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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Saturday, December 06, 2003

Bolivia: some op-ed calm on the corridor to the sea question

Recap: as fuelled by Venezuela's Lord of Misrule, Hugo Chávez, there is a more than generous supply of the usual bollocks in the Bolivian op-ed pages demanding, in some cases, screaming for, that national totem, the salida al mar - the corridor through the Atacama Desert leading to a Pacific port, the whole to be placed under Bolivian sovereignty in perpetuity. The land is currently owned by Chile, which won it in the Guerra del Pacífico of 1879-84, and had its sovereignty over it confirmed in the Treaty of 1904 [1].

Two pieces, however, one from each country, deal with the matter in a refreshingly relaxed manner.

The first, in Bolpress, starts off with a salutary douche of realism:
En la Prefectura de La Paz hay un escudo nacional que tiene debajo esta leyenda: "Bolivia, libre, fuerte e invencible". Me pregunto qué de bueno podemos sacar los bolivianos de una leyenda como ésa. ¿Nos ayudará a recuperar un millón de kilómetros cuadrados que perdimos desde 1879?...Decir que somos libres, fuertes e invencibles probablemente sea una triple impostura, en realidad un resabio de la ideología de la independencia que necesitaba munirse de esas creencias para derrotar a un enemigo tan poderoso como el ejército español.

It suggests that
Los pueblos hemos avanzado mucho más que los Estados en la consolidación de una cultura del diálogo.

And cites with approval the second piece at [2].

It starts from the viewpoint that a measure of South American unity is essential in the current globalised world. And that inflaming bilateral quarrels was going in the wrong direction - positively decimonónico [3]:
La "alarma" de la Cancillería chilena ante los sueños de un hijo [viz, Chávez] de Bolívar (Bolivia, sabido, es por Bolívar) por bañarse y sancocharse algún día en una playa boliviana, y aun de Kofi Annan, quien recientemente ofreciera los buenos oficios de las Naciones Unidas para desatar el entuerto, son síntomas que, en este punto al menos, el gobierno de Chile sigue preso de la misma miopía (decimonónica) que inaugurara la controversia.

It contrasts the insistence of Chile that the salida al mar question was strictly bilateral with the sterling work for multilateralism that the country did in the UN Security Council over the question of the abortive Iraq 'second resolution'.

He mocks the Chilean line that
desconocer el valor de los tratados suscritos soberanamente es el comienzo del despelote generalizado y del Nunca Acabar en el derecho internacional.

The sanctity of treaties was no reason why the parties shouldn't get together and agree a new treaty - which would be equally sanctified!

We get an interesting sidelight on the attitudes of USG in the earlier years of the American Empire: Emperor Theodore I's representative, one Abraham Konig, was pleased to tell the Chileans [4]:
Según nuestro criterio, las bases propuestas por Chile [para un Tratado que regularizara la 'Tregua' de abril de 1884] son equitativas, las únicas compatibles con la situación actual...Chile ha ocupado el litoral y se ha apoderado de él con el mismo título con que Alemania anexó al imperio la Alsacia y la Lorena, con el que los Estados Unidos de la América del Norte han tomado Puerto Rico. Nuestros derechos nacen de la victoria, la ley suprema de las naciones.

Ajens makes the rather alarming suggestion that starting talks would help Chile by deflating the
extremoso orgullo militar
that led to the Pinochet regime: I was under the impression that that nice Mr Lagos had got the Chilean military safely in their box...

And, as for Bolivia, he recalls that [5]
Un amigo paceñ confidenciaba hace un tiempo su hipótesis: Bolivia sólo se constituye como tal para las transmisiones televisivas del Mundial de Fútbol en que participa la verdiblanca o en el recuerdo de la pérdida "del Litoral"; el resto sólo es identificación intra-regional...

A case deserving of sympathy, then; of Chilean altruism finding its own reward.

(The piece goes on with some personal reminiscences of the literary vie bohème - paceño style - which I suspect to understand properly would involve more dictionary work than the political content would justify.

There is, however, a reference to
don Adrián, compositor de...unos inmemoriales fox-trots aymaras.
which conjures up a delightful image of a bowler-hatted Indian matron tripping the light fantastic with Fred Astaire. And, so far as I can tell, the Carlos Wieder mentioned is a character in a novel by Argentinian writer Roberto Bolaño.)

Do the pieces in any way clarify the salida al mar question? I should coco! Except...perhaps the Bizarro world in which Bolivia triumphantly obtains its sovereign passage to the sea takes a poet to do it justice.

(Perhaps there ought to be a UN agency for the supply worldwide of such poetic assistance in dealing with national druthers: what, I wonder, would be the leading British notion - finding overnight that the island of Ireland had drifted off the continental shelf and sunk into the Atlantic with the loss of all hands? Ten years ago, at least...)

  1. Links and discussion in my piece of October 29).

    The best narrative treatment of the tortuous diplomacy on the question since Bolivian independence is Same Space, Different Dreams:Bolivia's Quest for a Pacific Port by Ronald Bruce St. John. A decent level of comprehension of the issues would be a week's work, I suspect. So far as I can see, the circumstances in which such effort might be worthwhile are still far off.

  2. By Andrés Ajens, a Chilean poet.

    The site has the worst interface of any online news source I've come across - home page takes ages to load (how many visitors have broadband?), it's Flash-ed to the armpits and right-click disabled, to boot. Which someone should. Hard.

  3. With the passing of the 20th century, even more disparaging, perhaps, in its affective meaning of (RAE Dictionary
    Anticuado, pasado de moda
  4. Any resemblance to the policy of the current Administration is...well, you work it out!

  5. The lax nature of the bonds holding Bolivia (so described by those with an interest or desire to see them loosened, natch!) have come up several times before here, as on October 31.


Found myself drawn to check the origin of the expression tripping the light fantastic: according to this, it's from John Milton's L'Allegro of 1631:
Com, and trip it as ye go
On the light fantastick toe...

CORRECTION (December 14)

Andrés Ajens has kindly emailed - a frankly unprecedented honour from the grownup media! - to point out that Roberto Bolaño was in fact not Argentinian but Chilean.

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