Upon gaining independence, most Spanish American countries had accumulated a substantial external debt, and by 1829 each defaulted. It took decades for these countries to settle their debts and even longer for them to access new loans. We argue that a major factor influencing the pattern of debt service was the incidence of war. War created incentives for governments to channel scarce resources to «emergency» spending and domestic debt service, rather than to the repayment of the foreign debt. Interestingly, we detect an asymmetry between countries long in good standing with creditors and those that had only recently settled. Countries that had established a longer record of continuous debt service were far less likely to default in times of war. We also find that international wars were responsible for the largest effects.