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, January 08, 2004

Bolivia: back to the future for a solution to the seacoast problem!

When last the question of remedying Bolivia's land-locked status (or mediterraneidad) came up (December 6), it was with no great expectation of early substantive talks on the subject.

Now, I find that President Carlos Mesa has had a big pow-wow (El Deber January 7) with ten former Bolivian foreign ministers (cancilleres) to get the benefit of their experience on the issue. (Since that experience has been uniformly lamentable - in terms of securing a satisfactory result, at least - I fail quite to see the point. However...)

The upshot is that he has decided to take up the offer made back in the 1970s by General Pinochet to then dictator of Bolivia Hugo Bánzer for a sovereign port north of Arica (hard up against the current Chilean border with Peru).

Before one gets too carried away, better refer to the vade mecum on the diplomacy surrounding the Bolivian coast question I mentioned in the December 6 piece, by Ronald St John.

There are about 1,500 words on the 1970s negotiations, in which arose such issues as the consent required from Peru, tariff and other regulation of goods passing through the new Bolivian zone, cession of Chilean continental shelf rights, the quantum and location of the Bolivian land to be ceded to Chile in compensation and the renunciation of outstanding Bolivian claims in relation to land seized in the 1879-84 Guerra del Pacífico.

In the end, it seems, Bolivia called off the talks because it couldn't stomach ceding the compensation land - and thought that, with Pinochet losing favour with Uncle Sam, it might be able to squeeze a better deal later on.

The immediate question, of course, is, is the Pinochet deal still on the table, even as a basis for negotiation?

La Prensa (La Paz - January 7) quotes the usual sort of Chilean tough love:
..para el analista chileno en Defensa Eduardo Santos la solución de la demanda boliviana no pasa por que Chile entregue una franja de territorio soberano, sino por que el vecino país supere lo que denomina como el "síndrome de la deuda histórica", por el que la dirigencia boliviana siente que nuestro país es responsable de todos sus problemas internos, tal como lo confirmó con sus palabras el presidente Carlos Mesa.

"Pero es un círculo vicioso, porque está claro que Bolivia no solucionará sus problemas con una salida al mar", recalcó.

There is the small matter of the economic viability of a new Bolivian Pacific port:
¿Qué inversionista boliviano querrá invertir en ese puerto si Antofagasta, Arica, Iquique le cobrarán la mitad por los mismos servicios?

And the Chilean government's reaction? Apart from continuing to protest that the issue is strictly bilateral (and paws off to Chávez, Castro, Carter et al!) and statements of a general willingness to talk about the issue, there's nothing that I can see. An AP piece rounds up Chilean reaction. This piece says
La Moneda insistió que Chile está dispuesto a dialogar con esa nación y otorgar un acceso al Pacífico pero sin cesión de soberanía.

La Moneda is the Chilean Presidential Palace (it's a mine of information, here...)

My feeling is that it's very much Amateur Hour in La Paz, and making territorial claims is so much easier than dealing with issues like land, narcotics and the economy. Resting everything on sovereignty is a twofer for Mesa - he's banging the nationalist drum, and he knows he'll go down to heroic defeat, leaving intact Bolivia's Sad Sack excuse for their economic failure: the Chileans stole our land!

(The long-promised gas referendum is set down for March 28 - and renationalisation - as proposed by the opposition - won't be an option. The famous 90 day deadline imposed on Mesa to adopt the opposition programme or else will long have expired. I'm not sure how long he expects to be in the top job...)

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