The first Spaniard seeking fortune in the region was Diego
de Almagro, who worked with Francisco Pizarro. He arrived in 1537, but saw no immediate
signs of wealth so moved back north to the Incan Empire based in modern day
Peru. Next came Pedro de Valdivia, who founded the city of Santiago de Chile
(commonly referred to as just Santiago) in 1541. European
settlement was slow to develop in Chile, partially because
of the mountainous landscape, partially due to the lack of gold and silver, and
partially due to the fierce resistance of the local people.
The Mapuche people (one of the Araucanian groups) weren't completely defeated
by the Spanish until the 1880s. In fact, they were so successful
in fighting the Spanish, the latter finally gave up southward
expansion in 1598 as their influence only reached to the Bio-Bio River. North of
this line Spanish influence slowly took over the region and the people and south
of it was left to the Mapuche. Through the 1600s and into the 1800s,
Chile developed in these two areas: the north was heavily Spanish as most
of the indigenous people were killed, enslaved, or fled to the mountains, while
in the south the people lived much as they had for centuries, but with horses and
From the time the Spanish ended their southward expansion
in 1612 the two sides came to some agreements, but for the most part the regions
left each other alone. The greatest change from these talks was the introduction
of missionaries. Missionaries spread rapidly through the Spanish-controlled region
and missionaries were allowed into the southern, Mapuche-controlled lands, although
their acceptance and safety shifted over time and from region to region. None-the-less,
they had some success in converting the people to Catholicism.
In the early 1800s France took over Spain
and soon after the Spanish colonies in the Americas began to crumble.
Chile, like most countries, was divided on their future as some people sought
independence and others wanted to remain with Spain. The division eventually boiled
over as civil war broke out in 1810.
The war quickly shifted in favor of the independence seekers, but they were divided
as to who should govern after the war, creating further fighting and
Spanish takeover in 1814. After a couple years or tumultuous Spanish rule,
the independence seekers fought back in 1817-1818 to re-take the lands with the
help of Argentine Jose de San Martin.
After independence, Chile reverted back to their previous
state as they struggled to find direction and an identity. The people were divided
on numerous issues, including the role of the Catholic Church, land reform, and
the economic state among many others. This led to political instability and vast
changes done quickly before other groups could fight the move. One of these changes
was the ending of slavery, which was done in 1823; this action was well received
by some, but fought by most land owners.
In the 1830s the economy was put back on track. Stability also contributed to Chile's successes at this time, which included a victory
over Peru-Bolivia in a war that gave
Chile more land and coastline in the north in 1836-1839. Also during this time the
country modernized as infrastructure was built, including railways and ports, and
communication also expanded greatly.
During this decade the people began to form a more independent identity and direction
as a nation. They united as one nation more than they were divided and their military
strength in defeating Peru-Bolivia
provided a great moral boast as well as confidence. However, in the south the indigenous
people, including the Mapuche, continued to fight the Chileans, or hide from them.
During this time they continued to maintain many aspects of their historic culture
despite the strengthening Chilean government and military.
Since the country was improving on most accounts at this time, the government created
a new constitution in 1833, which heavily centralized power in the hands of the
president, something few people objected to at the time since the country was quite
stable. Additionally, Chile didn't extend rights to many
people as only the wealthy could vote and only they had any true power as the president
often listened to them and sided with their interests, creating little conflict
for great stretches of time.
The late 1800s saw more violence and greater expansion of land by
Chile. The country again went to war with Peru-Bolivia
in 1879 as Chile again won more territory along the Pacific Ocean. Then in 1881
Chile signed a treaty with Argentina exchanging lands
between the two countries. This gave Chile the Strait of Magellan, but Argentina
gained much of Patagonia. Also during this time the ethnic Spanish
made great strides in taking control of the Mapuche-controlled lands in southern
After a brief attempt to establish a dictatorship in the 1880s, in 1891 the governmental
system changed as some powers were taken from the presidency. This new system gave
the people greater representation and the elected officials more powers, at the
expense of the president. The system struggled to find success, but all parties
were represented and peace was established.
By the 1920s, as more Chileans gained political power, social issues came to the
forefront of politics as the people demanded greater rights in and out of the workplace.
With vast changes on the horizon, instability again arose as conflicting sides protested
the proposed changes and eventually a couple military coups took over the government
in the mid-1920s.
One of the many governments that came to power during this time fell under the leadership
of General Carlos Ibanez, who was a German national and strongly allied with
Germany in the inter-war period. However, he broke with Germany when Adolf
Hitler took power and shortly after Chile parted ways with
Ibanez as the country again fell into chaos, which continued into the 1960s.
Despite the political scene settling down in the 1960s, communication and progress
were still slow to move forward. This continued into the 1970s as the socialist
party came to power, collectivizing many institutions, redistributing land, and
causing numerous economic embargos, most notably from the
United States. This new system soon failed economically as the black market
arose in order to provide people with jobs, as well as a means to obtain goods that
were no longer available (or were too expensive) on the legal market. The failing
economy led to increased tensions among the socialists and their many opposition
groups and the quick overthrow of the party and government.
A military coup overthrew the socialists in 1973 when General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte
took over. Pinochet killed numerous socialists and suppressed many rights when he
took office in order to prevent revolt or rebellion, then he focused on the economy.
Free trade and an open market were established as trade relations with numerous
countries were again opened. The introduced changes took years to take hold, but
they eventually did.
The stronghold of Pinochet ended in 1990 with a general election. Little changed
in the economic sphere from this point on as free trade agreements have been signed
with numerous countries. However, social freedoms have since expanded while investigations
into past human rights violations are being explored.