Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape — 4,300 kilometres long and on average 175 kilometres wide — has given it a varied climate, ranging from the world's driest desert—the Atacama—in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a rainy temperate climate in the south. The climate and other details of the far south, including the regions of Aysén and Magallanes, remain a mystery to people from central Chile. The northern desert contains great mineral wealth, including copper, gold, arsenic, and lithium reserves.
Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, has a tropical climate all year round.
Prior to arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, northern Chile was under Inca rule while the indigenous Mapuche inhabited central and southern Chile. Other indigenous tribes existed in the southern partTehuelche, Yagan, etc., but many of them died due to diseases and murder, or were mixed with the European immigrants.
Although Chile declared independence in 1810, decisive victory over the Spanish was not achieved until 1818, thanks to a joint attack with Rioplatense forces. After that, the Transandine Army headed to liberate Peru from Spanish forces, eliminating the Spanish influence from the region.
In the War of the Pacific 1879–83, Chile invaded parts of Peru and Bolivia and kept territory that subsequently became its present northern regions. Also, it was not until the 1880s that the Mapuche were completely subjugated, and it was during this period of time when the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego were annexed by the Chilean State, along with Rapa Nui, expanding its influence to the inner Pacific.
Although relatively free of the coups and unstable governments that characterise Latin America, Chile endured the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet 1973–1990, supported by the United States, and that left between 3,000 and 5,000 people dead or disappeared, most of them being left wing thinkers, democrats, and people critical to the government. The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet was criticised worldwide for using brutal methods to control its population, including torture and forced disappearances, but left a relatively successful and stable economic model, which is credited with providing one of the highest standards of living in all of Latin America, but also with increasing corruption and the gap between the rich and the poor.
A Centre-Left Chilean administration came into power after the military government lost a national referendum in 1988. The new moderate government of Patricio Aylwin thought it sensible to maintain free market policies that present-day Chile still employs. Many debate whether the model should be modified to a more social-welfare system, or if it should be left like it currently is.
Chile is a member of both United Nations and the Union of South American Nations Unasur and is also a member of the OECD, the group of the most developed countries by current international standards, becoming the first country in South America to do so.
Argentina's and Chile's claims to Antarctica overlap and neither is based upon the discoveries of either nation. 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. However, Chile has an active presence in the Antarctic peninsula, and cooperates closely with other nations in activities in the Antarctica.