May 08, 2015

Bolivia's Demand Against Chile in the Hague


Since 2013 Bolivia is suing Chile in the International Court of Justice in the Hague regarding the long standing issue of sea access. This has been and still is the most important issue in Bolivia's foreign affairs. While all prior governments have made it an important issue, the Morales government has been the government which has done the most, among other things, take Chile to international court.

After having successfully internationally promoted the issue in different summits and meetings such as the OAS and the UN, Bolivia has created a special agency that has the only task to further support and "promote" this effort through the dissemination of information in different media and to legally support the effort at the Hague, the DIREMAR.This effort has successfully resulted on the acceptance of the demand in the ICJ and the subsequent exchange of arguments.

Here you can read (in PDF), in English, Bolivia's application to the ICJ. Here you can read Chile's objection (Vol I, Vol II, and Vol III) to the application and Bolivia's response to the objection. Here you can go to the case's link to keep up to date.

This May, Bolivia and Chile have been going through the most recent exchange of arguments. Both countries have presented their oral arguments (May 4 and May 6) outlining them before the judges.

However, one thing that attracted my attention was that the case is not about the sovereign sea access of Bolivia, which is the impression you get if you follow the issue through the media. Bolivia has been for a very long time complaining that the lack of sea access has had negative effects on its ability to economically develop. In fact, the issue has inevitably been tied to the issue of poverty in the country. But, not, the issue at hand at the Hague is not sea access per se, but to force Chile to recognize its "obligation to negotiate" with Bolivia over a the issue of sea access.

Bolivia's argument is:
Quite simply, all that Bolivia asks, as stated in its application, is for Chile to fulfill its obligation, to respect its repeated promises, its agreement to negotiate sovereign access to the sea, an agreement independent of the 1904 Treaty.
In effect, Bolivia is suing Chile into accepting negotiations on sea access issue, but that those negotiations include the words "sovereign access", which really means that Chile has to transfer sovereignty of territory to Bolivia. And this is something Chile does not want to do, and will not do, if they seriously mean what they (the Chilean government) have been saying all along.

The question is whether sovereignty is needed in order for Bolivia to have autonomous access to the sea through a Chilean port. Reason might argue it is not needed, unless there are reasons to dispute that reason. Arica has been, until now, the port through which the largest part of Bolivian exports and imports move. The situation was functioning well until Chile privatized the port in 2004 and the conditions changed for Bolivia since 2009 due to the company's rise in prices.

It is going to be without a doubt interesting to follow the decision...

Prior post to this topic