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Chile country profile

Map of Chile

Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.

The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Overview

Chile has steadily come to terms with the legacy of General Pinochet's rule. The former military ruler was questioned over the Chilean role in the killing of dissidents by various South American governments in the 1970s and 1980s, and he denied allegations until his death in December 2006.

The authoritarian Pinochet-era constitution has been revised and the judicial system overhauled.

AT-A-GLANCE
Members of the Mapuche community who struggling to retrieve ancestral lands
Politics: The 2010 election of conservative President Pinera ended two decades of centre-left government
Economy: Chile has one of Latin America's strongest economies; high world prices for its copper have swollen state coffers
International: Chile is a key regional player, but it has long-running territorial disputes with Peru and Bolivia, the latter over access to the Pacific Ocean

The country had Latin America's fastest-growing economy in the 1990s and has weathered recent regional economic instability. But it faces the challenges of having to diversify its copper-dependent economy - it is the largest world producer - and of addressing uneven wealth distribution.

Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape - 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide - has given it a hugely varied climate.

This ranges from the world's driest desert - the Atacama - in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes.

Chile is a multi-ethnic society, including people of European and Indian ancestry.

Facts

  • Full name: Republic of Chile
  • Population: 17.3 million (UN, 2011)
  • Capital: Santiago
  • Area: 756,096 sq km (291,930 sq miles)
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 76 years (men), 82 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: Chilean peso
  • Main exports: Copper, fish, fruit, paper and pulp, chemicals
  • GNI per capita: US$10,120 (World Bank, 2010)
  • Internet domain: .cl
  • International dialling code: +56

Leaders

President: Sebastian Pinera

Wealthy tycoon Sebastian Pinera was elected in January 2010 to become Chile's first right-wing leader since the departure of dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet in 1990. He took office in March.

Sebastian Pinera
President Pinera's popularity peaked prematurely

In a second round run-off, Mr Pinera defeated former President Eduardo Frei of the left-wing Concertacion coalition that had governed Chile for 20 years.

A flamboyant billionaire businessman, Sebastian Pinera owns a television station, a football club and a large share of Chile's flag-carrier airline Lan Chile.

During the campaign, he promised to use his business knowledge to focus on creating more jobs. He also pledged to give private businesses a bigger role in the economy, and to set up a social development ministry.

His opponent, Mr Frei, received strong support from the widely-popular incumbent, Michelle Bachelet, who was barred from standing for a second term by the constitution.

Mr Pinera was beaten by Ms Bachelet in his first attempt to become president in 2006.

Before the election, Mr Pinera angrily dismissed comparisons with Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, also a powerful business tycoon. Mr Pinera promised that, if elected, he would set up a blind trust to run his wealth at arm's length.

He also strove to distance himself from the Pinochet dictatorship, repeatedly stressing that he had voted "no" in the 1988 referendum on whether to extend Gen Pinochet's rule. The cabinet he appointed in February 2010 was made up of technocrats with no connections with the Pinochet era.

Mr Pinera's popularity peaked in the autumn of 2010 following the successful conclusion of an operation to free 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days after their mine collapsed.

But by the following summer, his approval ratings had dropped dramatically amid simmering social unrest.

Born in 1950, Sebastian Pinera made his fortune introducing credit cards to Chile in the 1980s. He entered the Senate in 1990.

Media

Chile's national and local terrestrial TV channels operate alongside extensive cable TV networks, which carry many US and international stations.

Radio is an important source of news and information; there are hundreds of stations, most of them commercial. Spanish group Prisa is a major player in the market.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the media, and this is generally respected by the authorities. The media maintain their independence, criticise the government and cover sensitive issues.

Chile ranked 33rd out of 178 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2010 world press freedom index. The media "suffer from an extraordinary concentration of ownership", with most outlets owned by two companies, noted the watchdog.

There were 9.2 million internet users by March 2011 (Internetworldstats).

The press/online

Television

Radio



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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Chile president shakes up cabinet
19 Jul 11 |  Latin America & Caribbean
2010: Chile's year of despair and joy
29 Dec 10 |  Latin America & Caribbean
Pinera sworn in as new quake hits
11 Mar 10 |  Americas
In pictures: Chile quake devastation
01 Mar 10 |  In Pictures
Profile: Sebastian Pinera
13 Jan 06 |  Americas
Chile's Pinera names new cabinet
10 Feb 10 |  Americas
Peru and Chile in 'spy' scandal
14 Nov 09 |  Americas
A tunnel to unite old rivals?
15 May 09 |  Americas
Saving Chile's southern wilderness
25 Feb 09 |  Americas
Chile's divisive mountain of gold
02 Jan 07 |  Americas
Global warming 'made lake vanish'
04 Jul 07 |  Americas
Inequality remains in prosperous Chile
23 Sep 07 |  Business
Chile desert's super-dry history
08 Dec 05 |  Science & Environment

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