Close

Donate today to keep Global Voices strong!

Our global community of volunteers work hard every day to bring you the world's underreported stories -- but we can't do it without your help. Support our editors, technology, and advocacy campaigns with a donation to Global Voices!

Donate now

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Peru: Colombia-Peru War Remembered 80 Years Later

For the residents of the Loreto Region in northern Peru, mainly those residing in the city of Iquitos, there are some moments in Peruvian history that are painful to remember. One of those moments is the loss of Leticia, a city which by virtue of the Salomón-Lozano Treaty which settled a border dispute between Peru and Colombia, and against the will of its citizens, was handed over to Colombia in 1929.

In 1932, a group of Peruvians, mainly residents of the Iquitos, Caballococha and Pucallpa cities in the Loreto Region, captured Leticia and reclaimed it as Peruvian territory. Fernando Montalván recalled [es] that September 1, 2012 marked the 80th anniversary of that event:

El 1° de setiembre de 2012 se cumplen ochenta años del hecho histórico desconocido por muchos, aún amazónicos, en que patriotas loretanos arriaran la bandera colombiana en la Leticia peruana e izaran la bandera del Perú, marcando un hito en la historia, demostrando su rechazo a las secretas conversaciones del dictador Leguía devenidas luego en infausto tratado (Tratado de Salomón-Lozano). Es de necesidad regional y nacional expresar profunda admiración y reconocimiento a aquellos que como un solo puño demostraran firme resolución en el rescate de la dignidad amazónica y el honor nacional

On September 1, 2012, 80 years will have passed since the historic event of which many, despite being Amazonian, remain unknowing, in which Loreto patriots lowered the Colombian flag in Peruvian Leticia and raised the flag of Peru, marking a historic milestone, demonstrating their rejection of the secret conversations of dictator Leguía which would later evolve into an ill-fated treaty (the Salomón-Lozano Treaty). It is of regional and national importance that we express profound admiration and recognition of those who demonstrated such blindingly firm resolve in the rescue of Amazonian dignity and national honor.

The capture of Leticia triggered the Colombian-Peru War, an armed conflict which lasted from 1932 to 1933 with skirmishes happening at different points on the border between both countries along the Putumayo River, which lies in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, complicating military operations for forces involved.

Manifestación en apoyo a la toma de Leticia. 1932, presumiblemente Iquitos.

Protest in support of the taking of Leticia. 1932, presumably Iquitos. Photo shared on the thread Peru – Colombia: The Unknown War, images and texts from the forum SinDramas.

On the blog Arqueohistoria, Franco Antúnez de Mayolo offered [es] historical context:

Tras el fracaso de la revolución federal amazónica promovida por el capitán Cervantes y tras la entrega de importantes territorios a Colombia, el país vivía una época de gran convulsión social. [...] El nuevo régimen peruano de Sánchez Cerro, que aún no se asentaba en una coyuntura de guerra civil (sublevación de la guarnición de Cajamarca al mando del comandante “Zorro” Jiménez, las ultimas montoneras peruanas de Samanez Ocampo en Apurímac, la revolución aprista en Trujillo y Huaraz, etc.) es sorprendido tanto como el Gobierno Colombiano.

After the failure of the Amazonian Federal Revolution organized by Captain Cervantes and after Colombia's annexation of important territories, the country experienced a period of great social upheaval. [...] The new Peruvian regime of Sánchez Cerro, still not settled against the backdrop of a civil war situation (the uprising of the Cajamarca garrison at the command of Colonel “Zorro” Jiménez, the last Peruvian militias of Samanez Ocampo in Apurímac, the Aprista revolution in Trujillo and Huaraz [es], etc.) is surprised just as much as the Colombian government.

Later he detailed the conflict:

Sánchez Cerro declara “Beneméritos a la Patria” a los patriotas loretanos y dispone que la infantería acantonada en Iquitos refuerce Leticia. El Gobierno Colombiano reacciona también y envía al General Vásquez Cobo con una división de 5 000 hombres al Putumayo. [...] Estalla la guerra por río, mar y jungla: derrotas y victorias de ambos ejércitos a ambas orillas del Putumayo se suceden entre 1932 y 1933. Empiezan los enfrentamientos en Gueppi, Puca Urco, Yabuyanos y Calderón, y las bajas en ambos ejércitos se dan por centenares. También el beriberi (conocido como “vomito negro” o hepatitis fulminante) diezma a ambas fuerzas,

Sánchez Cerro declares the Loreto patriots to be “Distinguished Heroes of the Nation” and decrees that the infantry stationed in Iquitos reinforce Leticia. The Colombian government reacts as well and sends the General Vásquez Cobo with a division of 5,000 men to Putumayo. [...] The war explodes along the river, sea, and in the forest: defeats and victories for both armies on both sides of the Putumayo occur between 1932 and 1933. The confrontations of Gueppi, Puca Urco, Yabuyanos and Calderón begin, and casualty figures for both sides are cited in the hundreds. Also, the beriberi (known as the “black vomit” or fulminant hepatitis) decimates both forces.

Nevertheless, an event in Lima turned the tide of the entire conflict developing in the forest:

Sánchez Cerro, decidido a iniciar una ofensiva hasta el Caquetá (para recuperar el territorio obsequiado por Leguía), ordena la Movilización General. Se presentan 30 mil hombres en Lima y 5 mil en Iquitos. Es entonces, en el Hipódromo de Santa Beatriz (actual Campo de Marte), cuando Sánchez Cerro revistaba las tropas destinadas al Putumayo, que cae asesinado por un militante aprista.

