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Ecuadorian-Peruvian war

The EcuadorianPeruvian War, fought between July 5, 1941 and July 31, 1941, was one of three military conflicts that occurred between these two South American nations during the 20th century.

During the war, Peru occupied the western Ecuadorian province of El Oro and parts of the Andean province of Loja and advanced into the Amazonian area occupied by Ecuador according to a status quo agreement signed in 1936.



The dispute between Ecuador and Peru dates from 1840. Much of the dispute revolved around whether Ecuador's territory extended beyond the Andes mountain range to the Maranon (Amazon) river, including the Amazonian basin.

Even as early as 1829, before Ecuador existed as an independent republic, Peru fought against the Gran Colombia, of which the disputed lands were a part. After a series of battles, the war ended in what is known as the Battle of Tarqui (or Portete de Tarqui). The Gual-Larrea Treaty was signed on September 22, 1829 ending the war. This treaty, better known as the Treaty of Guayaquil, specified that the Colombian-Peruvian border was to be the same border that had existed between the Spanish colonial viceroyalties of Nueva Granada and Lima.

Subsequently, Ecuador contended that the Pedemonte-Mosquera Protocol was signed in 1830 as a continuation of the Gual-Larrea Treaty, but Peru disputes the validity of this protocol and even questions its existence, since the original document cannot be found. Furthermore, Peru argues that the treaties signed with the Gran Colombia were rendered void upon the dissolution of the federation.

During 1859 and 1860, the two countries fought a war over disputed territory bordering the Amazon. However, Ecuador entered into a civil war that prevented diplomatic relations with the rest of Latin America, including Peruvian President Ramon Castilla, due to the lack of a recognized government within Ecuador.

In 1887, a treaty signed by both nations established that the King of Spain would act as an arbitrator. The resulting Herrera-Garcia Treaty was expected to resolve the conflict permanently. However, the Parliament of Peru would only ratify the treaty after introducing modifications, since the treaty seemed unfavourable to that nation. Ecuador then withdrew from the process in protest of the Peruvian modifications, and the king abstained from issuing a decision.

SalomonLozano Treaty

Another dispute was created after the signing of the SalomonLozano Treaty in March 1922 by the governments of Colombia and Peru, which at that time was ruled by Augusto B. Leguia. The treaty, which was kept secret, set the boundary between Peru and Colombia to be the Putumayo River, with the exception of a small trip of land controlled by the city of Leticia that would connect Colombia to the main flow of the Amazon River. Along with that, Colombia effectively recognized Peruvian control of the rest of the disputed region south of the Putumayo River.

Following the coup d'etat of Leguia by the troops under the command of Luis Miguel Sanchez Cerro, the treaty was made public and caused much anger to the Peruvian population which deemed that the treaty awarding Colombia a section of Peruvian territory. This dispute over the Amazon region controlled by the city of Leticia would eventually cause a short war between Colombia and Peru betweem 1932 and 1933. The conflict over Leticia, which was populated by both Peruvian and Colombian colonists, was resolved after Sanchez Cerro was assassinated and the new Peruvian president Oscar R. Benavides accepted the Rio de Janeiro Protocol which upheld the SalomonLozano Treaty and finally put an end to the border disputes between Colombia and Peru.

The SalomonLozano Treaty was unpopular in Ecuador as well, which found itself surrounded on the east by Peru, which claimed the territory as an integral part of its Republic. Further adding to Ecuador's problems, now Colombian authorities also recognized Peru's territorial aspirations as legitimate.

Preparing for war

An agreement was signed in 1936 which recognized territories in de facto possession by each country. The resulting border is known as the '1936 status quoborder line'.

However, by 1938 both nations were once again holding minor border skirmishes. That same year, the entire Ecuadorian Cabinet, which was composed of high ranking army officers who served as advisors for General Alberto Enriquez Gallo (who had taken charge of government after a military ''coup d'etat), resigned from government in order to take command of the Ecuadorian Army. Meanwhile, in Quito, there were public demonstrations of people chanting "Down With Peru! Long Live Ecuador!''."

