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Triangular conflicts: 1835-1884

During the first few decades of their existence as the independent nations of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, the three Andean provinces of the old viceroyalty of Peru engage in two bouts of war.

The issue on the first occasion is a straightforward attempt at dominance by a typical Latin American caudíllo. Andrés Santa Cruz establishes himself from 1828 as dictator in Bolivia - after failing in an attempt in the previous year to be elected president of Peru. In 1835 he takes steps to correct this error of judgement by the Peruvians. He marches into Peru with an army from Bolivia.

During 1836 Santa Cruz successfully wins control in Peru and proclaims a new Peruvian-Bolivian confederation with himself as president. But the potential strength of this new neighbour alarms Chile, which goes on the offensive. Three years of warfare end in a Chilean victory. In 1839 Santa Cruz is thrown out of both Peru and Bolivia.

The next serious conflict between the three nations is by contrast entirely economic in origin. In the 1860s valuable deposits of nitrates are discovered in the Atacama desert. This region is so arid that it has previously been considered useless except as Bolivia's only access to the sea (the coast around Antofagasta is at first included in the newly independent republic of Bolivia).

A mutual distrust of Chile causes Peru and Bolivia in 1873 to make a secret alliance which later drags them both into war. In 1878 Bolivia attempts to impose increased taxes on Chilean enterprises in Bolivian territory, following this with a threat of expropriation. Chile, retaliating in February 1879, seizes the port of Antofagasta. By April all three nations are at war.

Two Chilean naval victories over Peru later in the year (off Iquique in May and Angamos in October) are followed by an invasion. In January 1880 Chilean forces take Lima. They remain in the city until a treaty is signed in 1883 at Ancón. A separate truce follows a year later between Chile and Bolivia.

The outcome of this conflict, known as the War of the Pacific, is a disaster for both Bolivia and Peru. Bolivia cedes to Chile its Pacific coastline and the nitrate-rich province of Antofagasta, while Chile in return merely agrees to build a railway from La Paz to the coast and to guarantee the unrestrained passage of Bolivian goods to certain ports. Peru loses the equally valuable minerals of the Tarapacá province, stretching up the coast north of Antofagasta.

With this increase in territory, and the prestige of its two successive victories, Chile replaces Peru as the main Pacific power in south America.

Leguia and Haya: 1903-1968

The strong man or caudíllo of Peru during the early 20th century is Augusto Bernardino Leguía y Salcedo, but his harsh rule during the 1920s brings to the fore another important strand of Peruvian politics in the significant left-wing figure of Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre (son of a wealthy family who first comes to prominence as a radical student leader).

Leguía is minister of finance from 1903 to 1908, when he is elected president. He serves until 1912 and takes power again in a coup in 1919. During the 1920s he rules as a dictator. The first public clash between his regime and Haya comes in 1923, when Haya organizes a mass secular demonstration to protest against the Peruvian republic being dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Haya is jailed and is then deported, after going on hunger strike. In exile he founds APRA (the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana), whose members - working in secret cells to foment revolution - become known as the Apristas.

In 1930 Leguía is overthrown in a coup, and in the following year Haya returns to Peru to campaign as a presidential candidate. When the vote appears to have gone Haya's way, he is jailed by the military (he is released in 1933 after a rival military coup). Over the next thirty years Haya is sometimes in hiding, sometimes openly leading his party. From 1949 to 1954, in a famous diplomatic crisis, he claims asylum in the Colombian embassy in Lima.

The popular vote tends to remain high for Aprista candidates, and in the 1962 presidential election Haya himself wins by a narrow margin on the first ballot. But there is by now a familiar pattern in Peruvian political life. Whenever a left-wing candidate seems close to success, the army takes control. It does so in 1962 and again in 1968, when the perennial Haya seems once more to have a serious chance of victory in the forthcoming presidential election.

The inevitable effect is to make the left-wing opposition even more radical. The Peruvian government (civilian from 1980) has to cope with the effects of increasingly violent terrorism.

Shining Path and MRTA: to2000

Two left-wing guerrilla groups emerge in Peru during the late 1970s. One is a Maoist organization using the name Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The other (reviving the Inca name Tupac Amaru, long associated with revolution against Spanish rule) calls itself the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA). Over the years terrorist acts and open warfare between guerrillas and government forces are believed to have resulted in as many as 30,000 deaths.

This unsettled state of affairs prompts dramatic changes in 1992. Alberto Fujimori, elected president of Peru in June 1990, dissolves congress in April 1992 and begins to rule by decree. At the same time increased anti-terrorist measures result in the capture of the leaders of both guerrilla groups.

In October 1993 a new constitution is endorsed in a national referendum. In the resulting elections, in April 1995, Fujimori is again elected president and his party (Cambio 90-Nueva Mayoría) wins a slender majority in the single-chamber congress. He repeats his success in 2000, in an election widely condemned as fraudulent, when he wins an unprecedented five-year term as president. The result is followed by riots in the streets and arson attacks on government buildings.

Four months later, in September, Fujimori astonishes his country and the world by suddenly resigning (under the shadow of a bribery scandal) and fleeing to Japan.

During Fujimori's previous term, Peru's terrorists make a dramatic reappearance. On 17 December 1996, grabbing the attention of the entire world's press, fourteen MRTA guerrillas burst in upon a pre-Christmas party in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima and take hostage 460 guests and staff.

The siege ends 126 days later when Peruvian troops storm the building and release the remaining hostages. All fourteen guerrillas are killed; one hostage dies later of wounds.

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