Chile Religion

Chile Religion

Nearly two-thirds of Chileans are Catholics. Since the early 1970s, Protestant communities, mainly Pentecostal churches, have gained many new members. A minority of the indigenous people have resisted all forms of Christian mission and hold on to their traditional religion, which is similar to shamanism, the belief that nature is soul.

Catholicism came to Chile with the Spaniards in the 16th century and eventually became state religion. State and church were separated in the 1925 Constitution and full religious freedom prevails, but the Catholic Church still has great influence in society. Religious education in state schools is almost entirely Catholic. Only in 2004 were divorces allowed. Then, since 1990, the government had tried to overcome the resistance of the conservatives and the church.

The relations between the Catholic Church and the military have traditionally been good. On both sides radical movements have been feared and the fear of Marxism made most bishops and priests sympathize with the military coup in 1973, when the Socialist Allende government collapsed. Soon, however, criticism within the Church against General Augusto Pinochet’s regime grew with Santiago’s archdiocese as a resistance center. This led the upper class, which has traditionally favored the church, to withdraw its financial contributions. Instead, the influence of the lower classes increased, and the church began to carry on increasingly larger social activities, financed with foreign aid.

Ecclesiastical efforts came to mean much to the peaceful transition to democracy in 1990. In the last half of the 1980s, committed bishops succeeded in forming a coalition of parties that opposed the military regime.

Chile Population Pyramid 2020

Population composition

More than 50% of the population of Chile is mestizo, common descendants of whites and Native Americans. About a quarter of the Chileans are white, mainly descendants of Spanish conquerors and European immigrants (in southern Chile around Valdivia there are also Chileans of German descent in large numbers). The smallest population group is made up of the indigenous peoples, including the Araucans of Central Chile and the Aymara, highland Indians of the north.

Population distribution

The population distribution roughly reflects the favorable or unfavorable natural conditions: three quarters of all Chileans live in central Chile, while the north and south are only sparsely populated.

The largest metropolitan areas are the urban region around Greater Santiago in the Longitudinal Valley and the urban agglomerations around Valparaiso and Conceptión on the central Chilean coast.

In the 1990’s, the life expectancy of Chileans increased as a result of the increase in the standard of living and better health care. This was accompanied by a reduction in infant and child mortality. Both developments have led to the relatively high population growth. Around 30% of Chileans are younger than 15 today.

  • Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Chile, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.



UN accusations of abuse

13th of December

UN investigators accuse police and military of serious human rights violations in connection with recent mass protests. Investigators have found four deaths caused by security forces and 345 cases of eye injuries due to the bird shotgun used. In addition, 113 cases of torture were found and sexual violence was used in 24 cases against civilians. Around 1,600 people are still in custody, out of the total 28,000 arrested since mid-October.

Assault is condemned

December 6

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) condemns the violence used against protesters in Chile. Particular concern is expressed about the nearly 300 cases of eye damage (see November 2019). IACHR belongs to the OAS, which reports that 26 lives have been claimed while over 12,000 people have been injured and more than 20,000 have been arrested. Protests also occur in Santiago on the 50th day of protest. The crisis is considered the most serious in Chile since democracy was restored in 1990.

Stimulus packages are presented

December 2

The government presents a package of measures of $ 5.5 billion to stimulate growth following recent unrest that has hit the economy hard. Large public investments are made, among other things, to support the business community. According to Finance Minister Ignacio Briones, the package will be able to create 100,000 new jobs in 2020. The downside is that the central government’s share of GDPincreases. One reason for the investment is that the economy fell by 3.4 percent in October compared to the same month last year, the worst figure since the global financial crisis in 2009. For the whole year, the government has changed its forecast for GDP growth, from 2 percent to 1, 4 percent, due to the ongoing protests. Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel says the stimulus package has no function unless the state manages to isolate “vandals, looters, drug types and all those who threaten our democracy”. At the same time protest speeches continue around the country, now on the 46th day.


The police are accused of serious abuse

November 27th

In a report, Human Rights Watch states that the police have committed “serious human rights violations” during the weeks of demonstrations that are now estimated to have claimed 25 lives. The abuse consists in being overwhelmed both on the streets and in the detention center. There is information about abuse and sexual abuse. A student has become completely blind after being hit in the eye, before the police stopped using bird shotgun.

Birdwatching against protesters is prohibited

November 19

Police announce that one should stop shooting with bird shot at protesters, since more than 200 people suffered serious eye injuries during protests that have now been going on for a month. Some have lost sight of an eye. A total of 22 people have been killed and over 2,000 injured. The National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) has reported 384 cases of human rights violations committed by security forces against protesters. A few days earlier, President Piñera has for the first time condemned the violence of police and military. Both the UN and Amnesty International have sent representatives to Chile to investigate the situation.

