The self-name is cultura chilena
Identification. There exist different explanations about the origins of the name "Chile." The most accepted one is that it is derived from the native Aymará word chilli meaning "the land where the earth ends." Chile is considered to be one of the most homogeneous nations of Latin America in both ethnic and cultural terms. In contrast to many other Latin American nations, Chile has not experienced the emergence of strong regionalism or conflicting regional cultural identities. Since the late nineteenth century, both the northern and southern regions have been mainly populated by people coming from the central region, helping to strengthen the country's cultural homogeneity.
Notwithstanding the existence of a strong dominant national culture, some cultural regional traditions can be identified. In the northern provinces near Bolivia, Aymará Indians have been able to preserve many aspects of their Andean culture. In the southern region the Mapuche Indians are a large cultural group who strongly contributed to the formation of Chilean culture. On Chiloé Island also in the south, a distinct chilote culture emerged over the centuries from a relatively harmonious blending of Indian and Spanish backgrounds; this culture is characterized by rich traditions of music, dance, and mythological tales. Some two thousand miles off the coast of Chile lies the remote Eastern Island, which is inhabited by twenty-eight hundred native islanders who still keep alive many of their Polynesian cultural traditions.
Since the late nineteenth century, Chilean culture has also been nurtured by the arrival of a large group of immigrants, mainly Germans, British, French, Italians, Croatians, Palestinians, and Jews. Today they fill leading positions in academic and cultural circles as well as within the country's political leadership. Nevertheless, many Chileans are often not even aware of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds and they firmly embrace the dominant culture of mainstream society.
Location and Geography. Chilean culture is located within the confines of the Republic of Chile, although today some 800,000 Chileans are living abroad. Most of them left the country since the mid-1970s as a result of the political and economic hardships of the military regime that ruled from 1973 to 1990.
Chile is a large and narrow strip situated in southwest South America, bounded on the north by Peru, on the east by Bolivia and Argentina, and on the west and south by the Pacific Ocean. Formidable natural barriers mark present-day Chile's boundaries, isolating the country from the rest of South America. To the north the arid Atacama Desert separates it from Peru. The high Andes peaks constitute its natural frontier with Bolivia and Argentina. To the south, the cold waters of the Drake Sea announce the nearness of Antarctica. To the west, Chile looks at endless masses of the South Pacific water.
Between the huge Andes Mountains (to the east) and the lower Coastal mountains (to the west) is the great Central Valley, which extends from Salamanca, north of Santiago, for over 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south to Puerto Montt. The country has a total area of 292,260 square miles (756,950 square kilometers).
Chile's geographical shape is quite peculiar. Chile has a longitude of 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers) making of it one of the longest countries in the world. This is in dramatic contrast with the country's average width, which does not exceed 221 miles (356 kilometers). In some places Chile is so
Its length explains the great variety of climates and regions one can find from north to south. While the northern region is extremely dry (including the great Atacama Desert and numerous places where no rain has ever been recorded), the central region is a fertile area with a mild climate. The southern region by contrast is chilly and rainy, having icy fjords and glaciers at the southernmost tip.
The capital city, Santiago, is located in the central region and constitutes the political, cultural, and economic center of the country, and the homeland of the historically dominant Central Valley culture. Chile is administratively divided in twelve regions (subdivided in thirty-one provinces) and a metropolitan region that includes the capital city.
Demography. Chile has a population of 15,017,800 inhabitants (from a June 1999 estimate) with an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent. The national population density is 46.5 persons per square mile. Almost six million people live in the metropolitan region of Santiago, while the northern and southern regions are sparsely populated. Most Chileans (84 percent) reside in urban areas, while the rest live in an increasingly urbanized rural environment. As of 1997, life expectancy at birth was seventy-two years for males and seventy-eight years for females, while the infant mortality rate was ten per thousand live births.
The majority of Chileans (65 percent) are of mixed European-indigenous descent ("mestizos," though this term is not in use in Chile). Some 25 percent of Chileans are of European ancestry (mainly from Spanish, German, Italian, British, Croatian, and French origins, or combinations there of). Chile also has a large Palestinian community (some 300,000 persons, the largest outside Palestine). The indigenous population represents some 7 percent of the population. There are about 500,000 Mapuche Indians in Chile, constituting the country's largest Native American population. Since the late 1980s, the country's economic prosperity and sociopolitical stability have attracted an increasing number of immigrants from Korea and from other Latin American countries (largely from Peru, Argentina, and Cuba).
Linguistic Affiliation. The official language of Chile is Spanish ( castellano as Chileans call it), which is spoken by practically all the country's inhabitants. In the northern region some twenty thousand indigenous people also speak Aymará, while most of Chile's Mapuche population speak or at least understand their ancestral language, Mapudungu. In Eastern Island the two thousand native inhabitants speak their own language of Polynesian origin. Chileans of foreign ancestry do sometime also speak their mother tongue but do so almost exclusively in the intimacy of their home.
