Chile, War with Spain

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Chile, War with Spain

The War with Spain was a late-nineteenth-century conflict between Chile and Peru and Spain. In the early 1860s, Spain seized Peru's Chincha Islands, which, by virtue of their enormous deposits of guano, constituted the mainstay of Lima's economy. When Peru called upon its hemispheric neighbors for support, Chile responded by forbidding Chileans from selling the Spanish fleet fuel or supplies and by joining an inter-American conference to stop Spanish aggression. Madrid turned on Chile for permitting its citizens to make what it considered scurrilous remarks about the Spanish queen and for placing an embargo on Spanish ships. As compensation for the insults, on Chile's independence day Spain demanded that Chile pay a large indemnity as well as fire a twenty-one-gun salute to the Spanish flag. When the Chileans refused, Spanish admiral Juan Manuel Pareja instituted a naval blockade. This decision actually went against the orders of the newly elected Spanish prime minister, Leopoldo O'Donnell. The government in Santiago responded by declaring war on September 24, 1865.

During the conflict, which was essentially a naval contest, the larger Spanish flotilla quickly asserted control of Chile's coast, blockading Valparaíso. After suffering some minor losses, the Spanish fleet warned the Chileans that unless they paid damages and fired a twenty-one-gun salute, its fleet would fire on the port. Although nearby U.S. and British fleets could have protected Valparaíso from the Spanish, they elected not to do so.

On March 31, 1866, the Spanish ships opened fire on a virtually defenseless Valparaíso, inflicting substantial damage. The Spanish fleet remained in the area until mid-April, when it sailed for Callao, where it subsequently suffered a major defeat at the hands of Peruvian coastal batteries. This battle effectively ended the war. However, an official resolution was not reached with Spain until 1879. Chile's naval defeat prompted the Chilean government to rebuild and improve the navy. Chile was then able to defeat Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879–1884).

Because the United States chose not to invoke its Monroe Doctrine to protect Chile from a European aggressor, relations between Santiago and Washington suffered. The war with Spain also demonstrated to the Chileans their need both to fortify its principal ports and to acquire a fleet to defend its frontiers.

See alsoChile: The Nineteenth Century.


Cerda Catalán, Alfonso. La Guerra entre España y las repúblicas del Pacífico, 1864–1866: El bombardeo de Valparaíso y el combate naval del Callao. Providencia, Chile: Editorial Puerto de Palos, 2000.

Davis, W. C. The Last Conquistadores: The Spanish Intervention in Peru and Chile, 1863–1866 (1950).

Galdames, Luis. A History of Chile (1941), pp. 306-310.

Heredia, Edmundo A. El imperio del guano: América Latina ante la guerra de España en el Pacífico. Córdoba, Argentina: Alción, 1998.

                                      William F. Sater