During World War I, Bolivia and Peru sided with the United States and its allies. Chile did not conceal its sympathy for Germany, even though neutrality was declared. Towards the end of the war, Chilean authorities feared a new diplomatic offensive from Bolivia and Peru regarding the territories of Antofagasta, Tarapaca, Tacna and Arica, an offensive which could be supported by the United States, France, and England the victorious allied powers. On January 22nd, 1917 President Wilson issued favorable declarations under a new international order, which reaffirmed the principles sustained by Bolivia and Peru. The American President presented on January 8th, 1918 his famous 14 points laying down the foundations for peace, among which were the following of special interest to Bolivia:

"II. Freedom of the seas

XI. International guarantees for integrity of Serbia and Montenegro

XIII. Establishment of an independent Poland with access to the sea." (1)

President Wilson's declaration raised the hopes of Bolivians and Peruvians and confirmed the juridical principles that they had sustained against Chile since 1879. The Chilean government decided to act rapidly to neutralize any single Bolivian or joint (with Peru) diplomatic action protected by the alliance with the United States; thus, Chile immediately offered an access to the sea for Bolivia.

William F., American commercial attaché in Lima, reported to the Department of Commerce in Washington that he had visited Quito in January and had interviewed the Chilean Minister Victor Eastman Cox, who had informed him of his possible transfer to La Paz for the purpose of negotiating an agreement with Bolivia regarding the question of the port on the basis of the following plan:

"l. Concession of a port and free access to the sea, possibly the port of Arica.

2. Fair payment to Chile by Bolivia for the Chilean section of the Arica-La Paz railroad, as well as the port terminals and other public works located in Arica and along the railroad line.

3. Recognition of the Chilean sovereignty of all territories located south of the Arica-La Paz railroad.

4. Recognition of the status quo of the saltpeter areas under present exploitation."

The note of the Department of Commerce was telegraphed to the American legation in La Paz.(2) Minister John O'Rear in La Paz thanked the secretary of state for the information received from the American Commercial envoy and said that the new Chilean ambassador, Mr. Victor Eastman Cox considered one of the most capable Chilean diplomats, had arrived in La Paz and would present his credentials at the end of February. He also added that he did not have any official information regarding the Tacna-Arica problem, but he reminded the secretary of state that Bolivia had been searching for a solution to its maritime confinement for many years.

Further, O'Rear reported to the secretary of state that he had not been able to obtain any official information regarding the mission of the diplomat Eastman Cox, but from confidential sources, it was believed that during his next visit to Santiago he would receive instructions to propose to Bolivia that Chile would cede part of the province of Arica located at the north of this port, where new port facilities could be established. In turn, Bolivia could cede a territorial area located in the southwest region of the country where the present borders of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina met, depending, of course, on a satisfactory agreement with Chile and Peru with regard to the Tacna and Arica matter. He added that "Bolivia would like to obtain the port of Arica, since it was the railroad terminal of the Arica-La Paz line and it was probable that Bolivia would insist on obtaining this port. However, it does not seem possible that Chile would want to be separated from this port." (3)

While the Bolivian government waited for the Chilean offer, the remainder of the year 1918 brought new events, except that the situation between Peru and Chile continued to deteriorate. At the end of November after disturbances in Iquique, the two countries broke consular relations, since diplomatic relations had been interrupted for many years. Fearing a belligerent conflict, President Wilson sent a cable to the governments of Chile and Peru, where he established the following:

"Any agitation that tends to diminish the hopes of achieving a permanent peace in the whole world would be disastrous, especially in view of the convoked Conference of Peace in Paris, and he offered that the United States could grant all possible assistance to find an equitable solution to this matter."(4)

The Chilean and Peruvian governments expressed appreciation for the intervention of President Wilson and offered to seek a pacific solution. Peru did not believe it was necessary to revert to continental mediation; only that of the United States would be necessary. Chile believed that the agreement should be based only on the stipulations of the Treaty of Ancon. (5)

The American minister in Santiago, Mr. Shea, reported that a Chilean official told him that Chile was making efforts to solve the Tacna-Arica question, talking to Bolivia first, and later to Peru. The Chilean plan consists of dividing the territory in three parts. The northern part (Tacna) for Peru, the center, including the port of Arica, for Bolivia, and the southern part for Chile. Bolivia would also obtain the Arica-La Paz railroad but should give some territorial compensation to Chile. (6)

The Bolivian foreign minister called the American Chargé d’Affairs Goold for a meeting in November 1918 and said:

"The Bolivian government had intentions to send a special mission to Washington to congratulate the government of the United States for its victory, and also for the purpose of presenting the Bolivian case with regard to the acquisition of a port. The minister of foreign relations affirmed that the case of Bolivia was similar to the case of Serbia; that it was necessary for the country to occupy a position that would allow it to communicate with the outside world without having to obtain consent of another country".

