Good morning. Today is Thursday, February 13th 2014.
I ´ll interview Mr. Hugo Pereyra. He earned his Master degree in History at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He is also a Peruvian diplomat.
The two main topics of this interview deal with the peruvian diplomatic mission of Aurelio García García to Japan and China, and the War of the Pacific.
Thank you very much for accepting the invitation to be interviewed for Junefield Group S.A.
Thank you. This is, in fact, an excellent opportunity to express some ideas about these so interesting subjects.
In overall, before the first Peruvian diplomatic mission to China, what was the situation of coolies and Chinese immigrants in Peru?
The story of Chinese people in Peru is one of the most interesting in the field of Peruvian Republican History. The context of the arrival of Chinese workmen, especially work men (few women, mainly work men), was the guano era in Peru. Approximately in 40’s of the nineteenth century, guano (droppings of the seabirds) was found in the Peruvian coast in great, great, quantities. This product was very useful for European and American economy. Guano was a powerful fertilizer in agriculture. We have to remember that European and American economy were at that time beginning what in World History has been known as the Second Industrial Revolution. The first Industrial Revolution took place in Britain in the eighteenth century. Now, in mid nineteenth century, industrialization was being developed in Europe, for example, in France and Germany; also in the United States. Guano had very good prices. Peru, I mean, the Peruvian State, got a lot of money from this trade. But there was one problem that was shown from the beginning: who was going to extract guano from the islands in Coastal Peru? At those times, Andean people, the descendants from the Incas, were living in the mountains. At that time, they didn´t use to travel to the Coast as is normal in our times. So, at the Sierra, or the mountains, there was a big Indian population, but isolated. And the African slaves (we had slaves in the 40’s of the nineteenth century), were not few, but in any case, they didn´t represent at that time a very big population. So it was necessary to import workers. That was the context of the arrival of the Chinese work men for the guano trade in the islands, and also, of course, as manpower for the crop fields in Coastal Peru. The conditions of this trade were very, very difficult, because Peruvian State had laws protecting this migration of Chinese, but private entrepreneurs usually didn’t observe or apply this legislation. So the consequence was that the vast majority of Chinese suffered a sort of slavery in Perú. They signed a contract but, in practical terms, they were even chained and forced to work, as I told you, not only in the guaneras (deposits of guano) but also in the Coastal agrarian properties of Peru. So these first times were very rough for this population. In a second stage, many Chinese were employed in the construction of railroads in Peru. There was a famous American entrepreneur, Henry Meiggs, who recruited a lot of them to build the Central Railroad of Peru. So this was another field of work. Contracts ended in the 80’s of the nineteenth century, that is, during the War of Pacific. From that time on, Chinese integrated in Peruvian economy and society. They were experts in cooking, marvelous cooks. They were also merchants. And, in the end, in spite of the suffering they experienced when they first arrived, they made an extraordinary contribution to Peruvian economy and Peruvian culture. In fact, the vast majority of them simply became Peruvians.
The next question is about the first diplomatic mission from Peru to Japan and China. Was this first mission a direct consequence of the incident that involved the Peruvian merchant vessel María Luz? Could you explain more about this event?
