CANCHAS BLANCAS, Bolivia – The Bolivian army on Wednesday recreated a victory over Chilean forces in the War of the Pacific 139 years ago to close out its campaign in support of La Paz’s maritime demand on the neighboring country.
The plain of Canchas Blancas, in western Bolivia, was the scene of the colorful battle recreation in which Bolivian soldiers, Indians and peasants halted a Chilean military advance in the 1879-1883 war in which Bolivia lost its Pacific coastline.
“Our Indians and soldiers saved the fatherland,” proclaimed Bolivian President Evo Morales, who presided at the restaging of the battle as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.
The diary of a Bolivian colonel who fought in the battle discovered last year revealed heretofore unknown details of the military contest, such as how some 400 Bolivian soldiers and a number of Indians and peasants armed only with machetes, clubs and stones defeated about 1,500 Chilean soldiers backed by cavalry and artillery in their advance toward Paraguay, a military move that Bolivia has always considered more of an “invasion” than a war.
The Battle of Canchas Blancas resulted in more than 300 dead, but left Bolivian forces with a proud feeling of victory, which the country hopes will be reemphasized with a favorable ruling by the International Court of Justice at The Hague regarding La Paz’s lawsuit to try and force Chile to negotiate the granting of sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean to the landlocked nation.
Morales lamented the fact that the “Chilean oligarchy” still maintains its “colonial mentality” that makes resolution of territorial disputes difficult.
Although the victory occurred on Nov. 12, 1879, the reenactment of the battle coincided with the conclusion on Wednesday of oral arguments at the UN high court at The Hague.
Bolivia filed suit against Chile before the ICJ in 2013 to attempt to have the court force Chile to negotiate Bolivian access to the corridor to the sea, which it had lost in the 19th century war.