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Now one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America, Chile has undergone a series of traumatic transformations during the course of its lengthy history. Indigenous Chilean people have survived attacks from both Incas and Spanish invaders, and the latter half of the twentieth century saw one of the most brutal military regimes in recent memory. A narrow strip of land in south-western South America, Chile sits directly south of Peru and borders Argentina and Bolivia to the east and north-east, respectively. Its 6435-mile-long coastline comprises both Atlantic and Pacific waters, including the Strait of Magellan shared with neighboring Argentina. Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua, is home to mystifying monolithic stone sculptures, and is also proudly Chilean, along with Isla Sala y Gomez. Chile boasts dramatic differences in its national terrain, from rugged Andean cliffs and Patagonian wilderness, to the terrifyingly dry Atacama Desert, one of the world's most arid regions. But Chile also contains a fertile, Mediterranean-like central valley and verdant regions in the south. Unfortunate environmental degradation at the hands of Pinochet's regime is slowly being healed.
Chile's history and people are as diverse as its geography. Dominant native groups like the Mapuche resisted both Incan and Spanish rule but eventually fell prey to European colonization. The population of Chile remains largely mestizo, or mixed Spanish and native blood. Chile gained independence from Spain in 1817, after seven years of bloodshed and Mapuchean struggles for autonomy. When, during the Cold War, a democratically-elected Marxist government came to the fore under Dr. Salvador Allende, the United States was quick to interfere. Obsessed with the threat of global communism, Henry Kissinger and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency supported a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet to oust the leftist government in Chile. For the next seventeen years, the world turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime, including systematic torture, assassination, and imprisonment. Finally, in 1990 Pinochet was forced to cede power to the rightfully elected Patricio Aylwin Azocar. Since the, Chile has struggled to remain a player in the global economy while repairing the damages of years of oppressive rule.
The 750,000-plus square kilometers of what is now the Republic of Chile was once home to several native groups: mainly the Aymara in the northern regions and the Araucanians in the south and the lake districts. Most of these indigenous groups relied on hunting, gathering, and farming for sustenance and several were nomadic. The Mapuche, the largest Araucanian tribe, are literally the "people of the land." In the mid-15th century, a group of Incans crossed the Atacama Desert and encountered the Mapuche, who effectively drove off the fierce Incan fighters. The Mapuche stayed the Incans at the border of the Rio Maule River and prevented them from crossing into the Lake District. However, this valiant effort was soon thwarted, when less than 100 years later Pedro de Valdavia followed the Incan route and managed to cross the Rio Maule border. In February of 1541, de Valdavia founded Santiago. Although the Mapuche beheaded him in 1553, the ambitious Spaniard had already established several strongholds in Mapuche territory and became the first official governor of Chile.
Pedro de Valdavia was not the first Spaniard to conquer Chilean territory. Ferdinand Magellan touched ground there in October of 1520, and Diego de Almagro is credited with the first attempt to colonize the lands south of Peru, where the Spanish made their mark earlier. Colonial rule remained tense, and in December of 1553, a group of Araucanian warriors, led by Mapuche chief Lautero, rebelled against Spanish rule. Their efforts were admirable but unsuccessful, and Chile remained loyal to the Spanish crown until the early nineteenth century, despite widespread corruption and cruelty. The overthrow of the Spanish monarchy in the early 1800s set the stage for Chilean self-governance.
The early years of Chilean autonomy were not without bloodshed and strife. A liberal and enlightened government abolished slavery in 1823, but several failed governments plagued Chilean politics for years to come. Clashes between conservatives and liberals wiped out attempts to secure political stability, but Chile was a forerunner of constitutional democracy in the region. Numerous political parties were established by the twentieth century, in accordance with a federalist and parliamentary system. The Catholic Church played decisive but varying roles in Chilean politics, but civilian rule was the norm in Chile until the coup in 1973.
Economic disparity has been and still is one of Chile's major problems, more so than racism. Chile is culturally more homogenous than many of its neighbors in South and Central America, with the majority of the population being mestizos. Around 100,000 Mapuche survive, and mostly reside in the forested lake district of Chile. The Aymara Indians, a smaller indigenous population, live in Northern Chile. The highest percentage of Chile's 15, 500,000 people dwell in the central valley in and around Santiago. 65.6% of the population is between 15 and 64 years old; 26.9% is between the ages of 0 and 14, while 7.5% is 65 years and older. Population growth is estimated at 1.09%, and the birth rate is 16.46 for every 1000 people. Population density is 20.3 persons per square kilometer. Life expectancy in Chile is 76.14 for the total population; there were 1000 deaths due to HIV / AIDS in 1999 (about.19% of the population).
Although most (95%) of Chilean nationals are of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, a sizable portion of the population is of various European and Mediterranean descents, including Basque and Palestinian. About 3% of the population is Amerindian. 89% of Chileans are Roman Catholic, and 11% are Protestant. Less than 1% of Chilean people are Jewish. The official language of Chile is Spanish, but Aymara and Mapuche languages are still spoken in their respective districts. Rapa Nui, a Polynesian language, is still spoken on Easter Island. The literacy rate (those over the age of fifteen who can read and write) is 95.2%, and is roughly equal for males and females. Compulsory education was instated in 1920, but in general enrollments were low. The Pinochet years saw even further decreases in perceived importance of education, but the military regime did support the construction of technical and vocational schools. Higher education in Chile is not free of charge, and this system exacerbates the unbalanced class structure.
Class structure is skewed, and income disparity is one of Chile's largest problems. Unemployment is 6.4%, and 20.5% of the population lived below the poverty line in the mid-1990s. The richest 20% earn seventeen times more than the poorest 20%, a disparity over twice that of the United States.
The Republic of Chile is divided into thirteen regions, or regions, although the United States does not recognize its claims to Antarctic land. Following independence from Spain in 1810, Chilean government immediately followed progressive democratic ideals. The newest constitution was established in 1980, and has been amended several times. Suffrage is at eighteen years of age and is universal and compulsory.
The Republica of Chile, like the United States, is divided into the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president is both chief of state and head of government. In March of 2000, President Ricardo Lagos Escobar (known by the name Lagos) was elected to a six-year term in office. The legislative branch of government is a bicameral congress (Congreso Nacional), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados) and a Senate (Senado). Of the forty-nine senate seats, thirty-eight are elected by popular vote to serve eight-year terms. One-half of the senators are elected every four years. Nine senatorial seats are designated appointments, and two are reserved for former presidents, who after their six-year term in executive office, serve in the senate for life. The Chamber of Deputies comprises 120 seats, all of which are elected by popular vote for four-year terms.
Major political parties in post-Pinochet Chile include the Partido para la Democracia (PPD), the Socialists, and the Christian Democrats on the left. Right-leaning, conservative parties, those closest to Pinochet in philosophy, include the Partido de Renovaci n Nacional (PRN), the Uni n Democrata Independiente (UDI), and the newest conservative party, the Partido Uni n de Centro, which focuses on big business and industry as primary concerns. After the downfall of Pinochet's military regime, free elections are par for the course in Chile. However, military rule for over a decade crippled democratic ideals during the 1970s and 80s. Chile maintains excellent relations with all of its Latin American neighbors, with the minor exception of Bolivia, which it still retains consular ties with. Following the War of the Pacific in 1879-1873, Chile acquired territory still under dispute. Chile is active in the United Nations and in the Summit of the Americas. Because Chile is a relatively small world market of only thirteen million consumers, the United States has not been entirely eager to push for free trade agreements, which Chile does have with other nations like Canada. Its largest trade…[continue]
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