The world public knows that Bolivia achieved its independence in 1825 with legal possession of territory over the Pacific Ocean shore. The coastal province covered an area of approximately 61.000 square miles, equivalent to the size of the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all together. The Bolivian coastline extended over more than 250 miles long and comprised four ports and seven coves.

Bolivia has repeatedly submitted irrefutable documented proof on which it bases its historical right to its own outlet to the Pacific Ocean, which was impetuously seized by Chile in a war of aggression in 1879 - an attack brutally and unexpectedly unleashed not only against Bolivia, but against the nation of Peru as well.

The copper exported by Chile since 1879, amounting to more than 20 million tons, comes from this region. That is the equivalent of the reserves of the entire Asian continent. Chile has thus, become the world's primary exporter and the second-ranking producer of copper after the United States. In addition to copper, other natural resources such as guano, saltpeter, sulfur and so on, are still being extracted from the former Bolivian coastal territory.

This mutilation was never accepted by the Bolivian people and for more than a century, the Bolivian Government, with great effort, has persistently tried to find a solution to this problem through direct negotiations and, from 1979 onwards, with diplomatic and political support of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Bolivia needs sovereign control over an access to the Pacific Ocean that will restore its original status as a maritime state. To this end, Bolivia has carried on with intense diplomatic activity, which has created a genuine awareness of this problem by world public opinion. During these multilateral diplomatic activities, and particularly in the regional framework of the OAS, a number of resolutions have been adopted in which the parties involved in the dispute, have repeatedly been urged to begin negotiations designed to find a just solution to this problem.

It should be understood how much political, economic and moral damage Bolivia has suffered as a result of this despoiling of its maritime patrimony at a time when might was the supreme law of nations.

This outstanding issue has a political and diplomatic basis in which we seek to address a historic injustice. Bolivia is not seeking to deny the legal validity of long-standing bilateral agreements. But today they need to be supplemented and brought up to date in the light of the present realities of international life. It is no answer to offer more free transit facilities as a substitute for the return of usurped territory. That is why successive Bolivian Governments have sought a just solution based on Latin American brotherhood and peaceful coexistence to reach, in the near future, the political as well as the economic integration of Latin American people.

Chile has recently launched a well-planned publicity campaign aimed at convincing the Chilean people and the international public that Bolivia has never had access to the Pacific Ocean. A flood of fallacious and erroneous historical "facts" were thus used in an attempt to distort and invalidate Bolivia's historical, moral and political right to its own coast and a port area on the Pacific. The reader should be familiar with Chile's arguments, which are all feeble, designed to paper over a reality that is charged with conflict.

Bolivia cherishes the hope that international solidarity and through up to-date bilateral negotiations will make it possible to regain access to the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of this research is directed towards these noble goals.




The study of the Bolivian Maritime question, through the use and interpretation of American diplomatic records is the major concern of this research. As a Bolivian national and as a social scientist, I have been interested in approaching this issue, which is vital to Bolivia's development, using scientific criteria.

Bolivia's maritime problem originated in the l9th century when Chile challenged the Bolivian possession of the "Litoral de Atacama", the seacoast province of the latter. Chile's actions became the major cause of the War of the Pacific (1879 - 1884). One result of the war was that Bolivia became a land-locked nation. Since the end of the war, Bolivia's primary objective has been the quest for an outlet to the sea.

My personal interest in pursuing this study has been twofold. On the one hand, I chose to research the Bolivian confinement through the use of sources foreign to the problem. The use of American diplomatic documents could provide a relatively balanced testimony of the important events, which in turn, could allow me to reach conclusions concerning the case. The conclusions could provide better, as well as unbiased, answers than those that could emerge from the sole use of direct Chilean, Bolivian or Peruvian sources, which naturally might be biased.

On the other hand. I was also interested in investigating the role, played by American diplomacy throughout the entire maritime question, since this area has not been duly investigated yet. Although a few studies have dealt with the American participation in some phases of the controversy, none have focused specifically on the consequences of such a participation regarding Bolivia's land-locked status. (1)

The task that I am attempting is to contribute to the understanding of the Bolivian confinement as well as to uncover the American participation in it, by means of applying a perspective which intends to conceptualize international relations as a social phenomena.

