File No. 044/77.

The American Minister to Chile to the Secretary of State .

memorandum on the tacna-arica question.

importance of control of nitrate regions.

Between parallels 25 south and 19 south the Pacific coast plain is rainless and unfitted for agriculture, but valuable for its guano, silver, and especially for its nitrate deposits. Practically the world’s whole supply of nitrate comes from this region. Fifty-five per cent of Chile’s public revenues are nitrate royalties.

Between 19 south and 17½ south are the provinces of Arica and Tacna which produce food supplies. Arica is the nearest Pacific port to La Paz and the inhabited parts of Bolivia.

[Page 1165]

Prior to 1866, both Chile and Bolivia laid claim to the coast plain between parallels 25 and 23. Its inhabitants were mostly Chileans—recent immigrants engaged in exploiting guano.

In 1866, an amicable treaty was made by Chile and Bolivia fixing the boundary at parallel 24—the countries agreeing to divide equally all the guano business and export duties on minerals produced in that territory.

The half included between parallels 24 and 23 turned out to be very rich in nitrate and silver, and the mines were worked by Chilean companies and no Bolivian settlements existed, although the sovereignty was Bolivian.

In 1874, Bolivia agreed not to increase during 25 years the export duties on minerals mined within this zone, or to impose any other taxes whatever on Chilean citizens or capital employed therein.

Rich, however, as was this Bolivian nitrate territory and that immediately north, extending to the Peruvian line (parallel 21½) Peru’s nitrate supplies were better. They lay in the Province of Tarapaca, which extends from the Bolivian frontier north to parallel 19.

From them Peru derived the major portion of her revenues, which revenues were hypothecated to secure her numerous European loans, and European capital was extensively and profitably invested in the exploitation of the Peruvian guano and nitrate.

The growing competition of the Chilean nitrate companies operating in the southern part of the Bolivian littoral alarmed the Chilean Government and its European creditors and concessionaires. Chile feared that Bolivia would go in with Peru, expel the Chilean companies and establish a nitrate and guano monopoly.

So, in 1873, a secret treaty of alliance was made between Peru and Bolivia. When its existence was unearthed by a Chilean diplomat a few years later, Chile regarded it as directed against herself, and especially as intended to deprive her and her citizens of vested rights.

In 1878, Chile being then involved in a serious boundary dispute with the Argentine that put the countries on the verge of war, and both countries mobilizing their land and naval forces, the Bolivian Congress passed a law imposing a duty of 10 cents a quintal on nitrate mined in the zone between parallels 24 and 23. When the Chilean Government protested against this action as a violation of the 1874 agreement, Bolivia answered that the tax was imposed not upon Chilean citizens but upon Chilean companies and associations, and that these had not been expressly mentioned in the treaty.

The dispute between Argentine and Chile was quickly adjusted, largely owing to the friendly mediation of the United States. Nevertheless, Bolivia proceeded after a short delay to put into effect this new nitrate tax. When early in 1879 the Bolivian customs authorities levied upon the property of a Chilean company at Antofogasta, Chile at once occupied the Bolivian coast and dispossessed the Bolivian officials there resident.

Peru sent a special envoy to Chile who demanded that she disoccupy the territory and consent that it be placed under the joint protectorate of Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

On her side, Chile demanded that Peru disavow or explain the secret treaty of alliance with Bolivia and give assurances of her neutrality. [Page 1166] After a month, of negotiations during which both parties actively engaged in war-like preparations, Peru categorically refused and Chile declared war.

Having for the moment command of the sea, Chile promptly landed troops in Tarapaea and decisively defeated the Peruvian garrisons that occupied the province.

This gave her the very great advantage of reducing Peru’s available revenue by more than half, at the same time doubling her own. Pier further progress was, however, delayed for some months by the operations of the Peruvian iron-clad Huascar.

As long as this vessel was at large, the sea was not safe, for Chilean transports and armies could not be supplied by the land route through the desert. But as soon as the Chilean iron-clads caught the Huascar they destroyed her, and an efficient army was at once disembarked in Tacna and Arica which overwhelmed the main Peruvian and Bolivian forces.


Within three months after war was begun, Chile being already in possession of the Bolivian littoral and while the campaign against Tarapaea was being successfully conducted, simultaneous but independent overtures were made to the Government of the United States by the Cabinets of London and Berlin, looking to a future formal proposal from Great Britain and Germany to act with them in a mediation between the belligerents. Subsequently, France and England conjointly made abortive attempts toward inducing Chile and Peru to make some practical agreement. Important British, German and French financial interests existed which would be endangered by complete Chilean success.

Doubtless the Hayes administration feared lest European mediation might insensibly become European intervention and even result in a European protectorate. So the American Government gave no encouragement to the French overtures and the European Governments refrained from proceeding further at that time.