One of the most spectacular expressions of the existing cultural homogeneity is the relative absence of recognizable regional accents, despite the country's extreme geographic length. For instance, the differences in accent between middle-class Chileans from Antofagasta, Santiago, Valdivia, and Punta Arenas are almost inaudible. The national coverage of many Santiago-based radio and television stations also helps to homogenize Chilean Spanish. In contrast, there are in Chile very sharp accent distinctions among the different social classes.
Chilean Spanish is quite characteristic and is immediately identified in other Latin American countries for its distinctive "melody." Chileans generally speak very fast and terminal consonants are often not even spoken. They also often add the suffix –"ito" or –"ita" (meaning "little") to the end of words. In addition, Chilean speech contains many words adopted from the Mapuche language as well as much chilenismos (Chilean slang).
Symbolism. The national flag and the national anthem are the two most important symbols of national identity. The flag consists of two horizontal bands of white (above) and red (below), representing, respectively, the Andean snow and the Indians' blood fallen in their heroic struggle against the Spanish invaders. The flag also has a blue square at the hoist-side end of the white band with a white five-pointed star in the center. The blue represents Chile's clear blue sky while the white star was the Araucanian Indians coat of arms used in their battlefield banners.
The national day, 18 September, commemorates the country's declaration of independence from Spain, in 1810. This is a day of celebration and national unity in which Chileans enjoy traditional food and folklore-type music and honor the martyrs of independence. During that day Chileans visit fondas (traditional palm-roofed shelters) where they eat empanadas (meat pastries), drink Chilean red wine, and dance the cueca, the country's national dance. In the days surrounding this festivity children, adolescents, and their fathers fly kites in public parks. During "the 18" as Chileans call it, numerous expressions of Chilean culture are proudly praised by the entire nation. A special symbol of the culture is the figure of the huaso (the Chilean cowboy), who is dressed Seville style with a flat-topped hat, colorful short-cropped poncho or manta, and shiny high-heeled boots with large spurs, and is present everywhere during the national celebrations. Another important symbol is the figure of the roto chileno, a poorly educated and clothed lower class Chilean who has a great sense of humor and is also smart and courageous. The roto represents the humble Chileans who fought against the Spanish rule and later against the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation.
The country's geographical isolation and remoteness (the idea of living at "the end of the world") represents a major symbol of national identification. Many Chileans almost glorify the country's physical isolation, as they consider it a key factor in allowing the creation of a homogeneous society. This isolated geography is symbolized in the national imagery by the impressive Andes.
Another key element in the generation of a national cultural identity is the idea that Chileans descend from a perfect blend of two exceptional people: the Basks (Basques) and the Araucanian Indians. The Basks represent perseverance and a high working ethos. They populated the Chilean territory in significant numbers and worked the land with their own hands under difficult conditions and in a permanent state of war with the native population. On the other hand, Chileans are also proud of descending from the brave and indomitable Araucanian Indians. Representing the sole exception in Latin America, the Araucanians successfully resisted Spanish attempts to conquer their territory for more than three centuries. It is not uncommon to find Chileans who bear the names of great Araucanian leaders such as Lautaro, Lincoyán, Tucapel, or Caupolicán.
Climate also plays an important role in the construction of the national cultural identity. Many Chileans believe that the existence of cold winters in their country shaped a laborious and foreseeing people. In the same vein, Chileans generally dislike and distrust everything that can be cataloged as "hot," "tropical," or "exotic"; they assume these elements encourage laxity and indolence and hence consider them synonyms for underdevelopment.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The emergence of the Chilean nation is intimately related to the cultural and social features of the country's rural society. This evolved in the Central Valley since the late colonial period. A land aristocracy of Bask-Castilian lineage succeeded in creating a well-established social order within the confines of their huge estates (haciendas). Living often for generations in the same haciendas, Chilean peasantry (largely of mestizo backgrounds) evolved into a submissive and loyal class towards their "patrons." So during the war of independence in the early nineteenth century, the Chilean rural population fought dutifully side by side with the local national elite against the Spanish army. During the rest of the nineteenth century, war functioned as a successful mechanism in strengthening the sense of nation and the cultural unity among Chileans. In the years 1836–1839, Chile fought a successful war against Peru and Bolivia. But what certainly represents the most important landmark in the nation-building process is the War of the Pacific (1879–1883) in which the Chilean army defeated the allied forces of Peru and Bolivia. This victory led to the annexation by Chile of huge territories in the north that had belonged to the two defeated nations. Following this victory the Chilean army was sent to the southern region to crush the resistence of the Araucanian Indians and integrate their homeland in the Chilean national territory.
In the nineteenth century, while most Latin American countries were submerged in endless civil wars and constant social upheaval, Chile was a relatively prosperous nation with stable constitutional governments. The Chilean nation became highly respected in the rest of the continent and Chileans soon fully realized their country was in many aspects an honorable exception in this restless part of the world. This idea of representing an exception has heavily nurtured the sense of nation among Chileans and has helped them to differentiate themselves from the neighboring countries.
