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Chile Today

Women and the Family

Over the past 10 years, women in Chile have become increasingly influential in both the government and the private sector. When she began her term in 2006, former President Michelle Bachelet launched a campaign to promote gender equality in Chile and named women to a number of influential posts in her cabinet. Despite these advances, salaries for men and women remain unequal in Chile, and men typically occupy the most influential positions, particularly in the private sector.

Two government policies have had a particularly important impact on women and the family in Chile. In November 2004, divorce became legal for the first time. Then, in 2006, state-run hospitals were given clearance to distribute the morning-after pill free of charge. Before the passage of the law legalizing divorce, Chile was one of the few countries in the world to prohibit this practice, which resulted in many Chileans forming new families without legally divorcing. Those who could afford it had their marriages annulled. These new policies have directly challenged the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile (about 70% of Chileans are Catholic), and were vehemently resisted by the powerful conservative sectors of the Chilean population.

Chilean Identity

Due in part to its overall economic success, Chilean identity is in flux. While Chileans are very proud of their nationality and celebrate the fiestas patrias (independence-day holidays) with fervor, they also increasingly value cultural and material imports from abroad. Chileans flock to malls every weekend to buy the latest technological toys, and SUVs are common, despite high gas prices. Many members of the expanding middle class are moving to the suburbs and sending their children to private, bilingual schools; incorporating English words into conversations and having coffee at Starbucks have become status symbols. In recent years, the United States has replaced Europe as the preferred cultural model for many middle- and upper-class Chileans.

Other sectors of the Chilean population, however, resist these influences, including members of the political left and indigenous groups. A number of popular Chilean artists have also commented on Chile's increasingly materialistic and outward-looking culture, including writer Alberto Fuguet and musicians Los Chancho en Piedra and Joe Vasconcellos.

An interesting example of these tensions in Chilean identity is the annual pre-Christmas charity event, the Teletón. Modeled on telethons in the United States, the Teletón is billed as "27 hours of love" and presided over by Chilean TV personality Don Francisco. Despite its growing commercialization—companies showing off with big donations to strengthen their branding—the event is remarkable not only because it raises large sums of money for children with disabilities, but also because almost all Chileans watch it and contribute funds, despite class, ethnicity, or geographic differences. The Teletón is truly an expression of modern chilenidad (Chileanism).

Export Industries

Despite the significant effects of the international economic crisis as well as damage caused by the recent earthquake, Chilean export industries continue to be a crucial source of jobs and national income. Foremost among these are the nation's copper mines, which are more productive than any others in the world. In 2008, Chilean copper exports reached US$36.4 billion, and mining products constituted almost 60% of the Chilean export market. Chile's principal nonmineral exports include wine, wood, fruit, vegetables, and fish. The top three markets for Chilean exports are the European Union (24.7%), China (14.1%), and the United States (11.6%).

Despite the positive economic impacts of Chile's vibrant export sector, the success of these businesses has also resulted in domestic conflicts. The mining and salmon industries have been highly criticized for negative environmental effects. The Mapuche, Chile's most significant indigenous group, have challenged the construction of hydroelectric plants in the south of Chile on environmental, territorial, and cultural grounds. And workers at Codelco, the government-owned copper company, have repeatedly demanded higher wages and better working conditions. Clearly, large segments of the population have yet to see the benefits of Chile's export industries.

Chile on the International Stage

Since its return to democracy, Chile has been active in international politics and trade relations. A strong proponent of free trade, Chile has signed numerous bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries worldwide. It participates actively in United Nations agencies and has sent Chilean soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions in countries such as Haiti and Iraq. The reelection of Chilean José Miguel Insulza as secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) makes Chile a high-profile force in the hemisphere.

Despite its increasingly important role on the global stage, Chile's relations with its immediate neighbors are somewhat contentious. Chile and Argentina have ongoing disputes over natural gas, and Bolivia and Chile have maintained only consular relations since 1978 due to a long-standing conflict over Bolivia's sea access. Since 2005, Chile and Peru have been haggling over the demarcation of the coastline between the two countries. Peru elevated its complaint to The Hague in March of 2009. Chile has maintained cordial but somewhat distant relationships with Bolivia and Venezuela since Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Hugo Chávez (Venezuela) came to power.

Language

It's no coincidence that How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle, a dictionary of Chilean slang, regularly sells out. Chileans use an astonishing amount of slang—known as chilenismos (Chileanisms). Some frequently heard examples are ¿Cachai?, an interrogative that roughly means "Get it?" and supposedly comes from the English expression "to catch," and al tiro, which means "right away," (which in Chile could mean a time frame of 30 seconds or several hours). The word gringo—which refers mostly to North Americans but in some cases may refer to other foreigners—is considered relatively neutral and is used freely, but can take on a negative connotation depending on the tone. Used with the diminutive (gringuito, gringuita), it can also be affectionate.

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