History of Chile
The first European to visit what is now Chile was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who landed at ChiloÃ© Island following his voyage, in 1520, through the strait that now bears his name. The region was then known to its native population as Tchili, a Native American word meaning "snow." At the same time of Magellan's visit, most of Chile south of the Rapel River was dominated by the Araucanians, a Native American tribe remarkable for its fighting ability. The tribes occupying the northern portions of Chile had been subjugated during the 15th century by the Incas of Peru. In 1535, after the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro had completed their conquest of Peru, Diego de Almagro, one of Pizarro's aides, led a gold-hunting expedition from that country overland into Chile. The expedition spent nearly three fruitless years in the country and then withdrew to Peru.
Pedro de Valdivia, another of Pizarro's officers, led a second expedition into southern Chile in 1540. Despite fierce resistance from the Araucanians, Valdivia succeeded in establishing several settlements, including Santiago in 1541, ConcepciÃ³n in 1550, and Valdivia in 1552. In 1553, however, the Araucanians organized a successful uprising, killing Valdivia and many of his followers and devastating all the towns except ConcepciÃ³n and La Serena. The rebellion was the initial phase of warfare that lasted nearly 100 years. The Araucanians were the only important Native American people who did not quickly succumb to Spanish attack. Strife continued intermittently during and after the Spanish colonial period and did not end until late in the 19th century.
In the Spanish colonial organization Chile originally was a dependency of the viceroyalty of Peru and later had its own government. The country developed slowly, because it had neither important silver or gold deposits to attract the Spanish nor natives who were willing to labor. Moreover, it was far from the main centers of Spanish colonization in Peru and was difficult to reach. Farming in the Central Valley was the chief occupation, and Chile supplied Peru with foodstuffs, especially wheat. The townspeople lived by trade.
Independence from Spain
In 1810 Chile joined other Spanish colonies in breaking political ties with Spain. On September 18 of that year, celebrated thereafter as the Chilean independence day, the Santiago town council deposed the colonial governor of Chile, delegating his powers to a council of seven. Although this act marked the formal establishment of Chilean independence from Spain, intermittent warfare against Spanish troops, dispatched from Peru, continued for more than 15 years. A royalist army was decisively defeated at Chacabuco on February 12, 1817, ending Spanish control of northern Chile. One year later Bernardo O'Higgins, one of the revolutionary leaders, proclaimed the absolute independence of Chile. Nevertheless, royalist forces controlled nearly all of southern Chile until 1818, and were not completely expelled from the country until 1826.
O'Higgins, who had been named director general of Chile in 1818, ruled the country with dictatorial powers until 1823, when popular hostility to his regime forced his resignation. A liberal constitution, establishing a republican form of government, was then adopted, but political strife among numerous organizations contending for power kept Chile in turmoil until 1830. In that year conservative elements, headed by General JoaquÃn Prieto, organized a successful rebellion and seized control of the government. In 1831 Prieto became president, but the leading person in the government was Diego Portales, who filled various cabinet posts during Prieto's administration. A new constitution, vesting immense powers in the executive department of the government, was adopted in 1833. Abortive armed attempts to remove the Conservatives from power were made by liberal groups in 1835, 1851, and 1859.
Despite its authoritarian character, the Conservative Party government fostered domestic policies that contributed substantially to the commercial and agricultural development of Chile. Steps were taken to exploit mineral resources, railroads were constructed, and immigration was encouraged. A school system and cultural institutions were established. The chief development in Chilean foreign relations during this period of Conservative dominance was a series of conflicts with neighboring countriesâfirst with Bolivia and Peru in 1836, and then with Argentina, beginning in 1843. Armed hostilities were narrowly averted on several occasions in connection with this problem, which was not settled until 1881. In that year a treaty was signed, granting half of Tierra del Fuego to Chile.
Liberal Rule and Foreign Wars
Divisions resulting from disagreements with the Roman Catholic church had taken place, meanwhile, within the Conservative Party. Beginning in 1861 its liberal wing, in coalition with the Liberal Party, instituted a number of constitutional reforms, including prohibition of consecutive presidential terms. Endeavors to promote public welfare and the further development of national resources were intensified, notably by new railroad and highway projects and the creation of a postal system. In 1865 Chile became embroiled in a Spanish-Peruvian war that continued sporadically until 1869.
