article from March 23, 2011
by Julie R Butler
Far-away, stable, modern, with excellent wines and plenty of natural splendor, Chile is the focus for many a wandering expat eye.
Geography of Chile
Chile is defined by its 6435 km (4,000 mi) of Pacific coastline and the Andes mountain range, which isolate it from its neighbors to the east, Argentina and Bolivia. It is easy to see how these features account for the Mapuche’s word, chilli, “where the land ends,” having stuck. Chile extends from about 27 degrees south, which is north of the Tropic of Capricorn, to Cape Horn, nearly 56 degrees south, with some 80% of its landmass occupied by mountainous terrain – all of which makes for an enormous diversity in geography.
In the far north is the fascinating Atacama Desert, the world’s driest.
To the south of that is the semiarid Norte Chico region, where pisco, Chile’s famous grape brandy, is produced in deep valleys between towering volcanoes.
The Central Zone is home to Chile’s population center, where the major cities of Santiago, Valparaíso, and Concepción enjoy temperate Mediterranean-type climates. The Central Valley, where Santiago is located, is the country’s most important wine and fruit region, while the southern portion of this zone is home to much of Chile’s lumber industry. Sadly, many old growth forests in the region were unwisely cleared long ago for agriculture that turned out not to be sustainable, but there are still some large tracts in the high Andes that have been protected as national parks. The coast here is lined with long beaches. The Humboldt Current keeps all of Chile’s coastal waters, well, chilly.
The Zona Sur, or simply the South, is Chile’s scenic Lake District. One of the world’s rainiest areas, it is home to the amazing Valdivian temperate rainforests.
The Extreme South, known as the Zona Austral, features a dramatic combination of fjords, channels that wind through archipelagos made up of thousands of islands, and snow-capped mountains.
Chile also includes the islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas and Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
History of Chile
Several 10,000-year-old settlements that have been discovered in the fertile valleys and coastal areas of Chile give rise to speculation that the original peoples of the Americas were not the migrants who came over the Bering Strait from Asia. The semi-nomadic Mapuche peoples, who inhabited Chile by the time the first Europeans, moving south out of Peru, began their conquest for riches, had already resisted the Incan attempts to subjugate them, and for 300 years, they also successfully resisted the Spanish in the south. Hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Andes to the east, the Mapuches to the south, and the desert to the north, the Spaniards who settled Chile were a highly centralized, homogeneous, and militarized bunch who were fiercely loyal to the Spanish Crown.
The movement for independence from Spain did not get going until 1808, when Napoleon’s brother usurped power in Europe. Chile was proclaimed to be an autonomous republic in 1810, but it took ten years to gain independence from Spain, and even then, the old social order was conserved. The brutal campaign to suppress the Mapuches, in addition to both interregional and civil wars, mired the nascent nation in military conflict up until the end of the nineteenth century, when a parliamentary-type democracy was finally established. However, the country continued to be plagued by its social and political polarization, as instability alternated with military dictatorships that attempted to establish order throughout the twentieth century.
Given this history, the fact that Chile is now considered to be the most stable nation in South America is a testament to just how far the Chilean people have come. The country is not without daunting problems that are steeped in its past, and many believe that its image as a model of democracy for the region is undeserved. Yet there is no doubt that Chile is making significant progress toward finding ways to address its ongoing social issues, and Chileans are generally hopeful that they may be moving on a path to win the future.
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler