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History, Succession of Rulers

Agustin Gamarra, Ramon Castilla, Andres Santa Cruz, president of Bolivia, centralized government

Independence brought few institutional changes to Peru aside from the transfer of power. Whereas before independence peninsulares held the important government posts, after independence Creoles monopolized power. The economic and social life of the country continued as before, with two groups–Europeans and indigenous people–living side by side but strongly divided. In 1822 leaders of the colony’s independence movement created a centralized government consisting of a president and a single-chambered legislature. However, Spain’s refusal to allow Peruvian-born citizens a voice in the colonial administration had done little to prepare Peru for democracy.

The years following independence were extremely chaotic. Bolivar left Peru in 1826, and a series of military commanders who had served under him ruled over the nation. Andres Santa Cruz served until 1827, when he was replaced by Jose de La Mar, who was in turn supplanted by Agustin Gamarra in 1829. Gamarra ruled until 1833. In the meantime Santa Cruz had become president of Bolivia, and in 1836 he invaded Peru, establishing a confederation of the two countries that lasted three years. After that, Gamarra took power again.

The country, however, enjoyed no peace until 1845, when Ramon Castilla seized the presidency. Fortunately, he proved to be an able ruler, who during his two terms in office (1845 to 1851 and 1855 to 1862) initiated many important reforms, including the abolition of slavery, the construction of railroads and telegraph facilities, and the adoption in 1860 of a liberal constitution. Castilla also began exploitation of the country’s rich guano and nitrate deposits, which were highly valued as an ingredient in fertilizer. In 1864 these deposits involved Peru in a war with Spain, which had seized the guano-rich Chincha Islands. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile aided Peru, defeating the Spanish forces in 1866. The resulting treaty of 1879 constituted the first formal Spanish recognition of Peruvian sovereignty.

In 1873 Peru signed a secret defensive alliance with Bolivia, the purpose of which was to defend Bolivia’s nitrate interests against Chile. When a quarrel arose between Chile and Bolivia over the Atacama nitrate fields along the disputed border of the two nations, Peru was drawn into the War of the Pacific, fighting against Chile on the side of its ally, Bolivia.

Chile defeated its opponents, occupied Lima, and, under the Treaty of Ancon (1884), was awarded Peru’s nitrate province of Tarapaca. Chile also occupied the provinces of Tacna and Arica. A plebiscite was supposed to decide ten years later which country would get these provinces, but the Tacna-Arica Dispute did not end until 1929, with Chile keeping Arica and Peru regaining Tacna. The war severely depleted Peruvian financial reserves and placed continuing strain on subsequent relations between the two countries. For the next 25 years Peru was ruled by a succession of dictators.

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