Following the dismemberment of the Spanish Empire, Latin America remained highly unstable, with a succession of Caudillos, military strongmen, seizing power and waging war. Some of these wars were brutal: Paraguay lost up to half its population in conflict with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina (1864–70); Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific after defeat by Chile (1879-83). The dictators generally espoused free trade, thereby crippling their embryonic manufacturing through competition, but generating wealth through the export of abundant natural resources. Plantation crops such as sugar, coffee and fruit were staples, as well as minerals and rubber. Several countries fought their version of the USA’s frontier wars with their native Amerindian populations, and with equal brutality. The Argentinian ‘Conquest of the desert’ almost exterminated the Tehuelche (1870–84), likewise the Chilean subjugation of the Mapuche (1861–81). Peru and Chile, in between fighting one another, united to fight Spain (1864–66), when the Spanish attempted to seize some tiny guano-rich islands off the coast of Peru.
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