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About Chile

Geography

Map of Chile

Situated south of Peru and west of Bolivia and Argentina, Chile stretches nearly 3,000 miles north to south yet is on average only just over 100 miles wide between the Andes and the Pacific. Always bound by the Andes in the east and the Pacific to the west, the scenery passes through a spectrum of unparalleled diversity. 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 Fernández Islands, about 400 mi (644 km) west of the mainland, and Easter Island, about 2,000 mi (3,219 km) west. With one of Latin America's most successful economies and political stability it is a friendly and safe place to explore, with a level of efficiency in services that many will find unusual in Latin America!

History

Chile was originally under the control of the Incas in the north and the nomadic Mapuches in the south. In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded Santiago. Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and an Argentinean, José 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 in 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. Pedro Montt led a revolt that overthrew José 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 Ríos, president during World War II, was originally pro-Nazi but in 1944 led his country into the war on the side of the Allies.

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 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 “exterminating Marxism,” the junta suspended Parliament, banned political activity, and severely curbed civil liberties. Pinochet's brutal dictatorship led to the imprisonment, torture, execution, and expulsion of thousands of Chileans. The economy, in tatters under Allende's socialist revolution, gradually improved after Chile's return to 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, who was elected in Dec. 1989 as the head of a 17-party coalition. 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 disappearance of Spanish citizens during his rule. British courts ultimately denied his extradition, and Pinochet returned to Chile in March 2000, where the courts eventually ruled that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

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.

General Internet Resources on Chile

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