Skip to Content

Chilean history

The territory of Chile has been populated since at least 12,000 B.C. By the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors began to subdue and colonize the region of present-day Chile, and the territory became a colony between 1540 and 1818, when it gained independence from Spain. The country’s economic development was successively marked by the export of first agricultural produce, then saltpeter and later copper. The wealth of raw materials led to an economic upturn, but also led to dependency, and even wars with neighbouring states. Chile was governed during most of its first 150 years of independence by different forms of restricted government, where the electorate was carefully vetted and controlled by an elite. Failure to address the economic and social disparities and increasing political awareness of the less-affluent population, as well as indirect intervention and economic funding to the main political groups by both the KGB and the CIA, as part of the Cold War, led to a political polarization under Socialist President Salvador Allende. This in turn resulted in the 11 September 1973 coup d’état and the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 17-year regime was responsible for numerous human rights violations and deep market-oriented economic reforms. In 1990, Chile made a peaceful transition to democracy.