Peru–Bolivian Confederation

The Peru–Bolivian Confederation was a short-lived state that existed in South America between 1836 and 1839. The country was a loose confederation between the states of Peru, divided into the Republic of North Peru and the Republic of South Peru, and Bolivia as the Bolivian Republic,[1] with the capital located in Tacna. The Peru–Bolivian Confederation's formation was personally influenced by Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, the President of Bolivia, who served as the first and only head of state under the title "Supreme Protector".

Peru–Bolivian Confederation
Confederación Perú-Boliviana
Flag of Peru–Bolivian Confederation
Emblem of Peru–Bolivian Confederation
Motto: Firme por la Unión
Anthem: National Anthem of Peru[a]
Location of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation
Location of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation
18°03′20″S 70°14′54″W / 18.05556°S 70.24833°W / -18.05556; -70.24833
Largest cityLima
Official languagesSpanish
Constituent countries
GovernmentConfederated presidential republic
Supreme Protector 
• October 28, 1836 – February 20, 1839
Andrés de Santa Cruz
• Established
October 28, 1836
• Disestablished
August 25, 1839
CurrencyPeruvian real, Bolivian sol
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Today part of Peru

The Peru–Bolivian Confederation was opposed by neighboring countries from its inception, particularly Chile and Argentina, as a potential military and economic threat, and for its support for dissidents in exile. The War of the Confederation was triggered shortly after its formation when Chile and Argentina independently invaded the country. Argentina was defeated in 1837, but a combined force of Chile and North Peruvian dissidents known as the United Restoration Army were victorious at the Battle of Yungay in January 1839, which de facto ended the confederation as Peru and Bolivia were restored as independent states, and Santa Cruz fled into exile. The Peru–Bolivian Confederation was officially declared dissolved on August 25, 1839, by General Agustín Gamarra after his appointment as President of Peru.


During colonial times, the territory comprising the Audiencia de Charcas, also known as Alto Perú, now Bolivia, was an integral territory of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru from its creation. In 1776, it was administratively severed and became a province of the newly created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Still, for geographical and historical reasons, it always remained closer to Lima than to its administrative capital, Buenos Aires, in present-day Argentina. The Peru–Bolivian Confederation was the only effective attempt to unite them.

This territory achieved independence in 1825. At this point in time, a union with Peru was widely supported. Instead, the new Republic of Bolivia, named after Simón Bolívar, who had liberated the territory and destroyed the last remnants of the Spanish army, was born, with Bolívar as the first president. Political unrest and turmoil forced Bolívar to return to Colombia very soon afterwards, leaving Antonio José de Sucre in charge. The plan for reuniting Peru and Bolivia did not fade away.

Chaos in BoliviaEdit

Marshal Sucre was elected president of Bolivia in 1826, but political pressure from Peru and internal turmoil made it impossible for him to organize the new state. The very next year, an armed uprising in Chuquisaca was quickly used by Peru as an excuse to invade Bolivia. General Agustín Gamarra marched with an army of nearly 5,000 Peruvian soldiers. He had two clear orders: force the Colombian army to withdraw and promote the creation of a new constitution for that country.

The Peruvian army entered La Paz, Bolivia, on May 28, 1828. Under these circumstances, Sucre was forced to resign in September, leaving the country forever. Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz was elected president of Bolivia in 1829 to replace him, a position that he would hold for the next ten years. Both Gamarra and Santa Cruz agreed that the separation of Peru and Bolivia was a mistake that should be corrected. Their plan for a federation, or at least a confederation, was accepted by the legislative branches of both countries, but they personally disagreed on other issues. Gamarra was in favor of a Peruvian-led union, while Santa Cruz wanted to give more political power to Bolivia.

War with Gran ColombiaEdit

Bolívar did not agree with either Gamarra or Santa Cruz, since Gran Colombia was already his own project of federation to unite most of the former Spanish colonies. Furious about the news in Bolivia, he resolved to declare war against Peru on June 3, 1828. Marshal Sucre was appointed commander of the Colombian army but was soon afterwards murdered. After Bolívar's death in 1830, the Colombian troops withdrew, and the war came to an end.

During the war, and with the Peruvian army holding off the Colombian offensive, Gamarra deposed Peruvian President José de la Mar and proclaimed himself the new head of state, titled president. A parliament was assembled, and with a majority of the members in favor of his government, he was able to legalize his position. His rule was difficult, since armed revolts all around the country challenged his authority.

Chaos in PeruEdit

A new parliament was formed in 1833, but this time it was hostile towards Gamarra. Since his term as president was already over and there was no time to call for elections, it was resolved to turn the presidency over to General Luis Orbegoso. Gamarra did not recognize the new government, and prepared himself to challenge Orbegoso. However, popular opinion and most of the army rallied against him, and he was frustrated in his effort to seize power again.

Bolivian aidEdit

General Orbegoso also had to deal with General Felipe Salaverry, who rebelled and overthrew him in 1835. Orbegoso, however, did not lose the support of southern Peru and called in to his help the president of Bolivia. It was the opportunity that Marshal Santa Cruz, himself a former president of Peru, was waiting for. The Bolivian army promptly proceeded to invade Peru.

With Bolivian help, General Orbegoso quickly regained his leadership throughout the country and had Salaverry executed. As a reward for the support he had received from Santa Cruz, he agreed to the formation of the new Peru–Bolivian Confederation. Santa Cruz assumed the supreme protectorship of the confederation and Orbegoso maintained only the presidency of the newly created Nor-Peruvian state.


Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz promoted a project to reunite the two territories on the basis of a confederacy. The Peru–Bolivian Confederation was a plan that attempted to reunite the Alto Perú ("Upper Peru", now Bolivia) and Bajo Perú ("Lower Peru", now simply Peru) into a single political and economic entity. This integration was based not only on historical, cultural and ethnic reasons, but also on economic motives. The union was attempting to restore the ancient commercial routes and promote a policy of open markets.

In Peru, he began by having an assembly proclaim, on March 17, 1836, the Republic of South Peru, followed on August 11, 1836 by a similar proclamation of the Republic of North Peru. In each case, he became the new state's "supreme protector" (see protector (title) for similar titles), a president with full powers.

After the preceding period of significant political unrest, the Peru–Bolivian Confederation was proclaimed on October 28, 1836. Marshal Santa Cruz became its supreme protector, as well as supreme protector of each of the Peruvian states and president of the Bolivian Republic. The new confederation was thus composed of three states: North Peru, South Peru and Bolivia, and its capital was the city of Tacna, in southern Peru. The creation of this new nation was very well received in the south of Peru, since this area was able to benefit fully from the lifting of the previous commercial restrictions, but was bitterly resented by the elite of Lima and the north of Peru, which had traditionally benefited from a close commercial relationship with Venezuela.

Structure of the ConfederationEdit

In each of the Confederation's states, there was, from 1837 until the dissolution, a “provisional president” under Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, who was styled the “supreme protector” and was also president of Bolivia.

  • North Peru (also known as Republic of the North of Peru, or North-Peruvian Republic)
  • South Peru (also known as Republic of the South of Peru, or South-Peruvian Republic)

Administrative divisionsEdit

Conflicts and the international situationEdit

Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz

However, the Confederation generated resistance among several groups in both countries, which resented the dilution of national identities, and also among neighboring countries. An important number of Peruvian politicians opposed to the idea of the Confederation fled to Chile, where they received support, and this led to the War of the Confederation.

The creation of the Peru–Bolivian Confederation by Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz caused great alarm in the neighboring countries. The potential power of this confederation aroused the opposition of Argentina and, above all, Chile, due not only to its great territorial expanse but also to the perceived threat that such a rich state signified for the area. Diego Portales, arguably the most important Chilean statesman of the 19th century, who at the time was the power behind president José Joaquín Prieto, was very concerned that the new Confederation would break the regional balance of power and even be a threat to Chilean independence, and so immediately became its enemy.

But that was just one of the reasons behind the war. On a deeper level, both countries were in a heated competition for control of the commercial routes on the Pacific—and for the Chileans specially, whose relations with independent Peru had already been strained by economic problems centering on rivalry between their ports of Callao and Valparaíso. For the north Peruvians also, the Confederation was viewed as the most serious threat to their economic interests.

The direct conflict between the Confederation and Chile started with a tariff disagreement, and continued when former Chilean president General Ramón Freire managed to obtain a small subsidy from the Confederation government to equip a frigate and try to wrestle power from the Prieto administration. After the failure of the expedition, the Chilean government became openly hostile towards the Confederation.

Raid on Callao and Chilean declaration of warEdit

After the Freire expedition, Portales decided to take the offensive and staged a surprise raid to prevent further interference by the Confederation government in Chilean internal affairs. He ordered a raid on the Confederate fleet that was stationed in the port of Callao. During a silent attack on the night of August 21, 1836, the Chileans managed to capture three confederate ships: the Santa Cruz, Arequipeño and Peruviana.

Instead of immediately going to war, Marshal Santa Cruz tried to negotiate with Chile. The Chilean Congress sent Mariano Egaña as plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty based on several points: the payments of the outstanding international debts owed by Peru to Chile, the limitation of the outstanding armies, commercial agreements, indemnization to Chile for the Freire expedition, and the dissolution of the Confederation. Santa Cruz agreed to everything but the dissolution. Chile responded by declaring war on December 28, 1836.

International situation and Argentine declaration of warEdit

The international situation was not favorable to Chilean interests. Marshal Santa Cruz and the Confederation had been diplomatically recognized by the principal world powers with interests in the region (Great Britain, France and the United States), while Chile's allies, Argentina and Ecuador, had decided to remain neutral in the conflict.

Nonetheless, the continued interference of Santa Cruz in Argentina's internal affairs moved this country also to declare war, on May 9, 1837. Even though Chile and Argentina were acting against the same perceived threat, both countries went to war separately and were going to act separately during the whole course of it. In 1837, Felipe Braun, one of Santa Cruz's most capable generals and high decorated veteran of the war of independence, defeated an Argentine army sent to topple Santa Cruz. To further aggravate the Chilean position, public opinion there was totally opposed to a war they did not understand.

Assassination of PortalesEdit

Diego Portales

The Chilean government, in order to bolster its standing, immediately imposed martial law, asking for (and obtaining) extraordinary legislative powers from Congress. Early in 1837 a Court Martial Law was approved, and all citizens became subject to court martial for the duration of the war. The opposition to the Prieto administration immediately accused Portales of tyranny, and started a heated press campaign against him personally and against the unpopular war in general.

Political and public opposition to the war immediately affected the army, fresh from the purges of the civil war of 1830. On June 4, 1837, Colonel José Antonio Vidaurre, commander of the Maipo regiment, captured and imprisoned Portales while he was reviewing troops at the army barracks in Quillota. He immediately proceeded to attack Valparaíso on the mistaken belief that public opinion opposed to the war would support him and topple the government. Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada, in charge of the defense of Valparaíso, defeated him right outside the port. Captain Santiago Florín, who was in charge of Portales, had him shot when he heard the news, on June 6, 1837. Most of the conspirators were subsequently captured and executed. This murder was perceived as having been orchestrated by Marshal Santa Cruz and it turned the tide of public opinion. The war became a holy cause and Portales its martyr.

Argentine-Chilean invasion and dissolutionEdit

Invested with considerable powers, Santa Cruz endeavored to establish in Peru the same type of authoritarian order he had imposed in Bolivia. He issued a Civil Code, a Penal Code, a Trade Regulation and a Customs Regulation, and reorganized tax collection procedures to allow an increase in state revenues while restraining expenditures.

The first Chilean military expedition against Santa Cruz, led by Vice Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada, failed and had to submit to the signature of the Treaty of Paucarpata, on November 17, 1837. The Chilean government then organized a second expedition, which defeated the Supreme Protector at the Battle of Yungay on January 20, 1839, and forced the dissolution of the Confederation. On August 25, 1839, General Agustín Gamarra, after assuming the presidency of Peru, officially declared the dissolution of the Confederation and the merging of the North and South Peruvian Republics into one to be called again Peru, separate from Bolivia.

The Confederate defeat led to the exile of Santa Cruz, first to Guayaquil, in Ecuador, then to Chile, and finally to Europe, where he died.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ De facto.
  2. ^ He declared secession of the North-Peruvian Republic from the Peru-Bolivian Confederation on July 30, 1838, but continued as Provisional President until September 1, 1838.

Sources and referencesEdit

  1. ^ "Ley Fundamental de la Confederación Perú - Boliviana (1837)" (PDF).

Coordinates: 13°24′S 68°54′W / 13.4°S 68.9°W / -13.4; -68.9