Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Chile

“Chile o una loca geografía”
- Benjamín Subercaseaux

Setting: “Crazy geography” hardly begins to describe the country whose shape could be described as a dangling, overcooked string bean. Long and skinny, 2,666 miles long and an average of less than 124 miles wide, Chile runs the gambit from hot dry desert in the north to frozen glaciers in the south, and from sea level on the west to the Andean highlands (19,680’) to the east. Chile is definitely a study in contrasts.

Chile also claims among its territories: Easter Island, the Juan Fernández Archipelago, and half of the southern island of Tierra del Fuego (which it shares with Argentina).

Tierra del Fuego is known as the “southernmost city in the world” because of its location off the end of South America. This region is sub-Antarctic, with penguins, glaciers, and icebergs not uncommon.
Easter Island is the most remote inhabited island in the world, nearly 1200 miles from any other inhabited land.
Easter Island is the most remote inhabited island in the world, nearly 1200 miles from any other inhabited land. The island is really more Polynesian than Chilean, but was claimed by Chile after the War of the Pacific in 1888. Famous for its huge stone head statues, the island’s history is shrouded in mystery (but see the links below for more information).

History: The history of Chile is somewhat similar to the history of Peru, in that the region had many indigenous peoples who were more or less influenced by the Incan Empire (depending on their geographical isolation) until the Spanish showed up in the 1500s. Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conquistador, began his conquests of the region in 1541. The supporters of Valdivia were rewarded with huge estates where the native population was put to work as tenant laborers. Infections diseases from Europe and the cultural cleansing devastated the native population.

Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín (remember them from the Peru report?) brought liberation armies from Venezuela to Peru, and from Argentina into Chile, and Chile gained its independence from Spain in 1810. The new country of Chile was fairly small until it defeated Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific (1879-83). After this victory, it gained territory to the north that belonged to Peru and territory to the south that had belonged to Bolivia.

Modern Chilean history has been turbulent and bloody. In 1973, President Allende’s administration (Socialist/Marxist) was removed from power by a military coup by General Pinochet (allegedly assisted by the U.S.’s CIA). Following this coup, an estimated 80,000 people were tortured or murdered, many of these because of their opposition to the new Pinochet regime.

A musical aside: Those of you familiar with the music of Sting may know that the song “They Dance Alone/Cuesa Solo” is about the cueca, a traditional dance for couples. Chilean women dance alone to signify the loss of so many men to the Pinochet regime and to make sure the world does not forget.

In 1988, Pinochet was removed from office in a “no confidence” vote, and a more peaceful democracy has been realized. Since then, there have been numerous attempts to bring Pinochet to justice and the court cases are still in progress.

Climate & Nature: As you might imagine, a country that covers such a wide range of ecoregions also has a wide range of climates. In the northern desert sections, some of the weather stations have never recorded rainfall, whereas in the southern regions of Patagonia, there are frequent rain and snowstorms.
In a country filled with natural wonders, one highlight is the Parque Nacional Puyehue, in the central Lake District.
In a country filled with natural wonders, one highlight is the Parque Nacional Puyehue, in the central Lake District. The region is volcanically active and includes rich montane forests and amazing scenery. The Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael is on the southern tip of the country and supposedly includes some of the most spectacular mountainous and fjord scenery in the world. Chile has an extensive system of national parks, which is one of the major attractions for foreign visitors. The parks include protection for the endangered animals such as the vicuña (a wild relative of the alpaca) and the Patagonian guanaco (a wild relative of the Andean llama).

The People: Chile's population is composed predominantly of mestizos, who are descended from unions between the Spanish colonizers and the indigenous people. Chile embraced its ties to Europe much more strongly than Peru did, and the European influences can be seen much more strongly in the country, including in the religious practices (Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 11%). The country's art, literature, and music have been influential internationally. The country has a strong tradition in the arts, including film and literature, with the Nobel Prize-winning poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Folk art and folk music are very popular, and were expressed largely outside of the country during the Pinochet regime. In general there is a good educational system, and the literacy rate is universally high at 96%.

Unrelated but amusing webpage I found while researching this report: The Chile Pepper Institute: The world’s Leading Resource for Chile Pepper Research.

Links:
Lonely planet
Geographia.com
Tierra del Fuego
Easter Island
Easter Island Foundation