo.
The Diaguitas: Cultivated the art of ceramics and lived in the valleys between Copiapo and Santiago.
The Incas: Despite the fact that the Inca Empire exclusively belongs to Peru, it has left its marks and presence in Chile since 1470, a year when the Empire extended their territories to the south of the river Maule. This expansion had significantly influenced the development of the indigenous people who lived in these territories.
The Mapuches (or Araucanos): Those great warriors are without doubt the indigenous people that put up the strongest resistance to arrival of the Spaniards to the American continent. They live in the territory between the rivers Itala and Tolten. Basically, they were farmers and are formed by Picunches, Mapuches and Huilliches.
The Canoeros: Nomad fishermen that sailed between the isles of the Archipelago of Western Patagonia. They are divided into three groups: The Chonos, the Kaweskar and the Yamanas.
The Patagones: Nomad hunters who established themselves in the steppe pampas. They are divided into the Aonikenk and the Selk’nam.
The Polynesians: People that live in Easter Island.
The Conquest (1536-1599)
In 1536, the Spaniard conqueror, Diego de Almagro, traveled to the present capital of Chile, Santiago, in order to initiate the conquest of Chile. But the difficulties of the travel and the shortage of gold forced him go back to Peru soon. Six years later, another Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, initiated the definite conquest by founding the city of Santiago in 1542. During the first years, the Spaniards divided the lands, organized the indigenous people and dedicated their efforts to bring more people to consolidate their presence in these new territories.
However, by advancing towards the extreme south of the country, the Spaniards confronted with the Mapuches or Araucanos who as worriers provided fierce resistance against the Spaniard invasion. For a long time, Indians and Spaniards fought for each centimeter of the territories in fierce battles. This situation reached its end in 1599 when the natives were able to destroy all the Spaniard foundations south of Concepción (now the 8th region).
The tenacity and bravery of the Mapuches caused the Spaniards big sacrifices and great efforts to recuperate these territories. In fact, the Spaniards were able to impose their domination only after 300 years of constant battles, afterwards named as the War of the Arauco.
The Colony (1600-1810)
Due to the strong resistance of the Mapuches, the Spaniards decided to establish their presence in the territory now called Copiapo (III region) and Concepción (VIII region). There they dedicated their activities to agriculture and to the exploitation of mines. During the XVII and half of the XVII centuries, Santiago, La Serena and Concepcion were the only cities established according to the agricultural and mining activities.
Later on, and with the population increase, new urban centers like Copiapo, Rancagua, Curico and Talca were founded. The arrival of more settlers in such areas facilitated the advances in the areas of education and culture.
Beyond the problems of the distance, the language differences, the harsh climate and the shortage of resources, the major problem the Spaniards had to face in the Chilean territories was the incessant resistance of the Mapuches, a problem that prolonged the 300-year War of the Arauco.
During the colonization period, this conflict, badly handled by the Spaniards, converted into a real threat to the stability of the Spanish Crown rule in our country. It is only in 1882 that the Spanish army was able to definitely occupy the whole territories controlled by the Araucanos.
The Independence (1810-1823)
At the beginning of the XIX century, events like the French Revolution and the Independence of the United States incremented the independence sentiments of a lot of Americans.
In the case of Chile, after Napoleon invaded Spain and the fall of King Fernando VII in 1810, the Creollos (Creoles) established a Governmental National Assembly in Santiago in order to administer the colony in the name of the Monarchy.
This act was considered as a rebellion by the crown and led to the commencement of the fight between the Creoles and the Spanish Army, which was sent by the Viceroy of Peru. After numerous battles, the National Independence was claimed in 1818 and Bernardo O’Higgins was named as Supreme Governor of the country.
The Consolidation of the Republic (1823-1861)
After a long period of anarchy, a republican, presidential and authoritarian regime was established for a period of 30 years. In this manner, the rule of the leaders was terminated and a certain political and social stability was maintained.
Commercial relations with the exterior were also established and the exploitation of minerals, mainly Silver and Copper, incremented.
The European ideologies had their influence on the cultural aspects through literature. In 1842, the University of Chile was founded and in 1851 the railway route from Copiapo to Caldera was inaugurated. Also, in this period the government encouraged the arrival of German settlers in the south of the country.
The Liberal Republic (1861-1891)
During this period, Chile was able to considerably improve its economical situation due to the exploitation of important mines of Silver, Copper and Saltpeter in the north of the country.
However, this economic bonanza brought along many problems with Peru and Bolivia, which were already watching with great interest the economical attractions of the zone. In 1879, this rivalry led to the War of the Pacific, in which Chile came out victorious. With this victory, the country consolidated itself as a military power and as the world’s major producer of natural Saltpeter, a chemical product widely used in both World Wars.
Thanks to this bonanza, a new and dominating type of class, enriched by the mining industries, emerged. This led to various advancements in different sectors of the national economy.
The big changes, the country underwent in this period, generated a more liberal spirit among the new influential classes that opposed the type of presidential government that had the control at that moment. This was the genesis of a social and political conflict that ended in the Revolution of 1891 in which President Jose Manuel Balmaceda was overthrown and a parliamentary government was established.
The Parliament Republic (1891-1925)
With this new system of government President Jorge Montt initiated, the position of the president practically lost all its powers which were transferred to the Parliament. The Parliament was constituted by the dominating class which, in turn, generated a lot of political, social and economical disorder.
At the beginning of the last century, this crisis reached such extremes that the working class started to demand changes to improve their living and life standards. In 1909, the first syndicated organization in the country was founded.
In 1920, President Arturo Alessandri Palma was elected and governed till 1925. This was seen as a triumph for the middle class. Meanwhile, the Saltpeter remained to be the fundamental pillar of the Chilean economy. The situation remained as such until the Germans invented the Synthetic Saltpeter during the First World War.
In 1925 a new constitution was enacted which terminated with the control of the Parliament and the powers of the President position were reinforced.
The Democratic Republic (1925-2000)
The new reforms and the emerging and consolidation of new social groups between 1925 and 1932 led to the ending of certain political and social instabilities marked by distinct military interventions. It is only in 1932, with the reelection of Alessandri, that the country was able to return to be constitutional. From this point, new political alliances emerged and a series of reforms were enacted through laws such as Employment Insurance, Health, Education and Retirement.
The country continued to follow the example of state involvement in the economical development. This example led to the creation of an organism called the Development Corporation (CORFO) as the organism in charge of the development of the industry.
In 1964, the presidency is assumed by Eduardo Frei Montalva, a Christian Democrat militant, who under the concept of “Revolution of Liberty”, initiated in Chile a new political stage that was marked by the Church’s Social Doctrine, which called for economic progress in the sectors of the needy.
Frei initiated one of the most significant transformations in the history of the economy of the country when he started the Agricultural Reforms with an implementation that led to a series of future political crisis.
It was the same period of time when the Soviet Union was consolidating a political system that started an expansion of an ideology that had objectives to provide an economic, military and political support for the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.
These ideologies also reached Chile and thus fortified the parties of the left in the parliament, which came to power with Salvador Allende in 1970. Allende, in spite of winning the election with an absolute majority, acceded to La Moneda after a session of the transfer of power in the congress.
Allende and the Polpular Unity movement initiated a unique experience in Latin America by nationalizing natural resources, which were in the hands of private owners. A social and economical Soviet model that included price fixing and rationalizing of the basic consumable commodities was applied. The process included the nationalization of the Cooper mining industry, an industry that sustains the economy till now. This was, and for the first time, handed over to Chilean hands.
Nevertheless, these drastic social changes and the emergence of radical leftist groups, who defended the logo of ” With arms towards socialism”, generated a climate of social instability.
Little by little, Allende got separated form the Christian Democratic Party, a party that supported him in Congress. This consequently caused a big division inside and outside the Parliament.
Continuing changes in the Cabinet, which also included some military figures in the last change, and uncontrollable inflation rates were clearly indicated that the country was in evident crisis.
Violence took over the streets. Sectors of the economy suffered a repossessing of their industrial and agricultural ownership. People experienced food shortages and there were endless strikes of truckers and transporters. All these events demanded an immediate change in the middle of an institutional breakdown that Chile had never seen before.
After a failed coup attempt in June, a military assembly integrated by four commanding chiefs of the Armed Forces, headed by general Agusto Pinochet, decided on the 11th of September to overthrow President Salvador Allende who took his life while the Government Palace was bombarded.
The military closed the Congress and prohibited all political activities and a new period of the reconstruction of the nation began. In the first stage, the economic activities were established after the dismantling of the socialist regime. Then, in 1978, a new constitution was implemented.
Thousands of people were detained and executed while others were exiled. This generated a huge world rejection to the situation. The military assembly governed for 17 years and succeeded in implementing an autonomous economic system that permitted big growth.
In 1988, a referendum, convoked by the same government, obliged them to call for free election. With the election of 1990, the control of the military regime ended and the parliamentary activities were renewed.
From that date, there have been three Presidents who made it to La Moneda (the Presidential Palace) with the support of the same center left coalition. They are Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), both Christian Democrats, and the Socialist Ricardo Lagos who started his mandate on the 11th of March of this year.