The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Bolivia: the Atacama Corridor - and now the Peruvian Hong Kong?

Bolivian President Carlos Mesa is living in sufficiently interesting times at home, one might have thought. But then, foreign affairs so often proves a welcome distraction from domestic difficulties.

I mentioned on October 20 that Bolivia had lost its Pacific coastline to Chile as a result of the 1879-84 Guerra del Pacífico. Not unnaturally, Mesa - the populist president without a popular mandate - has been stoking the irredentist fires - up to a point. According to an AP piece from October 26, the new canciller (or foreign minister) Juan Ignacio Siles wants
una salida al mar por territorio chileno
debe ser libre y soberana, "pero tal vez habría que añadirle un tema muy importante: que sea útil".

Chile, unsurprisingly has been disinclined to accede: a gas terminal, yes; sovereign, no.

The piece says that
Bolivia, además, tiene facilidades otorgadas por Chile para el uso de instalaciones portuarias en Antofagasta y en el puerto de Arica para exportar sus productos, como consecuencia de un tratado de 1904 que puso fin a la guerra.

That is, the treaty of October 17 1904 [1], under which , according to the Catholic Encyclopedia,
Bolivia ceded all claims to a seaport and strip of the coast, on condition that Chile constructed at her own charges a railway to Lapaz from the port of Arica, giving at the same time to Bolivia free transit across Chilean territory to the sea. A cash indemnity of £300,000 was also paid, and certain stipulations were made with regard to the construction of other railways giving access from Chile to the Bolivian interior.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have, it seems, been broken for 25 years on account of the dispute.

So who should step forward to play white knight but neighbours to the north, Peru! According to El Mundo (October 29),
Perú volvió a ofrecer ayer a Bolivia "cualidad marítima" por 99 años renovables y el puerto de Ilo para las proyectadas exportaciones bolivianas de gas natural a mercados de ultramar...

Cualidad marítima is not, so far as I can tell, a term of art in international law [2], but just refers to giving the country a coastline.

As the piece points out, Peru and Bolivia were once (1836-9) a single country - the Confederación Peruboliviano - and, under Spanish rule, the area which is now Bolivia had been governed from Lima [3]. The offer came during celebrations of the 167th [4] anniversary of that - unpromisingly brief - marriage:
Se trata de un espacio de más de 1.000 hectáreas, donde La Paz podría instalar plantas de licuefacción además de una zona económica bajo leyes y administración bolivianas.

The facility would remain under Peruvian sovereignty - but, then, it's not land that the Peruvians pinched from Bolivia in the first place, so no gripes there. And Lima is prepared to be generous to snatch servicing Bolivia's natural gas exports from Chile:
El representante peruano insistió en que su gobierno está dispuesto a cubrir las diferencias de coste, por mayor distancia (unos 200 km) en la construcción de un gasoducto entre el emporio gasífero de Margarita, en el extremo sur de Bolivia, y el puerto de Ilo, con relación a su competidor, el chileno de Patillos.

So what's Lima's game? Why should it be so keen to leap in with hard cash to put one over Santiago?

Meanwhile, there is a side issue in the privatisation of the ports of Arica and Antofagasta which has got the dockers out on strike. La Paz, according to Economía y Negocios of Santiago (October 29), has complained that the decision to privatise has violated its rights under the 1904 Treaty - which guarantees Bolivia the use of these ports.

There is also some nonsense about the credentials of Bolivian diplomats in Santiago.

And the significance of all of this for the Mesa presidency? Perhaps, adapting Dr Johnson, once is surprised not at the substance of these foreign issues but that he has any time to entertain a foreign policy at all!

  1. The text of the treaty is online in Spanish - PDF images from the original publication: this unofficial HTML file might be easier to handle. There is what looks like a fairly comprehensive collection of treaties via the Chilean Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional site - who knows when that might come in handy!

    There is some relevant stuff in English: a historical overview of Bolivian-Chilean relations from Maryland U. The Atacama dispute is not ancient history: a page on the Stanford U site dealing with the international regulation of land mines has the following contribution (caveat lector even more than usual, perhaps):

    Every year Bolivia celebrates the Day of the Sea. Chile replied to this fiery oratory by planting landmines along the disputed border. After Chile and Bolivia signed the Treaty of Ottawa, Bolivia demanded that Chile remove them. Chiler replied that it could not afford to. Bolivia pointed to Chile's excessive military budget and says it will take the issue to international arbitration. We will see if the Treaty of Ottawa has any teeth.
    There is also a text entitled United States and the Bolivian Sea Coast which looks promising, except for a quote at the top from Jimmy Carter
    Our hope is that Bolivia, Chile and Perú would be able to reach an agreement with regard to a corridor that would allow Bolivia to have a direct access to the sea through Bolivian territory.
    dated September 8 1977! The author - as well as some of the documentation - is Bolivian - a version of the work in Spanish is also available.

    There seems to be a fair amount of material in Spanish on the 1904 Treaty - but a quick scan of the Google listings suggest it might be pretty thin. The Chilean Corporación de Defensa de la Soberanía site is engagé but may be useful notwithstanding.

  2. A dozen or so mentions on Google, all Bolivian (a 1998 UN speech by the then Foreign Minister, for instance). A piece on Walter Guevara Arze, president of Bolivia for a few months in 1980, calls the expression
    un eufemismo 'a la mode'
  3. These unreferenced assertions are my acquis from the Herbert Klein book previously mentioned: it's a work in progress...

  4. The piece makes it 177!


The shares (stock) of Antofagasta, the British-registered Chilean mining company, were traditionally known in London stock exchange circles as Fags. There are a good many of these quaint slang terms: South African gold mining shares were called kaffirs.


For the ceremonial of the Peru-Bolivia bash, this and this.

Mesa - who is a historian as well as a journo - was effusive about Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz who set up the short-lived union:
La actitud de Santa Cruz fue mirada con recelo por muchos sectores en ese entonces. "Toda esa polémica, todo ese debate sobre el sentido de la obra crucista pasa por una incomprensión: no entender que que fue un hombre que miraba el futuro, sobre la base de la lección que Simón Bolívar le había dejado", recordó.

An attempt at achieving statesmanship by association? Mesa needs all the help he can get, from friends alive or dead!

Meanwhile, checking in with Klein, I note on page 116 that the reason for the Confederación Peruboliviano coming to an end was an invasion - by the Chileans! Is there a pattern emerging here, I wonder...

free website counter Weblog Commenting and Trackback by