Latin America: a Look at Chile

Chile - photo courtesy of National Geographic (

The cultural flavour of Chile, as with the rest of Latin America, is a bold one. Politically, socially, economically, historically: regardless where your focus is, it’s inevitable that you’ll be met with an abundance of material to observe and experience.

Type of government: Presidential Republican (Republic of Chile)

Like many Latin American countries, Chile has a strong history of bureaucratic authoritarianism, of systems of oligarchical rule; owing to its experience with these systems, Chile eventually establish a tradition of stable constitutional government (Hillman, 2005). As with Brazil and Argentina, the conservative oligarchy formed a closed system of rule designed with the internal mechanisms that would preserve its interests and privileges (Hillman, 2005).

Key events towards the end of the 20th Century:
In 1970, Salvador Allende tried to lead Chile down a “peaceful road to socialism” (Hillman, 2005, p. 94). After a forceful military intervention that resulted in the formation of a bureaucratic authoritarian regime under General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet abolished political parties, closed National Congress, and embarked on brutal campaigns to suppress the left; furthermore, he adopted a “free market approach,” opening Chilean economy to both foreign investment and competition. In the beginning, this economic venture was highly problematic for the working class, with unemployment increasing in conjunction with the decreasing of wages and standard of living (Hillman, 2005, p. 94). Chile then, to stimulate the restructure of its economy and development, borrowed heavily. With the program paying dividends, Chile enjoyed steady growth after early 1980s, but at the cost of the respect of the people and of foreign countries.“In a stunning turn of events, Pinochet suffered a decisive defeat, paving the way for a return to democrative civilian rule in 1990.” (Hillman, 2005, p. 94)

Head of state: President Michelle Bachelet Jeria
President Bachelet is the first democratically elected female president, in office since March 11, 2006. After a recent defeat in the presidential elections held on December 13, 2009—where, as based on their two-round system requiring an absolute majority, which was not achieved—a run-off between the two most-voted candidates (center-right Sebastian Pinera and center-left Eduardo Frie Ruiz-Tagle) took place on January 17, 2010, and consequently Bachelet will be succeeded by Pinera (Mu Xuequan, 2010). Pinera won by a very tight 51.6 %, and will take office on March 11, 2010 (
Mu Xuequan, 2010).

Art and Culture:
This image was taken by Chilean photographer Sergio Larraín (courtesy of

Chile’s culture is a paradox: it’s often said that Chile was created by a poet, through his epic war poem titled La Araucana, the first installment published in 1569 (“Literature and Poetry,” 2008). Furthermore, Chile’s visual culture is a mixture of modern “avante-garde” artwork, such as that produced by Ivan Navarro who popularized the use of fluorescent lighting as a medium, to ancient works—including the massive stone heads on Easter Island. Even more impressive though, is the reality that Chile produced two laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature (“Literature and Poetry,” 2008).

One distinctive point in Chilean art is the impact of the authoritarian politics it experienced throughout the 20th century. The movement of “Abstract Expressionism” (also known as “Avanzada” or “Informalism”), rose from Surrealism and conveyed “emotion with multiple associations” (“Latin American Art,” 2010). Many artists also employed acts of self mutilation in echo of the violence carried out by the political leaders of the time, and filled their artwork with socio-political symbols and other meaning laden and popularly recognized images (Nelly, 1987).

Looking again at what Chilean authors have achieved through their work, it is outstanding; more specifically, returning to the subject of the two individuals who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, they did so via the contributions they made to magical realism (“Literature and Poetry,” 2008).

Taking from European naturalism, Chilean novelists examined the effects of copper mining on a daily social basis. Deemed perhaps “the most vivid example of a Latin American poet of the vanguard” (Hillman, p. 390) is Vicente Huidobro, who wrote with consideration only to the sound or rhyme scheme of words. One of his poems, “Altazar” (1919) is described as being “an invitation to literary anarchy” (Hillman, p. 390). Another author who achieved international recognition was Isabel Allende who wrote “La casa de los espiritus” or “The House of the Spirits” in 1982, and the two authors Ariel Dorfman and Antonio Skarmeta were known for their compelling works dealing with exile (Hillman, p. 393). Other popular Chilean authors include Marjorie Agosin (“A Cross and a Star,” 1997) and Gioconda Belli (“El pais bajo mi piel,” 2001), both writing about their personal lives (Hillman, 397).

