Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape â 4,300 kilometres long and on average 175 kilometres wide â has given it a varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desertâthe Atacamaâin the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper.
Prior to arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Araucanians inhabited central and southern Chile. Although Chile declared independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818. In the War of the Pacific 1879â83, Chile invaded parts of Peru and Bolivia and kept its present northern regions. It was not until the 1880s that the Araucanians were completely subjugated. Although relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that blighted South America, Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet 1973â1990 that left around 3,000 people, mostly leftists and socialist sympathizers, dead or disappeared.
Pinochet was widely reviled worldwide for his methods and legacy, however, a Center-Left Chilean administration came into power after he stepped down when he lost a national referendum. The new government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still harbors.
Chile is a founding member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations Unasur and is also now in the OECD, the group of the "most developed" countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America with that honor.
Argentina's and Chile's claims to Antarctica overlap. Chile also voices a claim to a 1.25 million square kilometre portion of Antarctica, but given the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, no country's territorial claims to Antarctica are ever recognised or permitted to be exercised at any time.