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Facts About Chile

Country facts
Economic summary

Country Facts
National name: República de Chile
President: Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994)
Area: 292,132 sq mi. (756,622 sq km)
Population (1997 est.): 14,508,168 (average annual rate of natural increase: 1.18%); birth rate: 17.53/1000; infant mortality rate: 13.2/1000; density per square mile: 49.7
Capital and largest city (1993 est.): Santiago, 4,628,320
Other large cities (1993 est.): Valparaíso, 301,677; Concepción, 318,140; Viña del Mar, 319,440; Temuco, 262,624; Talcahuano, 257,767
Monetary unit: Peso
Language: Spanish
Ethnicity/Race: European and European-Indian 95%, Indian 3%, other 2%
Religion: Roman Catholic, 89%; Protestant, 11%; small Jewish and Muslim populations
Literacy rate: 94%

Economic summary
Gross domestic product (1995 est.): $113.2 billion; $8,000 per capita.
Real growth rate, 8.5%. Inflation, 8.1%. Unemployment, 5.4%.
Principal agricultural products: wheat, corn, sugar beets, vegetables, wine, livestock. Labor force, 4.728 million; 38.3% in services, industry and commerce; 19.2% in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Major industrial products: processed fish, iron and steel, pulp, paper, furniture, apparel, processed food. Natural resources: copper, gold, timber, fruits and vegetables, nitrates, iron.
Exports: $15.9 billion (1995 est.): copper, bleached pulp, fishmeal, fresh fruit, timber, seafood, frozen and canned fruits, wine.
Imports: $14.3 billion (1995): oil, vehicles, computers, industrial machinery, electric and electronic equipment, chemicals.
Major trading partners:U.S., European Union, Asia, Latin America.

Situated south of Peru and west of Bolivia and Argentina, Chile fills a narrow 1,800-mile strip between the Andes and the Pacific. Its area is nearly twice that of Montana. One third of Chile is covered by the towering ranges of the Andes. In the north is the mineral-rich Atacama Desert, between the coastal mountains and the Andes. In the center is a 700-mile-long valley, thickly populated, between the Andes and the coastal plateau. In the south, the Andes border on the ocean.

More coverage of the Summit of the Americas
At the southern tip of Chile's mainland is Punta Aenas, the southernmost city in the world, and beyond that lies the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, an island divided between Chile and Argentina. The southernmost point of South America is Cape Horn, a 1,390-foot rock on Horn Island in the Wollaston group, which belongs to Chile. Chile also claims sovereignty over 482,628 square miles of Antarctic territory.

The Juan Fernández Islands, in the South Pacific, about 400 miles west of the mainland, and Easter Island, about 2,000 miles west, are Chilean possessions.

The President serves a six-year term (with the exception of the 1990-94 term). There is a bicameral legislature, the National Congress.

Chile was originally under the control of the Incas in the north and the fierce Araucanian people in the south. In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded Santiago. Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and an Argentinian, José de San Martin. O'Higgins, dictator until 1823, laid the foundations of the modern state with a two-party system and a centralized government.

The dictator from 1830 to 1837, Diego Portales, fought a war with Peru in 1836-39 that expanded Chilean territory. The Conservatives were in power from 1831 to 1861. Then the Liberals, winning a share of power for the next 30 years, disestablished the church and limited presidential power.

Chile fought the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1883, winning Antofagasta, Bolivia's only outlet to the sea, and extensive areas from Peru. A revolt in 1890 led by Jorge Montt overthrew, in 1891, José Balmaceda and established a parliamentary dictatorship that existed until a new constitution was adopted in 1925. Industrialization began before World War I and led to the formation of Marxist groups.

Juan Antonio Ríos, President during World War II, was originally pro-Nazi but in 1944 led his country into the war on the side of the U.S.

A small abortive army uprising in 1969 raised fear of military intervention to prevent a Marxist, Salvador Allende Gossens, from taking office after his election to the presidency on Sept. 4, 1970. Dr. Allende was the first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist-Leninist program.

Allende quickly established relations with Cuba and the People's Republic of China and nationalized several American companies.

Allende's overthrow and death in an army assault on the presidential palace in September 1973 ended a 46-year era of constitutional government in Chile.

The takeover was led by a four-man junta headed by Army Chief of Staff Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, who assumed the office of President.

Committed to "exterminate Marxism," the junta embarked on a right-wing dictatorship. It suspended Parliament, banned political activity, and broke relatons with Cuba.

In 1977, Pinochet, in a speech marking his fourth year in power, promised elections by 1985 if conditions warranted. Earlier, he had abolished DINA, the secret police, and decreed an amnesty for political prisoners.

Pinochet was inaugurated on March 11, 1981, for an eight-year term as president, at the end of which, according to the constitution adopted six months earlier, the junta would nominate a civilian as successor. He stepped down in January 1990 in favor of Patricio Aylwin who was elected Dec. 1989 as the head of a 17-party coalition.

The presidential election of December 1993 saw the reemergence of a member of the Frei family. Eduardo Frei, the candidate of a center-left coalition, won. His father had been president from 1964-1970.

The country signed a free trade agreement with the four-nation Mercosur block in 1996 and one with Canada in mid-1997. Chile already has such a pact with Mexico and hopes eventually to join NAFTA.

More background on Chile

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