Chile Wins, Bolivia Loses

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIt is now official. The United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has ruled that Bolivia’s demand for the coastal land it lost in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) had no legal merits. In a 12-to 3 ruling, the Court made it clear that any and all disputes to the coastal region in question had been resolved in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1904 whereby Chile gained all of Bolivia’s Pacific coastal area. In return, Chile has allowed Bolivian railway connections to Chilean ports for Bolivian goods being shipped overseas without taxes or duties. Both sides had kept their obligation of this treaty, and the International Court of Justice saw no point in revisiting this case. The Court’s decision is legally final and binding.

To put it mildly, the Bolivian government under the dictator Evo Morales was very unhappy with the decision. Morales has used Bolivian and indigenous nationalism to try and whip up support for what can only be called an unrealistic and even war-like demand for getting what he called “former Bolivian territory” from a war that Bolivia had started in 1879. Besides all of Bolivia’s legal arguments being wrong-headed, the whole Morales campaign of blaming Chile for taking the former Bolivian coastline is just as morally bankrupt. It was Bolivia back in the 1870’s that imposed taxes and confiscated Chilean assets that led to war. On top of this, the Bolivian government of the time had a secret military alliance with Peru that gave the Bolivian government over-confidence that any conflict it started would result in a Peruvian-Bolivian victory. Hence, Bolivia declared war when Chile refused to pay taxes and duties to Bolivia. What both the Bolivian and Peruvian governments had failed to take into consideration at the time was that their armed forces were poorly managed, poorly trained and poorly equipped. Chile’s armed forces on the other hand were very well trained, well equipped, and had experienced officers with disciplined troops. Because of this, Chile won every battle against the Bolivians and Peruvians.

The defeat of Bolivia and Peru by Chile was a David and Goliath fight where two larger countries had ganged up against one with less land and people and yet they still lost. As far as the Chilean government is concerned, justice has prevailed by the International Court of Justice’s decision. And it did prevail. But I do not think that Morales has given up his hysterical nationalist dreams. If he cannot get what he wants by legal arguments, he will most probably try something else. And I believe he will try something else. Could it be border disputes with Chile? Not impossible. Could it be provocations where Morales says that Bolivia is justified in “taking action” against Chile? Perhaps. I put nothing past Morales. In my view, the decision by the International Court of Justice was not the final word for Bolivia.

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