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ETERNAL RAMIFICATIONS OF THE WAR OF THE PACIFIC
DANIEL ARTHUR MCCRAY
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Daniel Arthur McCray
To my wife Karyne
I would like to take time here to express the deepest gratitude to those who aided
me in the completion of this project. First and foremost I would like to thank my wife,
Karyne. Without her love, encouragement, and assistance, this project could not have
been completed. I would like to thank my supervisory committee chair (Dr. Terry
McCoy) for his guidance, insight, and time. I would also like to thank the other members
of my committee (Dr. Menno Vellinga and Dr. Philip Williams) for their encouragement
and patience. I could not have completed this project without their help. I would also
like to thank the United States Army for affording me this immense opportunity. It must
also be said that the views expressed in this work are mine alone and in no way reflect the
official position of the United States Army or the Department of Defense. Of course, any
errors or misrepresentations presented here are exclusively mine as well.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
L IST O F FIG U R E S .... ....... ...................... ........................ .... ...... .. ............. vii
A B S T R A C T ......... .................................. ................................................... v iii
1 IN TR O D U C T IO N ............................................................. .. ......... ...... .....
B rief O overview ................................................................. 3
S ig n ifican ce ....................................................... 4
L literature R review ................................................................ 5
O bje ctiv e s ..................................................................................................... . 8
A p p ro ach ............................................... 9
2 HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ....................................................... 10
Bolivia and Chile: Colonial Period to Independence .................................... 10
T he C contenders ................................................................................................ ........ 12
C h ile ................................................................1 2
B o liv ia ............................................................................................................ 1 3
T h e A tacam a D desert .............................................................................................. 16
G u a n o ..............................................................1 8
Mining for Nitrates ................................. ............... 19
Advent of Boundary Dispute ........... ......... .... ........ ..............................20
Prelude to W ar ......... ....................................................................... ................... 22
The Treaty of 1866 ............ .................... ............................................ 22
Lindsay-Corral Agreem ent ................................................................... ....... 23
"Secret" Treaty of 1873 .............................................................. ............... 24
T reaty of Su cre ..............................................................2 5
T en C ents T ax ......................................................................... 26
W ar of the Pacific 1879-1883 ....................................................................................27
N eg o tiatin g P ea ce ................................................................ ...............................2 9
T reaty o f A n co n .............................................................................. .. ... .. 2 9
Pact of Truce of 1884 ............................................... ............................. 30
T reaty o f 19 0 4 ...........................................................................................3 2
C conclusion .............. ..................................................................... ....33
3 THE FAILURE OF SALIDA AL MAR DIPLOMACY................ ..................37
B olivia and A rica: A H history ...................................................................................38
B olivia's Q uest For A rica......................................................... ............... 39
U united States A arbitration .......................................................... ............... 40
T reaty of Santiago ....................... .............................. .. ............. ....... .... 46
An Alternate Route to the Sea: The Chaco War 1932-1935 ....................................47
Stand Firm in the Chaco: The Rule of President Salamanca.............................50
N negotiating Peace .......... ........ ................ ......... ...................... 52
P eace C conference ................................................... .. ......... ........ .... 57
Bolivian National Revolution: 1952-1964............................... ..............59
Nationalization of the Mines ................. .............. ....................61
Agrarian Reform ........... ..................... .... .... ...... .... ...... ... .. 62
Stabilization P lan ..................................................................63
Triangular Plan ..................................... .. ................... 64
Resurgence of the Seacoast Issue ...... ......... ........................... 64
Revolution in Retreat: The Overthrow of Paz Estenssoro.............................66
El Banzerato: The Rule of Hugo Banzer Suarez ................................ ... ..................69
Econom ic D evelopm ent: 1971-1978 ....................................... ...................... 70
Banzer and Pinochet: A Quest for Bolivian Sovereignty on the Pacific.............72
4 INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BOLIVIA'S QUEST FOR A SEACOAST ...76
International Recognition of Bolivia's Landlocked Status........................................76
P political In stability ................................................................... ............... 80
The B olivian G as W ar .................. .................................... .. ........ .... 84
5 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ......................................................................... ........ .. ..... .. 90
LIST OF REFEREN CES ............................................................................. 96
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................99
LIST OF FIGURES
2-1 Bolivia, Chile, and Peru: 1825 claims and possession of the Atacama Desert.......34
2-2 Area claimed as the Audiencia of Charcas, 1810................... ........... ............... 35
2-3 Chile-Bolivia borders in 1860 ..........................................................................36
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
ETERNAL RAMIFICATIONS OF THE WAR OF THE PACIFIC
Daniel Arthur McCray
Chair: Terry McCoy
Major Department: Latin American Studies
Today, as one of only two Latin American countries without direct access to the
sea (Paraguay is the other), Bolivia can only conduct its international trade through the
Pacific and Atlantic seaports of neighboring countries. Bolivia has indirect access to the
Pacific and Atlantic Oceans via Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Brazil. Its exports and imports
go through the Chilean ports of Antofagasta and Arica on the Pacific Coast. Maritime
trade is also possible through the Peruvian ports of Ilo, Mollendo, Tacna and Matarani;
and via the Brazilian ports of Belem and Santos. Despite these neighborly "gestures,"
territorial rights to the sea have continued to preoccupy Bolivian administrations. Even
so, Bolivian governments of every stripe-military, conservative, and populist-have all
failed to sustain diplomatic advances on the seacoast question. The loss of the coast
became a national stigma, which Bolivian administrations have used from time to time to
arouse patriotic fervor and hence support for their administrations. In addition, the loss of
the coast has propelled Bolivia to war, embittered its regional diplomacy, and dominated
its foreign policy.
Thus, the central questions of my study were:
* Why does the "question of the Pacific" remain unanswered?
* What have been the effects of non-resolution on Bolivia?
It is clear that the loss of the Pacific Coast provinces in War of the Pacific has
hampered Bolivia's economic development and intensified containment. In his book, "A
Political Geography of Latin America," Barton concludes, "it would not be too bold of a
statement to link the impoverished nature of Bolivia's economy to her landlocked status"
(1997: 65). Alternately, Morales suggests "Astronomical national debts, extreme
political instability, and intervention in Bolivian affairs complicate the development and
protection of national resources as well as its diplomatic mission of securing a sovereign
seacoast" (Ferris, 1984: 189). Essentially, both authors are correct in their conclusions.
My hypothesis is that Bolivia's inability to successfully reverse its landlocked status
contributed to its economic underdevelopment and fostered domestic political instability.
In addition, the unstable government and economic problems of Bolivia prevent it from
achieving its central diplomatic goal: obtaining a sovereign port on the Pacific Ocean.
Thus the seacoast conundrum indeed creates a vicious cycle of events.
Inability to Achieve a Lasting Settlement
Political Instability and Economic Underdevelopment
Using historic reference, I explored this vicious-cycle theory to explain why
Bolivia remains landlocked, more than a century after the War of the Pacific left it
without access to the sea
Wednesday October 20, 2004 marked the 100th anniversary of the peace and
friendship treaty that established the territorial limits between Bolivia and Chile after the
War of the Pacific (1879-1884). By this treaty, Chile retained approximately 62,000 sq
mi of territory belonging to Bolivia (including 187 miles of shore, four main ports, and
seven coves.) Thus, the stroke of a pen confirmed that Bolivia lost a fourth of its territory
and became the landlocked nation it is today. Bolivia has been on a relentless quest to
regain sea access ever since.
A dispute over the export of Bolivian natural gas arose in early 2002, when the
administration of President Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002) proposed building a gas pipeline
through the Chilean port of Mejillones, Bolivia's most direct route to the Pacific Ocean.
However, hostility toward Chile runs deep in Bolivia, because Chile occupied and then
annexed Mejillones in the War of the Pacific. As a result, many Bolivians protested that
the pipeline should be routed north through the Peruvian port of Ilo, even though it is 260
kilometers farther than Mejillones from the gas fields. President Quiroga, on leaving the
presidential office in July 2002, refrained from making a decision on this highly
contentious issue and left the matter for his successor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (2002-
2003). Before taking office, President Sanchez de Lozada implied that he supported the
Mejillones option; however, he made no official declaration of intent.
On September 19, 2003, a group of 30,000 people in Cochabamba and 50,000 in
La Paz gathered to protest against the pipeline. The next day, six people were killed in a
confrontation in the town of Warisata, after government forces used planes and
helicopters to get around the strikers, and to evacuate several hundred tourists who had
been stranded for 5 days in Sorata (by road blockades). In response to the shootings,
Bolivia's Labor Union (COB) called a general strike on September 29 that paralyzed the
country with road blockades. Demonstrators insisted that they would continue to display
their dissatisfaction until the government backed down on its decision to export Bolivia's
natural gas through Chile.
On October 12, 2003, martial law was imposed in El Alto, after sixteen people
were killed and several dozen were wounded in violent clashes that erupted between the
protesters and Bolivian armed forces. On October 13, the administration of Sanchez de
Lozada suspended the gas project. Nevertheless, Vice President Carlos Mesa condemned
what he referred to as the excessive force used in El Alto; and withdrew his support for
the president. A few days later, on October 18, the administration was destabilized when
the New Republic Force (NFR) party withdrew its support. President Sanchez de Lozada
was forced to resign and was replaced by his vice president, Carlos Mesa. As a result, all
protests ceased. Among his first actions as president, Mesa promised a referendum on the
gas issue. The gas referendum took place on July 18, 2004.
The Bolivian Gas War of 2003 is one example of the political instability that has
been endemic to the Republic of Bolivia. It is clear that the gas war has roots that run
deeper than natural gas. The dispute traces back more than 100 years to when the port of
Mejillones was under the sovereignty of Bolivia. The outcome of the dispute sent a clear
message to the world. Bolivian citizens are outraged that they still do not possess a
sovereign maritime port, and are willing to go to great lengths to obtain one. Hence
begins my inquiry into the causes that have prevented a settlement and left the "question
of the Pacific" unanswered.
Early in 1878, the dictatorial Bolivian government of President Hilarion Daza
(1876-79) violated the treaty signed by President Mariano Melgarejo (1864-71) in 1866
that imposed a 10-cent tax on nitrates exported from the Bolivian part of the joint mineral
exploitation zone. The British-Chilean Antofagasta Nitrate and Railroad Company
(ANRC) categorically refused to pay this tax. As a consequence, the Daza government
ordered the seizure of the company's property, to recover the amount of the tax. As a
result of this dispute, Chilean naval forces seized and occupied the port of Antofagasta on
February 14, 1879; thus commencing the War of the Pacific. Peru, failing at attempts to
mediate, entered the conflict on the side of Bolivia, as had been agreed in their treaty of
defensive alliance (signed in 1873). The war proved disastrous for both of the allies. By
the end of 1879, all ofBolivia's coastal areas were firmly in Chilean hands. Chilean
troops pushed north to occupy the Peruvian port of Arica; and continued further north
until they entered the Peruvian capital of Lima, in January 1881.
The war concluded when Peru signed the Treaty of Ancon with Chile in 1883.
However, the final settlement of the Peruvian-Chilean border, as provided for by the
Treaty of Ancon, did not take place until 1929. Bolivia signed a truce with Chile in 1884,
and a definite peace was achieved in 1904. In this treaty, Bolivia lost an entire province,
which covered approximately 62,000 sq mi. In addition, Bolivia was deprived of
important fiscal revenue and valuable natural resources. Worst of all, Chile took over its
littoral zone, which included 187 miles of shore, four main ports, and seven coves
(Gumucio Granier, 1988: 69). Thus, with the stroke of a pen, Bolivia lost a fourth of its
territory and became the landlocked nation it is today.
For more than 100 years, Bolivians have waged a relentless campaign to reverse
their maritime confinement and redress the defeats of their history. The "question of the
Pacific," as Bolivia's lack of a seaport is termed, has been a factor in Bolivian politics
since the end of the War of the Pacific. The Bolivian government consistently continues
to demand access to the Pacific Ocean free from any real or potential interference by
Today, as one of only two Latin American countries without direct access to the
sea (Paraguay is the other), Bolivia can only conduct its international trade through the
Pacific and Atlantic seaports of neighboring countries. Bolivia has indirect access to the
Pacific and Atlantic Oceans via Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Brazil. Its exports and imports
go through the Chilean ports of Antofagasta and Arica on the Pacific Coast. Maritime
trade is also possible through the Peruvian ports of Ilo, Mollendo, Tacna, and Matarani
(via the Brazilian ports of Belem and Santos). Despite these neighborly "gestures,"
territorial rights to the sea have continued to preoccupy Bolivian administrations. Even
so, Bolivian governments of every stripe (military, conservative, and populist) have all
failed to sustain diplomatic advances on the seacoast question. The loss of the coast
became a national stigma, which Bolivian administrations have used from time to time to
arouse patriotic fervor and hence support for their administrations. In addition, the loss of
the coast has propelled Bolivia to war, embittered its regional diplomacy, and dominated
its foreign policy.
Thus, the central questions of my study were 1) Why does the "question of the
Pacific" remain unanswered? 2) What have been the effects of non resolution on Bolivia?
It is clear that the loss of the Pacific Coast province in War of the Pacific hampered
Bolivia's economic development and intensified containment. In his book, "A Political
Geography of Latin America," Barton concluded, "it would not be too bold of a statement
to link the impoverished nature of Bolivia's economy to her landlocked status" (1997:
65). Alternately, Morales suggested "Astronomical national debts, extreme political
instability, and intervention in Bolivian affairs complicate the development and
protection of national resources as well as its diplomatic mission of securing a sovereign
seacoast" (Ferris and Lincoln, 1984: 189). Essentially, both authors are correct in their
conclusions. My hypothesis is that Bolivia's inability to successfully reverse its
landlocked status led to its economic underdevelopment, and fostered domestic political
instability. In addition, the unstable government and economic problems of Bolivia
prevent it from achieving its central diplomatic goal: obtaining a sovereign port on the
Pacific Ocean. Thus the seacoast conundrum indeed creates a vicious cycle of events.
Inability to achieve a lasting settlement
Political instability and economic underdevelopment
The literature on this topic is grouped in four categories: geography, history of the
War of the Pacific, political instability, and economic underdevelopment. Some authors,
however, have produced literature that can be placed in several of these categories. I
relied heavily on sources from North American writers (since I recognized that literature
published by ministries, historians, or geographers from either of the involved nations
tended to be partial). However, the information gathered from this literature provided me
with an extremely useful nationalistic point of view. This literature also provided
detailed descriptions of events and places. I used these valuable sources in an illustrative
The literature that I placed in the "geography" category is limited yet very useful.
A physical description of the disputed Atacama Desert Region was provided by Isaiah
Bowman (1924) and supplemented by William Rudolph (1963). In addition, a variety of
authors that I consulted for geographical background are experts in the field of
geopolitics. Geopolitics has been an important dimension in the Bolivian struggle for
political and economic sovereignty. Thus, the expertise of such authors as Jonathan R.
Barton (1997), and Jack Child (1985), was sought.
Bruce Farcau (2000), William Jefferson Dennis (1967), William F. Sater (1986),
and Robert D. Talbott (1974) are the most significant authorities on the causes and
immediate consequences of the War of the Pacific. Therefore, they contributed greatly to
this effort. Their works are straightforward in their presentations of the history and issues
surrounding the War of the pacific. Their documents provided essential material, which
enabled me to compose an accurate historical synthesis of the war
The literature on the politically unstable nature of Bolivia is extensive and varied.
Authors such as Waltraud Q. Morales and Herbert. S. Klein have authored thorough yet
concise books on the history of Bolivia. Others have been more specific and have dealt
explicit instances of political instability within Bolivia over the course of the past century
such as the Chaco War, the Bolivian National Revolution, military authoritarianism, and
ultimately, the current gas war.
Bruce Farcau (1996) and David H. Zook (1961) have produced the best and most
impartial survey on the conduct and ramifications of the Chaco War between Bolivia and
Paraguay. Authors such as Robert J. Alexander (1958) and Christopher Mitchell (1977)
have provided crucial and important information on the political state of affairs during
the Bolivian National Revolution, which persisted from 1952 to 1964. What followed the
revolution was eighteen years of military authoritarianism (1964-1982). The precarious
political situation occurring during the rule of military leaders is explored in the works of
several authors; influential pieces by Waltraud Q. Morales (1992), Herbert S. Klein
(1969), and Christopher Mitchell (1977), however, proved to be the most significant.
News headlines from publications such as Latin News Daily, Inter-American Dialogue,
and the Santiago Times among others were consulted in an effort to ascertain the current
political situation of Bolivia.
The literature on the economic underdevelopment of Bolivia is less varied and
extensive than on the topic of political instability. However, several authors stood out
and provided extensive data on Bolivia's situation over the course of the last century.
Author Carmenza Gallo's (1991) work provides information on the economically
unstable nature of Bolivia. His study spans from 1900 to 1950. Continuing the trend,
Cornelius H. Zondag (1966) authored a similar book, which evaluates the Bolivian
economy from 1952 to 1965 and essentially examines the economic circumstances
created by the Revolution and its aftermath. Statistical information on the economic
situation was also sought and consulted from organizations such as the US Agency for
International Development (USAID), the United Nations (UN), the Organization of
American States (OAS), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) among others.
To a considerable degree, my approach to this thesis will be a historical one since
it is really impossible to understand the current state of affairs without comprehension of
the historical background. Drawing on history, the basic goal will be to explain my main
hypothesis: political instability and economic underdevelopment have contributed to the
lack of a positive resolution to Bolivia's maritime confinement and vice-versa. This has
precipitated a vicious circle where the lack of a positive resolution on the seacoast issue
has lead to political instability, which consequently contributes to economic
underdevelopment. My discussion of these issues, for the most part, is organized
chronologically from the colonial period of the Spanish Conquistadors to the present day
situation. Logic almost dictated this format because in order to answer the basic
question: Why is Bolivia still without access to the sea? It is necessary to
chronologically evaluate the political and economic situation of the nation over the
course of the last century.
This thesis has four main objectives. The first objective is to describe the
geography of the Atacama Desert, which will provide the reader with a geographical
sketch of the desert and a description of the valuable natural resources that were
discovered and exploited in the Atacama region, which served as the impetus to war. The
second objective is to clearly delineate the boundary dispute and answer the question of
how Bolivia was deprived of her access to the Pacific Coast. In order to answer this
question, I will provide historical background on the War of the Pacific and its outcome.
