LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech on Thursday that the Andean nation was weighing new legal action against Chile in connection with three bilateral disputes.
Rallies and other events were held in this capital for the third straight day to commemorate the 138th anniversary of the loss of Pacific coastal territory to Chile in a 19th-century war and assert La Paz’s demand that its neighbor enter into good-faith negotiations on sovereign sea access for Bolivia.
Bolivia filed a complaint against Chile before The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) four years ago, and that tribunal ruled in 2015 that it had jurisdiction to hear the dispute.
La Paz submitted its arguments in the case just ahead of a Tuesday deadline, while Santiago now has until Sept. 21 to file its rejoinder.
Bolivia lost 400 kilometers (250 miles) of coastline and 120,000 sq. kilometers (46,330 sq. miles) of territory to Chile as a consequence of its 1879-1880 participation in the War of the Pacific, a conflict in which Chile defeated the combined forces of Peru and Bolivia and wrested territory from both countries.
Due to the dispute over sea access, Chile and Bolivia have not had full diplomatic relations since 1962, except for a brief resumption of ties between 1975 and 1978 when both nations were ruled by military regimes.
Morales said at a rally Thursday that Bolivia was studying taking legal action at international forums to ensure respect at Chilean ports for Bolivia’s transit rights, which he insisted had been denied in some cases.
Of particular concern are recurrent strikes by Chilean port and customs officials that, according to La Paz, deny Bolivia its rights under free-passage treaties and harm its economy and ability to export goods.
He said those rights were being denied in retaliation against Bolivia for filing its complaint over sea access with the ICJ in 2013.
Bolivia also is preparing its response to Chile’s initial pleading in a separate case before the ICJ involving a dispute over the status and use of waters of the Silala.
Chile says the Silala is an international watercourse and that it is entitled to “equitable and reasonable” use of those waters, but Bolivia maintains the Silala waters are underground springs that were artificially diverted to northern Chile and are being used in that country without any compensation paid to La Paz.
Morales also said Thursday that Bolivia would not abandon two soldiers and seven customs agents who were detained last weekend on the border by Chile’s militarized national police, the Carabineros.
La Paz says the Bolivians were detained on their own country’s territory while attempting to inspect three contraband-laden trucks as they crossed the border from Chile.
Santiago, however, says the Bolivians illegally crossed the shared border and were arrested after trying to steal nine trucks.
Bolivia’s government said it would file a complaint against Chile over the incident with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.