The first assumption made in this study is that nation-states occupy different positions in the "world system," and their patterns of interaction constitute systems or subsystems. Thus, international relations can be explained by conceptualizing those situations as part of large and complex networks within a world system.

The second assumption is that the Bolivian maritime question, as a result of the conflictive interaction between Chile and Bolivia, could be better understood as an historical relationship in which these countries, together with Peru, play different roles and form a regional subsystem within a wider world system. In turn, the world system was affected by decisive changes at his core: the decline of Great Britain and the rise of the United States.

Historical changes in the world system during the l9th century. particularly in the 1870's, signified the beginning of the decline of Great Britain as the core-state of the capitalist world economy and the rise of the United States toward such a central position. However, the U.S. claims for an hegemonic position over the Western Hemisphere were made earlier. A case in point was the declaration of President Monroe in 1823, in which the U.S. officially proclaimed that European powers were precluded to intervene in the affairs of Latin American nations. (2) At the same time, while most South American nations were achieving their independence from Spain, they were already part of the periphery with their economic growth oriented towards fulfilling the needs of the core. Wallerstein correctly points out that "the independencies in the Latin American countries did nothing to change their peripheral status. They merely eliminated the last vestiges of Spain's semiperipheral role." (3) In other words, the semiperipheral role was left vacant and open to competition for emerging ruling classes of those recently declared republics.

Therefore, relations among South American nations can- be understood within this framework. In addition to being at the periphery, they could also play a semiperipheral role in specific situations. In such a situation, one would benefit from an unequal relationship, originated in its relative strength in comparison with the other. This is precisely the case in the relations of Peru and Chile regarding Bolivia and can explain the rivalry of both countries over the latter.

Chile declared its independence in 1818 and scarcely ten years later was already seeking an hegemonies position over the Pacific West Coast, if not all South America. Chile's endeavor was favored by the advantages of the Valparaiso - Port, which successfully challenged the Peruvian Port of Callao. One must remember that during those days, the Panama Isthmus constituted a barrier to European trade as well as to exchange goods with the American East Coast, since the "canal" had not yet been built.

Since independence, Chile’s ruling elite proved to be very capable in extending its political domination and economic control over all Chilean territory. Chile's grains were exported throughout the entire West Coast up to California. Chile's copper, silver, guano and saltpeter were exported to Europe while technology, imports and finances originated In England.

Chilean territory, as well as its population, was relatively homogeneous. The Chilean army has cornered the reduced Indian (Mapuche) population to a small area of marginal land, leaving the rich land to traditional landowners. The ruling elite, having once dominated its national space, turned its designs to potentially promising territories located beyond its national borders. that is toward the Bolivian seacoast and the Peruvian province of Tarapaca. (4)

Peru reached independence in the early 1820's. However, it was unable to sustain the prominent role allocated to it by Spain during colonial times, when Lima was placed at the center of an important Vice-Kingdom. The Peruvian elite was divided according to different regional interests that continuously challenged the power exercised by Lima's rulers. The lack of a homogeneous ruling elite in Peru gave way to several military coups d’etat and hampered economic growth in a vicious cycle that would further deteriorate Peru's status.

The guano and saltpeter produced in the Tarapaca Province became the most important sources of revenue for the Peruvian Government. During the 1870's the Government declared a state monopoly on these products, thus hindering the interests of Chilean speculators as well as British and French fortune hunters residing throughout Tarapaca. (5)

Bolivia declared its independence in 1825 over the territory that was part of the colonial Audience de Charcas. lt. included the Atac4ama littoral as the seacoast province of the new republic. In 1842, guano deposits were discovered in this province. These deposits gradually became the most important source of Government revenue and awoke greed in Chilean rulers. The discovery of saltpeter and silver deposits further revived Chile's ambitions to possess the territory of the Bolivian seacoast, and consequently it challenged Bolivian rights over it. Chilean investors as well as Chilean laborers residing in the Bolivian seacoast proved to be a great advantage for Chile in fulfilling its designs.

The Bolivian elite, similar to that of Peru, was unable to control economic activities, and while disputing the hegemonic role of any particular region, it allowed successful Chilean penetration throughout the Bolivian littoral. Regional differences among Bolivian provinces, as well as the diversity of ethnic groups, further fragmented any hold that Bolivian rulers could claim.

