Bolivia set to sue Chile over lost territory

Bolivia has never forgotten about the territory on the Pacific coast that it once owned but lost to Chile as a result of a war in 1879.   On Wednesday March 23, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that his country is now willing to take Chile to international court in order to regain the lost area.

As part of the treaty signed with Chile at the end of the War of the Pacific from 1879 to 1884, Bolivia lost a region of the Atacama Desert on the Pacific coastline.  Bolivia then became a landlocked country and has wanted to regain the territory ever since.  Each year on the anniversary of the loss of the region Bolivia observes something called the “Day of the Sea,” in which the people remember the day the country lost it’s only coastline. 

President Morales brought up the topic again on the 132nd anniversary of losing the coastline when he said that Bolivia should now take the dispute to an international court.

“The fight for our maritime claim, which has marked our history for 132 years, now should include another fundamental element: to go before international tribunals and organizations, demanding in lawfulness and fairness a free and sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean,” Morales said.

Bolivia hopes that an international court would rule in favor of returning the territory it once lost to Chile.  However, President Morales also said that Bolivia will not stop direct communication with Chile on the issue.

The War of the Pacific began because both Bolivia and Chile wanted the rights to the territory between the 23rd and 26th parallels on the Pacific coast.  The area was rich in valuable mineral resources, especially sodium nitrate.  A pre-war agreement stated that the border was drawn at the 24th parallel, and that Chile could share the export taxes gained from Bolivia’s territory.  This treaty was later revised, and Chile agreed to give up its share of export taxes while Bolivia promised not to raise taxes on Chilean businesses in Bolivia for 25 years.  In 1878, Bolivia broke its pact and tried to raise the taxes.  This led to the war in 1879 in which Chile invaded the area and went on to win the war.

“Bolivia was basically cut off from its access to the Pacific, and ever since then they have tried in one way or another to reverse this,” said Peter Klaren, professor of history and international affairs at The George Washington University.  “It is an old wound that has never healed.”

This is one of several territorial disputes currently going on in Latin America.  The Falkland Islands of the coast of Argentina is a self-governing British territory.  Britain established its rule on the islands in 1833, yet Argentina believes the islands should be a part of the country.  Argentina invaded in 1982, but was defeated by British troops in the Falklands war.  The state of Acre in Brazil is another disputed area.  The region was once a part of Bolivia with a large Brazillian population that was basically independent of Bolivia.  When Bolivia tried to gain control of the area in 1899, the population revolted in what was known as the Acre Revolution.  The Treaty of Petropolis was signed in 1903, which gave the region to Brazil.


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