This question is, more or less, an example of what I was explaining in general terms in my previous answer. The María Luz case took place in 1872 during the government of Peruvian president Manuel Pardo. The vessel María Luz was stationed in front of Japan. One of the Chinese coolies escaped from the vessel and took refuge in an English vessel that was stationed precisely there, also in front of the coast of Japan. This refugee told that he and his companions were suffering bad treatment from Peruvian captain Herrera. The British consul in Yokohama asked the Japanese to intervene in order to protect the Chinese that were allegedly suffering these bad traveling conditions. So the Japanese intervened and the result of this matter was the temporal confiscation or retention of this Peruvian vessel. Captain Herrera was taken in prison for a couple of days. At last, he was released. The vessel stayed in Yokohama, waiting for a solution. And the Chinese that had been kept in the María Luz returned to Macao. When news were received in Lima, this problem, this unsolved problem, determined president Manuel Pardo to appoint the first Peruvian Diplomatic Mission to the empires of Japan and China, which had in the first place the objective of solving the María Luz case. It was the first time a Latin American country sent a diplomatic mission to the emperor of Japan. The mission in fact arrived in Yokohama presided by a Navy officer, a very prestigious one, whose name was Aurelio García y García. He was not a career diplomat, but he was appointed by president Pardo as a diplomat. It was quite possible to do this; it is so even nowadays. He conducted a mission that was integrated by, at least, 10 members, either from the Military or the Navy, and also civil personnel, like Mr. Elmore, the secretary of the mission. They arrived in Yokohama in 1873, and they were very well treated. It is important to stress that the arrival of García y García and his group took place within a special context in Japanese History. Few years ago, the shoguns, or feudal leaders, were defeated by the Emperor. And the Emperor was very, very, interested in introducing Japan to modernity, to European and American technology and political and social institutions. Those were times of change in Japan. This was an advantage but also a disadvantage for García y García. It was an advantage because Japan was in fact open for trade and diplomatic relations, but the process was also traumatic because United States had sent, in previous years, war vessels there to threat Japan. They have forced Japan to open commerce. There was a feeling in Japan that foreigners were imposing commerce with the West. They were affecting the independence of Japan. So this situation represented a problem for García García. He had the objective to obtain the same commercial advantages that the British and American already had. At first, the Japanese didn’t want to do this but finally they accepted. During this year, in 1873, García y García presented his credentials to the Emperor of Japan. This was a very meaningful act. Last year, we celebrated in my country the 140th anniversary of this ceremony. For Perú, it was the first step to solve a concrete problem (the María Luz case), but it was also a symbolic representation of what would be finally become the permanent interest of Peru vis-à-vis the Pacific Ocean and Asian countries. Nowadays, it is clear that this is one of the main route lines of Peruvian Foreign Policy. We are talking of Peru´s interest in APEC, for example. This was the remote beginning, this ceremony in which the Emperor himself made a speech. It marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of Perú. During the ceremony, García y Garcia gave the Emperor, as a gift, aguardiente, that is, Peruvian pisco, a sort of brandy which is traditional in my country. The emperor received also photos of Peru, a map of Peru, and a photo of president Pardo. Few months later, as a consequence of this event, it was signed an agreement to solve the María Luz problem. The solution arrived was the acceptance of an arbitration by the Tsar of Russia. The arbitration took place, in fact, a few years later, and Japan won it.
Next year, in 1874, García y García went to China and there were also certain difficulties during this stage of his mission. He was not received by the principal power in China, but by a viceroy. Jorge Basadre, the Peruvian historian, writes about this quite clearly. There were complaints, which I consider very justified, of Chinese authorities because they had known that Chinese workmen in Peru were ill-treated. At the beginning, this viceroy insisted in granting automatic return to every Chinese worker in Peru. García y García was indeed a good diplomat and he solved the problem by signing an agreement granting return to China to every Chinese worker in Perú who wanted to go back to his Motherland, case by case, not in general terms, as the viceroy wanted initially. This was the second goal of this fist Peruvian mission to Asia. This event had also an enormous signification for Peru in the long term. Japan and China are both, nowadays, very important commercial partners for Peru and friendly countries. We have several treaties with Japan and China. In short terms, that´s the story of Aurelio García y García ´s mission.
Changing the subject to the War of Pacific, what kinds of weapons were used by the armies of Chile, Bolivia, and Perú at those times?
There is a link between this question and what I mentioned previously, when I was talking about the arrival of coolies in Perú. Between mid -nineteenth century and the beginning of the XXth century took place the Second Industrial Revolution. This revolution represented great changes, for example, in communications. The submarine cable was developed during those years, and also railroads, industries. But we have to mention very specially the development of new weapons. We ought to consider the context. The context is very important. It was a time of Imperialism, of Colonialism, of Social Darwinism, of terrible wars among european countries. We have to remember the bloody Civil War in the United States. So armament industries were at those times, perhaps more important than in our days. Now, we have an important development of international law, as we have seen, for example, in the recent sentence issued by the International Court of Justice of the Hague in the case of maritime boundaries between Peru and Chile. Now we have the shield of International Law. But at that time, in the nineteenth century, that shield was nonexistent or very, very, small. So issues were settled by use of violence. In fact, arms industries, weapons industries, were very important for political reasons.
