Arts, Culture & Media

The Tale of Juan Mendoza, Bolivian Hero and Aviator

For our Geo Quiz…rewind back to the War of the Pacific, a conflict that started in 1879, involving Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.

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This South American territorial war is also known by two other names.

These alternative names refer to some of the natural resources that the three South American nations were fighting over.

Any idea what they are?

When Idlewild Airport in New York City became Kennedy International airport years ago, no one seemed to complain.

And yet in the Bolivian city of Oruro, a proposal to rename the local airport in honor of Bolivian president Evo Morales has sparked a general strike.

Protesters have put up roadblocks and held rallies to challenge the proposed name change. They're demanding that the airport remain named the Juan Mendoza Airport after Bolivian aviation pioneer Juan Mendoza.

But there's a twist to this story, an interesting historical connection between Bolivia's aviation pioneer and the War of the Pacific.

And, that leads us to the answer to the Geo Quiz. Basically, the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) involved Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, fighting over valuable mineral resources, so its also known as the Saltpeter War (Guerra del Salitre), and the Guano War (Guerra del Guano).

The guano (bird excrement) and saltpeter (a chemical compound of salt) that accumulated over centuries along the coasts of Peru and Bolivia contained huge quantities of nitrate deposits. These became economically and strategically valuable in the 19th century as ingredients in fertilizers (guano) and explosives (saltpeter), enough so, for the South American countries to go to war over.

Now to connect these historical dots, guano, Juan Mendoza … and the War of the Pacific.