The third objective is to examine the consequences of Bolivia's maritime confinement on
its politics and economic development. The fourth objective is to determine why
Bolivia's attempts at regaining her Pacific Coast port have failed.
This analysis chronologically sketches the Bolivian situation, as it relates to its
landlocked status, from the dispute's inception to the present-day circumstances. Hence,
this study is significant for the following reasons:
* In order to provide a physical base to understand the roots of the dispute, the reader
will be provided with an accurate geographical sketch of the Desert of Atacama,
which is the geographic area over which the War of the Pacific erupted. A
description of valuable natural resources discovered and exploited in the desert will
also be provided.
* This analysis offers an overview of the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) so that it
may provide the reader with particulars on the causes of the war and the various
treaties and truces that resulted.
* This study provides an analysis of the central question using the author's main
hypothesis. It chronologically evaluates how the unstable government and the
precarious nature of Bolivia's unstable economy have contributed to her failure to
resolve her maritime confinement. The other side of the vicious cycle will also be
explored to demonstrate how the lack of a satisfactory resolution has created an
atmosphere of political instability and encouraged economic underdevelopment.
In a region awash with territorial controversy, the Atacama Desert dispute,
reflecting the conflicting geopolitical ambitions of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, stands apart
as one of the most involved and intractable. The boundaries of the Atacama Desert were
a point of contention even before Bolivia and Chile won their independence from Spain,
and the dispute is still active today, although the salient issues have changed considerably
over the decades. Using historical reference by a variety of scholars, this chapter will
acquaint the reader the most pertinent historical aspects of the War of the Pacific. The
outcomes of specific battles, though, will not be addressed as these are beyond the scope
of this analysis. However, in addition to introducing the territorial dispute and its
outcome, this chapter will briefly address the root causes of the war in order to
demonstrate that war was inevitable. Finally, the purpose of this chapter is to promote a
better understanding of the historical implications of the war in order to create a
framework, which will facilitate an understanding of how and why the disputed region
continues to impact the belligerents in the twenty-first century.
Bolivia and Chile: Colonial Period to Independence
The oldest and most traditional types of international conflicts are border and
territorial conflicts, many of which have roots in the inadequate definition or demarcation
of colonial and early national frontiers. Colonial boundaries in South America were
particularly important because they formed the basis on which national boundaries were
established. Both Bolivia and Chile gained their independence from Spain without clear
and set boundaries. Each nation thought it had settled boundaries with each other, but in
fact, no common agreement or treaty was in effect. Nevertheless, both nations claimed at
least partial ownership of the disputed Atacama Desert by invoking the principle of uti
possidetis (Talbott, 1974: 34).
As the struggle for independence in South America began in the early 1800s, the
nations erected out of Spanish colonies generally observed the colonial boundaries they
had been given by Spain. That principle of national demarcation came to be called the uti
possidetis of 1810. "Black's Law Dictionary" defines the legal doctrine of uti possidetis
as "the doctrine that old administrative boundaries will become international boundaries
when a political subdivision achieves independence." According to the legal doctrine,
Each state was to be recognized as possessing all territories that were presumed to
be possessed by its colonial predecessor as of 1810 (for South America) or 1821
(for Central America), reflecting the last periods of unchallenged Spanish rule (and
thus the last times that borders could be considered to have been under Spanish
authority). Under this principle, there would have be no possibility of new claims
based on terra nullius (territory belonging to no-state) or of claims by extra
regional states. In addition, there should be little or no conflict among the
bordering states because of the clear identification of each other's border's location
based on colonial-era administrative lines (Allison, Michael E., Paul R. Hensel, and
Ahmed Khanani. "The Colonial Legacy and Border Stability: Uti Possidetis and
Territorial Claims in the Americas." Annual Meeting of the International Studies
Thus, during the 1819 Congress of Angoshua declaration, Simon Bolivar, invoking the
principle of uti possidetis, announced that the new independent states should maintain the
same boundaries as the colonial political administrative territorial units of 1810 (Barton,
Nevertheless, the colonial Spanish administrative boundaries were often vague and
the dissolution of the great Spanish empire left in its wake conflicting and ambiguous
territorial claims that incited long-standing disputes and border wars such as the War of
the Pacific. Thus, in essence, the vagueness of the principle of utipossidetis created
conflict between the bordering states of Bolivia and Chile rather than hinder it.
The earliest Chilean boundaries were delineated by Governor Pedro de La Gasca of
Peru in 1548. La Gasca set the Chilean boundaries on the north a Copiapo 27 S and on
the south at 41 S with an eastern line of one hundred leagues inland from the Pacific
Ocean. Chile extended from Copiapo to approximately the present city of Puerto Montt.
However, at the time of Chilean independence, which was formally proclaimed on
February 12, 1818, Chile's boundaries were loosely defined. In the north, the area
adjacent to Paposo was considered the boundary area (Talbott, 1974: 12-15). Theodorick
Bland, a U.S. representative sent to Latin America to report on countries before
recognizing them as nations in 1818, described Chile's territory.
The long and mountainous territory of Chile commences on the Pacific at the
mouth of the Rio Salado; thence ascending that river, and extending away from it
toward Paquil by a line in a northeasterly direction, over a portion of the frightful
Atacama beyond the twenty-fourth degree of south latitude, until it intersects the
great chain of the Andes (Dennis, 1967:10).
Since this area was desert, the lack of a boundary line caused no problem until the
discovery of nitrates in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The first boundary description of an independent Chile was stated in terms of areas,
as was characteristic of the colonial period. This method of describing boundaries
became the model for succeeding Chilean constitutions. Chile's first constitution
established its northern limits as the Desert of Atacama. The Constitution of 1822
included the first statement of territorial limits for the country.1 Article III of Chapter One
defines the boundaries as Cape Horn on the south, the Desert of Atacama on the North,
the Andes on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. The islands of the Archipelago
of Chiloe and the islands of la Macho, Juan Fernandez, and Santa Maria groups as well as
other adjacent islands were included within Chilean territorial boundaries. In 1827, a
series of laws, rather than a constitution, formed the basis of government and no
statement of national boundaries was given. Nonetheless, eight provinces were
established and boundaries for them were described (Talbott, 1974: 26-28). The
Constitution of 1833 was in effect at the height of the Atacama Desert dispute and during
the War of the Pacific. The first article of the Constitution contained a geographic
description of the nation much like those in preceding statutes. It defined Chile's
boundaries as extending, "from the Desert of Atacama to Cape Horn, and from the
cordillera of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, including the Archipelago of Chiloe, all the
adjacent islands, and those of Juan Fernandez" (Talbott, 1974: 28). Moreover, the United
States officially considered the Rio Salado as the northern boundary of the newly
recognized Chilean Nation (Dennis 1967: 15; Figure 2-1).
The Audiencia of Charcas2 began to exercise its jurisdiction in 1561 over a radius
of three hundred and twenty miles outward from its seat in the city of Chuquisaca, and
expanded to include present-day Bolivia and, at its height, territories in Peru, Chile,
1 Four constitutions preceded the Constitution of 1822 (1810, 1812, 1814, and 1818) and that none of them
contained geographical reference to national boundaries.
2 Spain divided the new world into Viceroyalties, New Spain in the north and Peru comprised of essentially
South America. Because of the size, each viceroyalty was divided into Audiencias. Originally they were
purely judicial. The Audiencia of Charcas became the eventual territorial basis of 19t century Bolivia.
The area of the Audiencia changed over time, as new ones were created and the borders were reconstructed.
Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil (Figure 2-2). In 1776, it was placed under the
newly established Vice-Royalty of Buenos Aires. Upper Peru in 1809 was the Audiencia
of Charcas and an administrative province of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. In 1810,
when Buenos Aires declared independence, the Viceroyalty of Lima annexed Upper
Peru. As the period of independence approached at the opening of the nineteenth
century, the actual dividing line between Chile and Bolivia was the Copiapo region at the
southern extremity of the Atacama Desert and the legal colonial limits were at the Rio
Salado (Morales, 1992: 5).3 Moreover, Fifer (1972) indicates that the territory "claimed
by Bolivia as the Audiencia of Charcas on the basis of the utipossidetis of 1810
comprised an extensive, very irregularly shaped mass of approximately 850,000 square
miles almost exactly twice the area of modern-day Bolivia" (19).
The Spanish colonial territory that became the Republic of Bolivia was a land of
revolution from the very beginning. Bolivia's struggle for independence began in 1809
and ended on August 6, 1825 when Upper Peru declared its independence and
transformed itself into the Republic of Bolivia, comprising the provinces of La Paz,
Charcas, Cochabamba, Potosi, and Santa Cruz. Thus, the Desert of Atacama south to the
Rio Salado as a district of Potosi became a part of the Republic of Bolivia. (Figure 2-3)
It was one of the last colonies to consolidate independence and as Morales (2003)
suggests, Bolivia has "struggled to preserve its political existence from the expansionist
schemes of its neighbors and the grand designs of its liberators" ever since (35).
Bolivia's Declaration of Independence of 1825 specifically incorporated within its
national territory the province of Potosi, whose southern boundary included the disputed
3 This was established from a map of the province made by the royal mint as requested by the governor of
Potosi in 1787.
Atacama Desert. Various scholars contend that Chile never explicitly dealt with the
boundary issue until it discovered potential revenue sources. However, the Chilean
Constitutions of 1822 and beyond describe its territorial claims and contradict this claim.
Early Bolivian leaders had sought to insure the nation's future as a viable economic
unit by securing a port, which would encourage the expansion of export markets. As a
result, by decree in 1825, Bolivar had designated the small port of Cobija, founded in
1587 and located between the Loa River in the north and the Salado River in the south, as
Bolivia's principle pacific seaport (Dennis, 1967: 15). Slightly south of Cobija, Bolivia
also maintained the port of Mejillones, which later constituted the main transfer point for
the guano and nitrates exploited by Bolivia and Chile in the disputed Atacama Desert
(Morales, 2003: 78). However, the panhandle Port of Cobija never competed
economically with the Port of Arica, a sovereign territory of Lower Peru. As Fifer (1972)
points out, Arica was the best port for Bolivia; "given the available methods of transport
before the railway era, and the harsh nature of the intervening terrain between coast and
cordillera, the overwhelming advantages of the shortest route between them proved
unbeatable" (25). Thus, while Tacna, Arica, and Tarapaca were within the administrative
boundaries of the Audiencia of Peru, the Port of Arica served as Bolivia's primary outlet
to the sea (Dennis, 1967: 6).
The Latin American independence movement led to separate countries seeking to
establish economic, political, and cultural autonomy. Yet, the extensive boundaries of
the former Audiencias were constantly changing, sowing confusion and fractious
territorial disputes between many newly independent Latin American states. Thus, while
Bolivia and Chile attempted to break from their colonial pasts to conduct post-colonial
political economies, their developmental paths crossed in the Atacama Desert and
provided the impetus for a boundary dispute that remains unresolved more than a century
The Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. Often, absolutely no rainfall
is measured over years and decades. The dryness of the region is no accident; instead it
results from Andes Mountain Range, running along the eastern portion of the desert and
the cold Peruvian current, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile and Peru.
The Andes, since their creation, have had a tremendous impact on the formation
and climate of the Atacama Desert. As humid air is pushed from east-to-west and up
over the Andes Mountains, the cooling of the air causes clouds to form and drop rain on
the east side of the Central Andes Mountains. The opposite happens on the west side of
the mountains as the air descends and warms; it absorbs moisture and creates very dry
conditions. This is known as the rain shadow effect (Caviedes, 1995: 51). The east-to-
west wind pattern crossing the Andes is what we find in the Central Andes. Winds
blowing from west-to-east, as can be found in the Southern Andes, help to create a wet
climate west of the mountains, but a dry climate east of the mountains.
In addition to the Andes, the other major factor leading to the formation of the
Atacama Desert has been the cold waters of the Peru Current, which brings cold water up
the coast of Chile and Peru from Antarctica. This cold water and air from Antarctica,
along with the steep coastal hills along the desert coast, lead to the forming of clouds that
just sit over the desert and refuse to release any rain (Farcau, 2000: 5). Average rainfall
is less then half an inch per year. However, using an average to describe desert rainfall is
not very useful as years or decades may pass before a freak storm brings rain to the
desert. Renowned geographer Isaiah Bowman describes the Atacama Desert best: "It is
as nearly like a rainless land as any that we know on the earth today" (Bowman, 1924:
The coastal hills that play a part in the rainless climate have discouraged many
from colonizing the coast of the desert. Hardly any good locations for a port can be
found along the coast of the desert; a sailor could go hundreds of miles before locating a
potential harbor (Farcau, 2000: 6). The steep hills make it difficult to place a settlement
on flat ground of any size. Ports, for example Antofogasta, are often placed not on the
most open space available, but instead in front of passes through the hills, allowing
access to the resources of the Atacama Desert.
Poor regional transportation and communication has plagued the Atacama region.
Consider the example of the port city of Cobija. Initially created as an outlet to the sea
for the rich silver mines of Potosi, the mines were 500 miles from the port across the
driest desert in the world. The commute was approximately 500 miles by foot and mule,
with water points scattered intermittently along the route. Each caravan took around 20
days to complete the journey from Potosi to Cobija (Bowman, 1924: 201).
Although moving east to west across the desert was extremely difficult until more
recent times, movement north to south was traditionally even more difficult. East-west
movement could be achieved as long as the traveler stopped at water points every
hundred miles or so. However, north-south movement required one to travel hundreds of
miles between water points. As a result, nearly all north-south movement was conducted
by sea. This unique regional dilemma became a major military obstacle in War of the
Pacific, as any army movement from north to south would need to be made by sea
(Farcau, 2000: 6).
Although the Atacama Desert is a very inhospitable region for man, it is in fact
these hardships and this uniqueness that made the desert a valuable commercial area in
The cold waters of the Peru Current running off the coast of the Atacama Desert are
full of marine life. The coastal upsurge of deep cool waters adds valuable organic and
mineral nutrients to the waters off the coast of the desert (Caviedes, 1995: 72). These
nutrients feed large masses of plankton that make up the first link of this marine
ecosystem. The plankton attracts species such as anchovies, which in turn attract larger
and larger fish to the area. The large mass of medium sized fish thus became a major
food source for various varieties of seabirds, like pelicans and gulls. This particular food
chain that ends with local seabirds eating fish has gone on for tens of thousands of years.
Those who live by the sea consider the birds a nuisance, since they remain on the beach
after they have consumed their fair share of fish and leave bird droppings, which blanket
the area with a coat of white bird dung (Farcau, 2000: 7-8).
However, the large number of birds that defecate on the rocks off the coast of the
Atacama Desert is not what is worth highlighting here. The lack of any significant
rainfall to occasionally rinse clean the coastal rocks is what made this region an area
worth exploiting by entrepreneurs. Unlike other parts of the world inhabited by coastal
seabirds, bird droppings or guano, had accumulated here since before recorded time and
areas of guano as deep as 150 feet were to be found along the coast of the Atacama
Desert by the mid-1800s.
The demand for Guano did not truly begin until 1840 when Alexandre Cochet, a
Frenchman living in Peru, conducted experiments on both guano and mineral samples
and determined that nitrate of soda could be extracted from both substances. Nitrates had
been used for centuries as fertilizer. However, Cochet's work, published in 1841, was the
first to show how to extract nitrates from guano and the results one could achieve by
using this substance as fertilizer (Farcau, 2000: 8-9).
Found along coastal shores, Guano simply needed to be broken up into manageable
pieces, placed in bags, and loaded aboard a nearby ship. The workers who did the actual
digging and moving of the guano lived a very hard life. The constant digging caused a
cloud of guano dust, which settled over everything the workers owned. To make matters
worse, the workers lived on these giant mounds of guano and were never able to escape
the stench and dust of the work site (Farcau, 2000: 9).
Mining for Nitrates
Another important resource to the region also came about due to the lack of
regional rainfall. The Andes Mountains, which run down the eastern edge of the desert,
does receive some rainfall and snow. During the seasonal runoff, the water flows down
the mountains and hills of the Andes into shallow lakes that form from time to time. As
the mountain runoff streams down the mountain, it accumulates minerals and deposits
these minerals into these shallow lakes. The mountain runoff now located in a desert
region with no rain to further supply the lake begins to dry up as the water is absorbed by
the desert floor or is evaporated by the desert sun. This pattern has been repeated year
after year ever since the Andes Mountain Chain was formed. As a result, large deposits
of Sodium Nitrate accumulate on the surface or are buried slightly below a surface layer
of sand (Farcau, 2000: 8).
Ten years after the rush to extract guano commenced, nitrates began to be extracted
through the mining of the Atacama Desert. Guano had been relatively easy to extract;
however, after a lapse ten years, it was becoming difficult to locate quality deposits of
guano. To compensate for this lack of quality guano, entrepreneurs began prospecting in
the desert, looking for quality mineral deposits. As mentioned earlier, deposits often
formed in dry desert lakebeds. At times, quality deposits could be found a few inches
under the sand; at other times they were found much deeper. Once located and extracted,
however, these minerals could not simply be loaded on a nearby ship. As a result,
railroads were constructed and mining towns were established for the purpose of
extracting sodium nitrate (Farcau, 2000: 10).
Advent of Boundary Dispute
Prior to the discovery of nitrate deposits, Bolivia and Chile had disagreed upon
their boundary. The boundary question dated back to the independence period, but
internal problems, as well as the fact that the boundary had no value at that time caused
the dispute to be forgotten or ignored. Nitrates revived the dispute and increased the
difficulties of peacefully setting the boundary. Only after 1840, when the discovery of
guano proved profitable, did Chile seriously challenge Bolivian sovereignty in the
Atacama Desert. The territorial claims of both nations overlapped: Chile claimed coastal
territory as far north as the 23rd parallel south latitude; Bolivia claimed land as far south
as the 27th parallel.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, nitrate mining and the exporting of guano,
had given the Desert of Atacama considerable international importance. However, even
after the discovery of guano and nitrate deposits in the Atacama Desert, the Bolivian
government was unable to incorporate this distant, sparsely populated coastal province
into national life. Few Bolivian's migrated to the Atacama Desert, since Bolivia's people
were mostly Indian and had little interest in migrating to the desert (Morales, 2003:75).
