U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Chile, November 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Chile
Area: 756,945 sq. km. (302,778 sq. mi.); nearly twice the size of
Cities: Capital--Santiago (metropolitan area est. 5.2 million). Other
cities--Concepcion-Talcahuano (840,000); Vina del Mar-Valparaiso
(800,000); Antofagasta (245,000); Temuco (230,000).
Terrain: Desert in north; fertile central valley; volcanoes and lakes
toward the south, giving way to rugged and complex coastline; Andes
Mountains on the eastern border.
Climate: Arid in north, like the Mediterranean in center, cool and damp
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Chilean(s).
Population (1994): 13.8 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.6%.
Ethnic groups: Spanish-Indian (mestizo), European, Indian.
Religions: Roman Catholic 89%; Protestant 11%.
Education: Years compulsory--8. Attendance--3 million. Adult literacy
Health: Infant mortality rate--17/1,000. Life expectancy of newborns--
Work force (5.2 million): Services and government--36%. Industry and
commerce--34%. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing--14%. Construction--
Independence: September 18, 1810.
Constitution: Promulgated September 11, 1980; effective March 11, 1981;
amended in 1989 and 1993.
Branches: Executive--president. Legislative--bicameral legislature.
Judicial--Supreme Court, court of appeal, military courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 12 numbered regions, plus Santiago
metropolitan region, administered by intendentes; regions are divided
into provinces, administered by governors; provinces are divided into
municipalities administered by mayors.
Political parties: Major parties include the Christian Democrat Party,
the National Renewal Party, the Party for Democracy, the Radical Party,
and the Socialist Party. In 1993, the Communist Party did not win a
Suffrage: Universal at 18, including foreigners legally resident for
more than five years.
GDP: $46.2 billion.
Annual real growth rate: 4.3%.
Per capita GDP: $3,300.
Natural resources: Copper, timber, fish, iron ore, nitrates, precious
metals, and molybdenum.
Agriculture and fisheries (8% of GDP): Products--wheat, potatoes, corn,
sugar beets, onions, beans, fruits, livestock, fish.
Industry (17% of GDP): Types--mineral refining, metal manufacturing,
food processing, fish processing, paper and wood products, finished
Trade: Exports--$11.5 billion: copper, fishmeal, fruits, wood
products, paper products. Major markets--EU 29%, Japan 17%, U.S. 16%,
Argentina 5%, Brazil 5%. Imports--$10.9 billion: petroleum, chemical
products, capital goods, vehicles, electronic equipment, consumer
durables, machinery. Major suppliers--EU 24%, U.S. 21%, Brazil 10%,
Relations between the two countries are better than at any other time in
history. Many members of the current Chilean Government were active in
the opposition to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-89 military regime and
appreciate the role played by the United States in Chile's democratic
The 1976 car bomb assassination in Washington, DC, of Orlando Letelier--
a former Chilean ambassador to the United States and a member of
President Salvador Allende's cabinet--and Ronni Moffitt, a U.S. citizen,
caused a sharp deterioration in relations and led the U.S. Congress to
ban security assistance and arms sales to Chile.
Responding to the commitment by President Patricio Aylwin's government
to bring the case to justice in the Chilean judicial system, President
Bush issued a finding in late 1990 that removed the sanctions. The
United States continued to press for justice in the Letelier-Moffitt
case. The Chilean special investigating judge found that a commander
and an operations officer in the Pinochet-era secret police had ordered
the assassination and sentenced them to prison. The Chilean Government
has made an ex gratia payment to the victims of the families.
President Aylwin's state visit to the United States in May 1992 was the
first by a Chilean official in more than 40 years. President Eduardo
Frei's working visit to the United States in June 1994 was his first
trip outside of South America as head of state.
The Frei government has sought a "special relationship" with the United
States. President Clinton and President Frei agreed to a consultative
framework to increase the scope and frequency of consultations on issues
of common concern.
Trade and Investment
The United States is Chile's third-largest market (after the EU and
Japan) for exports and also Chile's largest source of imports after the
EU. Two-way trade for 1994 totaled $ 4.1 billion. The U.S. had an
overall trade surplus with Chile of $450 million for 1994. In certain
sectors, such as agriculture, Chile's exports to the U.S. greatly exceed
U.S. sales to Chile, although lately the margin has narrowed somewhat.
Chile has a diversified free market economy and one of the most educated
work forces in Latin America. Under the democratic government which
took office in 1990, the pursuit of macro-economic stability within the
framework of a market economy has become a national goal.
Chile has taken several steps to open both domestic and foreign
markets. It lowered tariffs on nearly all imports from 15% to 11% in
1991. Since 1991, the country has negotiated several agreements on free
trade, trade liberalization, and investment protection. Chile is
currently the only country that the Clinton Administration has
identified as meeting NAFTA criteria to negotiate a free trade
agreement; it is expected to be the next nation to enter into a free
trade agreement with the U.S. The country also is one of two Latin
American nations which belongs to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
forum, of which the U.S. is also a member.
