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Rough Cut: Chile: Karina's Story
Background Facts and Related Links
Find out more about Chile's recent political struggles and visit Chilean Web sites dedicated to advancing transgender issues.

Political Background

Chile made headlines in March 2006 when President Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated. Chile's first female president, Bachelet is a socialist and a single mother of three. As a 22-year-old medical student, she was imprisoned and tortured under the right-wing dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Although she campaigned on a reform platform, Bachelet has indicated she will not bring about radical change. Nevertheless, many see her as a symbol of reconciliation between Chile's traumatic political past and current leftist trends in Latin America.

Almost two decades after Pinochet was voted out of office, the footprint of Chile's military dictatorship still weighs on many of the country's residents. A violent coup deposed Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973 and placed General Pinochet at the head of a junta that made sweeping changes to the country's foundation. The new dictator suspended the constitution, imposed strict censorship and halted all political activity. In addition, economic reforms swept Chile -- Pinochet abolished minimum wage, privatized the pension system and lowered taxes.

Along with these changes came extensive human rights violations, both at home and abroad. Roughly 3,000 Chilean residents "disappeared" and thousands more were tortured, exiled or incarcerated for their leftist or opposition politics.

A new constitution was approved by a plebiscite in September 1980, and General Pinochet became president of the republic for an eight-year term. But the next vote, in October 1988, denied Pinochet a second eight-year term. He reluctantly stepped down as president in 1990, but remained commander-in-chief of the army until 1998. In subsequent years, Pinochet has faced multiple trials for human rights abuses, but so far has avoided conviction.

He was succeeded by Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin and next by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, also a Christian Democrat. In 2000, the Socialist Party candidate won office with President Ricardo Lago Escobar, who led the country until Bachelet took office earlier this year.

Chilean society is traditionally conservative, and 70 percent of the population identifies as Catholic. A law passed in November 2004 made Chile one of the last places in the world to legalize divorce.

Related Links

Chilean Government
The English language version of the Chilean government's Web site posts press releases on current events and news.

Background Note: Chile
The U.S. State Department provides a detailed fact sheet on Chile, including a brief history, a section on political conditions, information on foreign relations, and contact details on travel and business.

The Chile Information Project: Derechos Chile
This Web site is dedicated to documenting the legacy of human rights abuses in Chile from the 1973 military coup through the present. The site features background on some milestones, an extensive chronology of events, historical photos and testimony from victims of human rights violations.

The Chile Information Project: Environmental Report
This site highlights the environmentally sensitive areas of the country and the stresses that economic development has brought to them. By clicking on a region, you can see a list of local environmental concerns.

OpusGay (in Spanish)
OpusGay is the first gay newspaper in Chile reporting national and international news.

TravesChile (in Spanish)
TravesChile is one of Chile's most active transgender activist groups, with representation in several Chilean cities.

Movimiento de Integracion y Liberacion Homosexual (Movilh) (in Spanish)
Movilh is one of the foremost gay and lesbian rights groups in Chile.