Moreover, another complicating factor for Bolivia was that despite the expertise of the
most powerful elements of the Bolivian oligarchy in the mineral extraction business, both
their attention and capital were largely tied up with existing projects (Farcau, 2000).
For Chile, however, it was another story. In 1842, Chile sent an expedition to
find guano in that portion of the Atacama Desert under its sovereignty, the area up to the
23rd parallel at Mejillones, an area claimed as sovereign territory by Bolivia. A few small
deposits were found but not enough to begin exploitation. Nevertheless, on October 31,
1842, Chilean Congress nationalized all guano deposits from the Bay of Mejillones
southward and authorized the president to collect export taxes. Therefore, it was largely
Chilean money, engineers, and even laborers who lead the way in bringing the Atacama
nitrates to the market (Talbott, 1974: 33-35). Morales (2003, notes that "the unexpected
bonanza in natural fertilizers brought a sudden influx of new settlers, prospectors, and
entrepreneurs to the region; however, this population increase only compounded
Bolivia's problems since Bolivian citizens were now outnumbered ten to one by other
immigrants, including thousands of Chinese coolies" imported as cheap labor (75).
By 1856, with the guano market still prospering, new mining towns and camps
began to extract and process sodium nitrate, which was in great demand in Europe.
Thousands of Chilean peasants comprised the workforce of the nitrate mines along the
Bolivian littoral (Talbott, 1974: 36). A French traveler at this period noted that in a group
of twenty nitrate workers in Atacama, there were seventeen Chileans, one Englishman,
one Peruvian, and a Bolivian colonel (Dennis, 1967: 38).
By 1857, abundant guano and nitrate deposits were discovered in Mejillones, an
isolated and under populated region in El Litoral province along Bolivia's Pacific
seacoast (Morales, 2003: 64). That year, Chile occupied the Bolivian port of Mejillones;
as a result, Bolivian legislature secretly authorized the president to "declare war on the
government of Chile, in the event that, all conciliatory and peaceful solutions compatible
with national dignity can be achieved" (Farcau, 2000: 35). As a result, Bolivia severed
diplomatic relations with Chile. Thus, the riches in the disputed Desert of Atacama
steered the two toward the brink of war.
Prelude to War
A regional war with Spain, however, averted a bellicose encounter between
Bolivia and Chile in 1863. The guano dispute was temporarily suspended following
Spanish aggression in the Chincha Islands, one of Peru's richest guano producing areas.
As a result, Peru and Bolivia allied themselves with Chile to jointly defend their
independence against Spain. The allies declared war on Spain in January 1866. The
Spanish fleet bombarded Valparaiso and Callao. Valparaiso was unfortified and suffered
extensive damage. Callao, however, repulsed the attack and a small naval combat ensued
along the coast of Chile. The United States finally offered mediation, which resulted in
an armistice in 1871. This war temporarily deferred the Bolivia-Chile question; however,
it would not be long until it was decisively answered.
The Treaty of 1866
During the war with Spain, a spirit of reconciliation existed between Bolivia and
Chile and in August 1866, representatives from both nations signed a boundary treaty,
which was subsequently ratified and exchanged in December of the same year (Talbott,
1974: 36). The treaty, which the Melgarejo government signed, permitted Chile greater
control over Bolivia's coastal territories on the Pacific Ocean. According to this
arrangement of 1866, it was agreed that the international boundary would be drawn at the
24th parallel, but that a zone of joint mineral exploitation would be established to run
from the 23rd parallel in Bolivian territory to the 25th parallel in the Chilean part of the
region. In effect, Bolivia gave up all claims south of the 25th parallel. (Figure 2-1) It
is also interesting to note that over the course of the 1866 negotiations, the Chilean
government offered to help Bolivia seize the Peruvian provinces of Tacna and Arica. In
return, the Bolivian government was to renounce its claim to the territory between Paposo
and Mejillones or even as far north as the Loa River (St-John, 1992: 9). These terms,
however, were not ratified.
The terms of the Treaty of 1866 were profitable for Chile because the richest
mineral deposits were north of the 24th parallel (St-John, 1992: 9). The treaty was
disadvantageous for Bolivia, which ceded three times as much territory than did Chile by
its terms. As a result, the treaty was enormously unpopular in Bolivia. Bolivian
resentment against the treaty, its unequal demands, and the heavy-handed manner of its
negotiations effectively drove the parties closer to war.
The repressive government of General Mariano Melgarejo was overthrown on
January 15, 1871. Morales (2003) points out that the general was considered by his
people to be "a brutal and immoral despot who squandered scarce state resources on
mistresses and drunken orgies, and he suffered from fits of outright madness" (64). Once
he was ousted out of office, Bolivians claimed that the Treaty of 1866 "was aggressive,
impossible, and was illegal because its instigator, Melgarejo, was a self-appointed
dictator" (Dennis, 1967: 52). Thus, the Treaty of 1866 was not in force long before
questions arose over the carrying out of its terms and by 1872 a revision was necessary.
The main problem with the treaty was that it failed to specify precisely which
resources, other than guano, were to be included in the fifty-fifty split in duties between
the two countries (Farcau, 2000:35). As a result, the next official action between Chile
and Bolivia was an attempt known as the Lindsay-Corral Agreement, which was made in
1872. The Lindsay-Corral Agreement maintained the joint benefits agreement and
adjusted the accounting system to include borax, sulphates, and other byproducts that
were defined as minerals. Additionally, the conflicting case about Mejillones being the
only customhouse was corrected and Chile was given the right to appoint customs
officers to work alongside their Bolivian counterparts in the condominium zone. Lastly,
the agreement stipulated that tax rates could not be modified unilaterally. In the end, the
Chileans suggested that the accord's sole purpose was to clarify the Treaty of 1866. The
Bolivian opinion, however, felt the agreement represented an increase in Chilean
influence in the disputed Atacama Desert. Nevertheless, Bolivia signed the agreement on
December 5, 1972 (Talbott, 1974: 36).
"Secret" Treaty of 1873
On November 8, 1872, the Bolivian legislature authorized the government to
negotiate and ratify a defensive alliance with Peru, her oldest ally. Eleven days later,
Peru agreed to support Bolivia in opposing unjust Chilean demands, which Peru deemed
a threat to Bolivia's independence. Thus, on February 6, 1873, Peru and Bolivia signed a
treaty of defensive alliance. The terms of the treaty guaranteed the independence,
sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the signatories; addressed when and how the treaty
could be invoked; it entitled the party appealed to rather than the party purportedly
aggrieved to decide if the treaty should be invoked; and called for the pacific settlement
of all disputes through arbitrary means. Finally, an important additional article stipulated
that the treaty should remain secret (St-John, 1992: 12).
Peru and Bolivia's defensive alliance pact, however, did not remain a secret for
long. Farcau (2000) suggests that it is "likely that La Moneda4 learned of the 'secret'
treaty as early as October 1873 but intentionally chose to keep this fact secret in the hope
of luring the alliance into some ill-conceived action based on the supposition of Chilean
ignorance which might ultimately work to its advantage" (38). Moreover, the Treaty of
1873 was used extensively for war propaganda by Chile in 1879 (Dennis, 1967: 63).
Treaty of Sucre
In 1874 another treaty was ratified between Bolivia and Chile, which formally
revoked the Treaty of 1866 in its entirety. The Treaty of Sucre terminated the zones
shared exploitation, but once again fixed the territorial boundary at the 24th parallel.
Shared export duties, unspecified in the earlier Treaty of 1872, now applied only to
nitrates. A final clause in the agreement granted Chilean companies operating in
Bolivia's territory in the Atacama a twenty-five year exemption from all new taxes. At
the time, the Bolivian government had recently negotiated a new contract with the
Antofagasta Nitrate and Railroad Company (ANRC), which stated that no additional
taxes would be levied for a period of fifteen years beginning January 1, 1874 (St-John,
1992: 12-13). By replacing the despised Treaty of 1866, the Treaty of Sucre temporarily
relieved tensions between Bolivia and Chile postponed the War of the Pacific for another
4 La Moneda is the Chilean equivalent of the White House.
Ten Cents Tax
In 1877, after a devastating tidal wave destroyed much of the Port of Antofagasta,
the municipal government there passed a reconstruction tax. Then, in February 1878, the
Bolivian Congress approved a ten cents tax on every one hundred pounds of nitrates
exported from Bolivian territory claiming arrears from the date of the signing of the 1874
treaty. This new law directly violated the Treaty of Sucre and outraged Chilean and
foreign investors and the ANRC refused to pay the tax (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 46). As
a result, the Chilean government formally threatened to dissolve the Treaty of 1866 and
claim the desert up to the 23rd parallel if the tax laws were applied (Dennis, 1967: 70).
Initially, Bolivia's President Daza5 suspended the tax and the ANRC agreed to a
voluntary annual contribution to the Bolivian government.
In December 1878, Chile and Argentina put an end to their dispute over Patagonia
and the Straits of Magellan. Daza, not realizing that Chile had eliminated a foreign threat
that freed her to devote her attention to other disputes, judged the settlement a sell-out
that indicated a lack of character in Chilean government. As a result, a week after Chile
settled its dispute with Argentina, Daza assumed he would exploit Chile's perceived
weakness and proclaimed that the suspension of the ten cents tax was at an end and that it
must now be paid retroactively from the date of its original passage. Coming on the heels
of what many perceived as humiliation at the hands of Buenos Aires in the Fierro-
Sarratea Treaty, the Bolivian action offended Chile's sense of dignity; it's sense of honor
was at stake and the government felt forced to react decisively (Farcau, 2000).
5 Colonel Hilarion Daza vies with Melgarejo for the title of most abhorred of Bolivia's presidents.
The Chilean government responded with gunboat diplomacy and promptly
anchored the ironclad Blanco Encalada in the Bolivian port and occupied the city of
Antofagasta while mobilizing the rest of the Chilean fleet. As a consequence, Daza
cancelled the ANRC's nitrate extraction contract and ordered all company property to be
impounded by the state until it could be sold at auction. The date for the sale was set for
February 14, 1879 (Farcau, 2000: 41). Thus, the infamous ten cents tax provided Chile
with the perfect pretext to occupy Bolivia's seacoast and launch a war with its neighbors.
War of the Pacific 1879-1883
On March 14, 1879, one week after Chile occupied Antofagasta6, Bolivia
announced a formal declaration of war and called upon Peru to comply with the alliance
of 1873 and come to the defense of her ally. For her part, Chile formally declared war
against Bolivia and her "secret ally" Peru a few weeks later on April 5, 1879. War,
however, might have been averted if Peru's last-minute conciliatory diplomacy had
succeeded, or if Peru had not honored its defensive alliance with Bolivia.
Wholly unprepared, Peru did not want war. Even after war was declared between
Bolivia and Chile, Peru offered to mediate sending Jose Antonio de Lavalle to Chile in
hopes of peacefully resolving the dispute. Lavalle offered to Chile Peru's good offices
with the stipulation that Chile first return the territory it had belligerently taken from
Bolivia. The issue of the secret treaty, however, damaged Lavalle's credibility. The
Chilean public viewed Peruvian attempts at mediation as a ploy to give Peru more time to
prepare for war. Thus Peru's attempt at mediation failed and she had no choice but to
6 Colonel Daza withheld news of the Chilean landing for a week until after the conclusion of the popular
carnival festivities the under way. The festivities lasted for a week and were in honor of the Colonel's
birthday (Morales, 2003: 82).
honor her defensive alliance and fight a war against a better prepared Chile (Sater, 1986:
11). Farcau (2000) suggests that Peru's ultimate reason for involvement in the war was
to avoid a worse fate if she should fail not to honor her alliance with Bolivia and then
subsequently have to face a menacing alliance of both Chile and Bolivia.
Peru had every right to be concerned since in April 1879, Bolivia received two
Chilean proposals, which urged her to ally herself with Chile to receive help in annexing
the Peruvian littoral. This proposal was formally made to Bolivia in late May 1879.
Chile offered her support in helping Bolivia seize from Peru enough territory to change
its boundary and secure an alternate outlet to the Pacific Ocean in exchange for Chilean
possession of the littoral to the 23rd parallel south latitude (St-John, 1992: 14). Bolivia
rejected this offer and the War of the Pacific waged on until its end in 1883.
The War of the Pacific proved disastrous for both of the allies. By the end of 1879,
all of Bolivia's coastal areas were firmly in Chilean hands; thus, for Bolivia, the shooting
war was over by 1880. Nevertheless hostilities between Peru and Chile continued for
three more years while Bolivia watched from the sidelines hoping for a favorable
resolution. Chilean troops pushed north to occupy the Peruvian port of Arica, and
continued further north until they entered the Peruvian capital of Lima in January 1881.
On October 29, 1883, Chile occupied Lima and effectively ended Peru's involvement in
the War of the Pacific.
The first attempt at mediation occurred during the Lackawanna Conference of
1880 Various delegates met on the USS Lackawanna in Arica's harbor. Chile
demanded Tarapaca and Atacama, an indemnity of $20,000,000, restoration of property
7 The Lackawanna Conference began on October 22, 1880 and ended five days later on October 27, 1880.
taken from Chilean citizens, the surrender of the Rimac, dissolution of the 1873 alliance,
and a Peruvian promise not to fortify Arica. If the allies accepted these terms, Chile
would occupy Moquequa, Tacna, and Arica until they had paid the indemnity. Although
willing to accept a negotiated settlement, Peru and Bolivia insisted that Chile withdraw
from all occupied lands as a precondition for discussing peace. Having captured this
territory at great expense, Chile refused and the Lackawanna Conference negotiations
stalled (Gumucio Granier, 1988: 72).
There is much truth in George Clemenceau's statement that "it is easier to make
war than to make peace." By the end of 1883 Chile had won the War of the Pacific. As a
result, she forced Peru to make the Treaty of Ancon and obliged Bolivia to sign the Pact
of Truce. These negotiations for peace between the three belligerents began with the
Treaty of Ancon in 1884. Final peace negotiations between Bolivia and Chile culminated
with the Treaty of 1904. However, a permanent lasting resolution to the dispute has not
been achieved more than one hundred years after the shooting came to an end.
Treaty of Ancon
Peace negotiations between Peru and Chile began in 1883. The final draft of the
peace treaty was made at Ancon, which name it bears, and signed in Lima on October 20,
1883. Three days later, on October 23, 1883, Chilean troops withdrew from Lima. These
successful peace negotiations produced the Treaty of Ancon, which reestablished peace
on the west coast of South America. The treaty contained fourteen articles, nine of
which referred to either guano or nitrates. The most important terms of the treaty concern
the cession of Peruvian sovereign territory to Chile. In his book, "Tacna and Arica", W.J.
Dennis provides the terms of the treaty:
Peru cedes to Chile in payment of war indemnity the provinces of Tarapaca and
Iquique with all the deposits of guano and nitrates which they contain, fifty percent
of the product of which Chile will apply to the foreign debt of Peru until it is paid,
and as the product of Lobos island are also involved, Peru cedes to Chile said
deposits (not the islands) in order that their products may be applied by her
creditors in equal proportion. The provinces of Tacna and Arica will remain in the
power of Chile for ten years at the end of which a plebiscite will be held by which
their inhabitants will decided if they wish to return to Peru or be annexed to Chile
or to another nation (1967: 185)
The War of the Pacific officially ended with the Treaty of Ancon. In Peru, most of
the treaty was executed without difficulty even though it was largely unpopular with
Peruvians. Peru ratified the treaty on March 28, 1884 (Talbott, 1974: 54). However, as
Dennis (1967) points out, "the echoes of this struggle and its imperfect treaty were to
reverbrate for forty years" (192). The plebiscite in Tacna and Arica was supposed to be
held ten years from that date, in 1894. However, the question of Tacna and Arica
remained opened until 1929 as a result of a dispute over Article Three of the Treaty of
Ancon, which provided for Chilean occupation of Tacna and Arica. This controversy, and
its impact on Bolivia, will be explored in Chapter Three.
Pact of Truce of 18848
It is interesting to note that, even though Bolivia's shooting war had ended in 1880,
all of the peace negotiations for the Treaty of Ancon completely disregarded her. Rather,
once a peace had been negotiated between Chile and Peru, the Chilean government
moved toward securing settlement with Bolivia. In December 1883, the Bolivian
government opened formal peace talks with Chile. Bolivian representatives pressured
Chile to grant Bolivia access to the ocean either in the form of a corridor through Chilean
territory or by modifying the recently ratified Treaty of Ancon and ceding to Bolivia the
8 The Pact of Truce is also known as the Treaty of Valparaiso.
provinces of Tacna and Arica. Chile rejected both suggestions and talks stalled when
Bolivia continued to insist on a provision for Bolivian access to the sea. As a result,
Chile proposed an indefinite truce until the related issue of a plebiscite on Tacna and
Arica was resolved (St-John, 1992).
Bolivia finally saw the hopelessness of her position and on April 4, 1884, signed a
Pact of Truce with Chile. This was only a provisional arrangement, pending a final
settlement. The agreement provided for the cessation of hostilities, resumption of
commercial relations between the two countries, continued occupation of the Bolivian
littoral by Chile, and free transit of Bolivian goods through the port of Antofagasta. In
addition, Bolivia was granted use of a seaport in Northern Chile. Thus, the Port of Arica
became the port of entry for Bolivia. At Arica, customs duties were divided with twenty-
five percent going to Chile, forty percent going the indemnity and to repay an 1867
Chilean loan to Bolivia, and the remaining thirty-five percent going to Bolivia. The
agreement also stipulated that, once all indemnities were paid, Bolivia could move the
customhouse to her own territory and transport goods across Chilean territory duty free
Furthermore, the arrangement provided for the mutual return of Bolivian and Chilean
property that had been confiscated during the war and the Bolivian government agreed to
pay Chile a war indemnity to cover damages (St-John, 1992: 16).
The 1884 agreement between Chile and Bolivia was merely an armistice. Until a
permanent arrangement was made, Chile's control of Antofagasta remained conditional.
Bolivia, of course, refused to grant its littoral to Chile unless it received an outlet to the
sea. At this juncture, Bolivia remained confident and believed that, one way or another,
Chile would grant her sovereign access to the sea.
