CONFLICTS NEW DIMENSION:
BOLIVIA SEEKS US PARTICIPATION
Earlier chapters have shown the strong Bolivian resistance towards accepting geographical confinement as a final result of the War of the Pacific. From the Truce Pact of 1884 to the Treaty of 1904, diverse Bolivian political trends had attempted to follow different strategies towards a settlement with Chile; however, they all coincided in not accepting the landlocked status as permanent.
The conservatives - which prevailed in the government - were called "pacifists" because they were seeking a solution in harmony with Chile and accepted the sad fact of the loss of the Littoral, as they considered that this loss was already consolidated because of the unconditional surrender of Tarapaca to Chile by Peru, in accordance with the Treaty of 1883. This did not mean that they accepted the landlocked status, as they believed in access to the Pacific Ocean through Arica. In fact, this solution was suggested by Chile at the beginning of the war and did not become an original proposal due to the close relation that Arica always had with the Upper Peruvian provinces. This plan also had the approval of some political segments in Peru that wanted to end the war threat and avoid having Chile as a neighbor.
The followers of the Liberal Party in Bolivia - the opposition - were called "belligerent" because they were seeking total reintegration of the lost territory. This could only be obtained by the use of arms and was in agreement with the Peruvian political groups that wanted to change in a similar way the effects of the War of the Pacific by reverting to the situation prevalent in 1879, before the Chilean occupation of the Bolivian Littoral and the Peruvian territories of Tarapaca, Arica and Tacna. The Liberals, who strongly opposed the pacts of 1895 (which contemplated an access to the sea) were the ones that finally agreed to sign the peace with Chile through the Treaty of 1904, which consolidated the geographical confinement. How could anyone explain that contradiction? How could anyone understand that Bolivia, soon after signing such a treaty, initiated a campaign of maritime reintegration which was lasted until the present?
This chapter attempts to find some answers to these questions.
Memorandum from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sanchez Bustamante
Once Chile had secured the signature of Bolivia in the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1904, it directed its efforts to the conclusion of the problem of Tacna and Arica, which was the only matter pending in the peace treaty signed with Peru in Ancon in 1883. Article III of that treaty stipulated a plebiscite to decide the fate of Tacna and Arica, to take place ten years after the signing of the treaty. But as the plebiscite did not take place, Peru claimed the surrender of those provinces, which Chile only accepted to the return of Tacna and the retention of Arica. In 1908 Chile and Peru initiated conversations that carried on for two years, but which bore no results and led Peru to break relations with Chile in March 1910.
The Bolivian ministry of foreign affairs decided to end its silence and take part in this controversy through a memorandum dated April 22, 1910 addressed to the governments of Chile and Peru with copies to the main foreign affairs ministries of the hemisphere, including the State Department in Washington. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sanchez Bustamante's memorandum stated:
"The government of Bolivia cannot ignore the present circumstances without knowing the spirit in which Peru and Chile would receive an effort towards the solution of the conflict related to Tacna and Arica...Chile and Peru, following the opinion of many of their eminent public men, should cease being neighbors, establishing the territorial sovereignty of Bolivia in an intermediate zone of the Pacific coast. It is not necessary to demonstrate the importance of these transcendental facts to the polities and the balance of the Hispanic American nations..."
Sanchez Bustamante stated Bolivia's vital problem in the
"Bolivia cannot survive isolated from the sea: now and ever, to the best of her ability, she will do everything in her power to obtain at least a convenient port on the Pacific, and will never resort to inertia whenever this matter of Tacna and Arica is stirred up, as it comprises the very basis of her existence. Bolivia in the last few years has abided faithfully by the pacts that deprived her of her coast and has ended the questions of borders with Peru by sacrificing much of what was dutifully, lightfully and unavoidably hers, trusting that one day facts and high foresight would impose the only possible solution to this serious South American problem: the final incorporation of all or part of Tacna and Arica to Upper Peru...
...These territories only have an importance - because of their geographical and commercial dependency - to Bolivia to the point that they constitute, and will constitute with the new communication lines being worked on, an inseparable province of the destinies of this country. For the signing nations of the Ancon Pact these territories do not have any other interest but that inspired by the historic feeling and the national dignity...
...Bolivia affirms, by taking this step, its inalienable right to life, within the American solidarity, and hopes that the Governments of Peru and Chile, as much as the powers capable of influencing the turn of the great destinies of the South American nationalities, will appreciate the magnitude, the sincerity and the honesty of our intentions."(1)
With this memorandum, the Bolivian government was openly setting the stage for a just solution to the problem; it showed the real bond of Arica to Bolivia and it offered to pay the necessary compensations for it to both Chile and especially Peru. In La Paz, the Peruvian minister manifested his agreement to the tone of the memorandum and the American minister expressed his satisfaction with it. In his report to Washington he declared it "as a correct act, honest and pertinent from Bolivia, facing the most difficult South American problem." Although Chile did not comment officially on the memorandum, some officials evaluated it as positive and worthy of consideration, while others believed it was utopian and unfeasible.
