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Chile denies being ‘villain’ in sea battle with Bolivia

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Chile on Thursday hit back at Bolivian claims that it had stymied talks on vital sea access, and denied it was the “isolationist villain” of a century-old territorial dispute. Landlocked Bolivia has appealed to the International Court of Justice urging UN judges to rule that Chile has a legal obligation to enter into negotiations to end the row. But the Chilean representative told the court in The Hague that La Paz’s “claim is unsustainable and it must be dismissed in its entirety.”

“In 1904 Chile and Bolivia completed a treaty of peace and harmony which fully settled all outstanding territorial issues between our two states,” insisted Claudio Grossman. “Chile also recognized in favor of Bolivia, in perpetuity, the fullest and most unrestricted rights of commercial transit in its territory and its Pacific ports.” The dispute revolves around moves by Bolivia to restore badly-needed access to the Pacific Ocean, which it lost at the end of a four-year war in 1883 when it forfeited certain rights and territory.

The ICJ judges were told on Monday at the opening of seven days of hearings that Bolivia once had 400 kilometers (248 miles) of Pacific coastline which it accessed via the Atacama desert. “Today it has none,” former Bolivian president Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze said on Monday. Highlighting the significance of Bolivia’s claim, its delegation to the court has been headed by President Evo Morales.

He claimed on Monday that the lack of sea access had had imposed “limitations” on the growth of the economy of Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America. But Grossman insisted “Bolivia enjoys unrestricted access to Chilean territory in transporting goods in both directions.” “At significant cost” Chile had done “more than required” under the 1904 treaty, building three new border complexes, and improving roads and port facilities.

“Bolivia is one of the few countries in the world to operate its own custom authorities in another country’s ports,” said Grossman. He also disputed Bolivia’s contention that Santiago had refused to negotiate a fair resolution, insisting La Paz “repeatedly broke off negotiations and terminated diplomatic relations.”

“Doing justice cannot be treating Chile as an isolationist villain on the basis of an entirely uncertain and misleading accusation,” Grossman added. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1978. Santiago has meanwhile opened its own case against Bolivia over the Silala waterway, which flows into the parched Atacama and which La Paz has threatened to divert.

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