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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Bolivia to file suit against Chile over river dispute

(4 April 2016)

Bolivian President Evo Morales has said his country will file a suit against Chile at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Silala River.

Bolivia says it owns the Silala spring which rises in Bolivia but flows into Chile, and claims they are not being compensated by Chile for the use of its waters.

Evo Morales stated, "We have decided as a pacifist country to go to The Hague so that Chile respects our water in Silala."

Chile however says it is an international waterway of shared use. Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said the country could file a counterclaim and added, "What is clear is that it is not only about the sea, now it is about the rivers and any other excuse to attack our country and its interests."

Bolivia also brought up another case against Chile at the Hague-based ICJ, demanding access to the Pacific Ocean. 

This dispute dates from the late 19th Century when Chile went to war sparked by a row over taxation of the nitrate industry, a major source of income for Chileans working in what was then Bolivian territory. Chile won the war and Bolivia lost 400km of coastline and as a result has been landlocked ever since.

The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1904. Under its terms, Chile agreed to compensate Bolivia for its loss of land and gave Bolivia access to Chilean ports. Although Bolivians have preferential access to Chile's northern ports, and they export their goods through Arica and Antofagasta, Evo Morales has complained that the Chileans have reneged on agreements to give Bolivia access to ports further south on Chile's long Pacific coastline.

Moreover President Morales says the 1904 treaty was effectively imposed on his country down the barrel of a gun. He wants it scrapped or amended to give Bolivia sovereignty over the land it once owned.