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War of the Pacific

The War of the Pacific was fought between Chile and the joint forces of Bolivia, and Peru, from 1879 to 1884. Chile gained substantial mineral-rich territory in the conflict, leaving Bolivia a land-locked country.

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 Invasion of Peru
3 Aftermath
4 See also
5 External links


The war grew out of a dispute between Chile and Bolivia over control of a part of the Atacama desert desert that lies between the 23rd and 26th parallels on the Pacific coast. The territory contained valuable mineral resources, particularly sodium nitrate. The government of Bolivia wanted to levy taxes on the commercial operators exploiting the area, who happened to be Chilean and British.

National borders in the region had never been definitively established; the two countries negotiated a treaty that recognized the 24th parallel as their boundary and that gave Chile the right to share the export taxes on the mineral resources of Bolivia's territory between the 23rd and 24th parallels. But Bolivia subsequently became dissatisfied at having to share its taxes with Chile and feared Chilean seizure of its coastal region where Chilean interests already controlled the mining industry.

The dispute was originally between Chile and Bolivia but Peru was brought into the war because it had an alliance with Bolivia and Argentina to contain what they perceived as Chile's imperialist ambitions in the region. Argentina never fulfilled its obligations.

In 1878, Bolivia tried to increase the taxes of the Chilean Antofagasta Nitrate Company over the protests of the Chilean government. When Bolivia threatened to confiscate the company's property, Chilean armed forces occupied the port city of Antofagasta on February 14, 1879. In response, Bolivia invoked its secret alliance with Peru, the Treaty of 1873, with brought the latter into the conflict.

Invasion of Peru

Chile quickly defeated Peru's small navy, destroying one of its two iron-clad warships in the naval Battle of Iquique Bay (Independencia) and capturing the second five months later in the naval battle of Angamos (Huascar), allowing Chile to dominate the seas and enabling the Chilean army to invade Peru. An attempt at mediation by the United States failed in October 1880, and after Peruvian defeats in the battles of San Juan and Miraflores, Lima fell in January 1881; the southern suburbs of Lima were sacked and burned to the ground. Chile pursued a brutal campaign throughout Peru, especially on the coast and the central Sierra, penetrating as far north as Cajamarca. As war booty, Chile confiscated the National Library from Lima along with much capital stock.

Peruvian resistance continued for three more years, with US encouragement. Finally, on October 20, 1883, Peru and Chile signed the Treaty of Ancón, by which the Tarapacá province was ceded to the latter.


Under the terms of the treaty, Chile was to occupy the provinces of Tacna and Arica for 10 years, after which a plebiscite was to be held to determine their nationality. But the two countries failed for decades to agree on the terms the plebiscite. Finally, in 1929, through the mediation of the United States, an accord was reached by which Chile kept Arica; Peru reacquired Tacna and received $6 million indemnity and other concessions.

In 1884, a truce between Bolivia and Chile gave the latter control of the entire Bolivian coast, the province of Antofagasta, with its valuable nitrate, copper, and other minerals. A treaty in 1904 made this arrangement permanent. In return Chile agreed to build a railroad connecting the Bolivian capital of La Paz with the port of Arica and guaranteed freedom of transit for Bolivian commerce through Chilean ports and territory.

Later, Bolivia attempted to break out of its landlocked situation making a grab for territory surrounding the Rio de la Plata, a massive river which leads to the Atlantic coast, an effort that resulted in the Chaco War (1932-1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay.

The War of the Pacific left traumatic scars on Bolivian and Peruvian society. Peruvians developed an unhealthy hero worship the "heroic" defenders of the patria, such as admiral Miguel Grau, Francisco Bolognesi, and Andrés A. Cáceres, who were all killed in the battle. The defeat engendered a deep inferiority complex among the ruling classes and a skewed view of the role of the armed forces, which dominated society throughout the 20th century.

For Bolivians, the loss of the territory which they refer to as the litoral remains a deeply emotional (as well as practical) issue, as was particularly evident during the Bolivian Gas War.

See also

External links