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September 2010

Chile, 2009

Chile, 2009

Chile is nearly twice the size of California, with an estimated population of over 16 million. Located in southern South America, Chile borders the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. This is a strategic location relative to sea lanes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Drake Passage). Santiago (metropolitan area est. 6.25 million) is the capital city; other cities include Concepcion-Talcahuano (840,000), Vina del Mar-Valparaiso (800,000), Antofagasta (245,000), and Temuco (230,000).

The varying terrain consists of desert in the north, fertile central valleys, volcanoes and lakes in the south, and mountains in the east. Atacama Desert is one of world's driest regions; the northern Chilean desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates the country in terms of population and agricultural resources. This area also is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded until the late 19th century, when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. Chile is one of the narrowest countries in the world, averaging 177 km wide (90 km wide at its thinnest point in the south and 380 km across at its widest point in the north).The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands. The rugged Andes Mountains are located on the eastern side of the country. Typically, Chile’s climate ranges from arid in north, Mediterranean in the central portion, and cool and damp in south.

About 85% of Chile's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. A small, yet influential number of Irish and English immigrants came to Chile during the colonial period. German immigration began in 1848 and lasted for 90 years; the southern provinces of Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Osorno show a strong German influence. Other significant immigrant groups are Italian, Croatian, Basque, and Palestinian. About 800,000 Native Americans, mostly of the Mapuche tribe, reside in the south-central area. The Aymara and Diaguita groups can be found mainly in Chile’s northern desert valleys.

Since March 11, 2010, Sebastian Pinera Echenique has been Chile’s president; the president serves as chief of state and head of government. The next election to be held will be December 2013. Chile has a market-oriented economy characterized by a high level of foreign trade. Chile deepened its longstanding commitment to trade liberalization with the signing of a free trade agreement with the US, which took effect on January 1, 2004.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 09/2010; 04/2010

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