Treaty of 1904
The negotiations leading to a final peace settlement between Bolivia and Chile
began in early 1902 when a Bolivian representative was sent to Santiago with instructions
to secure a permanent resolution to the 1884 truce. On October 20, 1904, Bolivia and
Chile signed a treaty of peace, friendship, and commerce. By the terms of this treaty,
Bolivia formally recognized Chilean ownership of the Atacama, reestablished diplomatic
relations with Chile, which had been severed in 1879 and recognized the permanent
cession of the ports ofMejillones, Cobija, Tocopilla, and Antofagasta to Chile (St-John,
1992: 20-21). In exchange, Chile remunerated Bolivia for her loss and forgave the debts
arising from the war or owed by Bolivia to Chilean citizens for the seizure of property
during the war. Finally, Chile assumed certain debts against the region, permitted free
duties at the ports of Arica and Antofagasta, and agreed to build a railroad from Arica to
La Paz, which was to become the property of Bolivia at the end of fifteen years.
Construction on the railroad began in 1909 and was completed in 1913 (Farcau, 2000:
The 1904 settlement was bitterly debated in the Bolivian Congress. Nevertheless,
the treaty was ratified. Although the Treaty of 1904 formally resolved the boundary
dispute between the belligerents, in fact, the issue remains unresolved for Bolivia. The
treaty confirmed Bolivia's landlocked status and, as a result, restricted economic
development and created a legacy of political instability. Subsequent governmental
administrations have sought to have the Treaty of 1904 annulled and a new arrangement
made by which she would have a seaport. The treaty, and its subsequent modifications,
has served for one hundred years as the basis of relations between Bolivia and Chile.
Bolivia has never given up aspirations to regain access to the Pacific Ocean. This can
only be achieved at the expense of Chile (Antofagasta or Arica). As a result of this
situation, relations with Chile are always somewhat precarious. During the last century,
diplomatic relations between the two countries have been suspended on various
The War of the Pacific had three main outcomes. 1) It allowed Chile's conquest of
the Bolivian seacoast and the Peruvian province of Tarapaca. The exploitation of nitrate
and other mineral riches of these conquered regions has allowed Chile to play an
important role in the Southern Cone. 2) It divided the regions of Tacna and Arica, thus
transferring permanent sovereignty of Arica to Chile. 3) The new status of Bolivia as a
landlocked country created a conflictive situation, which endures a century later.
The official Chilean argument for war was that Bolivian provocation, i.e. the ten
cents tax, threatened the livelihood of Chilean communities and that the combination of
Bolivia and Peru in a hostile alliance threatened Chilean sovereignty and territorial
integrity (Farcau, 2000). While the ten cents tax gave Chile the pretext to precipitate war,
there were deeper more fundamental reasons for the outbreak of hostilities in 1879.
Most historians suggest that Chile declared war with Bolivia and Peru in order to 1)
divert the attention of the public from its desperate economic situation, 2) to protect the
interests of the ANRC, and 3) to ensure the outcome of the congressional elections that
were slated for the fall of 1879. However, one cannot discount the simple fact that
undefined boundaries and the discovery of valuable nitrate and guano deposits in the
disputed territories combined to produce an overwhelming diplomatic crisis. Moreover,
these unstable political circumstances shaped a vicious circle. Bolivia feared Chilean
expansion at Antofagasta, Mejillones, and Caracoles. Peru feared that the failure of
Bolivia to stop that expansion would result in Chilean preponderance, and Chile feared
Peruvian interference with her expansion into the desert. As Farcau (2000) speculates,
however, "the argument that the attitude of the peoples of the region was just ripe for war
seems to be the best explanation" (45).
-- t It w "
Source: (Fifer, J. Valeria. Bolivia: Land, Location, and Politics Since 1825.
Great Britain: Cambridge Univesity ,19, Fige 3,
Figure 2-1. Bolivia, Chile, and Peru: 1825 claims and possession of the Atacama Desert.
Source: (Fifer, J. Valeria. Bolivia: Land, Location, and Politics Since 1825.
Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1972, Figure 3, 33)
a CHILE /
Figure 2-2. Area claimed as the Audiencia of Charcas, 1810. Source: (Fifer, J. Valeria.
Bolivia: Land, Location, and Politics Since 1825. Great Britain: Cambridge
University Press, 1972, Figure 2, 21)
Figure 2-3. Chile-Bolivia borders in 1860. Source: www.davidrumsey.com/index.html
(last accessed October 2004).
THE FAILURE OF SALIDA AL MAR DIPLOMACY
This chapter will illustrate how Bolivia's maritime confinement has led to domestic
political instability and economic underdevelopment and vice versa. To prove this
vicious cycle theory, the author has used historical reference by a variety of scholars and
provides a synthesis of historically significant Bolivian events over the course of five
decades. The four major events that will be explored are 1) the resolution of the Tacna
and Arica dispute between Chile and Peru (1894-1929) 2) the Chaco War (1932-1935) 3)
the Bolivian national revolution (1952-1964) and 4) the rule of Hugo Banzer Suarez
The resolution of the Tacna and Arica dispute between Chile and Peru will be
explored in the context of its significance to the landlocked status of Bolivia. The author
will explore Bolivia's attempts to obtain the Chilean port of Arica as a sovereign exit to
the Pacific Ocean before the signing of the Treaty of Santiago in 1929 and link this
failure to the Chaco War. Once it became clear that Bolivia would not receive the port
of Arica, she shifted her attention to the Atlantic and Paraguay thus escalating the Chaco
dispute into a full blown war. Bolivia's principal goal in the Chaco War was to obtain an
outlet to the Atlantic Ocean by securing a sovereign port on the Paraguay River. Thus,
the Chaco War will be discussed as a classic example of how Bolivia's maritime
confinement has led to political instability, which then leads to economic
underdevelopment. Analysis of the political stability and economic development during
the Bolivian national revolution will provide insight into how these two factors worked
together to impede the negotiation of a settlement on the seacoast issue. Finally, the rule
of Hugo Banzer Suarez is explored given that it was under his rule that diplomatic
relations between Bolivia and Chile were restored (1975-1978) and talks on the seacoast
issue were entertained. These talks, however, failed to provide Bolivia with a sovereign
port; thus, the cause of this failure will be explored.
Bolivia and Arica: A History
In 1841, the American consul to Bolivia noted that the port of Arica was a "port
that had been incessantly coveted by Bolivia, since the very moment that it was founded
as a nation" (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1986: 27). He was, essentially, correct. In
1546, Arica was established as a port of exit for minerals from Upper Peru. In 1547, it
was declared the "official and mandatory port for the exportation of silver from Potosi"
(as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1986: 40). In 1784, the port of Arica was administratively
transferred from the Audiencia of Charcas (moder-day Bolivia) in the Viceroyalty of La
Plata to the Intendancy of Arequipa in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Gumucio Granier (1986)
During the War of Independence, Arica recuperated its role as the most important
port of Upper Peru and jointly with the Upper Peruvian provinces, claimed its
intention of becoming part of the new "Republica Bolivar," instead of remaining
under the dependence of the government of Lima (41).
Thus, in 1825, it was generally assumed that Lower Peru would cede the Pacific coast,
from Arica southward, to Bolivia. Both British and American (United States) diplomats
reported the secession of Upper Peru and were confident that Bolivia's Pacific coast
would be extended. William Tudor, the United States Consul in Lima, even
recommended a man for the new post, which would be created in Arica when this port
was transferred to Bolivian ownership (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 42). In 1826, the
Peruvian government agreed to transfer to Bolivia a segment of the Pacific coastal
territory, including the port of Arica. By this treaty, Bolivia would have gained not only
the port of Arica, but also the provinces of Tacna and Tarapaca; however, Peru's
congress refused to ratify the treaty (Fifer, 1972: 38).
In 1841 Peru invaded Bolivia. Peruvian troops captured the Bolivian port of Cobija
in October 1841; it was abandoned two months later. As a result, a frustrated Bolivian
government briefly occupied Arica. In the course of Bolivia's temporary occupation, the
Bolivian government offered to buy the port from Peru. Peru rejected all purchase offers
(Fifer, 1972: 32-50). As a compromise, Bolivia and Peru signed a treaty of peace and
commerce on November 3, 1847. Even though Peru had regularly disputed Bolivia's
claims to the right of free transit though Peruvian territory, the right of such transit was
written into the 1847 treaty. This treaty would remain into effect until the War of the
Bolivia's Quest For Arica
Bolivia and Chile were very close to a final peace agreement in 1895, when both
governments signed five interrelated pacts. The most significant of these pacts was the
second one, which established the surrender by Chile of either Arica or Caleta Vitor to
Bolivia once the dispute between Chile and Peru was settled by plebiscite. This peace
agreement, however, never came into effect since neither the Bolivian nor Chilean
government agreed to ratify the treaty (St-John, 1992: 18-19).
Bolivia expected that Chile would compensate her for the lost littoral with Tacna-
Arica after Chile received them as the result of a favorable plebiscite at the end of the
ten-year occupation. Even so, on several occasions, Bolivia requested the assistance of
the United States in its efforts to acquire a sovereign outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia
attempted to elicit the support of the United States to promote international justice. In
doing so, Bolivia expected assistance in her quest to obtain a sovereign outlet to the
Pacific over the course of the Tacna-Arica mediation efforts and subsequent settlement.
In November 1918, the Bolivian foreign minister contacted Mr. Goold, the
American Charge d'Affaires, for a meeting and revealed that,
The Bolivian government had intentions to send a special mission to Washington to
congratulate the government of the United States for its victory [in WWI], and also
for the purpose of presenting the Bolivian case with regard to the acquisition of a
port (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1986: 139).
Later, Mr. Goold pronounced that although Bolivia would rather solve this problem with
United States mediation, it would attempt to take up the issue of its maritime confinement
with the League of Nations (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 139).
Bolivia was inspired by the ideals of Woodrow Wilson and saw in them a hope for
retrieving what they had lost in the War of the Pacific. The newly formed League of
Nations appeared to be the vehicle through which they could realize this objective. Thus,
on November 1, 1920, Bolivia presented to the League of Nations her case for a seaport
on the grounds that the Treaty of 1904 was null and void because it was imposed "by
force and repeated non-compliance of the treaty by Chile" (as cited in Gumucio Granier,
1986: 146). However, the League did not consider Bolivia's petition because it had
been presented after the deadline for these cases had expired. Bolivia thus withdrew her
petition and presented her case to the League once again in 1921 with no success
(Gumucio Granier, 1986: 147).
United States Arbitration
The Peruvian Congress ratified the Treaty of Ancon in March of 1884, and it was
ten years later that the plebiscite was to be held in Tacna-Arica. At the end of the ten-
year period, however, Chile did not hand over the disputed provinces. This was a
problem for Peru because under Article III of the treaty Chile would gain sovereignty
over Tacna and Arica only if she won the plebiscite. Yet the only diplomatic decision
that was taken on the plebiscite matter prior to the end of the nineteenth century was an
agreement that included Bolivia in the plebiscite agreement for Tacna and Arica. Under
these provisions, the voters in the region would be given three possible choices, Chile,
Peru, or Bolivia. In the event that Bolivia won the plebiscite, she would pay Chile five
million pesos, half of what Peru and Chile would have to pay each other. This move,
however, was meant to appease Bolivia, who had been actively campaigning for an
alternate route to the Pacific Ocean since 1904. None of the parties considered it a
serious possibility that the residents of the region would select Bolivia, as the Bolivian
population in the Atacama, even before the war, had been insignificant (Farcau, 2000:
196). Chile and Peru were never able to conclusively iron out the details for conducting
the plebiscite. A resolution was not even reached with arbitration by the United States in
1922 and the plebiscite was never held.
At the end of 1921 the long stalemate of disputed ownership in Tacna and Arica
was submitted to the United States for arbitration. On June 20, 1922 delegates of Chile
and Peru signed a protocol of arbitration. Under the protocol, the arbitrator would decide
if the plebiscite should or should not be held. If the arbitrator decided that the plebiscite
should not be held, which is what Peru wanted, the problem would be sent back to the
two countries for further discussion. If the arbitrator decided that the plebiscite should be
held, which is what Chile wanted, he was authorized to determine the conditions for
conducting it (Talbott, 1974:65).
Even before the governments of Chile and Peru agreed to arbitration to determine
ownership of the provinces of Tacna and Arica; Bolivian President Bautista Saavedra
sent a message to U.S. President Harding pleading for the consideration of Bolivia's
plight in the settlement of the Tacna and Arica question. President Saavedra declared:
Although the dispute in which the republics of Peru and Chile are involved, and to
the termination of which your Excellency wishes efficaciously to contribute, seems
to be confined to the disagreement over the non-fulfillment of the so-called Treaty
of Ancon, it cannot be overlooked that it concerns Bolivia, for my country indeed
was a victim of the conflict of the Pacific and there can be no fair, no final solution
until reparation is made for the loss of her maritime territory...And this is why I
appeal, at this moment, to your excellency, and ask you in the name of the Bolivian
people that in the hearing given to the dispute that Peru and Chile wish to submit to
you, you will listen to the claims of Bolivia, and call my country so that it may be
considered as a constituent part in solving the case of the Pacific (as cited in
Gumucio Granier, 1986: 155).
In reply, President Harding noted that the case of Tacna and Arica, which was to be
submitted to arbitration by the United States, concerned itself only with Article III of the
Treaty of Ancon and thus concerned only its signatories, Chile and Peru. As a result,
President Harding remarked that he could not include Bolivia in the negotiations
(Gumucio Granier, 1986:55). Bolivia, however, would not let the matter rest and sent
another petition on May 24, 1922 stating that:
Bolivia considered that the question for debate in Washington was relevant for the
three [my emphasis] participants in the War of the Pacific and that a final and
lasting arrangement would only be possible with the participation of the three
concerned countries (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1986: 157).
Once again, however, the Bolivian petition was not considered because the United
States considered the conference as being only relevant to the problems arising from the
application of Article III of the Treaty of Ancon, of which Chile and Peru were the only
signatories. Furthermore, the United States stated that it was not a party to the
conference, but merely its host (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 157). Upon failing to receive
support for its cause from the United States, Bolivia presented its case directly to the
Chilean government in 1923. The Chilean government categorically refused negotiations
stating that the case had been settled with the Treaty of 1904 (Gumucio Granier, 1986:
United States arbitration in the matter of Tacna and Arica was concluded on March
24, 1925. President Coolidge decided that the plebiscite should be held. This decision
pleased Chile; however, it was disappointing for Peru (Dennis, 1967: 200). President
Coolidge based his decision on the fact that the treaty stated that the vote would be taken
"after" the lapse often years, and not necessarily immediately thereafter. He determined
that Chile and Peru had wanted at least ten years to pass before the vote was to be taken,
however no specific time limit was set (Farcau, 2000:197). Additionally, the Coolidge
award returned the district of Tarata1, which Chile occupied after the War of the Pacific,
to Peru (Dennis, 1967: 215).
The Coolidge decision set the conditions under which the plebiscite was to be
held. The plebiscite was to include all males aged twenty-one years or older who were
literate or property owners and who were either born in Tacna/Arica or Peruvian or
Chilean citizens who had lived there for two years continuously prior to 1922 and
through the date of voter registration (Dennis, 1967: 197).
In Chile the reaction to the Coolidge award was favorable. The impression seemed
to be that it had won the provinces merely by winning the award, since there were few or
no pro-Peruvians left in Tacna and Arica and that the plebiscite was merely a means to an
1 After the war, Chile occupied the district of Tarata, which Peru argued had never belonged to either Tacna
or Arica and should simply be returned to Peru without being risked in the vote, a point Chileans
consistently refused to accept (Farcau, 2000).
end. In Peru, however, the reaction was not positive. Peru remained adamant that Chile
had violated the Treaty of Ancon by not holding the plebiscite within the specified time
frame. As a consequence, they argued, the provinces of Tacna and Arica should
automatically be returned to Peru without a plebiscite. A Peruvian minister explicated
Peru's perspective with the following quote. "The controversy over Tacna-Arica is
intimately bound up with the honor and dignity of Peru. Tacna and Arica were since the
Colonial days up to the present time an integral part of our territory" (Dennis, 1967: 274).
Considering this, the Coolidge decision was a hard pill for Peru to swallow.
Although both nations agreed to hold the plebiscite, neither Chile nor Peru wanted
it. Nevertheless, following the decision, a plebiscite committee was put into place in
order to straighten out the details for the vote. The committee, however, was never able
to come to a consensus and any hope for a fair plebiscite was abandoned. General
Lassiter, head of the North American delegation, blamed Chile for the committee's
failure suggesting that Chile chose not to produce an atmosphere conducive to holding
the plebiscite by failing to control the "overzealous unrestrained Chilean element in
Tacna-Arica" (Dennis, 1967: 263). It is probable that a free and fair plebiscite would
have given the territory in dispute to Chile. It is doubtful, although possible, that Peru
could have returned enough voters to win the vote.
After the adjournment of the plebiscite commission on June 14, 1926, the United
States offered its "good offices" to Chile and Peru to permanently resolve the dispute
over Tacna and Arica. Both Chile and Peru agreed to mediation and the first meeting
under the good offices of the United States was held on March 26, 1926 (Dennis, 1967:
Over the course of the next 2 years, little progress was made; however, four
possible options for resolution were considered. The first option, which was promptly
dismissed for fear that it would breed a South American war in the future, was that the
territories remain under Chilean sovereignty. The second option would divide the
territories between Chile and Peru with or without a corridor for Bolivia. The third
option suggested that the territories could be neutralized as an independent state or under
the protection of another power or powers. The fourth option considered ceding Tacna
and Arica to another nation not a party to the negotiations (Dennis, 1967: 267). While a
particular state was not specifically mentioned for this fourth option, Bolivia was
obviously the prime candidate. In Bolivia, hope was aroused over this fourth option as
made apparent by a telegram sent to President Coolidge by President Hernando Siles
(1926-30) of Bolivia, which stated
It is my duty to express to your excellency the satisfaction of the government and
people of Bolivia at the suggestion of the secretary of state of the great republic to
the most excellent governments of Chile and Peru, to the effect that in the dispute
over Tacna and Arica or in its results the desire of Bolivia for a port be taken into
account... in bringing about a solution of the old-standing question of the Pacific
which concerns three and not two peoples, of which none suffered more painfully
from the war by maritime mutilation that the one over which I have the honor to
preside (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1986: 165).
