The Wonderful History of Chile
Early History & Independence
Chile has been populated since 12000 B.C. At first, it was under the control of the Incas in the north and the nomadic Araucanians in the south.
The first European that saw Chile was Ferdinand Magellan, who crossed the Strait of Magellan in 1520. But, usually we give the title of discoverer of Chile to Diego de Almagro, Francisco Pizaro’s officer. In 1537 he organized an expedition to the center of Chile, but was disappointed, thinking that this area was poor, so he left to Peru.
In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded the famous Santiago. He was another of Pizarro’s officers, which led a second expedition to the south of Chile. In spite of the battles he had with the Araucanians, he founded Santiago, Concepción, in 1550 and in 1552 Valdivia. In 1553 he died by an attack on the Araucanians. In spite of this attack Chile was still in the hands of Spain.
Chile became an independent country in 1818 by Bernardo O'Higgins and José de San Martin, an Argentine. But, Spain recognized this in 1840, when diplomatic relations were fully established.
O’Higgins became a dictator and ruled Chile until 1823, when he was forced to withdraw.
After O’Higgins, Diego Portales dominated Chilean politics from 1830 to 1837. He governed his country with an autocratic republic, which centralized authority in the government; he encouraged economic growth through free trade and put government finances in order, among others. Portales also expanded Chilean territory fighting in some wars with Peru from 1836 to 1839.
Chile fought with Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, which was from 1879 to 1883, and gained Tarapacá, Tacna and Arica from Peru, and Antofagasta from Bolivia. Tacna and Arica were part of an agreement that Peru had made with Chile, but as these two countries failed in their part of the deal, in 1928 by negotiation, Tacna became of Peru and Arica of Chile.
Parliamentary & Presidential Period
José Manuel Balmaceda, a liberal party leader, was elected president in 1886. He wanted to establish a dictatorship, so the congress decided to dismiss him, but he refused to resign. Jorge Montt and the congressionalists defeated Balmaceda in the Chilean Civil War in 1891, so he committed suicide. Thereafter, Montt became president, and Chile entered a period of peace.
At the end of this Civil War, a parliamentary era began in Chile. During this period the president remained the head of state but its powers and control of the government were reduced.
In 1925 the parliamentary republic was ended with a new constitution written by the new president Arturo Alessandri. This constitution created a new period with a presidential system. Alessandrini’s term lasted less than a year. Emiliano Figueroa was the next president but he didn’t last long because, an army officer, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, took his power and ruled from 1927 until 1931, when Alessandri was elected president again and lasted until 1938. The Presidential Republic came to an end with the popular unity government headed by the President Salvador Allende, the first Marxist ever to be elected to the national presidency of a democracy, in 1973.
“During his tenure, Chilean politics ascended to a state of civil unrest amid strikes, lockouts, U.S. economic sanctions, an attempted coup in June 1973, the Resolution of August 22, 1973 in which the majority of Chile's Chamber of Deputies called for the military to restore order, and finally a successful coup on September 11, 1973, during which Allende committed suicide. The military removed the Allende government and established a military dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, terminating the period of Chilean history known as "Presidential Republic"”. (Wikipedia, 2009)
Military Government & Transition to Democracy
In 1973, the Chilean coup marked the history of this country. After the suicide of President Allende, General Augusto Pinochet assumed the power, establishing a military government that ruled until 1990. He was one of the most controversial figures in Chile’s history. Civilian rule was restored opening the path for a transition to democracy.
"The Chilean transition to democracy (colloquially known in Chile as the Transición) began on September 11, 1980, when a Constitution establishing a transition itinerary was approved in a plebiscite. From March 11, 1981 to March 11, 1990, several organic constitutional laws were approved leading to the final restoration of democracy. After the 1988 plebiscite, the 1980 Constitution, still in force today, was amended to ease provisions for future amendments to the constitution, create more seats in the senate, diminish the role of the National Security Council and equalize the number of civilian and military members (four members each)." (Wikipedia, 2009)
And Welcome Back to Democracy
From that date, there have been three Presidents who have been chosen and have governed in the Palace of La Moneda (the Presidential Palace) with the support of the left Party. They are Patricio Aylwin, which governed from 1990 to 1994, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Eduardo Frei Montalva’s son who proposed to the Senate the elimination of the nine charges occupied by the members of the army and asked for the institution of proportional representation in parliamentary elections. He governed from 1994 until 2000, both, Aylwin and Frei were Christian Democrats, and the third was Socialist, Ricardo Lagos, who started his mandate in the year 2000 until 2006.
In January 2006 Chileans elected their first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, of the Socialist Party. She is governing until today.
Salvador Allende: "I have been to Cuba many times. I have spoken many times with Fidel Castro and got to know Ernesto Guevara fairly well. I know of Cuba's struggle and its leaders. But the situation in Cuba is very different from that in Chile. Cuba came from a dictatorship; I arrived at the presidency after being senator for 25 years". From the same interview: "I have some experience and I am putting it to use in a Chilean way, for the problems of Chile. ... We are not here to colonize anybody's minds."
Augusto Pinochet: “I'm not a dictator. It's just that I have a grumpy face.”
Ricardo Lagos: "We Chileans have to be able to understand that in a democracy institutions must function freely and with sovereignty."
Michelle Bachelet: “Who would have thought 20, 10, five years ago, that Chile would elect a woman president? ... Thank you for inviting me to lead this voyage.”