Later, Mr. Goold said that the Bolivian government in the end would solve this problem by presenting it to the peace conference in Paris, even though they would prefer to solve it through American mediation. (7)

Interim secretary of state, Mr. Polk, transcribed the previous report of December 13, 1918 to Secretary Lansing, who was already in Paris preparing the conference. Secretary Lansing believed that American mediation in the controversy between Peru and Chile only concerned the immediate arrangement of the violent incidents occurring in Iquique and, not to the overall question of Tacna and Arica. With his advisors, he considered the possibilities of sustaining an arbitration led by the United States, with the participation of France, friendly to Peru and England, and friendly to Chile. Secretary Lansing did not wish the Conference of Paris to deal with the case of Tacna and Arica, and thus he reported to President Wilson.

However, Secretary of State Lansing, suggested that it was not a good time to deal with the case of Bolivia in the Conference of Peace in Paris, and also it might not be convenient for Bolivia to send delegations for this purpose to Washington or Paris. Already in Paris, President Wilson discussed this matter with Secretary of State Lansing, and he sent a note establishing that at the moment, it was better for Bolivia to abstain from sending delegates to discuss the maritime problem. Similarly, Mr. Lansing decided that the controversy between Chile and Peru should not be dealt with at the Peace Conference in Paris. It would be contrary to the Monroe Doctrine since European powers would be involved, therefore jeopardizing United States' hegemony in the hemisphere. Moreover, Secretary Lansing also believed that Chile would be disadvantaged because of his neutral position during the war, and as a result Peru would have full sympathy on his case. (8)


The Paris Peace Conference

At the beginning of January 1919, the Bolivian government instructed its legations in London, Paris and Washington to submit to the respective governments a note presenting once again the maritime problem and emphasizing the necessity to cede the port of Arica to Bolivia, as envisaged in the 14 points made by President Wilson.

General Ismael Montes, Bolivian minister in Paris and London, sent a note dated January 14, 1919, to the foreign ministers in these countries and also sent a memorandum in the same terms to the headquarters of the Peace Conference in Paris.

The British government supported the Bolivian demand and presented in Washington, a very detailed memorandum establishing the British criteria regarding the way in which a favorable solution to Bolivia's problem might be achieved.

Secretary Lansing did not like the intention of the British government to participate in a problem which concerned only the nations in another hemisphere under the hegemony of the United States, and he ordered that the British note be filed with a simple acknowledgment.

The Bolivian minister, Ignacio Calderón, presented to the Department of State a confidential letter with the same terms as the notes presented by Minister Montes to the Foreign Ministers in Paris and London. In his letter, Calderón conveyed the Bolivian interest in finding a solution to the dispute, mentioning at the same time the historical rights over Arica already established before the American independence. Mr. Calderón said that in the 1883 treaty, to which Bolivia was not a party, Bolivia had been unfairly deprived of its coast by the cession of the province of Tarapaca to Chile. He also and indicated that in the truce Treaty signed in 1884, its temporary character had been established since Bolivia did not accept to remain landlocked; moreover, in the 1895 treaty, Chile accepted to cede Tacna and Arica to Bolivia.