National Identity. During the nineteenth century, several leading intellectuals of the so-called "1848 generation," such as Francisco Bilbao and José Victorino Lastarria, played an important role in studying and criticizing several aspects of the emerging national culture and identity. For instance, they strongly criticized the country's Spanish cultural legacy. They saw in it the source of many national characteristics they rejected, such as the strong political and religious conservatism existing among the country's elites. They instead sought inspiration in the cultural experience of industrious nations such as Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.
In the meantime, however, the Chilean state substantially expanded public education and academic formation, which served to disseminate national values and to fortify the sense of national identity among the population. While Chilean elites were conservative in political and religious matters, they adopted technical and scientific knowledge coming from Europe. They actively attracted many men of science from European nations to improve the Chilean educational system and the country's cultural development in general. Chilean national identity has thus been constructed in the shadows of European progress. Chileans have always been more preoccupied in trying to follow the pace of cultural and scientific transformations in Europe and the United States (often unsuccessfully) than in comparing themselves with neighboring countries and realities. During the last two decades, as a result of the outstanding performance of the Chilean economy, the country is close to shedding its status as a Third World nation.
The strong insertion of the country into the world economy in the last two decades has enormously enlarged the awareness among Chileans of a collective entity ("us") that competes in a larger global environment with other nations. On the other hand, the national identity experiences a clear schism when Chileans are confronted with the recent authoritarian past and the figure of General Augusto Pinochet. With respect to this issue, Chile continues to be divided into two fronts, with supporters and opponents of the former dictator constantly accusing each other of being "anti-patriotic" and of not defending the real interests of the nation.
Ethnic Relations. The facts that most Chileans are of mixed ancestry and that the country has a high degree of cultural homogeneity have prevented the germination of open hostilities between the nation's different ethnical groups. Chilean mestizos are often not even aware of being of mixed descent as most of them consider themselves to possess Spanish backgrounds.
Chileans are not habituated to consciously think in terms of race or color in the way people frequently do in other Latin American countries with large Amerindian and Afro-American populations. Ethnic differences in Chile are not expressed in terms of skin color because Afro-Americans are almost nonexistent and Mapuche Indians have a relatively light skin. Rather, ethnic differences in Chile take the form of facial appearances, hair and eye color, body length, and family names.
Chileans are quite nationalistic and patriotic. This implies, for instance, that the stressing of one's French or German background can be totally counterproductive as this makes the person in a sense "less Chilean." So most nationals prefer not to talk about their cultural roots and very often do not even know their ancestral tree. Chileans are accustomed to national leaders and members of the intellectual elites without Spanish names. For instance three recent presidents possessed French (Pinochet),
The immigration of western European people in the late nineteenth century was relatively limited (compared to Argentina or southern Brazil) and did not disturb the traditional domination of Bask-Castilian families in the country. These immigrants were soon absorbed by mainstream Chilean culture and they mostly became members of the growing middle classes. Chileans are also accustomed to several nationalities possessing their own schools, sporting clubs, and even first division football teams and fire brigades. Most Chileans experience this expression of cultural diversity as an integral part of the Chilean cultural landscape.
Mapuche Indians are socially and economically segregated in Chile. So while they are praised in Chile's national mythology they are, in practice, largely discriminated against by the rest of the population. Chileans of Mapuche backgrounds usually work in poorly paid jobs with little or no prestige— as nannies or cleaners or in construction. Since the restoration of democratic rule in the country in 1990 tensions between Mapuche organizations in southern Chile and the state have increased. Mapuches have strongly protested against discrimination and demanded the return of their ancestral land. In addition, some of them have participated in violent actions directed against the exploitation of native forests by large timber enterprises and the construction of water dams in their historical homeland. This increasing conflict, however, has not altered the traditional pacific nature of ethnic relations between Mapuches and the rest of the population because the Mapuche reaction is not directed against Chileans but against the national authorities.
The recent arrival of Korean immigrants and darker skinned people from Cuba and other Latin American countries has led to some xenophobic reactions among Chileans. This recent immigration, however, does not constitute a major issue in Chilean society as the number of immigrants is small.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Most Chilean towns and cities were originally designed following the classical Spanish pattern. They normally possess a central square ( plaza de armas ) from which lanes and streets extend in a straight line to four cardinal points. In the past, the central square was surrounded by a town hall ( cabildo ), a Catholic church or cathedral, and houses of notable families. Today there are only a few examples left of colonial architecture (which was mainly adobe-built). This has largely been the result of earthquakes that frequently hit the country. In addition, since the mid-nineteenth century, many colonial buildings in downtown Santiago have been replaced by newer edifications in neoclassical style. This occurred after many Santiago families who became extremely rich from mining activities in northern Chile constructed large palaces in the Italian and French neoclassical style. Today affluent Santiago citizens live in exclusive neighborhoods close to the foothills of the Andes Mountains in large houses of mainly French and American style. In the large middle-class neighborhoods (dating from the 1930s on) one finds an ample variety of architectural styles with strong Spanish, French, and British features. Since the 1960s American-style bungalow houses have become dominant among middle-class citizens. Starting in the mid-1980s a new financial center emerged in an exclusive area of Santiago with huge modern tower buildings, reflecting the economic bonanza of the last two decades.
