The Center & The Regions

Even though in theory there is lots of room in Chile, three quarters of the population - 12.2 million people - live in the Central Region which, at 115,000 square kilometers, makes up only 15% of the country's total area. This concentration is due to the favorable climate and conditions for agriculture, as well as the settlement history of the country. The Spanish pushed through the hostile desert of the north into the fertile Central Valley only to be stopped further south by the Mapuche. It was not until the end of the 19th century, when the Mapuche had been subdued, that the Chilean government started 'colonizing' the untamed regions of the south.

During the entire colonial period, Santiago formed the undisputed political and economic center of the country - a fact that has not changed to this day. Chile suffers from "centralitis". All important decisions are made in the capital; and this is where corporate headquarters, parties, associations, and the media reside. There is no getting around Santiago. The regions have but limited autonomy, and whatever timid attempts at decentralization may have been made, they soon got stuck in red tape. So it's not surprising either that 40% of all Chileans - more than 6 million people - are crammed into the Greater Santiago area.

There are major differences between urban and rural areas. While modern city dwellers wear European-style clothing, participate in the rat race, and vacation in Miami, time seems to be standing still in some of the dreamy villages of the Central Region. Here, life revolves around livestock and harvest, spurred huasos strut their stuff on horseback on Main Street, and now and then, you can still meet an ox cart with wooden disk wheels. However, this idyllic rural scene hides more difficult working conditions, a lack of educational opportunity, and shockingly low wage levels for the population. Small wonder then that many young people make their escape to the urban areas, where they hope to find economic opportunity. Roughly 86% of all Chileans are city dwellers at this point, and their numbers are rising.