However, this option was never a serious contention; given that "both Chile and Peru
declared vehemently that they would each prefer the other to win the provinces rather
than allow them to be ceded to Bolivia" (Fifer, 1972: 77).
Hence, Bolivia's landlocked status failed to receive the international recognition it
had looked for. The lack of success of Bolivia's appeals to international organizations
such as the League of Nations and international powers such as the United States proved
that she could neither discuss her vital interests nor resolve her conflict with the help of
other states if these are not in the best interests of world powers. Consequently, Bolivia,
which at the time was situated at the bottom of America's priority list, did not have a
chance to succeed despite its tireless diplomatic initiatives.
Treaty of Santiago
After a difficult round of negotiations over the course of forty years, representatives
of Chile and Peru finally signed the Treaty of Santiago on June 29, 1929. Each country
subsequently ratified the treaty on July 28 of that same year with large majorities thus
dissolving the long-standing dispute with the stroke of a pen. In the final settlement, Peru
received Tacna and Chile Arica. In addition, Chile agreed to grant Peru a wharf, a
customhouse, and a railway station at Arica Bay as well as to pay Peru a six million
dollar indemnity. Chile also promised to erect at the Morro of Arica a monument
dedicated to peace between the two nations. Furthermore, and this point is of supreme
importance, both parties were prohibited from ceding to a third power the whole or any
part of the territories they received under the Treaty of Santiago, and from constructing
new international railroad lines across their respective territories without the consent of
the other (St-John, 1992: 25). As a result of this clause, Bolivia's quest for sovereign
access to the Pacific Ocean through Arica was effectively thwarted. Recognizing that
such an agreement between Chile and Peru would be disastrous for his country, Bolivian
diplomat Eduardo Diez de Medina met with the U.S. Secretary of State on July 3, 1929
so as to present a protest to the United States against the inclusion of the "third-party no
transfer" (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 190) clause. He argued (correctly) that such a clause
would prohibit any effort by Chile or Peru to provide Bolivia with an outlet to the sea and
vice versa as both countries had conflicting interests in their relations with Bolivia. In
other words, the agreement intended to "lock-up" Bolivia. Bolivia's protests were
nevertheless dismissed and the clause was included in the treaty. The exclusion of
Bolivia from the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Santiago proved most unfortunate
as that pact represented an opportunity lost to reach a permanent solution, which satisfied
all parties to the dispute.
An Alternate Route to the Sea: The Chaco War 1932-1935
Before the War of the Pacific, Bolivia showed little interest in its territorial dispute
with Paraguay. Forces were at work, however, that would move the question of
sovereignty in the Chaco Boreal to the front burner. When the front door of Arica
slammed in its face as a result of the Treaty of Santiago, Bolivia turned full force toward
her back door to the sea, the Paraguay River. The idea of a Bolivian port on the Paraguay
River that would connect with the La Plata Basin and then to the Atlantic was not new.
The feasibility of founding such a port had been recognized for years, but there seemed
little reason to make the effort so long as Bolivia enjoyed sovereign access to the Pacific.
This rather unrealistic dream of gaining access to the Atlantic via the navigable portion of
the Paraguay River led Bolivia to adopt an aggressive policy in the Chaco Boreal, an area
almost as inhospitable as the Atacama.
The dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay over the territorial boundaries of the
Gran Chaco traces back to independence; nevertheless, the territorial conflict, dormant
for many years, was revived in the 1920s. This is no coincidence. Chile and Peru's long
overdue settlement in 1929 provided the rationale for the Chaco War with Paraguay as a
means of breaking through the Atlantic coast in the east.
The Gran Chaco is a vast expanse of land covering the area from the foothills of the
Andes to the Rio Paraguay and from the fringe of the Amazon Basin in the north to the
Argentine Pampas in the south. The area where the Chaco War was fought is technically
referred to as the Chaco Boreal2, while the Argentine portion is the Chaco Austral.
In the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries, Bolivia and Paraguay
engaged in continuing negotiations over the border issue. Bolivia based its case on the
principle of uti possidetis3 of 1810, using colonial archives and maps she claimed that
Spanish royal decrees had granted the Audiencia of Charcas possession of all the territory
down to the confluence of the Rio Paraguay and the Rio Pilcomayo. Using colonial title,
Paraguay claimed all land east of the Parapeti River. In addition, Paraguay argued that
since its citizens had conducted virtually all exploration of the area and established the
only viable settlements there; the region should belong to her (Alvestegui, 1926: 268).
The boundary dispute over the Chaco was addressed in 1879, 1887, 1894, and
1907. Neither the Bolivian nor the Paraguayan congress, however, ratified any of
treaties. Farcau (1996) notes that each treaty proposal
Consisted of a series of compromises laying a definite border around the middle of
the Chaco with the line anchored on the Rio Paraguay somewhere in its navigable
portion and cutting across diagonally or at right angles to another line drawn
northward from the Pilcomayo (Farcau, 1996: 9).
Any of these proposals would have given Paraguay a considerable amount of land, while
giving Bolivia a sovereign port on the Paraguay River. The Pinilla-Soler protocol of
1907 established the boundary "midway between the closest Bolivian and Paraguayan
outposts" (Farcau, 1996: 10). In 1913, a time limit was set for resolving the border
dispute. If the matter were not settled by the deadline, it would be turned over to a
neutral third-party for mediation. Five years later, the boundary dispute was no closer to
2 The Chaco Boreal will henceforth be referred to simply as the Chaco.
3 Chapter 2 explains the principle of uti possidetis.
a settlement; however, since there was no third-party which neither Bolivia nor Paraguay
trusted, it was decided that the contested boundary would not be submitted to outside
arbitration at that time (Farcau, 1996: 10).
Zook (1961) notes that in 1927, the Paraguay Foreign Minister at Santiago reported
to Asuncion "having lost his coast in the War of the Pacific...the Bolivian condor sat on
his mountain perch contemplating his wounds" (44). As a result of this action, the
Republican Party in power and the opposition Liberals joined together in a united
bipartisan policy of retaking the lost Puerto Pacheco on the Rio Paraguay (Zook, 1961:
44). Thus, Bolivian activity in the Chaco intensified as President Saavedra, "who
believed Paraguay too poor to resist gradual penetration down the Pilcomayo, directed
construction offortines4" (Zook, 1961: 37). Farcau (1996) remarks, "As the string of
opposingfortines drew closer together, the changes of armed conflict increased
proportionately" (11). On February 26, 1927, a small Paraguayan patrol attacked
Bolivia's Fort Sorpresa; Bolivian soldiers captured them and in the process a Paraguayan
officer was killed. This brief clash recorded the first death of the Chaco conflict (Farcau,
1996: 11) Thus, by 1927, events were set in motion, which would cost Bolivia far more
of the Chaco than it had ever dreamed, drain its economy, and destroy its political
system. All of this in an attempt to establish a Bolivian sea-route to the Atlantic.
On December 5 1928, Paraguayan troops attacked Bolivian Fort Vanguardia,
killing several Bolivian soldiers and taking twenty-one prisoners. Bolivia severed
relations with Paraguay on December 9, 1928. Paraguay reciprocated that evening. As a
result, La Paz was filled for days with war demonstrations and war sentiment.
4 Fortines were more similar to camps than to forts, since they were clusters of rudimentary huts rather than
fortifications. The word, which is untranslatable, will henceforth be used.
Consequently, President Siles (1926-30) suspended the constitution and crowds
demonstrated for war (Farcau, 1996: 12-14). Even so, the weakness of the belligerents'
militaries prevented war at this time.
Before any new disturbance could occur, however, Bolivia underwent a
constitutional crisis. General Blanco Galindo ousted President Siles from office for
having attempted to unlawfully prolong his presidential term. This time of political
unrest moved the Chaco issue to the backburner and diplomatic relations with Paraguay
were restored on July 23, 1930. In March 1931, Dr. Daniel Salamanca, an advocate of
extreme measures against Paraguay, was inaugurated as Bolivia's president (Zook, 1961:
Stand Firm in the Chaco: The Rule of President Salamanca
President Salamanca began his political career in 1900. In 1914 he took over as
head of the Republican Party. He promoted "national revanchism5", calling for the return
of Bolivia's Pacific seacoast in addition to claiming Bolivia's "natural boundaries" in the
Chaco along the Pilcomayo and Paraguay Rivers (Alvestegui, 1957: 32). Salamanca
subscribed to the idea that Bolivia had a history that had to be counteracted with a
victorious war. In his view, there was no reason why Bolivia should let itself be pushed
around by a country the size and strength of Paraguay. A short little war could
ultimately turn the tide of Bolivia's destiny and make Paraguay, not Bolivia, the laughing
stock of the continent. Salamanca may also have had a more personal axe to grind in
pushing a hard line against Paraguay, in that he had taken part in the final enactment of
5 The Republican Party came to power in 1920. Their party platform was one of revanchismm," which
opposed the policy of searching for a solution to the question of the Pacific through the Chilean port of
Arica. Instead, the Republican Party called for the return of the whole littoral of Atacama.
the 1904 peace treaty with Chile, which formalized the loss of Bolivia's seacoast.
Salamanca took this as a personal disgrace, and he may have felt obliged to prevent
another such surrender at all costs out of a personal sense of honor (Morales, 2003: 104).
In a rally in La Paz he avowed, "Is even Paraguay going to push us around? War should
be an adventure for Bolivia. Let us go to the Chaco, not to conquer or die but to
conquer!" (Altevesgui, 1957 (vol.3): 152) For Salamanca, "The final and only objective
of Bolivia in her long contention with Paraguay is the revendication of the Chaco, or of
the greatest possible portion of this territory, including that of a coast on the Paraguay
River" (Arze Quiroga, 1951: 265). Considering this, the president deemed (correctly)
that any peace that gave Bolivia both sovereign access to the Paraguay River and the
right of passage to the Atlantic would only be possible once Bolivia conquered the
Paraguayan Army in battle. Thus, seeking to fulfill a very narrow conception of national
destiny, President Salamanca did much to involve Bolivia in the Chaco War against
The Chaco War erupted in July 1932; Paraguayan forces attacked and recaptured
the nominally Bolivian Fort Santa Cruz near Lake Chuquisaca. Originally, this fort had
been the Paraguayan Fort Mariscal Lopez, which Bolivia had previously seized.
President Salamanca denounced the attack on Fort Santa Cruz before the entire nation as
blatant aggression. The general public and military elite rallied around their president
and flag. As a result, Salamanca ordered an immediate military assault on Paraguayan
positions (Farcau, 1996: 37-40).
It was not expected that Paraguay's rather unimpressive military establishment
would be able to compete with Bolivia in the field. Standing forces and war potential
appeared to favor Bolivia. Her modem Army rested on obligatory military service and an
officer corps trained largely at home by foreign military missions. As a consequence,
when the departing soldiers marched towards war the mood in Bolivia was celebratory.
It was like a holiday. For the Bolivians, the war represented an opportunity to defeat the
only neighbor that Bolivia had any chance of defeating and earn for Bolivia some long
overdue international respect and recognition. These celebrations, however, were all too
As the war waged on, various neutral countries and international organizations
attempted to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict. The sticking point of these
negotiations was Bolivia's insistence that a settlement include a sovereign Bolivian port
on the Paraguay River, an option that Paraguay fervently rejected.
The Doctrine of 3 August was signed by each nation in the hemisphere except the
belligerents on August 3, 1932. This doctrine declared
The nations of America declare that the dispute in the Chaco is capable of peaceful
solution...that they will not recognize any territorial arrangements in this
controversy that are not obtained by peaceful means, nor the validity of acquisitions
obtained by occupations or conquest by force of arms (as cited in Farcau, 1996:
Neither Bolivian nor Paraguay paid attention to this doctrine. Bolivia rejected it on the
basis that it proposed a return to positions held on June 1, 1932. It argued that in doing
so, the major cause of the dispute, a sovereign Bolivian port on the Paraguay River,
would not be eliminated.
In January 1933, the ABCP (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru) powers attempted
to negotiate peace between Bolivia and Paraguay. At the end of January, representatives
from Argentina and Chile met at Mendoza to negotiate a peace protocol, which was
subsequently delivered to and approved by Brazil and Peru. The Mendoza Act demanded
an end to hostilities, the withdrawal of Bolivian forces to Ballivian and Robore, and
Paraguay forces to the Paraguay River, the submission of the dispute to outside
arbitration, and a general demobilization of both the Bolivian and Paraguay armies.
Paraguay's subsequent demands were minimal. In addition to the other stipulations of
the Mendoza Act, she required that the Bolivian army withdraw to Villa Montes, and that
an investigation be conducted to determine war guilt. As Farcau (1996) notes Bolivia
replied to the Mendoza Act with more considerable demands than Paraguay.
They [Bolivia] insisted that all previous agreements between Bolivia and Paraguay
regarding the Chaco be declared null and void, proposed that arbitrations of the
territorial dispute be based on the principle of utipossidetis of 1810, thereby
virtually insuring that Bolivia would gain possession of the entire Chaco, and also
called for a provision prohibiting the awarding of any reparations. They also
demanded any award of territory be made solely on the basis of the best legal title
and that the area of the Hayes Award be included. They wanted an area for
arbitration to be bordered by the twenty-first parallel in the north and fifty-nine
degrees fifty-five minutes west longitude on the west, thus reserving for Bolivia a
large portion of the Chaco without arbitration. Finally, the Bolivians called for an
armistice in the positions then held by the opposing forces (110).
Possibly in an effort to bolster the Mendoza Act, Chile unilaterally cut off the flow of
weapons to Bolivia through its territory on January 20, 1933. Bolivia instantly protested
this action maintaining that it was a violation of the Treaty of 1904, which granted to
Bolivia free passage of any good through Chilean ports. This tactic, however, did not
persuade Bolivia to agree to the terms of the Mendoza Act, and Chile reopened its ports a
month later. Paraguay eventually accepted the terms of the Mendoza Act. Bolivia,
however, rejected the proposal (Farcau, 1996: 111-112). The Mendoza Act failed to end
hostilities. Consequently, Paraguay formally declared itself at war with Bolivia on May
10, 1933 (Zook, 1961: 140). One day later, Bolivia appealed to the League of Nations
and demanded that sanctions be invoked against her enemy reasoning that Paraguay had
"started" the war (Farcau, 1996: 112). However, as Farcau (1996) notes, "in the case of
the Chaco, Paraguay had certainly been the first to declare war, but, Bolivian troops
committed the first overt warlike act" (113).
A commission from the League of Nations composed of representatives from
Spain, Britain, Italy, and Mexico arrived to tour the disputed territory and to discuss
peace with the belligerents on November 18, 1933. In a meeting with the commission,
the Paraguayans acknowledged that it would welcome direct negotiations with Bolivia;
however, it would disregard any agreement that granted Bolivia a sovereign port on the
Paraguay River (Farcau, 1996: 152). Thus, at this juncture, there seemed to be no hope
for a peaceful solution to the boundary dispute, as Bolivia would not repudiate its claims
to the Paraguay River. Nevertheless, the League commission arranged a truce to
commence at 2400 hours on December 19, 1933. The armistice had in reality been timely
for both belligerents: Paraguay because she was physically incapable of completely
annihilating her enemy, and Bolivia because she was unable any longer to resist Paraguay
without pausing to form a new army. The armistice lasted until January 6, 1934;
however, peace was never achieved as both armies used the truce to rebuild their armies
and continue fighting (Farcau, 1996: 161).
Charges that international oil interests motivated the war were beginning to gain
credence in 1934. Paraguay suspected that Bolivia had provoked war in search of an
outlet to facilitate the production and export of Standard Oil of Bolivia (Farcau, 1996:
138). In January 1934, Paraguay stated that its government would remain inflexible on
the point of not submitting to arbitration both the Hayes Zone and the littoral of the
Paraguay River. Since Bolivia would not renounce its claims to either of these regions,
diplomacy was considered hopeless and war waged on (Zook, 1961: 175-176). In
February 1934, the League commission presented a draft peace treaty that called for
Bolivia to withdraw its forces to Villa Montes-Robore and for the Paraguayans to retreat
to the Paraguay River. In addition, the treaty proposed a prisoner exchange and the
demobilization of both armies to five thousand men each. Finally, the treaty stipulated
that the boundary issue would be submitted to the Permanent Court of Justice at The
Hague for arbitration (Farcau, 1996: 166). Bolivia rejected the proposal for "reasons of
national pride and honor, which dictated that she enter negotiations as the victor and not
the vanquished" (Farcau, 1996: 166). Inversely, Paraguay rejected the offer because she
saw "the opportunity for a clear cut military victory and thus was not about to run the risk
of unfavorable arbitration" (Farcau, 1996: 166). The League commission dissolved itself
March 1934 for the reason that, "the views of the belligerents were so divergent that there
was no reason to maintain its office in Montevideo" (Farcau, 1996: 199).
In July 1934, Argentina proposed a general peace treaty, which was supported by
Brazil and the United States. The plan called for a conference at Buenos Aires where
plenipotentiaries would settle the terms of the treaty, a definitive ceasefire, and adequate
security measures to ensure the ceasefire would be observed. In the event that this
meeting did not provoke a peaceful resolution to the war, the territorial dispute would be
handed over to the Permanent Council of International Justice at The Hague for
mediation. Argentina advanced this plan on the basis that "an economic conference and
transactional discussions could satisfy Bolivian needs without Paraguayan loss of the
Chaco" and that it would provide for "a gradual transition to peace" (Zook, 1961: 193).
However, a month later, Argentina's President Saavedra Lamas publicly declared that if
Bolivia insisted on sovereign maritime access to the Paraguay River, "he would end the
whole matter" (as cited in Zook, 1961: 197). Paraguay accepted the terms of the peace
treaty; however, once again, Bolivia rejected the proposal because it did not guarantee a
sovereign Bolivian littoral zone on the Paraguay River. As this was the underlying cause
of the war, this requirement could not be met. As a result, by mid-September 1934,
Argentina suspended its efforts in favor of League arbitration. The United States and
Brazil protested this action given that they considered that a hemispheric problem should
be resolved within the hemisphere (Farcau, 1996: 200).