In May of 1910, the Bolivian plenipotentiary minister in Washington, Ignacio Calderon, met with the Secretary of State and explained the contents and reasons of Minister Sanchez Bustamante's memorandum, along with a letter dated May 5 directed to the State Department. The Secretary considered it valuable and decided to adopt a clear position in that respect. As the State Department did not at the time have a definitive policy, it instructed, through a circular memo dated June 11 all American legations to study the Bolivian Memorandum and formulate an opinion as soon as possible, so that the State Department could delineate an adequate policy.
On studying the memorandum, the ministers were asked to consider the following:
"a) the historic background of the problem, b) the potential repercussions of the suggested solution, and c) the role that the United States could assume in this matter."
To carry out this study, the diplomats appointed to Latin America were asked to corroborate their knowledge of the area, the available documentation, the position of the government, the opinion of their appointed countries, and finally, the opinion of other diplomats in the same country.
The answers of the diplomats in the area were varied and offer interesting and different opinions on the matter. The most representative, beginning with the reports of the American envoy assigned to the countries directly involved, are presented below.
The American envoy in Lima, Mr. Combs, reported on July 8th that the Bolivian proposal did not appear to offer any results that could be considered useful for the solution of the situation. He said that in his meeting with the Peruvian foreign minister, Mr. Porras, he had:
"treated the matter as not having sufficient practicability to warrant serious consideration. He said that while Peru would, of course, prefer that Bolivia had these territories rather than Chile, she preferred the present situation to any cession of them to the former country, and that a sale of them to Bolivia was not to be thought of. He added that Chile would never consent to such an arrangement either."
The American diplomat appointed to Lima said:
"My opinion is that the sooner all these countries recognize that the hold of Chile upon Tacna and Arica is permanent, the better it will be for them and the general peace and prosperity. The possession of Tacna and Arica gives Chile, a strong hold upon Bolivia and the latter will be a faithful ally, if not a dependent of the former while that possession lasts, and the present and the future predomination of Chilean influence and power upon the West coast more upon this fact than any other, and so long as it endures no political combination can be made to destroy her supremacy." (2)
The American envoy in Santiago, Mr. Pierrepont, sent his report on July 25th, which stated:
"From a philanthropic and idealistic point of view, the suggestion that the province of Tacna and Arica be given to Bolivia, and a buffer thus constituted between Chile and Peru, while Bolivia would gain coast and a seaport so vital to her development, must, it seems to me, appeal to the sense of benevolence and of equality of weaker nations that has marked out diplomacy. To separate Peru and Chile, to give to Bolivia such an opportunity to rehabilitate herself, and thus to eliminate the troublesome question which has undoubtedly hindered the progress of the entire coast, viewed from a broad and thoroughly disinterested standard might in all likelihood prove the best means of promoting the real interests of each and all the three countries chiefly concerned, for modern civilization teaches us to believe that the progress of a given country thrives better upon the prosperity than upon the debility of its neighbors..." (3)
The minister in charge of the American legation In La Paz, Alexander Benson, confirmed his support of the Sanchez Bustamante memorandum, of its considerations to resolve the Tacna-Arica matter, and of its intention that Bolivia be granted sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. By the tone of the three letters mentioned above it can be appreciated that the American diplomats fully identified with their assigned countries, repeating once again the same phenomenon evident during the War of the Pacific, when every American diplomat sided with the government of the country in which he was serving.
American diplomats in other Latin American capitals also sent different opinions, some of which are worthy of mention. For example, the envoy to Buenos Aires, Mr. C.H. Sherrill, commented in his letter of July 18, 1910, addressed to the secretary of state that the proposal of Bolivia would be practical if the country were located in Central America, but that her proximity to Chile, Argentina and powerful Brazil made the continuation of her independence just illusory. Minister Sherrill argued that the continuation of the very existence of Bolivia was threatened and said:
"Chile has already one railroad completed into Bolivia and another under construction; Brazil has also one under construction; the Argentine railroad is completed to her frontiers and steps will soon be taken to complete it to La Paz. In my opinion these railroads indicate the beginning of the end of Bolivia unless we interfere to guarantee her independence. She will be taken by one of these powers, or partitioned between the three, with perhaps a small slice granted to Peru...if with the assistance of Peru she could not protect herself against Chile in 1879, it is difficult to see how her protest would now be effective against an action decided upon by any one or more of her powerful neighbors."
