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View Diary: Evo Morales Wins and Bush's New Bird Shit War (91 comments)

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  •  Once again, Chris (4.00)
    you get your history wrong, and it screws up the entire frame of your diary.

    The prize in the War of the Pacific was the nitrate (which you quaintly call saltpeter, an archaic usage in English) fields in Bolivia's coastal province of Antofagasta and Peru's southernmost province of Tarapacá. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in addition to providing the raw material for gunpowder nitrates were also an excellent fertilizer.

    For some thirty years prior to that discovery, guano (or bird shit) was the principal fertilizer fueling the agrarian revolution in North America and Europe. Most guano, however, was exported from Peru. In fact, Peruvian guano exports became the sole source of income for the Peruvian state in the 1840s, bringing a brief period of stability to an endemically unstable country.

    By the time of the War of the Pacific, however, nitrates had begun to replace guano as the most important mineral fertilizer on the world market. The market shift had already had devastating consequences on Peru's economy, which had entered into a steep depression following its default on its foreign loans in 1872. In fact, Peru had still not recovered from the depression when Chile forced it into war at the end of the decade.

    While it is true that major international actors played a contributing role to the outbreak of war, most historians today see the War of the Pacific as a predominantly local affair. The immediate cause of the war was Bolivia's attempt to assert its sovereignty over mostly Chilean mining entrepreneurs exploiting the nitrates in Antofagasta. While the question of who started the war is politically charged -- Bolivians, who want their outlet to the sea back, blame Chilean imperialism, while Chileans blame an irrational Bolivian dictator -- there is no question about the historical animosity between the two countries. That animosity dates back at least to the 1830s, when Chile did provoke a war against a confederated Peruvian-Bolivian state, and succeeded in separating the confederacy.

    Once the war began, Chile did its utmost to bring in Peru, and took advantage of both countries' weakness to steal away their most important nitrate deposits. For the balance of the 19th century, and the first quarter of the 20th, nitrates became to Chile what guano had been to Peru in the middle of the 19th.

    In the 1850s, the United States sent a naval expedition to Peru in an aborted effort to seize Peru's guano islands, but a quick-thinking diplomat in Lima averted war between the two countries.

    •  Thanks for the clarification in your usual (4.00)
      gracious manner. Have a "4". And you might correct some details in Wikipedia as well.

      Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
      You can kill one, but another is born.
      The words are written down, the deed, the date.

      Czeslaw Milosz

      by Chris Kulczycki on Mon Dec 19, 2005 at 09:30:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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