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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 21

 p403  Chapter XX
Foreign Relations

Diplomatic Reclamations;º the Chilean Doctrine

Even though we have referred, on earlier pages, to various acts of international importance, something still remains to be said the better to emphasize certain aspects of Chile's relations with other countries, from the last years of the past century to the fourth decade of the present century.

When the revolution of 1891 ended, the country found itself involved in a serious diplomatic struggle with the United States. In the middle of October of that year a hundred sailors of the Baltimore — a vessel of the North American fleet anchored at Valparaiso — landed at the port. They were in search of amusement and in one of the cross streets met a group of Chilean workmen. For some unknown cause a quarrel started among them and shortly degenerated into a real fight with clubs, stones, and fists, which resulted in the death of two sailors and the wounding of several others. The North American minister in Chile immediately sent a note to the government asking explanations and claiming the logical indemnity. A judicial investigation, he was told, would determine the response to his note and the resolutions to be adopted.

From that moment, diplomatic efforts took a bitter turn, to such an extent, indeed, that the Chilean minister of foreign relations asked the department of state in Washington to recall its representative in Santiago, because he had become an "unacceptable" person to the government. This was not done. The situation was aggravated by the publication of a telegram by the minister of foreign affairs, directed to the representative of Chile in the United States, charging him to protest against certain assertions made by the president of that country about the Baltimore affair in his message to the North American congress. The telegram was worded in anything but cordial terms. When it was known, the government of the United States sent an ultimatum to Chile, demanding the withdrawal of such terms and the indemnity previously asked for, and threatening to cut off diplomatic relations if the demand were not acceded to. Before such a threat the government of Chile found itself in the dilemma either of acceding to the demand, thus sacrificing its national amour-propre, or of accepting war in order to satisfy that same sentiment. It preferred the former;  p404 it acceded and paid the government of the United States an indemnity of seventy-five thousand pesos to those wounded and to the families of those killed in the affair at Valparaiso.1

That was not the only disagreeable affair in which Chile found itself involved with foreign countries after the civil war. Because of the military operations, and especially the pillage that followed them in Valparaiso and Santiago, citizens of several countries, almost all merchants, suffered considerable damage. Their ministers in Chile brought up in their behalf numerous diplomatic claims for indemnity. These requests amounted to great sums — hundreds of thousands of pesos. But none degenerated into a violent quarrel like the dispute with the United States. On the contrary, they employed for their solution conciliatory proceedings — compromises and arbitrations — just as after the war with Peru and Bolivia.

The country most interested was England. Chile came to an agreement with that country by which there was set up an Anglo-Chilean tribunal of arbitration composed of a representative of each of the states and a third member. The tribunal functioned in Santiago and in a short time rendered a decision on the claims presented to it. For the most part, it declared them null; and those which it allowed were considerably reduced and thus paid.

In spite of the decisions and compromises arranged with other countries, questions of this nature remained pending for a long time. But the Chilean diplomatic service in these claims as in others presented later — caused by the popular riots into which strikes have at times degenerated — has sustained and continues to sustain firmly the same doctrine of international law practiced among themselves by European states; namely, "Governments are not responsible for injuries occasioned to foreigners because of any internal disturbance whatever, when the constituted authority has done its utmost to avoid them." The reason is simple: citizens are not paid in such cases, and it is not just to put foreigners in a privileged position, guaranteeing them from that class of risks, since they are protected by all the laws and courts of the republic equally with any citizen of the country.

 p405  Boundary Disputes and Arbitration with Argentina

In furthering the diplomatic reclamations, the old question of boundaries with Argentina was renewed. The Treaty of 1881 seemed to be defined in clear terms, for it determined that the line marking the division of waters in the cordillera, the divortium aquarum, should serve as the boundary between the two countries and that whatever difficulty arose in the demarcation should be settled by arbitration. But it was not so in practice. Eleven years after, when the Argentinian commission began the work of fixing the landmarks, it maintained that the divortium aquarum of the Andes was not the principle expressed in the boundary, but the highest peaks, inasmuch as the Treaty of 1881 read textually, "the highest peaks that divide the waters."

As a matter of fact, both interpretations presented difficulties, but those arising from the "line of the divortium aquarum" were nothing in comparison with those connected with the "line of the highest peaks." Suffice it to say that in the Patagonian region, where the cordillera of the Andes is a confused labyrinth of scattered peaks, the Argentinian claim would have meant the extension of its territory to the Pacific, while the Chilean formula would in no case have extended its claim to the Atlantic, because the eastern coast of that end of America is a vast plain cut by rivers which rise in the Andes at a great distance from the ocean.

