About 10,000 years ago, migrating Indians settled in fertile valleys
and along the coast of what is now Chile. The Incas briefly extended their
empire into what is now northern Chile, but the area's remoteness prevented
extensive settlement. The first Europeans to arrive in Chile were Diego
de Almagro and his band of Spanish conquistadors in 1541, who came from
Peru in 1535 seeking gold. The Spanish encountered hundreds of thousands
of Indians from various cultures in the area that modern Chile now occupies.
These cultures supported themselves principally through slash-and-burn
agriculture and hunting. The conquest of Chile was carried out in 1550
by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro's lieutenants. Although
the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they
recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley, and Chile
became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
The drive for independence from Spain was precipitated by usurpation
of the Spanish throne by Napoleon's brother Joseph. A national junta in
the name of Ferdinand--heir to the deposed king--was formed on September
18, 1810. The junta proclaimed Chile an autonomous republic within the
Spanish monarchy. A movement for total independence soon won a wide following.
Spanish attempts to reimpose arbitrary rule during what was called the
"Reconquista" led to a prolonged struggle.
Intermittent warfare continued until 1817, when an army led by Bernardo
O'Higgins, Chile's most renowned patriot, and José San Martín,
hero of Argentine independence, crossed the Andes into Chile and defeated
the royalists. On February 12, 1818, Chile was proclaimed an independent
republic under O'Higgins' leadership. The political revolt brought little
social change, however, and 19th century Chilean society preserved the
essence of the stratified colonial social structure, which was greatly
influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. The system
of presidential absolutism eventually predominated, but wealthy landowners
continued to control Chile. Toward the end of the 19th century, the government
in Santiago consolidated its position in the south by ruthlessly suppressing
the Mapuche Indians. In 1881, it signed a treaty with Argentina confirming
Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan. As a result of the War
of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879-83), Chile expanded its territory
northward by almost one-third and acquired valuable nitrate deposits, the
exploitation of which led to an era of national affluence. Chile established
a parliamentary style democracy in the late 19th century, but degenerated
into a system protecting the interests of the ruling oligarchy. By the
1920s, the emerging middle and working classes were powerful enough to
elect a reformist president, whose program was frustrated by a conservative
congress. In the 1920s, Marxist groups with strong popular support arose.
Continuing political and economic instability resulted under the rule
of the quasidictatorial Gen. Carlos Ibanez (1924-32). When constitutional
rule was restored in 1932, a strong middle-class party, the Radicals, emerged.
It became the key force in coalition governments for the next 20 years.
During the period of Radical Party dominance (1932-52), the state increased
its role in the economy.
The 1964 presidential election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei-Montalva
by an absolute majority initiated a period of major reform. Under the slogan
"Revolution in Liberty," the Frei administration embarked on far-reaching
social and economic programs, particularly in education, housing, and agrarian
reform, including rural unionization of agricultural workers. By 1967,
however, Frei encountered increasing opposition from leftists, who charged
that his reforms were inadequate, and from conservatives, who found them
excessive. At the end of his term, Frei had accomplished many noteworthy
objectives, but he had not fully achieved his party's ambitious goals.
In 1970, Senator Salvador Allende, a Marxist and member of Chile's Socialist
Party, who headed the "Popular Unity" (UP) coalition of socialists, communists,
radicals, and dissident Christian Democrats, won a plurality of votes in
a three-way contest and was named President by the Chilean Congress. His
program included the nationalization of most remaining private industries
and banks, massive land expropriation, and collectivization. Allende's
proposal also included the nationalization of U.S. interests in Chile's
major copper mines.
Elected with only 36% of the vote and by a plurality of only 36,000
votes, Allende never enjoyed majority support in the Chilean Congress or
broad popular support. Domestic production declined; severe shortages of
consumer goods, food, and manufactured products were widespread; and inflation
reached 1,000% per annum. Mass demonstrations, recurring strikes, violence
by both government supporters and opponents, and widespread rural unrest
ensued in response to the general deterioration of the economy. By 1973,
Chilean society had split into two hostile camps.
A military coup overthrew Allende on September 11, 1973. As the armed
forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende reportedly committed
suicide. A military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet, took over
control of the country. The first years of the regime were marked by serious
human rights violations. A new Constitution was approved by a plebiscite
on September 11, 1980, and General Pinochet became President of the Republic
for an 8-year term. In its later years, the regime gradually permitted
greater freedom of assembly, speech, and association, to include trade
union activity. In contrast to its authoritarian political rule, the military
government pursued decidedly laissez-faire economic policies. During its
16 years in power, Chile moved away from economic statism toward a largely
free market economy that fostered an increase in domestic and foreign private
investment. In a plebiscite on October 5, 1988, General Pinochet was denied
a second 8-year term as president. Chileans voted for elections to choose
a new president and the majority of members of a two-chamber congress.
On December 14, 1989, Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the candidate
of a coalition of 17 political parties called the Concertacion, received
an absolute majority of votes. President Aylwin served from 1990 to 1994.
In December 1993, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (son of
the previous President), leading the Concertacion coalition, was elected
President with an absolute majority of votes, for a 6-year term. President
Frei's administration was inaugurated in March 1994.
A presidential election was held on a December 12, 1999, but none of
the six candidates obtained a majority, which led to an unprecedented runoff
election on January 16, 2000. Ricardo Lagos Escobar of the Socialist Party
and the Party for Democracy led the Concertacion coalition to a narrow
victory, with 51.32% of the votes. He was sworn in March 11, 2000, for
a 6-year term.
Chile History Bibliography