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Landlocked Bolivia seeks legal route to Pacific

Chileans unimpressed with sabre-rattling Morales

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Bolivian president Evo Morales has pledged that his landlocked nation will reclaim access to the sea, 132 years after it lost its coastline to Chile.

Speaking on the "Day of the Sea", marking the War of the Pacific which ended with a defeated Bolivia cut off from the Pacific, Morales rattled a legal sabre at Chile over the "open wound" the loss represented to his fellow countrymen.

He said: "Our fight for maritime revindication, which has marked our history for 132 years, must now include another element. We must go to international tribunals and organisations to demand free and sovereign access to the sea."

As Morales's words suggest, Bolivia's 1884 loss of a considerable chunk of Atacama, including the port of Antofagasta, is an emotive issue. The two nations broke off diplomatic relations in 1978 over the disputed territory, and recently-launched negotiations at ministerial level came to nothing when Chile failed to meet a 23 March deadline to offer "concrete proposals" to satisfy Bolivia's demands.

According to the BBC, Chilean president Sebastian Pinera is none too impressed with Morales's threat. He said: "Bolivia cannot expect a direct, frank and sincere dialogue while it simultaneously manifests its intention to go to international tribunals."

While Chile's "categorical rejection" of Bolivian demands might seem a serious blow to the ocean-going ambitions of the latter's small symbolic navy, it could soon be sailing the Pacific via the back door.

The BBC notes that last October, Bolivia inked a deal to build a port on Peru's Pacific coast. Peru was also on the losing side in the War of the Pacific, and is "involved in a similar dispute over maritime boundaries" with Chile. ®

Bootnote

The Chileans and Bolivians have been going at it for years. Regular readers might recall that a couple of years back filming on Bond flick Quantum of Solace was disrupted by the mayor of the Chilean town of Baquedano.

Baquedano lies within the territory annexed by Chile after the War of the Pacific, and Carlos Lopez didn't much like the fact that Eon Productions had seen fit to raise the flag of its ousted former owners over the town.

One newspaper summed up the Chilean position, and indeed gave a pretty good idea of how the locals view Bolivians, when it wrote: "Chile is Chile. We're not Bolivian Indians. Imperialist British out."

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