Minister Calderón later sustained that: "When Bolivia was finally forced to sign the Treaty of Peace with Chile in 1904, more than 20 years after the conclusion of the war, one of the stipulations of this treaty was that the section of the Arica-La Paz railroad built on Bolivian territory would become the property of this State." (9)

Later, Minister Calderón visited the Department of State and during conversations with the advisor on Latin American affairs, he referred to the above mentioned memorandum. During the meeting, Calderón commented that perhaps Peru would bring the case to the Peace Conference in Paris. Furthermore, Bolivia believed it would be preferable to find a solution only between the Western Hemisphere countries, in the understanding that Chile did want to solve the case, although Peru was not willing to do so. The American diplomat stated that he agreed that the case had to deal only with the countries in the hemisphere, and that Peru had accepted to search for a solution and even the "good offices" of the United States, while Chile had refused them. (10)

Minister Goold reported to the secretary of state from La Paz, that the new Chilean Minister Emilio Bello had arrived, with an official mission, and he believed very serious efforts would be made in the Bolivian capital to solve the Tacna and Arica controversy. The American diplomat added that the Peruvian Minister in La Paz had sent a letter to the Bolivian foreign ministry (In compliance with instructions received from Lima) establishing that Peru would not, under any circumstances, relinquish its rights and claims on Tacna and Arica, its former provinces, currently occupied by Chile and subject to Chile's simultaneous offerings to Bolivia as potential outlets to the sea. (11)

In April 1919, a Chilean delegation presided over by Eliodoro Yañez and accompanied by politicians Tocornal and Villanueva visited the secretary of state in Washington to try and reach an agreement which would include Arica as a possession of Chile and Tacna for Peru. Furthermore, Chile would declare Arica as duty-free territory and hoped that Peru, in turn, would internationalize commerce in Tacna. (12)

The Peace Conference in Paris approved the Pact of the League of Nations on April 28, 1919. On April 3Oth, President Woodrow Wilson requested the Acting Secretary of State, to explore any possibilities for solving the controversy of Tacna and Arica under arbitration and within the frame work of the pact, reiterating that Peru was a founding member and to which Chile should be invited to subscribe. (13)

Assistant Secretary Fletcher informed the secretary of state in May 1919 that the Chilean Minister of London, A. Edwards, had stated that Chile was willing to propose at the Paris Conference a solution which would envisage the return of Tacna to Peru, while Arica would remain with Chile. Fletcher requested Edwards to formally present this solution and also recommended to the Department of State that, in case Peru did not accept it, they should go ahead with the plebiscite, as stipulated in the Ancon Treaty. Days later, Edwards announced to Fletcher that due to problems and changes in domestic policy, the government in Chile would not be able, for the moment, to officially present the offer. (14)

Acting Secretary of State Polk informed the American delegation in Paris that it was not advisable to bring the Tacna-Arica question to the League of Nations since Chile, fearing a favorable opinion towards Peru and Bolivia, would postpone its incorporation into the League. Chile also expected that the United States would first ratify its incorporation into the League before making its own decision. Polk stated that he had discussed matters with Edwards and with the Chilean ambassador in Washington, and that both of them had announced that Chile had a plan, which would soon be formally presented to the United States, to reach a direct agreement with Peru. This plan provided that the province of Tacna would be returned to Peru and Chile would retain the province of Arica; both provinces would be considered as free zones, Bolivia would be given total control of the Arica-La Paz railroad, and it would also be free of all custom's dues. (15) President Wilson accepted this suggestion and thus decided the postponement of the presentation of the Tacna-Arica question to the League of Nations. (16)

It should be pointed out that Chile was playing effectively to save time, since it knew of the unfavorable American public opinion towards joining the League. Moreover, Wilson was totally absorbed with solving European problems, since they were most relevant to the US interests at the time, while conflicts in the hemisphere, could, in Wilson's view, await for a more appropriate time. In other words, while Wilson was consolidating the US at the core of the world system, disputes among peripheric states were not salient, and therefore they did not deserve any immediate solution.

Robbins, American envoy in Santiago, reported from Chile to the secretary of state on August 22, 1919, that the Bolivian government had made a formal consultation to Chile and received the following answer:

"Regarding the possible attitude in response to the question of a sovereign exit to the sea for Bolivia in the region of Tacna and Arica, the minister of foreign relations of Chile has instructed Bello Codesido that it recognizes only the rights of Bolivia to count with a free port as established by the convention between Chile and Bolivia. Once the Peruvian-Chilean question is settled, Chile would permit Bolivia to choose a port on the coast located between Arica and the north limit of Sama with the understanding that the port of Arica will remain as Chilean." (17)

