The Map of South America Changes

17 January 2010


Chile is no longer yellow in this version of my political map of South America.

Last December in Latin American Juggernaut I wrote about the re-election of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the election of Pepe Mujica in Uruguay. In the post I included a map of South America with the left-leaning governments colored yellow if mildly to the left and red if more strongly to the left. Now I must revise my map.

Michelle Bachelet, outgoing president of Chile, leaves office with high approval ratings, a novelty in South America.

Of the left-leaning heads of state in South America, outgoing president of Chile Michelle Bachelet was among the least ideological and the most pragmatic, a status she shared with Brazil’s Lula. Bachelet must step down now, and an orderly election followed by an orderly run-off has placed conservative businessman and billionaire Sebastian Pinera as Chile’s president-elect. Accordingly, I have re-colored the above map to reflect Chile’s departure from the club of mildly left-leaning governments.

Sebastian Pinera, president-elect of Chile.

Obviously, we do not yet know what Sebastian Pinera will do. He has promised to continue established social programs. He has also promised to seek investment in the country, to cut taxes for businesses, and improve government efficiency. Since Chile has become a stable democracy, and is among the most prosperous countries in the region (compared to the tottering giant of a neighbor, Argentina, Chile is in great shape), Pinera has a good chance of further improving Chile’s prospects.

Chile has often steered a separate course in Latin America. We in the northern hemisphere are likely to know about Chilean politics because of the overthrow of Allende and the dictatorship of Pinochet, but Chile’s political separation from the rest of Latin America has a long history. When South America was broken down into administrative regions by the Spanish, Chile was not part of the vast Vice-Royalty of Peru, but was a separate political entity, the Captaincy General of Chile. Moreover, Chile was not settled and colonized for silver or tin mining like Bolivia, or for Indian slaves, but rather to establish ranches and small industry to supply the colonial efforts of Spain elsewhere in the hemisphere. In other words, Chile was to produce provisions.

Leftist protest march in Santiago on the thirtieth anniversary of the coup that toppled Allende and put Pinochet in power.

Chile’s political separation from other trends in South America is in large part due to its geographical isolation. Though it has a very long border with Argentina, that border runs through the peaks of the Andes. Almost the entirety of Chile consists of the strip of land between the western slope of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Thus Chile is essentially isolated by geography from its largest neighbor. Chile does not have especially warm relations with Bolivia, who lost its access to the ocean in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and still agitates to recover a port on the Pacific, or with Peru.

Marchers were distributing these handhouts.

I happened to be in Chile on the thirtieth anniversary of the coup that toppled Allende on 11 September 1973. There were large marches and even some small disturbances that could be called rioting. I remember sitting in a small cafe in Santiago de Chile while I and the staff of the cafe watched the scuffles on television. The marchers carried the obligatory red flags and portraits of communist heroes. The resonance of communism in Latin American, of which I have written about elsewhere (in The Historical Resonance of Ideas), seemed very much in evidence at that time.

Allende presented ironically on the cover of a local magazine in Santiago, from 11 September 2003.

Like any other place in the world, Chile apparently has people who like to come out on the streets for a big rally. A party atmosphere usually pervades such events, and actual rioting, looting, and property destruction is usually confined to a small minority of ideologically motivated protesters. The majority of the people are there to hang out with friends, drink a few beers, and shout some slogans. A useful comparison would be the so-called “Battle of Seattle” when the WTO met in Seattle in 1999. As evidenced by the recent election, there seems to be little grassroots support for the far left in Chile.

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If you go to Santiago (and by all means, do go), take the cable car for some great views.

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2 Responses to “The Map of South America Changes”

  1. fabian guerrero said

    The map contain an error in south American don’t exist Falkland Islands exist ISLAS MALVINAS (ARG) GEORGIAS SANDWICH Y SHETLANDS DEL SUR (ARG.) Please correct.

    • geopolicraticus said

      I didn’t make the map; I found it somewhere on the internet, and I don’t remember where, as I wrote the above almost ten years ago.

      However, I will point out that most maps annotated in English use “Falkland Islands” rather than “Islas Malvinas,” which I assume follows from both the English bias of the English language and the fact that, even if Argentinians don’t like it, the English have political control of the islands.

      I understand that most maps produced in Argentina name the islands as Islas Malvinas, but I think that most people will realize that this is a reflection of Argentine nationalism (perhaps also political ambition, or aspiration), and not a reflection of facts on the ground.

      Best wishes,


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