From that time on negotiations were confused and the question remained unsettled for several years, giving rise in each country to threats of war. The experienced leaders for marking the boundary, Francisco Moreno for Argentina, and Diego Barros Arana for Chile, maintained their respective lines with unalterable firmness. Finally, in 1898, when an armed crisis seemed imminent, a proto­col was signed by the representatives of both republics, leaving the question to the arbitration of the king of England.​2 Almost at the same time an agreement was also reached to settle by arbitration another of the rough points in litigation: the delimitation of the Puna of Atacama, which was a separate question. In this matter, the arbitrator appointed was the plenipotentiary of the United States in Argentina, William I. Buchanan.3

 p406  To commemorate these agreements, designed to end at once all misunderstandings, the presidents of Chile and Argentina, Federico Errázuriz Echaurren and General Julio Roca, who had taken a very direct part in them, held a formal conference on board their respective war vessels, in the Strait of Magellan. The cordiality manifested by both executives resulted in their magistrate's being called the "embrace of the straits."

Shortly after this ostentatious manifestation of friendship, the delegations of Chile and Argentina, composed of prominent politicians of both countries, met in Buenos Aires to discuss the dividing line of the Puna of Atacama in the presence of the North American minister. The conference ended without agreement and the arbitrator made the demarcation. The greater part of the disputed territory fell to Argentina. This ended the litigation of the Puna (1899).

The result of this negotiation produced great discontent in Chile. It was said that President Errázuriz had "given up the Puna." A similar sentiment arose in Argentina because, as that country wished all of it, the piece assigned to Chile was judged a spoliation. Furthermore, the press of each country began to accuse the other of exercising acts of domination and even of diverting streams of water in the territories submitted to the decision of the British arbitrator, who had not as yet rendered his decision. He had appointed a tribunal of technicians to investigate the litigation and had resolved to send an exploring expedition to the disputed ground. A commission actually came, in charge of an English colonel, Thomas Holdich, a member of the tribunal of arbitration. It was said that by means of such unfounded reports each country tried to give a false impression to the explorers and to flout the good faith of the arbitrator.

The agitation spread from the press to the congresses, and from the congresses to the people. During the whole of 1901, war again appeared more threatening than ever. Military and naval armaments were assembled in such quantity and at such enormous expenditure that they were out of all proportion to the resources of the two republics. This created the impression that both were headed for destruction. Little by little passions were allayed. The mutual complaints were settled by new agreements, and finally, before His Britannic Majesty could give an opinion, Chile and Argentina celebrated two pacts that removed all fear of conflict.  p407 They were the pacts of May, 1902, which are very explicit and worthy of note on more than one point.

By the first it was resolved to adjust all differences that might arise between the two countries by arbitration; by the second, agreement concerning armaments and naval equality was made in such a manner that for five years neither could acquire new war vessels by which it might outstrip the other. This pact, the only one of the sort known up to that time, attracted much attention throughout the civilized world. It was a tribute to justice and peace hitherto unknown. Furthermore, in a supplementary act, stipulations were made for the neutrality of Chile in the affairs of Argentina on the Atlantic and the neutrality of Argentina in the affairs of Chile on the Pacific.

Months later, when the echoes of the mutual demonstration with which those pacts were celebrated were not yet silenced, the arbitral opinion of King Edward VII was announced. Without giving the decision to either of the litigant states, this established a dividing line that was a median between the claims of both. In that way the decision of the king was a decision worthy of Solomon; it ordered the disputed area to be divided into two almost equal parts. Chile and Argentina concurred in it and considered as ended a litigation concerning boundaries that had lasted for half a century, from 1847‑1902.

Pacts with Bolivia and Peru

After the arrangements with Argentina, definite steps were also taken to harmonize relations with Bolivia, still subject to the state of truce that had been agreed upon at the conclusion of the War of the Pacific. After most laborious negotiations a Chilean-Bolivian treaty of peace and friendship was signed at Santiago, in 1904, according to which Bolivia recognized the absolute and perpetual owner­ship of Chile throughout the coastal zone which Chilean workmen had occupied before Chile had taken armed possession of it. In exchange it obtained from Chile valuable concessions, among which were the construction of a railroad between Arica and La Paz, designed to give a twofold outlet to Bolivian products by way of the Chilean coast; namely, that of Antofagasta, established for some time by the railroad that leads to Oruro; and that of Arica, which was constructed within a few years.

