Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Chaco War

The Chaco War - Background information and a description of the dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay. Both landlocked countries sought an expansion of territory in an effort to gain better access to the Paraguay river.

From the site:

The Chaco War (1932-1935) was the result of a territory dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay. Both landlocked countries sought an expansion of territory in an effort to gain better access to the River Paraguay. This river runs through a stretch of territory between Bolivia and Paraguay known as the Chaco Boreal. In 1932, Bolivia attempted to break out of its landlocked situation and gain access to the Atlantic ocean through capture of the River Paraguay; athwart that route lay the Chaco Boreal, which the Bolivians thought had large oil preserves. Paraguay, in a move instigated by national unity, heavily armed their borders and fought viciously to defend itself against Bolivia's advances. The resultant war was disastrous for both sides: Bolivia and Paraguay lost more than 100,000 soldiers. In 1935, Paraguay would eventually claim victory over Bolivia, thus firmly establishing the Chaco Boreal as a part of Paraguay.


The Chaco Boreal is a region of land occupying approximately 100,000 square miles in Northwestern Paraguay, Southeastern Bolivia, and Northern Argentina. The land is divided into two regions: to the West of the River Paraguay, the land is flat and marked by scrub, woodlands and forests; to the East of the River Paraguay, savanna grass, brush, and forests are mostly found with grasslands suitable for raising cattle. At the time of the Chaco War, neither Paraguay nor Bolivia actively attempted to colonize this region, due in large part to its isolation and lack of potable water. A small number of Guarani Indians settled in the region, establishing the largest town, Mayor Pablo Lagerenza. Agriculture was the main source of subsistence for these Indians, as well as farming of the quebracho tree, sold for its wood and minerals.

Hostile incidents between Bolivia and Paraguay began in the late 1920's over the Chaco Boreal. Since both countries are landlocked, access to a waterway that would lead to the ocean was vital for commerce and economic success. Paraguay, controlling the Chaco region and its waterways, had much better access to the Atlantic Ocean (through Argentina) than did Bolivia to the north. In 1883 in the War of the Pacific, Bolivia lost its entire coastline to Chile, leaving it severely isolated from its neighbors and the world. This factor was compounded with the notion that the Chaco Boreal was supposedly rich in oil reserves. International oil companies, such as Standard Oil from the U.K., already exploring the southern half of Bolivia, actively sought exploration of the Chaco region lying within Paraguay's borders. Bolivian politicians, at the urgence and demand from these international companies,as well as their need for a waterway, declared war in 1932 and ordered the first shots fired at a Paraguayan border town called Vangaurdia.

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