Health, Development, Education and Gender:
Health care in Chile is actually very advanced with the National Health Care System providing basic medical services and coverage to all. Quality among everyone is true for their health care. Drug prices in Chile are very low, compared to the U.S.A and Canada. Drugs that would normally be over the counter here are kept behind the counter in Chile. Something that seems completely backwards to us, drugs that we would need a prescription from our doctor here in Canada are not needed in Chile, you simply need to explain to the pharmacist what you need it for and they will get it to you.
The Education system in Chile is very modern, with all state schools proving free schooling. Chile's education system is divided into Primary school and Secondary school. Primary schooling is for children aged 5-13 consisting of eight grades, and Secondary schooling is for teenagers aged 13-18 and consisting of four grades. Secondary schooling is further divided into Scientific-Humanist, Technical-Professional and Artistic. LaGuardia and Chile-Higher Education in Chile.
Extended family plays an important role in the lives of the people in Chile. Children are often close with their cousins, and often stay of live with their parents cousins for long periods of time. Chileans use these large extended families to provide a network of people for support during crises.
Chile rid of the traditional gender roles in the 1880's when the University of Chile graduated their first female lawyers and physicians. Although Chile has rid of this idea of gender roles there is still some controversey over whether or not women should obey their husbands once married. When both men and women were asked about thei issue, the results showed that 55% of men agreed that women should obey their husbands and only 40% of women agreed with this statement. Chile may have been able to rid of the ideas that women should not be educated and not attend school but there are still strong beliefs that women reach their full potential in life through motherhood. As this is still a strong belief it puts huge pressures on women to have children, although most women are trying very hard to have fewer children that the women in the generations prior to themselves.

Demographics: [Index Mundi, 2009 estimates]

Nationality: Chilean(s)
Population: 16,601,707
Population Growth Rate: 0.881%

Capital City: Santiago
Currency: Chilean Peso (CLP)
Median Age: 34.1 years
Life Expectancy:
male, 74.07 years, female, 80.77 years
Birth Rate: 14.64 births/1,000 population

Death Rate:
5.84 deaths/1,000 population
Ethnic groups: Amerindian 95.4%, Mapuche 4%, other indigenous groups 0.6% (2002 census)

Religions: Roman Catholic 70%, Evangelical 15.1%, Jehovah's Witness 1.1%, other Christian 1%, other 4.6%, none 8.3% (2002 censu
Elqui Valley, Chile

Languages: Spanish (official), Mapudungun, German, English

Rural Sector:

The rural areas are important aspects of Chile. Until the 1930's, most of the population consisted of families living in rural areas and who owned several pieces of land. By the eighteenth century noble families, who often inherited the land, made most of the land into haciendas. The typical large landholding was a small community made up of several families of laborers, who lived there there year round, working as needed in exchange for the right to cultivate a portion of the land for themselves. In the 15th century, rural properties became the target of criticism by reformist politicians and economists who felt that large land holdings were inefficient and contributed to social inequality. Eduardo Frei Montalva and Salvador Allende Gossens both carried out an extensive land reform, which ended the rural properties. By the late eighteenth century, all titles were abolished with Chile's adoption of a republican form of government. (U.S. Library of Congress)

Chile's rural areas are home to various crops. Although grapes used for making wine are not native to Latin America, they are readily available and easy to grow due to the increase of agricultural technology. Other crops such as corn, onions, wheat and beans are also grown in the central valley where the best soil is found. (Wines of Chile)

Urban Sector:
Santiago, Chile
Santiago, Chile's capital as well as the country's largest city (with a population of 4,837,295, compared to Alberta's population of 3,703,979), is nestled to the east of the Andes and is a vibrant and captivating city. Although it is frequently subject to smog, it luckily has the amenities of a urban metropolis as well as only being 100 km from the coast. Founded in 1541 by Spaniards, Santiago experienced a large amount of immigration from Europe after Chile's independence from Spain in 1818. (Santiago Travel Guide)

Concepción is Chile's second largest city as well as a large port and naval base. The surrendering area is great for nature lovers as there are many national parks as well as the city is near the ocean. (

Another popular city in Chile is Viña del Mar. It was originally founded as a resort town for the wealthy and is still a popular destination today. It is divided into two areas: Downtown and the beach front. The beach is about a 15 minute walk from downtown and is a good spot for tourists. There are numerous hotels and resorts that one can enjoy and that are very close to downtown. (

Antofagasta, another of Chile's largest cities is the product of the mining boom in the 19th century. Antofagasta has a very European feel, with many victorian style buildings. Today Antofagasta is home to some of the largest open pit copper mines in the world. Antofagasta has a dry, mild climate and has 20 kilometers of beach front.

Physical Geography:


Chili is located on the Southwest coast of South America along the Pacific Ocean. Grid coordinates of Chile are 33 degrees 27'S, 70 degrees 40'W. The coast line of Chile is 6435 km long and the land area is 748,800 square kilometers. The

water area in Chile is 8150 square kilometers totaling 756,950 square kilometers.


