On 24 April 2013, Bolivia instituted proceedings against Chile at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, aiming to regain a sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, lost after the end of the War of the Pacific, in 1883.
Last March, the United Nations (UN) tribunal held six public hearings to ponder both countries’ arguments with regard to Evo Morales’ nation’s claim that Chile “has the obligation to negotiate” with the land-locked territory.
This Monday 1 October, at 1pm GMT, 10am Chile time, said dispute is set to reach an end, with the World Court ready to deliver its ruling on the border conflict.
Basically, if the outcome was to favour Bolivia, it would mean that Chile would have to negotiate in good terms a way for the Andean nation to access the sea with sovereignty.
On the contrary, if the CIJ estimates that there is no obligation, Chile would be able to reassert its position and simply keep offering the benefits that are already granted: free access to ports, for instance.
Notwithstanding, the CIJ can only rule on the existance of an obligation by Chile, but it cannot force the country to cede land, modify its borders, determine the outcome of any talks nor go against treaties signed before its creation in 1948.
On Saturday, nonetheless, before boarding the presidential plane to travel to The Netherlands, Morales affirmed that his country will not stop seeking an access to the sea.
“Our claim cannot and should not be considered as an unfriendly act, but as an opportunity that allows us to meet again. We are neighbours and siblings with a common destiny”, the Andean leader said before taking off.
On 17 September, he also stated that their reunion with the sea “is not only possible but inevitable” and invited Chile’s Sebastián Piñera to find “ways of understanding to heal wounds opened over a hundred years ago”.
The new Constitution even estipulates that every head of State must safeguard the country’s interests in relation to the sea. If they fail to do so, they can be held accountable through a constitutional accusation.
Piñera’s response came swiftly and took to Twitter to assure that he will defend the country’s territory, sea and sovereignty as well as stating that “honourable countries respect the treaties they sign”, referring to the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which established the current borders.
For Bolivia, that agreement resulted in the loss of almost 400 kilometers of coastline and around 110 thousand square kilometers of land.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ position is set in stone and equals that of the President. “Our country has always been ready to dialogue without compromising sovereign territory”, the entity stated this Sunday.
“Chile has always respected international law and the limits set in the Treaty of 1904. The sovereign territory of our country is not a matter of negotiation”, the Chancery added.
“This treaty is in force and must be respected by both countries. Chile respects it and will respect it. Therefore: Chile’s sovereign territory will not be negotiated”, the ministry insisted.
#Chile🇨🇱 has always respected international law and the limits set in the Treaty of 1904. The sovereign territory of our country is not a matter of negotiation. #ChileEnLaHaya 👉🏻 https://t.co/xVPffsufVm pic.twitter.com/ZbwzADkqKN
— Chile MFA 🇨🇱 (@ChileMFA) 1 de octubre de 2018
In fact, on 22 March, Chile denied having any obligation to negotiate sea access in front of the 15 UN judges.
During that hearing, the Chilean agent, Claudio Grossman, declared that their petition should be “dismissed in its entirety” and described it as “unsustainable”.
He then criticised their changing position as, in his opinion, they started asking for dialogue and ended demanding ocean access.
Morales travelled to lead the Bolivian delegation and to be present at the moment when the Court’s decision is made public. That vastly differs from the Chilean situation, with the President and the chancellor, Roberto Ampuero, set to watch the event live at the presidential palace, La Moneda.
Piñera ordered Ampuerto to stay in Santiago to accompany him, his cabinet and the Chilean people. The move was highly critised by Bolivia, with the official spokesperson, Carlos Meza, calling it a “lack of optimism”.
Morales took office on 22 January 2006 and is currently serving his third term in office. Many believe he had ulterior motives when filing the lawsuit against Chile: holding on to power.
In 2017, he announced his intention of running a fourth time, something the new Bolivian Constitution forbids as no head of State should govern over three consecutive periods. However, he won his first election while the old document was still in force.
In light of this, through a referendum, Morales tried to abrogate that bill, but he was defetead at the polls. Nevertheless, his party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), took the matter to the Constitutional Tribunal, court that supported his right to run again.
But the possibilities of him lingering in power might fade if the Electoral Tribunal rules against him. In the mean time, Morales already confirmed he will participate in the January 2019 primaries.
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