In October 1919, the Bolivian port question gained momentum once more. The American envoy Goold reported to the secretary of state, 'The Chilean minister in La Paz has formally promised a port to Bolivia, which would he granted once the controversy between Peru and Chile was solved. During the first days of November, Peru requested confirmation from Bolivia of the accuracy of a report regarding an agreement between Bolivia and Chile on the future of Tacna and Arica. The government of Bolivia responded that no agreements had been made with Chile; similarly, Chile stated that it had not ceded an outlet to the sea to Bolivia through territory north of Arica. (18)

Minister Bello Codecido concluded his negotiations about the exit to the sea for Bolivia without reaching any agreement, event though he demonstrated favorable disposition in a way. In this regard, Emilio Bello Codesido signed a confidential Act with the Bolivian Foreign Minister, Carlos Gutiérrez on January 10th, 1920 establishing the position of both countries. In this act, Bello Codesido stated:

"A great desire to propitiate a sincere and close approach to Bolivia existed on the part of the government of Chile and to procure an agreement which would permit Bolivia to satisfy its aspiration to obtain a sovereign exit to the Pacific. With the purpose of reaffirming future friendship between both countries, Chile was willing to ensure that Bolivia would obtain an outlet to the sea by ceding an important portion of a zone located north of Arica." (19)


Bolivia insists on Arica, Peru is opposed, and Chile waits

The principles enunciated by Woodrow Wilson, the Peace Conference in Paris, and the so-called Chilean favorable disposition to cede a sovereign exit to the sea through territories north of Arica, contributed to raise expectations of Bolivians, which were unified in their wish to reach a favorable solution to their geographic confinement. However, opinions were divided, once again over the type of solution and the implications of Bolivia's relations with Chile and Peru.

The Bolivian Congress debated this problem and approved various resolutions. They requested the executive branch to follow an international policy oriented towards the obtention, through peaceful and friendly negotiations, of a sovereign and direct exit to the sea that should also include the port of Arica. Senators and deputies suggested that the possibility of taking this matter to the League of Nations should be considered. (20)

Meliton Porras, the Peruvian foreign Minister, sent a letter of protest to the Bolivian foreign minister stating that the Bolivian position involving the future allocation of Tacna and Arica was contrary to Peru's lingered objectives of recovery, and that Peru was not willing to cede them either to Bolivia or to any other nation. The Peruvian ambassador in Washington, F. Pezet, called on the acting secretary of state and handed him a copy of Mr. Porras' letter stating that Peru wished that Bolivia had a sovereign exit to the sea but it should not be through territories which Peru considered to be their own. (2l)

Bolivia’s Foreign Minister Gutierrez replied, reminding Porras that in 1910 he himself had already favorably accepted a Bolivian request to this effect, which was presented by Daniel Sanchez Bustamante. Porras answered that his 1910 statements were not official and had no legal effect, and he insisted that Bolivia should abandon all intentions of obtaining Arica. The Bolivian Foreign minister replied again stating that Bolivia’s purposes referred to territories over which neither Chile or Peru had very well defined rights and whose sovereignty depended on the results of a plebiscite. He reiterated that the region of Arica had a close relationship with Bolivia, and that he could not understand why Peru, a friend and sister nation with a coast of two thousand kilometers, would oppose the only real solution, allowing Bolivia to regain its access to the Pacific Ocean. (22)

Porras called on the American chargé d'affairs in Lima, Smith, and indicated that the situation with Bolivia was difficult due to Bolivian claims over Tacna and Arica. He felt and that it was quite possible that diplomatic relations between both countries could be broken. He requested that if such was the case, the United States should look after the Peruvian interests in La Paz. (23)

From La Paz, Minister Maginnis telegraphed Washington reporting that groups of Peruvian residents in La Paz had had confrontations with anti-Peruvian demonstrators who had attacked the Peruvian legation, and that as a result the government had deported a few Bolivians of the opposition parties, as well as some Peruvian residents.

American envoy Smith reported from Lima about the deportation of Peruvian residents from La Paz. He said that Peru was reinforcing troops in Juliaca and Puno after learning that Bolivia was already increasing its army strength in Guaqui. All these were border towns. From Santiago, Ambassador Shea informed Washington that the news of disorders in La Paz had caused great concern in Santiago and that if Peru mobilized its army against Bolivia, Chile would immediately mobilize its troops to put pressure on Peru.

