From now on the 1st of October will forever enter the history of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. This Monday after a five-year struggle by the Bolivians for the long-awaited access to the sea, the United Nations International Court of Justice in The Hague made its final decision. Chile has no obligation to negotiate a century-long conflict with Bolivia. What will Evo Morales now go to in order to support his main political project “Sea for Bolivia”?
After 5 years, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued its verdict. According to experts, Bolivia and Chile have been engaged in dialogue, exchange of views and negotiations for more than a century in order to find a suitable solution to the question of Bolivia’s lack of access to the sea following the Second Pacific War (1879-1883) and the 1904 Treaty. However, on the basis of the documentary evidence submitted, the court ultimately “could not come to the conclusion that Chile has an obligation to negotiate with Bolivia to reach an agreement that guarantees the Bolivian side sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean”. The decision was read by the chairman of the court, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, and was adopted by 12 votes to three. He stressed that the court could not satisfy the demands of the Bolivian side, however, the chairman noted that the court’s decision should not be perceived as not allowing the continuation of the dialogue between the two countries in the spirit of good neighborliness to discuss the issue in which both parties are interested.
It is worth recalling that Bolivia lost access to the sea during the Second Pacific War – the armed conflict of 1879-1883, which was caused by the struggle for natural resources and control over saltpeter deposits. The result of the war was the victory of the Chilean troops and the loss of Bolivia about 120 thousand square meters. km² of territory and 400 km of the coast of Antofagasta.
For a long period of history, relations between Bolivia and Chile were marked not only by fear and distrust, but also often by open hostility and confrontation. Formal diplomatic ties between the two states were severed for more than fifty years, until the moment of the process of restoring mutual communication from the beginning of the negotiations in 1975-1977. Speaking of the third party to this conflict, Peruvian-Chilean relations, on the contrary, had a rival character for a long time, reaching a new round of military confrontation only in the new century. The differences in interpretation and execution of the 1929 Treaty were obvious until recently. Taken together, these differences had a direct impact on stability in the region, threatening the world and hampering economic and political integration. Trade flows between the three countries had low potential, and the shadow of a possible conflict provoked a sharp jump in spending in the military sphere (about 2.2% of GDP in Chile in 2012, following the Stockholm Center, exceeding the figures for military spending of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Peru).
The current situation is explained by the consequences of the Pacific War, to be more precise, its two combat bouts, the first of which occurred long before that, in 1836, Chile had a conflict against the Peruvian-Bolivian confederation, and in 1879 was the confrontation of three countries. The political game developed around gaining an advantage in the Pacific, the driving force of both conflicts was Peru-Chilean geopolitical competition for the right to possess such valuable natural resources as saltpeter, copper and guano (fertilizer of natural origin). Bolivia’s request for a sovereign right to the Pacific, with independent access to the sea, is still a knot of contradictions threatening the instability of the region’s political system. Over a period of more than 130 years after the military clash, in an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, fragmentation and traces of “hot ashes” after two armed conflicts, three Andean countries did not come to a consensus, as indicated by the requirements of the Bolivian side in the International Court of Justice. In turn, Chile continued to assert that the issue of the joint border was settled as early as the 1904 Treaty, and that it was not obliged to negotiate.
Since 2013, La Paz in international courts has tried to regain access to the ocean. In 2015, the International Court of Justice rejected the Chilean side’s demand to close consideration of the question of Bolivia’s access to the ocean. For more than five years, the Plurinational State of Bolivia has fully worked on the unified national project “Sea for Bolivia”.
Even before the announcement of the decision, Morales himself touched on the topic of damage to his country as a result of armed conflict. “I would like everyone to know that we are not raising the economic part of the issue. If we wanted to touch upon the economic component after the invasion, how much Chile would have had to Bolivia”, – Morales said on the eve of the verdict. It is worth noting that the Bolivian leader even pardoned the two former presidents of the country so that they could support Chile’s demand for access to the ocean. It is about the former heads of state, Jorge Quiroga and Carlos Mesa.
After the announcement of the official decision, Bolivia plunged into national mourning, because not one generation of Bolivians grew up with the main national project of “sea isolation” for more than 130 years. However, the Bolivian authorities still believe that La Paz has all the necessary historical and economic documents, as well as a financial calculation of the damage done to Bolivia. At the same time, Morales noted that his country is now interested in normal negotiations with Chile. It is noteworthy that the main state slogan “Sea for Bolivia” in recent months of a large-scale company in support of the Bolivian appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague suddenly took shape in the “Sea for Nations”. Representatives of the government of Bolivia decided to give such a sound to him, emphasizing the regional dimension of this issue.
Bolivians still do not want to admit their defeat, and in the words of the current government they will look for new tools and forms of struggle for “sovereign access to the sea”. However, the Chilean leadership stated that it intends to continue to be guided by the provisions of the 1904 Treaty, which enshrines the free movement of Bolivian goods through the Chilean ports in the Pacific Ocean, which Chile fully provided for all time. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chilean state in response to the decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague in general stated that it had not and does not have any territorial disputes with Bolivia. In addition, if you evaluate the statements and actions of Evo Morales with the development of the maritime problem, you can easily see that the appetites of the Bolivian leader “grew”. If at the beginning of his presidency, he spoke of the intention to gain access to the ports of Chile in the Pacific and sought to provide Bolivia with a “corridor” to the sea, then soon the Bolivian leader demanded that the provisions of the Treaties of 1884 and 1904 be canceled and Bolivia return sovereignty over the lost territory of Antofagasta. Only time will tell whether the Bolivian leadership will be able to sit down at the negotiating table with the Chileans. However, the main task of the current government of Bolivia is still to preserve the main political project “Sea for Bolivia”, uniting the entire Bolivian nation, which is so necessary for the ruling party on the eve of the upcoming presidential elections in November 2019.