At the end of his letter, the minister to Argentina suggested that in view of the facts, the American government should decline any action in favor of the Bolivian proposal at this time. (4)
The American minister in Brazil reported:
"The object of the Bolivian memorandum is obviously to predispose the United States to favor settlement of the Peru-Chilean question which shall include the cession to Bolivia of a port on the Pacific."
On this aspect, the American diplomat referred to the confidential report he had sent to Washington. In this letter he reported that his Bolivian colleague had already contacted the Brazilian foreign affairs ministry in March 1910, hoping for the support and influence of Brazil over Chile to adhere to those terms. He also reiterated that he had been informed that Brazil would not agree to any request from Bolivia because the Brazilian minister, Baron de Rio Branco, had already probed the government in Santiago and had received a polite but firm denial, as well as an assurance that any interference by a third party would be considered by Chile as altogether hostile.
In his letter, which was the longest on the subject sent to Washington, the American minister in Petropolis declared:
"Undoubtedly many years have passed since Chile ceased to contemplate the possibility of returning Tacna and Arica to Peru. She considers them effectively as permanently hers as the Department of Tarapaca; and the Chilean minister for Foreign affairs but a few years since, in a note to the Peruvian minister for foreign affairs, describes the transfer of these two provinces to Chile for a term of ten years certain, as in fact a disguised cession in perpetuity."
The American minister in Brazil then pointed out the principal actions of the war, among them the fact that Bolivia fought along with Peru until the battle of Tacna in May of 1880. After that battle, the Bolivians retreated to the mountains leaving Peru alone for the next four years until October 1883, at which time Peru was forced, through the Treaty of Ancon, to relinquish permanently the rich province of Tarapaca and to grant Chile Tacna and Arica for a period of ten years. The American minister also recounted the contents of the Treaty of Ancon and the treaties signed by Bolivia and Chile in 1884 and 1904.
At the end of his letter, the minister in Petropolis, considered the following:
"It cannot be questioned, however, that the loss to Bolivia of Antofagasta was a great national disorder nor doubted that no opportunity will be lost to retrieve the misfortune...It is thus to be regretted from several points of view, by disinterested Americans, that Bolivia has lost Antofagasta and that no prospect of securing by legitimate means another seaport in its stead is at present discernible, neither Peru nor, I believe, Chile being disposed to part with the prize which they have so long been striving to gain..." (5)
It is obvious that the letters from the two ministers in Argentina and Brazil display in a very rough way the difficulties Bolivia faced in obtaining the necessary understanding to her maritime problem. The same tone is evident in the correspondence of other diplomatic envoys in the area. For example, the minister to the government of El Salvador, William Heimke, said:
"It may well be conceded, however, that the possession of a seaport would be highly desirable for Bolivia, and we cannot but sympathize with the aspirations, of that country in this respect."
The diplomat then considered the possible effects of the Bolivian proposal in Chile and Peru and the possible role that the United States would assume on this matter. He recalled that in general Peru was very friendly toward the United States, while the animosity of Chile toward the United States was well known. In finalizing, his letter, the Minister in El Salvador said:
"I am inclined to the belief that suggestions looking to a consideration of Bolivia's proposals are not likely to be favorably received by Chile and Peru and that the aspirations of Bolivia are not destined to be fulfilled, especially as Chile seems to be determined to become absolute owner of Tacna and Arica at whatever cost." (6)
In a similar way, the minister in Mexico emphasized that the provinces of Tacna and Arica belonged to Peru until the War of the Pacific and that they were never apart of Bolivia; that Bolivia finally relinquished her littoral to Chile through peace treaties; and that Peru gave up Tacna and Arica for ten years, at the end of which there should have been a plebiscite. This plebiscite never took place. Minister Wilson called attention to Chiles aggressive spirit which neither Brazil nor Argentina, in spite of their size and power, could equal in military power and effectiveness in their naval and armed forces. He reminded them also of the fact that among the three countries, Chile was the one that best practiced a republican democracy in a continuous and consistent fashion.
The American envoy to Mexico ended the letter by recalling the unsuccessful intervention of Trescott and Blaine during the War of the Pacific and requested the secretary of state to consider the sovereignty of Chile over Tacna and Arica as a fait accompli and not to consider any request on the matter from either Bolivia or Peru. (7)
Another negative opinion on the Bolivian proposal was that of the American minister in Santo Domingo, Mr. Fenton McCreery, who believed that the arguments in the Sanchez Bustamante memorandum were somewhat artificial and based not on rights but rather on hopes for an altruism between sister nations which were not under obligation to give up any land to Chile or Peru. (8)
The opinion of the American minister in Havana was more favorable. He said in his letter of June 19, 1910, to the secretary of state that although the Cuban government, relatively new in international matters, did not give matters, did not give much thought to South American affairs, he would, nevertheless, take the liberty of presenting certain considerations. Minister Jackson wrote:
Ultimately he advised the Department of State that any action from the United States in favor of the Bolivian proposal should be made only after such negotiation had been officially presented to Chile and Peru, and officially accepted by (i.e., had) not been accordingly denied by) those countries. If the United states were to side with Bolivia beforehand, it could to mistrust over the real motives behind that support. (9)
The American delegation in Guatemala sent out a very favorable opinion on Bolivias proposal. Minister W.F. Sands said:
"1. Peru can have no hope of success in the plebiscite to be taken on the future nationality of the Tacna-Arica territory.