American envoys in La Paz and Lima reported on popular rallies taking place against official Peruvian premises in La Paz and against Bolivians in Lima and Mollendo. These acts forced the Secretary of state to intervene in a firm manner and remind the minister in La Paz that before taking any action, Bolivia should wait for a solution of the dispute between Peru and Chile. He later instructed American envoys in the three countries to undertake effective actions to diminish tensions, as well as avoid the deployment of troops in bordering areas. (24)

Minister Maginnis reported from La Paz that President Gutierrez Guerra and his foreign minister called him and explained the situation with Peru. They stated that the demonstrations in La Paz, as in other cities, were motivated by Porras' intransigent position and as reprisals to anti-Bolivian demonstrations in Lima, Mollendo and other Peruvian cities.

During that period, Ambassador Pezet of Peru addressed a letter to President Wilson denouncing the Bolivian campaign to obtain Tacna and Arica which belonged to Peru, although they were now occupied by Chile, in violation of the Ancon Treaty. Pezet maintained that Peru resented the Bolivian action which, he believed, was undertaken because of Chilean interference. (25)

The then prevailing situation between Bolivia and Peru, and the lack of agreement in solving the Tacna-Arica question between Peru and Chile suddenly rose the interests of the Department State in finding a solution to these problems. Under the circumstances, the Brazilian ambassador in Washington informed Secretary Polk that Bolivia had requested the council of the League of Nations to deal with the question of a port for Bolivia. The ambassador stated that his country's representative at the council and other members were not sure about the position they would adopt in this case, and therefore would appreciate being informed on the position the United States would adopt. (26)

Secretary of State Barnaby Colby sent President Wilson a summary of the case with some suggestions. Wilson issued instructions to the State Department that the League of the Nations should not adopt any action until the situation, emerging from the relations of the United States with the League, was determined.

On July 12, 1920 a coup d'etat took place in Bolivia and the leaders of the Republican Party came to power. The Republicans had vehemently opposed the policy of searching a solution through Arica. Instead they advocated the return of the whole littoral of Atacama. Consequently, they sought a rapprochement with Peru while mistrusting Chile. The change of government in Bolivia motivated Chile to concentrate its troops on the north and use the opportunity to expel Peruvian citizens from Iquique and Arica. In turn, Peru was forced to deploy its troops along its border with Chile. (27)


Bolivia presents its case to the League of Nations

The Bolivian government presented its maritime claim to the League of Nations, only on the grounds of the main principles sustained by the covenant, particularly Article 19; without taking into account other procedural aspects of counting on an evaluation of the political atmosphere of the League, worst of all, without really knowing the true position of the United States.

Maginnis, the American envoy in La Paz, reported that Bolivia would request a revision of the 1904 Treaty and the return of Antofagasta. He believed that this action would create anti-Bolivian feeling in Chile, which might injure the possibilities for an American arbitration on the question of Tacna and Arica. He further felt that Chile would fund any morally support a conspiracy directed to overthrow the Bolivian government, which was clearly anti-Chilean. (28)

Bolivian delegates Carlos V. Aramayo and Florian Zambrana visited the Department of State in October and discussed several issues with the director and advisor of the Office of Latin American Affairs. The delegates explained the political events which developed the coup of July 1920. Zambrana and Aramayo also announced Bolivia's intention to request the League to revise the 1904 Treaty, having been imposed by force and also because of the repeated non-compliance by Chile.

The advisor of the Department of State replied reiterating that the United States followed with sympathy and friendship the actions of Bolivia regarding the maritime problem. However, he dedicated a larger portion of his comments to the recognition of the Bolivian government and other bilateral matters, without pronouncing himself or alerting the Bolivian delegates to any US opposition to the presentation of the case in Geneva. (29)

Bolivia and Peru presented their demands to the League on November 1, 1920. The League started its work on November l5th and the discussion on the Bolivian claim was centered on the fact that Bolivia had presented it after the deadline for presentation of such cases had expired. After many attempts, the Bolivian delegation agreed to postpone the presentation of its claim until the following year, while Peru completely withdrew its petition.