Regarding the War of the Pacific, let ´s focus first in the Navy. Two technologies were tested. Peru had the technology of the monitors, which was initially developed during the Civil War in the United States. Huáscar was a monitor built in England. It was a good vessel but with technology of the 60’s. The Chileans had two very powerful iron-clads. Each one doubled the Peruvian Huáscar on fire power and in tonnage. In this respect, the confrontation was very clear: technology of the 70’s, that is, the technology of two Chilean iron-clads against technology of the 60’s, that is, of the Huáscar. The result was the defeat of the Huáscar. Nevertheless, we have to mention the extraordinary role played by Peruvian admiral Miguel Grau who incredibly stopped during five months the attacks of the whole Chilean fleet with just one vessel, with just one monitor, the Huáscar. This ship was named Huáscar after the last Peruvian Inca during the Conquest, the Inca Huáscar. This is regarding the Navy.
Regarding land forces, Krupp artillery, of German origin, originally Prussian, was very used by the Chilean forces. Both sides used also Gatling machine guns which were American. Regarding the guns, I would say that a Belgian one was mainly used in the Chilean army, the famous Comblain rifle, perhaps the best in the World at that time. Peruvians had many kinds of guns from very old ones, like the Chassepot and the Minié to the newer who were mainly the Remington made in United States. This is what I can say in general terms about the weapons used during the War of Pacific.
The campaigns of Tarapacá, Tacna and Arica, and Lima, took place in desert areas. How was the supply of water, food, military supplies in general for the armies of both sides during these campaigns?
War began in 1879 with the Chilean occupation of Bolivian territory of Atacama. Perú and Bolivia were allied countries against Chile. As I told you, the first stage was naval, and the next stages took place in the land, beginning with the Chilean assault of the Peruvian province of Tarapacá, that was rich in saltpetre. Saltpeter had succeeded guano as a fertilizer in world markets. Saltpetre was also used in the manufacturing of gunpowder. Peruvian forces prepared and made provisions and they also used what the tarapaqueños (the Peruvian inhabitants of Tarapacá) called oasis, these points where water flowed in the desert. In fact, Tarapacá was a big dessert. This geographic environment was similar to that of Egypt or Sudan. For the part of Chileans, they were invading Perú using the crucial advantage of their control of the seas. As I told you, they defeated the Peruvian Navy and they had the opportunity to choose exactly the point where to disembark troops. Of course, the points that were chosen were those with water and those connected with railroads. They had this strategic advantage which was very useful for them, especially in this first stage of the war in the year 1879 which was quite precisely a desert war.
How did Peruvian forces organize to defend Lima?
The campaign of Lima was a later stage of the war. Chilean government thought that the capture of Lima would represent the end of the war. At the end, this was not true, because war continued in the Sierra, in the Peruvian mountains, in the form of a popular and army resistance until 1883. The defense of Lima was carefully planned. We have to remember that, at this time, the Peruvian professional army had almost disappeared as a consequence of defeat in the Southern campaigns. You have mentioned the Tarapacá campaign of 1879; and also the campaign of Tacna and Arica, of 1880, when the Chileans captured the Peruvian port of Arica. The campaign of Lima took place between the end of 1880 and the beginning of 1881. As I mentioned previously, the defense of Lima was very carefully planned. Many weapons were bought from the United States. In spite of the many efforts that were made, it was an improvised army that was not constituted by military professionals. An important part of the troops were peasants, Indians that had been dragged against their will from the Sierra to the Coast. For that reason, they didn’t fight with conviction. In a later stage of the war, when the Chileans advanced to the mountains, the situation was completely different. Indians fought quite bravely, because they were being attacked in their own homes and valleys. Returning to the campaign of Lima, there was not a good integration between troops from the Coast (mainly constituted by white or mestizo people) and troops from the mountains which were mainly Indian. In the other case, the Chileans were, in comparison to Peru, more integrated socially and politically.
