Chile's History

When the first Spanish arrived in what is now Chile, indigenous Quechua tribes inhabited the northern region and Araucanian tribes inhabited the central region and the northern part of the southern region. The Incas were in control of the northern area and part of central Chile. Warlike Araucanian tribes, who held the Incas at bay, dominated much of the rest of the country. The first Spanish settlements were established in the mid-sixteenth century: Santiago in 1541 and Concepcion in 1550. Spanish settlers, mainly from Andalucia, were attracted to central Chile because of the pleasant climate and fertile soil. The settlers had to face repeated assaults from the Araucanians and the on-and-off war with indigenous Indians continued into the second half of the nineteenth century.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the population of the Spanish settlements numbered approximately 100,000. This population grew to about 500,000 by mid-eighteenth century and to one million by 1830. Those with European blood were concentrated in central Chile mainly between Santiago and Concepcion; a few settled in the northern and southern regions. This pattern of dispersion began to change only in the second half of the nineteenth century with the rapid growth of mining activities and the immigration of non-Iberian Europeans.

Under Spanish colonial rule, northern and central Chile was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The south remained under the control of the Araucanians until the nineteenth century. Independence was first declared in 1810. At that time, central Chile was, to a large extent, controlled by a small upper class of locally born Europeans, most of who owned large estates. A period of internal instability and strife followed Chile's independence, resulting in the restoration of Spanish rule in 1814. Combined Argentinian and Chilean forces under Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O'Higgins, who crossed the Andes from Argentina, managed to defeat and drive out the Spanish army and restore Chile's independence in 1818. Bernardo O'Higgins became Chile's first President.

Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in a war (1879-1883) and took control of the Atacama Desert and its rich mineral deposits, and Bolivia lost its outlet to the open sea and Peru the Tarapaca district. In the course of the war, Chilean troops temporarily occupied Lima.

A multiparty parliamentary was created in 1891, comprised mainly of the upper class, owners of large estates and wealthy business people. After a short period of military rule (1924-1925), followed by the reinstatement of the democratically elected president Arturo Alessandri, a new, more progressive, constitution came in force (1925). Left-wing parties, including communist, gained much influence from 1930s onward and played an important role in elections for several years. However, the rightwing parties of the wealthy upper class remained in actual control.

A presidential candidate of the left-wing parties, Salvador Allende, won the elections in 1970. Upon assuming office, he nationalized the mines, industries, and public services. Allende was deposed and died in a military coup in September 1973, which was followed by 16 years of military dictatorship by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet returned many businesses to the private sector, built roads and infrastructure, and propelled Chile into the modern era. Democratic elections were held again in 1989.

Democracy was restored in 1990, with the assumption of the presidency by Patricio Alwin Azocar, following free elections. Chile has a democratically elected President at present.