A referendum on a new constitution is promised

November 14

A referendum will be held in April 2020 on a new constitution. The Congress decides this after a debate between the government and opposition parties. In doing so, one of the central requirements set during the ongoing wave of protest is met. The referendum will decide whether a new constitution should be written, and how it should be drafted. Voters will have to decide on three proposals: a draft should be written by elected politicians, by representatives appointed by politicians or by a group consisting of both categories. If the persons who are to write the constitution are to be elected, such an election must be held in October 2020, according to the agreement. The current constitution was written during the military dictatorship, 1980, but has changed many times. The protesters demand, among other things, that the Constitution should establish the state’s responsibility for education and health care for citizens. Opinion polls show that 75 percent of Chileans support the protest movement. The percentage who want a new constitution is even higher: 87 percent.

The central bank pumps in money, record low currency

November 13

The central bank announces that the equivalent of $ 4 billion has been pumped into the economy in an attempt to stem the fall of the currency. Over the past two days, pesos have been down to about 800 pesos per dollar, lower than ever before. There is concern that the fall of the currency should lead to higher inflation and slower growth.

Strike and new clashes

November 12

Violent clashes occur again in Santiago where around 80,000 take part in a demonstration, after about 100 organizations announced a strike. Clashes and looting occur elsewhere. Schools and universities are closed. President Piñera is asking retired police officers to re-enter service to help deal with the unrest.

Tougher take on protesters

November 7

President Piñera announces a series of measures to improve security. Among other things, the ban on wearing a ski mask and burning barricades is introduced. A special group of prosecutors will be appointed and in the longer term the intelligence service will be reorganized. Nearly 10,000 people have been arrested so far in connection with the unrest.

Piñera does not intend to resign

November 5

President Piñera rejects a demand for his resignation and says he is not solely responsible for circumstances that triggered a wave of protests. “These problems have accumulated for 30 years,” Piñera said in an interview. He also presents a package of measures aimed at giving 6,800 small and medium-sized businesses affected by riots, looting and fires the right to financial support and tax rebates. At the same time, the unrest continues in several cities. The South American Football Association Conmebol has decided to move the final of the Copa Libertadores football tournament later in November, from Santiago to Lima in Peru, for security reasons. Conmebol has also set up a planned friendly match with Bolivia.

Giant demonstration begins third week of protest

November 4th

Tens of thousands of people take part in yet another protest meeting under the motto “this is not over” at Plaza de Italia, the square in Santiago that has become the center of protests against economic injustice. Requirements are increasing for President Piñera to step down. Protesters try to go to the presidential palace and clashes break out with police trying to stop them with water cannons and tear gas. Concerns including looting and vandalism are reported from Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and Concepción. The demands are increasing on a new constitution, which will replace the one written under the military dictatorship, and on the departure of the president. A new opinion poll shows that 87 percent of Chileans support the constitutional change requirement. The survey also shows that support for Piñera has plummeted to just 13 percent.


Meeting with the opposition on the protests

October 31st

The government is holding a meeting with opposition leaders in an attempt to put an end to the extensive protests, without any major success. Socialist Party leader Álvaro Elizalde said afterwards that the government “is not prepared to listen to citizens’ demands” and Heraldo Muñoz, leader of the Democratic Party, said he “has not seen any clear signals” about opening a dialogue. Several opposition leaders have called for amendments to the 1980 constitution.

The UN Climate Conference is canceled

October 30th

President Piñera cancels the UN Climate Conference COP 25 in December, due to the unrest in the country. The annual climate summit that brings together tens of thousands of participants would have been held in Santiago on December 2-13. COP 25 has already been moved once – in November 2018, Brazil withdrew since Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election there. A scheduled summit in November with countries in the regional organization Apec is also set. Both US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart China’s Xi Jinping were expected to attend the Apec meeting.

The President replaces the government

October 26th

President Sebastian Piñera resigns his entire cabinet to form a new government, in an effort to curb protests. He promises continued social reform. Furthermore, the curfew is abolished as raw night time in Chilean cities for a week. The opposition demands that the state of emergency also be revoked.

Million protest for social justice

October 25th

Over one million people attend a demonstration in Santiago, demanding social justice. Many have also participated in a general strike the days before, announced by the national organization CUT. The protests continue despite President Piñera’s promises of action. “Chile has woken up” is a recurring slogan in the protests against economic and social difficulties, and major divisions in society.

