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Andes Mountains, fertile valley, Latin American countries, military coups, arid desert

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Chile, country in southwestern South America, occupying a long, narrow ribbon of land along the Pacific Ocean. Chile stretches approximately 4,270 km (about 2,650 mi) from north to south but its average width is less than 180 km (110 mi). Its landscapes range from arid desert in the north to windswept glaciers and fjords in the south. A fertile valley covers the center of the country. The snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains run along the border with Argentina to the east. Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, is located in the Central Valley.

The overwhelming majority of the people live in the middle of Chile, in towns and cities in the fertile lowland known as the Central Valley. Most of the people are of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, and Spanish is the official language.

Chile is one of the leading industrialized nations of Latin America. It has a strong economy based on mining, especially copper mining, and agricultural goods, largely for export. Chile is the world’s largest producer and exporter of copper. It also exports fruits and vegetables, and its wines have become popular in many countries.

Chile was a colony of Spain from the 1500s until it achieved independence in the early 1800s. It prospered from its exports through the 1800s, but the country’s economic growth primarily benefited the landowning upper class. The gap between rich and poor in Chile remains wide.

Until 1973 Chile largely avoided the military coups that had beset other Latin American countries. That year a military regime seized power and suppressed Chile’s democratic institutions until democratic elections were restored in 1989. At the beginning of the 21st century, Chile was still struggling to deal with the legacy of its military rule.


For younger readers

McNair, Sylvia. Chile. Children's Press, 2000. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Pickering, Marianne. Chile: Where the World Ends. Benchmark, 1997. For readers in grades 5 and up.

Winter, Jane K. Chile. Marshall Cavendish, 1991. For readers in grades 5 to 8.


Constable, Pamela. A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet. Norton, 1991. Hundreds of interviews make up this study of life under the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Falcoff, Mark. Modern Chile. Transaction, 1990. Political history during the 1970s and 1980s.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin. Holt, 1987. Incidents from a film director's life highlight conditions in Chile.

Hickman, John. News from the End of the Earth: A Portrait of Chile. St. Martin's, 1998. A British ambassador's introduction to the history of Chile.

Meiselas, Susan, ed. Chile: From Within. Norton, 1990. Photographic essay of the years during and after the presidency of socialist Salvador Allende. Includes an essay by Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman.

Oppenheim, Lois Hecht. Politics in Chile: Democracy, Authoritarianism, and the Search for Development. Westview, 1993, 1998. An analysis of the governments of President Salvador Allende and dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Wheeler, Sara. Travels Through a Thin Country. Random House, 1999. Award-winning travel narrative.


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