Chile Looks Ahead

Pablo Neruda, Chile’s national poet, wrote this poem to express his belief in the spiritual strength of the Chilean people. The nighttime is the darkness of Chile’s uncertain future. The guitar is the land. The Chilean people are the dawn; they have the power and energy to strum the guitar, awaken the darkness, and reveal the future in song. The Chilean people should achieve great success, if they take advantage of their nation’s fortunate physical geography, history, and culture.

We have explored how Chile has a fortunate physical geography. The country’s long expanse has a diverse climate and natural resource base. During Chile’s history, natural barriers have protected the country—the vast Pacific Ocean on the west, the towering Andes to the east, the world’s driest desert in the north, and a cold and inhospitable land to the south. Insulated from the outside world, middle Chile became the nation’s populous center and democratic heartland.

As the nation grew, a trade and communication system united outlying regions with the heartland. Serious regional disagreements and armed conflicts did not develop, so middle Chile remained the only power base. As a result, Chileans worked out their differences with less violence than did their South American neighbors. Chilean presidents, with a few exceptions, took one another’s place by electoral means. As the power of Chile’s aristocracy lessened, the country’s government became even more democratic. The whole time, people of diverse backgrounds blended into a homogenous “melting pot” of Chilean culture.

As the twenty-first century begins, the country’s location on the edge of an open sea and its land resources sustain an economy based largely on foreign trade. The world’s other nations envy this out-of-the-way country. Chile has a rich land, a stable democracy, an attractive culture, and is an economic success.

Chileans are brimming with self-confidence, so much so that Chile’s newspapers refer to Chile as “The new Argentina,” South America’s other economic success story. Argentina, however, has fallen on hard times in recent years, and Chile knows that like its neighbor, it faces many future challenges. A trading nation, Chile is far too dependent on copper exports, which account for 20 percent of the country’s revenue. As the price of copper goes up or down, so does the nation’s economy. Chile is diversifying its trade to include more manufactured and value-added products in order to stabilize its future economy. It has also opened up free-trade agreements with many countries in hope of expanding its range of export items.

Chile faces other challenges as well. Air pollution is a serious problem. Automobile exhaust and choking smog obscure the magnificent view of the Andes on Santiago’s eastern skyline. Freeway congestion and commuting times are increasing. A high rate of unemployment persists, as does the gap between the rich and poor. Shantytowns need more schools and health clinics. Demands on soil, forest, and ocean resources are increasing. Wildlife species are disappearing, and water pollution is also a growing concern. Modernization is changing the quality of people’s lives. Many Chileans are nostalgic for the time when the television did not dominate family leisure and are unhappy trying to juggle demands of jobs and family. There is also anger and a nagging pain over the long trail of blood and suffering left by the Pinochet regime. The Chilean nation must deal with these issues in the coming years.

Chile has the tools necessary to meet many of these challenges. The country is politically stable; it has relied on the democratic process to remove a dictator and to elect its presidents since democracy was restored. This nonviolent transition of governments shows that Chileans are committed to never allowing a re-occurrence of misdeeds and injustices like those of the Pinochet regime. There are other reasons for optimism: Chile has one of the highest literacy rates in world, the educational and health care systems are among the best in South America, and the government has made sound economic policy decisions.

What are Chile’s prospects for the future? As Neruda says, only the will of the Chilean people can strum the guitar and turn the darkness of the future into spirited song. Nonetheless, judging from Chile’s land resources, democratic past, and present policies, the world can expect an exhilarating and prosperous performance!