Chilean interests subsequently began the exploitation of the immensely valuable nitrate deposits in the Atacama Desert. Rejecting Bolivian claims to the region, the Chilean government in February 1879 ordered its military forces into the Bolivian port of Antofagasta. Two months later Peru, an ally of Bolivia, declared war on Chile, precipitating the War of the Pacific. As a result of its victory in this conflict, terminated in 1883, Chile acquired considerable territory, including the province of Antofagasta from Bolivia and the province of TarapacÃ¡ from Peru. Peru also yielded Tacna and Arica to Chile, on condition that after ten years a plebiscite be held. Although the two countries failed to agree on conditions for a plebiscite, disposition of the disputed areas was achieved in 1928 by negotiation, Tacna becoming a possession of Peru and Arica going to Chile. See Tacna-Arica Dispute.
Civil War and Natural Disaster
In 1891 political forces closely allied with the Roman Catholic clergy organized a revolt against the administration of President JosÃ© Manuel Balmaceda, a Liberal Party leader. Under the leadership of naval officer Captain Jorge Montt, the rebels, who termed themselves Congressionalists, seized the Chilean fleet and the rich nitrate provinces in the north. In August they defeated a government army near ValparaÃso. This city fell to the rebels, as did Santiago, virtually ending the war. More than 10,000 lives had been lost and considerable property destroyed. Balmaceda committed suicide in September. Shortly thereafter Montt became president, and Chile entered an extended period of peaceful reconstruction. As a concession to liberal sentiment in the country, Montt instituted several reforms, notably democratization of the executive department. The following years were marked by increasing participation of the Chilean people in politics and by mounting political turbulence.
In August 1906 a disastrous earthquake virtually destroyed ValparaÃso and extensively damaged Santiago, killing more than 3000 people and leaving about 100,000 homeless. The damaged areas were rapidly rebuilt, however.
The World Wars
Chile was neutral in World War I (1914-1918). After the war, great strife developed in the country between liberal and conservative elements. The Liberals gained power with the election in 1920 of former minister of the interior Arturo Alessandri Palma, but he was unable to gain adoption of his proposals for reform. In 1924 a group of military figures accomplished a coup d'Ã©tat, ostensibly for the purpose of forcing liberal reforms, driving Alessandri from office and establishing a military dictatorship. The dictatorship was overthrown early in 1925 in another military coup. A new constitution was written that reformed the electoral system, reduced the power of the congress, and established the separation of church and state. Alessandri was restored to the presidency, but his term lasted for less than a year. Under the next president, Emiliano Figueroa, governmental authority was actually wielded by an army officer, Carlos IbÃ¡Ã±ez del Campo, who ruled as president from 1927 until 1931. Following additional coups and changes of administration, Alessandri was elected president again in 1932 and served until the end of his term in 1938.
Postwar Governments (1946-1970)
The 1946 presidential election was won by Gabriel GonzÃ¡lez Videla, the Radical Party leader who was supported by a left-wing coalition consisting mainly of the Radical and Communist parties. GonzÃ¡lez Videla appointed three Communists to his cabinet, but the coalition endured for less than six months. The Communists, frequently at loggerheads with others of the government, were removed from the cabinet in April 1947. Later in the year diplomatic relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were severed. In 1948 hundreds of Communists were incarcerated under the Law for the Defense of Democracy, which outlawed the Communist Party. A military revolt led by former President IbÃ¡Ã±ez was suppressed. Manifestations of social and labor unrest were frequent during the following years; in 1951 strikes occurred in almost every sector of the economy.
A popular reaction against the traditional parties resulted in the election of General IbÃ¡Ã±ez the following year. He restored some order but did not effectively cope with the economic and social problems. In 1958 Jorge Alessandri RodrÃguez, a former senator and son of Arturo Alessandri Palma, heading a Conservative-Liberal coalition, was elected to the presidency on a platform favoring free enterprise and the encouragement of foreign investment. In response to strong opposition from the newly legalized Communist Party and the newly formed Christian Democratic Party, he proposed a ten-year plan that included tax reforms, building projects, and agrarian reform. He broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1964 but resumed ties with the USSR. In 1960 a series of tidal waves and earthquakes struck the country, causing widespread damage and killing thousands.
In the presidential election of 1964, former Senate member Eduardo Frei Montalva, candidate of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, defeated a leftist coalition. Frei's major reforms, such as partial government ownership of the copper industry, aroused dissatisfaction in both leftist and conservative elements that resulted in violent political opposition.
The Allende Regime
As the presidential election of 1970 approached, leftist opposition united to form a Popular Unity coalition; it nominated Salvador Allende Gossens, who waged his campaign on a platform that promised full nationalization of all basic industries, banks, and communications. He received about 37 percent of the votes, and Congress backed him overwhelmingly against his rightist opponent, former President Alessandri. Allende became the first president elected on a Marxist-Leninist program in a non-Communist country of the western hemisphere.
Once installed as president, Allende quickly began to implement his campaign promises, turning the country toward socialism. State control of the economy was instituted, mineral resources, foreign banks, and monopolistic enterprises nationalized, and land reform accelerated. In addition, Allende initiated a redistribution of income, raised wages, and controlled prices. Opposition to his program, however, was strong from the beginning, and by 1972 the result was seen in severe economic problems and a sharply polarized citizenry. The situation grew still more critical in 1973, when skyrocketing prices, food shortages (caused by the reduction of foreign credits), strikes, and political violence brought Chile to the brink of chaos. The crisis was aggravated by the United States, which worked to undermine the Allende regime. The climax came on September 11, 1973, when the military forces seized power; in the course of the coup d'Ã©tat, President Allende committed suicide.
The military ruled through a junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. It immediately suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, and banned all political parties. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against leftist elements in the country. Thousands were arrested; many were executed, tortured, or exiled, while still others languished in prison or simply disappeared.
For the next few years the junta retained its iron grip on the country, although some token relaxation could be seen toward the end of the decade. In 1976 Chilean opposition leader and former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his U.S. secretary were killed by a car bomb while in Washington, D.C. At the time, the assassinations were widely believed to have been ordered by Chile's secret police. The state of siege was lifted in 1978 (although a state of emergency remained in effect), and more civilians were added to the cabinet. Chile, however, remained a police state. A new constitution, accepted by a referendum on the seventh anniversary of the military coup, legalized the regime until 1989, and Pinochet began another eight-year term as president in March 1981.
Economically, the Pinochet government, with its austere controls, slashed inflation and stimulated production between 1977 and 1981. Starting in 1982, however, the worldwide recession and declining copper prices led to a downturn in the Chilean economy. There were large-scale protests against the government in 1983, followed by a wave of bombings in major cities. Rising popular unrest and continued economic deterioration led Pinochet to reimpose a state of siege in November 1984. A treaty signed with Argentina later that month ratified Chile's claim to three islands in the Beagle Channel. After an unsuccessful attempt on Pinochet's life in September 1986, he launched new repressive measures.
Civilian Rule Restored
The state of emergency was finally lifted in August 1988, and in October Chileans were permitted to hold a plebiscite on whether Pinochet's term, due to expire in March 1989, should be extended to 1997. When nearly 55 percent of the electorate voted no, Pinochet's term was automatically extended to March 1990, pending free presidental and legislative elections. In December 1989, in Chile's first presidential election in 19 years, voters chose the Christian Democratic candidate, Patricio Aylwin. Also in 1990, Pinochet announced his intention to remain the commander-in-chief of the armed forces until 1997. Aylwin initiated modest economic reforms and appointed a commission to investigate human rights violations by the Pinochet regime.
In the 1993 elections Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, son of Eduardo Frei Montalva, was elected president. In order to continue the country's movement toward civilian-controlled politics, President Frei proposed eliminating the nine senatorial positions filled by army appointees and asked for the institution of proportional representation in parliamentary elections.
In November 1993 the former head of Chile's secret police during the Pinochet government and his deputy were sentenced to seven- and six-year sentences for masterminding the 1976 Letelier assassination. The case, which was widely seen as a test of Chile's fragile democracy, was appealed and upheld by the Chilean Supreme Court in May 1995. While Chilean military leaders agreed to abide by the court's decision, the former police commander vowed to resist arrest and called on Pinochet to intervene. Pinochet denounced the decision and challenged the authority of the Supreme Court to sentence the men. After a tense standoff between the military and the civilian government, the two convicted men were arrested in June 1995.
In August 1995 Frei introduced legislation that would reopen and accelerate investigations into all 542 pending cases of people who "disappeared" during military rule. In November of that year compromise agreements were reached, which stated that cases would be reopened only if plaintiffs could submit new evidence; that cases already under military jurisdiction would remain so; and that judges would be allowed to close cases even if the victims' fate remained undetermined.