Chincha Islands War

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Chincha Islands War

This unexpected conflict (1864–1866) between Spain and a coalition of several Latin American countries represented a belated attempt by Spain to reassert control over its former colonies. Taking advantage of the United States' involvement in its own civil war, which undermined its ability to strenuously enforce the Monroe Doctrine (a policy that prohibited European nations from meddling in Latin America), Spain occupied the territory of the present-day Dominican Republic and then sent a naval expedition to Peru. Ostensibly on a scientific mission, the squadron's commander, Admiral Luis Hernández Pinzon, carried secret orders to support Spanish citizens if they complained that their host nations maltreated them. The Spanish soon found reason to intervene.

In 1863 group of Spanish workers charged that a Peruvian hacendado abused them. When the local courts upheld the landowner, Spain sent an envoy to protect its nationals. The Peruvian government, however, refused to meet with him until Spain recognized the existence of the Peruvian republic.

Insulted by Peru's actions, and arguing that a state of war still existed between the two nations—they had never signed a peace treaty—Spain seized Peru's Chincha Islands, some guano-covered spits of land. The Spanish act infuriated Peru because exports of this nitrate-rich fertilizer funded its economy. It also distressed Peru's neighbors, particularly Chile, which organized an international congress to protest Madrid's aggression. The Spanish remained unmoved, demanding that Peru pay 3 million pesos if it wished to regain possession of the islands. Without the revenues from guano sales, which constituted Peru's main source of income, Lima had no choice but to capitulate. Thus in January 1865 Peru paid the extortion.

The matter still did not end: Madrid, distressed by Chilean insults, ordered its fleet south. When Chile refused to apologize for insulting the Madrid government or to fire a salute to the Spanish flag, Pareja blockaded Valparaiso. Chile responded not merely by declaring war on Spain but, by February 1866, it also convinced Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru to join an anti-Spanish coalition. In the maritime war that followed, Chile captured a Spanish corvette, the Covadonga, which so depressed Pareja that he committed suicide.

His replacement, Admiral Casto Méndez, failed to defeat the allied fleet. Finally he demanded that Chile either fire a twenty-one gun salute to Spain or he would bombard Valparaiso. When Chile refused, on 31 March 1866, Méndez's ships bombarded the defenseless port, reducing it to ruins. The Spaniards then sailed north to attack Peru's principal port Callao. But on 2 May 1866, the Peruvian coastal batteries repulsed Méndez. Isolated, without supplies and facing mutinious crews, Méndez returned to Spain. The expedition had been a fiasco, gaining Spain little but the emnity of Latin America, the United States, which looked foolish for not strenuously enforcing the Monroe Doctrine, and Europe.

See alsoChincha Islands .


Cortada, James W. Spain and the American Civil War: Relations at Mid-Century, 1855–1868. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1980.

Davis, William C. The Last Conquistadores: The Spanish Intervention in Peru and Chile, 1833–1866. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1950.

                                        William F. Sater

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Chincha Islands War

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