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Chile, country on the Pacific coast of South America, stretching 2,650 mi (1,643 km) from its northern borders with Peru and Bolivia to Cape Horn at the tip of the continent. Chile is narrow, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the west and Argentina to the east; the average distance across the country is only 110 mi (68 km). The Andes Mountains run along the eastern length of the country, and Cerro Ojos del Salado, in the north, is the second-highest peak in the western hemisphere. Most Chileans live in the central part of the country, nearly a third of them in Santiago, the capital and chief industrial city. About 90% of Chileans are Roman Catholics. The national language is Spanish. Chile is a major mining and manufacturing nation (a leading exporter of copper). Colonized by Spain in the 16th century, the country won its independence in 1818. In the 20th century Chile was one of Latin America's most stable democracies. In 1970, the election of Salvador Allende, a Marxist, led to a period of political polarization and economic and civil conflict. It ended in 1973, with a bloody military coup that established the right-wing dictator Pinochet. Civilian rule was restored only in 1990. Pinochet stepped down as commander-in-chief of the army in 1998, when he became senator for life.


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