Bolivian History 101: The Chaco, the war that Bolivia ended up winning

Ivone Juarez reports for Pagina Siete:

The Chaco, the war that Bolivia ended up winning

On June 14, 1935, at noon, the ceasefire was declared on the battlefield of the Chaco War. Then came three years of negotiations in which Bolivia achieved its objectives: access to the Atlantic and the defense of its oil.

Radio Illimani, who had been created during the war, issued the news also with few details, but peace had arrived in the Chaco.There were other times when there were no satellites, such as now,” the historian Pablo Michel recalls, recalling that noon of June 14, 1935, when the cease-fire was declared on the battlefield of the Chaco War, the war in which Bolivia confronted Paraguay for three Years (1932-1935).

The agreement for the cessation of hostilities on the battlefield had been reached in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 12, and was signed by the chancellors of Bolivia, Tomás Manuel Elío, and Paraguay, Alberto Riart. It was the result of the work of a mediating group of diplomats, initially from Brazil, Chile and Peru, which began on May 9, 1935. At noon on June 14, the peace agreement was fulfilled on the battlefield in Villamontes. “The news was greeted with joy in Bolivia, since the majority had lost husbands, brothers or children in three years of war,” adds the historian.

Paraguay also exploded with excitement. “The bells of the churches were ringing, the sirens of the ships adhered to the jubilation and thousands of civilians gathered in front of the Palace of Lopez to celebrate the signing of the peace protocol. Number of dead and wounded on both fronts,” reads a chronicle from the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color, published on June 14, 2006.

The jubilation not only reached the two nations that for three years had faced on the battlefield, leaving thousands of people dead, on both sides, also reached mediating countries, like Chile and Peru, that for example, declared that June 14, 1935 a holiday in their respective territories.

This cease-fire came after the Battle of Villamontes, which had begun in February 1935. Bolivia had come out sucessfully of this episode because its army prevented the Paraguayan from seizing the oil wells that were in the place. This warlike result had sown many Bolivians with the feeling that this war – the longest war the country faced – should continue.

“Many falsehoods circulated, such as that Bolivia had the possibility of entering Asunción (capital of Paraguay), which had the possibility of continuing in the war. Failure was blamed on diplomacy for stopping the war. 80 years later, reviewed the documentation, we can see that it was the right moment to stop the war, there were already many lives lost, both Paraguayan and Bolivian,” says Pablo Michel.

The historian points out that in the Bolivian side 31,600 fighters died, while in the Paraguayan about 45,000.

“It is another falsehood that there were 50,000 dead on the Bolivian side,” he continues.

For Pablo Michel, the Chaco War represented a success for Bolivia because it achieved its objectives: its access to the Atlantic Ocean and prevent Paraguay from seizing oil in the Chaco. But this result was not only achieved on the battlefield, but in the negotiations that came about after the cessation of hostilities on June 14, 1935.

The cease-fire of 1935 marked the beginning of a “cold war” between Bolivia and Paraguay that culminated on July 21, 1938, when the Peace Treaty was signed, defining boundaries between both countries. With this agreement, the objectives achieved by Bolivia were fulfilled.

“First, the country has access to the Atlantic Ocean by the Paraguay River after having lost its access to the Pacific, the second is that no oil well fell to Paraguay. We would not talk about our oil or gas wealth today but for the battle of Villamontes and this diplomatic agreement in this cold war between 1935 and 1938,” assures Pablo Michel.

For the historian another gain that left the Chaco War to Bolivia is that it became the anteroom of the National Revolution (1952) that was its “catharsis”.

“All Bolivia shared the trench, all nationalities and surnames were in it and it was the moment when that deep Bolivia was seen that was not known. The National Revolution would not have existed had there not been the Chaco War, an experience that allowed us to know ourselves as a country,” concludes Michel.

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