War of the Pacific

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Template:History of Peru

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 and annexing the formerly Peruvian province of Tarapacá and the formerly Bolivian province of Litoral.



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Peru, Bolivia and Chile before the 1879 War

The war grew out of a dispute between Chile and Bolivia over control of a part of the Atacama desert that lies between the 23rd and 26th parallels on the Pacific coast. The territory contained valuable mineral resources, particularly sodium nitrate from guano, and secondarily saltpeter. 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.

Bolivian and Chilean historians disagree on whether the territory of Charcas, originally part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and later of the Viceroyalty de la Plata included access to the sea. Supporting their claims with different documents, the Bolivians claim that it did; the Chileans disagree. When Simón Bolívar established Bolivia, he claimed access to the sea, although most economic exploitation of the coastal region was being conducted by Chilean enterprises, under the aegis of Chile's more robust economy and more stable institutions.

In 1878, Bolivia, under President Hilarión Daza, tried to increase the taxes of the Chilean Antofagasta Nitrate Company, over the protests of the Chilean government of President Aníbal Pinto. 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. The Peruvian Government, already concerned that the Allied Forces were not in shape to face the Chilean Army, attempted to mediate in the dispute by sending a top diplomat to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the Chilean Government. Chile considered this an offense and responded by breaking diplomatic contact and declaring war on April 5, 1879.

The dispute was originally between Chile and Bolivia. However, Peru was brought into the war because it had an alliance with Bolivia to contain what they perceived as Chile's imperialist ambitions in the region. Argentina was invited to be a member of this Alliance, since it had a territorial dispute with Chile regarding the whole region of Patagonia. A settlement was arranged, but Argentina never fulfilled its obligations.

Sea Campaign

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Naval Battle of Iquique

Bolivia, after several short-lived governments, stood unprepared to face the Chilean army by itself. From the beginning of the war, it became clear that in a difficult desert war, control of the sea would provide the deciding factor. Bolivia had no navy, and Peru faced an economic collapse that left its navy and army without proper training or budget. Most of its warships were old and unable to face battle, leaving only the ironclads Huáscar and Independencia ready. In contrast, the Chileans (encouraged by British interests) had well-prepared armed forces: a modern navy supplemented a well-trained and equipped army. Two of the newest and most powerful Chilean battleships - Blanco Encalada and Cochrane - had already started blockading the Bolivian coast.

In the Naval Battle of Iquique of 21 May 1879, the Chilean Navy attempted to blockade the Peruvian port of Iquique. Peruvian ships rapidly intercepted two of Chile's oldest vessels: Esmeralda and the gunboat Covadonga. Huáscar sank Esmeralda, while in a concurrent battle called by Chilean historians The Naval Battle of Punta Gruesa (but included in the previous one by Peruvian historians), Covadonga forced the larger ship Independencia to run aground.

The Peruvian Navy ultimately lost the Independencia, unable to recover it from the sea. Chileans viewed Arturo Prat, captain of Esmeralda, as a martyr to their cause. Huáscar rescued the survivors from Esmeralda, who gave its captain, Miguel Grau, the nickname of "Knight of the Seas". Huáscar remained the only Peruvian vessel capable of holding off the invasion.

In the Naval Battle of Angamos six months later (8 October 1879), the Chileans captured Huáscar in a bloody combat that raged for nearly two hours. The dead included Admiral Grau.

Domination of the seas enabled the Chilean Army to invade Peru. Bolivia, unable to recover its province of Antofagasta, participated in the Peruvian defence of Tarapacá. Chile had superiority on land as well, having the advantage of modern artillery and better rifles.

Ground Campaign

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Battle of Chorrillos

Two weeks after the capture of Huáscar, the Chilean Army started its invasion of Peru. With full control of the sea, an Army of nearly 10,000 soldiers landed and captured the small port of Pisagua, splitting the Peruvian-Bolivian Army in two.

Marching towards the city of Iquique, the first battle of the campaign started. In the Battle of San Francisco, the Chilean Army held off a sudden counterattack, in which both sides suffered several casualties. The Bolivians withdrew, forcing the Peruvian Army to retreat to the city of Tarapacá. Four days later, the Chilean Army captured Iquique, with little resistance.

