Country profile: Chile

Situated along a narrow strip of land, measuring not more than 430km wide, Chile traces its early nationhood to the mid-1500s. 

Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range, the country includes at its southern tip Cape Horn, the Straits of Magellan and the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Santiago was founded in 1541 after a period of heavy resistance from the indigenous population.

During most of the colonial period, Chile was under the vice-royalty of Peru but its isolation made it in essence a separate division. Chile proclaimed its independence from Spain in 1818.

The late 19th century was dominated by territorial wars with Bolivia and Peru. Chile’s political history is a series of struggles between left-wing parties, including communists, right-wing parties and a short period of military rule.

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first South American Marxist president to be elected by popular vote and he proceeded to turn Chile into a socialist state and to form ties with other Communist governments.

The Chile flag

The Chile flag

His rule was plagued with a series of violent strikes and demonstrations and in 1973, with covert American support, Allende was deposed in a military coup that resulted in his death and the execution and detention of thousands of people.

In 1974, General Pinochet became the leader of Chile. He was part of a four-man military government that began brutal and large-scale repression. He abolished all political parties and severely suppressed human and civil rights.

Conditions of “extreme trauma” affected more then 200,000 people, this included those killed, tortured or exiled. In 1980, the military government announced a new constitution and in 1989 free elections were held that began the transition back to democracy.

In 1998, during a visit to London, General Pinochet was arrested for human rights violations and thus began a struggle between his supporters and detractors that continues today.

Chile maintains a free trade zone – areas where normal export and import tariffs do not apply, bureaucracy is minimised and tax incentives are encouraged – in the northern Pacific coastal area of Iquique.

In 2003, the Bush administration designated this resort town as a “terrorist hot spot” and compared it to the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

The tri-border area has a 30,000 strong Arab community and according to the Bush administration many of them have fled to Chile since the US began to heavily monitor the zone. Free trade zones throughout South America have come under scrutiny and have been accused of sending money to groups such as Hizb Allah and Hamas.

Chile is increasingly becoming a transit point for drug money laundering also allegedly through the Iquique zone.
Capital: Santiago
Official name: Republic of Chile

Protesters hold banners against the APEC forum and Bush

Protesters hold banners against
the APEC forum and Bush

Population: 15,980,912 (July 2005 estimate)
Languages: Spanish
Ethnic diversity: White and white-Amerindian 95%, Amerindian 3%, other 2%
Literacy rate: Age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 96.2%; male: 96.4%; female: 96.1% (2003 estimate)
Religion: Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 11%, Jewish negligable
Government type: Republic

Political parties and leaders: Alliance for Chile (“Alianza”) or APC (including National Renewal or RN, Sebastian Pinera and Independent Democratic Union or UDI, Pablo Longueira; Coalition of Parties for Democracy (“Concertacion”) or CPD (including Christian Democratic Party or PDC, Adolfo Zaldivar, Socialist Party or PS, Gonzalo Martner, Party for Democracy or PPD, Victor Barrueto, Radical Social Democratic Party or PRSD Orlando Cantuarias; Communist Party or PC, Gladys Marin.

Political pressure groups and leaders: Revitalised university student federations at all major universities; Roman Catholic Church; United Labor Central or CUT includes trade unionists from the country’s five largest labor confederations.

International organisation participation includes: APEC, BIS, FAO, G-15, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNTSO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO.

Military branches: Army of the Nation, National Navy (includes naval air, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps), Chilean Air Force, Chilean Carabineros (National Police)

Protesters in Santiago on the anniversary of the Pinochet coup

Protesters in Santiago on the
anniversary of the Pinochet coup

Military manpower – military age: 18 years of age for compulsory military service; all citizens 18-45 are obligated to perform military service; conscript service obligation – 12 months for army, 24 months for navy and air force (2004).

Military manpower – there are approximately 
3,815,761 (2005 estimate) males aged 18-49 available for military service.


Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Argentina and Peru.

Chile has three parallel natural regions – the rugged Andes, the central lowlands and the coastal ranges.

The climate is as varied as its geographical regions and includes permanently snow-capped mountains and an extensive desert area.

The northern part of Chile was once part of the Inca empire while the inhabitants of the southern areas were the Araucanians.

Area: Total: 756,950sq km; land: 748,800sq km; water: 8150sq km
Note: includes Easter Island (Isla de Pascua) and Isla Sala y Gomez  
Land boundaries: Total: 6171km; border countries: Argentina 5150km, Bolivia 861km, Peru 160km

Climate: Temperate; desert in north; Mediterranean in central region; cool and damp in south.

Terrain: Low coastal mountains; fertile central valley; rugged Andes in east

Natural resources: Copper, timber, iron ore, nitrates, precious metals, molybdenum, hydropower

Fish-processing in the Pacific port of Chacabuco

Fish-processing in the Pacific
port of Chacabuco

Land use: Arable land: 2.65%; permanent crops: 0.42%; other: 96.93% (2001)
Natural hazards: Severe earthquakes; active volcanism; tsunamis.

Environment – current issues: Widespread deforestation and mining threaten natural resources; air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage

Environment – international agreements: Party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling.

Economy: Chile’s economy is based on the export of minerals, principally copper, which accounts for more than half the export trade. Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, however, its dependence on world copper markets is one of Chile’s major economic problems.

During the 1990s, Chile gained a reputation for economic reform when a democratically elected government took over from the military one. It now has a market economy defined by a high level of foreign trade.

Chile compounded its commitment to trade liberalisation when it signed a free trade agreement with the US. This agreement took effect on the 1 January 2004. Despite reform, unemployment remains high.

Gross Domestic Product: $9964.75 per person
GDP – real growth rate: 5.8% (2004 est)

Industries: Copper, other minerals, foodstuffs, fish processing, iron and steel, wood and wood products, transport equipment, cement, textiles.
Exports: Copper, fruit, fish products, paper and pulp, chemicals, wine.
Imports: Petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, electrical and telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, vehicles, natural gas.
Labour force: 6.2 million (2004 est)
Unemployment rate: 8.5% (2004 est)
Currency: Chilean Peso

Transnational Issues: Chile rebuffs Bolivia’s reactivated claim to restore the Atacama corridor, ceded to Chile in 1884, offering instead unrestricted but not sovereign maritime access through Chile for Bolivian natural gas and other commodities. Chile is also involved with Peru over a maritime border and with Britain and Argentina over Antarctic territory.

Sources:, CIA world fact book,,,,

Source : Al Jazeera

More from News
Most Read