Peru's response to the events taking place in Ecuador was provided by foreign minister Carlos Concha, who stated, "In Peru we have not yet lost our heads. Our country is in a process of prosperous development and the Government heads would have to be completely mad to think of war." The social situation of Peru at that time was taking major changes, with the social reforms began by president Augusto B. Leguia being continued by president General Oscar Benavides. Economically, Peru claimed to be attempting to run on a balanced budget, but Peru still held a large debt despite its positive foreign trade. However, despite these claims, Peru also began to mobilize its troops to its border with Ecuador in order to match the Ecuadorian troops which had been deployed to the dispute zone.

On January 11, 1941, alleging that the Ecuadorians had been staging incursions and even occupations of the Peruvian territory of Zarumilla, the President of Peru, Manuel Prado, ordered the formation of the North Grouping, a military unit in charge of the Northern Operational Theater.

Forces involved


According to the testimony of Col. Luis Rodriguez,Col. Luis A. Rodriguez, op. cit. the Ecuadorian forces at the disposal of the Army Border Command in El Oro (Lieutenant Colonel Octavio A. Ochoa) after the incidents of July 5 and 6 were as follows:

Forces deployed along the Zarumilla river: 3 superior officers, 33 officers, and 743 men, organized as follows:

*"Cayambe" Battalion: 2 superior officers, 22 Officers, 490 soldiers.

*"Montecristi" Battalion: 1 superior officer, 11 Officers, 253 soldiers.

Forces deployed in the immediate rear: 4 superior officers, 3 officers, 28 soldiers, 93 volunteers, 500 carabineros (a paramilitary Government force), organized as follows:

*At Arenillas: 2 superior officers, 3 Officers, 14 soldiers.

*At Santa Rosa: 2 superior officers, 1 Officer, 18 soldiers, plus the 93 volunteers, and the 500 carabineros.


As a result of the rising tensions on the border during 1939 and 1940, the Peruvian President Manuel Prado authorized in December 1940 the creation of the Agrupamiento del Norte (Northern Army Detachment). By July 1941, this unit was ready to begin active military operations.

'Order of Battle, Agrupamiento del Norte, July 1941'

Group Headquarters

*5th and 7th Cavalry Regiments

*6th Artillery Group

*Army Tank Detachment (12 Czech tanks LTP)

1st Light Infantry Division (Col. Luis Vinatea)

*1st, 5th, 19th Infantry Battalions

*1st Artillery Group (8 guns)

*1st Engineer Company

*1st Antiaircraft Section

8th Light infantry Division (Col. Cesar Salazar)

*20th Infantry Battalion

*8th Artillery Group (8 guns)

*8th Engineer Company

Army Detachment "Chinchipe" (Lieut. Col. Victor Rodriguez)

*33rd Infantry Battalion (2 Light Infantry companies)

Army Jungle Division (Northeast) (Gen. Antonio Silva)

Figures for total strength of the Agrupamiento del Norte at the beginning of offensive operations have been put at 11,500 to 13,000 men.


The Ecuadorian-Peruvian war took place during 1941. The accounts as to which side fired the first shot vary considerably to this day.

Peru's version is that Ecuadorian troops invaded Peruvian territory in the Zarumilla province, which started a battle that spread to a zone known as Quebrada Seca (dry barren).

Ecuador's version is that Peru took a series of incidents between border patrols as a pretext to invade Ecuador, with the intention of forcing it to sign a clear border agreement. They argue that the clear disparity of military presence in the region between the two countries supports this version.

The first clashes occurred on Saturday, July 5, 1941.

According to Peruvian accounts, some Ecuadorian troops from the garrison of Huaquillas, a town on the bank of the Zarumilla river, which then served as the status quo line in the extreme left of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border, crossed into the Peruvian border post at Aguas Verdes, a town directly in front of Huaquillas, and opened fire on a Peruvian patrol. These troops were then followed by some 200 Ecuadorian armed men, which attacked the Police station at Aguas Verdes, to which the Peruvians reacted by sending an infantry company to Aguas Verdes and repulsing the Ecuadorians back across the Zarumilla. The fighting then spread to the entire border area along the Zarumilla river. By July 6, the Peruvian aviation was conducting air-strikes against the Ecuadorian border posts along the river.Luis Humberto Delgado, Las Guerras del Peru. Campana del Ecuador: Grandeza y Miseria de la Victoria, p. 79. Lima, Ed. Torres Aguirre, 1944.