About the same time, the Bolivian Government succeeded in gaining the active sympathy of our Minister at La Paz, and the latter, though he had received no instructions on the subject from Washington, consented to go to Santiago via Lima to offer his personal mediation. At Santiago he succeeded in obtaining from the Chilean Government an expression of its willingness to submit its difficulties with Bolivia to arbitration, but met with a refusal as to those with Peru, Chile insisting that the latter, unconditionally abrogate the secret treaty of alliance.

Ecuador and Colombia at about the same time offered their mediation, and suggested a general conference of all American Powers to discuss and settle any existing disputes between them, including the Peruvian-Chilean question. These suggestions met with no encouragement on the part of Chile.

In the fall of 1880, Chile having meantime been completely victorious and being already in possession not only of the Peruvian nitrate province of Tarapaea but also of Arica, Tacna and Moquegua Provinces, the United States made a formal proffer of friendly mediation, which was accepted by the belligerents. Their representatives met on board the U. S. S. Lachawanna in the presence of Messrs. Osborn, [Page 1167] Christiancy and Adams, American Ministers to Chile, Peru and Bolivia, respectively. Peru and Bolivia insisted upon arbitration and upon confining it to the determination of the amount of a war indemnity without giving Chile territorial compensation. The Chilean representatives answered that their country must receive a cession of territory and refused to consent to arbitration. Accordingly the conference adjourned without having accomplished anything.

Shortly thereafter Argentina proposed to Brazil to join her in mediation. But Brazil was reluctant to undertake something that United States had just failed in, or to forego the manifest advantage to herself of permitting Chile to become strong enough to become an effective counter-balance to the Argentine.

The war went on. Chile determined to force the Peruvians to consent to peace. Her armies were sent up the coast, overwhelmed the Peruvian militia at Miraflores, and occupied Lima and practically the whole Peruvian coast.

Deprived of her principal revenues by the loss of the nitrate territory, her capital and ports in the possession of foreign troops, Peru was helpless and bankrupt, and European bondholders and concessionaires importuned their Governments anew to intervene and force Chile to withdraw.

The President of France proposed in 1881 to the American Ambassador that the French, British and American Governments make a concerted effort to bring the conflict to an end. Mr. Blaine declined to consent to joint action, regarding American countries, with European Powers. Nevertheless he determined that the United States should independently offer mediation. Mr. Hurlbut was named and sent to Lima as American Minister. Acting under his understanding of Mr. Blaine’s instructions, upon his arrival in Peru he represented strongly to the Chilean Minister there the advisability of making peace and of consenting to accept a money indemnity instead of a cession of territory.

The announcement at Santiago that the American Minister at Lima had declared that the United States would under no circumstances consent to Chilean annexation of Peruvian territory roused intense indignation. Mr. Kilpatrick, the new American Minister to Chile, apparently had not received a copy of Mr. Blaine’s instructions to Mr. Hurlbut or understood them indifferently, for he disavowed his colleague’s declarations.

Mr. Blaine at once sent Mr. Trescot to Santiago as Special Commissioner, with explicit instructions to insist that Peru be given the opportunity to pay a money indemnity before being forced to cede the territory. He added that in case of Chile’s refusal the United States “will hold itself free to appeal to the other Republics of this continent to avert consequences which threaten with the extremest danger the political institutions of all America.”

It seems probable that if this moral pressure should prove ineffective Mr. Blaine intended to follow it up with more drastic measures and that he had determined not to permit wars to affect the changes in South American boundary lines.

When Mr. Trescot arrived at Santiago, Mr. Blaine was already out of office. Mr. Frelinghuysen was not prepared to go as far as his predecessor. He telegraphed Mr. Trescot that “the United States [Page 1168] only proposed to give counsel and aid to Chile in any negotiation which that country might desire to make; that Chile must herself determine whether or not she will accept such aid.” Like Mr. Blaine, Mr. Frelinghuysen thought that Chile ought not to exact the surrender of Tarapaca, but he refused to authorize Mr. Trescot to make any threats.

Mr. Trescot was unable to persuade Chile to yield as to Tarapaca but got a protocol signed by which she agreed to let go of Tacna and Arica, accepting $20,000,000 indemnity therefor.

Mr. Frelinghuysen disavowed Mr. Trescot’s action in regard to this protocol and accredited Mr. Logan as Minister to Chile and Mr. Partridge to Peru. The former obtained from the Santiago Government an offer to make peace upon Peru’s consenting to cede Tarapaca and to sell her reversionary right to Tacna and Arica for $10,000,000. He advised Peru to accept, but Mr. Partridge protested and subsequently called a meeting of the European diplomatic representatives at Lima, and proposed that he and they send identic notes to their respective Governments, recommending joint mediation or intervention.