2. Bolivia needs and should have an outlet on the Pacific. She is justified by her needs in desiring a port and in making every effort short of war to obtain one.
3. I believe (though I advance this belief with caution) that even narrow strip of foreign, and neutral territory between the boundaries of Chile and Peru would tend to lessen friction between those two countries and would tend to preserve the balance and therefore the peace of South America." (10)
The diplomatic envoy to Puerto Principe forwarded a letter which, after an analysis of the different historic events, reflected to some extent a favorable opinion on the Bolivia request. Minister H.W. Furnis summarized his position as follows:
"To my mind the better plan would be for the United States, Brazil and Argentina to bring pressure upon Chile and Peru for the naming of a commission with a view to grating the Arica-La Paz railroad to Bolivia with a strip of territory on either side to be neutral ground, as the Panama Canal zone, Bolivia paying an indemnity for the same, the amount and to whom it is to be paid to be settled by the arbitrators. Then that portion between the zone and Peru to be ceded to Peru and that portion to the south of the zone to be ceded to Chile". (11)
The minister to Panama sent the most favorable judgement on the Bolivian request. Mr. R.O. Marsh mentioned in his letter of July 27, 1910, to the secretary of state that he had worked in Bolivia while in the employ of the American firm of Speyer & co. As assistant engineer in the Bolivian national railways. This diplomat wrote:
The American diplomat in Panama concluded his letter declaring:
"The future menace to the west coast of South America, of allowing Chile to absorb Bolivia and grow more powerful through her riches, seems to me great. It seems to me that the solution lies in persuading Chile and Peru to mutually cede to Bolivia the strip of land to the coast, including Arica and the line of the Arica-La Paz railroad, and I believe that in such event, American bankers would advance to Bolivia a reasonable amount to recompense Chile for her improvement of that territory, provided such a loan were guaranteed by the customs receipts of the port of Arica."(12)
The American Minister in Quito, W. Fox, declared that Bolivia had no hopes of access to the Pacific. He believed that by building the railroad from Arica to La Paz, Chile had deliberately intended to control Bolivian commerce in an unequivocal and permanent way. The American minister in Caracas, S. Whitehouse, on the other hand believed that the United States should support the plan proposed by the Bolivian minister, and suggested that Bolivia relinquish to Chile a portion of her territory in exchange for her own and sovereign outlet to the Pacific. (13)
Through the contents of these letters in response to the circular of the secretary of state, different opinions can be perceived: some of them favorable to the moral cause of Bolivia, others favorable to the rights of Peru, and some favoring Chile because of its position of strength and prestige during those days. The fact that the Department of State had decided to consult its envoys for opinions on Bolivia's claim attracts one's attention. On the one hand, American diplomacy was concerned with keeping pace with its new responsibilities emerging from the widening role of the US as a hegemonic power. On the other hand, American diplomacy was paying some attention to the emerging middle-sized powers in the region which could play a semiperipheral role regarding regional conflicts and their solutions. The State Department apparently did not consider the opinion of envoys from small countries, which although seemed more inclined toward Bolivia's cause, were also situated in what was considered to be the US backyard, where, in addition, Roosevelt's big stick policies were then being enforced.
Nevertheless, the Department of State could not arrive at a definite position, probably because of the negative reports of American diplomats in Lima and Santiago as well as in Buenos Aires and Petropolis. Therefore, the secretary of state postponed any decision on the Bolivian memorandum until a more propitious moment. That moment never came, thus allowing Chile to benefit from the occupied provinces for a longer period of time.
During this period, American diplomatic acceptance of Chile's higher status shows that for the United States, the semiperipheral role of Chile was clearly undisputed, while Bolivia's lower position in the periphery did not warrant further attention. In other words, the main task for the US at that time was to consolidate its own hegemony as a new world power rather than to challenge Chile's intermediary role in the region.
l. Daniel Sanchez Bustamante, "Bolivia, su Estructura y sus Derechos en el Pacifico," La Paz, 1919. Records of the Department of State relating to political relations between Peru and other states, M748, Archive No 723.2515/162.
7. File 723.2515/165. American diplomat Henry Wilson served in Chile in 1900 and in those times he already had strong opinions against Bolivia and Peru, due to cultural and ethnic characteristics in both countries. See note 165 of November 22, 1900.
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