Landlocked Bolivia went to the World Court on Monday, seeking to force Chile to negotiate the granting of a corridor of sovereign territory giving it access to the sea for its natural gas and mineral exports. Bolivia lost its coastal territory after being defeated by Chile in the 1880s War of the Pacific. Peru an ally of Bolivia also lost territory.
Opening proceedings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Chile asked judges to throw out the lawsuit, saying the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the matter.
Bolivia has argued for decades that it should be allowed sovereign access to the ocean, through which it could export its natural gas. Most of this is presently sold to Argentina and Brazil to its east.
Bolivia is challenging the stability of borders and sovereign territory solemnly agreed in a peace treaty signed 111 years ago, said Felipe Bulnes Serrano, representing Chile before the court in The Hague in reference to a peace and friendship treaty of 1904.
Bolivia currently has nearly free ocean access, paying transport costs but no tariffs to export some 1.6 million tons of cargo through Chile's ports each year, including nickel, lead, silver and tin from Bolivia's mines.
It nonetheless wants judges to order Chile to negotiate fully sovereign access, saying the 1948 Bogota Pact, to which both states are parties, gives judges the authority to do so.
Our responsibility is to make solid historic and legal arguments to the international community to show that Bolivia should return to the Pacific with sovereignty, said Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday.
Chile says the treaty does not give the court a say in territorial disputes that have already been settled.
Even if judges allow the case to proceed, few expect the traditionally cautious court would go as far to order a border revision that went against the wishes of one of the states concerned. Whatever the outcome, Morales will be hoping that his attempt to get international acknowledgement of Bolivia's complaint will help shore up declining popularity at home.