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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Monday, January 12, 2004
 

Bolivia, Chile and the wretched strip of land...


Well, here's a how-de-do! Or, perhaps, olla podrida.

The chaps are all up at Monterrey for the big pow-wow, which has set their respective presses into overdrive. Potentially, the Awkward Squad - led by His Awkwardness Hugo Chávez - could bang the pots [1] for Bolivia's claim to a Pacific coastline, with the added bonus of annoying Uncle George Bush. But, knowing it's a dead duck, I suspect the issue will not be allowed to hijack the summit.

As ever, one tests for press packs with the help of Señor Google - and the signs continue, on the whole, to be as bad as one would expect for President Carlos Mesa and his Ealing Comedy [2] attempts to break through to the sea.

El Deber of Santa Cruz (January 11) has another nice piece of Chilean tough love in an interview with politólogo y catedrático Patricio Carvajal. (He's as tough on his own people as on the Bolivians, to be fair...)

Carvajal's line, in summary, seems to be that, whilst the Bolivian leadership is a shower, the balance of right on the substantive issue (whether sovereignty should be negotiated) is on their side. He starts off saying that
En mi visión particular, el reclamo boliviano de una salida al mar es plenamente legítimo...queda claro que los títulos históricos de Bolivia sobre la costa del Pacífico son indiscutibles.

And he's no enthusiast of the literalist intransigence of Chilean diplomacy on the sovereignty issue:
La visión del gobierno de Chile es la de una diplomacia muy antigua.

But the Bolivians are their own worst enemies:
El objetivo boliviano, en mi juicio, debe ser la creación de una agenda negociadora bilateral. En ese tema veo muy débil a Bolivia porque, con toda franqueza, hay una falta de visión estratégica a largo plazo, de los políticos y de la sociedad boliviana.

To put the Bolivian claim in context, he refers to
la compra de casi toda la región XI por parte de un empresario estadounidense. Ahí hay bases militares que tienen que pedir permiso para transitar. Eso es una violación de nuestra soberanía.

El tema llevó a una convocatoria al Consejo Nacional de Seguridad (Cosena), porque el gobierno no sabe cómo responder. Y es un sector que alberga recursos hídricos estratégicos.


Owing to this example of the annoying journalistic habit of making allusions rather than giving references, I can't trace what he's talking about!

On the famous Chávez mot about wanting to bathe in the Pacific from a Bolivian beach, he says
que en mi opinión, debieron ser contestadas con la misma liviandad con las que fueron dichas.
Whereas Ricardo Lagos rather got his knickers in a twist.

On the implications for Latin America as a whole of the seacoast issue festering, he says
Ahora, lo grave es que dentro de la situación de inestabilidad latinoamericana, si Bolivia llega a descarrilarse democráticamente, sentará un muy mal precedente y podríamos volver a tres décadas atrás, aunque hay cláusulas en el Mercosur sobre el tema. Pero, ¿les importa realmente a los bolivianos? Si ya le dieron el portazo al gas y al libre comercio con Chile.

(As I've suggested before, the question is great wag-the-dog material for Mesa - for whose purpose the question of salience is not vital. The received wisdom seems to figure the two nations as being hereditary enemies because of the issue; my hypothesis is that we're talking about something emotionally powerful, but rather more symbolic. Like England and Germany facing each other in the (soccer) World Cup Finals, say. The Sun headlines would be ugly, but in commerce and diplomacy, it would be business as usual!)

On timescale, he says
Este es un proceso de por lo menos una generación...

But, on more practical matters, things are not quite as hopeless:
Los empresarios de mi país han pedido la despolitización del tema porque las conversaciones para un TLC estaban muy avanzadas...

The sovereignty issue has a more immediate bar to progress:
No creo que haya negociación por el hecho de que tenemos elecciones presidenciales el próximo año y la concertación quiere un cuarto gobierno en Chile.

Not to mention the current Bolivian government's shaky credentials as a viable negotiating partner:
Un gobierno al que algunos sectores le han dado plazo hasta marzo para resolver cuestiones que no puede resolver por arte de magia, bajo amenaza de volver con la presión.

The immediate future has no prospect of movement:
Lo que pasa es que esto se ha convertido en un diálogo de sordos.

Meanwhile, he suggests some self-help for the Bolivians:
Yo creo que en el caso de Bolivia deberían permitir la llegada de empresas, por ejemplo del G8, como ha hecho Brasil con China en Florianópolis, con la exención completa de impuestos por un periodo de tiempo...Un país que demuestra seriedad y solidez, seguro que va a ser reconocido.

As opposed to the Mickey Mouse operation they have in charge at the moment!

But, lo, there came an outlier to sow confusion and dismay in the camp! A piece in La Razón (January 11) refers to a piece in El Mercurio of Santiago:
Fuentes de la coalición de gobierno de Chile le dijeron al periódico El Mercurio de Santiago que el presidente de ese país Ricardo Lagos estudia ofrecer una franja de terreno al norte de Arica para Bolivia, y que incluso tendría el apoyo de la oposición y de las Fuerzas Armadas chilenas.

Needless to say, the search facility over at El Mercurio (or rather EMOL [3]) discloses no such piece, that I could find.

And no one else seems to hint at a big Lagos breakthrough.

Of course, part of the temptation to spend time on the issue is that, if there were negotiations brought to a conclusion on the sovereignty issue, it would be the biggest thing in Latin American diplomacy since I can't think when.

(Some readers will recall Dorothy L Sayers regaling her fictional detective - and soulmate - Lord Peter Wimsey with a trial by his peers to cope with. With the accused being his brother (a Duke) and the charge murder. It's like OJ with ermine! The Grand Maritime Settlement is like a diplomatic Clouds of Witness - very big news, but utterly in the realms of fiction!)

Or perhaps the Mercurio piece is right, and everyone else, including the good Prof, is wrong.

  1. The cacerolazo is as quintessentially Latin American - possibly more Cono Sur, though - as the ululation of African women.

  2. The Llama That Roared?

  3. Search box at the top of the page, with a drop-down. Clicking on the link on the right hand side of the page will get you the home page of El Mercurio - but with a date-specific URL! It's annoying, but not in the Hartford Courant class of annoyance...


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