Located along the southwestern coast of the continent, this country occupies a long and narrow strip of land between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Over the last few decades this country has consolidated itself as one of the most solid and diversified economies in Latin America, having mining, agriculture and forestry, fishing and tourism as its strongpoints.
Although the Chilean population increased fivefold during the 20th century, the annual birth rate during the last decade has dropped to 1.32% and experts believe this downward trend will continue in the years to come.
The population is of mixed race, resulting from the blending of the indigenous population and the Spanish, as well as other groups of immigrants, such as Germans, who settled in the south of the country in the 19th century.
According to the latest census (2002), Chileans mostly live in urban areas (86.59%). Only 13.41% live in rural areas, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country.
Spread over three continents
Chile is bounded by Peru to the north, by Argentina and Bolivia to the east, by the South Pole to the south and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. The country’s is distinguished by its tricontinental character; in other words, it exercises sovereignty over territories located in America, Antarctica and Oceania. The country may be divided into Continental Chile, which is the country’s territory in America, Insular Chile, which includes several islands (Easter Island, the Juan Fernandez Archipelago and the islands of San Felix, San Ambrosio and Sala y Gomez), and the Chilean Antarctic territory.
Chile’s geography comprises four topographical units:
– The Coastal Range, which forms a high and uninterrupted mountain chain in the north; in the centre it runs parallel to the Andes, then decreases in height south of the Bío Bío Region, and rises slightly again before sinking into the southern canals.
– The coastal plateaus, located between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Coastal Range to the east.
– The Central Valley, located between the Coastal Range to the west and the Andes to the East.
The Andes stretch along the entire country. Their characteristics vary according to the area.
Chile is a democratic presidential state governed under the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile, which was approved on the 11th of September 1980 and came into effect the following year. Executive power is held by the President of the Republic, who is elected every four years, without the possibility of immediate re-election. Judicial power is composed of the courts, of which the Supreme Court is the most important. The functions of Legislative power are performed by the National Congress, which is bicameral and is made up of 38 senators and 120 deputies.
Copper is the base of the Chilean economy. Today, Chile is the world’s largest producer of this metal, with exports in excess of 39,536 million dollars during 2005.
The agricultural sector is based in the central-southern area of the country. Fruit (apples and grapes), cereals (wheat, rice etc.) and industrial crops (beets and tobacco) stand out for their high quality; therefore exports of these products have considerably increased. Livestock breeding provides the base for most economic activity in the south of the country.
One of the main sources of income in the industrial sector is salmon, of which Chile is the largest exporter in the world. It is estimated that exports of this product will reach two billion US dollars in 2006.
The fishing sector is also important due to the fact that Chilean waters are home to a wide variety of fish and shellfish, highly demanded on the international market.
Despite having been produced in Chile for over a century, only in the last decades of the 20th century have local companies established technical and commercial links with French and American oenologists and vineyards. The strong climb in rankings that Chilean wine has achieved is the result of this link, which has placed it among the finest wines in the world.
Furthermore, some advantages of Chilean vineyards are that the central area of the country and the soil of its valleys are ideal for wine production and also because there have not been any outbreaks of phylloxera (an insect which attacks grapevines).