The French Pacific Division and the Chincha Islands War (1864–7)
The Chincha Islands War, fought between Spain and its former colonies of Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866, took place while France was trying to impose an Austrian emperor on Mexico with the growing concern that the United States might intervene in both conflicts. Threatening French investments and interests in the two Latin American countries, the war was occasionally monitored by nine French warships sailing from France to the western Mexican coast or returning back. Therefore, French reports give another perspective on a little known confrontation in a complex international environment. As representatives of a neutral power with interests at stake, French officers relied on experience and guts to analyse the conflict and influence the protagonists while the Pacific Division Admiral authorized them to report directly to the Marine Minister. This little war revealed once more the geopolitical abilities of multitasking naval officers, from a junior lieutenant who strongly protested the bombardment of Valparaiso and British passivity to a seasoned but distant rear admiral who felt that Latin American Republics had to be confronted on occasions to ensure that they would give a fair treatment to foreign nationals and businesses in the future.