Chile's northern desert contains great mineral wealth, principally copper. The relatively small central area dominates in terms of population and agricultural resources, and is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century when it incorporated its northern and southern regions. Southern Chile is rich in forests and grazing lands, and features a string of volcanoes and lakes. The southern coast is a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, and islands.
Spain conquered and settled Chile in the mid-16th century effectively replacing Inca rule in northern and central Chile but failed to conquer the independent Mapuche that inhabited south-central Chile. After declaring its independence from Spain in 1818, Chile emerged in the 1830s as a relatively stable authoritarian republic. In the 19th century, Chile experienced significant economic and territorial growth ending Mapuche resistance in the 1880s and gaining its current northern territory in the War of the Pacific after defeating Peru and Bolivia. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the country experienced severe left-right political polarization and turmoil. This development culminated with the 1973 Chilean coup d'état that overthrew Salvador Allende's left-wing government and instituted a 16-year-long right-wing military dictatorship that left more than 3,000 people dead or missing. The dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet ended in 1990 after it lost a referendum in 1988 and was succeeded by a centre-left coalition which ruled through four presidencies until 2010.
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