At Bolivia's request, the League of Nations once again attempted to resolve the
territorial dispute at the end of November 1934. The League called for an immediate
ceasefire, with a ten-kilometer withdrawal by both parties and a promise to begin peace
talks within thirty days. The Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague was
to handle final arbitration (Farcau, 1996: 200). However, this attempt at a peaceful
solution ended in failure. This failure can be attributed to the instability that racked the
Bolivian army and government following a coup d'etat, which ousted President
Salamanca from office. Consequently, peace negotiations were hindered. It is interesting
to note that President Salamanca quietly resigned the presidency after the army
threatened to end the war if he refused (Zook, 1961: 213).
Bolivia and Paraguay finally signed a peace protocol on June 12, 1935. The
protocol called for a ceasefire in place, a nonaggression pact, and immediate
demobilization of both armies to five thousand men each. In addition, a neutral military
commission would be dispatched to the front to fix current positions. In the event that a
direct agreement between the parties proved impossible, the protocol stipulated that the
issue would be submitted to The Hague for arbitration (Zook, 1961: 239-240). The
ceasefire began on June 14, 1935. Although the protocol stipulated that the ceasefire was
to last twelve days, it marked the end of the war. The war was officially declared over on
November 1, 1935. However, as Farcau (1996) notes, since the territorial boundaries of
the Chaco were still disputed, "the war was over but peace had yet to be achieved" (238).
Both Bolivia and Paraguay presented their case to the Conference on July 31, 1935
regarding the basic questions of the territorial dispute. Paraguay declared that she would
never allow Bolivia a port and insisted that the entire Chaco belonged to Paraguay since
its army had been victorious in the war. Neither Bolivia nor Paraguay, however, would
yield on their demands at this time (Zook, 1961: 246). The Conference submitted a peace
proposal to the belligerents on October 15, 1935. The proposal drew a border between
the Paraguay and Pilcomayo Rivers. In addition to providing Bolivia with a
"psychological port" at Puerto Caballo, the proposal provided a zone of free transit for
Bolivia at Puerto Casado (Zook, 1961: 246). Once again, Paraguay rejected the offer
insisting that she would not give up any portion of the Chaco that was under the control
of her armed forces (Zook, 1961: 246). Progress was made in May 1937 when Bolivia
and Paraguay reestablished diplomatic relations. This gesture, however, was not
accompanied by a settlement. As Farcau (1996) suggests, even though Bolivia "was
willing to settle for less than it had demanded before the war," Paraguay "insisted that
they had paid in blood for the ground they now held and would not give up one sacred
inch out of respect for the fallen" (239).
Both Bolivia and Paraguay seemed to be getting closer to reaching a settlement by
the spring of 1938 as both nations made concessions in order to close this chapter of their
history. However, the issue of contention remained Bolivia's insistence on a sovereign
port on the Paraguay River. This port was so important to the Bolivian people that, in
June 1938, a bill was passed that authorized the purchase of arms if a settlement failed to
be reached. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and President Busch (1937-1939)
conceded that access to the Atlantic "was not worth the risk of war" (Farcau, 1996: 239).
By the end of June 1938, Bolivia "for the sake of peace," had renounced its claims to the
Paraguay River (Farcau, 1996: 240).
The initial peace was signed on July 21, 1938, with Paraguay promising Bolivia
"complete freedom of transit to the Rio Paraguay" (Wood, 1966: 153). The Bolivian
legislature ratified the treaty by a wide margin in secret session. In Paraguay, the
government preferred to spread the responsibility and called for a plebiscite; peace was
supported by over 90 percent of those who voted. By the end of December 1938, each
belligerent had complied with the arbitral award by delivering the required territory and
the war was at last well and truly over (Zook, 1961: 254).
At the end of the exhausting and, for Bolivia, humiliating conflict, virtually all the
disputed territory in the Gran Chaco had been lost to the Paraguayans. Bolivia had
nothing to show for its sacrifices.
The cost of the Chaco war was high for Bolivia. She suffered 52,397 killed. She
lost nearly 10,000 deserters. Over 21,000 were captured, of who 4,264 died in
captivity. The net loss of her population was therefore roughly two percent over
65,000 youth. From 1932-1935 her paper currency increased twenty-five percent.
By 1935 loans to the government by the Central Bank reached 370,000,000
bolivianos. Levies on export receipts of the mining companies had gone to finance
foreign arms orders. Consequently, doubling of the world price of tin during the
war contributed directly to the Bolivian [war] effort. Large sums were wasted,
however, due to corruption in arms and supply contracts, and extortion among
paymasters (Zook, 1961: 240).
Thus, far from being a glorious adventure that would restore the nation's faith, the war
turned into a nightmare that made Bolivia even more of a military laughing stock than
before. This tragic and avoidable war was fought between two of the world's poorest
nations over three long years and claimed the lives of nearly a hundred thousand men out
of a total combined population of less than five million. Peace was within reach at
almost any time, yet the salty waters of the Atlantic proved to be too much of a lure for
Bolivia. Farcau (1996) explains
it is worth noting that the option was far more important to Bolivia than the actual
fact of a functioning port. It is hard to imagine that Bolivia could have invested
enough resources to connect such a port successfully to the main population and the
main population centers on the Altiplano. However, having the option would have
enabled the Bolivians to claim, at least to themselves, that they had ceased to be
landlocked, even though all foreign trade would still have come through Pacific
ports in Peru and Chile (9).
The Chaco War with Paraguay, a much weaker and smaller nation, was intended to
restore Bolivian pride and confidence. Instead, like the War of the Pacific, the Chaco
War achieved the opposite results and in the process altered Bolivia society irrevocably.
Bolivia's defeat in the Chaco War shook the conscience of the country and laid the basis
for the great social upheaval of the 1950s, the Bolivian national revolution.
Bolivian National Revolution: 1952-1964
Bolivia's defeat in the Chaco War encouraged the revolution. As a result of the
war, disgruntled war veterans and the general population rejected the failed political
system of the republican era. The war changed Bolivia's citizens forever and
transformed its electorate. Thus, early in April 1952, Bolivia, for the first time in her
history, underwent a profound social and economic as well as political revolution. This
period in Bolivian history is significant to this study because it demonstrates how
political instability and economic underdevelopment prevents Bolivia from achieving a
lasting settlement on the seacoast issue.
The revolutionary government had large goals and, as a result, hacia el mar
diplomacy was put on the backburner. In a letter dated September 25, 1950, Victor Paz
Estenssoro explained why he objected to negotiating with Chile to obtain a sovereign
For us [MNR], the problem of a seaport does not figure among the front rank of
problems facing Bolivia... It would be more useful and more constructive from the
point of view of national interest to place all of our talent, energies and resources in
developing the great potential economic and human elements which are found in
Bolivia (as cited in Glassner, 1970: 113).
Thus, over the course of a decade, Bolivian and Chilean Foreign Ministers convened only
twice (1953 and 1955) and the seacoast issue was not brought up at either conference
(Glassner, 1970: 104). However, Gumucio Granier (1986) notes that the issue continued
to affect even the revolutionary government:
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' international policies were oriented towards
development. As a result, demands for sovereign access to the sea were
temporarily set aside. However, the difficulties in the execution of programs and
moderate growth were blamed on Bolivia's dependence on Chilean ports and lack
of an adequate system of free transit.
Although, the seacoast issue was virtually ignored by the revolutionary government, it
nevertheless made its presence be known, principally in the early 1960s.
Under the government of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR)
and its charismatic leader, Victor Paz Estenssoro, the revolution opened a process of very
important transformations in Bolivia. Between 1952-64 the Bolivian government
devoted much of its attention to the creation of bases for solid economic development.
The revolution was a democratizing as well as socially distributive revolution. It gave
rise to a twelve-year period of civilian rule, with universal suffrage extending the vote to
women and illiterates. Elections were held regularly, opposition parties sustained some
representation, the presidency rotated every four years, and freedom of the press was
sustained. In addition, the revolutionary government of that period brought about
important fundamental changes. It gave the land back to the Indians, nationalized the tin
mining enterprises, and started a process of economic development.
Nationalization of the Mines
The innate weakness of the Bolivian economy made the need for nationalizing the
mining industry much more pressing than it might otherwise have been. On October 31,
1952, the MNR nationalized the "big three mining" companies of Patino, Hochschild,
and Aramayo freeing Bolivia's government from arrogant domination by a handful of
mine owners. To run the new nationalized mining industry, the Corporacion Minera de
Bolivia (COMIBOL) was established and inherited control over some two-thirds of the
tin mining industry. Medium and small mining companies remained under private
ownership (Morales, 2003: 145). It was provided that the companies who previously
owned the newly nationalized mines would be compensated for the property that had
been taken from them, but the exact details of such compensation were to be worked out
later and not provided for in the law (Mitchell, 1977: 55). This compensation, however,
proved disastrous for Bolivia's struggling economy as "the millions ultimately paid in
compensation to the big tin interests bankrupted the treasury and aggravated the desperate
postrevolutionary fiscal crisis" (Morales, 2003: 146).
The revolutionary government assumed that nationalizing the mines would ensure
that mine wealth be reinvested in the country and thus quickly stimulate Bolivia's
economic development. Unfortunately, as Morales (2003) points out,
By 1952 when the decree was passed, tin mining revenue was already in a free fall.
Diminished resources, higher extraction costs, and decapitalization had already
taken their toll and would continue to do so. Rather than buy Bolivia's economic
independence, the nationalization decree ensured the country's economic
As a result, the economic profits that the revolutionary leaders had hoped would result
from government ownership of the mines were very slow in coming.
Land reform was a crucial part of the Bolivian national revolution. The 177 clauses
of Decree Law 3464, signed by President Paz on August 2, 1953 had six central aims:
1. To provide adequate parcels of land to peasants with little or none, so long as they
worked them, expropriating for this purpose latifundia6
2. To restore to the communidades usurped lands and cooperate in their
modernization with full respect for collectivist traditions
3. To secure the complete abolition ofpongueaje8
4. To increase productivity, investment, and technical aid
5. To protect natural resources
6. To promote emigration from the Altiplano to the Oriente so as to promote
development in the Oriente (Carter, 1971: 243).
In short, the MNR's land reform decree intended to provide the dispossessed farmer with
a parcel of land so that he could freely harvest it and to sweep away the feudal system of
lords and slaves so that the Indian peasants could be transformed into citizens, producers,
and consumers in the Bolivian market. As a result, with technical assistance and rural
development, Bolivian agriculture would be modernized and produce economic returns.
6 Excessively large properties
SCorporate Indian communities
8 Unpaid and involuntary personal services provided to the residences of large landholders e.g. slavery
By 1955, Twenty-four million acres of land had been distributed to 237,000 families. By
1970, 289,000 families had received over 29 million acres of land. Nevertheless,
Morales (2003) contends that land reform created a decline in agricultural productivity
because it "encouraged parceling of the land into extremely small farms, and these mini-
holdings were inefficient and often suffered from chronic capital shortages" (150).
The collapse of the state, the nationalization of the mines, the destruction of the
hacienda system... all created havoc in the national economy and in government
income. The takeover of the mines drained massive sums from the state coffers,
and agrarian reform reduced agricultural deliveries to the cities drastically, thus
necessitating massive food imports to prevent starvation. The only way to resolve
all of these problems was to increase national currency. The result was one of the
world's most spectacular records of inflation from 1952 to 1956 (Klein, 2003: 216).
The scale of the crisis was impressive and 1956 proved to be the most critical year of all.
Faced with a bankrupt economy, an inability to feed its people, and without the necessary
funds to carry out the large-scale welfare and reform programs recommended, the regime
had no choice but to request economic assistance. Thus, the United States began its aid
program to Bolivia. The United States provided Bolivia with enough funds to keep its
revolutionary government afloat and its population fed and clothed and thus provided
"the social peace that might not have existed had the regime gone unaided" (Klein, 2003:
As a result of this aid, which essentially subsidized the revolutionary regime, the
United States was able to pressure the Bolivian revolutionary government into enacting
widely unpopular austerity measures in order to recover Bolivia's economy. Thus, in
1956 President Siles accepted the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in
terms of national fiscal policy. The United States delivered its "Stabilization Plan" by
late 1956, and Bolivia accepted it under IMF auspices in January 1957. This plan
required that Bolivia balance its budget, stop the food subsidization of the miners
(pulperias), restrict wage increases, establish a single exchange rate, reduce tariffs,
increase domestic taxes, and adopt a multitude of other measures restricting government
initiative and expenditures (Dunkerley, 1984: 87). Bolivia implemented the measures
and the result on its economy was favorable. Klein (2003) notes that, as a result of the
Stabilization Plan, "the currency was stabilized, deficits in government spending were
cut, and COMIBOL achieved a more balanced budget" (221).
Rehabilitation of COMIBOL began under what came to be called the Triangular
Plan. The United States government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the
government of West Germany jointly funded this project. By 1961, COMIBOL had
outstanding debts in the amount of 20 million dollars. Thus, the Triangular Plan's
fundamental aim was to overhaul and refinance the government entity in order to get it to
function more efficiently and generate greater government revenue (Dunkerley, 1984:
The Triangular Plan involved just about the complete reorganization of COMIBOL,
great investments in modern machinery, the opening of new tin mines and other metallic
ores, in addition to other measures. These measures increased production and eliminated
the chronic annual deficit that had plagued COMIBOL. The Triangular Plan proved its
effectiveness in 1966 when COMIBOL made a profit of $4 million (Glassner, 1970:
Resurgence of the Seacoast Issue
A dispute over the waters of the Lauca River disrupted, yet again, relations between
the antagonistic nations of Bolivia and Chile who share sovereignty over the river. The
dispute arose after Chile built a new hydroelectric plant in the Andes to provide for the
rising demand for power in Arica.
In 1962, the "sluice gates on the Chilean section of the river were opened for the
first time to begin the westward diversion of part of the Lauca's flow" (Fifer, 1972: 89).
This action embittered and impassioned Bolivia who responded in protest. The Bolivian
government responded by severing diplomatic relations with Chile and bringing the issue
to the Organization of America States (OAS) on the basis that the 1933 Montevideo
Resolution on International Rivers stipulated "that the formal agreement of both countries
was required for such a diversion to be sanctioned" (Fifer, 1972: 89). Chile argued that
since Bolivia had not objected in either 1949 or 1960, "when engineers from both
countries examined first the proposals and later the nearly completed works" (Fifer,
1972: 90). The OAS declared that it would not involve itself in the Lauca River
controversy and that the parties involved should resolve the matter. As a result, Bolivia
withdrew from the OAS in September 1962 (Glassner, 1970:105).
Glassner (1970) suggests that "Bolivia's objections to this diversion [Lauca River]
and her campaign for a 'salida al mar' are intimately bound up" (104). Ambassador
Sarmiento of Bolivia address to the third session of the OAS' emergency meeting (April
1962), which discussed the Lauca River controversy, supports Glassner's opinion. He
In this struggle of rights or recoveries, Bolivia has another greater; her enclosure,
which places her in cases like the Lauca at a notorious disadvantage in remedying
the aggression of which she has been the victim, which would justify legitimate
Geographic enclosure is the great problem of Bolivia; from that is derived the
gravity that the aggression committed by the Government of Chile has. The system
of free transit in situations such as the present is extremely fragile. With a simple
administrative arrangement, without the necessity of force, Bolivia could be
blockaded (as cited in Glassner, 1970: 104).
Thus, the entire controversy over the Lauca River was, or at least had become, simply
one aspect of the main problem: Bolivia's maritime confinement.
In addition, later that same month Bolivia presented its case of maritime
confinement at the 17th session of the United Nations General Assembly. At this
convention, the Bolivian Foreign Minister reiterated his nations position:
Bolivia is the only country in the world that was deprived of its coastline that is,
more than 150,000 square kilometers because of an unjust war. In each Bolivian,
without exception, there is an unshakable desire to return to the sea. At this time in
history...there is no reason that might justify the holding of an entire nation in
imprisonment (as cited in Glassner, 1970: 105).
In October 1963, President Paz Estenssoro addressed the United Nations General
Assembly and remarked that a sovereign Bolivian seacoast is essential for the
development of Bolivia. A few months later, in December 1963, Bolivia declared that it
would not participate in the 11th Inter-American Conference which was to be held in
April 1964 stating that it could not "attend an Inter-American Conference that will not
consider our claims to a port on the Pacific" (as cited in Glassner, 1970:111). Thus, all
of these Bolivian diplomatic actions confirm that the controversy which stemmed from
the diversion of the Lauca River re-ignited salida al mar diplomacy, which had been
neglected by the revolutionary government.
Revolution in Retreat: The Overthrow of Paz Estenssoro
Between 1963 and 1964 President Paz Estenssoro's position in office was shaken
and revolutionary government of the MNR was ultimately destroyed. The controversy
arose out of the president's desire for reelection in 1964. Mitchell (1977) contends that
the president wanted to remain in office for the sake of Bolivian economic development.
Between 1961 and 1964 the Bolivian economy had grown at four times the rate it had
under the Siles administration, and apparently, President Paz Estenssoro became
convinced that this growth could only be maintained under his leadership; his opposition,
however, did not agree (Mitchell, 1977: 92). Nevertheless, on May 31, 1964 President
Paz Estenssoro was reelected to another four-year term without opposition. By
September 1964, however, his regime was struggling to maintain control and in an
attempt to prevent a coup d'etat, nearly one hundred political opponents were exiled or
arrested and the media was censored (Dunkerley, 1984: 118). All of this, however, was
in vain because President Paz Estenssoro's major threat was his own vice-president.
On November 3, 1964, a few short months after the presidential election, the army,
lead by Vice President General Barrientos declared itself in revolt and demanded the
resignation of President Paz Estenssoro. Since, the president was not able to mobilize
any part of the army to launch a counterattack against his vice-president, he had no other
choice than to step down. Thus, in the early morning hours of the next day, Paz
Estenssoro left the Palacio Quemado without resigning the presidency and sought exile in
Lima (Mitchell, 1977: 96). The revolutionary phase of the national revolution had come
to an end.
