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

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Thursday, November 27, 2003

Bolivia: now the generals step in over the claim against Chile

As has been mentioned here more than once, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela fancies himself rotten when it comes to pulling Uncle Sam's beard. His latest piece of troublemaking in the Back Yard was vociferous support at the Ibero-American Summit a few days ago for Bolivia's longstanding claim for a Western Hemisphere Danzig Corridor to the Pacific Ocean [1].

Easy to dismiss as a serendipitous combination of grandstanding and expression of gratitude to one's host.

There are signs that the story may have legs: there's a AFP story today that
El ministro de Defensa, Gonzalo Arredondo, y el comandante en Jefe de las Fuerzas Armadas, Luis Aranda Granados, coincidieron en afirmar, por separado, que Perú debe emitir un pronunciamiento oficial sobre el tema marítimo para comenzar una negociación diplomática con Chile, con la mediación de los países de la región.

As I've suggested before, though the country has had military dictatorships a-plenty, the current contingent of Bolivian brass are not in party mood: the story was that a substantial number of junior officers supported the revolt that toppled former president Sánchez de Lozada last month; and it's 21 years since the last dictator goose-stepped down from the presidential podium.

The Atacama Corridor claim gives the military cover for renewed friskiness, however: it is likely to unite large swathes of the Bolivian people - even coca-growers leader Evo Morales was quoted in April (first to come to hand) contemplating exporting Bolivian gas via a Pacific port with Bolivian, or even joint Bolivian, Peruvian and Chilean, sovereignty (though I doubt whether that offer is still good!)

And, whilst military action against Chile may be out of the question [2], in dealing with any deterioration in the internal security situation in Bolivia, the military may find a wag-the-dog element useful in justifying a higher profile on the streets. A kinder, gentler strategy of tension [3].

What would make this an actual story - rather than a concatenation of druthers - would be a statement of support for the Bolivian position from the Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, or one of his ministers. An extensive trawl through the online Peruvian press has produced precisely nada. While a diplomatic war with Chile might have plausible benefits for a Bolivian government fighting a peasant insurgency in, say, six months time, I don't currently see what Peru would get out of joining in on Bolivia's side.

Slow-burner or fizzle? Dunno...

  1. There is a list as long as your arm of irredentist claims across the world, enough for a hundred wars. (A International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University specialises in the matter.) A few seconds of searching produces an interesting-looking paper entitled Boundary Disputes in Latin America.

    I mentioned some time ago (April 26) the dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia concerning the islands of San Andres (San Andrés) and Provincia - with a potentially resource-rich continental shelf to go with them - granted to Colombia under the Barcenas-Esguerra Treaty of 1928. That dispute has gone to the International Court of Justice - but is currently mired in a procedural dispute.

  2. For any Bolivian government with three brain cells to rub together: on the other hand, the country did start the Chaco War against Paraguay in 1932; and - this I had forgotten, Bolivian's regional partners, Peru and Ecuador went to war as late as 1995 - there's a useful paper (PDF) by Dr Gabriel Marcella (who has other interesting-looking stuff, according to Google) on the strategic implications, for the US and Latin America as a whole, of this looney-tunes exercise in military vainglory.

  3. The Italian establishment's version was altogether bloodier - and still capable of rather unpleasant reflux, according to a Nation piece of November 19.

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