The Republic of Chile is a South American country that spans about 292,183 square miles (756,950 kilometers). The Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean flank it on opposite sides. Its other borders are touched by Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Drake Passage. Besides its land in South America, Chile also has territory in Antarctica, spanning about 776,713 miles (1,250,000 kilometers). Its territory includes a little more than one-percent water.
Chile’s recorded history extends back as far as 10,000 years ago. It was at this time that Native Americans migrated to the area and set up homes there. Much later, in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, found a southern passage near the Chilean mainland that was later called the Strait of Magellan. Later in the same century, Spanish conquistadors, including Diego de Almagro, traveled to Chile from Peru. By 1540, the Spanish conquest of the country was in full force.
Though it was not an easy task, Spain was able to get a stronghold on Chile. The natives frequently fought back, causing many setbacks and delays. In the late 1800s and the first half of the 1600s, the natives led many revolts. However, it was not until 1818 that Chile was led to independence by a patriot named Bernardo O’Higgins. On 12 February of that year, Chile claimed its status as an independent republic.
Today, an elected president leads Chile’s government. The country’s president is not constitutionally permitted to run consecutive terms. The country also has a two-branch congress that includes a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Senators are constitutionally allowed to serve eight-year terms while Deputies are limited to four years at a time. Congress's headquarters is located in the city of Valparaiso.
Chile has 15 different regions, and each one has a president-appointed intendant who serves as the region’s head. The regions are divided into provinces that are headed by presidential-appointed governors. The land division does not stop there, as the provinces are each divided into communes. Each commune has an administrative municipality that has a mayor and councilmen who are elected every four years.
Most of Chile’s people are mestizo, meaning they are a mixture of European and American-Indian descent. About five percent are Native Americans. The dominant religion in the country is Roman Catholicism, with about 89 percent of the population practicing it. Another 10 percent can be classified as Protestant while one percent is Jewish. Spanish is Chile’s official language.