“This is Bolivia’s most important international conflict, it is centennial; it has been almost 140 years of [territorial] confinement, and it is the most important claim that my country has,” said former Bolivian President Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga.
In an interview with PanAm Post, the political leader explained the Bolivian side of the conflict with Chile and highlighted the importance of obtaining a favorable ruling for his country.
“It is a historical grievance that every day becomes more important because even though the Pacific was once anecdotal in the 19th century, and irrelevant in the 20th century, in the 21st century it’s the great ocean of development. What was once the Atlantic is going to be the Pacific now, because it’s where the great markets of Asia are, and we know the huge commercial line that moves there,” said Quiroga.
A historical wound
The former head of the Bolivian state said that although the process before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague began more than five years ago, it is a “long-standing Bolivian longing.”
He also stressed that this is not a demand “for a territorial disagreement with coordinates, with GPS, or regarding specific points, but a legal demand ordering Chile to negotiate in good faith the sovereign maritime access we have attempted several times, but never with luck, because Chile in the end always escapes from its commitments, and again and again has made a promises to Bolivia, which generated enormous expectations but never materialized.”
He added that, “In these oral arguments we are getting to a step that will be important, it is not the last one, a map will not come out from here, but we do expect a verdict, a sentence from the Court of The Hague that Chile has the obligation to negotiate in good faith fir a sovereign maritime access for Bolivia in the Pacific, in order to compensate for a long-standing historical wound and to cast the integration between the two countries into the 21st century.”
A maritime dispute that “transcends political differences”
Quiroga, who is currently in The Hague supporting Bolivia in the dispute, took the opportunity to clarify that he is there to “demonstrate that this transcends the enormous political differences we have in Bolivia,” since regardless of the “differences” he has with Evo Morales, “this is a state issue.”
“The only times that I have come together with Evo Morales in his 12 years of government has been precisely because of this; it is an issue that represents a long-standing State strategy,” he said, noting that “the profound differences we have now can’t prevent us from working for Bolivia in the only thing that unites us all Bolivians, which is this dispute.”
“[The] court resolution will serve so that, in the coming years, Bolivia will work to achieve that coastline access, and it’s a subject that transcends our differences and nobody is more in the antipodes of Evo Morales than me. And here we are, precisely to avoid this being interpreted as a political issue. Some will give that interpretation, which is not the case, because Evo Morales is going to leave, and the sea will remain; the sea will serve so that my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have a country that will grow faster, that can export lithium batteries, that can export iron,” he said.
Chile seeks to politicize the issue and “it’s not an Evo Morales’ issue, it’s a Bolivia issue”
According to the former president, over the years Chile has used the same arguments to present the dispute as one that only responds to the political interests of the current president of Bolivia, and assures that Chile is the one who wants to make the world believe that this is so.
“It’s not because of Evo Morales, (Chile) has always done the same thing; I have been in this for a long time, they also did it with me, and they also did it with other governments. The discursive line of Chile was that the issue is only treated politically in accordance with the interests of the current government and it is not true,” he said.
“The back and forth change in position has been from the Government of Chile. Bolivia has a State policy, and the best proof of this is that I am here, while if you see in the Chilean press there is a huge division and disparate criteria (…) they are divided with contradictions and here we have unity regarding this purpose,” he said.
“It is not Evo Morales, this is not an issue of Evo Morales, it is an issue of Bolivia,” he insisted, and stressed that thinking otherwise would be doing a favor to Chile and to Evo Morales himself, “because it would show the world that the sea is Evo Morales’ when it is a yearning of 140 years of all Bolivia.”