Bolivia tries to recover lost territories by unlikely appeal to the ICJ

Bolivia has appealed in a case with the International Court of Justice that Chile be forced to negotiate in “good faith” to provide access to the sea. Worth trying I suppose, but it seems to be an attempt unlikely to succeed in recovering some of the territory lost to its neighbours over the last 150 years.

The case is interesting because Bolivia really has no legal case that I can see but is trying to make it into a “moral case”.  It is trying to get the ICJ – and thence the world – to accept that access to the sea is a “fundamental country right”!! International courts are not known for always exercising common sense and a “win” for Bolivia could be a very interesting precedent. There are 47 landlocked countries in the world today. Perhaps Mongolia and Nepal and Switzerland and even Liechtenstein could then also claim their fundamental right to have access to the sea.

Bolivia has been effectively landlocked since 1880 though only enshrined by treaty since 1904. Currently they pay trans-shipping costs to but are not charged tariffs by Chile.

 LOC: The border between the two countries was last set in a 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed in Santiago, Chile, on October 20, 1904. Under that agreement, Bolivia lost 400 kilometers of coastline and 120,000 square kilometers of territory to Chile, following the War of the Pacific of 1879-1884. 

Since that time, Bolivia has been attempting to reclaim the lost territory and the outlet to the sea and has severed relations with Chile repeatedly. Bolivia still maintains a limited navy on Lake Titicaca which lies partly in Peru and partly in Bolivia. Bolivia haa long history of its mestizos being exploited by the wealthy Spanish citizenry but has not been served very well by a long line of its politicians – not least Manuel Isidoro Belzú Humerez (President of Bolivia from 1848 to 1855)  and later Mariano Melgarejo (18th President of Bolivia, from 1864, to 1871) whose international achievements were a little less than dismal

Smithsonian: (Melgarejo) delighted by the gift of a fine gray horse from the Brazilian government, he called for a map of his country, placed one hoof on the border, drew around it and then ceded the resulting horseshoe-shaped chunk of Bolivian territory to Brazil. According to a second dubious anecdote, the president ordered his army to go to the aid of the French during the Franco-Prussian War; told this would mean an ocean voyage, he snapped: “Don’t be stupid. We’ll take a short cut through the brush.”

In any event Bolivia now has only about 50% of the territory it had before 1850.

The changing shape of Bolivia, showing the loss of the coastal province of Antofagusta in 1904. (Although the transfer of territory was ratified in 1904, Antofagusta had been seized by Chile as early as 1880.) Bolivia still seeks the recovery of her coastline, and maintains a navy on Lake Titicaca. Map: Wikicommons vi Smithsonian

The changing shape of Bolivia, showing the loss of the coastal province of Antofagusta in 1904. (Although the transfer of territory was ratified in 1904, Antofagusta had been seized by Chile as early as 1880.) Bolivia still seeks the recovery of her coastline, and maintains a navy on Lake Titicaca. Map: Wikicommons via Smithsonian

On April 15, 2014, Bolivia submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) a memorandum with arguments supporting its lawsuit filed against Chile for the purpose of reclaiming access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost that access to the coast in a 19th-century war with Chile, leaving it landlocked. Chile has stated that Bolivia’s claims have no historical or legal grounds.

Court proceedings have now opened

ReutersLandlocked Bolivia went to the World Court on Monday, seeking to force Chile to negotiate the granting of a corridor of sovereign territory giving it access to the sea for its natural gas and mineral exports.

Opening proceedings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Chile asked judges to throw out the lawsuit, saying the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Bolivia bases its claim that the ICJ has jurisdiction under the 1948 Bogota Pact and their request is only that Chile be forced to negotiate in “good faith”. Chile claims that the ICJ has no jurisdiction and that “good faith” negotiations – anyway – are not obligatory.

LOC: The Chilean government has expressed confidence that Bolivia’s claims will not be recognized because they amount to a unilateral dismissal of the 1904 treaty commitment that has established the two countries’ common border and that remains in force.

Bolivia bases its claims on legal, historical, and economic arguments. It demands that the ICJ consider two main points: the recognition of Bolivia’s sovereign right to access to the Pacific Ocean and the requirement that Chile negotiate the issue with Bolivia. Bolivia considers the economic damage caused by its lack of sea access to be extensive. Chile has benefited from the exploitation of natural fertilizers, sulfur, and salt by British companies interested in the profits derived from these materials. The richest copper deposits are located in the land that Bolivia lost to Chile and are key to the prosperity of the Chilean economy.

Bolivia’s Ridiculously Weak ICJ Case Against Chile

Bolivia´s Reasonably Strong ICJ Case against Chile

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