A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHILE
Ever since graduate school, I have been tracking Chile’s rise. It has emerged today as one of the most economically and socially stable countries in the world today.
Its history is the stuff of a great novel: high drama, because of its wide swings between right-wing dictatorship and left wing socialism; blood and guts, because of a trail of murders and revenge; triumph and tragedy, because of its not-so-steady course toward economic prosperity; intrigue, because of its history of political polarization; and strife, as its varied regions and cultures struggled to capture the heart of such a diverse country.
A great novel deserves a great landscape, and Chile meets the test. Chile is beautiful. It is a magnificent aggregation of landscapes, climates and cultures. The country’s landscapes range from mountains tp deserts, and from forests to coastlines.
Most of the Earth’s climates can be found in Chile. Over 10 have been identified in Chile. This wide range of climates can be divided into three general zones: the desert provinces of the north, central Chile (with a Mediterranean climate), and the humid regions of the south. Each of the three zones have different ecosystems, topography, and vegetation.
Chile is a long (2,670 miles long) and narrow (217 miles wide at its widest) country at the southwest corner of South America. It is among the longest countries in the world.
The country has 18 million people, a GDP of $451 billion, with a 2.2% compounded 5-year growth. Importantly, it enjoys a per capita income of $24,537 – which classifies it globally as “upper middle-income”. Chile enjoys almost universal literacy with 95.7% of the population 15 years or older.
Chile’s historical investments in sanitation, nutrition, potable water, and basic education dating back to the 1920s have resulted in significant reductions in communicable diseases (WHO, 2006).
It’s prosperity is hailed by conservative commentators. The Heritage Foundation says: “Chile’s economic freedom score is 75.4, making its economy the 18th freest in the 2019 Index. Its overall score has increased by 0.2 point, with increases in labor freedom, business freedom, and monetary freedom offsetting a steep decline in judicial effectiveness. Chile is ranked 3rd among 32 countries in the Americas region, and its overall score is above the regional and world averages.”
Chile has struggled to maintain a kinder and gentler face to the world. With Pinochet, the country endured 16 long years of brutal dictatorship. This was followed by 20 years of center-left leadership. Then, the country elected a far right candidate, followed by a return of the center-left. All the while, Chile was growing economically, thanks to the implementation of economic theories attributed to Milton Friedman and economics form the University of Chicago.
For all of its brutality, Pinochet is credited with instituting the economic reforms that set Chile on the course it enjoys to this day.
This history starts from the beginning. However, this section – “overview” – intentionally starts from the end, today, and goes backward, from present-day Chile to the original inhabitants of Chile.
Sebastian Pinera won the presidential election in December 2017, having served as president for four years until 2014.
He is a billionaire conservative. The conservative movement in the country holds power for now, but the country has experienced wild swings in power from right to left over the years.
Pinera presides today over a growing economy and a country which has proudly reached all of the UN’s “Millenium Development Goals.”
Chile today is the beneficiary of economic reforms instituted after 1973 – over 45 years ago. Economists trace the fits and starts that followed economic reform: a sharp recession followed the reforms; investment averaged only 16% in the ten year period 1974 – 1984; a turnaround followed, and investment grew strongly – averaging 25% of GDP in a decade-long boom from 1987 – 1998.
For 20 years, the country was governed by a center-left coalition, which came to and end in 2000.
From 1973 – 1990 Pinochet ruled as a dictator of the country. Much has been written about this traumatic period in the Country’s history.
American government worried for years about the ascendancy of communism in Chile. This worry reached a zenith when Salvatore Allende was elected as a socialist in 1970.
Chile was a seesaw politically for years. During World War II, the government veered left, attempting to emulate the social policies of FDR in America.
The Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, and never left. Chile declared its independence from Spain in 1810, but never achieved that independence until 1818.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, the Inca ruled northern Chile for nearly a century while an indigenous people, the Mapuche, inhabited central and southern Chile.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHILE
Early 1500’s – Spanish adventurers arrive in Chile and fight with indigenous peoples, especially the Incas and Araucanians.
1600’s – 1800’s – Spanish domination
Early 1800’s – Locals try to capitalize on Napoleon’s takeover of Spain by declaring independence, are crushed by Napoleonic forces, and are ultimately victorious, thanks to the “Army of the Andes”. Military leaders Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins are heroes of the independence movement. Bernardo O’HIggins becomes first leader of country in 1818.
1823 – 1830 – Civil war, a fight between “federalists” and “centralists”. The conservative centralists win.
1851-61 – New constitution. President Manuel Montt liberalises constitution and reduces privileges of landowners and church.
1879-84 – “War of the Pacific”, which Chile wins. Chile increases its territory by one third after it defeats Peru and Bolivia in War of the Pacific.
Late 19th century – Pacification of 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.
1925 – New constitution increases presidential powers and separates church and state.
1927 – General Carlos Ibanez del Campo seizes power and establishes dictatorship.
1938-46 – Communists, Socialists and Radicals form Popular Front coalition and introduce economic policies based on US New Deal.
1948-58 – Communist Party banned.
1952 – Gen Carlos Ibanez elected president with promise to strengthen law and order.
1964 – Eduardo Frei Montalva, Christian Democrat, elected president and introduces cautious social reforms, but fails to curb inflation.
1970 – Salvador Allende becomes world’s first democratically elected Marxist president and embarks on an extensive programme of nationalisation and radical social reform.
1973 – 1990 – Chief of Staff General Augusto Pinochet ousts Allende in coup and proceeds to establish a brutal dictatorship.
1990 – Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin wins presidential election; Gen Pinochet steps down in 1990 as head of state but remains commander-in-chief of the army.
1994-95 – Eduardo Frei succeeds Aylwin as president and begins to reduce the military’s influence in government.
1998 – Gen Pinochet retires from the army and is made senator for life. He is arrested in Europe, but returns.
2000 – 2004 – Socialist Ricardo Lagos is elected president.
2002 Gen Pinochet resigns from his post as a lifelong senator.
2005 Revised constitution, (revisingPinochet-era constitution), including one which restores the president’s right to dismiss military commanders.
2006 Michelle Bachelet wins the second round of presidential elections to become Chile’s first woman president and the fourth consecutive head of state from the centre-left Concertacion coalition.
2006 August – Chile and China sign a free-trade deal, Beijing’s first in South America.
2006 December – Pinochet dies.
2008 Peru files a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice in a bid to settle a long-standing dispute over maritime territory with neighbouring Chile.
2008 May – Unexpected eruption of Chaiten volcano which has been dormant for 9,000 years. Authorities order complete evacuation of two towns in Patagonian region.
2009 February – President Bachelet makes the first visit to Cuba by a Chilean leader in almost four decades.
2009 October – Relations with Peru are strained further after Chile stages a military exercise in the north, close to the disputed border.
2010 Right-wing candidate Sebastian Pinera defeats former President Eduardo Frei in presidential election, ending 20 years of rule by the left-wing Concentracion coalition.
2010 February – Earthquake: Hundreds die and widespread damage in central Chile.
2011 Protest throughout the country
2013 April – Bolivia files a lawsuit against Chile at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to reclaim access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost access to the coastline in a 19th century war with Chile, leaving it landlocked ever since.
2013 May – Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru agree to scrap most of the tariffs on trade between their countries, hailing the move as an historic step towards regional integration.
2014 Left-wing candidate Michelle Bachelet returns to power.
Using 1990 as baseline, Chile has accomplished the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Millennium Development Goals for developing nations