Chile, officially the Republic of Chile, is a country in South America that occupies a long, narrow strip of land between the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is bordered by Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east and the Drake Passage to the far south. Chilean territory includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile also claims about 1,250,000 square kilometres (480,000 square miles) of Antarctica, although all these claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.
The arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile is rich in mineral resources, especially copper. The relatively small central area dominates in terms of population and agricultural resources, and is the cultural and political centre from which Chile developed in the late 19th century. Southern Chile is rich in forests and pastures, and features a number of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a maze of fjords, bays, channels, winding peninsulas and islands.
Spain conquered and colonised Chile in the mid-16th century, replacing Inca rule in the north and centre of the country, but failed to conquer the independent Mapuche who lived in south-central Chile. After declaring independence from Spain in 1818, Chile became a relatively stable authoritarian republic in the 1830s. In the 19th century, Chile experienced significant economic and territorial growth, ending Mapuche resistance in the 1880s and gaining its current northern territory in the War of the Pacific (1879-83) after defeating Peru and Bolivia. In the 1960s and 1970s, the country experienced intense political polarisation and unrest between the left and the right. This culminated in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état, which overthrew the democratically elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende and established a 16-year right-wing military dictatorship that left more than 3,000 people dead or missing. The regime, led by Augusto Pinochet, ended in 1990 after losing a referendum in 1988 and was replaced by a centre-left coalition that held four presidencies until 2010.
Chile is today one of the most stable and prosperous nations in South America. It leads Latin American nations in human development, competitiveness, per capita income, globalisation, state of peace, economic freedom and low perception of corruption. The country also ranks high in the region for state sustainability and democratic development. Chile is a founding member of the United Nations, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Tourism in Chile has grown steadily over the past decades. In 2005, tourism grew by 13.6% and generated more than $4.5 billion, of which $1.5 billion was from foreign tourists. According to the National Tourism Service (Sernatur), 2 million people visit the country every year. Most of these visitors come from other countries in the Americas, notably Argentina, followed by increasing numbers of Americans, Europeans and Brazilians, with growing numbers of Asians from South Korea and the PRC.
The main tourist attractions are places of natural beauty located in the extreme areas of the country: San Pedro de Atacama, in the north, is very popular with foreign tourists who come to admire the Inca architecture, the Altiplano lakes and the Valley of the Moon; in Putre, also in the north, there is Lake Chungará and the Parinacota and Pomerape volcanoes, which are at an altitude of 6,348m and 6,282m respectively. In the central Andes there are many internationally renowned ski resorts, including Portillo, Valle Nevado and Termas de Chillán.
The main tourist destinations in the south are the national parks (the most popular is Conguillío National Park in Araucania) and the coastal region around Tirúa and Cañete with Isla Mocha and Nahuelbuta National Park, the Chiloé Archipelago and Patagonia, which includes Laguna San Rafael National Park with its many glaciers and Torres del Paine National Park. The central port city of Valparaíso, a World Heritage Site for its unique architecture, is also popular. Finally, Easter Island, in the Pacific Ocean, is one of Chile’s most important destinations.
For the locals, tourism is mainly concentrated in the summer (December to March), and mainly in the seaside towns on the coast. Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, La Serena and Coquimbo are the main summer centres in the north, and Pucón, on the shores of Lake Villarrica, is the main centre in the south. Due to its proximity to Santiago, the coast of the Valparaíso region, with its many resorts, receives the largest number of tourists. Viña del Mar, Valparaíso’s wealthy northern neighbour, is popular for its beaches, casino and annual song festival, Latin America’s premier music event. Pichilemu, in the O’Higgins region, is known as the “best surfing spot” in South America, according to Fodor’s.
In November 2005, the government launched a campaign under the brand name “Chile: All Ways Surprising” to promote the country internationally for both business and tourism. Chile’s museums, such as the National Museum of Fine Arts of Chile, built in 1880, display works by Chilean artists.
Geography and environment
Chile is a long, narrow coastal country on the western slopes of the Andes. It stretches 4,300 km from north to south, but only 350 km from east to west at its widest point. This encompasses a remarkable diversity of climates and landscapes. It covers an area of 756,950 square kilometres (292,260 square miles). It is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Excluding the Pacific Islands and the Antarctic claim, Chile lies between latitudes 17° and 56°S and longitudes 66° and 75°W.
