Chile is one of the most interesting and beautiful countries in all of Latin America. Its people are kind and politically-active, the current events taking place are fascinating, and with Argentina it shares both the spectacle of Patagonia and a roller coaster 20th century history.
The ever-politicized country of Chile may be difficult to get a handle on without an understanding of a key moment in its history: the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. But first, what preceded it: in 1970, physician and noted Marxist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile. Allende, as part of the Chilean Socialist Party, went on to nationalize many private enterprises and created large-scale income redistribution plans. To put it lightly, his policies were not viewed admirably by certain pockets of the Chilean government. And being the height of the Cold War, this type of socialist activity caught the attention and involvement of the US, as was often the case in Latin America during this period of Latin American history. Indeed, CIA operatives privately worked to destabilize Allende’s government while American financial measures did the same thing publicly. US meddling, coupled with a fledgling economy and slow pace of reforms, led to the beginning of a dark time in Chilean history: the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989).
Brought to power in a CIA-assisted coup in 1973, General Augusto Pinochet’s military junta dissolved congress and went on to rule Chile for the next 25 years, a period of time characterized by massive human rights violations, repression of speech and assembly, widespread torture, and thousands of deaths and disappearances. It was a dark chapter in Chilean history, and a period that would go on to influence national politics forever onwards.
In 1988, voters rejected an effort to extend Pinochet’s presidency until 1997, and in 1989 a coalition of parties won the presidential election through their candidate Patricio Aylwin. The Pinochet horror story had finally come to a close.
The beginning of the 21st century saw a leftward shift in Chilean politics, a trend seen widely across much of Latin America. The 2000 election brought in socialist Ricardo Lagos, followed in 2005 by socialist Michelle Bachelet - daughter of a former air force general who had been detained and tortured under the Pinochet regime, and ultimately died in prison. Despite a brief rightward presidency by Sebastian Pinera from 2010 to 2014 – the first rightist President in 20 years – Bachelet was reelected in 2014 by a landslide.
Modern day Chile is a coin with two sides. On the one side is a stable democracy and outwardly prospering economy – one that brilliantly (and uniquely) endured the 2009 global financial crisis – with decreased rates of poverty, low inflation, a balanced budget, and steady growth. On the other side is a large gap in wealth: though the economy has been booming, not everyone has been cashing in on the results. Bachelet ran on the platform of closing the gap between rich and poor, providing free university education, gaining greater equality for same-sex couples, and loosening the ban on abortion.
Come visit this fascinating and beautiful country with Global Exchange. The political history and ongoing societal debates will stimulate your mind, while the stunningly gorgeous landscapes from the northern Atacama desert all the way down to the southernmost throes of Patagonia will leave you visually awestruck.