Bolivia Tries To Regain Sea Access It Lost To Chile In 1904

Bolivia, a landlocked nation since 1904, is hoping to reach the sea once again by suing Chile at the International Court of Justice for the land it lost in the War of the Pacific.

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Bolivia wants access to the Pacific Ocean, so it's taking Chile to court. The landlocked South American nation lost its coastline in a war back in the late 1800s. Now, Bolivia's foreign minister has arrived at The Hague where he and a delegation will present their case at the International Court of Justice. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Bolivia has never given up on its dreams of regaining access to the ocean. It's part of the national narrative. It still has a navy, even though the country is stranded high in the Andes. Every year, Bolivians mark the Day of the Sea, where politicians give speeches and people listen to the recorded sound of seagulls.

At issue is about 250 miles of coastline in some of the most inhospitable land on Earth in what is currently Chile's Atacama Desert. Bolivia lost the area after La Guerra del Pacifico, or War of the Pacific in the late 1800s when Chile, Peru and Bolivia fought bitterly over mineral rights there.

In 1904, a peace treaty was signed and Bolivia lost the coastal territory, becoming officially landlocked. Various Bolivian governments have tried to pressure Chile to give the area back to no avail. The two countries have not had high-level diplomatic relations since the 1970s over the issue. This past Day of the Sea, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his intention to take Bolivia's coastal claim to The Hague.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Bolivia has never shut itself off from dialogue with Chile. Chile, on the other hand, has been contrary and obstructive, he says. A Bolivian official, who spoke under customary anonymity, said that Bolivia's hand has been forced, and it has no choice but to take its case to the international court.

Erick Langer is the director for the Center of Latin American studies at Georgetown University. He says that the real reason Bolivia is pushing the issue again now is because of Evo Morales' fading popularity. Still, the tactic may yield results, he says. A Chilean official at the Foreign Ministry told NPR that they would not comment on the matter until a formal suit was in place and until then the issue is quote, "fantasy and fiction." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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