Fact File – Republic of Chile
Area: 292,135 square miles. Chile measures some 2,650 miles from north to south, but on average is less than 110 miles wide. It has archipelagoes in the south and owns Easter Island in the south Pacific.
Neighbours: Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
Environment: Chile lies between the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes Mountains (Nevado Ojos del Salado, 6,880 metres) on the east. It ranges from hot desert in the north to Antarctic tundra. It is subject to earthquakes and volcanoes. Rivers flowing from the Andes are important for irrigation.
Population: 16 million. Life expectancy: 77 years.
Ethnic groups: Chilean (Mestizo and European) 90%, Amerindian 8%, others 2%.
Languages: Spanish. Literacy: 95%.
Capital: Santiago (7 million). Main port: Valparaiso.
Economy: Chile has a market-oriented economy with a high level of foreign trade. It has its own oil, gas and hydropower. Forestry, fishing and mining are important; exports include minerals (especially copper), fruit, fish products, paper and pulp. However, a significant part of the population is poor and unemployed.
Religions: Roman Catholic 71%, Protestant (especially Pentecostal and Charismatic) 7%, Mormon 5%, other cults 5%, traditional ethnic 1%, non-religious and others 11% – all percentages are estimates. The Catholic Church remains influential.
History: Santiago was the southern end of the Incan Empire, and when the sixteenth-century Spaniards realised that, unlike Peru, it had no great deposits of gold to exploit, they settled in Chile’s fertile central valley. They were unable to settle further south than the River Bio Bio (110 miles south of Santiago) nor to conquer the indigenous Mapuche. Chile finally achieved independence from Spain in 1818 and was governed by various dictatorships until 1990. Today it has a democratic government.