Bolivia’s Access to the Pacific: What’s at Stake?

UN Decision rules against a land-locked country

Bolivia competes with Chile for access to the Pacific.

Bolivia competes with Chile for access to the Pacific.

Tariq Bevel, Staff Writer

Before October 1, Bolivia stood at one of the most important moments in its history. The South American country was awaiting a UN decision that would determine whether the country should gain access to the Pacific Ocean.

Currently, Bolivia is a landlocked country that borders the countries of Chile and Peru to the west. However, in the past, Bolivia used to be much larger and it also had an important border with the Pacific Ocean.

If you’ve ever heard of the War in the Pacific you would probably think of World War II, and think what does Bolivia have to do with World War II? Well, there was a different war involving Bolivia named the “War ‘of’ the Pacific” which began in 1879 and lasted for five years. This was a major conflict involving a Bolivian/Peruvian alliance against Chile.

Bolivia declared war on Chile after Chilean forces were sent to occupy one of their ports and Peru tried to mediate the conflict. When Peru did not claim neutrality, Chile declared war on both countries who were allies at the time.

The war eventually ended in 1884 in a Chilean victory with Bolivia losing all of its territory along the coast. This war, even though it happened over a century ago, is still a point of controversy among Bolivia’s relationship with Chile. Peru was granted back its lost territory, but Bolivia was left completely landlocked after the war. Bolivia completely surrendered its coast in 1904 in a treaty with Chile, and since then, there have been occasional talks about possible sea access between the two countries, but no real action was ever taken.

The UN decision, which was decided on in October, would determine if Chile would be obligated to granting Bolivia sea access once again. Bolivian president Evo Morales gained strong support from his bid for Bolivian access to the sea, and there was also strong support from other Bolivian nationals.

A fun fact about Bolivia is even though they are landlocked, Bolivia still maintains a small naval force, but because the country has no coastline, the Naval forces conduct most of their training in the gigantic Lake Titicaca in western Bolivia.

With so much anticipation and positive public support, the UN decision would, unfortunately, end with a ruling in favor of Chile. On October 1, 2018, according to Reuters, the UN International Court of Justice ruled in a 12-3 decision stating “the court is unable to conclude… that Chile has the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia full sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.”

Unfortunately for Bolivia, the country did not regain access to the sea. Could the country ever regain its coastline?

Senior Randell Quiroz, who is of Bolivian descent, believes Bolivia gaining sea access is not important for the country. “Bolivia has succeeded a long time without sea access. If Bolivia does receive sea access, then its drug trafficking problem would increase,” Quiroz said.

One of Bolivia’s biggest cash crops is the coca plant which is a key ingredient used in the making of cocaine, a drug sold illegally by traffickers in Bolivia.

Even though Quiroz believes sea access is not possible right now, he believes there is a chance of Bolivia gaining sea access in the future. “I can see relations with other countries developing in the future but not under the current president,” Quiroz said.