A military junta, headed by Vice President Barrientos himself, thus overtook the
government. Paz Estenssoro's overthrow marked the return of the army into national
politics9. The military remained the dominant force in the national government for
9 Bolivia's defeat in the War of the Pacific discredited military governments. As a result, the rise of
civilian and political parties became both desirable and possible. Military leaders, however, proved to
personalistic and military rule lasted only eighteen years.
eighteen years until 1982. Over the course of these chaotic eighteen years, no less than
seventeen different presidents ruled Bolivia.
The twelve and one half years of the MNR regime marked the longest period of
stable civilian government in Bolivia since the early 1900s. From 1952 to 1964 Bolivian
citizens cast their votes in three general elections and witnessed two nonviolent transfers
of the presidency from one man to another. Nationalization of the big mining companies,
agrarian reform, and universal suffrage were the three central accomplishments of the
MNR and constituted the basis of the national revolution. However, Mitchell (1977)
considers the revolution a "defeated political effort" (9). Although it was founded on
democratic principles, the revolution failed to promote the merits of democracy and
political stability. In addition, even though the MNR envisioned the creation of a modem
and thriving economy, the problems it's leaders had to confront such as inflation and debt
seemed to trump economic development.
In the 1960s the seacoast issue, which had been virtually ignored by the MNR, was
reintroduced into national politics. In 1950, Paz Estenssoro declared that, once Bolivia
began to stabilize, grow, and diversify its economy, it "could then enter into a peaceful
and cordial negotiation with Chile on the basis of equality which could really be a
negotiation for mutual benefit" (as cited in Glassner, 1970: 113). The fact remains,
however, that the economic progress and relative political stability that Bolivia enjoyed
under the revolutionary regime was short lived and, as a result, it has never achieved
economic equality with Chile. Though the Bolivian national revolution accomplished
great things, it didn't accomplish enough. Thus, with regards to Bolivia's maritime
confinement, the revolutionary period from 1952 to 1964 can be looked upon as a period
where economic and political instability prevented a settlement on the seacoast issue.
El Banzerato: The Rule of Hugo Banzer Suarez
From 1964 to 1982, Bolivian politics were dominated by authoritarian regimes
whose central pillar was the military. In January 1970, Colonel Hugo Banzer Suarez, the
commandant of the Colegio Militar de Bolivia attempted to oust President Torres from
office; however, the army remained loyal to the president and his attempt was effectively
thwarted. The revolt which lasted only a few hours, succeeded in getting Banzer exiled to
Banzer finally seized power in August 1971. The rebellion began on August 18,
1971, when Banzer was found and arrested in Santa Cruz. This second insurgency was
better backed than the first. Anti-government forces such as the Falange Socialista
Boliviana (FSB), fragments of the MNR, and the anti-Torres military joined Banzer's
rebellion. What resulted was the bloodiest overthrow since the national revolution in
1952, which left several hundred dead (Whitehead, 1986: 57). By August 22, 1971, the
Torres regime had collapsed and Banzer was freed, declaring himself president before
other contestants could lodge their claims. He ruled Bolivia for almost exactly seven
years. His regime was the country's longest in over a century, spanning the bulk of a
decade in which open political activity was the exclusive prerogative of the military and
its closest collaborators (Morales, 2003: 186-188). In June and November 1974, the
military attempted to oust President Banzer. In order to prevent a successful coup,
President Banzer reasserted control by launching a "self-coup" in which he purged the
military and banned all opposition party activity (Morales, 2003: 189).
Economic Development: 1971-1978
Dunkerley (1984) explains that under the Banzer regime,
The matrices of Bolivia's economy were transformed almost to the same degree as
the country's politics, these alterations being trumpeted so loudly that it seemed to
many that a new era had indeed arrived... economic management was handed over
to the enthusiastic acolytes of Milton Friedman and the 'Chicago School' of free-
marketeers who dismantled the apparatus of protectionism, pared down state
enterprise, scythed through welfare expenditure, and made a frontal assault on
Banzer's economic strategy included the attraction of direct foreign investment by
removing all but the most minimal constraints on capital. Thus, Banzer decreed a new
investment law, which gave foreign capital outstanding terms and effectively eliminated
the Andean Pact's limitations on the repatriation of profits. Subsequently, Banzer
decreed the 1972 hydrocarbons law, which effectively dissolved the Bolivian State
Petroleum Enterprise's (YPFB, which stands for Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales
Bolivianos) monopoly and forced it to hand out contracts to foreign firms (Dunkerley,
In October 1972, the regime devalued the peso by 67 percent so that it could secure
a $24 million loan from the IMF. This devaluation increased the cost of living by 39
percent over the course of the subsequent year while wage increases were limited to 20
percent at the maximum (Ramos Sanchez, 1982: 180). Then, in decrees enacted in
January 1974, Banzer removed or substantially reduced state subsidies on a range of
basic goods and services. The subsidy on flour alone amounted to $20 million a year, a
considerable saving for the state. As a result of this action, the cost to the consumer of
for basic necessities such as cooking oil, eggs, sugar, coffee, meat, rice, and pasta rose by
an average of 219 percent, which gave rise to clashes between the people and its
government (Ramos Sanchez, 1982: 184).
Nevertheless, Bolivia enjoyed relative prosperity during the Banzer regime. By the
early 1970s, Bolivia was beginning to benefit from the economic benefits of the
economic and social programs carried out during the national revolution. The
development of a modern road system, the growth of commercial agriculture in the Santa
Cruz region, and heavy foreign investments in COMIBOL and especially YPFB -
combined with rising mineral prices on the international market produced major growth
in the national economy. From 1970 to 1974, the value of Bolivian exports almost
tripled (from $226 million to $650 million). Between 1973 and 1974 the price of tin on
the world market almost doubled, which in turn resulted in a doubling of the total value
of national exports and the creation of the largest trade surplus in national history.
Furthermore, rising oil prices suddenly turned Bolivia's relatively small oil output into a
bonanza export, which in 1974 accounted for 25 percent of the total value of exports.
(Klein, 2003: 227-231). The economic boom, however, faded and the returns were sadly
None of the elements of the regime's economic policy, however, had more of a
profound and lasting effect on Bolivia's fragile economy as the Banzer government's
recourse to loans since, in the absence of any meaningful direct foreign investment, the
policy of rapid growth had to be financed by foreign debt. In 1971 the foreign debt stood
at $782.1 million. By the end of"el Banzerato," foreign debt had risen to $3,101.8
million. To make matters worse, this increase was not matched by a corresponding rise
in exports. As a result, the debt service rose from 17.3 to 32.0 percent of export value
over the same period (Ramos Sanchez, 1982: 117). Excepting 1974, the year blessed by
oil price rise, every year of President Banzer's rule ended with a balance of payments.
Banzer and Pinochet: A Quest for Bolivian Sovereignty on the Pacific
In seeking to develop civilian support. President Banzer actively reopened
discussion on the "question of the Pacific" at the end of 1971. This effort included a
renewal of diplomatic relations with Chile, which had been broken off in 1962 over
Chile's claims to the Rio Lauca, and proposals by the Bolivian government that the
Treaty of 1904 be renegotiated with the intention that Chile grant Bolivia a sovereign port
on the Pacific Ocean. On May 21, 1971, in his first message to Congress, Chilean
President Salvador Allende proclaimed that Chile was "united to Bolivia by common
feelings and interests" and that it was Chile's "will to give everything that is within our
[Chile's] reach in order to normalize relations" (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1988: 210).
As a result, the two nations arranged for a meeting to discuss Bolivia's maritime
confinement in October 1973. However, the violent overthrow of President Allende in
September 1973 postponed these negotiations (Gumucio Granier, 1988: 211).
In 1974 Chile formally recognized the importance of a sovereign seaport for
Bolivia (Ferris, 1984: 181). Diplomatic relations were reopened in February 1975
following the famous public abrazo shared by President Banzer and President Pinochet at
the Bolivian border village of Charana (Dunkerley, 1984: 234). In December 1975, a
Chilean proposal provided Bolivia with an outlet to the sea north of Arica in exchange for
Bolivian territory equal to the area that would be ceded by Chile (Morales, 1992: 177).
There were two major difficulties with the Chilean proposal that proved
insurmountable, as President Pinochet undoubtedly knew they would. 1) The territory
that Chile proposed to cede had been taken from Peru, not Bolivia in the War of the
Pacific, and according to the Treaty of Santiago (see Chapter Two), the territory in
question could only be transferred with Peru's approval. 2) Chile's proposal provided for
Bolivia to give Chile certain territories in exchange for the port; however, both Chile and
Bolivia disagreed on this point. Bolivians generally rejected the concept of a territorial
exchange, while Chile insisted on a quid pro quo.
Furthermore, key political groups opposed the Banzer negotiations. Dunkerley
(1984) notes that, over the course of the negotiations, "press criticism was unusually
forthright and the agitation of... the army found sufficient resonance to force the regime
to draw back from signing any accord" (235). Negotiations continued to draw fierce
criticism in 1976 and at the end of the year the Bolivian media published maps of the
border area showing a large portion of Bolivian territory under Chilean sovereignty.
Despite Banzer's desperate attempts to extract a solution at any cost, including
acquiescing to a territorial exchange, nothing could be extracted from Pinochet, and by
the end of 1976 all negotiations came to a grinding halt (Klein, 2003: 233). By 1977, the
diplomatic opening had come to an abrupt end. Bolivia severed diplomatic relations with
Chile in 1978, and maintained only consular relations, thus reverting to the situation
between 1962 and 1975.
Bolivian politicians over the decades have selectively manipulated the seaport issue
to enhance their domestic political support. President Banzer was no exception and, for a
while, he benefited politically from Bolivia's maritime confinement when he
reestablished diplomatic relations with Chile and opened negotiations with President
Pinochet for a territorial exchange. However, negotiations failed and Banzer did not
resolve the question of the Pacific before the hundredth anniversary of the War of the
Pacific in 1979 and thus Banzer was no longer able to use the negotiations to distract
public attention from the regime's domestic problems.
Morales (1984) suggests that "the diplomatic failure [Banzer-Pinochet
negotiations] demonstrated the close relationship between internal instability and lack of
foreign policy success" (Ferris, 1984: 181) Banzer's diplomatic efforts over three years
gained little domestic support; rather the constant criticism revealed domestic divisions
that undermined his foreign policy and ultimately backfired against him. Anti-Chilean
sentiment had been awakened by his unsuccessful attempts to reach a compromise with
Pinochet. Thus, instead of legitimizing his rule, foreign policy was used by the
opposition to destabilize him.
The economic instability and failure of foreign policy, which Bolivia experienced
under the rule of Hugo Banzer Suarez, reminded the regime's political opposition, as well
as the Bolivian people of the merits of democracy. Why suffer under the brutal regime of
a dictator if even he cannot succeed in providing Bolivia with its most basic needs?
Thus, no longer able to rely on Bolivian nationalism over the seacoast issue with Chile to
generate support for his regime, Banzer had no other choice than to fold under the
political pressure of the United States and the opposition parties in office. He promised
to retire at the end of 1977 and to hold elections in 1978.
The Banzer regime's economic policies, especially its recourse to foreign loans,
severely damaged the Bolivian economy and thus hampered its economic development.
As Victor Paz Estenssoro noted in 1950, if Bolivia wished to enter into successful
negotiations with Chile, it would need to do so on the basis of equality (Glassner, 1970:
113). Both President Banzer and President Pinochet ruled as dictators. Thus, politically
speaking, Bolivia and Chile could have been considered equal in that respect. However,
although Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron fist, it did not suffer economically as Bolivia
suffered under the economic policies of Hugo Banzer. Thus, even one hundred years
after Bolivia lost its littoral to Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, economic
underdevelopment and political instability hampered the 1975-78 Bolivian-Chilean
negotiations thus preventing a favorable resolution. In addition, the lack of a resolution
caused political instability, under which President Banzer resigned. Dunkerley (1984)
explains that "the form in which Banzer's extended rule was eclipsed soon proved to be
of more than passing importance; indeed, it provided the framework for the apparently
endless political crisis that followed" (231). This political "crisis" ended in 1982, when
democracy was finally installed in Bolivia.
INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BOLIVIA'S QUEST FOR A SEACOAST
Prior to 1979, Bolivia's quest for an outlet to the sea was regarded as a regional
dispute between Bolivia, Chile, and to a lesser extent, Peru. In 1979, the Organization of
American States (OAS) identified Bolivia's landlocked status as a hemispheric problem
that needed to be solved within a hemispheric framework. Since then, several
international organizations have supported resolutions approved by the OAS calling for
negotiations between Chile and Bolivia aimed at granting Bolivia an appropriate free and
sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.
Bolivia had long sought the support of international organizations and foreign and
regional powers since it believed that this backing would help her achieve her ultimate
goal: obtain an outlet to sea. Bolivia received this recognition in the early 1980s;
however, even with the support it had so desperately pursued throughout the last century
it was not able to obtain a favorable resolution on the "question of the Pacific" and thus
remained landlocked. Why was Bolivia unable to take advantage of the international
recognition to pressure Chile and Peru into recognizing a Bolivian sovereign port in
Arica? The answer draws us back to the central thesis. Political instability and economic
underdevelopment prevented Bolivia from achieving a favorable settlement regarding the
International Recognition of Bolivia's Landlocked Status
Previous chapters have elucidated that Bolivia has never accepted her "coastal
mutilation" (Gumucio Granier, 1986: 9). For more than a century, Bolivian governments
have been making persistent efforts to find a solution to the seacoast problem through
direct negotiations with Chile. In the 1980s, Bolivia finally succeeded in gaining the
attention of the nations of the hemisphere. These nations have encouraged a solution to
the Bolivian issue, which they regarded as significant for the entire American
hemisphere. Thus, from 1979 onward, Bolivia campaigned for a sovereign exit to the
Pacific Ocean with the involvement and diplomatic and political support of the OAS, the
non-aligned movement, and the United Nations.
In early September 1977, United States President Carter signed over the Panama
Canal to Panama. At this time, President Carter met individually with each president of
the hemisphere and used these occasions to discuss with Peru and Chile, the Bolivian
maritime question. A few days later, Carter met with Bolivian President Hugo Banzer.
Following the meeting, President Carter issued a statement to the press stating:
We have examined in some maps the possible exit to the sea for Bolivia, precisely
through the north part of Arica. Our hope is that Bolivia, Chile and Peru would be
able to reach an agreement with regard to a corridor that would allow Bolivia to
have a direct access to the sea through Bolivian territory (as cited in Gumucio
Granier, 1988: 215).
President Carter, however, identified the problem as one of a tripartite nature and
supported direct negotiations between the concerned parties as the best way to reach a
solution. However, as we have seen in Chapter Three, this method was not successful as
the Banzer-Pinochet negotiations failed and relations between Bolivia and Chile were
consequently severed in 1978. Nevertheless, at the Eighth General Assembly of the
OAS, President Carter, in assuming a clearer and more defined position on the
landlocked status of Bolivia, encouraged other international entities to consider Bolivia's
In one year's time, it will be a century since the War of the Pacific. We should
view this occasion as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to harmony in this
hemisphere. The difficult decisions in their region can only be made in Bolivia,
Peru and Chile. But we stand ready with the OAS, the U.N., and other countries to
help find a solution to Bolivia's landlocked status that will be acceptable to all
parties and will contribute to permanent peace and development to the area (as
cited in Gumucio Granier, 1988: 216).
Bolivia introduced the issue of her maritime confinement at the Ninth General
Assembly of the OAS at the end of October 1979. The Bolivian government had
previously requested that the OAS include Bolivia's landlocked status in the agenda. The
United States voted in favor despite the Chilean ambassador's objections. As a result, the
Ninth General Assembly of the OAS adopted a resolution, which stated:
It is of continuing hemispheric interest that an equitable solution be found whereby
Bolivia will obtain appropriate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, and... there
should be negotiation for the purpose of providing Bolivia with a fee and sovereign
territorial connection with the Pacific Ocean (as cited in Gumucio Granier, 1988:
Thus, the 1979 OAS resolution affirmed Bolivia's right to a sovereign exit to the Pacific
Ocean. As a result, the seacoast issue was included in the regular sessions of the OAS
from 1979 through 1983 (Morales, 1992: 178). In 1982, Bolivia's plight was the special
concern of the "Small Island and Landlocked Developing States" resolution adopted by
the OAS and in the "Report on the Maritime Problem of Bolivia" in the fall of 1982
(Morales, 1992: 178). Even with hemispheric pressure, Bolivia was not able to obtain
sovereign access to the sea from her neighbors.
Bolivia's plight was also considered by several other international organizations.
Its maritime confinement was brought up at the Thirteenth Foreign Ministers meeting of
the La Plata Basin Group in Brasilia in December 1982 where Argentina, Paraguay, and
Uruguay expressed their support for a resolution to Bolivia's landlocked status and its
democratization. The seacoast question also figured prominently at the Andean Pact
parliament in March 1983, and at the Caracas bicentennial celebration of Simon Bolivar's
birth in May of the same year. Bolivia's multilateral foreign policy campaign to regain
its lost maritime port was also acknowledged at the Seventh Summit meeting of the Non-
Aligned Movement held in New Delhi in March 1983 and at the Fifth meeting of the
Group of 77 in Buenos Aires in April 1983. In addition, Bolivia was able to successfully
pursue the issue in bilateral talks with the governments of France, Spain, Argentina,
Brazil, Panama, and Yugoslavia (Ferris and Lincoln, 1984: 191).
As a result of the 1983 OAS General Assembly in Washington, Colombia offered
to host a meeting on the maritime problem in Bogota. However, in February of 1985,
Chile announced that it no longer recognized the competence of the OAS over this
dispute and noted that it would only negotiate with Bolivia on a bilateral basis (Gumucio
Granier, 1988: 218). In 1987, Bolivia attempted once again to engage Chile in bilateral
negotiations and presented a proposal for the solution of the conflict to the Chilean
government. Uruguay hosted the negotiations in April of the same year. Unfortunately,
however, "that basis for an understanding of mutual benefit, which would have opened
up prospects and good possibilities of integration, peace, and development was rejected
by President Pinochet... thus cutting off the negotiations" (Gumucio Granier, 1988: 219).