How did the Chilean army manage to defeat the Peruvian forces around Lima?
Even until now, historians are quarrelling over the causes of the defeat. My personal opinion is that we had not only a very scarce integration on the level of the troops, but also the leaders were not the best ones. Nicolás de Piérola, the president of Peru, was a dictator, was at the same time the political and the military leader. This was a very strange situation, but it took place in Perú. Piérola chose a static defense and, on the other hand, Chileans took the initiative to attack and had a more dynamic display of troops. Chileans managed to penetrate this static Peruvian defense. This is my interpretation of the defeat, apart from what I said previously of the problems of leadership and the scarce integration of Peruvian troops.
The next question is about the Chilean occupation of Lima. How long was it? What happened during this period?
Chilean occupation of Lima, military occupation I mean, took place between January 1881 and October 1883. In January 17th 1881, the Chilean army took Lima. We are talking of more than two years, or nearly three years, of occupation. These years, as you could understand (a comparison could be made in the case of Paris during the German occupation in Second World War), were like a big funeral for Lima. Lima was the symbol of Peruvian power. Chileans imposed quota payments to the upper classes to finance the Chilean army in Lima. There were deportations to Chile of Peruvians of high position, and, in general, people of every origin suffered with this situation. Food, for example, was scarce. Executions by fire squads were not scarce. But, at the same time, during the years 1881 to 1883, there was a very important (I would say epic) Peruvian popular and army resistance in the mountains. The people from the Sierra of Peru showed the Chileans that Peru was not defeated, that to defeat Peru it was not only necessary to conquer Lima but to conquer its heart, the mountains. I am referring to the old mountains that were the heart of the old Andean civilization. At the end, in year 1883, Chileans managed to defeat the best Peruvian army in the Sierra led by general Andrés Cáceres. It was a long campaign, it was the most complicated campaign for the Chileans. In October 1883, a treaty of peace, the so called Treaty of Ancón, was signed between the regime of Peruvian president Iglesias and the regime of Chilean president Santa María. Technically, war stopped at this point. Nevertheless general Cáceres continued the resistance in Sierra, for a few months during the first part of 1884. By the Treaty of Ancón, Peru ceded the rich province of Tarapacá to Chile. It was an area very rich in saltpeter, as I mentioned. The treaty also stated that the provinces of Tacna and Arica were to remain under Chilean control for ten years, when a plebiscite was intended to take place to allow the population of these provinces to decide whether to be Peruvian or Chileans. The plebiscite never took place, but this is another chapter of Peruvian history.
In what ways was the Chinese colony in Peru involved in the War of the Pacific?
There is a popular image of the Chinese people as collaborators with Chileans. Many Peruvians had this conviction during the war. But no doubt this is a half-truth. Many Chinese in Perú supported the Chileans for the simple reason that they were living practically like slaves in Coastal Perú, as I told you previously. So it was quite natural, I think (that’s my personal view), for them to back up the Chileans and rebel against Peruvian oppressors. It is quite audacious for me to say this because I’m Peruvian. But I’m also a historian and I have the obligation to mention what is true. On the other hand, there were many other Chinese that remained neutral or faithful to Peruvians. As you know, historians usually consider, I would say, inaccurate generalizations. In fact, this second group of Chinese was bigger, but it has been nearly forgotten. As a consequence of this myth of total Chinese support of the Chileans, many merchants suffered from mobs. That was particularly cruel in the days that preceded the entrance of the Chilean army to Lima. The days 15th and 16th January 1881, were particularly infamous. Afterwards, during the years of military occupation, and after the peace treaty was signed, Chinese living in Peru simply assimilated to Peruvian economy and society. In the long term, hey gave to my country a great contribution not only with his effort on economy but also introducing marvelous aspects in culture, especially in the food and restaurant activities.
Mr. Hugo Pereyra, thanks for your time and for your willingness to be interviewed for Junefield Group.
Thank you very much. You have a friend here in Lima.