Chile Table of Contents

Scholars have long pondered why Chile was the first country in Latin America to achieve stable civilian rule in a constitutional, electoral, representative republic. They have also asked why Chile was more successful at constitutional government thereafter than its neighbors. One part of the answer is that Chile had fewer obstacles to overcome because it was less disturbed by regional, church-state, and ethnic conflicts. The geographically compact and relatively homogeneous population was easier to manage than the far-flung groups residing in many of the other new states of the hemisphere. As the nineteenth century wore on, slow settlement of the frontiers to the north and south provided a safety valve without creating a challenge to the dominance of the Central Valley.

As with regionalism, the church issue that rent many of the new republics was also muted in Chile, where the Catholic Church had never been very wealthy or powerful. Some historians would also argue that Chilean criollos, because they lived on the fringe of the empire, had more experience at self-government during the colonial period. In addition, the Chilean elite was less fearful than many other Spanish Americans that limited democracy would open the door to uprisings by massive native or black subject classes. At the same time, the ruling class was cohesive and confident, its members connected by familial and business networks. The elite was powerful partly because it controlled the main exports, until foreigners took over trade late in the nineteenth century. The rapid recovery of the export economy from the devastation of the wars of independence also helped, as economic and political success and stability became mutually reinforcing. Capitalizing on these advantages, however, would require shrewd and ruthless political engineers, victory in a war against Chile's neighbors, continued economic growth, and some luck in the design, timing, and sequence of political change.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress