The arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile 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.Each time the Mapuche and other native groups revolted, the southern border of the colony was driven northward.
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Serving as a sort of frontier garrison, the colony found itself with the mission of forestalling encroachment by both the Mapuche and Spain's European enemies, especially the British and the Dutch.
Buccaneers and English adventurers menaced the colony in addition to the Mapuche, as was shown by Sir Francis Drake's 1578 raid on Valparaíso, the colony's principal port.
Currently it also holds the lowest homicide rate per 100,000 people in South America.
Chile is a founding member of the United Nations, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Although the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley, and Chile became part of the Spanish Empire.