Chile is one of the longest north-south countries in the world. Looking only at the mainland, Chile is unique in this group because of its narrowness from east to west. The other long north-south countries (including Brazil, Russia, Canada and the USA) are all wider from east to west by a factor of more than 10. Chile also claims 1,250,000 km2 (480,000 sq mi) of Antarctica as part of its territory (Chilean Antarctic Territory). However, this claim is suspended by the Antarctic Treaty to which Chile is a signatory. It is the southernmost country in the world, geographically located on the continent.
Chile controls Easter Island and Sala y Gómez Island, the easternmost islands of Polynesia, which it annexed to its territory in 1888, as well as Robinson Crusoe Island, located more than 600 km from the mainland in the Juan Fernández Islands. The small islands of San Ambrosio and San Felix are also controlled but only intermittently inhabited (by a few local fishermen). These islands are notable for extending Chile’s claim to territorial waters from its coast to the Pacific Ocean.
The northern part of the Atacama Desert is rich in mineral resources, including copper and nitrates. The relatively small central valley, which includes Santiago, dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area is also the historical centre from which Chile developed in the late 19th century, when it integrated the northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests, grasslands and has a number of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a maze of fjords, bays, channels, winding peninsulas and islands. The Andes are on the eastern border.
The flora and fauna of Chile are characterised by a high degree of endemism due to the country’s particular geography. In continental Chile, the Atacama Desert in the north and the Andes in the east are barriers that have led to the isolation of the flora and fauna. In addition, the enormous length of Chile (more than 4,300 km) results in a great variety of climates and environments that can be divided into three general areas: the desert provinces in the north, central Chile and the humid regions in the south.
Chile’s native flora consists of relatively few species compared to the flora of other South American countries. The northernmost coastal and central region is largely devoid of vegetation and approaches the world’s most absolute desert. On the slopes of the Andes, there are grasses as well as scattered scrub in the tola desert. The central valley is characterised by several species of cactus, hardy espinos, Chilean pines, southern beeches and the copihue, a red bell-shaped flower that is Chile’s national flower.
In southern Chile, south of the Biobío River, heavy rainfall has created dense forests of laurel, magnolia and various coniferous and beech species, which become smaller and more stunted towards the south. Cold temperatures and winds from the extreme south prevent heavy forestation. Grasslands are found in Atlantic Chile (in Patagonia). Much of Chile’s flora differs from that of neighbouring Argentina, suggesting that the Andean barrier existed when it was formed.
Just over 3,000 species of fungi have been recorded in Chile, but this figure is far from complete. The actual total number of fungal species found in Chile is probably much higher, given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7% of all the world’s fungi have been discovered to date. Although the amount of information available is still very low, a first attempt has been made to estimate the number of fungal species endemic to Chile, and 1995 species have been provisionally identified as possible endemics of the country.
Chile’s geographical isolation has limited the immigration of wild animals, leaving few animals characteristic of South America. The largest mammals are the puma, the guanaco, which resembles a llama, and the chilla, which resembles a fox. In the forest region there are several species of marsupials and a small deer called pudu.
There are many species of small birds, but most of the larger species common in Latin America are not present. Few freshwater fish are native, but the North American trout has been successfully introduced into the Andean lakes. Due to the proximity of the Humboldt Current, the marine waters are rich in fish and other marine life, which in turn support a wide variety of water birds, including some penguins. Whales are abundant, and there are about six species of seals in the area.
The 2002 census showed a population of 15 million. The population growth rate has been declining since 1990 due to a declining birth rate. By 2050, the population is expected to reach about 20.2 million. About 85% of the country’s population lives in urban areas, 40% of which are in the Santiago metropolitan area. According to the 2002 census, the largest urban areas are the Santiago metropolitan area with 5.6 million people, the Concepción metropolitan area with 861,000 people and the Valparaíso metropolitan area with 824,000 people.
Ancestry and ethnicity
Mexican professor Francisco Lizcano, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, estimated that 52.7% of Chileans were white, 39.3% were mestizo and 8% were Indian.
The most recent study by the Candela Project reveals that the genetic composition of Chile is 52% European, with 44% of the genome coming from Amerindians and 4% from Africa, making Chile a predominantly mestizo country, with traces of African ancestry present in half the population. Another genetic study conducted by the University of Brasilia in several American countries shows a similar genetic composition for Chile, with a European contribution of 51.6%, a Native American (Amerindian) contribution of 42.1% and an African contribution of 6.3%.
