- LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0168
- LAST REVIEWED: 27 January 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0168
Between 1932 and 1935 Bolivia and Paraguay went to war over the desolate Chaco Boreal region. The Grand Chaco a region extends over 250,000 square miles from the foothills of the Andes in the west, the Paraguay River in the east, Mato Grosso in Brazil, and the Argentine provinces of El Chaco and Formosa. The Chaco Boreal is a smaller, yet still large expanse in what is today Bolivia and Paraguay. The Bolivians famously hired the Prussian General Hans Kundt (b. 1869–d. 1939) to command their forces during the early part of the war. The Paraguayans, on the other hand, found their military leader among their own in Mariscal José Felix Estigarribia (b. 1888–d. 1940). The causes have been attributed to oil, Paraguayan and Bolivian nationalism, and poor diplomatic negotiations. A definitive history of the causes and military engagements from the perspective of either nation has yet to be written. Additionally, the military archives in both Paraguay and Bolivia have yet to be mined, although this situation is bound to change, as a group of young American, European, Paraguayan, and Bolivian historians have begun to research the topic more extensively. However, the historiography is a bit more complete in that the returning veterans from Bolivia were responsible for revolutionary agitation and a separatist movement in lowland Bolivia. In Paraguay, the return of soldiers from the Chaco directly led to the 1936 February (Febrerista) Revolution. At the end of the war in 1935 the Bolivians were the clear losers in the conflict, as they did not achieve their goal of securing a port on the Paraguay River. For the Paraguayans the situation was a bit more nuanced. While outside observers clearly deemed the Paraguayans the victors, many Paraguayans did not view the conflict as a success, as they did not achieve what some perceived as a fundamental goal of the conflict, the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. This question is considered in the section entitled Eyewitness Accounts: Paraguay. What is certain is that the war caused the death of approximately 100,000 Paraguayans and Bolivians during the height of a global depression.
These texts offer a military perspective of the war. The most cited text in English is Zook 1960, while Farcau 1996 is also well cited. English 2007 is a good start for non-historians. The Spanish-language translation of text in Casabianca and Cantero 1999–2000 is that language’s go- to text. Bolivian historians such as the authors of Osorio 1973 and Querejazu 1965 and Paraguayan historians including the author of Ríos 1950 have written military histories, although they tend to emphasize a nationalist interpretation that of course depends on if the author is Bolivian or Paraguayan. For a good interpretation of the peace process, see Rout 1970.
Casabianca, Ange-François, and Cristina Boselli Cantero. Una guerra desconocida: La campaña del Chaco Borea. Vols.1–7. Asunción, Paraguay: El Lector, 1999–2000.
Detailed study of the judicial and military history of Bolivia and Paraguay leading to the war. Detailed military history with many maps. Argues that the war in the end was rather pointless. Based on published sources. Lacks archival sources and detailed footnotes.
English, Adrian. The Green Hell: A Concise History of the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932–19. Stroud, UK: Spellmount, 2007.
A non-historian’s take on the war. A good summary of the major military encounters. Attributes the war to territorial ambition on both sides, although does not dismiss the oil question. A limited understanding of Bolivian or Paraguayan culture, society, and history.
Farcau, Bruce W. The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932–1935. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
Narrates most of the war from the Bolivian side. The only military history of the war in English since Zook 1960. Based on secondary materials; lacks detail. Highlights the drama of the war, including the suffering of conscripts.
Osorio, Juan Antonio. Entretelones de la Guerra del Chaco: Documentos básicos para el juicio histórico. La Paz, Bolivia: Don Bosco, 1973.
A defense of the actions of General Juan Antonio Osorio during the war. Maintains that the Bolivians were destined to fail in the Chaco because of various technical, political, social, and military issues, but most importantly because of a serious lack of understanding of the geography of both the Chaco and the Paraguayan people.
Querejazu, Roberto Calvo. Masamaclay: Historia política, diplomatica y military de la Guerra del Chaco. La Paz: Gráfica E. Burillo, 1965.
Of his many texts on the war, this is Querejazu’s most important. It is narrated from the Bolivian perspective, but argues that—for Paraguay—the war was a question of life or death because, from the Paraguay River, the Bolivians could take Asunción; for the Bolivians, the war was a question of honor.
Ríos, Angel F. La defense del Chaco: Verdades y mentiras de una victoria. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Ayacucho, 1950.
A defense of Paraguay’s Liberal Party preparations for war. Argues that Paraguay was well prepared for war and gives lists of purchases made by the Liberal government of armaments and supplies. Also gives similar information for the case of Bolivia.
Rout, Leslie Brenna, Jr. Politics of the Chaco Peace Conference, 1935–39. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970.
A diplomatic history of the Chaco dispute. Contains good information on Argentine, Chilean, and US attempts to mediate the growing conflict. Argues that the peace process following the conflagration achieved its aims, as peace was successfully brokered between the two nations. The translations of the agreements between Bolivia and Paraguay are included in the appendix.
Zook, David H., Jr. Conduct of the Chaco War. New Haven, CT: Bookman, 1960.
Attributes Paraguay’s victory with a smaller military to better tactics, logistics, and higher morale than that of Bolivia, which had a larger fighting force at the onset of hostilities. Notes the differences in leadership styles between General Kundt and Marshall Estigarribia. The text is still one of the most comprehensive and most cited military histories of the war.
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