(above) Illustration by Josh Taylor/Santiago Times
International relations between Chile and Bolivia are tense and could worsen, considering the impact of a Monday press release from Bolivia’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.
The ministry announced that it had submitted a formal diplomatic note to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague asking to be involved in the ongoing maritime dispute between Chile and Peru.
“Bolivia’s main goal regarding the maritime dispute is to inform the ICJ regarding its views on a subject of vital interest for the Bolivian person which is its right to sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean,” the press release stated.
Bolivia has been landlocked since 1884, following its defeat by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Previously, Bolivia’s borders extended to the ocean through what is now northern Chile.
The press release takes on added importance because Bolivian President Evo Morales announced in March (the anniversary of Bolivia’s loss in the War of the Pacific) that he intends to sue Chile at the ICJ for sovereign sea access. Morales has already created a maritime claim organization to prepare legal actions for a Bolivia v. Chile case.
Morales claimed he opted for an international resolution “because developments were so slow” in bilateral discussions between Chile and Bolivia. Bolivia’s Senator Bernard Gutiérrez, head of the government’s opposition, said Morales was “using the proposal in an irresponsible way to distract attention from structural issues” in Bolivia.
Although sea access has been an unresolved diplomatic dispute between Chile and Bolivia since the 19th century, major new developments occurred in the past year.
Late last year Peru gave Bolivia a 99-year lease on a small stretch of coastline in southern Peru, the first time since the War of the Pacific that Bolivia has held sovereignty over coastal territory.
Still, Bolivia would like to see a sovereign strip of land bridging the distance between the rest of Bolivia and the ocean.
Just last month, Bolivia threatened to bring the matter up for a vote at an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting, but ultimately withdrew the issue.
This newest development signals that Bolivia is continuing to pursue international recognition of its claim.
The disputed ocean territory extends outward from the border between Chile and Peru. However, that location is also the most likely area for Bolivian sea access.
One sea access solution, proposed in 2009 by three Chilean architects, was a 93-mile long underground tunnel running along the Chile-Peru border out to the coast. The tunnel would end within the disputed ocean territory. The proposal suggested that the territory be declared international waters.
By Benjamin Schneider - The Santiago Times