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Chile facts and history in brief

Map of Chile

Chile is a long, narrow country that stretches about 4,265 kilometres from Peru in the north to the southern tip of the continent, on the west coast of South America.
Chile's name probably comes from chilli, a native word meaning where the land ends.
Chile is a land of great variety.
The towering Andes Mountains rise along the country's Pacific coast to form Chile's eastern boundary.
Fertile river basins, the Central Valley lies between the mountain ranges and is divided into three regions, the Northern Desert, the Central Valley, and the Archipelago (It has a breathtaking landscape with snow-capped volcanoes, thick forests, and huge glaciers, few people live here with no railways and very few roads).
Many rocky, windswept islands line the rugged Pacific shores.
Chile's climate varies from the very dry in the north to the very wet in the south.
The Central Valley has a mild climate, with dry summers and relatively rainy winters.
The Atacama Desert in the north is one of the driest places on the earth, while parts of the south are among the wettest.
For about 300 years, Chile was a Spanish colony.
In 1818, Chile became an independent republic from Spain and was ruled for a long period by democratic governments and a short period of military dictatorship.
Head of the state is the president, who is elected by the people for a six-year term.
The president appoints 20 ministers to his Cabinet to form the government.
Voters elect all of the members of the 120-member Chamber of Deputies and most of the 47 members of the Senate, some are appointed by the armed forces, the Supreme Court, and by the president.
Chile is divided into 13 regions which are further divided into 54 provinces.
The provinces are divided into 334 counties.
The national government appoints the regional and provincial administrators.
The people elect county officials to four-year terms.
The Araucanian, the Quechua and the Aymara people are the largest indigenous Indian groups in Chile.
Their ancestors fought the Spaniards and their descendants for about 350 years.
Today, most of the Indians live on reservations established during the late 1800's.
Chileans are of mixed Spanish and native ancestry (Called mestizos and form about 75% of the population), or of European descent and about 3% native 'Indians'.
The majority of Chile's people live in the Central Valley, where the country's major factories, best farmlands and the largest cities are situated, including Santiago, Chile's Capital.
The social class structure in Chile is based chiefly on wealth, but nearly all members of the small, rich upper class are people of European descent.
Mestizos make up most of the middle class. The lower class consists mainly of poor mestizos and most of Chile's Indians.
Chileans celebrate various religious holidays with colourful processions and festivals.
The long Pacific coastline is dotted with many popular and scenic beaches and are popular with tourist and local wealthy people, such as the luxurious coastal resort of Vina del Mar.
Most Chileans are well educated with free state primary education, and children must attend eight years of primary school.
There are many public and private high schools and 23 Universities.
Soccer is Chile's most popular spectator sport by far.
Chileans enjoy a number of traditional dishes, and some and fine Chilean wines.
Farms in the Central Valley produce plentiful crops but most fruit grown there is exported, but have to import much of its food, manufactured goods, and petroleum.
Manufacturing and the service industries comprise Chile's main industrial income and activities.
Copper, molybdenum, sodium nitrate, gold, iron ore, lithium, manganese, natural gas, petroleum, and silver are the most valuable resources and export earners.
Many other industries of Chile are dependent on the country's mineral production.
It also has one of the world's largest fishing industries.
Chile uses far more petroleum than it produces and have to import more than 90 per cent of the petroleum it uses.
Hydroelectric power plants generate about two-thirds of Chile's electric power.
Plants that burn petroleum produce most of the rest.
Railways, roads, and airlines connect cities and towns in northern and central Chile, in the south, ships are still a major means of transport.
Most Chileans rely on cars and buses for transportation and are well served by radio and television stations.
The Atacama, Diaguita, and other small groups lived along the north coast and at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert.
In the late 1400's, they were conquered by the Inca of Peru.
Chile's largest indigenous group, the Araucanians (also called Mapuches), lived in the Central Valley.
Their fierce warriors withstood the Inca's attacks. The Ona and Yahgan lived by hunting and fishing in the cold, wet southern part of Chile.
In 1520, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to reach Chile, through the strait that bears his name, near the bottom of South America.
In 1533 the Spanish defeated the Inca' of Peru and seized their gold and silver.
Diego de Almagro, one of the Spanish conquerors, and his men set out in 1535 to explore the land south of Peru, as far as the present-day Santiago in a vain hope to find more gold and silver.
In 1541, another Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded Santiago, but it was destroyed six months later by the Araucanians.
Santiago was rebuilt and La Serena, Valparaiso, Concepcion, Valdivia, and Villarrica was established.
Spain ruled Chile from the 1500's to the early 1800's as the Viceroyalty of Peru, while the Roman Catholic Church sent missionaries to Chile to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.
In 1808, during the Napoleonic war in Spain, the colonies took the opportunity to revolt.
In 1810 Chile declared it's independence.
Spanish forces from Peru regained control for Spain.
In 1818, Bernardo O'Higgins defeated the Sopanish, introduced a constitution and established many new institutions to set Chile on a path to nationhood.
In the ninetieth century Chile declared war on Peru and Bolivia over control of the nitrate deposits in the Atacama Desert.
Chile won the war and increased its land area by more than a third and gained large deposits of copper and nitrates.
In the 1890s, Civil War broke out over the struggle for power between the President and Congress.
Congress remained the strongest force in Chilean politics until 1925.
Chile remained neutral during World War I (1914-1918).
The nation's economy boomed because of the wartime demand for nitrates, used to make explosives.
After the war, Chile's export market collapsed and unemployment surged.
The Constitution of 1925 restored many of the now elected president's powers, strengthened individual rights, including universal suffrage in the following years.
Chile was neutral for most of the World War II.
In 1970 Salvador Allende Gossens, the first Marxist to be elected democratically in the Western Hemisphere came to power.
The Allende government quickly nationalised the copper mines, private banks, industries, begin a land reform, and sharp increases in the minimum wages, with strict price controls.
Food shortages, rapid inflation, strikes and violent demonstrations of supporters and opponents of Allende became common.
In 1973, a military leaders formed a junta, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte overthrew the Allende's government.
In 1989, a civilian president and a two-house legislature was elected.
The official language is Spanish, and most Chileans are Roman Catholics.

Santiago is Chile's largest and capital City, with about 80% (more than 4 million) Chileans living in its metropolitan area.
Santiago was founded in 1551, burnt down by natives six months later, to be rebuilt soon afterwards and has been the principal settlement and capital since.
Santiago have many modern skyscrapers in busy commercial districts and many Spanish-style buildings with red tile roofs and patios.
Monuments and public buildings border tree-lined streets, with many parks, gardens, and large plazas.
The city receives a total of about 35 centimetres of rain annually.
Temperatures average about 20 C in January and about 9 C in July.

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