Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Landlocked Bolivia Gains Access to Pacific Coast for First Time in 130 Years

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According to the terms of an agreement signed last week, Peru will allow Bolivia to build a port on its territory. Chile defeated Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and Bolivia has been landlocked ever since. In 1992, Peru and Bolivia signed an agreement granting the latter token access to a three-mile stretch of coastline, but it prohibited it from owning property on the land.

The latest deal, signed on October 19 by Presidents Evo Morales, of Bolivia, and Alan García, of Peru, will allow Bolivia to build a naval dock, operate a free-trade zone, and operate an annex of its naval school on a 1.38-square-mile tract of land on the Pacific coast. The meeting marked a clear warming of relations between the two presidents. The agreement is also expected to boost Bolivia’s global trade. A large producer of zinc, tin and silver, Bolivia currently must gain approval from Chile or Peru to move its exports across land. Access to the Pacific coast will cut transportation distances to Asian markets by approximately 40 percent. 

Bolivia’s quest for maritime access is the source of a long-standing dispute with Chile. Although the two countries have engaged in diplomatic discussions on the topic for the past five years, including a meeting earlier this year, the government of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has stated clearly it will not cede sovereignty. Chileans were somewhat disconcerted by news of the agreement. Some perceived it as a move to exert pressure to quickly resolve the dispute, while others called it an effort by Peru to sour Bolivia and Chile’s relationship.

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