Until very recently, poor Chileans lived in large shanty towns (called callampas, ["mushrooms"]) at the periphery of large cities and towns. Their homes were self-constructed, one or two room cardboard and tin huts. These shanty towns have been gradually eradicated by the authorities and replaced by low-income housing.
In the countryside, the peasantry traditionally lived in small adobe houses constructed within the haciendas, at a prudent distance from the land-owner's house, the so-called casa patronal. Today a considerable number of casas patronales are still conserved in the Central Valley. They constitute historical tourist attractions that keep the flavor of Chile's traditional rural society. Most peasants now live in small semi-urbanized settlements (the socalled villorrios rurales ), which have emerged at the margins of highways and main rural roads.
Food and Economy
Read more about the Food and Cuisine of Chile.
Food in Daily Life. Food has a very special place within Chilean culture. Chileans normally eat four times a day. The first meal of the day is breakfast, which mostly consists of rather light fare including toasted bread with butter and instant coffee with milk. Lunch (served between 1:00 and 2:00 P.M. ) is the big meal of the day. Traditionally two main dishes are served. The first course may be a salad of some kind. A common salad is the ensalada chilena, including sliced onions, chopped and peeled tomatoes, an oil and vinegar dressing, and fresh cilantro (coriander). The second dish generally includes beef or chicken, accompanied by vegetables. Around 5:00 P.M. Chileans take once, an afternoon tea with bread and jam, that often also includes cheeses and palta (avocados). Once, which means "eleven," is evidently named after the British tea time—11:00 A.M. Around 9:00 P.M. most families serve dinner, which is usually a single but substantial dish, most often accompanied with wine grown in the many Central Valley vineyards.
Chilean cuisine has both Indian and European influences. The national dish, porotos granados, for instance, has ingredients characteristic of Indian cooking (corn, squash, and beans), with distinctly Spanish contributions (onion and garlic). As may be expected in a country with an extremely long coast, seafood has a prominent role in local culinary preferences. Traditional Chilean seafood includes locos (abalone), machas (razor clams), erizos (large sea urchins), and cochayuyo (seaweed). Another national delicacy is caldillo de congrio, a soup of conger eel, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, herbs, and spices.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. During the celebrations of Independence Day (18 September) Chileans eat a large variety of traditional food. As a snack or the first course of a large meal, Chileans normally eat empanadas. This pastry of Spanish origin is stuffed with meat, cheese, or seafood, as well as onion, raisins, and olives. Another popular starter is humitas, which contains a paste of white corn, fried onions, and basil, wrapped in corn husks and cooked in boiling water. A classic second dish is pastel de choclo ( choclo is the Mapuche word for corn). It is a white corn and beef casserole topped with sugar and mostly cooked in traditional black ceramic dishes, handmade in the small town of Pomaire. Also on Independence Day, large parrilladas (barbecues) are organized across the country. Large quantities of wine, chicha (fermented apple brew), and pisco (grape brandy) accompany the celebrations.
Basic Economy. In the mid-1970s, Chile pioneered the adoption of market-oriented structural reforms. For almost two decades Chile was the best performing economy in the region and its economic and financial policy reforms served as an example for other Latin American nations. From 1983 to the late 1990s, Chile experienced constant economic growth at an annual average rate of 6.4 percent.
Manufacturing accounts for about 17 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), while agriculture, forestry, and fishing contribute 8 percent and mining another 8 percent. Chile's GDP reached the
Land Tenure and Property. Prior to 1960, land concentration in Chile was among the highest in the Western Hemisphere. In the period 1964–1973, a profound land reform was implemented that eliminated latifundium in the countryside. During the military government (1973–1990) land tenure became entirely privatized, while agrarian producers were forced to modernize their enterprises in order to survive foreign competition. The 1997 agricultural census showed that 84.8 percent of the country's farmland was privately owned, 5 percent was tenant-farmed, and 1.6 percent was exploited through sharecropping. Since the democratic restoration in 1990, the Chilean government has returned to the Mapuche Indians part of their ancestral land.
Major Industries. Chile's major industries are copper and other minerals, foodstuffs, fish processing, iron and steel, wood products, transport equipment, cement, and textiles.
Trade. Foreign trade constitutes one of the main motors of the Chilean economy, accounting for about 20 percent of GDP. In 1999, exports amounted to $15.6 billion (U.S.). Chilean foreign commerce is quite diversified as some thirty-eight hundred products are shipped to 170 markets. Chile's major export products are copper (45 percent of the total), other minerals (10 percent), industrial goods (33 percent), and agricultural and sea products (12 percent). Chile's export markets are fairly balanced between Europe (29 percent), Asia (26 percent), Latin America (23 percent), and North America (19 percent).
