Cultural Legacies of the War of the Pacific in Chile and Bolivia

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic talk, debate, discussion


A research seminar with guest speakers Dr Paul Merchant (University of Bristol) and Javier Cortés-Ortuño (Cardiff University) as part of the Borders and Bodies research theme the School of Modern Languages.

An unquiet ocean: Eduardo Abaroa, the War of the Pacific and Bolivian cultural identity by Dr Paul Merchant


Eduardo Abaroa, a soldier in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), is perhaps the most visible of Bolivia’s national heroes. That conflict saw the annexation of Bolivia’s Pacific coastline by Chile, and generated a diplomatic conflict that recently resurfaced at the International Court of Justice. This paper argues that the Bolivian government’s encouragement of cultural production associated with the ‘demanda marítima’ draws on a long tradition of artistic engagement with the topic.The paper explores the paradoxes generated by a contradictory appeal to both the ocean, an apparently boundless space, and the symbolically overdetermined body of Abaroa, as figures for territorial national identity. Cultural works that make this gesture include the 1952 radio play Ausencia y retorno del mar and the 1984 film Amargo mar. The paper argues that the cultural productions analysed reveal a network of relations between human actors, nonhuman environments and aesthetic forms that is irreducible to a singular political project. The paper ultimately suggests that it is precisely the impossibility of converting the Pacific into a metaphorical vehicle of national identity that is a defining element of modern Bolivian culture
Period14 Mar 2019
Held atCardiff University, United Kingdom