The legal teams of Bolivia and Chile presented their final arguments on the last day of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, regarding Bolivia's long-standing demand for sea access, showing that none of the parties is willing to give up on their original claims.
The Bolivian government maintained their claims for sovereign sea access, demanding negotiations with Chile, while their southern neighbour rejected Bolivia's claims saying that they wouldn't abandon the thousands of Chilean families living in the disputed territory.
During a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that Chile “inaccurately” wanted to show that the 1904 treaty “works in favor of Bolivia” and that their arguments are “evading the bottom details of the lawsuit.”
According to Morales, Bolivia is in its full right to claim a sovereign sea access, which was taken away by Chile after the war in Antofagasta, and said that Chile is not fulfilling the treaty they themselves imposed on Bolivia in 1904.
The Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1904 officially ended the war between both countries, but ceded 400 kilometres of sea coast and 120,000 square meters of territory to Chile. Bolivia argues that this treaty was imposed under pressure and threats.
But the treaty also established that Chile should grant Bolivia the right to use their ports and allow them free transit of their commodities.
According to Bolivia's defense team, Chile has failed to bestow Bolivia with these benefits, and that's why they're now demanding sovereign access to the sea.
Morales talked about the constant strikes in Chilean ports affecting Bolivian cargo, all the landmines that are still active at the border and the diplomatic incidents between both countries as evidence of Chile's failure to comply with the treaty.
Bolivia's main petition is to force Chile into negotiating with them, arguing that their southern neighbour has offered negotiations in the past. According to Bolivia, Chile has accepted to “consistently negotiate with Bolivia” a sovereign sea access for more than a century in diplomatic letters and official statements, with offers such as territory cessation, permanent negotiations and different commitments in which Chile expresses that “there's a pending issue.”
But Chile's defense team dismisses these claims and declared that the 1904 treaty wrapped all pending issues with Bolivia, committing to comply with it.
The lawyer Harold Hondju Koh, part of the Chilean defense team, stated that if the ICJ ruled out in favor of Bolivia, the decision would bring “drastic consequences to thousands of Chilean families,” and that Bolivia's demand is practically asking the Chilean government to “abandon” its citizens “in the benefit of another country.”
Therefore, Koh demanded the ICJ to disdain Bolivia's arguments, saying that Bolivia has not made clear when Chile did accept its own obligation to negotiate sovereign sea access.
Also, Chile's lawyer stressed that while Bolivia was initially demanding a negotiation between both countries, their arguments and later claims apparently demanded a “legal obligation” from the court.
During a meeting at Chile's Palacio de la Moneda, president Sebastian Piñera said that Morales seems to "confuse his claims with rights."
Bolivia presented the demand at the ICJ in 2013 originally trying to force Chile into negotiations, arguing that they had previously offered talks only to be retracted later.
The hearings began March 19 and lasted until Wednesday, and the judges will now take some months until ruling out a decision.