(chĭl'ē, Span. chē'lā), officially Republic of Chile, republic (2015 est. pop. 17,763,000), 292,256 sq mi (756,945 sq km), S South America, west of the continental divide of the Andes Mts. Chile is bordered by Peru on the north, Bolivia on the northeast, Argentina on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west and south. Santiago is the capital and the largest city.
A long narrow strip of land (no more than c.265 mi/430 km wide) between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile stretches c.2,880 mi (4,630 km) from near lat. 18°S to Cape Horn (lat. 56°S), including at its southern end the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, an island shared with Argentina. In the Pacific Ocean are Chile's several island possessions, including Easter Island, the Juan Fernández islands, and the Diego Ramírez islands. Chile also claims a sector of Antarctica.
The country is composed of three distinct and parallel natural regions—from east to west, the Andes, the central lowlands, and the Coast Ranges. The Chilean Andes contain many high peaks and volcanoes; Ojos del Salado (22,539 ft/6,870 m high) is the second highest point in South America. Chile is located along an active zone in the earth's crust and experiences numerous earthquakes, some of great magnitude. The rivers of Chile are generally short and swift-flowing, rising in the well-watered Andean highlands and flowing generally west to the Pacific Ocean; the Loa and Baker rivers are the longest, but those in the central portion of the country are much more important because of their use for irrigation and power production.
The climate, which varies from hot desert in the north through Mediterranean-type in the central portion to the cool and humid marine west coast type in the south, is influenced by the cold Peruvian (or Humboldt) Current along the coast of N Chile and by the Andes. Precipitation increases southward; the desert in the north is practically rainless, while S Chile receives abundant precipitation throughout the year. However, along the coast of N Chile high humidity and dense fogs modify the desert climate. The Andes are an orographic barrier, and the western slopes and the peaks receive much precipitation; permanently snowcapped mountains are found along Chile's length.
In N Chile is the southern portion of the extensive desert zone of W South America. It is occupied mainly by the sun-baked Desert of Atacama, which, toward the south, gradually becomes a semiarid steppe with limited vegetation. The barren landscape of the north extends from the coast to the Andes, where snowcapped peaks tower above the desert. The Loa River is N Chile's only perennial stream. The region's scanty population is concentrated along the coast and in oases; the ports of Arica, Iquique, and Antofagasta (the chief link between Bolivia and the Pacific), the mining towns of Calama and Coplapó, and the industrial town of La Serena are the chief population centers. The people of the region are almost totally dependent on supplies from the outside. N Chile, the economic mainstay of the nation, is rich in a variety of minerals, including copper, nitrates, iron, manganese, molybdenum, gold, and silver. Chuquicamata, one of the world's largest copper-mining centers, long produced much of Chile's annual output, but the mine at Escondida now surpasses it.
The middle portion of the country, roughly between lat. 30°S and 38°S, has a Mediterranean-type climate and fertile soils, and is the nation's most populous and productive region as well as the political and cultural center. It contains Chile's largest cities—Santiago, Valparaiso (the seat of the Chilean congress), and Concepción. Mineral deposits (in particular copper, coal, and silver) are found in central Chile, and the rivers, especially the Bío-Bío, have been harnessed to generate electricity; hydroelectricity is responsible for 70% of Chile's power. The region, the most highly industrialized section of Chile, produces a large variety of manufactured products, especially in and around Santiago, Concepción, and Valparaiso (which is also Chile's chief port). Between the Andes and the Coast Ranges is the Vale of Chile, a long valley divided into basins by Andean spurs. The valley is the heart of the republic, having the highest population density and the highest agricultural and industrial output.
S Chile, extending from the Bío-Bío River to Cape Horn, is cold and humid, with dense forests, heavy rainfall, snow-covered peaks, glaciers, and islands. Sections of this region, which is in the direct path of moist westerly winds, receive more than 100 in. (254 cm) of precipitation annually. Because of subsidence of the earth's crust, the Coast Ranges and the central lowlands have been partially submerged, forming the extensive archipelago of S Chile, an area of craggy islands (notably Chiloé), numerous channels, and deep fjords. The Chilean lake district is a noted resort area. Although all of S Chile is forested, only the drier northern part has exploitable timber resources; Puerto Montt and Temuco are major timber-handling centers. The rest of the region is a wilderness of midlatitude rain forest, which has been extensively logged. Pollution and erosion have added to the environmental threat. Because of the climate, agriculture is limited; oats and potatoes are the chief crops. Livestock raising (cattle and pigs) is an important activity. A portion of extreme S Chile lies in the rain shadow of the Andes and is covered by natural grasslands; extensive sheep grazing is carried on, with wool, mutton, and skins the chief products. Cattle are also raised. This area also yields petroleum. Valdivia, a port on the Pacific Ocean, is the fourth largest industrial center of Chile; Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan is the world's southernmost city.
