Chile to World Court: No Negotiation on Sea Access for Bolivia


Final Arguments over Border Dispute Presented at the Hague

by Belén Marty
The ongoing legal battle over Bolivia's claim to sovereign access to the sea via Chile is to begin a new chapter, after Chile's legal team delivered its final arguments at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague on Thursday.

Facing a packed room, the Chilean lawyers sought to discredit the arguments put forward by Bolivia the day before, and stated that Chile had no obligation to negotiate. The delegation from Santiago, headed by Felipe Bulnes, is hoping that the Court will declare itself unqualified to review the Bolivian maritime claim.

Lawyers Daniel Bethlehen, Samuel Wordsworth, Harold Koh, and Pierre Marie Dupuy highlighted the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed by both nations, which confirmed Bolivia's loss of the coastal Atacama region that Chile annexed in the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific.

Bolivia previously argued that Chile had failed to honor its promises to offer Bolivia preferential access to Chilean ports and negotiate over a sovereign corridor the sea.

The Bolivian claim surfaced in 2013, but the successive administrations of President Evo Morales have seen the issue gather momentum, with the case presented before the ICJ at the beginning of 2015.

(below) Fue día histórico. Por 1ra vez Chile explicando ante una Corte porque se niega a dialogar con Bolivia --- "It was a historic day. For the first time, Chile explained before a court why it will not negotiate with Bolivia."

On Monday, May 4, the Chilean legal team argued forcefully that Bolivia's aim of redrafting the 1904 treaty without Chile's consent would violate a fundamental principle of international law, whereby treaties between states are binding.

Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, former president of Bolivia, replied on Tuesday, citing alleged commitments by Chile to restore Bolivia's maritime access in 1895, 1920, 1926, 1961, and 1975, which failed to materialize.

"Bolivia has always outlined and keeps outlining this situation as one of historical vindication of a land that was lost in a time of war," Bulnes said.

(below) El único instrumento que genera obligaciones es el Tratado de 1904, dice el presidente del Senado de Chile --- "The only [legal] instrument that is relevant is the Treaty of 1904, says the president of the Chilean Senate."

The attorney claimed that what Bolivia is looking for is to invite the Court to undo what has been created over time. "The stability of the frontiers within Latin America is a regional achievement that has been accomplished at a very high cost," he added.

Bulnes, who gave Chile's closing arguments, says Bolivia can still make extensive and perpetual use of free transit.

Another Chilean lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem, described Bolivia's claim before the Court as "artificially made up," suggesting that "nothing that happened before the Treaty of 1904 has any relevance."

"Bolivia is throwing arguments in the air like bait, hoping the Court bites on one of them," Bethlehem said.

The conflict dates back to February 14, 1879, when the Chilean military disembarked on what was then the Bolivian coast of Antofagasta. The act marked the beginning of several years of battle. Finally, in 1884, the two nations arrived at a truce and signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1904.

Among other stipulations, the document yields to Chile in absolute and perpetual terms all Bolivian territories that were occupied in that moment by Chilean troops. Since then, Bolivia has had no exit to the sea.

Translated by Orlando Avendaño. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.