As a result of Chile's actions, the OAS General Assembly passed a new resolution, which
deplored Chile's attitude and called on both governments to reinitiate negotiations
directed to solve Bolivia's maritime confinement through the grant of a sovereign and
useful port on the Pacific Ocean.
In his book, the "United States and the Bolivian Seacoast," Gumucio Granier
(1988) suggested that
Bolivia's success in having the countries of the region finally declare that its
landlocked status was a problem with hemispheric dimension together with the
U.S. fear that this problem could potentially contribute to an East-West
confrontation created a new situation, which could lead to a final settlement for
Bolivia's confinement (220).
However, in this assumption, the author failed to consider how Bolivia's political and
economic situation relates to a favorable settlement on the seacoast issue.
In his book, "The Ten Cents War" Bruce Farcau (2000) quotes a popular Bolivian
adage: "Bolivia is the land where any boy can grow up to be president, and many of them
do!" (22). There is no time in Bolivian history that this quote was more applicable than
the three-year period from 1978 to 1980.
Following the overthrow of President Banzer, Bolivia plunged into political chaos.
Between July 1978 and July 1980 two further general elections were staged, five
presidents held office (none of them as a result of victory at the polls), and of the cluster
of coups under almost constant preparation, four were attempted, one failing and three
successful. Whitehead (1986) rightly describes this historic time as a "two-year
interregnum, rival civilian factions intensified their bids for military support, successive
generals attempted to hold the reins of power, and fresh election were alternately
approved then postponed" (62).
In 1977, President Banzer declared that elections would be held in June 1978.
These elections were indeed held and Juan Pereda Asbun, the military's official candidate
having the supposed blessing of President Banzer, was declared the victor. However, the
opposition parties protested the electoral results suggesting that they were fraudulent.
This charge was substantiated by the fact that the number said to have voted exceeded by
50,000 the number of registered voters. As a result, even the victor conceded that the
electoral results were fraudulent and the results were canceled. Subsequently, Asbun led
a rebellion in Santa Cruz, which demanded the resignation of President Banzer. Upon
Banzer's resignation, General Pereda Asbun was inaugurated as Bolivia's new president
on the grounds that he had "won" the election (Alexander, 1982: 114).
The government of President Pereda Asbun was provisional. New elections were
supposed to be held soon after Pereda Asbun was inaugurated, however these were
postponed until "sometime" in 1980. In order to gain political favor, Pereda Asbun
exploited Bolivia's landlocked status suggesting that it would be illogical to hold
elections in 1979 because Bolivia required a strong and stable government during the
centenary of the War of the Pacific. (Dunkerley, 1984: 252). The political opposition
was not pleased by the electoral postponement and at the end of November 1978
President Pereda Asbun was overthrown by yet another military coup d'etat led by army
commander General David Padilla. Padilla's provisional government, however, stated
that its only objective was to prepare and preside over new elections, which were held on
July 1, 1979.
The election of 1979 was extraordinary, one of the most honest elections in
national history. It brought more than 1.6 million Bolivians to the polls (Klein, 2003:
236). Nevertheless, since none of the candidates received a majority of the vote, the
election outcome was placed in the hands of Congress. The Bolivian legislature elected
Walter Guevara Arze as interim president to serve until new elections could be held in
1980. President Guevara Arze was inaugurated on August 6, 1979 and elections were
scheduled for May 1980. The administration of Guevara Arze lasted only a few months
and was temporarily overthrown by a military junta led by Colonel Natusch Busch in
November 1979. But the political opposition within the nation was so intense that the
military was forced out within a few weeks and a compromise civilian, Lydia Gueiler
Tejada, was provisionally put into office and elections were held in May 1980
(Alexander, 1982: 115-116).
The results of the May 1980 election were almost identical to those of 1979.
Hernan Siles Suazo won the election, however, he did not do so with a majority. Thus,
once again, the election was to be decided by the Bolivian legislature. This time,
however, it was rumored that Congress was ready to elect ex-President Siles to a second
term in office (Alexander, 1982: 116). Congress, however, was not given the opportunity
to select the next president of the republic as General Luis Garcia Meza, commander of
the army, instigated a revolt and installed himself as dictator in July 1980 (Klein, 2003:
237). In an interview with a Chilean magazine, President Garcia Meza boasted, "I will
stay in power for twenty years, until Bolivia is reconstructed. My government has no
fixed limits and in this sense I am like General Pinochet" (as cited in Dunkerley, 1984:
292). In August 1981, Garcia Meza was forced out of office by his fellow officers; his
regime lasted one-year and eighteen days (Alexander, 1982: 117). Generals Celso
Torrelio Villa and Guido Vildoso succeeded President Garcia Meza. Morales (2003)
posits that, throughout the fourteen months the generals spent in office,
The most they achieved was a tepid normalization of Bolivia's foreign relations
with the United States and the international community. The generals could not
restore civilian respect for or trust in the government. Civilians were not fooled by
the unimaginative musical chairs; the corrupt face of the generals was one and the
same in their minds.
When General Vildoso announced in July 1982 that new elections were to be held the
following year, the nation exploded in protest.
Civil society wanted elections and constitutional legitimacy immediately. There
were daily strikes and protest marches in La Paz and across the country. A
demonstration by 50,000 angry civilians in early September finally convinced
Vildoso that the military had to leave.
The voice of the Bolivian people was heard and on September 17, 1982, General Vildoso
resigned the presidency. The forced resignation of the last military junta and the decision
to recall the congress that was constitutionally elected in 1980 finally brought an end to
the era of military authoritarian regimes. As a result, the reconstituted Congress
revalidated the results of the 1980 elections and Hernan Siles Suazo was sworn in as the
constitutionally recognized president on October 10, 1982.
From June 1978 to October 19821, Bolivia was ruled by eight different presidents,
none of which where constitutionally elected. This political frenzy resulted in a further
damaged economy. Dunkerley (1984) explains that
After 18 months of the International Money Fund's (IMF) boycott, carefree
military spending, incompetent and corrupt financial management, the foreign debt
crisis had acquired unprecedented proportions. By the end of 1981 the Banco
Central had only $1 million of disposable reserves in its vault. Furthermore over
the previous year the price of tin had fallen by over 18 percent and COMIBOL's
deficit stood at $313.5 million. Technically the Bolivian economy was bankrupt, in
practice its current account was kept marginally afloat by revenues from cocaine,
but the legal economy had been driven into a process of contraction from its
previous parlous state. In 1980 the overall growth figure was 0.9 percent compared
with 2.0 percent in 1979; this figure represented a reduction of the country's per
capital GDP of 1.8 percent (340).
Thus, although the inauguration of President Siles marked Bolivia's return to civilian rule
and democracy, it did not mark a new era in the country's economy. The economy
inherited by the Siles administration in October of 1982 was in tatters and the situation
would only worsen in the rest of the decade.
11978: Juan Pereda Asbun; 1978-1979: David Padilla Arancibia; 1979: Walter Guevara Arze; 1979:
Alberto Natusch Busch; 1979-1980; Lydia Gueiler Tejada; 1980-1981: Luis Garcia Meza Tejada; 1981-
1982: Celso Torrelio Villa; 1982: Guido Vildoso Calderon; 1982-1985: Henan Siles Suazo
A Chilean diplomat once commented during the heat of a new salida al mar movement by
Bolivia that a lack of national stability and unity was Bolivia's greatest problem (Ferris,
1984: 179). He was not misguided. Throughout the late 1970s and the late 1980s Bolivia
was racked by political instability, which in turn bankrupted its economy. Thus, it is
reasonable to conclude that political and economic instability prevented Bolivia from
obtaining a favorable settlement on the seacoast issue. These three factors are so
intertwined that, even though Bolivia benefited from significant regional and
international support for her cause, it was unable to capitalize on it to answer the
"question of the Pacific" and resolve her landlocked status.
The Bolivian Gas War
Bolivia started exporting gas to Argentina in the 1970s under a 20-year contract.
However, Argentina discovered abundant reserves of its own and thus had no need to
export large quantities of gas from Bolivia. Over the 20-year period, Bolivia made $4.5
billion from its contract with Argentina (IEA, 2003: 135). Brazil began to import natural
gas from Bolivia in July 1999 under a 20-year contract. A 1,800 km pipeline from Santa
Cruz to Sao Paulo was constructed for this purpose.
By 2002 Bolivia's reserves had expanded ten-fold and, as a result, Bolivia began to
seek new customers. A consortium including Spain's Repsol YPF, Britain's BG, and
Pan-American Energy (Pacific LNG), proposed a plan to pipe gas from their Margarita
field in Tarija to the Pacific coast, and thence to Mexico and California. The Bolivian
plan called for a large cooling plant at a Pacific port, to liquefy the gas for pumping
aboard tanker ships. The Pacific LNG consortium supports a port in Chile, as the Chilean
coastline is closer and the cost of the pipeline would be lower. However, this option
aroused passionate opposition among Bolivians, which ultimately resulted in
considerable political unrest (IEA, 2003: 137).
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was inaugurated for a second term as president on
August 6, 2002. From the beginning, President Sanchez did not benefit from an
overwhelming popularity. In the election of June 30th, 2002 he earned less than 23% of
the vote and inherited a poor and troubled country with a battered economy; a
combination, which would prove disastrous for his administration. In addition, the new
government faced an immediate controversy, which had been bequeathed by former
President Quiroga: the Pacific LNG plan to export gas via a pipeline to the Pacific coast.
Prior to taking office, President Sanchez de Lozada had implied that he supported the
Mejillones option; however, he made no "official" declaration of intent.
Perhaps in an attempt to arouse patriotic fervor for his administration, Vice
President Carlos Mesa presented the issue of Bolivia's landlocked status to the 58th
Session of the United Nations General assembly September 2002. He declared that
Today, more than ever before, I want to reaffirm at this forum that Bolivia will
never relinquish its just claim for a sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, because
it was born as an independent Republic with a seacoast. This demand, which is
already more than one hundred years old, is not the result of obstinacy or caprice
but the shortage of economic resources and huge geographic handicaps that
diminish our market competitiveness.
The fact of having been landlocked holds back not only our economic growth but
also the welfare of our citizens as the analysis of the challenges faced by all
landlocked countries has shown.
The restoration of the status of a coastal state is an act of justice and it has been for
us unavoidable. In this understanding, we will continue searching for solidarity
and support from the international community.
Our vocation and determination towards integration and economic
complementation with neighboring countries lead us to call upon the Government
and people of Chile to act looking at the future, by repairing a historical damage
that has kept us anchored in the seventeenth century (Mesa, 2002).
Nevertheless political unrest was triggered by President Sanchez's administration's
plans to export Bolivia's natural gas reserves through Chile. On September 19 2003, a
group of thirty thousand (30,000) people in Cochabamba and fifty thousand (50,000) in
La Paz gathered to protest against the pipeline. The following day, six people were killed
when government forces used planes and helicopters to get around the protesters in order
to evacuate several hundred tourists that had been stranded by road blockades
(LatinNews Daily: 07/22/03). In response to the shootings, Bolivia's Labor Union (COB)
called a general strike on September 29, which paralyzed the country with more road
blockades. Demonstrators insisted they would continue to display their dissatisfaction
until the government backed down on its decision to export Bolivia's natural gas through
On October 12, 2003, martial law was imposed in El Alto after sixteen people were
killed and several dozen were wounded in violent clashes that erupted between the
protesters and Bolivian armed forces. On October 13, the administration of Sanchez de
Lozada suspended the gas project; nevertheless, Vice President Carlos Mesa condemned
what he referred to as the "excessive force" used in El Alto and withdrew his support for
the president. A few days later, on October 18, the administration was destabilized when
the New Republic Force (NFR) party withdrew its support. President Sanchez de Lozada
was forced to resign and was replaced by his vice president, Carlos Mesa, at which time
all demonstrations ceased. President Mesa promised to "respond to the gas issue [with]
the participation of the Bolivian people," and as a result, made plans for a referendum (as
cited in Latin American News: 29 Oct. 2003).
In April 2004, President Mesa set Tuesday, July 18, 2004 as a date for a long-
promised referendum on how Bolivia vast gas reserves should be exploited (Heaney,
2004: 3). In addition, the president announced his decision to authorize temporary gas
exports to Argentina. As a result, five thousand miners and their supporters marched
through La Paz protesting against the decision. Their discontent stemmed from the fact
that the gas provided to Argentina could be exported to Chile. The government insisted
that the deal with Argentina would only be for six months and that none of the Bolivian
gas would be exported to Chile. Nevertheless, the demonstrations were all too
reminiscent of those, which prompted President Sanchez's resignation in October
(LatinNews Daily, 04/16/04).
On July 18th, 2004 the referendum took place in Bolivia. Bolivian's were asked the
following five questions:
1. Do you agree that Hydrocarbons Law (No. 1689), enacted by Gonzalo Sanchez de
Lozada, should be repealed?
2. Do you agree that the Bolivian State should recover ownership over all
hydrocarbons at the wellhead?
3. Do you agree that Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos [YPFB; the state-
owned oil company privatized under Sanchez de Lozada] should be re-established,
reclaiming state ownership of the Bolivian people's stakes in the part-privatized oil
companies, so that it can take part in all stages of the hydrocarbon production
4. Do you agree with President Carlos Mesa's policy of using gas as a strategic
recourse to achieve a sovereign and viable route of access to the Pacific Ocean?
5. Do you or do you not agree that Bolivia should export gas as part of a national
policy framework that ensures the gas needs of Bolivians; encourages the
industrialization of gas in the nation's territory; levies taxes and/or royalties of up to
50% of the production value of oil and gas on oil companies, for the nation's
benefit; and earmarks revenues from the export and industrialization of gas mainly
for education, health, roads, and jobs (wordiq.com)?
The majority response to all five questions was "yes."
In April 2004, "LatinNews Daily" reported that Mesa had told Peruvian President
Toledo that Bolivia wanted to export its natural gas to the United States and Mexico via a
Peruvian port (04/15/04). However, as of this writing, there has been no final decision on
whether Bolivia's gas reserves will be exported through Peru or Chile.
The Bolivian Gas War of 2003 is one example of the political instability that has
been endemic to the Republic of Bolivia. It is clear that the gas war has roots that run
deeper than natural gas. The dispute traces back more than 100 years when the port of
Mejillones was under the sovereignty of Bolivia. Its outcome sent a clear message to the
world. Bolivian citizens are outraged that they still do not possess a sovereign maritime
port and are willing to go to great lengths in order to obtain one.
If it had possessed a sovereign port to the Pacific, Bolivia would not have had to
decide whether to export its natural gas through Chile or Peru as the gas would simply
have been pumped through Bolivia. Thus, it is fair to say that the lack of a settlement on
the seacoast issue is responsible for the political instability e.g. violent demonstrations
that beleaguered Bolivia and prompted the resignation of President Sanchez in the fall of
2003. It is also fair to say that the Gas War has hindered Bolivia's economic
development. The gas project was Bolivia's best hope for substantial economic growth.
In March 2002, "The Economist" reported that Bolivia's oil and gas exports could have
amounted to $1 billion a year, and government revenues from the industry could have
risen to $480 million a year (2002: 43). In 2003, the IMF estimated that Bolivia's oil and
gas sector could have added an average 1% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth over
the next five years (Economist, 9/13/03). Sadly, Bolivia has not yet benefited from this
potential growth because its landlocked status, which was forced upon it after it was
defeated in the War of the Pacific, caused political instability, which prevented Bolivia
from profiting from its vast natural gas reserves thus obstructing economic development.
Each year, Bolivia's presidents mark the "Day of the Sea," often with a vow to
recover a Pacific port. The landlocked navy has not been disbanded; it chugs forlornly
around Lake Titicaca. Maps in barracks, and in the offices of some politicians, still show
Bolivia's pre-1879 boundaries. School children learn that they have an inalienable right
to the coast. The seacoast issue is ingrained in the country's national psyche.
Wednesday October 20, 2004 marked the 100th anniversary of the peace and
friendship treaty that established the territorial limits between Bolivia and Chile
following the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). By this treaty, Chile retained
approximately 62,000 sq mi of territory belonging to Bolivia including 187 miles of
shore, four main ports and seven coves. Thus, the stroke of a pen confirmed that Bolivia
lost a fourth of its territory and became the landlocked nation it is today. For more than
one hundred years, Bolivians have waged a relentless campaign to reverse the
encirclement and redress the defeats of their history.
Bolivian domestic instability, although it often hampered success in foreign
affairs, generally did not disrupt the relative constancy of Bolivia's overall foreign policy
objective: the obtention of a sovereign seacoast. Bolivia resisted the geographical
confinement imposed upon her by Chile after its victory in the War of the Pacific. From
the Truce Pact of 1884 to the Gas War of 2003, diverse political strategies have been
attempted to settle the "question of the Pacific" as it pertains to Bolivia's access to the
Chapter three introduced four different time periods in which Bolivia used diverse
political strategies in order to solve her maritime confinement. Her diplomatic quest
began in the 1920s when she sought to be included in the negotiations over Tacna and
Arica. The United States refused to include Bolivia in the Tacna-Arica negotiations
stating that the issue was uniquely a bilateral one between the nations of Chile and Peru.
Although Bolivia was not a party to the Tacna-Arica negotiations, the subsequent treaty,
which was signed by Chile and Peru under the good offices of the United States, did
include it. Essentially, Article Three of the Treaty of Santiago (1929) ensured that
Bolivia would never be able to negotiate for a sovereign port in Arica since any
settlement it obtained from Chile would have to receive approval from Peru; and
although rhetorically supports a sovereign Bolivian outlet to the sea, she would never
agree to one in the port of Arica. Thus, it can be said that American diplomacy failed
Bolivia by not admitting it as a party to the negotiation even though it was included in the
The Treaty of Santiago effectively barred Bolivia from the Pacific Ocean. In her
desperation, she turned her gaze towards the Atlantic. What resulted was the Chaco War
(1932-35). Bolivia suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a smaller and weaker
Paraguay and her claims to the Paraguay River were denied. Instead of glorifying
Bolivia, the Chaco War triggered political instability and further damaged Bolivia's weak
Bolivia's humiliating defeat in the Chaco War encouraged the revolution (1952-
1964). The revolutionary government had other goals and put, "hacia al mar" diplomacy
on the backburner. Victor Paz Estenssoro subscribed to the idea that it was impossible to