Monday, June 5, 2017

Final Efforts at Restoration in Latin America

As discussed previously on several occasions, the American Civil War represented the last realistic chance to date of ending the monopoly on power of the republican form of government in the Americas. The United States has long before issued the Monroe Doctrine which declared the Americas “off limits” to any European power attempting to reestablish their former New World empires. This was backed up by the British and the Royal Navy made what would otherwise been nothing but bluster something that could be enforced. However, with the outbreak of war between the United States and Confederate States of America in 1861 two very important things changed. First, the U.S.A. was no longer in a position to actually do anything to stop a European monarchy from trying to restore their fallen away territories in the Americas and second, the British and the United States were no longer on very friendly terms. Many in Britain, particularly among the aristocracy, favored the Confederacy. So, from 1861 to 1865 the monarchies of the Old World had a chance to do as they pleased without having to worry about the politicians in Washington DC. Had the Confederacy succeeded in maintaining its independence, this bank holiday might have turned into a new era for monarchy in the Americas.

Queen Isabella II of Spain
The largest, and most discussed, effort along these lines was the restoration of monarchy in Mexico. The British, French and Spanish all landed troops on the Mexican coast in December of 1861, the French stayed, pushed inland and captured Mexico City. The Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was imported in 1864 to begin his reign as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. The French Emperor Napoleon III was also looking to build a canal across Central America and the eventual expansion of the Mexican Empire into that region sometime in the future seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Louis Napoleon also corresponded with President Gabriel Garcia Moreno on the idea of creating a French-backed “Kingdom of the Andes” centered around Ecuador under a suitable Spanish prince. This was not altogether new as the first President of Ecuador had conspired with Queen Marie Christina of the Two-Sicilies (former regent of Spain) to put her son on the throne of a Latin American monarchy that would encompass Ecuador and several surrounding countries. The Empire of Brazil was, at the time, also a major power and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico expected it to become the dominant power in South America had his own regime survived and the years of the American Civil War also saw the Dominican Republic return to the arms of Spain when they recognized Queen Isabella II as their sovereign. When the United States defeated the Confederacy in 1865, the Spanish gave up their half of Hispaniola, knowing they could never hold it in defiance of a hostile United States just across the water.

Another effort by the Old World to regain influence in the New during this period, not yet discussed on these pages, was the Chincha Islands War fought by the Kingdom of Spain under Queen Isabella II against the South American republics of Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866. It was not a major event and is generally overlooked in the catalogue of historic events of the Americas and, for once, I will concede that this is not unjustified. The war was not a massive conflict, consisting of a few rather minor naval skirmishes, and while it could have been extremely significant, it was not because of two reasons. It ultimately amounted to nothing because the South American republics showed that while they may have a hard time getting along with each other, they would unite to prevent the reestablishment of Spanish rule or even Spanish influence in their continent and because the defeat of the Confederacy the year after the war started meant that even if the Spanish had been successful, the United States would likely have ultimately forced them out anyway. Finally, it is also true that the Chincha Islands War was from start to finish, at the very most, simply a quite modest first step in the direction of rebuilding the Spanish empire at some distant, unforeseen date.

Spanish forces on the Chichan Islands, 1864
The primary antagonists were Spain and Peru and it is worth remembering a few things about both countries. The Kingdom of Spain was a power to take seriously in 1864. The military had been greatly enlarged, mostly due to the ongoing civil wars at home, Spain had the fourth largest navy in the world and Queen Isabella II was anxious to reassert Spain as one of the major European powers. Had not Spanish strength been squandered by the fratricidal Carlist Wars, one can imagine Spain succeeding far beyond the establishment of a foothold in North Africa. Peru, on the other hand, was still a new country, having effectively achieved independence only 43 years earlier. It had been the Spanish royalist stronghold of South America during the Latin American revolutions and was only torn from Spain when revolutionary armies from neighboring countries invaded and forced the Spanish out. One of the things that made Peru and other South American republics somewhat nervous about the Chincha Islands War was that, by 1864, Spain had still not recognized the independence of Peru. The facts on the ground were the facts on the ground but those who thought Spain had more in mind than the ostensible reasons for the conflict could point to the fact that, technically, Queen Isabella II still regarded Peru as a Spanish possession in rebellion rather than a legitimate country.

Conflict erupted following a mob attack on a couple of Spanish subjects in Peru, followed by Peru refusing the Spanish demand for an apology and reparations. Spain was also insisting that Peru pay debts from the colonial period and for Spanish property seized during the war for independence. Peru refused and on April 14, 1864 a Spanish naval flotilla seized the not very well defended Chincha Islands. This was somewhat important as these islands were a primary source of guano for Peru. If the idea of a war over bird feces sounds ridiculous, keep in mind that this bird crap produced more than half of the Peruvian government’s annual income and then you might also want to go and refresh your memory on what oil actually is. Spanish marines occupied the islands, raised the flag and shouted vivas to Queen Isabella II but holding the islands was simply a means to force Peru to the negotiating table. Spanish ships also began blockading the major Peruvian ports but Spain never had sufficient forces anywhere near Peru for a major operation such as an invasion of the mainland to reestablish Spanish authority by force.