Division of Labor. Most Chileans do not join the labor market before their sixteenth birthday. Primary education is compulsory, and the educational level has expanded enormously in recent years with the literacy rate reaching 95.2 percent. Because of the very competitive nature of the local labor market, most employers will hire only persons with full secondary school educations, even for unskilled jobs. Upper- and middle-class males commonly do not participate in the labor market before their mid-twenties, as they normally work for the first time following the completion of their academic or professional education. In 1997 Chile had a labor force of 5.7 million, with 38.3 percent occupied in services (including 12 percent in public services), 33.8 percent in industry and commerce, 19.2 percent in agriculture and forestry, 19.2 percent in fishing, 2.3 percent in mining, and 6.4 percent in construction. In the late 1990s the unemployment rate fluctuated between 6 and 8 percent of the labor force.
Classes and Castes. Chile is, on the one hand, the most modern country in Latin America and has relatively low levels of poverty. On the other hand, however, Chile shows the second worst distribution of wealth in the entire region (after Brazil). So while the richest 10 percent of the population obtains 46.1 percent of the national income, the poorest 10 percent gets only 1.4 percent.
While color does not constitute the main source of social discrimination in Chile, class does. In contrast to many other Latin American countries, most Chileans constantly think and act in terms of traditional class divisions (largely expressed as lower, middle, and upper). The Chilean educational system is primarily meritocractic-oriented. For instance, entrance to university is based on the points obtained at a single national academic test. Nevertheless, getting an academic degree or even a good job does not automatically guarantee social acceptance among the middle and upper classes. The same is true for people from lower-class origins who have made money and live in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods. They are often disdainfully called rotos con plata ("vulgar people with money"). Generally, it can be stated that most Chileans of European roots belong to the upper and middle classes, while most Chileans of mestizo and indigenous backgrounds belong to the lower classes.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Class differences are first of all expressed in the strong spatial segregation existing in large Chilean cities. Upper, middle, and lower classes live largely isolated from each other in quite distinctive neighborhoods and city sectors. Also, primary and secondary schools express social stratification. Chileans automatically categorize a person socially based only on the comuna (municipal division within the city) where the person lives and the name of the school he or she has attended.
Speech is another important marker of social stratification. Upper-class Chileans exaggerate their particular way of speaking to indicate their social predominance. On the other end of the social ladder, lower-class Chileans speak in a very idiosyncratic way. Chileans are so speech-conscious that even the slightest difference in pronunciation of some consonants immediately "betrays" social background.
Government. For most of its independent life Chile has had constitutional and democratic governments. In the period 1973–1990 the country experienced a military regime led by General Augusto Pinochet. Since 1990 democratic rule has been restored.
Chile is a unitary republic with a democratic presidential system. The president of the republic is both head of government and chief of state and is elected by direct balloting for a period of six years (and is not eligible for a direct second term). The legislative branch consists of a bicameral National Congress. The Senate has forty-seven seats of which thirty-nine are elected by popular vote for a period of eight years. The remaining eight senators are nominated (the so-called senadores designados ), while former presidents are automatically senators for life. The Chamber of Deputies has 120 members who are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms.
Leadership and Political Officials. Since the restoration of democracy in 1990 Chile has been ruled by a center-left political coalition called Concertación. Its main members are the Christian Democrat Party, the Socialist Party, and the Party for Democracy. Two main parties, the National Renewal Party, and the Independent Democratic Union, compose the right-wing opposition, which have formed an electoral alliance during past presidential and congressional elections. The Communist Party, the main opposition party from the left, has not won a parliamentary seat since democratic restoration.
Traditionally, Chile's political party system has been one of the strongest in Latin America. Politicians with long careers within a political party filled most top-level government and parliamentary positions. In the last two decades, however, Chilean politics have become increasingly "technocratic." The possession of technical expertise, particularly in finance and economics (rather than the possession of political skills), has become the most important requirement for top-level posts.
Social Problems and Control. Chile ranks rather low on the world crime scale. The country has an annual murder rate of 1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Violent robberies or robberies with assault, however, have been increasing during the last decade. Criminality has recurrently been mentioned by a large majority of Chileans as one of the country's most serious problems. The Chilean police force, Carabineros, enjoys high prestige among the population, as it is known to be relatively efficient and incorruptible. Chile has a relatively high imprisonment rate—165 out of 100,000 citizens—almost twice the rate of leading European countries. This could be related to the country's judiciary system which, according to many, needs desperately to be modernized. As a result, there are long delays prior to trials, and preventive detention thus pushes the rate up. Moreover, European countries have alternative sentencing methods, whereas Chile does not.
