The presidents of Chile and Bolivia discussed conflicting maritime issues dating back to 1879 in their respective speeches at the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations.
Evo Morales, President of land-locked Bolivia said his government has decided to take the dispute to international courts, although this does not mean excluding direct bilateral dialogue to find a solution to the dispute that dates back to 1879. "Bolivia has a historical claim with Chile for a sovereign return to the sea, so we have decided to go to international courts to demand a useful and sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean" said Morales in his speech at the international forum, according to Bolivian newspaper La Razón (In Spanish).
Evo Morales President of Bolivia.
At the end of his speech the Bolivian President questioned the border treaty of 1904 with Chile and announced his decision to bring Bolivia’s claim against Chile to the Court in The Hague. "Bolivia comes under the principle of reason to ask for justice to the international court because its confinement is the result of an unjust war, an invasion," he said in reference to the War of the Pacific of 1879-1883. "I urge the United Nations, the international organizations and especially the countries of the region, to join our claim for a sovereign return to the Pacific Ocean," he added.
For his part, President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, responded to Evo Morales’ challenges to the Treaty of 1904.
Government of Chile
Official portrait of Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile.
"Referring to what the President of Bolivia said yesterday, raising his country's claim to achieve a sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean through Chilean territory, I reiterate that there are not unresolved territorial issues between Chile and Bolivia” said Piñera, reports Chilean newspaper La Tercera (in Spanish)."All issues were definitely settled by the treaty of peace and friendship of 1904. The treaty was duly negotiated more than 20 years after the end of the conflict between our two countries. The Treaty is based on International Law which both Chile and Bolivia must respect and comply." said the Chilean President.
Piñera also reiterated that "Chile has always been willing to a dialogue with Bolivia on the basis of full respect for international law and the existing treaties, and has the strongest disposition to ensure that practical solutions are feasible and useful for both countries".
The controversy stems from the outcome of the War of the Pacific between Chile and the Peru-Bolivia Confederation. The cost of the conflict in human life was high. It is estimated that between 14,000 and 23,000 soldiers and civilians were killed during the war.
The war officially ended on October 20, 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancon, in which the Peruvian Department of Tarapaca became permanently Chilean territory and the provinces of Tacna and Arica were placed under Chilean administration for a period of 10 years, after which a plebiscite would decide if they would remain part of Chile, or if they would be returned to Peru.
The peace between Chile and Bolivia was signed in 1904. However, the peace treaty between the two nations, by which Bolivia recognized the permanent Chilean sovereignty over the disputed territory, has produced ongoing diplomatic tensions between both countries during the 20th and early 21th centuries, because Bolivia lost all sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.