The majority of Chile's population is mestizo, a result of frequent intermarriage between early Spanish settlers and indigenous inhabitants. Many Chileans are also of German, Italian, Irish, British, or Yugoslav ancestry. Three small indigenous groups are still distinguishable—the Araucanians of central Chile (the largest and long the strongest group), the Changos of N Chile, and the Fuegians of Tierra del Fuego. Chile is predominantly urban, with more than a third of the total population concentrated in and around Santiago and Viña Del Mar. Nearly 90% of the people are at least nominally Roman Catholic. Spanish is the country's official language.
Chile's economy is based on the export of minerals, which account for about half of the total value of exports. Copper is the nation's most valuable resource, and Chile is the world's largest producer. Agriculture is the main occupation of about 15% of the population; it accounts for about 6% of the national wealth, and produces less than half of the domestic needs. The Vale of Chile is the country's primary agricultural area; its vineyards are the basis of Chile's wine industry. Grapes, apples, pears, onions, wheat, corn, oats, peaches, garlic, asparagus, and beans are the chief crops. Livestock production includes beef and poultry. Sheep raising is the chief pastoral occupation, providing wool and meat for domestic use and for export. Fishing and lumbering are also important economic activities. Chile's industries largely process its raw materials and manufacture various consumer goods. The major products are copper and other minerals, processed food, fish meal, iron and steel, wood and wood products, transportation equipment, and textiles.
The dependence of the economy on copper prices and the production of an adequate food supply are two of Chile's major economic problems. Chile's main imports are petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, electrical and telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, vehicles, and natural gas, but beginning in the 2010s it sought to reduce its need for imported fossil fuels by developing solar, wind, and geothermal energy projects. In addition to minerals, it also exports fruit, fish and fish products, paper and pulp, chemicals, and wine. The chief trading partners are the United States, China, Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea.
Chile is governed under the constitution of 1981 as amended. It is a multiparty democracy with a directly elected president who serves a four-year term (six-year prior to the constitutional amendments of 2005). The president may not be elected to consecutive terms. The bicameral legislature consists of a 38-seat Senate, whose members are elected to serve eight-year terms, and a 120-seat Chamber of Deputies, whose members are elected for four years. Members of both houses are elected from two-seat districts. Administratively, Chile is divided into 13 regions.
Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th cent., the Araucanians had long been in control of the land in the southern part of the region; in the north, the inhabitants were ruled by the Inca empire. Diego de Almagro, who was sent by Francisco Pizarro from Peru to explore the southern region, led a party of men through the Andes into the central lowlands of Chile but was unsuccessful (1536) in establishing a foothold there. In 1540, Pedro de Valdivia marched into Chile and, despite stout resistance from the Araucanians, founded Santiago (1541) and later established La Serena, Concepción, and Valdivia. After an initial period of incessant warfare with the natives, the Spanish succeeded in subjugating the indigenous population.
Although Chile was unattractive to the Spanish because of its isolation from Peru to the north and its lack of precious metals (copper was discovered much later), the Spanish developed a pastoral society there based on large ranches and haciendas worked by indigenous people; the yields were shipped to Peru. During the long colonial era, the mestizos became a tenant farmer class, called inquilinos; although technically free, most were in practice bound to the soil.
During most of the colonial period Chile was a captaincy general dependent upon the viceroyalty of Peru, but in 1778 it became a separate division virtually independent of Peru. Territorial limits were ill-defined and were the cause, after independence, of long-drawn-out boundary disputes with Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. The movement toward independence began in 1810 under the leadership of Juan Martínez de Rozas and Bernardo O'Higgins. The first phase (1810–14) ended in defeat at Rancagua, largely because of the rivalry of O'Higgins with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers. In 1817, José de San Martín, with incredible hardship, brought an army over the Andes from Argentina to Chile. The following year he won the decisive battle of Maipú over the Spaniards.
O'Higgins, who had been chosen supreme director, formally proclaimed Chile's independence Feb. 12, 1818, at Talca and established a military autocracy that characterized the republic's politics until 1833; O'Higgins ruled Chile from 1818 until 1823, when strong opposition to his policies forced him to resign. During this time the British expatriot Lord Cochrane, commanding the Chilean navy, cleared (1819–20) the coast of Spanish shipping, and in 1826 the remaining royalists were driven from Chiloé island, their last foothold on Chilean soil. The colonial aristocracy and the clergy had been discredited because of royalist leanings. The army, plus a few intellectuals, established a government devoid of democratic forms. Yet with the centralistic constitution of 1833, fashioned largely by Diego Portales on Chile's particular needs, a foundation was laid for the gradual emergence of parliamentary government and a long period of stability.
