Chile is able to boast the existence of one of the oldest inhabited sites in the Americas in Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt which dates back to around 33,000 years ago. After that came a series of civilisations, mainly in the north of what is the present day country, such as the nomadic Chinchorro culture and the Atacameño culture.
Closer to the modern day the Incas occupied the north of the country in the 1400s and the Araucanian tribes in the south. But it was in 1520 that the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered the country although Diego de Almagro a Spaniard is often credited with being the first European to make the discovery in an expedition south from Peru.
By 1540 Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conquistador, had taken over the challenge of exploring the country and he went on to found several cities including Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, now Santiago de Chile, on 12th February 1541.
In 1553 the native Americans revolted against the Spanish and de Valdivia was killed, the aftermath of which led to a one hundred year war, with the Spanish eventually taking control despite local uprisings.
By 1808, as Spain was being occupied by Napoleon, the independence movement was born largely amongst the creole class. They became part of a wider movement across the whole of South America to free individual nations from the Spanish. On 18th September 1810 Chile declared independence which sparked a long war with Spain and a civil war which eventually led to independence.
Famous names at this time were José Miguel Carrera, Bernardo O’Higgins, Manuel Rodríguez and José de San Martín. It was O’Higgins and San Martin who joined forces in exile in Argentina and set off across the Andes in 1817 to take the country from the Spaniards. San Martin defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Maipú on 5th April 1818 soon after the official declaration of independence was issued on 12th February 1818. Fighting continued in Chile until around 1826 and Spain didn’t recognise Chile until 1840.
From 1817 to 1823 Chile was ruled by Bernardo O’Higgins as its supreme director but eventually he was forced to resign and went into exile in Peru.
From 1827 to 1831the presidency was held by Francisco Antonio Pinto and another politician to take the presidency for four short periods was Ramón Freire. Although never president, Diego Portales dominated Chilean politics from 1830 to 1837 and it was under his leadership that Chile fought the Peru-Bolivia Confederation (1836–1839) in a war where Chile emerged victorious. He also introduced the Chilean Constitution of 1833 which was to last intact until 1925.
As the political system settled down two political parties emerged, the Democrat Party largely representing urban workers and the Radical Party which represented more the middle classes and provincial elites. The Democrat Party almost inevitably saw splinter groups break away as the Socialist Workers’ Party (POS) in 1912 and then, in line with the trends of the day, the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh).
The 1920s and onwards saw a series of presidents come and then go into exile or being forced to resign such as President Arturo Alessandri Palma (1920/1924; 1925; 1932/1938) and General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo (1927/1931 and then again between 1952/1958).
The 1930s and 1940s also saw a period of turmoil, mergers and splits in political parties including the creation of a new Socialist party and splits in the Communist Party. It was during this period (1932 to 1952) that the country was dominated by the Radical Party which was more centre-left than centre-right despite various factions.
In 1970 a Communist, Salvador Allende of the Unidad Popular (UP) or Popular Unity narrowly won the presidential election, taking 36.61% of the popular vote and then a Congressional confirmation where he won 78.46% of the 200 member electoral college. His presidency was a disaster and by August 1973 the Christian Democratic Party turned against him and joined the opposition in an effort to declare his presidency illegal.
The dissent in Congress triggered a military Coup d’état which took place on 11th September 1973. Allende died, some say he committed suicide in the presidential palace rather than be captured and others say he was assassinated. Whatever his fate, the Commander of the Army, General Augusto Pinochet seized the opportunity and took total power at the head of a junta.
Pinochet became a controversial figure; thousands of opponents were rounded up, many were executed, exiled or went missing, causing controversy to this day. Equally Chile’s economy did well and literacy rates rose to the highest in South America, leading to mixed opinions of the dictator and a divided society.
On 17th December 1974 General Pinochet changed his title to President, a position he was to hold until 1990 when he stood down from office.
Following the creation of a new constitution in 1988 a general election was held on 14th December 1989 and Patricio Aylwin of the centre-left Concert of Parties for Democracy alliance (also known as the Concertación) was elected President with 55.17% of the vote. The alliance also won the majority of seats in both the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and the Senate (upper house).
The Concertación were to win three more presidential elections including that by Michelle Bachelet on 11th December 2005 and 15th January 2006. The centre-left Concertación maintained Pinochet’s free-market reforms building a strong and vibrant modern economy.
In 2009/2010 the centre-right Coalition for Change candidate, Sebastián Piñera, was elected president but the parliamentary election was less clear cut with Piñera eventually forming a “cabinet of unity” government.
The President is elected for a single four year term but can serve a further term at a later date.
The bicameral congress consists of a Chamber of Deputies with 120 members elected for four year terms and a 38 Member Senate which is elected for eight year terms with half renewed every four years.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Chile at joint 24th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 66 (where 100 is least corrupt).