Published in Environmental History 18: 4 (2013)

Abstract: Beginning in the late 1920s, Bolivia’s growing need for petroleum to fuel its mining sector and urban centers led the country on a policy of expansion into the Chaco Boreal, a torrid expanse claimed by both Bolivia and Paraguay. The two countries fought a three-year war over the territory in the 1930s. Postwar nationalist narratives and popular views of the conflict remain clouded in conspiracy theories involving foreign actors that ignore Bolivia’s motives and confuse oil’s role. Emphasizing environmental aspects of the conflict helps us to better understand the underlying causes, the conduct, and the outcomes of the war. The conflict highlights the importance of oil in shaping Latin American social and natural landscapes, and it reveals new relationships between the natural world and collective violence.