09 May, 2015

Bolivia, one of the two landlocked countries in South America, is striving towards the resolution of a historical dispute with neighbouring Chile over an invaded territory which cuts its access to the ocean and thereby condemns the country to poverty. Earlier in April, the Summit of the Americas in Panama was the arena of this historical encounter, as one of the South America’s poorest and richest nations revived a historical debate concerning their borders.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, during a press conference in the summit, told the reporters that the year of 1879, when Bolivia was invaded by Chile, took away the country’s vital access to the Pacific Ocean. He also demanded an end to the ages old injustice. Foreign Minister of Chile, hours later, replied that the Summit of Americas was not for discussing bilateral issues; instead, prosperity, equity, and the common future of the continent were the objectives the participants should be focusing upon. Bolivians, while their country is politically suppressed and condemned to poverty, seem to be skeptical about the possibility of a common future.

Bolivia is one of the most impoverished countries in South America. Since the end of the War of the Pacific, it has blamed Chile for not returning the invaded territory and positioned its prosperous neighbour as a partially responsible factor for its economic decline. After the defeat in 1879, Bolivia lost ten percent of its territory, including the 675 kilometers of vital coastline and 120,000 square kilometers of land. Although in 1904 an agreement restored amiable relations, by legitimizing new borders it proved to be controversial. Finally in 2013, Bolivian President Morales sued Chile over the ocean access dispute in the International Court of Justice. Challenging this lawsuit, Chile maintained that the International Court is incompetent in handling local issues. Chile also argued its neighbour’s claim of being landlocked is irrelevant, as it offered Bolivia to use the land in question freely without sovereignty. The coastal land, which Bolivia demands to be returned, is generally a mountainous region. Bolivia has the sea trade and port rights in the region, but it also fights for sovereignty in order to have control over the riches beneath the land.

On May 08, 2015, Bolivia presented its final arguments for the ocean access to the International Court of Justice. The Bolivian representatives urged Chile to negotiate in good faith and honour its commitment to grant Bolivia sovereign access to the ocean. Monique Chemiller, a member of the Bolivian legal team, declared that, from the beginning of the dispute, Chile has repeatedly professed its commitment to meet the demands of Bolivia to no avail. The Bolivian representatives also argued that since the controversial 1904 agreement, Chile has promised to cede a corridor to the ocean, but this was never carried out. Earlier this week, Bolivian legal council Rodriguez Veltze stated, ” Our country became landlocked, an enclave on the South American continent, with serious consequences for our economic and social growth and for our international integration.” Chilean representatives, while making the Chilean case against the lawsuit on Monday, maintained that Bolivia’s lawsuit in the International Court of Justice has no legal bases, as Bolivia, through the authority of the Court in The Hague, attempts to renegotiate the 1904 agreement. Bolivian legal team refuted this claim and emphasized that negotiations will be held independently of the agreement.

Bolivian President Morales stated how proud he was of his legal delegation in The Hague, whose excellent arguments, he believes, will bring the ocean access to his landlocked country. He also expressed full confidence in the ability of the Court to reach a fair ruling. The Court in The Hague is expected to deliver its verdict by the end of this year.

For Bolivia, this lawsuit has a great national importance, because the International Court of Justice in The Hague is the last resort for reaching an agreement on the sovereign ocean access that is linked very closely to the country’s economic decline. Chile, on the other hand, has been rated as one of the South America’s greatest economic powers, which achieved to form a stable government after the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1980s. The economic success of the country is not only because of stable governance, but also because of its vast natural resources.

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera calculated that Chile, exporting Bolivian copper from the invaded territory, earns twenty million euros a year, and he argues if the territory had continued to be held by Bolivia, the country would have prospered. “Add that up over 100 years and look at how much money they have stolen. If the Chilean economy is good, it is because of our copper, our minerals.” Mr. Linera also claimed, if the amount made by copper were added up to gas exports, Bolivia would become a continental power in modern times. Producing ten percent of world’s copper, forty percent of Chile’s economy depends on the precious metal mining. It is also known that, because of its resources, Chile has received funding from the United States and the United Kingdom during the War of the Pacific. Bolivian government maintains that it is not a coincidence as the major mining corporations in the region are from the countries which supported Chile in the War of the Pacific.

Fifty-three percent of mining in Chile, which has prospered the country, originates in its far-north territories, including the Antofagasta region that was taken from Bolivia. In this case, economic loses Bolivian republic have suffered due to the Chilean invasion of its land are substantial, as the Antofagasta region harbours the richest deposit of the Andes’ copper, which boosts the powerful market of its neighbour.

Chilean government manifests that Bolivia, blaming the War of the Pacific for its declining economy, which occurred 136 years ago, positions Chile as the scapegoat. Chile has offered ocean access to Bolivia through Chilean ports, which Bolivia did not find sufficient, as it did not include mining rights. Chilean Foreign Ministry argued that Bolivia’s fight to regain the land lost long ago is an outdated pursuit, which should not be in the agenda of modern nations.

Mr. Morales, however, proclaimed that Bolivia demands the return of its coastal territory before the natural resources are exhausted by international corporations. Chilean authorities have not directly responded to the arguments of Mr. Morales, they only reiterated their main stance that the land was lost long time ago and the agreement of 1904 settled the dispute. Bolivian President has also based his argument on a broader perspective, as he suggested that no state should be deprived of the access to the sea, because this deprivation constitutes the greatest risk for future conflicts. He promised that the Bolivian ocean would be open to all peoples, ending the reason to grow armies.