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Independence, Boundary Disputes

Pilcomayo River, Paraguay River, landlocked country, Bolivians, s Peru

Bolivia became involved in a number of border disputes between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. One of the earliest disputes involved the ill-defined borders with Peru and Chile along the Pacific Coast in the region of the Atacama Desert. The disputed area became the center of controversy following the discovery of rich deposits of nitrate, a mineral used in fertilizer production. In treaties made in 1866 and 1874, Bolivia and Chile adopted the 24th parallel of south latitude as the boundary line in that region. In addition, the treaty granted to Chile various customs and mining concessions in Bolivia’s portion of the Atacama. Disputes arose between the two countries over the latter provisions, and in 1879 Chile seized the Bolivian port of Antofagasta. In the resulting struggle, called the War of the Pacific, Chile defeated Bolivia and its ally Peru. Bolivia lost its one seacoast possession, becoming a landlocked country. A treaty ratified in December 1904 recognized the perpetual dominion of Chile over the disputed territory but granted Bolivia free access to the sea. A dispute with Brazil concerning the possession of the Acre region was settled in 1903. The agreement ceded about 180,000 sq km (about 70,000 sq mi) to Brazil in return for a money indemnity and small territorial compensations elsewhere.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, Bolivia enjoyed the longest period of peace and progress in its history. The exploitation of tin resources, begun in 1899, made Bolivia one of the world’s major tin suppliers. Several Bolivians, later known as the tin barons, made large fortunes from tin mining. British and U.S. investors became interested in the industry in its early stages, and they invested a considerable amount of capital.

This boom in the tin-mining industry coincided with Liberal Party administrations. The government helped the industry by only lightly taxing the new mining interests and by expanding the country’s existing rail system. The Republican Union Party overthrew the Liberal Party in 1920 and remained in power for the following 15 years. Under the new administration, relatively little changed in economic policy. During this period the first important manufacturing industries were established.

The Bolivian government subsequently became involved in boundary disputes with Argentina, Peru, and Paraguay. Bolivia reached a peaceful solution to the dispute with Argentina in 1925. In the 1930s Peru and Bolivia appointed a joint commission that decided the border disputes over the peninsula of Copacabana.

The Paraguay-Bolivia boundary dispute arose over the Chaco Boreal, a low region to the north of the Pilcomayo River, to the west of the Paraguay River, and extending to the undisputed boundary of Bolivia. Both Bolivia and Paraguay claimed the entire territory, which was believed to contain large reserves of petroleum. In July 1932 an undeclared war broke out. As in every other international conflict in which the country had been involved, Bolivia lost this bloody struggle. A peace treaty ended the conflict in July 1938.

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