It must be mentioned that Bolivia, during the 183Os under the leadership of President Andrés de Santa Cruz, established together with some Peruvian leaders the Peru-Bolivian Confederacy as a commanding sub-regional power. Santa Cruz's endeavor failed because part of the Bolivian and Peruvian elite could not tolerate being ruled by a mestizo nor could they renounce the hegemonic position they actively sought. Consequently, Chile's army was sent to Peru, and joining forces with Northern Peruvians, who also could not accept Santa Cruz rule, defeated both Santa Cruz and the existence of the Confederacy.

This attempt received some sympathy from English and American diplomats. However, the Confederacy's short duration did not allow for its integration within the world system in a semiperipheral role; perhaps because Santa Cruz's policies were principally directed at establishing a political system, without due regard to developing a parallel economic foundation capable of expanding and reinforcing existing links between local elite and those at the center of the hegemonic powers. (6)

During the 1870’s, Bolivia was preoccupied with Chile’s expansion over its seacoast. Bolivian and Peruvian rulers signed a mutual defense treaty (1873) that could provide them with some assurances, especially when considering Chile's growing and threatening military superiority.

A few years later Chile used this Defensive Alliance Treaty between Bolivia and Peru to declare war against both nations (1879) and thus, to successfully wrest from Bolivia its littoral province and from Peru its rich nitrate province of Tarapaca as well as the provinces of Tacna and Arica. The legacy of the War of the Pacific has extended over the years and the peace and friendship treaties have not produced either a stable peace nor a true friendship. All former belligerents regarded each other with mistrust if not resentment.

While Chile successfully challenged Peru for the leading role in the subregion, Bolivia remained isolated from European or American influence. It passively accepted that its economic activities, oriented toward the world market, become part of the Chilean link to the world-economy, rather than developing ties of its own.

After the conclusion of the war (1884), Bolivia began its diplomatic quest for an outlet to the Pacific Ocean. Although the main parties involved in that conflict were Bolivia and Chile, Peru was also involved on different grounds. In some of those efforts, Bolivian diplomacy attempted to engage U.S. participation In solving the conflict. However, Bolivia's weak links with the world economy, as well as its isolation from American interests, proved to be fatal for Bolivian diplomatic efforts to regain an outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

Literature on Chile’s successful endeavor over Peruvian and Bolivian territories as well as on the defeat and consequences of war is abundant and varied. Chilean authors have pointed out that Peru and Chile were competing during a long period for hegemonic power in the South Pacific. In addition, they remark that Chilean entrepreneurs and workers had settled in the barren and uninhabited Bolivian seacoast, searching for guano, saltpeter and silver, so they had developed certain rights over that territory. According to Chilean writers, Bolivian political anarchy and mismanagement of its international obligations provoked Chile to abrogate its boundary treaties and extend its sovereignty over the Bolivian littoral. An example of Bolivia's unlawful behavior was its decision to tax the exports of the Antofagasta Nitrates Company, owned by Chileans and financed by British merchants. The War of the Pacific was regrettable but was the result of Peruvian and Bolivian miscalculation. Chile's expansion was due to war indemnities as well as the legacy of its soldiers' sacrifices. For a number of Chilean thinkers, the erratic Bolivian behavior was a consequence of its innate Indian inferiority. (7)

Peruvian authors have noted that Chilean expansionism was supported by British interests in the nitrates trade. However, they believe that though the Chilean pretext for the war was Bolivia's decision to tax a Chilean-British Company, the real cause was Chile’s desire to occupy the Peruvian province of Tarapaca. The adverse results of the war they attribute to the failure of the Peruvian ruling class in building a modern state in contrast to the success achieved by Chilean bourgeoisie. (8)

Bolivian writers, like the Peruvians, cite an inept ruling class in their nation, which was unable to develop the nation-state. It also was responsible for not stopping Chile’s expansionist designs. Moreover, British participation is considered as one of the important advantages Chile had over its adversaries. (9)

The War of the Pacific and some of its consequences have received attention by American scholars. Millington calls the American efforts to stop the conflict and control the results "one of the most unfortunate chapters in American diplomatic history." The fundamental causes of the war were the existence of nitrates in the Bolivian seacoast, Chile's interests in the Antofagasta Company and its desire to gain control of the nitrates of Tarapaca. Millington remarks that Chile had established a stable government and "was free from any serious internal disorder. Peaceful conditions fostered by a succession of liberal presidents were conducive to a steadily increasing material prosperity." It was not so with Peru and Bolivia, where "internal disorders embroiled these two countries in external wars." (10)