Vice Admiral Pareja
This opening move was taken by the local Spanish commander, Admiral Luis Hernandez Pinzon, on his own authority and, at first, the Spanish government tried to undo the action and replaced the admiral with another, Peruvian born, officer but in the face of continued Peruvian defiance decided to carry on for the sake of Spanish honor. Nonetheless, the new man on the ground (or ‘on the water’ as it were), Admiral Juan Manuel Pareja, began negotiations with the Peruvian government and the two sides agreed to a treaty that would end the conflict. However, the Peruvian public considered the agreement an outrage and the Peruvian Congress refused to ratify it and as this was followed by an anti-Spanish rebellion against the sitting government, all doubt vanished that the conflict would go on. A wave of anti-Spanish hysteria swept the region and when Chile closed its ports to the Spanish sanctions were placed on them and ships were dispatched to show the flag in Chilean waters. The Chilean government shortly thereafter joined the conflict, declaring war on Spain.

Ecuador and Bolivia later joined in declaring war on Spain as well. They would take no active part in the conflict but this meant that all ports on the Pacific would be closed to Spanish ships, making it extremely difficult to maintain operations against Peru and Chile. Argentina and the Empire of Brazil were invited to add their names to the list of allies at war with Spain but they were both occupied with a war against Paraguay and decided against it. The Spanish wanted to engage the Peruvian and Chilean navies in a decisive action at sea that would wipe them out and give Spain uncontested naval control of the Pacific coast, however the Battle of Abtao, fought on February 7, 1866 between two Spanish ships and four allied ships (3 Peruvian & 1 Chilean) was tactically indecisive but a strategic failure as the allied fleet survived. On March 31, 1866 the Spanish fleet bombarded the port of Valparaiso, Chile and destroyed 33 Chilean merchant ships, effectively wiping out the merchant marine of Chile. This was followed up by the Battle of Callao on May 2, 1866 in which the Spanish attacked a heavily defended port. They did some damage, inflicted far heavier losses on the Peruvians than they suffered but did no major, lasting damage to the port and ultimately withdrew. Peru, therefore, claimed to have successfully repelled the Spanish while the Spanish also declared victory, saying that their goal had simply been to punish the Peruvians and that goal had been accomplished.

The Battle of Callao
In truth, Spain had basically won the battle. They had destroyed the shore defenses and then sailed away because, effectively, there was nothing more they could do. They had no invasion force to land and so, left when the battle was over. The Peruvians had survived rather than triumphed, there had been considerable loss of life and their claims of driving the Spanish away were rather erroneous. The Spanish had never intended to invade and seize the port, they had no army to do it with and so had left after destroying what shore batteries there were to destroy. Still, the Spanish fleet had sailed away and so it was easy for the Peruvian media to portray the battle as a victory over their former masters. With no base of support and no friendly ports in the region, this engagement effectively ended the war as the Spanish fleet was forced by dwindling supplies to return to Spain via The Philippines. In the aftermath, Peru was so buoyed by their “victory” that they considered revamping their navy and conquering The Philippines which, considering the local opposition to Spanish rule, is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Nonetheless, domestic difficulties quickly nixed the idea.

By 1866, of course, the American Civil War had ended and the United States was once again free to assert itself south of the Rio Grande and all European involvement in the Americas began to draw to a close. In the years that followed the war was officially concluded though it would take well into the next decade before the Kingdom of Spain officially recognized Peruvian independence. This has, needless to say, helped fuel speculation and controversy as to how far Spain intended to go with the conflict. Personally, I doubt there is any precise answer. The Chichan Islands War had not been premeditated, so to speak, but I think it safe to assume that Spain would have logically pushed any advantage as far as it could go. They may have meant simply greater Spanish influence in the region or, had things gone considerably differently, I doubt they would have objected to a reestablishment of the Spanish empire in South America.

Ever since the breakup of the Spanish empire on the American mainland, the Spanish had always believed that they had considerable popular support that was being suppressed and if only they could land in some force, win a respectable victory and appear strong then the great mass of the locals would rush to the Spanish colors and welcome them back as liberators from the succession of military dictators who held power in virtually every Latin American country. Looking back, events would seem to indicate that this was largely wishful thinking. It was certainly the motivation behind the 1829 invasion of Mexico at the port of Tampico by General Isidro Barradas which ended in disaster. Yet, given that Peru had been the center of the most royalist sentiment in Spanish America during the colonial period, this may well have been something the Spanish were counting on to regain their former empire, or at least much of it, ‘on the cheap’ by use of predominately local volunteers. Given the public response in Peru during the Chichan Islands War, if there was any sizeable loyalist element it remained well hidden. Yet, that is not to say it should be dismissed. It may well have been that a significant Spanish victory on the mainland would have convinced the locals that they were the winning side and that always helps to win people over.

As it was, as stated at the outset, the Chichan Islands War was a minor affair. Spain did not back up its forces for a major campaign and, as the American Civil War had ended in 1865, the United States would not have allowed such a thing if it had. As with the Mexican adventure by Napoleon, his dreams of a Kingdom of the Andes, the readmission of the Dominican Republic to the Kingdom of Spain and any thoughts of expansion into South America, all was doomed by the Confederate defeat and the victory of the Union forces in America who stated at the start of European involvement in Mexico that it would never recognize or accept the establishment or reestablishment of any monarchy in the Americas. The only way any of this could have happened would have been if the Confederate States of America had succeeded in securing their independence and thus provided a buffer state between the remaining United States and Latin America. When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in southern Virginia, the impact was felt far away from simply the American southern states.

1 comment:

  1. A great read, I had no idea of Spain's minor conflicts during this period. I have always said that the American "Civil War" was more of global conflict than most are aware of.

    On another note, are you familiar with the Inca Plan of 1816?


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