Wars on the West Coast of South America and Interventions
Chile fought two wars against the combined armies of Peru and Bolivia in the middle of the nineteenth century. Peruvian and Bolivian efforts to unite their countries were considered a threat by Chile, which took the offensive and eventually won both wars. In the course of the century, Spain and various adventurers known as filibusters intervened in Latin America and gave occasion for the award of medals and orders.
President Andrés de Santa Cruz (1792–1865) of Bolivia successfully engineered a political union of Peru and Bolivia in 1836, known as the Peru-Bolivian Confederation. Chile felt threatened by the combined strength of the two countries’ armed forces and declared war. Its first offensive was defeated by Santa Cruz, but a second invasion up the Peruvian coast achieved final victory at the Battle of Yungay in 1839. The confederation was immediately dissolved, but neither Peru nor Bolivia suffered any loss of territory.
In 1874 Chile negotiated a special tax treaty with Bolivia, which encouraged Chilean miners to exploit sodium nitrate deposits in Bolivian territory. The Bolivian Congress later retracted these concessions, and Chile declared war in 1879 on both Bolivia and Peru, which had secretly signed a mutual defense agreement. Chile sought to control the seas by defeating the Peruvian fleet. Peru won the first engagement by sinking the Chilean warship Esmeralda near Iquique, but the Chileans captured the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar. The Chileans then moved troops up the coast, defeating the combined Peruvian-Bolivian forces in the Tacama desert, then at Tacna, Arica, and finally Lima in 1881. The war dragged on for three more years as Peruvian irregulars sustained a guerilla war in the high mountains. The war ended when the Chilean army defeated the Peruvian irregulars at Huamachuco. The war led to major territorial losses. Peru ceded its province of Tacama, including the port city of Arica, while Bolivia lost all of its territory between the Andes and the Pacific.
A minor incident involving a Spanish citizen in Peru in 1864 caused the commander of a visiting Spanish naval squadron to seize the economically important Chincha Islands off the Peruvian coast. Spanish warships bombarded ports up and down the Pacific coast of South America, causing Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador to join the war on Spain. The Spanish squadron withdrew after an indecisive battle against Peruvian defenses in the port of Callao in 1866.
Many Latin American nations suffered from internal instability during much of the nineteenth century. Foreign adventurers sought to carve out their own territory for political and economic reasons. These adventurers, who came to be known as filibusters, were active in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Nicaragua. They sometimes designed their own flags, issued currency, printed stamps, and awarded medals to their supporters and financial backers.