Seguidamente se instala una Junta de Gobierno presidida por el General Benavides y demás personajes de la política limeña, quienes inmediatamente desmovilizan las tropas y (consultando con la embajada de EEUU) firman el acuerdo de paz con Colombia, devolviéndole Leticia.

Sánchez Cerro, firm in his decision to begin an offensive to Caquetá (in order to regain the territory given away by Leguía), orders a General Mobilization. 30 million men are placed in Lima and 5 million men in Iquitos. This is when, in the Racetrack of Santa Beatriz (now the Campo de Marte) Sánchez Cerro revisited the troops destined for Putumayo, and was killed by an Aprista militant.

Immediately afterwards, a government committee is set up, presided over by General Benavides and other political figures of Lima who demobilize the troops at once and (consulting with the United States embassy) sign a peace treaty with Colombia, returning Leticia.

In this way, the military confrontation was ended and the Salomón-Lozano Treaty [es], still in effect today, was ratified.

On the blog Argenpress, Alberto Pinzón Sánchez analyzed [es] the regional and Colombian context in which the war developed:

el diario bogotano EL Tiempo, propiedad del político Liberal Eduardo Santos, (tío abuelo del actual presidente colombiano) despertaba a los somnolientos pobladores de Bogotá con la noticia anticomunista de la foto.

[...] En la realidad histórica, la llamada guerra colombo peruana era la coagulación de varios elementos tanto internos como externos que se presentaron conjugados y al mismo tiempo. Uno, la indefinición moderna de las fronteras amazónicas entre Colombia, Perú, Ecuador y Brasil. Dos, el cuasi Estado de facto esclavista y genocida, establecido en la región a fines del siglo XIX e inicios del XX, con el fin de extraer el caucho natural con mano de obra indígena para la exportación a Europa y Estados Unidos, formado y armado por la alianza comercial del capital imperialista (especialmente Inglés) con las firmas comerciales de los Arana en Perú y el dictador colombiano Rafael Reyes Prieto con sus hermanos. Tres, el ascenso del capital imperialista Estadounidense en la región andino-amazónica y la competencia brutal por la hegemonía con su homólogo inglés.

The Bogotá daily El Tiempo, property of the Liberal politician Eduardo Santos, (great uncle of the current Colombian president) awoke the sleepy residents of Bogotá with the anticommunist headline shown in the photo. [Headline reads: "300 Peruvian Communists Took Over Leticia Last Thursday"]

[...] In reality, the so-called Colombia-Peru War was the coagulation of various domestic as well as foreign elements which combined at the same time. One, the unclear modern borders between Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. Two, the quasi-State of de facto slavery and genocide, established in the region in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, with the aim of extracting the natural rubber with indigenous labor to be exported to Europe and the United States, trained and armed through a commercial alliance of imperialist capital (especially English) with the companies of the Aranas in Peru and of the Colombian dictator Rafael Reyes Prieto with his brothers. Three, the rise of American imperialist capital in the Andes-Amazon region and the brutal competition for hegemony with its English counterpart.

Curiously, while in Colombia the Peruvians were described as “communists”, in Peru the Communist Party labeled the taking of Leticia as the work of the APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) political movement. Lastly, the Argenpress article concluded:

Así, a partir de la llamada guerra colombo peruana de 1933, que sirvió para estimular el fanatismo nacionalista, paliar los arrasadores efectos de la crisis capitalista de 1930 con las 400 tonelada de oro de las joyas donadas al gobierno, sumadas a lo 10 millones de dólares del empréstito patrióticos, los 43 millones de dólares del presupuesto militar, los bonos de defensa emitidos y la compra permanente de armamento en el exterior; se conformó, dinamizó y modernizó la estrecha alianza entre las Fuerzas Militares, la gran prensa de los Santos y los Cano y, los políticos liberales conservadores de la clase dominante en Colombia.

Thus, since the Colombia-Peru War of 1933, which served to stimulate nationalist fanaticism, to mitigate the sweeping effects of the capitalist crisis of 1930 with the 400 tons of gold jewelry donated to the government, together with the patriots’ borrowed 10 million dollars, the 43 million dollars of military budget, the defense bonds issued and the permanent purchases of armaments abroad; the alliance between the military forces, the mainstream press of the Santos and the Cano, and the liberal conservative politicians of the dominant class in Colombia was shaped, energized, and modernized.

On various forums, information and opinion from Peruvians as well as Colombians about this war can be found. For example, Peru – Colombia: The unknown war, images and texts [es] on the forum SinDramas (registration required), and Colombia in the War of 1932 against Peru [es] on the forum Defensa.pe.

The blog Contributions to Amazonian Literature and History [es] hosts first-hand testimony of the war, including ”THE RESCUE OF LETICIA-A Novel of Loreto Frustration”, written by Pablo Carmelo Montalván based on the letters that he sent to his family in the city of Iquitos as a volunteer in the conflict.

Currently, the relationship between Peru and Colombia is normal, although the border is affected by drug trafficking, which prompted the armed forces of both nations to take action such as the recently [es] undertaken Operación Binacional de Apoyo al Desarrollo Colombia – Perú 2012 [es] (Binational Operation of Support of Colombia-Peru Development 2012).

Finally, an anecdote worth remembering is that Leticia was founded on April 25, 1867 by Peruvian engineer Benigno Bustamante and given the name San Antonio, but soon the name was changed by another Peruvian engineer, Manuel Charón, in honor of a young resident in Iquitos named Leticia Smith.

Original post [es] published on Juan Arellano's personal blog on September 1, 2012.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site