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ICJ rules on October 1 Chile has no obligation to negotiate Bolivian sovereign access to Pacific

On October 1, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled by twelve votes to three that Chile does not have a legal obligation to provide Bolivia with a sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its former 400-kilometer long coastline to Chile in a 1904 treaty following the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Since then, the two South American nations have occasionally discussed establishing a corridor for Bolivia. The later brought a case to the ICJ in 2013, arguing that these instances had created an obligation for Chile to negotiate based on the principle of good will and related expectations. Meanwhile, Chile objected maintaining that the issue of sovereignty was definitely settled in 1904. In 2015 the ICJ declared itself competent to address Bolivian concerns. The ICJ’s verdict concludes that Chile had indeed no obligation to negotiate, but adds that the two parties should not stop from continuing their dialogue in a spirit of good neighborliness. Upon learning on the ruling, President Evo Morales said that Bolivia will never give up pursuing its claim.

From an institutional point of view, the sovereignty dispute with Chile over sea access will most likely continue to remain a deeply rooted affair in the Bolivian political discourse of national consciousness. Despite not having maritime capabilities nor a fleet, Bolivia has an official navy corps numbered at around 6.000. Moreover, the national Day of the Sea holiday is commemorated on March 23 yearly. In March tens of thousands of Bolivians helped unfurl a 200-km long flag to show support for the country’s demand for sea access. Considering that the government of President Morales has been using the maritime dispute to rally political support for his 2019 campaign, he will most likely continue to doing so, adding to the possibility of sporadic political tensions with Chile. These, however, will still fall short of a serious escalation.

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