During the administrations of Manuel Bulnes (1841–51) and Manuel Montt (1851–61) the country experienced governmental reform and material progress. The war of 1866 between Peru and Spain involved Chile and led the republic to fortify its coast and build a navy. Chileans obtained the right to work the nitrate fields in the Atacama, which then belonged to Bolivia. Trouble over the concessions led in 1879 to open war (see Pacific, War of the). Chile was the victor and added valuable territories taken from Bolivia and Peru; a long-standing quarrel also ensued, the Tacna-Arica Controversy, which was finally settled in 1929. Chile also became involved in serious border troubles with Argentina; it was as a sign and symbol of the end of this trouble that the Christ of the Andes was dedicated in 1904. With the exploitation of nitrate and copper by foreign interests, chiefly the United States, prosperity continued.
The Transandine Railway was completed in 1910 (closed 1982), and many more railroads were built. Industrialization, which soon raised Chile to a leading position among South American nations, was begun. Meanwhile, internal struggles between the executive and legislative branches of the government intensified and resulted (1891) in the overthrow of José Balmaceda. A congressional dictatorship (with a figurehead president and cabinet ministers appointed by the congress) controlled the government until the constitution of 1925, which provided for a strong president. Former president Arturo Alessandri (who had instituted a program of labor reforms during his tenure from 1920 to 1924, and who commanded widespread popular support) was recalled (1925) as a caretaker until elections were held.
Although Chile enjoyed economic prosperity between 1926 and 1931, it was very hard hit by the world economic depression, largely because of its dependence on mineral exports and fluctuating world markets. Large-scale unemployment also had occurred after World War I when the nitrate market collapsed. The rise of the laboring classes was marked by unionization, and there were many Marxists who advocated complete social reform. The struggle between radicals and conservatives led to a series of social experiments and to counterattempts to suppress the radicals (especially the Communists) by force. During Arturo Alessandri's second term (1932–38) a measure of economic stability was restored; however, he turned to repressive measures and alienated the working classes.
A democratic-leftist coalition, the Popular Front, took power after the elections of 1938. Chile broke relations with the Axis (1943) and declared war on Japan in 1945. Economic stability, the improvement of labor conditions, and the control of Communists were the chief aims of the administration of Gabriel González Videla, who was elected president in 1946. He ruled with the support of the Communists until 1948, when he gained the support of the Liberal party and outlawed the Communists. His efforts, as well as those of his successors, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo (1952–58) and Jorge Alessandri (1958–64), were hampered by chronic inflation and repeated labor crises.
In the 1964 presidential election (in which Eduardo Frei Montalva was elected) and in the 1965 congressional elections, the Christian Democratic party won overwhelming victories over the Socialist-Communist coalition. Frei made advances in land reform, education, housing, and labor. Under his so-called Chileanization program, the government assumed a controlling interest in U.S.-owned copper mines while cooperating with U.S. companies in their management and development.
In 1970, Salvador Allende Gossens, head of the Popular Unity party, a coalition of leftist political parties, won a plurality of votes in the presidential election and became the first Marxist to be elected president by popular vote in Latin America. Allende, in an attempt to turn Chile into a socialist state, nationalized many private companies, instituted programs of land reform, and, in foreign affairs, sought closer ties with Communist countries.
Widespread domestic problems, including spiraling inflation, lack of food and consumer goods, stringent government controls, and opposition from some sectors to Allende's programs, led to a series of violent strikes and demonstrations. The problems were aggravated by efforts by the United States, which strongly opposed Allende, to undermine Chile's economy in an attempt to destabilize its politics. As the situation worsened, the traditionally neutral Chilean military began to pressure Allende; he yielded to some of their demands and appointed military men to several high cabinet positions.
In Sept., 1973, with covert American support, the armed forces staged a coup during which Allende died by his own hand; it also led to the execution, detention, or expulsion from Chile of thousands of people. Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte took control of the country. The economy continued to deteriorate, even though the government sought to return private enterprise to Chile by denationalizing many industries and by compensating businesses taken over by the Allende government. In 1974, Pinochet became the undisputed leader of Chile, assuming the position of head of state, and in 1977 he abolished all political parties and restricted human and civil rights. Unemployment and labor unrest grew, although the economy improved steadily between 1976 and 1981 with the help of foreign bank loans and an increase in world copper prices. In the early 1980s, the country was plagued by a recession and foreign debt grew significantly, but the economy leveled off late in the decade.