Mr. Frelinghuysen promptly disavowed Mr. Partridge’s action and recalled him as well as Mr. Logan and Mr. Manney, our Minister to Bolivia.

This ended our efforts at mediation, and they have not since been renewed.

Shortly thereafter, Chile in direct negotiations with Peru consented to a modification of her terms as to Tacna and Arica. Instead of insisting on Peru’s consent to their unconditional transfer on the payment of $10,000,000 by Chile, the latter was to hold them provisionally for ten years—namely, until March, 1894. At this time their final nationality was to be determined by a plebiscite.

The following is a translation of the treaty article referring thereto:1

Article 3. The territory of the provinces of Tacna and Arica—bounded on the north by the river Sama from its source in the Cordilleras on the frontier of Bolivia to its mouth at the sea; on the south by the ravine and river Camarones; on the east by the Republic of Bolivia; and on the west by the Pacific Ocean—shall continue in the possession of Chile, subject to Chilean laws and authority, during a period of ten years, to be reckoned from the date of the ratification of the present treaty of peace.

After the expiration of that term a plebiscitum shall decide, by popular vote, whether the territories of the above-mentioned provinces shall remain definitely under the dominion and sovereignty of Chile or continue to form part of Peru. Either of the two countries to which the provinces of Tacna and Arica will have been annexed shall pay to the other ten millions of Chilean silver dollars or of Peruvian soles of the same weight and fineness.

A special protocol, which shall be considered as an integral portion of the present treaty, will prescribe the manner in which the plebiscitum is to be carried out, and the terms and times for the payment of the ten millions by the country that will have become the sovereign (dueno) of the provinces of Tacna and Arica.

effoets to settle.

Exhausted and impoverished by the Chilean war and the long continued civil wars which followed, the Peruvian Government would have been embarrassed to find the $10,000,000 for Chile, and several [Page 1169] years elapsed before serious negotiations were entered into to secure the carrying out of the above treaty article and the signing of the protocol provided for therein.

Shortly before 1894, Peru proposed that Chile definitely return Tacna and Arica and accept certain commercial concessions in lieu of the $10,000,000. Chile refused.

Next, Peru demanded that Chile temporarily turn over the provinces to Peru upon the expiration of the ten years’ period, so that the plebiscite might be held under Peruvian auspices. Chile refused, claiming that her possessory title would not lapse until the plebiscite had been held and resulted favorably to Peru.

Peru then proposed to submit to arbitration (1) which nation was entitled to possession after March 28, 1894, and (2) whether only Peruvians should vote, or also Chileans and other foreigners who had moved into the disputed territory since 1884. If only the old Peruvian residents could vote, Peruvians would be sure to win the plebiscite, but if Chileans and other foreigners should also vote they would probably outnumber the Peruvians, especially if the election be held with Chilean authorities in charge, Chile refused to arbitrate either question—the first on the ground that it involved her territorial sovereignty, and the second because the words “popular vote” are used in Article 3 of the treaty.

Peru then proposed that Chile unconditionally cede her claim to the portion north of the Chero, she to cede hers to the portion south of the Vitor, and that the plebiscite for the central portion be held under the auspices of a mixed commission composed of one member named by the Peruvian Government, one by the Chilean Government, and the third by a friendly Power. Chileans were not to be permitted to vote unless they could prove two years’ bona fide residence and that they were not members of Chile’s armed forces. Chile failed to pay any attention to this proposal.

Shortly thereafter the ten-year period terminated and Chile remained in possession against Peru’s protest. No progress in the negotiations was made until 1898, when Chile, being on the verge of war with Argentine, the time seemed opportune for Peru to obtain the desired concessions. Señor Billinghurst was sent to Santiago, and there he and the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the protocol submitting to Spain’s arbitration the question as to who should have the right to vote in the plebiscite. But strong opposition to this protocol developed in successive sessions of the Chilean Congress and it was never ratified. Diplomatic relations were subsequently interrupted and only renewed about three years ago. The first Peruvian Minister sent to Santiago, Señor Alvarez Calderon, returned at the end of 1907 without having accomplished anything.

In 1908, Senor Seoane, his successor, received a proposal of settlement from the Chilean Foreign Office. Peru was asked to admit the right of all residents, Chileans and foreigners as well as Peruvians, to vote Chile agreed to appoint local Peruvian and foreign as well as Chilean representatives on the electoral boards in charge of the plebiscite; her officials would continue to administer the territory while the plebiscite was being held. Chile claims that this is substantially the manner in which the Nice-Savoy plebiscite and others were conducted. In return for Peru’s waiver of her insistence on [Page 1170] arbitration as to who is entitled to vote and take charge of the election, Chile expressed her willingness to form a customs union with Peru, to give subventions to coastwise ships, to make large appropriations for the building of a railway from Santiago to Lima, and finally, to increase the indemnity for Tacna and Arica by 50 per cent.