A public health brochure from the University of Chile indicates that 30% of the population is of Caucasian origin; “predominantly white” mestizos would make up 65% of the population, while the remaining 5% would be Amerindians.
Despite genetic considerations, many Chileans, if asked, would identify themselves as white. In the 2011 Latinobarómetro survey, respondents in Chile were asked which race they thought they belonged to. Most answered “white” (59%), while 25% said “mestizo” and 8% classified themselves as “indigenous”. A national survey conducted in 2002 revealed that the majority of Chileans thought they had a little (43.4%) or a lot (8.3%) of “indigenous blood”, while 40.3% answered that they did not.
The 1907 census reported 101,118 Indians, or 3.1% of the total population. Only those who practised their indigenous culture or spoke their mother tongue were considered Indians, regardless of their ‘racial purity’.
In 2002, a census was carried out in which the population was asked directly whether or not they considered themselves to be part of one of Chile’s eight ethnic groups, whether or not they retained their culture, traditions and language. 4.6% of the population (692,192 people) fit this description of indigenous peoples in Chile. Of these, 87.3% declared themselves to be Mapuche. Most of the indigenous population has mixed ancestry to varying degrees.
Chile is one of 22 countries that have signed and ratified the only binding international law on indigenous peoples, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989. It was adopted in 1989 as Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Chile ratified it in 2008. A Chilean court ruling in November 2009 is considered a landmark decision on the rights of indigenous peoples and appealed the convention. The Supreme Court’s decision on Aymara water rights upheld the decisions of the Pozo Almonte court and the Iquique Court of Appeal and marks the first judicial application of ILO Convention 169 in Chile.
Chile has never been a particularly attractive destination for migrants, due to its remoteness and distance from Europe. Europeans preferred to stay in countries closer to home rather than make the long journey through the Straits of Magellan or across the Andes. European migration did not lead to a significant change in the ethnic composition of Chile, except in the Magellanic region. The Spaniards were the only major European migrant group in Chile, and there was never large-scale immigration as in Argentina or Uruguay. Between 1851 and 1924, Chile received only 0.5% of European immigration to Latin America, compared to 46% for Argentina, 33% for Brazil, 14% for Cuba and 4% for Uruguay. However, it is undeniable that immigrants played an important role in Chilean society.
Other groups of Europeans followed, but in smaller numbers, such as the descendants of the Austrians and the Dutch. At present, the latter are estimated to number about 50,000. After the failure of the liberal revolution of 1848 in the German states, there was a notable German immigration, which laid the foundations of the German-Chilean community. Encouraged by the Chilean government to “disembark” and colonise the southern region, these Germans (including German-speaking Swiss, Silesians, Alsatians and Austrians) settled mainly in Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue.
Descendants of different European ethnicities often intermarried in Chile. These intermarriages and the mixing of cultures and races have helped to shape the society and culture of the Chilean middle and upper classes today.
Partly due to its economic success, Chile has recently become a new magnet for immigrants, especially from neighbouring Argentina, Bolivia and especially Peru. According to the 2002 census, the foreign-born population of Chile has increased by 75% since 1992. According to an estimate by the Department of Migration and Foreign Residence, 317,057 foreigners were living in Chile in December 2008. Approximately 500,000 of the Chilean population are of full or partial Palestinian origin.
In 2012, 66.6% of the Chilean population over the age of 15 declared themselves to be Catholic – down from 70% in the 2002 census – while 17% declared themselves to belong to an evangelical church. In the census, the term evangelical refers to all non-Catholic Christian churches, with the exception of the Orthodox Church (Greek, Persian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Armenian), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which essentially limits it to Protestants (although Adventism is often considered to be part of this). About 90% of Protestants (evangelicals) are Pentecostal. The Wesleyan, Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, Baptist and Methodist churches are also represented. Irreligious people, atheists and agnostics represent about 12% of the population.
Currently (2015), the majority religion in Chile is Christianity (68%), with an estimated 55% of Chileans belonging to the Catholic Church, 13% Protestant or Evangelical, and only 7% with any other religion. Agnostics and atheists are estimated at 25%.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contribute to the free exercise of religion in general. The law at all levels fully protects this right from abuse, whether by the state or private actors.
Church and state are officially separate in Chile. The 1999 Law on Religion prohibits religious discrimination. However, the Catholic Church has a privileged status and occasionally receives preferential treatment. Government officials attend Catholic events as well as major Protestant and Jewish ceremonies.
