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A Brief History of Chile

Pre-Columbian Chile was peopled by a variety of ancient cultures; Incas in the north and the nomadic Araucanos in the south. In 1541, a Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, founded its capital city, Santiago. Chile won its independence from Spain in 1818 under Bernardo O'Higgins and José de San Martin. O'Higgins laid the foundations of the modern state with a two-party system and a centralized government.

The dictator, Diego Portales, fought a war with Peru in 1836–1839 that expanded Chilean territory. 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. In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist program. Allende established relations with Cuba and China. In September 1973, Allende was overthrown and killed in a military coup headed by Augusto Pinochet, ending a 46-year era of constitutional government in Chile. Pinochet's dictatorship led to the imprisonment, torture, and execution of thousands of Chileans. In 1989, Pinochet lost a plebiscite on whether he should remain in power. He stepped down in January 1990 in favor of Patricio Aylwin. In Dec. 1993, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the candidate of a center-left coalition was elected president. Ricardo Lagos became president in March 2000, the first Socialist to run the country. In 2006 presidential elections, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won 53% of the vote, becoming Chile's first female chief of state. She promised to continue Chile's successful economic policies while increasing social spending.


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