Time for Bolivians to Forget about the Sea

Bolivia has yet to put forward a compelling argument for why it should have access to the sea.
Renewed access to the sea will not solve the problems Bolivians face today. (Sputnik News)

EspañolIn 1879, a war broke out over a tax controversy between Chile and Bolivia, along with Bolivia’s ally, Peru. Bolivia demanded that a Chilean company pay taxes, and went on to seize and auction its assets.

It was a time when Chile, a blossoming economy compared with the weak Bolivian and Peruvian markets, sought to expand its borders. Chile won, and both Bolivia and Peru lost territory.

Ever since then, Bolivia has yearned to recover what it lost from Chile, and many Bolivians are still very resentful of the war’s outcome. Bolivian President Evo Morales put the debate back on the table when his government filed a lawsuit against Chile before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On September 24, the ICJ ruled that it will hear Bolivia’s case, and determine whether Chile must negotiate with Bolivia to offer access to the sea.

Bolivia bases the claim on three main arguments:

  • The Bolivian government maintains that the Pacific War was actually an invasion, and that the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship is therefore invalid. “I don’t agree on calling it a war; to me, it was an invasion, not a war,” Morales said.
  • Bolivia believes Chile has an obligation to negotiate, because several Chilean administrations since 1895 have been open to the idea of granting Bolivia access to the sea. For instance, the Morales administration points to the Charaña Agreement between Augusto Pinochet (1974-1990) and Hugo Banzer (1971-1978).
  • Bolivia blames Chile for not following through on promises, and argues Chile should be forced to negotiate “in good faith.”

Furthermore, President Morales and his supporters believe that Bolivia’s poor economic performance can be explained by the country’s lack of sea access. They claim that if Bolivia had a sovereign seaport on the Pacific, the country would be in a vastly different position.

Sea of Lies

Bolivia is indeed an impoverished country, but not because she lacks access to the sea. It is the result of decades of bad governance, a lack of political and economic liberties, and constant coups. If the country were to recover territory on the Pacific coast, Bolivians would love it for the next five to 10 years, and then completely forget about it.

The territory claimed by Bolivia doesn’t look anything like the glorious beaches of Rio de Janeiro or Cancún. They are rocky coasts and sand deserts, only fit for fishing.

I live in Santa Cruz, in southeastern Bolivia, by the banks of the Piraí River, in the heart of South America. For the last 205 years, we have not needed the state, nor the sea. We prospered on our own, through free and voluntary exchange. It is no coincidence that we are one of the fastest growing cities in Latin America.

While Bolivian authorities claim the country has no access to the sea, this is not entirely true. Port Busch provides the country a water route to the Atlantic ocean via the Paraguay River. However, the government has done nothing to develop the area. This shows that the dispute with Chile is more about resentment and demagoguery than about the sea.

If Chile gives up a portion of her territory, the Bolivian state would expand accordingly. That means new regulations for fishing, as well as state-imposed privileges and monopolies, causing greater poverty and government predation.

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Does Bolivia really need access to the sea, or this just about resentment towards Chile?

If we’re looking for someone to blame, that would have to be the Bolivian president at the time of the war. While Chilean troops were occupying the coast, he was off celebrating at the carnival, enjoying the good life.

In truth, however, we are the ones who are ultimately responsible, since we lack the courage to move forward on our own. Always submissive to the state, we look to the government for solutions.

In order to thrive, Bolivia needs economic and political freedom, and less regulations. A free country, where citizens engage in voluntary exchange, is attractive for local and foreign investment, and improves quality of life.

We don’t need the state, nor access to the sea. We need to live free.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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