Chile concludes closing arguments in sea dispute with Bolivia at The Hague

Isabel Cocker/The Santiago Times Staff

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The long-running dispute between the neighboring South American countries over access to the sea reached a new stage yesterday after Chile presented its final written response to Bolivia’s written arguments.

The case, which Bolivia bought before The Hague in 2013, concerns granting the land-locked country independent access to the sea, something which they have been denied since ceding territory to Chile in 1904 in a binding treaty. This treaty gives Bolivia access through the port of Arica and guarantees freedom of trade and goods through Chilean territory.

However, this has always been a contentious issue for the Bolivians, as they still claim that the land in the Antofagasta region of the Atacama corridor should be their territory. During the Pinochet era, there were talks considering granting a strip of territory between the Peruvian and Chilean borders to Bolivia, but these plans never came to fruition.

Since 1975, Chile and Bolivia have been in constant negotiations about the issue of independent access to the Pacific coast. This came to a head in 2013 when Bolivia presented a case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in which they declared that Chile had the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia about unrestricted access to the sea, something which they claim Chile has not done.

In response, Chile posits that the Chilean-Bolivian border was established in the 1904 treaty, and there has been no necessity and no obligation for them to change the terms of this treaty. They maintain that the terms of the treaty, which included Chile building a railroad between Arica and La Paz and paying Bolivia compensation, ensure that there is no need for Bolivia to have physical access to the Pacific.

Since the official presentation of preliminary arguments in 2014, the two countries have been presenting their arguments and contestations before the tribune. This latest set of arguments presented by Chancellor Muñoz on Thursday closes the written stage of the proceedings, and final oral presentations will be made by both countries in the middle of next year. The final date has not yet been decided.

After presenting the document, Muñoz commented on the strength and validity of the Chilean argument, declaring that “it is a substantive document which clearly proves the flaws in the Bolivian presentation, which has been a constantly shifting line of argument”.