Chile also has become much more integrated with world financial markets;
private firms have increasingly raised capital in international markets
and sold stock overseas. Both domestic and foreign investment have
reached record levels, and the economy has registered large capital
account surpluses. Investment inflows have been so strong that the
government has felt obliged to impose non-interest-bearing reserve
requirements on foreign borrowing to discourage inflows of short-term
capital attracted by high Chilean interest rates.
The country is enjoying a major boom in direct foreign investment in its
mineral sector based upon its strong geological base and the favorable
investment regime which the democratic government has maintained. Major
U.S., Canadian, U.K., and Japanese natural resource firms have invested
in large new copper and gold mines. Several important new projects are
planned. Other promising sectors of the Chilean economy for direct
investment by U.S. businesses are forestry, manufacturing, and financial
services. Virtually all sectors of the economy are open to foreign/U.S.
ownership or partial ownership.
In June 1991, the U.S. and Chile signed an agreement to forgive a
portion of Chile's PL 480 (Food for Peace) debt to the U.S. under the
Enterprise for the Americas Initiative. Chile and the U.S. in 1993
signed an environmental framework agreement under which Chilean payments
on aid loans will be used for domestic environmental projects.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Gabriel Guerra Mondragon
Deputy Chief of Mission--Charles Shapiro
Political Counselor--Phillip T. Chicola
Economic Counselor--Anthony J. Interlandi
Chief, Consular Section--Richard S. Mann
Commercial Attache--Carlos F. Poza
Defense Attache--Capt. Thomas L. Breitinger, USN
USAID Representative--Thomas Nicastro
The U.S. embassy and consulate in Santiago are located at 2800 Andres
Bello Avenue, Las Condes, (tel. 562-232-2600; fax: 562-330-2710). The
mailing address is Casilla 27-D, Santiago, Chile.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
From a 1973 coup until 1989, Chile was ruled by a repressive military
regime--headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet--marked in its first years by
serious human rights violations. In its later years, the regime began
to reinstitutionalize political life and permit broad freedom of
assembly, speech, and association, including trade union activity.
In contrast to its political repressiveness, the government sought to
boost Chile's economic liberalization. During its 16 years in power,
the military moved Chile away from economic statism toward a largely
free market economy, fostering an increase in domestic and foreign
General Pinochet was denied another eight-year term as President in a
national plebiscite in 1988. In December 1989, Christian Democrat
Patricio Aylwin, running as the candidate of a 17-party center-left
coalition, was elected President. After a four-year transition period,
former President Eduardo Frei--of the Christian Democrat Party--was
elected President for a six-year term and took office in March 1994.
Chile's constitution was approved in a September 1980 national
plebiscite by a two-thirds majority. It entered into force in March
1981. After Pinochet's defeat in the 1988 plebiscite, the constitution
was reformed to ease provisions for amending the constitution, increase
the number of senators, diminish the role of the national security
council, and equalize the number of civilian and military members. A
1994 amendment set the presidential term at six years. The Frei
government has proposed additional reforms to strengthen civil control
of the military and eliminate constraints on popular sovereignty.
Chile's bicameral congress has a 47-seat Senate and a 120-member Chamber
of Deputies. Senators serve for eight years with staggered terms; the
government has proposed to eliminate the nine appointive Senate seats.
Deputies are elected every four years. The last congressional elections
were held in December 1993. The current Senate contains 21 members from
the governing coalition, 17 from the rightist opposition, and the eight
still-living senators designated in 1989 during the Pinochet regime for
eight-year terms. The congress is located in the port city of
Valparaiso, about 140 kilometers (84 mi.) west of the capital, Santiago.
Chile's congressional elections are governed by a unique binomial system
that rewards large coalition slates and punishes small independent
parties. Each coalition can run two candidates for the two Senate and
Chamber seats apportioned to each type of electoral district.
Typically, the two largest coalitions split the seats in a district.
Only if the leading slate outpolls the second place finisher by a margin
of more than 2-to-1 does the winner gain both seats.
The political parties with the largest representation in the current
Chilean Congress are the centrist Christian Democrat Party and the
center-right National Renewal Party. The Communist Party and two green
(ecological) parties failed to gain a seat in the 1993 elections.
Chile's judiciary is independent and includes a Supreme Court, a court
of appeal, and a system of military courts.
Chile's armed forces are subject to civilian control exercised by the
president through the minister of defense. However, under the 1980
constitution, the services enjoy considerable autonomy, and the
president cannot remove service commanders on his own authority.
The Chilean police comprise two forces: a national, uniformed police
force (carabineros) responsible for law enforcement, traffic management,
narcotics suppression, border control, and counterterrorism; and a
smaller, plainclothes investigations police force. Both forces are
nominally under the control of the Minister of Defense but were placed
under the operational control of the Interior Minister with the return
of democracy in 1990.
Principal Government Officials
President--Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle
Foreign Affairs--Jose Miguel Insulza
Ambassador to the United States--John Biehl Del Rio
Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS)--Edmundo Vargas
Ambassador to the United Nations--Juan Somavia Altamirano
Chile maintains an embassy in the United States at 1732 Massachusetts
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-785-1746).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans avoid
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security
information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S.
embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be obtained by
telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a
modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications
on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
provides telephonic or fax information on the most recent health
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on
food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication
number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). Such information might assist family
members in making contact en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher. stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
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