An expedition composed of 3,600 soldiers and artillery were sent to wipe out the rest of the Peruvian Army. Fewer than 2,000 Peruvian soldiers were there, poorly trained and demoralized by the previous defeat. The Chileans captured a key position and surrounded the city, from which they started their attack. Nevertheless, the Chilean expedition was disbanded in the Battle for Tarapacá: the Peruvians managed to rout the enemy, forcing them to leave behind significant quantities of supplies and ammunition. However, the victory counted for little, because a separate Chilean force left Pisagua and disembarked nearly 12,000 soldiers in Pacocha Bay, destroying any practical hope for reinforcement of the provinces of Tacna and Arica.

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Oil Painting by Juan Lepiani which represents the battle of Arica on June 7, 1880

On June 7, 1880, some 7,000 Chilean forces backed by the Navy successfully attacked a Peruvian garrison in Arica, which was under Colonel Francisco Bolognesi. Chilean forces, directed by Colonel Pedro Lagos, had to run up the Morro de Arica (a steep and tall hill) facing 2000 allied men commanded by Colonel Bolognesi. The assault became known as the Battle of Arica, which became one of the most tragic of the war: Chile had 474 casulaties, while almost 1,000 Peruvians lost their lives, including Colonel Bolognesi. Since the Morro de Arica was the last bulwark of defence for the allied troops standing in the city, its occupation by Chile has been of historical importance for both countries. Bolivia decided to withdraw from the war after this battle and previous desert confrontations.

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Chilean Army marching on Lima in 1881

In October, 1880, the United States unsuccessfully attempted to mediate the conflict on board USS Lackawanna corvette at Arica Bay to try to end the war with diplomacy. Representatives from the Chile, Peru, and Bolivia met to discuss the territorial disputes, yet both Peru and Bolivia rejected the loss of their territories to Chile and abandoned the conference. By January 1881, the Chilean Army marched towards the Peruvian capital, Lima. After Peruvian defeats in the battles of San Juan and Miraflores, Lima fell in January 1881 to the forces of Chilean General Manuel Baquedano; the southern suburbs of Lima, including the upscale beach area of Chorrillos, were sacked and burned to the ground. The outlying haciendas were burned down by the Chinese coolies who had been brought in for cheap labor. (Chilean historians claim that the Chilean troops entered Lima to prevent looting and destruction after the collapse of authority there; Peruvian historians are unanimous in saying that those same Chilean forces were responsible for the looting and destruction.)

With little effective Peruvian central government remaining, Chile pursued a brutal campaign throughout Peru, especially on the coast and the central Sierra, penetrating as far north as Cajamarca. Remarkably, even in these circumstances, Chile was not able to completely subjugate Peru. As war booty, Chile confiscated the Peruvian National Library from Lima along with much capital stock.

Peruvian resistance continued for three more years, with U.S. encouragement. The remmants of the Peruvian Army defeated the Chilean Army on several occasions. Finally, on 20 October 1883, Peru and Chile signed the Treaty of Ancón, by which 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.

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. Finally, in 1929, through the mediation of the United States under president Herbert Hoover, an accord was reached by which Chile kept Arica; Peru reacquired Tacna and received $6 million indemnity and other concessions.

The War of the Pacific left traumatic scars on Bolivian and Peruvian society.

Peruvians developed a cult for the "heroic" defenders of the patria, such as Admiral Miguel Grau, Francisco Bolognesi who were killed in the war, and Andrés A. Cáceres who went on to become a leading political figure and symbol of resistance to the invading Chilean Army. The defeat engendered a deep inferiority complex among the ruling classes, which also led to 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. President Carlos Mesa of Bolivia announced in 2004 that he would push for Chile to return the lost seacoast territory, as has been the policy of all recent Presidents, especially Hugo Banzer. All Bolivians are taught that getting back the Litoral will solve pretty much all of Bolivia's problems (see Bolivia's leading newspaper, "El Diario", www.eldiario.net, which has at least one editorial per week on the subject).

Chile, of course, fared better, gaining a lucrative territory, including the nitrates and saltpeter, major sources of income (although less so once Germany developed artificial nitrate synthesis during World War I). Still, the involvement of the British in the exploitation of these resources was, at best, a mixed blessing, leading them to meddle in Chilean politics, ultimately backing an overthrow of the Chilean president in 1891.

See also

External links

de:Salpeterkrieg es:Guerra del Pacífico fr:Guerre du Pacifique (1879-1884) ja:太平洋戦争 (南米) no:Stillehavskrigen


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