Chile, moreover, was obliged to offer a guarantee to foreign capital invested in the construction of Bolivian railroads and obtained as compensation a rebate on railway tariffs in favor of  p408 Chilean commerce. Thus after twenty years of distrustful truce (1884‑1904) there followed an era of mutual confidence. But fifteen years later, when it seemed that nothing could happen to alter that state of things, there arose in Bolivia a twofold hope cherished by some of its political groups. Claims were advanced, on the one hand, for the cession by Chile to Bolivia of a port on the Pacific which could be no other than Antofagasta or Arica (the only ones bound to Bolivian territory by railroad), while, on the other hand, Bolivia went still further and sought the recovery of the whole territory of Antofagasta, perpetually ceded to Chile by the Treaty of 1904.4

Founded as were those desires on the necessity of obtaining for Bolivia an outlet to the sea, the representatives of that country carried them to the European conference of the League of Nations and before the government of the United States, while negotiations between Chile and Peru were being transacted in Washington. Their petitions were not heard because of the desire of Bolivia to have a port on the Pacific implied the revision of the treaty of 1904, which Chile could not accept, since it would have involved the renunciation of rights legitimately acquired with the consent of the very country making the claims. Direct negotiations, nevertheless, between Bolivia and Chile respecting the cession of a port on the Pacific were resumed, after the definite settlement was reached in the litigation between Chile and Peru respecting the sovereignty of Tacna and Arica, and are still pending.5

The dispute over those territories has finally been solved after long and unfortunate negotiations. By the Treaty of Ancón,​6 Peru, in addition to ceding to Chile perpetually and irrevocably the province of Tarapacá, had left Tacna and Arica under the latter's sovereignty for ten years, at the end of which time a popular plebiscite, by vote of the inhabitants, was to decide to which of those two countries they should definitely belong. The one with whom they were left was to pay the other ten million pesos. When the moment arrived, a special proto­col was to establish the form for carrying out the plebiscite.

 p409  Ten years passed (1883‑1893) and the Treaty of Ancón could not be carried into effect in this respect because Peru lacked funds to cover the stipulated indemnity in case it was favored in the plebiscite, and because it did not yet have a stable, responsible government. Moreover, the two countries could not agree on the manner of carrying out the vote. As Chile remained sovereign in Tacna and Arica until a contrary course should be determined, Peru contended that a representative of a foreign country should preside over the voting as intervener or arbitrator, assisted by agents of the interested countries. As thus stated, agreement on the question was impossible, in spite of the many negotiations undertaken to secure it during the interval. The government of Chile, strictly adhering to one single opinion, would not accept those conditions, still less those that the government of Peru put forth with respect to the persons who might take part in the voting.

Later, however, the government of Chile took a decisive step to put an end to the question. Through the mediation of the government of the United States at the end of 1921, it invited the government of Peru to initiate direct negotiation which should settle, once for all, the nationality of those territories. The proposal being accepted by Peru, the representatives of both countries met in Washington in 1922, presided over by the North American secretary of state and agreed upon the basis for a proto­col, which the governments of Chile and Peru approved. According to this, the final solution of the litigation was left to the arbitration of the president of the United States, who was to decide whether the plebiscite stipulated in the Treaty of Ancón should be carried out or not; and, if his decision was affirmative, in what manner it should be effected; and, if negative what should be the further fate of the disputed provinces. His decision was made in conformity with the views sustained by the Chilean government; he declared that the plebiscite should be carried out (1925).

But that resolution, which was thought at first easy to execute, could not be realized in practice. The representative of the arbitrator, acting on the spot with the representatives of the two interested countries, was persuaded that it was absolutely impossible to determine in due manner the persons who had the right to vote in the plebiscite. The irritating incidents between Peruvians and Chileans to which the registrations gave rise roused their indignation and even provoked violence. Finally Peru refused to continue the registration of its voters and the plebiscite was declared a failure. However, the arbitrator continued to be interested in  p410 reaching a solution and in carrying on the negotiations at Washington. Under this suggestion, Chile and Peru renewed diplomatic relations in 1928 in order to see how to make a direct arrangement. This was effectively accomplished on June 3, 1929, when the final treaty ending the old dispute was signed in Lima. Tacna was returned to the sovereignty of Peru and Arica remained in Chile's possession, ceded in perpetuity. In compensation, the latter paid Peru six million dollars in gold. The treaty being ratified by the respective congresses, they immediately proceeded to the demarcation of both provinces. Bolivia's aspirations to have its own port on the Pacific were ignored.​7 The arrangement of 1929 opened a new period of cordiality between Chile and Peru, signalized chiefly by the commercial treaty of 1935 between both republics.

