Latinamerica Collection
History of Chile

Pre-Columbian Period

Chile was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago by a number of wandering, indigenous tribes that shared no central form of rule. Because much of the area is desert, the land never became very inhabited. Even the Incas penetrated into the northern portion of what is now Chile but were never able to develop the area for the same reasons of barrenness.

Colonial Period
Europeans first arrived in the area in 1520, though the first attempt at colonization did not occur until 1535 with the arrival of Francisco Pizarro. However, his disappoint in the region's lack of minerals and precious commodities sent him back to Peru where he was killed in the civil wars during that time. Europeans returned to Chile for a third time in 1540 led by Pedro de Valdivia. Soon after his arrival, Valdivia founded the city of Santiago in 1541. The region then became known as Chile and answered to Peru which was dependent on the Spanish crown. At this point Valdivia began expanding the territory south but had a great deal of trouble with defending the area from the local tribes. From the years 1553 to 1558 there were many battles between the Spanish and the local tribes in the southern area, which eventually took the life of Valdivia. Eventually, the important leaders of the tribes were killed and the Spanish slowly took control over the area. However, this attacks persisted to some extent for the next 300 years.


Remarkably, there was very little opposition to the Spanish thrown during three centuries of colonial rule. Although certain issues were often brought to authorities, these issues were never enough to convince Chileans to overthrow the crown. There was also a certain amount of resentment regarding their indirect dependence on Peru who controlled much of the trade and subsidies of the area. Once again however, this was never enough to lead to any sort of coup. Not until the king of Spain's own overthrow did Chileans begin to consider self rule.


Though not as rich and powerful as in other Latin American countries, the Catholic Church had a strong influence on government and social rule. Surprisingly, this institution was responsible for many of those religious figures that struggled for the rights of the indigenous population.

Chilean Independence
After the overthrow of the king of Spain by Napoleon's brother Joseph in 1808, Chile was eventually declared a autonomous republic still maintaining some dependence on Spain. However, this quickly led to the Chilean fight for complete independence.


Violence in the area began and continued until 1817 led by the famous Bernardo O'Higgins, Chile's most revered patriot along with Jose San Martín, famous for his independence struggles in Argentina. The pair successfully defeated the royalists in Chile and in 1818 earned their full independence until the control of O'Higgins. Much of the social structure remained the same despite the country's newfound independence. The church remained powerful as did the wealthy landowners. Eventually, a presidency was established but still did not significantly change the country's social structure.


After more violence in the region, Chile managed to gain more land in the South with the defeat of significant indigenous tribes as well as a great amount of land in the northern regions after wars with Peru and Bolivia. The government developed into a parliamentary democracy in the late 1800s but quickly focused its interest on protecting those with the most power in the area. With the arrival of the twentieth century came a more dictatorial rule that lasted until the 1930s when a more radical sect of government began to dominate.


However, the election of Eduardo Frei-Montalva in 1964 led to a great deal of reform in the areas of housing, education, and labor. Despite this, his constituents were still displeased with the progress which led to the election of Salvador Allende who transformed many of the country's institutions to be government-run. Because the election of Allende was a split between three candidates he never actually earned the majority vote. The economy collapsed, interest was immense, and the country was being split into two hostile factions.


Allende was overthrown in 1973 by the military, led by Augusto Pinochet who became president for an eight year term after the approval of a new constitution in 1980. Since then, Chile has experienced a number of free elections as well as significant social reform such as improvements in civil rights and liberties.