By Mike Corder
The United Nations’ highest court has rejected landlocked Bolivia’s bid to force Chile to the negotiating table over granting access to the Pacific Ocean.
In a legal ruling Monday from the Hague-based International Court of Justice that was broadcast live throughout Bolivia, the 15-judge panel said that a string of agreements, memorandums and statements produced over decades of talks hadn’t created a legal obligation on Chile to enter negotiations.
In a sweeping rejection of the Bolivian case, the court, by a 12-3 majority, dismissed eight different legal arguments presented by Bolivia’s lawyers. The court’s rulings are final and binding.
In Chile, President Sebastian Pinera described it as “a great day” for the country. “The International Court of Justice has done justice,” he said.
He also accused his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, who was in court for the hearing, of “creating false expectations.”
Bolivia lost its only coast to neighboring Chile during an 1879-1883 war and the nation has demanded ocean access for generations. Chile has a coastline that stretches some 4,300 kilometers (2675 miles).
At hearings in March, the former Bolivian president, Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, told judges: “Restoring Bolivia’s sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia.”
But Chile argued in court that its border with Bolivia was settled in a 1904 treaty and that it had no obligation to negotiate.
The world court’s president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, agreed, but added that the decision “should not be understood as precluding the parties from continuing their dialogue and exchanges, in a spirit of good neighborliness, to address the issues relating to the landlocked situation of Bolivia, the solution to which they have both recognized to be a matter of mutual interest.”
Morales sat in the front row of his country’s delegation in the wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice. After the hearing, he cast Yusuf’s words as a “call to continue with the dialogue.”
Meanwhile in Bolivia, disappointment swept across a crowd gathered in the Plaza Murillo in the capital, La Paz, where a giant screen had been set up to show the court session.
While there had been folkloric dances and celebrations before the ruling, people walked away in silence afterward.
“This is an injustice for a country that lost its sea. We had hope in the court,” said Segundina Orellana, an official with a coca growers group in the city of Cochabamba.
In an indication of the significance of the decision for both countries, Catholic bishops in Bolivia and Chile on Sunday called on their congregations to accept the court’s ruling “with faith, peace and good sense.”
Credit: The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com