Millington recalls that the boundary line between Chile and Bolivia was in the desert of Atacama. As long as the region was scarcely populated and had no known resources, there was no reason for dispute. However, the discovery of guano and later of nitrate and minerals changed the situation. Chile began to re-examine the question to be able "to claim as much of the desert as was possible." (11) This writer examines the different American efforts to control and influence the conditions upon which peace could be established. He concludes that American diplomacy proved ineffective and resulted in a feeling of antagonism toward the U.S. not merely in Chile but also in Peru. (12)

William J. Dennis and William S. Coker reached similar conclusions about the War of the Pacific. They agree that the fundamental causes were "the quest for and control of the natural resources of the Atacama, the aggressive expansion of the Chileans and the political ineptness of both Peruvians and Bolivians." (13)

Although most American studies on this subject focus on the historical aspect of conflict, three main patterns can be clearly noted. First, various studies describe those events and American participation in terms of prestige diplomacy, where U.S. presence is mainly concerned with one of the outcomes of the war: the Tacna-Arica question. In this approach, researchers have directed their analysis to Peru and Chile as well as to the U.S. role in the case, with only marginal references to Bolivia, except when mentioning that Bolivia's dispute with Chile was, one of the causes of the war. Nevertheless, the focus is on American diplomacy and its influence on Chile and Peru. (14)

A second approach has been directed to analyze the question with a theoretical perspective of power. The most important and influential work is Burr's By Reason or Force, which presents Chile as a nation-state operating within a system of power polities, which successfully secured and maintained its hegemony on the Pacific Coast. Burr explains Chile's relations with other South American nations, and specifically the War of the Pacific, using a balance of power perspective. Other works in this direction focus on partial analysis of U.S. relations with Chile or specific situations which occurred during the war, such as the case of the failure of the Tacna-Arica plebiscite. (15)

The third approach has been directed to detect and examine British influence or participation in the region. These studies have usually been economically oriented. Various authors have explored Chilean nitrate links to Great Britain under several theoretical influences, most of them related to an explanation of British economic imperialism. A few have focused on Chile's peripheral insertion in the world economy. (16)

Although Bolivia's long standing search for an end to its seclusion has been mentioned elsewhere, there are no studies that focus on American participation either in the Bolivian quest for an outlet to the sea or in the whole maritime question. (17)

Data for this research was collected from a number of primary sources. The most important was the collection of unpublished diplomatic records of the United States Department of State, located in the National Archives. Documents, consular dispatches, U.S. Navy reports and private journals of naval officers were also useful. In addition, I interviewed some relevant officials, who have been involved in efforts to examine and resolve the maritime question. A number of other valuable materials, as secondary works, have also been extensively examined. In a few cases I also contrasted the American records with those of Bolivia, Peru or Chile, in order to clarify or better understand certain facts. Nevertheless, I found that in most cases, diplomats of the four countries concurred in the description of facts as well as in their analysis.

Finally, I should make the following remark. The use of American diplomatic sources was based on the belief that American diplomacy was relatively balanced regarding Bolivia's maritime problem and that it could also shed light on the U.S. participation. With the research in progress, it became clear that State Department's involvement in the whole question was larger than was thought previously. Nevertheless, the available papers and documents on the subject allowed me to examine the entire case on relatively accurate grounds.

Diplomatic papers of the State Department consulted for the period after 1954 were only those open to the public and not subject to confidentiality. However, taking into consideration the general trends and the official position of the U.S. Government, I believe that once secret documents, now subject to embargo, become available, they probably will not substantially alter the results of the interpretation presented here.

Thus, this study is primarily centered on Bolivia’s relations with Chile, through American diplomatic views and actions, focusing on the conflict that arose in the l9th century over the possession of the Atacama littoral and the resulting consequences; particularly, on Bolivia's quest for an outlet to the sea. The analysis covers a period which begins with the independence of the South American republics (especially Chile) in 1818 and concludes in the 1900’s.

