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News > Latin America

Bolivia's Morales Asks for 'Just and Accurate' Ruling in Sea Access Claim

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales gestures as he arrives for the opening of hearings at the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands March 19, 2018.

    Bolivian President Evo Morales gestures as he arrives for the opening of hearings at the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands March 19, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 March 2018

"Bolivia's sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia," argued the Bolivian team.

Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in The Hague Monday to attend the opening hearings for his country's case at the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, saying he expects a "fair and accurate ruling" in the over-a-century sea access dispute with Chile.

Bolivia's Social Movements March to Demand Access to Sea

Speaking at a press conference, the Bolivian president said that the ruling was important for the future between the neighboring countries.

"Apart from these accusations by third parties who judge our defense of Bolivia, the Court must seek solutions for future generations because Chile and Bolivia will forever be neighbors," Morales said.

For several decades, Bolivia has been fighting to reclaim its coastal territory from Chile to gain access to the Pacific Ocean, which it lost in the 1897 War of the Pacific that left the country landlocked.

A 1904 peace treaty struck after the War of the Pacific, which fixed current boundaries, is believed to be dubious by Bolivian critics. 

Former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze told judges Monday: "Restoring Bolivia's sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia."

Speaking to reporters at a press conference following the hearings, President Morales said: “We want Bolivians and Chileans, as brothers, to solve our differences together. We must as brothers look for solutions for the good of future generations."

He added that his government is not interested in negotiating the century-old treaty but to end the injustice his country suffered over the decades.

"An invasion took us away from the territory of the Bolivian coast. Here is not the demand on the treaty of 1904. We are asking that Chile comply with its commitments," he told reporters and added that his government does not doubt a positive ruling in favor of his country because "Bolivia is on the side of reason and justice.”

The landlocked Andean nation is seeking sovereign access to the sea to help boost its exports of natural gas and minerals, as currently, Bolivia has sea access through Chile, and it must pay taxes to gain use to it.

During the opening hearings, Bolivian lawyers said the Andean country was not asking “the court to rule on how sovereign access should be arranged ... but simply (to ensure) that Chile return to the negotiating table in good faith." 

"For 150 years Bolivia has suffered the historical injustice of being landlocked,” said lawyer Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, according to Reuters, adding that Chile had made many promises “to reconnect Bolivia to the sea." 

Bolivia's Maritime Claim: Battle to Undo 139-Year-Old Conquest

Bolivia's Evo Morales said in a tweet, "Today, after 139 years and 33 days of the armed invasion of Chile to the Bolivian port of Antofagasta, Bolivia presents at the most important court of Justice of the world, legal and historical allegations, to demand the replacement of its right of to the sea access with sovereignty." 

"As today, in 1969 the writer and diplomat Jorge Escobari Cusicanqui, warned that through a proposal of 'regional integration,' Chile sought to make our claim disappear #MarParaBolivia. Because of this distracting policy of procrastination, we go to the ICJ," Morales said in another tweet. 

In 2013, Morales went to the ICJ in an attempt to restore part of the territory and garner "sovereign access" to the waters it lost. He claimed the 1901 treaty in which Bolivia declared the official cessation of its right to the area was forced upon his country "down the barrel of a gun." 

"The government of Chile is clinging to the logic of the 19th century, and that is not going to take them anywhere. Bolivia is invoking the justice, the history, and the logic of the 21st century," said Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, according to Business Insider. 

In 2015, despite Chilean opposition, the court decided that landlocked Bolivia had jurisdiction in the case.  

Each year Bolivia marks the Day of the Sea on March 23, where large crowds gather to march in the streets of Bolivia's capital, La Paz, with miniature boats and ships. The Andean country which is landlocked for the most part has a navy which marks the day in uniform. 

The oral hearing at the ICJ will run through March 28, after which the judges will take several months before setting the date for a ruling. 

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