Chile-Bolivia-Peru maritime dispute widens

July 14, 2011 at 4:13 PM
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SANTIAGO, Chile, July 14 (UPI) -- A maritime border dispute between Chile and Peru threatens to get worse after Bolivia decided to step in as a potential party in a future resolution of the deepening row over access to the sea.

The Chilean-Peruvian dispute centers on maritime waters but relations between Chile and Bolivia received repeated setbacks this year after Bolivia revived efforts to regain access to the sea it lost in a 19th-century conflict that remains a bitter memory for Bolivians.

In 2010 Peru granted Bolivia access to the Pacific on a 99-year lease but La Paz didn't consider that arrangement satisfactory. As emotions ran high on the anniversary of Bolivia's loss of the coastal territory in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific Bolivian President Evo Morales decided he would take his claim for permanent and sovereign access to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands.

He warned he would raise the issue also at the Organization of American States in Washington.

Morales plans to take Chile to court with his sovereignty claim, which Chile rejects. In the meantime, both the Peruvian gesture of a leased strip and the ongoing maritime disputes between Chile and Peru have soured diplomatic climate among the neighbors.

The issues are mired in Latin America's history and numerous wars involving the evolving states of the 19th century on the continent and Spain's colonial presence.

In the latest escalation, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry said it had informed the International Court of Bolivia's intention to sue Chile and of its right to sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.

Chilean diplomats decried the Bolivian move, arguing negotiation was the correct way forward and warned the Bolivian action was heightening tension in the area.

Morales says he is impatient for a resolution and cannot wait for bilateral discussions to lead to an early resolution. However, the country's opposition criticized his haste and accused Morales of using the coastal sovereignty issue as an attempt to distract public attention away from domestic problems in Bolivia.

Analysts found comparisons between Morales' campaign for sovereign access to the sea and Argentine claims on British-ruled Falkland Islands pursued by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Critics of Fernandez, too, want her to concentrate energies on solving Argentina's domestic problems first.

Bolivia has repeatedly made known its intention to raise the issue of sovereign access to the Pacific at the OAS but hasn't carried out its threat.

The sovereign territorial access to the sea that Bolivia seeks is close to the strip it received as part of the 99-year lease from Peru. The land between the Chilean-Peruvian border stretches out from landlocked Bolivia to the sea, an area that Morales believes will give Bolivian trade valuable access to the rest of the world.

Critics of the initiative want Morales to tone down his campaign and be content with the leased strip. Bolivia has announced plans to build its own port, including a military base, on the Pacific coast south of the Peruvian port of Ilo.

Rising tensions have given rise to speculative proposals for defusing the tension. The Santiago Times cited a 2009 proposal by three Chilean architects to build a 93-mile-long underground passage for Bolivia's benefit along the Chile-Peru border. The enormous costs involved in such an undertaking made the idea impractical for the time being.

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