Military Activity. The Chilean army played a central role in the process of nation building in the nineteenth century. Until 1973 the Chilean armed forces were characterized by their high professional standards and their noninterference in political matters. After the 1973 military takeover, military officers filled key positions in state enterprises and in central and regional governmental institutions. Following the democratic restoration in 1990, the presence of the military in national events continues to be considerable. The armed forces as an institution has firmly defended Pinochet and until very recently they openly resisted accepting any responsibility in the human rights abuses committed during his regime. In 1998 Chilean military expenditures
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Since the restoration of democratic rule in 1990 the fight against poverty has become one of the primary goals of successive governments. In that year the Fund for Solidarity and Social Investment was set up to finance the application of huge social programs. In recent years social expenditures increased to 70 percent of total fiscal expenditures. The combination of high levels of economic growth and successful social policies have led to a remarkable reduction in the levels of poverty in the country. While in 1987 45.1 percent of the population was classified as poor, in 1996 this figure was reduced to 23.2 percent. In absolute figures, around 2 million people escaped poverty between those years.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Chile has one of the largest numbers of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Latin America. Most NGOs were created during the military government (1973–1990) with the support of the Chilean Catholic Church and foreign humanitarian institutions. Their main objective was to defend the rights of persecuted groups and to provide jobs to professionals who were dismissed from state institutions and academic centers for political reasons. Many NGOs created research centers to analyze several facets of Chilean society (such as women, employment, the agrarian situation, and human rights). Since 1990, many NGO professionals have became officials of the Chilean state. This has allowed close cooperation between state officials and NGO members.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Women make up 51 percent of the country's population. Although female participation in the labor market has grown significantly in recent decades (by 83 percent between 1970 and 1990), women today form only 37 percent of Chile's total labor force. Despite the increasing attention of democratic governments attempting to improve the labor and social conditions of women, women still have to work under less favorable conditions than men. Unemployment among women is persistently higher than that of men, and female workers earn about 65 percent of the income earned by males for equivalent jobs.
In terms of education, women do not lag behind men as females under thirty-five either have equal or more education than men. Middle- and upper-class women are generally well educated and are not only employed in traditional fields (such as nursing, teaching, and social services) but also as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and economists.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women and men are equal under Chilean law and the state is obliged to provide both sexes equal employment opportunities. Women possess a great deal of influence and are very active in almost all fields of Chilean society. In the private sphere Chilean men almost always socialize with their friends in the company of their girlfriends or wives, and the latter do participate in conversations and discussions on equal footing. Also due to the strong class nature of Chilean society, women of middle- and upper-class backgrounds have immensely more social status, power, and access to good jobs than males from the lower classes. Nevertheless, as a whole women in Chile possess a lower status than men. This is particularly visible in the political field where power relations find its main expression. Women obtained full electoral rights only in 1949 and they have seldom filled more than 7 percent of the parliamentary seats.
Marriage, Family and Kinship
Marriage. Marriage is one of the most significant rites of passage among Chileans. Although inscription of the marriage at the civil register is sufficient for it to be officially recognized under Chilean law, most Chileans find that a wedding is not really complete without a church ceremony. Everyone is free to marry whomever he or she wants, but because Chile is a class-conscious society, people in general marry persons from similar social and educational backgrounds.
Weddings are normally not ostentatious and wedding parties are mostly organized at home or in a small hall near the church. Commonly, Chileans marry young (in their early or mid-twenties) and tend to have children relatively soon after marriage. Only 12 percent of Chilean women are still single at the age of forty-five. People have quite conventional views about premarital sex, and living together before marriage is still relatively rare (only 3 percent of women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four). Because of the considerable religious and political influence of the Roman Catholic Church, Chile is the only country in Latin America without a divorce law. Instead, couples who want to end their marriage request an annulment of the civil marriage, under the pretext that a procedural error was made during the civil marriage ceremony. As this implies a costly legal procedure, many Chileans just informally terminate a marriage, but this bars them from marrying again under Chilean law.
Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is by far the dominant household unit in Chile. Ninety percent of the population lives with their family while only 8.1 percent live alone. Family size has strongly decreased in recent decades. The average family consists of four persons, and the average number of children is 2.5 per woman. Chile is among the countries with the lowest fertility rate in Latin America, and with the most rapid rate of decrease. In most households (79 percent) authority is held by men. Female-led households can mainly be found among low-income sectors. Particularly among the middle and upper classes, housewives possess a large degree of discretional power in decisions concerning the ruling of their homes (including acquisition of furniture and financial matters) and the children's education.
Inheritance. According to Chilean law and customs, when the father passes away half of the estate passes to his wife. The other half is divided by the number of children plus two parts for the mother. So in a family with two children, the mother inherits three-quarters of the estate. Age or gender differences among the children do not alter their rights to equal parts of the inheritance. Until very recently, however, Chilean legislation made a differentiation between "legitimate" (born within the marriage) and "illegitimate" children. Depending on the specific situation, the latter had fewer or no rights for obtaining a part of the estate. In early 2000 this discriminatory legislation was abolished.
Kin Groups. Although the nuclear family constitutes the basis of Chilean households, grandparents continue to exert considerable authority in family affairs. Moreover, and either by necessity or by choice, grandparents (especially widowed grandparents) frequently live with the family of one of their daughters or sons. Married children normally visit their parents over the weekend and it is not uncommon for them to talk with their parents by phone almost daily. Aunts, uncles, and cousins are also considered to be close relatives and they frequently meet at family and social gatherings. Particularly in the lower classes, the extended family represents an indispensable source of support for coping with difficulties in hard times.
