New Internationalist

Chile

Issue 160

new internationalist
issue 160 - June 1986

COUNTRY PROFILE

Chile
Map of Chile CHILE, one of the strangest-shaped countries in the world, is a long strip of territory sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the highest peaks of the Andes mountain range. This ribbon of land is never more than 110 miles wide. Most of the population lives in the fertile central zone. To the north lie dry hills, the Atacama desert, and mineral deposits which give the country its main export - copper. It is here, at giant workings like Chuquicamata (the largest open-cast mine in the world) that the copper is mined.

Towards the South are wild forests, mountains, lakes, and glaciers. The Andes' fall into the sea produces a scatter of islands leading to Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. This is a country of breathtaking scenery, light, and colour. The sea and the mountains are present everywhere and this imagery has influenced the country's great poets - like Pablo Neruda - and its artists and writers. Less romantically, Chile's geography has made transport all-important - because of the shape of the country a strike by truck drivers can (and has) brought the economy to a standstill.

The truck drivers played their part in toppling the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende in 1973. Allende, who has been described as the first Marxist to be voted into power, died during the US-supported military coup that year. But he remains a powerful symbol in the country's prolonged political struggle. Nowadays even the truck drivers have turned against Allende's opponent and successor, General Augusto Pinochet, after 12 years of dictatorial rule. Like many one-time supporters, they have been alienated by the economic recession accentuated by the foreign debt crisis (Chile now owes almost US$20 billion). Since 1983 there has been a prolonged upsurge of popular protest demanding a return to democracy. Pinochet is an extreme anti-communist, whose style of rule could be compared to the Franco dictatorship in Spain. Nevertheless he has innate political cunning which has helped him keep hold of the reigns of power.

Chile is today one of the most polarised societies in a continent known for its social inequalities. The elite lives a life of conspicuous consumption while as much as one-third of the labour force is unemployed. The mood in the shanty towns is angry: during the protests barricades go up and stones are hurled at the police. But General Pinochet's shadowy secret police still make people 'disappear'.

Early 1986 saw the departure of dictators like Baby Doc of Hawaii and Marcos of the Philippines. Maybe it won't be long before Pinochet goes too.

Andrew Thompson

Leader: General Augusto Pinochet

Economy: GNP per capita US$1,870
Main Exports Copper, metal ores, seat oods, timber products and fruit

People: 11.9 million (USA 234 million)

Culture: 95 per cent Caucasian or Mestizo origin; also Amerindians from tribes such as the Mapuches Almost 90 per cent are Roman Catholic; remainder mainly Protestant.

Health: Infant mortality: 23 per 1,000 live births (US 11 per 1,0001. Percentage of population with access to clean water~ 90%

Sources: IDB, World Bank, State of the World's Children


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Regressive redistribution over last decade.

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Heavy foreign debt.

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Some discrimination but situation better than in other Latin American countries.

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Right-wing military dictatorship.

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Men, 94%. Women, 91%

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Constitutional and human rights violations.

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67 years.
(USA 74 years)

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