The Americanist Policy of Chile

Aside from that question nothing has seriously disturbed the good relations of the republic with other countries. If the European war from 1914 to 1918, which reached world-wide proportions, did seriously endanger local commerce and finances, it did not involve the country in the complications of international policy, since Chile declared its most rigorous neutrality and held to it firmly. Therefore its position later in the League of Nations and other international assemblies held in Europe with the assistance of American countries, to settle the new questions aroused by the war, has been profitable and of no little significance for its credit and prestige.​8a

The cordial and friendly foreign policy of Chile has not suffered alteration; and, although the greater part of its mercantile interests and intellectual offerings brought it nearer the old continent especially before the conflagration of 1914, America has been its principal field of action. Its American policy, however, has not excelled in practical results. If it has tended to widen its commercial relations and to encourage navigation by cheapening transportation, it has not gained many benefits thereby, because increased customs duties present difficulties to interchange on a large scale.

In the Pan-American congresses — solemn assemblies of all the states of the continent — that have met at Washington, Mexico, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Havana, and Montevideo,  p411 Chile's position has had to be at times a contentious one, especially in the one at Mexico, because Peru, with its eyes fixed on Tacna and Arica and counting on the adherence of Argentina, tried to bind the American countries to obligatory arbitration. According to this principle, every international question in which two states find themselves in disagreement must be submitted to arbitration. Chile, which had given so much evidence in favor of optional arbitration, supported the latter formula and triumphed. These conferences have discussed many other interesting points of inter-American policy and already have served to unite the countries of the continent in a common purpose. Mutual discords have frequently broken out among them, but in recent years their animosity has been quieted. Within these conferences the real and efficient leader­ship of the United States has been clearly brought out. The government of Chile, recognizing that fact, has oriented its external policy toward a close and permanent connection with the great northern republic upon bases of an economic and intellectual type.9

No less important has been the increasing closeness of its relations with the Argentine Republic, manifest in practical form in the inauguration of the transandine railroad through Uspallata in 1910, and in the commemorative ceremonies of the centenary of independence of both countries, which took place the same year. That railroad is the first to bind together straight across the great cordillera the capitals of the two republics, and the centenary celebration gave occasion for a reciprocal visit of their presidents and a great demonstration of fraternity. Similar demonstrations, with like purpose, have frequently taken place since then between both countries without any interruption.

Chile has put into practice a similar policy with Peru and Bolivia on the Pacific coast, with Brazil and Uruguay on the Atlantic coast, and with all the other South American countries. Its connections with the more remote republics, from Mexico to Panama, including the Greater Antilles, have not been less cordial, so that no threat of conflict, no misunderstanding has affected the republic in recent years.

The Author's Notes:

1 For an account of the Baltimore incident, see H. C. Evans, Chile and Its Relations with the United States (Durham, 1927) pp145‑152. Consult also Osgood Hardy, "The Itata Incident," Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev., V (May, 1922), 195‑226, and "Was Patrick Egan a Blundering Minister?" ibid., VIII (February, 1928), 65‑81.

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2 A brief reference to these boundary disputes is to be found in F. A. Kirkpatrick, A History of the Argentine Republic (Cambridge, England, 1931), pp206‑208. For further references see New International Year Book, 1898, pp51, 184; ibid., 1899, pp62‑63; 1901, pp170‑171; ibid., 1902, pp154‑156.

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3 See Paul D. Dickens, "Argentine Arbitrations with Reference to the United States Participation Therein," in Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev., XI (November, 1931), 469‑472. See also T. H. Holdich, The Countries of the King's Award.

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4 Regarding definite arrangements with Bolivia, consult Dennis, Tacna and Arica, pp198‑199.

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5 See New International Year Book, 1922, p90. During the summer and fall of 1921, the Bolivian government requested the secretary of the League of Nations to refer to the assembly some aspects of the Tacna-Arica dispute which concerned itself. In September Bolivia further requested the league to revise the Treaty of 1904. Because the matter was so thoroughly an American question, the assembly avoided action.

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6 For this treaty, see p335.

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7 For the settlement of the dispute with Peru, see Dennis, Tacna and Arica, Chap. XIII, and also his Documentary History of the Tacna-Arica Dispute.

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8 For conditions in Chile during the World War, see P. A. Martin, Latin America and the War (Baltimore, 1925), pp264‑347.

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9 See D. Y. Thomas, A Hundred Years of the Monroe Doctrine (New York, 1923), passim; Alejandro Álvarez, The Monroe Doctrine (New York, 1924), passim. The press of Santiago during the winter of 1936‑1937 frequently commended the attitude of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in connection with the Buenos Aires Conference. A recent mass meeting in Santiago expressed a wholehearted support of the northern executive's humanitarian policy in favor of the Jews and purposed to foster Jewish immigration into Chile. See New York Times, November 22, 1938.

Thayer's Note:

a As evidence of Chile's Americanist policy, her involvement in mediating the difficulties between the United States and Mexico in 1914 might also have been mentioned: as noted for example in Daniels, Life of Woodrow Wilson, p184.

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