Bolivia Takes Sea-Access Case against Chile to International Tribunals

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, April 8, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Bolivia Takes Sea-Access Case against Chile to International Tribunals


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


Bolivian President Evo Morales surprised South American diplomats with the unexpected announcement that Bolivia would appeal to international tribunals and organizations to break the country's landlocked status and finally, after 132 years, force Chile to restore its sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.

Bolivia was left imprisoned in the heart of South America following the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), in which Chilean troops annihilated the Bolivian and Peruvian armies, annexing territory that had belonged to the losers since independence from the Spanish crown in the early 19th century NotiSur, Jan. 23, 2004.

The conflict is centered on a desert and semi-desert area that contains the region's richest copper and saltpeter deposits.

While conservative Chilean President Sebastian Pinera's administration reacted by denying the validity of Bolivia's claim, regional foreign ministries kept silent and seemed unaware that an eventual diplomatic escalation of the dispute could upset the equilibrium on a continent that has not experienced such a situation since the 1995 conflict between Ecuador and Peru regarding the Cordillera del Condor NotiSur, Jan. 23, 2004 and Oct. 30, 1998.

Morales' decision well-planned

Morales' announcement--made on Feb. 23, when the country was solemnly commemorating the Dia del Mar (Day of the Sea), the anniversary of the date on which the powerful Chilean Army devastated a column of poorly armed Bolivian civilians who had no military training, pure patriots who defended what they believed were their inalienable rights--pointed to a meticulously outlined strategy.

The president began by giving a brief history of the national drama and concluded by enumerating the reasons that the country has the right to a fully sovereign access to the sea. He called on Congress to ratify certain international agreements, such as the 1948 Tratado Americano de Soluciones Pacificas, better known at the Pacto de Bogota, by which Latin America recognized the jurisdiction of the UN and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands, to address conflicts between states. After more than six decades, Bolivia has still not ratified the pact, and today it is essential that it do so because the ICJ could be the first instance for the country's action against Chile.

The executive also established the Direccion General de Reivindicacion Maritima, an agency charged with preparations for future legal actions in Bolivia's maritime cause.

In his message, warmly praised by the entire country--including the principal economic groups, although not the political right--Morales said, "At this time, it is feasible and possible that international agencies administer justice and repair damages caused to countries without the need to resort to any form of violence."

Morales added, "The international community must understand that the time has come for Bolivia's huge wound from being landlocked to be closed based on a process of historical implications and a just and accurate ruling that returns maritime access to our country."

The president strongly emphasized--saying it three times in a brief 18-minute speech--that the suit "does not mean that Bolivia is abandoning dialogue."

Dialogue with Chile began in 2006, and, thanks to an ideological affinity and good relations between Morales and former Chilean President Michele Bachelet (2003-2010), the two countries put together a 13-point agenda that expressly included Bolivia's access to the sea. It was a noble gesture by Chile, since until then the countries had not moved beyond the possibility of Bolivia acquiring use of an access corridor to the Pacific in exchange for part of its territory. Morales repeatedly insisted that "we are living in the time of dialogue, in which reasons for violence have no value for us."

Pinera says Bolivian action is obstacle to dialogue

By the time President Pinera reacted publically, the worst of Chilean nationalism had come to the surface, mixed with a contemptuous attitude toward Bolivians and toward Morales' indigenous ethnicity.

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