Chile country profile


Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.

The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape - 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide - has given it a hugely varied climate.

This ranges from the world's driest desert - the Atacama - in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes.

Chile is a multi-ethnic society, including people of European and Indian ancestry.


Republic of Chile

Capital: Santiago

  • Population 17.9 million

  • Area 756,096 sq km (291,930 sq miles)

  • Major language Spanish

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 77 years (men), 82 years (women)

  • Currency Chilean peso

Getty Images


President: Sebastian Piñera

Image source, Getty Images

Sebastian Piñera won the presidential election in December 2017, having already served as president for four years until 2014.

Local markets soared on hopes of more investor-friendly policies expected to be introduced by the billionaire conservative.

He faced major protests in late 2019 over price increases and social inequality, and agreed to a referendum that backed rewriting the constitution to remove guarantees for the private sector in the provision of some public services.


Image source, Getty Images

Chile's national and local terrestrial TV channels operate alongside extensive cable TV networks, which carry many US and international stations.

Radio is an important source of news; there are hundreds of stations, most of them commercial.


Some key dates in Chile's history:

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Troops fire on the presidential palace during coup in which President Allende died

1535 - Indigenous Araucanian people successfully resist first Spanish invasion of Chile.

1541 - Pedro de Valdivia begins Spanish conquest and founds Santiago.

1810 - Junta in Santiago proclaims autonomy for Chile following the overthrow of the king of Spain by Napoleon, but Spain regains control of Chile in 1814.

1818 - Chile becomes independent.

1879-84 - Chile increases its territory by one third after it defeats Peru and Bolivia in War of the Pacific.

Late 19th century - Pacification of indigenous Araucanians paves way for European immigration; large-scale mining of nitrate and copper begins.

1891 - Civil war over constitutional dispute between president and congress ends in congressional victory, with president reduced to figurehead.

1970 - Salvador Allende becomes world's first democratically elected Marxist president and embarks on an extensive programme of nationalisation and radical social reform.

1973 - Chief of Staff General Augusto Pinochet ousts Allende in coup and proceeds to establish a brutal dictatorship which lasts until 1990.

1989 - Elections mark return to civilian rule.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Former dictator General Augusto Pinochet was put under house arrest in Britain, where the government later overruled a decision to extradite him to Spain

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