If you look at the map, Chile is the long narrow country at end of the world. This neoliberal state is geographically unique, with a total length of 4300 km and a maximal width of 340 km. From the driest (non-polar) desert in the north to one of the biggest glaciers in the south, almost all climate zones can be found here. This country is not only interesting nature-wise, but it also has a controversial recent history which still causes heated political debates among its people.
In Pre-Columbian times, there were many different tribes inhabiting what’s nowadays Chile. When the Spanish arrived, the country knew two dominant groups. The Inca’s to the north of today’s Santiago and the Mapuche in the south. The fierce Mapuche could resist the European expansion until the end off the 19th century, and are thereby the last native group in Latin America forced to surrender.
Because of the lack of gold and silver, Chile wasn’t that interesting at first. The conquest of Chile began with the arrival of Pedro de Valdivia in 1540, who saw agricultural potential. Pedro was a conquistador who, at first, served as a lieutenant under Pizarro in Peru, but later crossed the Atacama desert and founded the city of Santiago. While doing this, he killed many natives. Later he was captured, unfortunately for him, alive by the Mapuche in the south, and he was never seen again. There are several different stories surrounding his death, but none of them have a happy ending.
In 1818 Chile declared itself a full independent state under the leadership of Bernado O’Higgins (many streets are named after this guy in Chile!). As a result of a business related treaty not being held a war was started in the north, what we would know today as the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). This war was fought against Peru and Bolivia combined for the mineral rich area which was located north of what is Chile today. Because Chile was the victor, it gained almost one-third of its territory over mostly Bolivia which had lost its only access to the sea.
Like most Latin America countries, wealth and land ownership (latifundia’s) was only for the very few with their very often right orientated governments. Then, in 1970, Salvador Allende of the ‘Socialist party of Chile’ made world wide news when he became the first Marxist president to be freely elected in a non-communist country. But only by a small margin. He didn’t have a soft approach and directly took care of the latifundia’s to start land reform programs and redistribution of wealth among the people. Of course, this wasn’t well received by the elite. But not only elite experienced it as a big threat, also the United States of America didn’t want a ‘communist country’ in their ‘back garden’. So the CIA decided to step in. With forced hands and the military in their favour they overthrew the regime in 1973 by a coup. When the troops reached Santiago the people who believed in the current system defended it with their own lives. But everybody already knew it was of no use. At this moment, before the radio was taken over, Allende gave his final speech. When troops entered the parliament, Salvador Allende had already allegedly committed ‘suicide’, as the official reports go, by shooting himself with an AK-47 he received as a gift from Fidel Castro.
The opinion about Pinochet is still very much debated today and is much divided. On one hand he was a dictator who took control by force (a coup), tortured and made people disappear. On the other hand he was the one that brought Chile refrigerators, televisions and other forms of material wealth, which a lot of people very much appreciate today.
Almost everything is privatised today due to the neoliberalism reforms of that time. This includes healthcare, schooling and running water. The sea of the shores of Chile are owned by seven families, for example.