Reforms are promised to stop protests

22 October

President Piñera strikes a more conciliatory tone to stop the wave of protests, in the face of threats of continued protests and strikes by, among others, the national organization CUT and 18 social organizations. He promises an increase in the minimum wage, the basic pension (by 20 percent) and the highest tax rate. Furthermore, a planned increase in electricity prices will be stopped and the state will pay more for health care costs. Piñera also apologizes for not anticipating the protests and says he understood the message from the citizens. The situation remains chaotic. Many schools and shops are closed, in several cities. The Santiago metro only goes to some extent, and the damage caused to the system during the protests is estimated to amount to at least $ 200 million. Sharp criticism is directed at the security forces, which are said to be behind four of the 15 deaths that have now been reported. More than 200 people have been taken to hospitals, almost half of them with gunshot wounds. Over 2,600 people have been arrested.

Several dead in continued unrest

October 20

Although President Piñera has withdrawn the increase in the metro, protests continue in Santiago and elsewhere. Five people then die looting lit fire at a textile factory. In total, most eleven lives have now been required in connection with the unrest. Military and police use tear gas and water cannon against protesters in several cities. The protests are aimed at what many residents perceive as too high a cost of living in general. The state of emergency is extended to several other cities in the country, in addition to Santiago.

State of emergency following violent protests

October 19

Violent protests triggered by an increase in fares in Santiago’s subway led to President Sebastián Piñera facing an emergency permit and curfew at night in Santiago. The protests began at the beginning of the week with students plotting in protest but gradually violence and vandalism erupted, and metro stations were set on fire. The metro has been closed over the weekend. Soldiers have been deployed to quell the unrest – which means the military is patrolling the streets for the first time since the dictatorship ended in 1990.


Billion against drought

September 9th

President Piñera promises $ 5 billion in an effort to improve water supply in the country. The background is the driest winter in 60 years. Large harvests have been destroyed and over 100,000 animals have died due to lack of water and feed. This applies mainly to goats, cattle and sheep. Around 600,000 people currently receive water distributed in tankers.


Great refurbishment in the government

June 13th

President Sebastián Piñera replaces his foreign minister and ministers responsible for finance, healthcare, energy, public works and social development. The message will then be an opinion poll showing declining support for the president, while economic growth will slow down. This is the second time Piñera has been remodeling the government since he took office in December 2017.


The church is ordered to pay damages

March 27th

A court orders the Catholic Church to pay the equivalent of nearly $ 150,000 in damages to each of three victims of Fernando Karadima, the influential former pastor whose abuse is behind the extensive sex abuse scandal within the church (see May and September 2018). The verdict is the first of its kind to address sex abuse within the Church in Chile.

The Pope lets the Archbishop go

March 23rd

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who is also Archbishop of Santiago. He is the highest representative of the Catholic Church in Chile, so far resigning because of the scandal involving sexual abuse. Ezzati is expected to stand trial for not disclosing sex offenses committed by three priests (see also August 2018).

A new regional forum is formed

March 22

During a meeting in Santiago, eight South American presidents launch the new Regional Forum for the Progress of South America (Prosur), which is intended to replace Unasur – a regional body that has effectively ceased to function. Prosecur will mainly support democracy and the market economy, it says. The initiative has been taken by President Sebastián Piñera and Colombia’s Iván Duque, and the other participating countries are Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay and Peru. Representatives of the left-wing governments in Bolivia, Surinam and Uruguay attend the meeting, but those countries do not join Prosur. Venezuela was not invited.

President Piñera criticizes Bachelet

March 3rd

President Sebastián Piñera strongly criticizes her representative at the presidential post, Michelle Bachelet, for failing to condemn Venezuela’s left-wing President Nicolás Maduro in his capacity as UN Commissioner for Human Rights. Piñera is a strong supporter of the opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries.


Jail for murder of ex-president

30th of January

Six men who worked for the dictator Augusto Pinochet are sentenced to prison for the 1982 murder of former President Eduardo Frei (the elder). The verdict is the result of a long-standing legal process during which Frei’s remains were dug up twice. The six men, several of them doctors, were first arrested in 2009 and are now sentenced to between three and ten years in prison. Frei initially supported Augusto Pinochet’s military coup but had become one of the regime’s foremost critics in the early 1980s, due to human rights violations. Frei, who was Christian Democratic president from 1964 to 1970, could not be dismissed as a leftist radical and was therefore perceived as a particularly troublesome opponent. Frei died in the same hospital as the poet Pablo Neruda nine years earlier. There are suspicions that Neruda was also poisoned (see October 2017).

Chile Religion