Map of Chile (

Environmental Issues:

Environmental matters in Chile vary quite dramatically depending on the industrial development in specific areas. The Environmental Programs Department within the Ministry of Health, National Planning, and the Ecological Advisory offices, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handle the responsibilities associated with environmental concerns in the Country. At the moment, recent environmental issues within Chile include mass deforestation, due to soil erosion and mass industrialization, and air, land and water pollution due to greenhouse gases and Co2 Emission. According to the WWF, native Chilean forests have been destroyed for pulp production and then cleared to develop industrial tree farms of pine and eucalyptus. The WWF states, “These plantations cover 1.8 millions hectares, with an annual expansion rate of 7-10%”( As a result of the mass deforestation and pollution in Chile, the number of endangered species of animal life has risen dramatically in the area, landing many on the endangered species list. According to the Nations Encyclopedia, a total of 91 mammals out of 16 species studied in 2001 experiment were listed as endangered. The population within urban centers has doubled over the last 30 years, and as a result, air and water pollution from industry and transportation have also become extremely severe in urban industrialized centers, posing another environmental threat. A study recorded by the Nations Encyclopedia reveals how “In 1996, Chile's industrial carbon dioxide emissions totaled 48.7 million metric tons”(Encyclopedia of the Nations). Also, as mentioned earlier, water pollutions pose a major threat in Chile due to raw sewage contamination; unfortunately this concern is mainly focused towards rural inhabitants of the area. According to Viva Travel Guides, “ It is estimated that only 70% of waste water is treated in Santiago, and the Mapocho River, which runs across the capital and is terribly contaminated” ( As a result, contaminated water resources bring on higher levels of disease among the local population thus effecting their social interaction. Unfortunitly, although mass industrialization of resources has aided in the economic growth of the country, little regard has been taken to ensure the safety of water sources or the conservation of plant and animal life in the region which ultimately effects the social well being of the local population.



Chile’s market economic model is highly characterized by foreign trade and a reputation for structured financial institutions. The Key economic sectors of Chile include agriculture, industry, manufacturing and services. Chile’s economy is highly based on mineral exportation, accounting for half the value of total exports. With Chile being the world’s largest producer of the material, Copper is currently Chilies leading resource making it their highest grossing export providing one third of government revenue. Commodity exports, other minerals and agriculture, contribute to another three quarters of the total export revenue of the country. Agriculture makes up for 6% of the nations current wealth, only produces half of Chile’s domestic needs and still makes up only a small percent of annual GDP. Currently, exports make up 40% of Chile’s total GDP. Aside from exports, the service industry plays the largest role economic role in Chile. According to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, “The service sector in Chile accounted for approximately 61 % of the GDP in 1999”( Currently making up the largest contributions to National GDP, services include tourism, financial services, retail, and many others. In January 2004 Chile signed a free trade agreement with the United States, and also currently holds trade agreements with the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, China, India, South Korea, Mexico and numerous others. Today, to maintain economic stability, the Chilean economic structure relies on a counter-cycle fiscal policy that focuses on accumulating surpluses in sovereign wealth funds during periods of high stock market copper prices and economic growth and allowing deficit spending only during periods of low copper stock value. Current economic problems in Chile are a result of the high dependence the Country holds on the price of copper. Due to the way the stock prices of copper fluctuate in Global markets, financial stability varies. Current records indicate, According to The World Fact Book, that the official GDP exchange rate in 2008 was 169.5 billion $, and the GDP per capita ranked at 14,900 $ in 2008. As of December 31st 2008, the stock of Direct Foreign Investment locally grossed 108.3 billion $, and abroad 25.7 billion $. The current Chilean Labor force consists of 7.267 million people, 13.2% of it being in agriculture, 23% in industry, and 63.9% services. Chile’s current unemployment rate sits at 7.8% as of 2008 with 18.2% of the population living under the poverty line. Chile is also currently battling 64.77 billion dollars of national debt.


Unique Features:
Chile's border relations have not always been civil. Chile's most serious border conflict was with Argentina over the concerns of the islands of Picton, Lennox and Nueva. Britians Queen Elizabeth 2 ruled that the islands belonge to Chile, this angered Argentina who refused to accept the ruling. Relations between these two countries became very tense. With the implications of a democratic government in both Chile and Argentina in August 1991 the Presidents of both countries signed a treaty and resolved twenty two border disputes. Chile's relations with Argentina have since been much more civil. Bolivia and Peru have also not had civil relations with Chile in the past, with the War of the Pacific. This War was over the issue of Bolivia not been given access to the Pacific Ocean and therefore being landlocked. For obvious reasons this upset Bolivia causing major disputes between the two countries. However, in 1866 Chile and Bolivia signed a treaty on the agreement that Bolivia would be given water access. The border or limit of the two countries would be on the 24th parallel, and there would be no military control in that area, allowing both countries to mine there. Since this agreement the relations between Chile and Bolivia have grown progressively stronger.

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Chile Travel
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For introductory photograph -
For photograph used in "art and culture"-