In his report to the Ministry of Foreign Relations delegate Florian Zambrana, regretted the attitude of the Central and South American delegations, especially the Brazilian Delegate. Franz Tamayo stated in his report that "the head of the Brazilian Mission was profoundly disagreeable to the Bolivian delegates" and added that through a communication from the Peruvian delegate they learned that this unexpected attitude on the part of Brazil conformed with a destructive suggestion from the United States. (30)

It should be mentioned that in the 192Os the United States was inclined to include Bolivia within a global solution of the Tacna-Arica question as shown in the instructions issued by the secretary of state to the American ambassador in Lima. The legation in La Paz, in similar terms, was instructed that the United States did not oppose, per se, that the League deal with the Tacna-Arica question, but believed that it was fundamental to first obtain Chile's and Peru's acceptance to submit the dispute to arbitration by the United States. (31)

In the 1921 assembly of the League, Bolivia, until being successful, reiterated its demand and through its legation in Washington, thus informed the secretary of state. Bolivia's petition was not accepted on procedural grounds and consequently did not achieve the multilateral solution of Bolivia's confinement. However, the petition became indirectly useful to the United States, who then persuaded Chile and Peru to accept its arbitration.

What developed in the League showed Bolivia that its possibilities did not seem favorable at a global level, but it rather indicated that it should seek a solution by means of a dialogue within a hemispheric framework. Bolivia thus decided to seek again a solution with the countries directly involved, without disregarding a possible sponsorship by the United States. The direct approach that Bolivia used at that time was based on the belief that Chile would honor its compromise given earlier at the League of Nations, (It publicly offered to discuss the matter directly with Bolivia, provided that the latter would not insist, for the third time to present its case before the League). In 1923, Bolivia presented its case directly to the Chilean government, once more with no success. This time Chile insisted that the case had already been settled in 1904.

The isolation and lack of success of Bolivia's petition to the Peace Conference in Paris, as well as to the League of Nations, proved that a peripheric state cannot discuss even its more vital interests, nor resolve its conflicts with other peripheric states, if these are not in the best interests of the world powers. As stated earlier, American foreign policy during this period was totally oriented toward the consolidation of U.S. interests in Europe as well as with the larger nations of Latin America, in order to reaffirm its hold as a new hegemonic power.

Bolivia situated then at the end of America's list of priorities, did not have a chance to succeed, despite the multiple and tireless efforts of its diplomacy. Nonetheless, naive Bolivian diplomats were not aware that the US was using them in order to achieve other goals within a broader spectrum. Thus, conflicts at the periphery were not dealt with, as only those at the center of world powers interests deserved resolution.




1. Department of State, Diplomatic correspondence.

2. File 723.2515/320.

3. Op. cit. /345a.

4. Op. cit. /440 and /359.

5. Op. cit. /374.

6. Op. cit. /339.

7. U.S. Foreign Relations. The Paris Peace Conference, Vol. I, pp. 555-556.

8. Department of State, Diplomatic Correspondence, Telegram 334, January 3, 1919.

9. Diplomat correspondence, op. cit. /442.

10. Op. cit. /508.

11. Op. cit. /466.

12. Diplomatic correspondence, Telegram April 11, 1919.

13. Op. cit. /551.

14. Op. cit. /48Oa.

15. Op. cit. /552 a-id 583.

16. Op. cit. /480: Telegram and /484 Telegram.

17. Op. cit. /499.

18. US Foreign Relations Files, Bolivia, /522, 523 and 527.

19. Bolivia, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores

20. Op. cit. /544.

21. Op. cit. /558 and 559.

22. Op. cit. /560.

23. Op. cit. /563, 562 and 595.

24. Op. cit. /568 and 564.

25. Note of May 30, 1920.

26. Memorandum of April 7, 1920, Division of Latin American Affairs.

27. File 824.00/66, 67, Telegrams 52, 74, 89.

28. Op. cit. /689 and 690.

29. Op. cit. /1066.

30. Alfonso Crespo, Los Aramayo de Chichas, Chapter 3. Barcelona, Editorial Blume, 1982 Report of Florian Zambrana of April 25, 1921 and the Report of Franz Tamayo of March 4, 1921. Valentin Abecia Baldivieso, Las Relaciones Internacionales de Bolivia, Tomo II, La Paz. Editorial Los Amigos del Libro, 1929, pp. 412-417.

31. Emily S. Rosenberg: 'World War 1 and Continental Solidarity", The Americas, Vol. 31, #3, 1975, pp. 313-334.

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