Chile has established itself as an economic power in South America and a political leader in the continent. Following liberal economic reform and social activism Chile has managed to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, it is far from eliminated but was able to expand its middle class bringing prosperity to more Chileans. Along with greater economic status Chileans have become better educated and more involved in politics demanding a more representative government and stronger democratic institutions.
Chile occupies a long strip of land in the south west of the South American continent. The country is shaped like a long and narrow ribbon and is one of the longest and narrowest countries in the planet; its coastline along the Pacific Ocean stretches for 4,300 km or 2,700 m. Chile’s total surface is 756,950 sq km or 292,183 sq m (excluding claims on Antarctica) its territory is twice as big as Japan or Germany. Chile borders Peru in the north, Bolivia in the north east, Argentina in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and south sides.
Chile has a population of 17 million most of them reside in the country’s central valley or Zona Central, while the northern desert , south Patagonia and the Andes mountains are sparsely populated. About 86% of the population lives in cities along the coast with a large concentration in Santiago, the capital, with 7.5 million.
The largest indigenous group is the Mapuche. Indigenous population representing about 4.6% of the population according to the latest census in 2002, they include citizens who practice their native culture and speak a native language. People of European descend make up 51% of the population while mestizos, a mix of European and local Indians, 44%.
Chile’s official language is Spanish. Chileans in general speak very fast usually dropping the “s” at the end of the words. Sometimes other Spanish speaking people have difficulty understanding them.
There are indigenous languages spoken by minority groups such as Mapudungun spoken by the Mapuche; Quechua and Aymara by indigenous Incas; and Rapa Nui by Polynesians in Easter Island. Many words that Chileans use have come from the Mapuche language. Chile’s name may even come from the Mapuche work chilli, which means “where the land ends”. A pocket of an estimated 20,000 German Chileans speak German in the south of the country.
According to the Chile’s National Statistics Institute (INE) 70% of the population is Roman Catholic, 15% evangelical, 0.9% belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, 1% Jehovah’s Witnesses, 0.1% Jewish and 8.3% Atheist or Agnostic .
The shape of Chile’s territory is one of the most unusual; the country has the shape of a ribbon that extends from the north desert of Atacama, the driest in the world, to the southern end of South America, Cape Horn. Chile extends through three continents, South America, Antarctica and Oceania – Easter Island. From north to south Chile is 4,270 km or 2,653 m long. From east to west it averages 177 km or 110 m from the Pacific Ocean to its border with Argentina.
Chile is divided into five regions: Norte Grande of Far North, Norte Chicho or Near North, Zona Central or Central Zone, Zona Sur or South Zone and Zona Austral or the Far South. Each of these regions has different climates, biodiversity and natural resources. Because of the length of its territory Chile has a wealth of natural resources ranging from marine resources in the Pacific, minerals in the northern desert, pastures in the south area and oil and natural gas in the Far South area around the Strait of Magellan. The Andes Mountain range is the backbone of the country which extends from Colombia all the way to the south of the continent. The Andes provide the country with breathtaking snow capped mountains, magnificent volcanoes and glaciers granting a contrast of landscapes and climates.
Chile, officially the Republic of Chile, is a democratic republic. A president who is the head of the state and the head of the government is elected every four years. The president is directly elected by an absolute majority. The congress consists of the Chamber of Deputies or the lower house and the Senate or the upper house.
Art in Chile works as a reflection that safeguards the cultural heritage of the country.