SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Chilean security concerns over its Bolivian border areas have weighed in as the two countries near a compromise accord on allowing land-locked Bolivia access to the sea.
Bolivia had a Pacific shoreline until it lost it to Chile in the 1879-84 War of the Pacific. That loss plus other territorial losses in wars with neighbors rankle Bolivians, who say they bear emotional wounds from the experience.
Despite latent bitterness against Chile, Bolivia clawed its way toward a compromise in tough negotiations and almost won generous access rights -- but not sovereignty -- over a land corridor to the sea under former Chilean President Michele Bachelet.
Newly elected Sebastian Pinera overruled the deal when he took over as president this year. In recent comments Pinera said he still favored granting Bolivia a sea outlet but only under clear Chilean sovereignty.
He ruled out any deal that split Chilean territory in two in an area that formerly belonged to Bolivia.
Senior Chilean officials quoted in the media said a land access deal would need to answer key questions on security and safety of the proposed corridor.
Chile is beefing up border security and has signed contracts with defense suppliers to secure its land borders and maritime traffic and initiate naval regeneration programs. A maritime and naval fair in Valparaiso last weekend led to new contracts for international suppliers of security equipment.
Chile is also seeking air defense systems from U.S. suppliers to defend its unusual airspace based on its long, thin and mountainous land mass.
Chilean missile defenses have consisted of Blowpipe and Mistral shoulder-fired missiles and short-range MIM-72 Chaparral tracked systems based on AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Senior officials said that rather than an immediate defense threat Chile faced risks from large-scale immigration from poor neighbors, including Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, organized crime and narcotic gangs and other illegal activity.
Chilean reluctance to budge on the Bolivian border crossing stemmed from security concerns and also fears that granting open-ended access could revive Bolivian ambitions toward the territories lost in conflict.
Bolivia has lost about one-third of its territory to neighbors, including Brazil and Paraguay, in conflicts since it became independent of Spain in 1825. After a short-lived gold-fueled prosperity, Bolivia is keen to become competitive in Asia markets with its silver, tin and zinc exports and the quest for a Pacific corridor is part of that goal.
Bolivian Minister for Planning and Development Viviana Caro said direct access to the Pacific will reduce by 40 percent Bolivia's transshipment routes to Asian markets.
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