Brief History of Chile

Early Settlement

Before being discovered by the Europeans, Chile was inhabited by several tribes of Native Americans; including the Inca in the north and the Araucanian tribes in the south. In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to see Chile. In 1540 Pedro de Valdivia a Spanish conquistador came to Chile were he founded several cities, despite resistance from the Araucanians. One of these cities he founded was Santiago, which is now Chile's capitol and largest city. In 1553 the Native Americans led several successful revolts against the Spanish conquerers, killing Valdivia and devastating most of the cities he founded. This lead to nearly 100 years of warfare. Eventually the Spanish dominated, but even then strife and conflicts continued for many more years.

Independence from Spain

Pedro de Valdivia

In 1808 when Spain was seized by Napoleon the Chileans saw an opportunity to gain independence. September 18th 1810 Chile declared independence beginning a long war. Eventually Chile was able to defeat Spain and Bernardo O'Higgins became Chile's first leader. Despite finally winning its Independence, Chile suffered several changes of government. Many of these changes were caused by coups by the military and civil wars, though none as severe as other Latin American countries. Despite these problems the government enacted many changes that have lead Chile to become the most economically developed country in South America.

In 1879 the Chilean military seized the Bolivian port of Antofagasta claiming that the land was theirs, this lead to a war with Bolivia and its ally Peru. Chile came out victorious giving it control over considerable territory, and several of the worlds biggest nitrate and copper mines.

Salvador Allende Gossens, a Marxist, was elect president in 1970 making Chile the first country to vote in communism. This move lead to political and economic disaster. The unrest caused by his rule (which was further aggravated by the US government) eventually lead to a military takeover of the government.

Pinochet's Reign

Augusto Pinochet

September 11th 1973 Augusto Pinochet Ugarte became the dictator of Chile. Pinochet immediately suspended the constitution, enforced strict censorship, banned all political parties, and dissolved Congress. During his time as leader, the country was kept in a state of emergency and the military tightly controlled the people. Thousands were arrested, executed, exiled, or kept in prisons, while many people simply disappeared. But, the Pinochet government helped the struggling Chilean economy and improved education giving Chile one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. Due to this, the people of Chile are very divided in their opinions about his rule. In 1989 Pinochet allowed the people to vote in a new president and returned the government back to the people.

Current History

Michelle Bachelet

Chile is now a republic with a stable government and economy. The current president is Michelle Bachelet, who is also Chile's first female president. The legislative branch is made up of a Chamber of Deputies (similar to our House of Representatives) and a Senate. The highest court of the country is the Supreme Court. The country is divided into 15 political divisions called regions (which are like states here - only with much less political power).

© 2009 by Curtis Oakley. All Rights Reserved