President: Michelle Bachelet (2014)
Land area: 289,112 sq mi (748,800 sq km); total area: 292,260 sq mi (756,950 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 17,363,894 (growth rate: 0.84%); birth rate: 13.97/1000; infant mortality rate: 7.02/1000; life expectancy: 78.44
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Santiago, 6.034 million
Other large cities: Valparaiso 883,000; Concepcion 770,000 (2011)
Monetary unit: Chilean Peso
Situated south of Peru and west of Bolivia and Argentina, Chile fills a narrow 2,880-mi (4,506 km) strip between the Andes and the Pacific. One-third of Chile is covered by the towering ranges of the Andes. In the north is the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert, and in the center is a 700-mile-long (1,127 km) thickly populated valley with most of Chile's arable land. At the southern tip of Chile's mainland is Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world, and beyond that lies the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego, an island divided between Chile and Argentina. The southernmost point of South America is Cape Horn, a 1,390-foot (424 m) rock on Horn Island in the Wollaston group, which belongs to Chile. Chile also claims sovereignty over 482,628 sq mi (1,250,000 sq km) of Antarctic territory; the Juan Fernández Islands, about 400 mi (644 km) west of the mainland; and Easter Island, about 2,000 mi (3,219 km) west.
Chile was originally under the control of the Incas in the north and the nomadic Araucanos in the south. In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded Santiago. Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and an Argentinian, José de San Martin. O'Higgins, dictator until 1823, laid the foundations of the modern state with a two-party system and a centralized government.
The dictator from 1830 to 1837, Diego Portales, fought a war with Peru from 1836—1839 that expanded Chilean territory. Chile fought the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia from 1879 to 1883, winning Antofagasta, Bolivia's only outlet to the sea, and extensive areas from Peru. Pedro Montt led a revolt that overthrew José Balmaceda in 1891 and established a parliamentary dictatorship lasting until a new constitution was adopted in 1925. Industrialization began before World War I and led to the formation of Marxist groups. Juan Antonio Ríos, president during World War II, was originally pro-Nazi but in 1944 led his country into the war on the side of the Allies.
In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist program. Allende quickly established relations with Cuba and the People's Republic of China, introduced Marxist economic and social reforms, and nationalized many private companies, including U.S.-owned ones. In Sept. 1973, Allende was overthrown and killed in a military coup covertly sponsored by the CIA, ending a 46-year era of constitutional government in Chile.