Infant Care. Chilean children are primarily cared for by their mothers. In most middle- and upper-class families, however, mothers often can count on the vital full-time support of empleadas domésticas (nannies), who for the most part also live with the family at home. Both in the lower classes and within indigenous groups, however, older brothers and sisters do fill an important role in caring for toddlers, as their parents often work outside the home. In an increasing number of public services, ministries, and large factories, day care facilities for children are at the disposition of working mothers.
Child Rearing and Education. Young children are generally raised in a relatively relaxed manner. They are not sent to bed very early and fully participate in social and family gatherings, sometimes until very late at night. Chilean parents are generally inclined to pampering their children, by buying what they demand or by surprising them with presents at any time of the year. Children are not explicitly encouraged to learn to become independent but rather are coaxed to remain close and loyal to the family whatever their age. So youngsters in Chile tend to become independent at a relatively late age, as they often leave home only when they marry. Parental authority remains even after children have an independent life, as parents believe they have still the right to get involved in important decisions and personal problems.
Higher Education. Chileans from all social backgrounds are very conscious about the importance of providing a good education for their children. As a rule, parents are geared up to make immense financial sacrifices to send their children to good schools and to finance their further education. The number of higher education centers in Chile has dramatically increased during the last decade. In 1980 Chile had eight universities, while by 1990 this number increased to sixty, most of them being private institutions. In addition, the country has eighty professional institutes and 168 technical training centers. Among young people aged eighteen to twenty-four, 19 percent attend an institution of higher education.
Chilean etiquette does not differ very much from that of Western societies. Although Chileans are in general less formal than other Latin Americans, they definitively follow certain rules in social gatherings. During formal occasions people shake hands in a restrained way, while good friends may shake hands and embrace. Chilean women normally salute acquaintances (both male and female) with one kiss on the right cheek.
Chileans commonly use the formal "you" ( usted ) to address persons, independently of the interlocutor's social status. Also parents-in-law are respectfully addressed with usted and with don or doña before their Christian name. The informal "you" ( tú ) is largely used between people who know each other very well and among youngsters, but it is avoided when one speaks to an elder.
Chileans are generally quite punctual for their business appointments. When invited into a home for dinner, however, it is expected that the guest will not show up before some twenty minutes after the agreed time.
Chileans are quite restrained in public spaces and restaurants and it is particularly bad form to talk too loudly. Waiters are called "señor" and are addressed in formal "you" form. It is also considered imprudent to talk about the authoritarian past, Pinochet, the armed forces, and the like in social gatherings, as Chileans are quite divided on these sensitive subjects.
Religious Beliefs. A large majority of Chileans (73 percent) are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Some 15 percent of the population identifies itself with several Protestant groups. This includes Anglicans and Lutherans, but the vast majority of Chilean Protestants (90 percent) belong to the Pentecostal Church. Another 4 percent of the population belongs to other religious groups (Jews, Muslims, and Greek Orthodox), while 8 percent claim not to profess any religion. Chileans profoundly respect the religious beliefs of others, and religion seldom constitutes a source for conflict or disagreement.
Religious Practitioners. The national authorities of the Roman Catholic Church have historically exerted a high degree of influence in Chile. For instance, during the Pinochet regime the chief of the Chilean Catholic Church, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, took a firm stand against the government's human rights abuses. The Church also offered legal support and institutional protection to many persecuted people. Traditionally, the Chilean clergy (made up of about two thousand priests, half of them foreign, and fifty-five hundred nuns) have firmly embraced the cause of social justice. Following democratic restoration, Chilean bishops have actively participated in national debates about divorce, abortion, and the role of the family in modern society.
Rituals and Holy Places. Many popular religious celebrations and processions are held in Chile. One of the most colorful is the Festival of La Tirana. This festival is celebrated for three days in July in the village of La Tirana, some 40 miles (64 kilometers) inland from the northern port of Iquique, near the Atacama Desert. This celebration is strongly influenced by the carnival of Oruro, Bolivia. During the celebrations, some 150,000 people dance through the streets in colorful costumes and devil masks. The Festival of La Tirana is an expression of the religious blend between Catholicism and ancient indigenous practices.
On 8 December, Chileans celebrate the Immaculate Conception (of the Virgin Mary). During that day many people from Santiago make a pilgrimage to the Santuario de la Virgen de lo Vásquez (a shrine some 50 miles [80 kilometers] from Santiago) to show their religious devotion. Some people walk many miles on their knees to show their respect to the virgin and as recompense for the favors she has granted them.
Death and the Afterlife. Chileans pay great tribute to loved ones who have passed away. Following death a wake and a funeral are held at a church where close friends and the extended family assist to the religious service. Most Chilean prefers graves, but in recent years an increasing number of people choose to be cremated. It is common practice that each year on the anniversary of the death, a Catholic mass is offered in the deceased's memory. On November 1, All Saints' Day, a large number of Chileans visit the cemetery to bring flowers to the grave of family members and friends. Most Chileans believe that there is an afterlife.
