Bolivia: No Hope For A Sea Route
After losing sea access to Chile over a century ago, Bolivia remains landlocked and this is not likely to change.
In the beginning of October, after five years of deliberation, the International Court of Justice delivered its ruling on Bolivia v. Chile and Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia filed a lawsuit to the International Court of Justice arguing that Chile was obligated to negotiate with Bolivia to reach an agreement granting Bolivia sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. The court ruled that Chile had no such obligation.
Bolivia lost access to the sea in the 1879 War of the Pacific. Chile invaded Bolivia as part of a tax dispute and annexed 50,000 square miles of Bolivian territory which included all of Bolivia’s sea access. Bolivia accepted this loss in the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship . In exchange for a promise of “fullest and freest” commercial port access.
However, the feud has created ongoing tension, and the two countries suspended diplomatic relations in 1978.
President Evo Morales filed a lawsuit with ICJ in 2013. On the one hand, Bolivians view their landlocked status as a historical injustice and an affront to their national prides. Bolivia still celebrates National Day of Sea to commemorate those that died defending their port of Calama in 1879. Before the ruling was announced, Bolivia was optimistic that the UN court would rule in their favor.
On the other hand, Bolivia framed the lawsuit as an economic necessity. Bolivia has the second lowest GDP of South America, while its coastal neighbor, Chile, has the second highest. Landlocked countries do face economic disadvantages. For instance, all 45 of the world’s landlocked countries are comparatively poor to their coastal counterparters. While international treaties, such as Bolivia and Chile’s 1904 treaty, promise access, this access is not sovereign access, and inner countries have the added responsibility of moving goods to and from ports. Bolivia argues that its GDP would be 20 percent higher if it had not been landlocked for the past century.
The ICJ in a 12-3 vote found that Chile had no legal obligation to negotiate with Bolivia, and Chile argues that it is doing all it is obligated to as agreed upon in 1904. Political Science Professor Patricio Navia writes that “President Morales (Bolivia) prefers to use this as a campaign tool because every time he finds himself in problems, he can point to Chile’s denial of claims for sovereign access as the reason for Bolivia’s underdevelopment.”
Even with a mandate from the UN, it is unlikely that Chile would have entered into meaningful negotiations with Bolivia. Without a mandate, Chile has no motivation. Bolivia however, will remain optimistic and will not forget its demands in the near future. At the hearings, Bolivia’s former president, March Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze argued that “Restoring Bolivia’s sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia.”