Bolivia Backs Secret Talks on Chile Sea Access Dispute, Say Officials


EspañolBolivia reportedly sent Chile in mid-December 2014 a proposal to solve a long-standing maritime dispute, in exchange for withdrawing a petition filed before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2013, according to an article published on Sunday, January 11, by Chilean newspaper La Tercera.

Bolivia allegedly offered to open negotiations around the possibility of creating a sovereign enclave in the region of Pisagua, northern Chile, that would allow the landlocked country access to the sea, as well as developing touristic and real estate projects, a gas industrialization plant, and a port. The proposal also includes special provision for a road connecting Chile with the Bolivian city of Oruro.

The initiative was reportedly based on a proposal made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who in 2009 — during her first term in office — offered Bolivia a corridor and an enclave without sovereignty in the same region. However, the new proposal allegedly introduced a request for sovereignty, a key element of the Bolivian negotiating position since the dispute surfaced again some five years ago.

Despite La Tercera quoting anonymous, unidentified government officials on both sides recognizing the existence of the informal proposals and contacts, the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales denied making the “secret offer.” Leonor Arauco, an official with the Bolivian Foreign Ministry, denied that any message — formal or casual — was ever sent.

When consulted, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca declined to comment, saying that “diplomatic negotiations are not conducted through the media.”

Chilean diplomats were surprised by the timing chosen to send the message given the imminent decision of the ICJ on whether the dispute between the two countries falls within its jurisdiction, with an answer to this first issue expected in forthcoming months.

“For Chile, it would be suicidal to consider the proposal to engage in negotiations, when what Bolivia requested before the Court in The Hague is to force Chile to negotiate a sovereign access to the sea,” diplomatic sources told La Tercera.

In 2013, the Bolivian government filed a complaint before the ICJ to demand a negotiation with Chile over the fate of Chile’s Atacama desert and coastal region, known in Bolivia as the departamento del litoral. The nitrate and mineral rich region was annexed by Chile from Bolivia in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific.

Sources: La Tercera, Los Tiempos.

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