Medicine and Health Care
Chile has one of the best health care systems in Latin America. Around 90 percent of the population is insured through public (61 percent) and private (28 percent) schemes to obtain access to all types of health services. National health expenditure is 8 percent of the country's GDP. The public health system has 9.14 physicians and 3.83 nurses for every ten thousand beneficiaries. There are, however, big differences in the quality of medical help among the different income groups. While upper- and middle-class Chileans normally make use of the services of private clinics with excellent physicians and the latest medical technology, the lower class are forced to make use of relatively poorly-equipped public care centers and hospitals. Behind the modern health care system, there is a habit in Chile of self-medication and the use of traditional herbs. In southern Chile, elderly Mapuche Indians still consult their female shamans ( machis ) when they have health problems.
Labor Day (1 May) is a national holiday. Union leaders and government officials participate in worker gatherings that celebrate the importance of labor to the nation.
Día de las Glorias Navales (21 May) commemorates the 1879 naval battle of Iquique during the War of the Pacific, where Chile's national hero, Captain Arturo Prats, lost his life in naval combat against Peruvian vessels. In coastal cities, people commemorate Prats and his crew by boarding small boats covered with Chilean flags and throwing flowers into the sea.
The celebration of Chilean independence in 1810 takes place on 18 September. Chileans go into the streets to celebrate with folk dances and national dishes. This is the country's most important secular celebration.
Día de la Raza (12 October) commemorates the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and cheers the Spanish background of Chilean culture. In recent years, indigenous groups have made it clear that this celebration does not represent everyone in the country.
On New Year's Eve (31 December), and New Year's Day (1 January), Chileans gather with their families and friends, normally around an asado (barbecue). These holidays also mark the initiation of the summer vacation period for many people. The New Year is traditionally received with a spectacular fireworks display at the port of Valparaíso that is transmitted by television to the entire nation.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. Until very recently, Chilean artists rarely obtained any financial support for their work from the state or other institutions. In 1992 the Chilean Ministry of Education created Fondart, a national fund for the development of art and culture. In the period 1992–2000 Fondart has financed 3,626 artistic projects with a total of $26 million (U.S.) and has become the main source of financing for cultural activities in Chile.
Literature. Poetry has been the leading form within Chilean literature. The epic poem La Araucana , written in the sixteenth century by the Spanish poet Alonso de Ercilla, is considered Chile's first major literary work. In this classical work, Ercilla wonders at the natural beauty of Chile and expresses his admiration for the brave Araucanian Indians. In the twentieth century two great Chilean poets were awarded the Nobel prize in literature. In 1945 Lucila Godoy Alcayaga (who wrote under the pseudonym Gabriela Mistral) became the first Latin American to receive this award. Pablo Neruda received the Nobel prize in 1971. Both poets expressed in their work their love for both the nature and the people of Chile and the rest of Latin America.
In the 1980s and 1990s a series of Chilean novelists obtained international recognition, including Isabel Allende, Ariel Dorfman, José Donoso, Francisco Coloane, Luis Sepúlveda, and Antonio Skarmeta.
Graphic Arts. Chilean graphic arts have been dominated by paintings. A good collection of the work of major Chilean painters since the nineteenth century are displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago. Nineteenth century painters such as Pedro Lira and Juan Francisco González show rustic Chilean landscapes and portraits of common people. During the twentieth century Chile produced several painters who have achieved fame outside the country, particularly in Europe and the United States. For instance, the works of Nemesio Antunez, Claudio Bravo, and Roberto Matta are present in major world art collections.
Performance Arts. Traditional folk music offers the best of Chile's performance arts. One of the country's greatest folk musicians has been Violeta Parra. During the 1950s and 1960s she travelled through the Chilean countryside to collect folk music and began to perform it in Santiago artistic circles. Her music motivated many young artists who in the mid-1960s formed a new musical stream called the Nueva Canción Chilena ("Chilean New Song"). This was the beginning of a fruitful and creative period for Chilean folk music. Artists such as Víctor Jara and Patricio Manns and well-known musical groups such as Inti-Illimani and Quilapayún belong to this musical current. The classical pianist Claudio Arrau was Chile's most prominent performance artist of the twentieth century.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Most scientific research in the physical sciences is conducted at two of the oldest and largest universities, Universidad de Chile and Pontificia Universidad Católica. In 1967 the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research was created. Its main role is to advise the Chilean authorities in all matters referring science and technology. This commission also provides scholarships for M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. In the period 1988–1997 a total of 479 individuals obtained a four-year scholarships for their Ph.D, and 236 for a M.A. In 1992 a National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development was established to finance first-rate research projects. Through 1997 it had financed some 6,000 scientific projects for more than $2.5 billion (U.S.).
Chilean social sciences are very prestigious in Latin America. They are practiced not only in universities but also in a large number of well-known private institutions that are mainly concentrated in Santiago.
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—P ATRICIO S ILVA