On This Day: April 5th

April 5th marked the start of one of many nasty conflicts in the nineteenth-century, this one took place in western South America and was known as the ‘War of the Pacific’, it was sometimes called the Saltpeter War also. The war was fought between Chile and the alliance of Bolivia and Peru. It raged in a range of diverse territories such as the Pacific Ocean, the arid Atacama Desert and the mountain ranges of the Andes.

The war began when Bolivia imposed a new tax on a Chilean mining company, despite an 1874 treaty stating they would not increase taxes on Chilean persons for twenty-five years. Chile protested and informed the Bolivian government that Chile would no longer be bound by that treaty. Bolivian authorities then began to auction off the confiscated property, in response Chilean armed forces occupied the city of Antofagasta. In turn Bolivia declared war on Chile, Peru who were tied to a secret treaty of defence with Bolivia were demanded to declare neutrality by Chile and on the 5th of April Peru refused to do so and Chile declared war on both of them.

The war started as a naval battle which lasted around half a year whilst the thre nations gathered resources and soldiers, their pre-war forces were far too small for a conflict such as this. Due to the coast which they fought off of being in the arid desert wastes it was hard for the nations to get appropriate supplies and men to the ocean. It was therefore a struggle to get the upper hand and control the naval battles. The Bolivian forces didn’t have their own navy and had to ask for ships willing to fight from other countries, no ships came with the United Kingdom and the United States of America both rejecting to aid Bolivia. This meant the naval battles were fought between just Chile and Peru, Chile held the upper hand for the most part and after the Battle of Angamos in October 1879 the Peruvian naval forces were nearly completely destroyed.

After the naval war was won by Chile it was a land battle between the three nations, Bolivia would be back involved in the conflict now. The land campaigns began with the occupation of Tarapaca and the campaigns of Tacna and Arica, Chilean victories were widespread aswell as further advancement into the Peru-Bolivia territory. During these campaigns the armies of Bolivia and Peru essentially ceased to exist and Bolivia were effectively defeated and out of the war.

Despite the situation with Peruvian and Bolivian territory under Chilean occupation the war was continued, Chile’s expansionist ambitions would continue, the Bolivian National Assembly also voted to continue the war and Peru signed a document declaring them the United States of Peru-Bolivia. This effectively sealed the fates of the Peruvians and Bolivians, the expansionist ideas were set upon Peru. With no formal army however it would be guerilla forces that Chile would be facing. The next major campaign was to occupy the Peruvian capital Lima and after the battles of Chorrillos and Miraflores Lima was there for the taking for Chile. Chile entered Lima in 1881. They took control over the capital of Peru and effectively the country, Chile now wanted to push for the end of this costly war, a war they had to all intents and purposes already won.

With resistance and guerilla campaigns in Peru and Chilean held territory it took until October 20th 1883 for Chile and Peru to negotaite a peace treaty, the Treaty of Ancon, the treaty formally ceded the territory of Tarapaca to Chile and they were also to occupy Tacna and Arica for ten years after which plebiscite was to be held to determine their nationalities. After the ten years though the two nations couldn’t agree on terms and finally in 1929 with aid from US President Herbert Hoover, the Treaty of Lima was signed which kept Arica in Chilean possession whilst Peru re-acquired Tacna. It took till 1884 for Bolivia and Chile to sign peace, they signed the Treaty of Valparaiso. This treaty relinquished the entire Bolivian coast to Chile, the province of Antofagasta with its nitrate, copper and other mineral deposits were all given to Chile.

The War of the Pacific was a very costly war for the South American nations involved, it completely emptied the Bolivian treasury. The war was also very costly in terms of lives especially considering the difficulties and time it took for the armies to be raised from their pre-war forces. Chile the victors suffered around two and a half thousand casualties, the alliance of Peru-Bolivia suffered between twelve and twenty thousand casualties an enormous number considering their armies at the onset of the war consisted of around 6000 soldiers between them. The trio had less than ten thousnad soldiers together at the start of the war so the losses were on a very high scale in comparison to soldiers. A number of these casualties would likely have incorporated civilians and in Peru especially the use of Chinese slaves which ould account for the high casualties.


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