Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Developing Mutual Trust: The Othering Process between Bolivia and Chile

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Developing Mutual Trust: The Othering Process between Bolivia and Chile

Article excerpt

Bolivia and Chile have constructed a mutual culture of enmity rather than one of amity. Bolivia and Chile are part of a zone of "violent peace" (Mares 2001). This phrase expresses the fact that unsolved border issues still exist but armed conflicts are unlikely. It also suggests that distrustful relations shape the course of interstate relationships in South America in general (see Thies 2008), and between Bolivia and Chile in particular. Yet Bolivia and Chile have socially constructed a culture of enmity by reassessing their common history, according to discursive articulations of Self and Other.

The origin of this culture of enmity between Bolivia and Chile was the Nitrate War (1879-83), as a result of which Bolivia lost access to the sea. The Nitrate War, known in Spanish as La Guerra del Pacifico, was triggered by strategic and economic issues. The strategic issue was the secret defensive pact signed by Peru and Bolivia, which was seen as a threat by Chile. The economic issue was Chile's intention of controlling not only the nitrate industry in the Antofagasta-Atacama territory (Bolivian territory), but also most of the Peruvian mining regions extended along the coast (see Klein 2003, 141). The redefinition of the borders after the conflict over the Antofagasta-Atacama territory favoured Chile, the winning party (Mesa 2008, 346-349).

Ever since the definitive demarcation of the borders between Bolivia and Chile was confirmed in 1904--and since Bolivia's landlocked condition was reaffirmed in a bilateral treaty between Chile and Peru in 1929--regaining access to the sea has been a key issue in Bolivia's foreign policy. The relationship between Bolivia and Chile has included several bilateral and multilateral forums in which the former has brought up the issue of recovering an outlet to the sea. In fact, Bolivia's maritime aspiration still plays a strong role in determining the way both countries construct the image of the Other. Despite the fact that these two countries have not had a military incident since 1884, they still conceive of each other according to a pattern of enmity.

This lack of friendship is part of an "othering" process in which distrust is key in creating the image of the Other country and in giving meaning to its actions and inactions. Distrust is also a key in explaining the difficulties of sustaining constructive dialogue to move the bilateral relationship forward. In fact, Chile and Bolivia have not had official diplomatic relations since 1978, a fact symptomatic of the distrust these two countries have had of the interests and actions of the other.

The difficult relationship between these countries reached a new point of tension in 2001, when they negotiated the export of Bolivian gas to and through Chilean territory. Bolivian civil society groups saw this as an act of treason on the part of their leaders. In fact, the fall of Bolivian President Sanchez de Lozada (2002-03) can be partly explained by these negotiations, since they triggered the mobilization of civil society groups against the government, causing 60 deaths (Flemes and Radseck 2009, 9). The subsequent Bolivian government held a referendum on the issue of exporting gas through Chile, in which the population voted against such exports. Then-President Carlos Mesa (October 2003-June 2005) pursued a tactic of offering gas to Chile only if sovereign access to the sea was guaranteed (gaspor mar). Yet Mesa was not able to complete his term because of the deep socioeconomic splits within Bolivia and the lack of support from Congress for his administration.

Once Evo Morales (2006-present) became president, he sought to establish an integrative dialogue with his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet (2006-10), with the aim of ameliorating the difficult relationship between the two countries. In this new dialogue, the lack of mutual trust has been recognized with statements regarding the need for each country to gain confidence in the other. …

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