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Bolivia Takes Chile to International Court of Justice over Land Dispute

On Wednesday, the Bolivian government filed a formal law suit against Chile in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to recover territory and access to the Pacific Ocean it lost during the 19th century War of the Pacific.

Bolivia has been landlocked since 1904, when Bolivia and Chile signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship to end the war. The war began with a disagreement over mining rights and escalated into a five-year conflict that ended with Chile annexing all of Bolivia’s 250 miles of coastline and much of the land abutting it. 

The suit is only the most recent action in a dispute that spans generations and administrations.  Bolivia, which still maintains a small navy and celebrates the Day of the Sea each year to commemorate its lost maritime access, has repeatedly attempted to regain access to the Pacific. The suit demands that Chile negotiate in good faith with Bolivia to provide a sovereign outlet to the sea on land that now forms part of Chile’ s Atacama region.   Bolivia also maintains that the 1904 agreement is invalid because it was signed under pressure from Chile. 

But Chile has never veered from its position that Bolivia lawfully ceded the territory in the 1904 treaty, which remains in effect. Previous attempts to re-negotiate the border have failed, nourishing lingering hostility between Bolivia and Chile. The neighboring countries last broke diplomatic ties in 1978 and have never reestablished them.

In order for the ICJ to move forward on the case, both Bolivia and Chile must agree to engage in the proceedings. The court’s decision, once made, would be binding on both parties.  However, it seems unlikely that the ICJ proceedings will move forward. Chilean officials denounced Bolivia’s claim again on Wednesday, saying that President Sebastián Piñera will continue to defend Chile’s sovereignty and that the suit has no legal basis. 

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: land disputes, International Court of Justice

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