What happens to the army in Chile

The history of Chile - a long road to democracy

Pre-Columbian times

The areas of today's Chile were settled very early. In the north, the Atacameños and Chinchorros settled in the valleys of the Andes around 11,000 years ago. The Diaguitas lived further south and practiced cattle breeding and agriculture.

The Chiquillanes and Poyas lived in southern central Chile, near the port city of Puerto Montt. Here archaeologists found some of the oldest human remains in all of America - including hunting items, medicinal plants, and even a child's footprint. The scientists state that the finds are around 14,800 years old. People also settled in the deep south of Patagonia: the Chonos and Kawesqar, who lived as nomads from fishing.

The indigenous groups partly traded and lived together peacefully until the mighty Inca attacked the country in the 15th century. They conquered the areas up to the Río Maule, around 300 kilometers south of today's capital Santiago. There they were stopped by the Mapuche, an indigenous group that still lives in Chile and Argentina to this day.

Conquest by the Spaniards

The Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to discover Chile. In 1520 he sailed around the southern tip of Latin America. However, he did not stay, but drove on and was the first European to cross the Pacific. Nevertheless, the navigator left traces in Chile: The famous strait in the south of the country, the Strait of Magellan, is named after him.

The first attempt at conquest was made in 1536 by the Spaniard Diego de Almagro, who reached Chile via the Andes from Peru. Although his attack failed, he scouted the area, paving the way for others to try.

In 1540, Pedro de Valdivia crossed the Atacama Desert and reached the Mapocho Valley in central Chile. Valdivia defeated the local tribes and founded Santiago del Nuevo Extremo on February 12, 1541. This settlement later became the current capital of the country, Santiago de Chile.

During the colonial period, Chile was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Spaniards controlled large areas of what is now Chile. They obliged the indigenous population to mine gold and silver as well as to practice agriculture and animal husbandry.

The southern parts were denied to the Spaniards, like the Incas. Again it was the Mapuche who successfully resisted. They are the only pre-Columbian people in Latin America who were able to assert themselves against the colonialists for centuries until the declaration of independence.

The long struggle for independence

As in many Latin American countries, the group of mestizos, the descendants of a European and an indigenous parent, formed in Chile during the colonial period. They gradually identified less and less with the Spanish rulers. They longed to take the reins of their land into their own hands to defend their interests. In 1810 they demanded independence from Spain.

Unrest also broke out in other South American countries at the beginning of the 19th century. In the north, the freedom fighter Simón Bolívar waged wars against Spanish colonial rule in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. He also put pressure on the Viceroyalty of Peru, to which Chile was a part.

In the east, the independence fighter José de San Martín rose in Argentina. He allied himself with the Chilean general Bernardo O'Higgins. The two fighters organized an army and crossed the Andes in 1817. They managed to beat the Spaniards from this side with a surprise attack. Then they occupied the capital Santiago.

The conquistadors fought back with new soldiers sent by the Spanish king. It was not until 1818, with the battle of Maipú, 15 kilometers southwest of the capital, that the freedom fighters were able to win the war of independence.

O'Higgins was named supreme leader of the newly created Chilean republic. He led Chile until 1823. During this five-year period he managed to drive out most of the remaining Spaniards. In 1826, the Chilean government finally took the island of Chiloé in the south, where the last Spaniards holed up. This finally ended the war of independence.

At the beginning of its independence, Chile looked different than it does today. The borders with Bolivia and Argentina were not yet defined. In the south, the Mapuche tribe continued to struggle to maintain their independence. In the 1880s, Chile won the saltpeter war against Bolivia and Peru. The government also managed to defeat the Mapuche and annex the southern area. This is how the long, narrow shape of Chile came about as we know it today.

The Allende era

The period after independence was by no means peaceful. Civil war and border disputes with Argentina ensued. The first half of the 20th century was also marked by political and economic instability. The lower classes demanded a better distribution of wealth and land, while the right wing feared losing its power.

After several attempts, the socialist politician Salvador Allende won the presidential election in 1970. This made him the first democratically elected Marxist president in the world. After taking office, Allende nationalized many companies and redistributed the wealth of Chile.

Allende's policies angered the conservative part of Chilean society. The US government also had its sights set on Chile as sectors controlled by US companies were also nationalized. This prompted the Nixon government to back the opposition. In the years that followed, strikes, strong opposition in Congress and economic instability weakened the Allende government.

Military coup and dictatorship under Pinochet

On September 11, 1973, then Interior Minister Augusto Pinochet staged a military coup and demanded Allende's resignation. However, he refused to leave his post. Pinochet then ordered the army to bomb the La Moneda presidential palace, where Allende was with his family and close friends.

During the battle, Allende committed suicide in the Moneda. Within hours, Pinochet's military occupied all institutions. In the days after the coup, the military tracked down Allende's supporters and arrested them. Thousands of prisoners were held in the capital's national stadium and some were murdered on the spot.

Many Chileans hoped that there would be free elections again soon after the coup. However, Pinochet remained in power until 1989, becoming one of the most violent dictators in Latin American history. He reversed Allende's policies, established a free market economy and led to profound changes. The dictator eliminated Congress, banned left parties and almost all political activity. Oppositionists were brutally suppressed.

The National Secret Service (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA) held political prisoners in detention and torture centers in various parts of the country, including the German community of Colonia Dignidad. About 35,000 people were tortured during the 17 years of the dictatorship. Another 3,000 people are missing. They are known as desaparecidos. Some relatives still do not know what happened to them to this day. Human rights organizations believe that they were arrested or kidnapped by the secret service and then murdered.

Back to democracy

In the 1980s, other countries became aware of the human rights violations of the Pinochet dictatorship. Many called for a return to democracy - including the US government, a major trading partner in Pinochet's time. The repression of political opponents slowly decreased as a result. Oppositionists finally succeeded in founding political parties. In 1989 the first free elections for almost 20 years took place. The Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin prevailed.

Before Pinochet left the presidential palace in 1990, he built various clauses into the constitution that made him immune to punishment for his actions. He also remained in command of the army. The ex-president went unpunished until he was arrested in London in 1998 at the request of the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. However, as many different countries were involved, the process was repeatedly postponed. Pinochet died on December 10, 2006, at the age of 91, before he was sentenced.

For the following presidents, the Christian Democrats Aylwin and Eduardo Frei and later the socialists Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet, the Pinochet dictatorship was a difficult legacy obstructed the investigation. Today it is known that around 2,000 of those who disappeared were murdered in the torture centers and prisons, around 1,000 people still disappeared without a trace.