According to Ecuadorian Col. Luis A. Rodriguez, commander of the Ecuadorian forces defending El Oro during the war, the incidents of July 5 started when an Ecuadorian border patrol found some Peruvian civilians, protected by policemen, clearing a patch of land on the Ecuadorian side of the river. Upon seeing the patrol, the Peruvian policemen opened fire, killing one soldier. This was followed by the widespread exchange of fire between troops on the opposing banks of the Zarumilla, while two Ecuadorian officers sent to Aguas Verdes to speak with the Peruvian local commanding officer were told by Peruvian authorities to go back to their lines. Col. Luis A. Rodriguez, La Agresion Peruana Documentada, 2nd Edition, pp. 167-168. Quito, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1955.

Regardless, the much larger and better equipped Peruvian force of 13,000 men quickly overwhelmed the approximately 1,800 Ecuadorian covering forces, driving them back from the Zarumilla and invading the Ecuadorian province of El Oro. Peru also carried out limited aerial bombing of the Ecuadorian towns of Huaquillas, Arenillas, Santa Rosa, and Machala.

The Peruvian army had at its disposal a battalion of armor made up of Czech tanks, with artillery and air support. They had also established a paratroop unit in the region and used it to great effect by seizing the Ecuadorian port city of Puerto Bolivar, on July 27, 1941, in what was the first instance in the history in either South or North America of the combat use of airborne forces.

Faced with a delicate political situation that even prompted Ecuadorian President Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Rio to keep a sizable part of the Army in the capital, Quito, Ecuador promptly requested a cease-fire, which went into effect on July 31, 1941. Yet, Ecuador still carried out guerrilla attacks upon the Peruvian troops.

As a result of the war, Peru occupied almost the entire Ecuadorian coastal province of El Oro and some towns of the Andean province of Loja, besides driving the Ecuadorians back along the whole line of dispute along the Amazonian border.

Ecuador's government, led by Doctor Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Rio, signed the Protocolo de Rio de Janeiro Rio Protocol on January 29, 1942, and Peruvian forces subsequently withdrew. Nonetheless, during the retreat several attacks were made against the Peruvian military, and a series of lives were lost during the process.


The placement of the border markers along the definitive border line indicated by the Rio Protocol was not concluded when the Ecuadorians withdrew from the demarcation commissions in 1948, arguing inconsistencies between the geographical realities on the ground and the instructions of the Protocol, a situation that according to Ecuador made it impossible to implement the Protocol until Peru agreed to negotiate a proper line in the affected area. Thus, some 78 km of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian border were left unmarked for the next fifty years, causing continuous diplomatic and military crisis between the two countries.

In 1960, Ecuadorian President Jose Maria Velasco declared that the Rio Protocol was void. According to the Velasco Administration, the treaty, having been signed under Peruvian military occupation of Ecuadorian soil, was illegal and contrary to Panamerican treaties that outlawed any treaty signed under the threat of force.

However, this proclamation made little international impact (the treaty was still held as valid by Peru and four more countries). Peruvian analysts have speculated that President Velasco used the nullity thesis in order to gather political support with a nationalistic and populist rhetoric.

In 1981, both countries again clashed briefly in the Paquisha War. Only in the aftermath of the Cenepa War of 1995 was the dispute finally settled. On October 26, 1998, representatives of Peru and Ecuador signed a definitive peace agreement in Brasilia.

Notable people


Lieutenant Jose A. Quinones was a Peruvian pilot during the war. On July 23, 1941, his plane, a North American NA-50, known as P-64 in USAAF, was hit while performing a low-level attack on an Ecuadorian border post on the banks of the Zarumilla river. According to traditional Peruvian accounts, Quinones, upon being hit, flew his aircraft directly toward an Ecuadorian anti-aircraft position and crashed against it. He was promoted posthumously to Captain, and is considered today a National Hero in Peru.

Ecuadorian wartime records of the downing differ greatly from Peruvian ones as Ecuador did not have any anti-aircraft guns located in the area, and the limited artillery located at the Machala was, due to a mistake by the minister of defence, useless as he ordered the wrong calibre of ammunition to be delivered to the units.

See also

History of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian territorial dispute

Paquisha War - 1981

Cenepa War - 1995

External links

Text of the Rio Protocol

Eric J. Lyman War of the Maps, (from Mercator's World)

Marcella, G. 1995. War and Peace in the Amazon: Strategic Implications for the United States and Latin America of the 1995 Ecuador-Peru War. Department of National Security and Strategy

Ecuadorian treaties

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