The analysis of Bolivia's maritime question has been organized along three main segments or dimensions. The first refers to Bolivia's sovereignty over its littoral province, with emphasis on the presentation of documents pertaining to the territorial boundaries as well as to the administration of that territory. The second deals with the conflict's origin, its development and its culmination with the outbreak of the War of the Pacific; and the third focuses on Bolivia's different attempts to recover an outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

In essence, the research is intended to answer the following questions:

- What was the role or roles played by the United States throughout this conflictive relationship?

- What was his character?

- Does the United States Diplomacy have any responsibility in the results of this conflictive situation?





  1. Robert N. Burr, By Reason or Force., Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967. Gordon, Ireland, Boundaries, Possessions and conflicts in South America, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1938. Robert Dean Talbott, A History of the Chilean Borders., Urbana, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Illinois, 1959. Millington, Herbert, American Diplomacy and the War of _he Pacific, New York, Octagon Books, 1975. Richard S. Phillips Junior, Bolivia and the War of the Pacific., 1879 - 1884., Virginia, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Virginia, 1973.

2. Terence, Hopkins, The Study of the Capitalist World Economy, Some Introductory Considerations, in Walter Goldfrank (ed.). The World-System of Capitalism. Beverly Hills, Sage Pub, 1979. Beverly Hills, and Wallerstein, op. cit. (1983).

3. Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism, London, Verso, 1983, p. 27.

4. Jorge Basadre, Chile, Peru y Bolivia Independientes, Barcelona, Salvat Editores S.A., 1948.

5. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú, 22 Vols., Lima, Editorial Cultura Antártica, 1946.

6. Alcides Arguedas, Historia General de Bolivia, Arno, La Paz, 1922.

7. Francisco A. Encinas, Las Relaciones entre Chile y Bolivia:, 1841-1963., Santiago, Editorial Nascimiento. Oscar Espinoza Moraga, Bolivia y el mar 1810 - 1964., Santiago, Editorial Nascimiento, 1965. Jaime Eyzaguirre, Chile y Bolivia: Esquema de un proceso diplomático, Santiago, Editorial Zig-Zag, 1963.

8. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú, Tomo 1, Lima, Editorial Cultura Antártica, 1946. Enrique. Amayo Zevallos, British Policy in the War of the Pacific., Pittsburgh, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1985. Garland, A "South American conflicts and the United States," American International Law, Lima, 1900.

9. Alcides Arguedas, Historia General de Bolivia, La Paz, Arno Hnos, 1979. Roberto Querejázu, Guano, Salitre y Sangre: Historia de la Guerra del Pacífico, La Paz, Los Amigos del Libro, 1979.

10. Herbert Millington, American Diplomacy and the War of the Pacific., New York, Octagon Books, 1975. pp. 10 - 12.

11. Millington, op. cit. p. 12.

12. Millington, op. cit. p. 142

13. William Jefferson Dennis, Tacna and Arica, Archon Books, Connecticut, 1967. Also William S. Coker 'The War of the Ten Centavos: The Geographic, Economic, and Political Causes of the War of the Pacific," The Southern Quarterly., Vol. 7, No 2, 1969, pp. 113-129.

14. In addition to Millington, see Joe Foster Wilson, An Evaluation of the Failure of the Tacna-Arica Plebiscitary Commission, 1925 & 1926, Athens, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Georgia, 1965. Stuart, Graham H., The Tacna-Arica Dispute, Boston, World Peace Foundation, 1927.

15. Robert N. Burr, By Reason or Force: Chile and the Balancing of Power in South America, 1830 - 1905. Berkeley & Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1967. William L. Krieg, Legacy of the War of the Pacific, Department of State, 1974. John Phillip Soder, Jr., The Impact of the Tacna-Arica Dispute on the Pan American Movement, Washington DC, Doctoral Dissertation, Georgetown University.

16. V.G. Kiernan, "Foreign Interests in the War of the Pacific," 7he Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 35. pp. 14-,36. Thomas O'Brien "Chilean Elite and Foreign Investors", Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. II No. l., 1979. pp. 10 1 - 121 and "The Antofagasta Company: A case Study of Peripheral Capitalism," Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 60 No. 1, 1980, pp.1-31.

17. Ronald Bruce St. John, "Hacia el Mar: Bolivia's Quest for a Pacific Port," Inter-American Economic Affairs., Vol. 31 No 3, 1977, pp. 41-73.


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