The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru, and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

Synopsis

The Atacama Desert, a coastal area where the borders of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia meet, was a region of little interest in the late nineteenth century until European research on the use of nitrates in fertilizers and explosives rendered the droppings of millions of sea birds a valuable commodity. In a move that echoed the California Gold Rush, the three neighboring countries soon battled for control of the region. In 1879, a comparatively modern and powerful Chile seized Bolivia's coastal province, and a secret alliance between Peru and Bolivia soon led to a full-scale war, one which saw the employment of much new military technology.

Excerpt

Every year for more than a century, on the 23rd of March, a crowd of varying size, depending on the weather, gathers in the Plaza Murillo in the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Waving Bolivian flags and possibly carrying a homemade banner or two, the procession forms up and straggles through the center of downtown, tying up traffic along the Prado. The marchers shout unintelligible slogans, punctuated by choruses of "Viva!" or "Muera!" depending upon the subject, and listen to impassioned speeches by minor politicians and the labored efforts of a tinny municipal band at Plaza Abaroa, beneath the statue of one of Bolivia's many martyrs, while vendors hawk everything from soft drinks and meat pies to batteries and disposable razor blades. If there happens to be a crew present from a local television station, youngsters might mug for the camera. If not, the crowd soon disperses as everyone hunts for an available taxi or space on a passing microbus for the ride home.

This is the annual "march to the sea," Bolivia's cri de coeur for her coastal provinces lost in the late 1800s to Chile in the War of the Pacific. Since it is always easier in La Paz, a city of steep inclines and very thin air (at twelve thousand feet above sea level), to conduct marches that head downhill, the procession actually heads away from the sea, but it's the symbolism that counts. This misdirection is perhaps more symbolic of Bolivia's ill-fated struggle to hang onto her outlet to the sea than the organizers of the march might have intended. After countless demonstrations, petitions to virtually every international authority, and a plethora of conferences, bilateral ones, trilateral ones, and multilateral ones, Bolivia is no closer to regaining her lost territory than she was the day the last of her troops abandoned the field of battle to the victorious Chileans.

Bolivian school children may do a bittersweet dance, linked arm in arm, singing:

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