Latin America & Caribbean

Chile country profile - Overview

Map of Chile

Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.

The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Chile has steadily come to terms with the legacy of General Pinochet's rule.

The former military ruler was questioned over the Chilean role in the killing of dissidents by various South American governments in the 1970s and 1980s, and he denied allegations until his death in December 2006.

Image caption Mapuche natives have been in conflict with the state over land and rights

The authoritarian Pinochet-era constitution has been revised and the judicial system overhauled.

The country had Latin America's fastest-growing economy in the 1990s and has weathered recent regional economic instability.

But it faces the challenges of having to diversify its copper-dependent economy - it is the largest world producer - and of addressing uneven wealth distribution.

Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape - 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide - has given it a hugely varied climate.

This ranges from the world's driest desert - the Atacama - in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes.

Chile is a multi-ethnic society, including people of European and Indian ancestry.

Image caption Chile has a variety of geographical features, from deserts to a long coastline, to volcanoes

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