Believing that a plebiscite held in the form proposed would result unfavorably to herself, Peru considered the proposal nothing more than a disguised offer to purchase Tacna and Arica, and rejected it. The then Peruvian Government did not, however, sever diplomatic relations and it was the evident intention of both parties to continue negotiations.

the wreath incident.

A few months subsequent to the events just recited, Señor Echenique was received at Lima as Chilean Minister, and shortly thereafter addressed a note to Señor Polo, Peruvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressing the desire of the Chilean Government to place a bronze wreath on the mausoleum erected to the memory of the Peruvian soldiers who died in the war with Chile.

Señor Polo answered, thanking Señor Echenique, and adding: “that when the necessary arrangements would be made, he would be pleased to settle with the Chilean Minister all concerning the homage offered by the Chilean Government.”

A few days later, a new administration came into power in Peru, and one not so hopeful of being able to reach a satisfactory settlement with Chile by friendly negotiations. Through a colleague, Señor Echenique sounded the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Señor Porras, as to the latter’s willingness to fix a day for the official ceremony of offering the wreath. Señor Porras indicated to Señor Echenique’s friend that the Peruvian Government did not desire to accept the wreath. Señor Echenique addressed a formal note to the Foreign Office, referring to Señor Polo’s former communication and asking definitely that a day be fixed for the ceremony. Señor Porras answered that as long as the treaty of 1883 was not fulfilled, he thought all demonstrations pending to show that a reconciliation had occurred were out of place. Señor Echenique replied, deprecating the attitude now assumed by the Peruvian Government and reiterating assurances of Chile’s desire to reach an amicable settlement. Señor Porras ended the correspondence by saying he considered it useless to deal any further with Señor Echenique’s theories.

The Chilean Minister immediately left Santiago for his own country (January, 1909) and his return was a signal for demonstrations of intense popular indignation at the treatment given Chile’s representative and the rejection of the offer of the wreath. A large section of the press and public demanded that war be declared.

observations by mr. dawson.

Two principal reasons have been advanced why the United States Government is now under moral obligation to that of Peru to offer mediation with a view of persuading or intimidating Chile to agree [Page 1171] to submit to arbitration the question as to who shall control the election and who shall have a right to vote:

  • First, that Mr. Blaine’s intimation in 1881 to the European powers that their intervention would be disagreeable to the United States prevented Great Britain and France from recovering for Peru her lost Provinces. But it was not for altruistic reasons these countries desired to intervene, but rather for the purpose of protecting pecuniary interests of their citizens. It is possible that their formal intervention, would have resulted in nothing more favorable to Peru than the forcing of Chile to recognize and indemnify Peru’s European creditors and concessionaires as a condition of getting the territory. In fact, they did bring strong and effective, though unofficial, pressure to bear upon Chile while the 1883 treaty was being negotiated directly between her and Peru. Many of the articles of that agreement concerned the satisfying of the European creditors, and Chile’s first preoccupation after 1833 [1883] was to get these European claims out of the way.
  • Second, that Mr. Hurlbut’s declaration, made in 1881, that the United States would never consent to Chile’s depriving Peru of territory, encouraged the latter to further resistance. But the fact [was] that the war was already virtually over and the military situation did not materially change after the date of said declaration. On the other hand, it is true that in Trescot’s time Chile offered to give up Tacna and Arica on the payment of $20,000,000. The 1883 arrangement doubtless seemed to the then Peruvian Government less onerous. They were really getting $30,000,000 for Tacna and Arica—$10,000,000 in cash at the end of 10 years and $20,000,000 immediately in the remission of war indemnity. They obtained 10 years’ respite for national recuperation before being obliged to decide between definitely ceding the provinces or paying out money.

Argentine interests lie always in weakening Chile internationally and politically. Therefore that country would be glad, with the backing of the United States and Brazil, to mediate for the purpose of compelling Chile to give up Tacna and Arica. Without these provinces—whose agricultural resources are adequate to the temporary maintenance of their garrisons—Chile’s northern frontier and her garrisons in all her desert country south to parallel 25 would be defenseless in case a single fast hostile cruiser were at large to destroy convoys and transports. Those garrisons can now only be supplied by sea. The revenue from the nitrate territory is essential to Chile’s military power and financial credit. While in possession of Tacna and Arica she can hope to make head against Argentina and Peru at the same time, because she could hold out there and threaten southern Peru, even in case of a temporary naval defeat; without those provinces an Argentine fleet, or even one fast cruiser, could starve out the nitrate territory, and Chile’s only chance would be for her own fleet to pursue, catch and destroy all Argentine and Peruvian war ships.

Brazil would not feel safe on her southern frontier if the Argentine were once free from a check on the side of Chile.

Respectfully submitted.

T. C. Dawson.

  1. The Treaty of Ancón.