In the face of a renewed Bolivian bid for a piece of Pacific coastline, Chile said Thursday it is willing to talk about access and cooperation, but that Bolivia can forget about obtaining sovereignty over any piece of what is now Chile.
In an interview with Radio Cooperativa, government spokesman Francisco Vidal laid down the boundaries of possible negotiations with La Paz.
Chile has evinced a "permanent willingness" to cooperate with Bolivia on a broad range of issues in recent decades, including access to the Pacific, trade and culture, he said. "But this is not to be confused with absolute respect for the border agreements," Vidal emphasized. "Discussion about access: absolute willingness; discussion about cooperation: absolute willingness; discussion about sovereignty: it's not up for discussion." Bolivian Foreign Minister Juan Ignacio Siles said Tuesday that his nation will insist on discussing the issue of sovereignty.
"Our fundamental goal is to gain access to a territory, to a sea coast, to a port, over which we will have useful sovereignty and which will be territorially contiguous with our country," Siles said.
Bolivia lost its Pacific coastline during a war it and Peru waged against Chile between 1879 and 1883.
During that conflict, Chile occupied 120,000 kilometers (46,332 square miles) of Bolivian soil as well as part of southern Peru.
Bolivia's repeated attempts to persuade Chile to return the seaside territory over the course of the last century caused the countries to break off diplomatic ties in 1962, with a brief resumption between 1975 and 1978, when both nations were ruled by military regimes.
Bolivian demands for an outlet to the Pacific received an unexpected boost from the international community after October's crisis in the Andean country.
The upheaval, which forced then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign, was sparked when grassroots organizations took to the streets to protest plans to export Bolivian natural gas through a Chilean port.
Following violent clashes between protesters and police, which left at least 70 dead, the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil - along with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter - offered public support for La Paz's territorial claim.
"There is international concern over what happened in our country and the possible repercussions this could have on the region," Siles said Tuesday.
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa cited this concern on Sunday, when, in an address to the nation, he publicly urged Chile to satisfy La Paz's demand in order to avert another round of unrest in Bolivia that could destabilize surrounding countries.
Chilean spokesman Vidal said that President Ricardo Lagos has no plans to meet with Mesa during next week's Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico.
In recent weeks, Bolivia has reiterated its demands for a sovereign outlet to the Pacific on now-Chilean territory and announced it would propose a new agreement to replace the bilateral accord signed in 1904, whose centennial this year has set the stage for the renewed diplomatic offensive by La Paz.