The 1981 constitution guaranteed elections in 1989, and in the 1980s political parties began to re-form despite Pinochet's opposition. In Oct., 1988, the electorate voted against the extension of Pinochet's term to 1997. In 1989, Patricio Aylwin Azócar, a member of the Christian Democratic party who headed a coalition of 17 center and left parties, was elected president by popular vote. However, under the military-drafted constitution, Pinochet remained head of the army. Under Aylwin, Chile again turned toward democracy; the country's economy strengthened, as its exports were increased and its debt lowered.
In 1994, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of Allende's predecessor, a Christian Democrat, and the leader of another center-left coalition, became president. Frei's free-market policies led to a massive flow of foreign investment. Pinochet stepped down as head of the army in 1998 and was made a senator for life. Later that year, during a visit to London, Pinochet was arrested and held for possible extradition to Spain, on charges stemming from his repressive regime; he was released for health reasons and returned to Chile in Mar., 2000. Falling copper prices, exacerbated by an Asian economic crisis, caused economic and social problems in 1998 and 1999.
Ricardo Lagos Escobar narrowly defeated Joaquín Lavín of the right-wing Alliance for Chile in a runoff election in Jan., 2000. Lagos, the candidate of the Christian Democratic–Socialist coalition, became Chile's first Socialist president since Allende. A moderate leftist, he appointed a cabinet consisting largely of nonideological technocrats.
The military violence of the Pinochet era remains an incompletely resolved issue in Chilean society. Under Lagos investigations into human rights cases proceeded to a greater extent than his two civilian predecessors, although not with the vigor demanded by some leftists and rights advocates. In 2000 prosecutors successfully brought human-rights-related charges against Pinochet, but they were dismissed because of health issues. A new criminal investigation began in 2004, and revelations of hidden offshore bank accounts led to tax evasion charges as well; this time the charges were not dismissed, but his death in 2006 ended all attempts to try him. A government report (2004) on the Pinochet regime denounced its widespread use of torture and illegal imprisonment and led the Chilean congress to enact a compensation program for the victims of military rule. In addition, the army accepted institutional responsibility for the human rights abuses that occurred under Pinochet. Since 2004 a number of former senior military officers in Pinochet's régime have been convicted of crimes relating to murders and other human rights offenses following the coup.
In 2005, the constitution was amended to reduce the national influence of the military and reassert civilian control over it, eliminating some of the vestiges of Pinochet's dictatorship that had been preserved in the document, though the method of election to the Chilean Congress remained structured to guarantee significant minority, generally conservative, representation. Also in 2005, the border with Peru again became a source of international tension as Peru laid claim to offshore fishing waters that Chile controlled; a 2014 ruling by the International Court of Justice awarded Peru a little more than half of the disputed waters. Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist and a defense minister under Lagos, was elected president in Jan., 2006, after a runoff; she was the first woman to be elected president of Chile. Bachelet, the center-left candidate, won more than 53% of the vote, defeating conservative business entrepreneur Sebastián Piñera. The center-left coalition also won majorities in both houses of the Chilean congress.
In June, 2006, Chile saw massive protests over secondary school funding, some of which resulted in clashes with the police, and in early 2007, there were significant protests in Santiago over the disruption caused by a new public transportation system. The nation weathered the 2008–9 global financial crisis and recession relatively well as the government used financial reserves from the 2003–8 copper boom for a stimulus program. Twenty years of center-left rule ended in 2010 when Piñera defeated Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the former president who was the center-left candidate, in a January runoff election. Piñera's coalition also won a plurality in the lower house of the congress, but lost the upper house.
In Feb., 2010, the country was struck by a devastating earthquake, and significant aftershocks occurred in subsequent weeks. The worst damage was in Concepción and surrounding areas, but significant damage also occurred in Santiago and Valparaiso. Areas along the central coast also suffered from tsunamis. Deaths from the temblor were in the hundreds, but damage was estimated to be $30 billion. Some 220,000 homes were destroyed, and the wine and fishing industries were particularly affected by the earthquake. By mid-2012, however, the Chilean government estimated that three fourths of the needed reconstruction had been completed.
In the 2013 presidential election, Bachelet ran for a second term and, after falling short of an outright victory in the first round, handily won the runoff, defeating conservative Evelyn Matthei Fornet. Bachelet's coalition also won majorities in both houses of the Chilean congress. Strong earthquakes centered off N Chile in Apr., 2014, and Sept., 2015, resulted in significant but relatively limited damage. In Jan.–Feb, 2017, Chile experienced its worst wildfire season ever; some 1,400 sq mi (3,600 sq km) burned in central and S Chile. The presidential election in 2017 resulted in a second term for Piñera, who easily defeated the center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier in the runoff. Chile Vamos, Piñera's conservative coalition, also won pluralities in both houses of the congress.
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