Chile, known for its rugged Andes mountains, was ruled by the Inca and the Mapuche until the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. It gained independence from Spain in 1818. Dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled the country from 1973 until 1990, when a democratically elected president was installed.
Population: 16.6 million, about the same as Florida.
Ethnic groups: white and white-Amerindian, 95.4 percent; Mapuche, 4 percent; other indigenous groups, 0.6 percent.
Religions: Roman Catholic, 70 percent; evangelical, 15.1 percent; Jehovah's Witnesses, 1 percent; other Christian, 1 percent; other, 4.6 percent; none, 8.3 percent.
Political: Billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, 60, was elected in January to become Chile's first right-wing leader since Pinochet. He is set to be sworn in in March. He owns a TV station, a soccer club and a large share of Chile's flag-carrier airline, Lan Chile. He replaces Michelle Bachelet, 58, who was elected Chile's first female president in March 2006 after running as a Socialist. The country has a National Congress with a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies.
Economy: Chile has one of Latin America's strongest economies; high world prices for its copper have swollen Chile's government coffers. The main exports are copper, fish, fruit, paper and pulp and chemicals.
Trade with Florida: Chile is Florida's seventh-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade exceeding $5.4 billion in 2008. Florida imports more than $580 million worth of fish products and more than $38 million worth of fruit from Chile annually.
Chile is east of Florida
When folks think of Latin America, the common misconception is that all of it, like Mexico, is west of Florida. But because of the sharp curve of Central America, much of South America lies to the east of Florida. For example, Chile's capital city, Santiago, lies at longitude 70.45 W, while Tampa sits at 82.53 W. That puts Chile two hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Chileans at Olympics
An Olympic skier from Chile, Noelle Barahona, will participate in the closing ceremony today after learning her family and friends were safe following the earthquake. Chile brought three athletes to the games, all Alpine skiers. The two other skiers had already left Vancouver before the quake struck — Maui Gayme for France and Jorge Mandru for Seattle. The delegation still in Vancouver includes a team spokesman, a coach and a physical therapist. They planned to be part of today's ceremony. "As of now, all the members of the team have heard from their families and their friends," spokesman Luis Alberto Santa Cruz said. "They are well in Chile. That is the information we have so far. Of course, there is all the shock of the earthquake, and there is sadness because of the people who died."
Obama offers help
The United States "will be there" if Chile asks for rescue and recovery help, President Barack Obama said Saturday. He also warned people in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the West Coast to heed the instructions of local authorities about evacuations and other measures in advance of a tsunami that moved across the Pacific Ocean. At the White House, Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, had a 20-minute conference call with staff and Cabinet members who updated him on conditions in Chile and on the tsunami.
Visit by Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to leave today for a previously scheduled trip to Chile and the region. Her itinerary included more than a day in Chile, but it was unclear Saturday whether she would stick to it. The U.S. Embassy in Chile was working to learn the whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Chile. Initially there were no reports of U.S. casualties. The State Department advises Americans seeking information on family and friends in Chile to contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs toll-free at 1-888-407-4747.
Sources: Enterprise Florida; CIA World Factbook; BBC; Associated Press