When students learn Spanish in Chile, they typically get some exposure to the current politics of the region during their stay. As a result, it makes sense to have some knowledge of recent history so that you can participate in some of these discussions in a knowledgeable manner. After all, if you show up to Spanish immersion school in Santiago completely aware of the modern political situation, you will be putting yourself at a major disadvantage when it comes to your cultural immersion.
In recent history, the Pinochet regime is important to understand. In 1973, the country’s economy was in dire straits and the GDP was falling quickly. Inflation rose about 800% when Senator Salvador Allende Gossens was president. Allende came to power in 1970 was a member of the country’s Socialist Party. After Allende was removed from power by a military coup, a military government took over. The Commander of the Army, Augusto Pinochet led this regime. He made himself the new head of a junta.
Immediately, after Pinochet came to power, there were human rights violations under his control. For example, the Caravan of Death killed about 70 people in 1973. Ultimately, thousands of people were killed while he was in power up until 1990. Many people also simply left the country. According to estimates, about 30,000 people decided to move elsewhere. There were also over 2000 cases of people who simply “disappeared” during this time period, and studies have shown that at least 30,000 people were tortured. To good news is that by the late 1980’s, things weren’t quite as dire, as the government began to allow freedom of speech and assembly as well as market reforms. By a 56% to 44% vote, Pinochet did not receive power again in 1988.
You will definitely notice that the climate is much calmer as you learn Spanish in Chile. Things began to shift in a more stable direction in 1989 when Chile elected a new president, namely, Patricio Aylwin who served until 1994. Another democratic leader Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle followed. Most recently, in 2006, Chile elected Michelle Bachelet from the Socialist party. This was the country’s first female president.
Today, the president of Chile is Miguel Juan Sebastian Pinera Echenique. He is a former Senate member who is also an investor and capitalists. In fact, he is one of the richest people in the whole country. Pinera’s win seems to indicate that Chileans are currently leaning towards the right. It is interesting to note that Pinera was the first leader from the right-wing party in 52 years. He is also the country’s first billionaire to be president.
As you attend Spanish immersion school in Santiago, be sure to read the newspaper and watch the news broadcasts. The media should answer many of your questions about modern history and politics. As your Spanish improves, you will be able to understand more and more of this information.