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Chile: Whither Chile?
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Whither Chile?


In the early 1990s, most social, economic, and political leaders are being driven by a search for consensus on pragmatic solutions to national problems. The strength of these attitudes stems in large measure from an attempt to recover from what most Chileans view, in one sense or another, as national failures. The country experienced slow and erratic growth, hyperinflation, the breakdown of its democracy, human rights abuses, the exile of many people, and a period of harsh economic adjustment under military government. Chileans hope to put these events behind them, and to do so with a new sense of unity and purpose, avoiding costly mistakes and unnecessary conflicts.

The nation's transition to democracy was a smooth one, thanks in large part to the new national mood favoring negotiations and consensus. But many challenges lay ahead. The objective of continuing rapid development while increasing equity and enhancing democratic governance is indeed a tall order. However, buoyed by high levels of growth and historically low levels of unemployment, a majority of Chileans view the future optimistically.

(Since the early 1970s, Chilean social scientists have been active in studying virtually all aspects of their society. The most comprehensive, useful, and authoritative source on Chilean physical and human geography is Geografía general y regional de Chile by Ximena Toledo O. and Eduardo Zapater A. The book is best complemented by the latest edition of the Compendio estadístico of the National Statistics Institute, which provides a summary of the most commonly consulted statistics. The political characteristics of the various regions of the country are treated in César N. Caviedes's The Politics of Chile.

Consistent with the relative unimportance of ethnic divisions in the Chilean population, there are no significant studies of the nation's ethnic groups, except for the Mapuche. The best source for an examination of their culture and social organization is Louis C. Faron's The Mapuche Indians of Chile. A wealth of recent information on the Mapuche can be found in Censo de reducciones indígenas seleccionadas: Análisis sociodemográfico, edited by Jorge Martínez.

The best single work on the current situation in the countryside is Sergio Gómez and Jorge Echenique's La agricultura chilena. An examination of the countryside at the height of agrarian reform is Solon Lovett Barraclough and José Antonio Fernández's Diagnóstico de la reforma agraria chilena. A useful collection of articles covering the period from the 1950s to the early 1990s is contained in Development and Social Change in the Chilean Countryside, edited by Cristóbal Kay and Patricio Silva.

There is a growing body of literature on Chilean social policies, welfare institutions, and social-assistance programs. The best works are José Pablo Arellano's Políticas sociales y desarrollo, which provides an excellent overview of the welfare institutions since their inception; Pilar Vergara's Políticas hacia la extrema pobreza en Chile, 1973-1988, which examines the military government's programs to assist the poorest segments of the population; Tarsicio Castañeda's Para combatir la pobreza, which covers some of the same ground as Vergara but from the perspective of a supporter of the military government; Hernán Cheyre Valenzuela's La previsión en Chile, ayer y hoy and Augusto Iglesias P. and Rodrigo Acuña R.'s Sistema de pensiones en América Latina, both of which examine the new private pension system and its social and economic effects; and Jorge Jiménez de la Jara's Chile: Sistema de salud en transición a la democracia, which is comprehensive in its analysis of the various components of the health system.

Guillermo Campero's Los gremios empresariales en el período 1970-1983 is the most comprehensive examination of entrepreneurial associations. A more recent analysis of entrepreneurs is Cecilia Montero's "La evolución del empresariado chileno" Alan Angell's Politics and the Labour Movement in Chile remains the best source for examining the composition of the twentieth-century labor movement prior to the military government. The labor movement during the 1980s is well treated in Patricio P. Frías's El movimiento sindical chileno en la lucha por la democracia, 1973-1988.

The best single work on the Roman Catholic Church is Brian H. Smith's The Church and Politics in Chile. The Catholic Church during the military regime is the object of Enrique Correa and José Antonio Veira-Gallo's Iglesia y dictadura. A brief but excellent examination of the growth of Protestantism, including a comparison of the social and political attitudes of practicing Protestants and Catholics, is Arturo Fontaine Talavera and Herald Beyer's "Retrato del movimiento evangélico a la luz de las encuestas de opinión pública." The development of religious life in Chile and the relations between the military regime and all religious groups, especially Protestants, is the subject of Humberto Lagos Schuffeneger's Crisis de la esperanza.

The most comprehensive single analysis of women in Chilean society continues to be Felícitas Klimpel's La mujer chilena. Paz Covarrubias and Rolando Franco's Chile: Mujer y sociedad covers virtually all aspects of women's involvement in society with its thirty-two separate articles. Teresa Valdés's Venid benditas de mi padre provides a useful in-depth look at the life of twenty-six popular-sector women. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of March 1994

Last Updated: March 1994

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Chile was first published in 1994. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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