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Long and narrow, Chile clings to the western edge of South America's South­ern Cone. Hugging - page 3 / 46





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Chile                                   439

In sum, Chile may well be a model for free-market economics and polit­ical stability. But it suffers from the socio-economic and environmental im­balances that radical free-market models generate. Moreover, its political sta­bility rests, in part, on anti-democratic institutions. Those institutions protect the privileges of upper class social groups from meaningful reforms to the inequalities of the marketplace. The true test of Chile's vaunted stability must await attempts at socio-economic reform after the restoration of full political democracy.

Chile is a heavily urbanized country; 85 percent of its approximately 14.3 million people live in cities and towns, mostly in the central part of the na­tion. Over a third (5 million) live in metropolitan Santiago, the capital city. At 1.5 percent, the annual population growth rate is on the lower end for Latin America as a whole, but still higher than that of other Southern Cone countries. Most Chileans are mestizos, the descendants of sixteenth and sev­enteenth century Iberian European conquistadors and the local native pop­ulation. In contrast to Argentina and Brazil, waves of non-Iberian European immigrants did not contribute greatly to the Chilean nationality. Between 1889 and 1914 only about 55,000 reached Chile. Unlike other countries, how­ever, most of those immigrants became part of the upper middle class and a commercial strata inserted between mestizo employees and white persons of Spanish heritage who comprise the upper classes. Lacking a plantation economy, persons of African descent are a negligible component of the pop­ulation. As in most of Latin America, racism manifests itself in a strong cor­relation of skin color and native American features to socioeconomic status. In general, the more European-looking, the higher the status. Since the 1980s, Asians have also arrived in Chile in greater numbers following Chile's open­ing to international trade.

Native Peoples

Although the vast majority of Chileans are mestizos or of European heritage, some 3 percent of the population are native peoples, mostly Araucanian or Mapuche. They inhabited the dense forests of south central Chile, approxi­mately from the Itata to the Tolten rivers (the present day regions of Bfo-Bfo and Araucama). In the mid-1500s, Alonzo de Ercilla immortalized them in the epic poem La Arancana. This proud warrior nation had preserved their independence from the Inca empire and, with considerable success, fought to retain their freedom from Spanish colonial rule. The Mapuches continued armed resistance until the 1880s.

Over those three and a half centuries of armed resistance against Spanish rule the Araucanos, nevertheless, slowly lost territory. When subjugated, they were sent to work in mines, fields, and households. In the twentieth century, the vanquished Mapuches suffered from widespread discrimina­tion and second-class citizenry. Until the military government of 1973-1989, close-knit Mapuche communities based on family groupings retained com-

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