Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bolivia... still trying to regain lost land from the War of the Pacific (1879-1883)

Don't be ashamed if you're asking yourself, "what the heck is the War of the Pacific?" Well don't feel too bad, the majority of people who even claim to be history war buffs are largely ignorant to the fact that there have even been regional wars in South America.

The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) is one of the major wars waged between South American nations. The war escalated over territory disputes along the old boarder region of Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

Naval Battle of Iquique: the Esmeralda versus the Huáscar

If you are interested, check out the surprisingly comprehensive Wikipedia page on the war.

Basically I'll break down the history of the war as follows. Just keep in mind I am a Peruvian-American, so I may be a little bias and my quick synopsis may be full of typical South American cliche's...

Once upon a time, in a land to the South, there was this barren and skinny country known as Chile. Despite having virtually no natural resources, Chile was working its heart out to make something of itself in the tumultuous reality of the late 19th century.

Bolivia on the other hand, was and still is, a country with a abundant supply of natural resources. Sadly, much like how the Spanish squandered all the wealth they stole from Peru and Bolivia, the left over remnants of the conquistadors were running the country as if they were still living the life of a aristocrat in Spain back in the 17th century.

When it came time to work out a plan for doing business with Chilean ventures edging up Bolivia's old coastal province of Antofagasta, Bolivia decided to create a very unfair business environment which essentially leached from the profits of Chile's new enterprises.

Economically speaking, Peru at the time was stuck somewhere in between Chile and Bolivia . Like Bolivia, Peru has a great deal of natural resource wealth. The difference between the two was that thanks to commerce and a friendlier terrain, Peru had a bit more than Bolivia going on in terms of entrepreneurial spirit.

However, at the time Peruvians thought their shit smelled better than the rest of Latin America because the country had been Spain's hub when it owned much of South America.
Peru being a pompous country (with nothing to back it up), decided to support Bolivia when the arguing with Chile turned violent.

Chile was the best prepared for war of the three. Chile's military had recently inherited some nice Prussian (German) soldiers from Europe who knew what they where doing, compared with the now out dated left-overs of Peru and Bolivia's
Army and Navy from colonial times. Furthermore, when considering the way things escalated, Chile had the most incentive to expand its boarders.

When war broke out, Chile spanked Peru and Bolivia, over-powering their armies with ease.

Chile even had the guts to March its army through Peru's capital, Lima. This event is remembered much like Hitler's escapade in Paris with the Nazi Army. EMBARRASSING to think about as a Peruvian to this day, but no less well deserved historically speaking.

Chilean Army marching on Lima in January, 1881

Once the war was over, Chile had claimed two provinces of Peru and one of Bolivia's. Flash forward a few years and these regions are now Chile's prize possessions. Lucky for the Chileans, the provinces they won (or took away depending on your perspective) are loaded with valuable base metals like copper, zinc and gold.

Here's a map that shows the territories Chile claimed from Peru and Bolivia. Yes Peruvians remain bitter about this mis-hap in their history against their southern rival Chile. Bolivia as you can see lost it's one exit to the Pacific, creating a land-locked country.

A little unfair yes... Especially for a country with some of the most treacherous terrain in South America and one which remains one of the poorest in the region to this day. As history shows, this is sadly how the cookie crumbles and I seriously think the US will hand Texas back to the Mexican's before Chile cedes any land it won from Bolivia over 100 years ago back.

The new map after the war

Now that you have some context, check out this article which describes how President Evo Morales of Bolivia is once again trying to get the land it lost to Chile back.