Religious holidays observed by the government include Christmas, Good Friday, the Feast of the Virgin of Carmen, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Feast of the Assumption, All Saints Day and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as national holidays. The government recently declared 31 October, Reformation Day, a legal bank holidays in honour of the country’s Protestant churches.
The patron saints of Chile are Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Santiago. In 2005, St Alberto Hurtado was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI and became the second saint of the country after St Teresa of the Andes.
The Central Bank of Chile, located in Santiago, is the country’s central bank. The Chilean currency is the Chilean peso (CLP). Chile is one of the most stable and prosperous nations in South America, leading Latin American nations in human development, competitiveness, per capita income, globalisation, economic freedom and low perception of corruption. Since July 2013, Chile has been classified as a “high-income economy” by the World Bank.
Chile has the highest level of economic freedom in South America (ranked 7th in the world), thanks to its independent and efficient judiciary and prudent public financial management. In May 2010, Chile became the first country in South America to join the OECD. In 2006, Chile became the country with the highest nominal GDP per capita in Latin America.
Copper mining accounts for 20% of Chile’s GDP and 60% of its exports. Escondida is the world’s largest copper mine, producing over 5% of the world’s supply. In total, Chile produces one third of the world’s copper. Codelco, the state-owned mining company, competes with private companies.
Sound economic policies, consistently applied since the 1980s, have contributed to steady economic growth in Chile and have helped to reduce the poverty rate by more than half. In 1999, Chile entered a moderate economic slowdown. The economy remained sluggish until 2003, when it showed clear signs of recovery and achieved GDP growth of 4.0%. The Chilean economy ended 2004 with a growth of 6%. In 2005, real GDP growth reached 5.7% before falling back to 4% in 2006. In 2007, GDP grew by 5%. In response to the international economic downturn, the government announced a stimulus package to boost employment and growth, aiming for GDP growth of 2-3% in 2009 despite the global financial crisis. However, economic analysts disagreed with the government’s estimate of a median economic growth of 1.5%. Real GDP growth in 2012 was 5.5%. In the first quarter of 2013, growth slowed to 4.1%.
The unemployment rate was 6.4% in April 2013. Labour shortages are reported in agriculture, mining and construction. The percentage of Chileans whose per capita household income is below the poverty line – defined as twice the cost of meeting a person’s minimum nutritional needs – fell from 45.1% in 1987 to 11.5% in 2009, according to government surveys. Critics in Chile, however, argue that the real poverty figures are much higher than those officially published. Using the relative measure favoured in many European countries, 27% of Chileans would be poor, according to Juan Carlos Feres of ECLAC.
As of November 2012, approximately 11.1 million people (64% of the population) benefit from government social programmes through the social protection card, which covers people living in poverty and at risk of poverty.
The privatised national pension system (AFP) has encouraged domestic investment and contributed to a total domestic savings rate estimated at about 21% of GDP. Under the mandatory private pension system, most employees in the formal sector pay 10% of their salary into privately managed funds. In 2009, however, the pension system reportedly suffered losses due to the global financial crisis.
Chile has signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with a large number of countries, including an FTA with the United States that was signed in 2003 and implemented in January 2004. Internal Chilean government figures show that bilateral trade between the US and Chile has increased by more than 60% since then, even taking into account inflation and the recent high price of copper. Chile’s total trade with China reached the level of the US in 2006, accounting for almost 66% of the value of trade relations with Asia. Exports to Asia rose from the US in 2005 to the US in 2006, an increase of 29.9%. Imports grew particularly strongly year on year from a number of countries – Ecuador (123.9%), Thailand (72.1%), Korea (52.6%) and China (36.9%).
Chile’s approach to foreign direct investment is codified in the Chilean Foreign Investment Law. Registration is said to be simple and transparent, and foreign investors are guaranteed access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate their profits and capital. The Chilean government has created a council for innovation and competition in the hope of attracting additional foreign direct investment in new areas of the economy.
Standard & Poor’s gives Chile an AA- rating. The Chilean government continues to reduce its external debt, with public debt representing only 3.9% of GDP at the end of 2006. The Chilean central government is a net creditor with a net asset position of 7% of GDP at end-2012. The current account deficit was 4% in the first quarter of 2013 and was mainly financed by foreign direct investment. 14% of central government revenues came directly from copper in 2012.