Bolivia won the first round at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, but this is just the start of a battle with neither a victory nor an end in sight, partly because there are many with robust opinions on which side is right.

The court, which sits in the Dutch city of the same name, has just issued a response, denying a Chilean objection to its competence to adjudicate on a dispute regarding Boliva’s claim to a sea exit, establishing that it has jurisdiction to deal with the case presented by La Paz in 2013.

Bolivia won the first round at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, but this is just the start of a battle with neither a victory nor an end in sight, partly because there are many with robust opinions on which side is right.Most are of the view that this fight has barely started and there is ample time to regain any lost ground or an outright triumph, which could ultimately involve a refusal to recognize the decision of the judges.

What is certain is that, 14 of the 16 ICJ magistrates dismissed the Chilean objection and La Paz responded with resounding cheers as if, rather than representing the slightest of steps on the long road to resolution, a direct route to the coast requiring no migration control or customs declarations, had been opened.

The Bolivian enthusiasm not only came from the masses who congregated in the streets and squares many hours before finding out the verdict, but it also came from many authorities that dream of one day arriving at the coast, although it may only be across a small strip of land, open to a few kilometers of the sea.

Former president Eduardo Rodríguez Velzé, appointed by president Evo Morales to address the issues before the ICJ and also the Bolivian Ambassador in Holland, considers the tribunal’s decisions to be of great importance not only for Bolivia but for Chile itself and the whole of Latin America.

Rodríguez Velzé highlighted that the judges ratified the spirit of the treaties and accords of both countries to seek resolution, which is really important as today the world still bears witness to wars and he recalled that “both nations had resorted to this peaceful resource to resolve long-standing and complex differences, and that they would continue to resolve this difference in a peaceful manner”.

Whilst accepting that he would have liked the ICJ to have upheld their objection, his Chilean counterpart Felipe Bulnes nonetheless thought that Santiago did not come off badly and as a result of the position taken by the Court, the Bolivian claim had been reduced.

He insisted that “any eventual right of Bolivia to a sovereign ocean exit was not at issue, rather that the Court could rule on a possible obligation or otherwise negotiate with them”.

From his point of view, Evo Morales considered the ruling from The Hague a victory and he congratulated those responsible for the Bolivian claim, whilst inviting Chile to negotiate and resolve the dispute. However, by then  the Chilean president Michelle Bachelet had already publicly stated that “Bolivia have not won anything yet”.

As Morales expressed gratitude for international support, including from Pope Francis and Chilean social movements, Bachelet insisted that the only matter decided to date was the Court’s competence to acknowledge the Bolivian claim and that no evaluation of its validity had been undertaken.

As if to settle the matter once and for all she stated, “be assured that my government will adopt every corresponding measure to safeguard the integrity of our national territory in such a way that it will never be affected under any circumstances whatsoever”.

Whatever the final decision might be, and however it is made, just like other residents of La Moneda, neither Bachelet nor the Chilean Government seem at all inclined to enter into talks with Bolivia.

When the Republic of Bolivia was established in 1825 it had a Pacific coast, but a Chilean invasion in February of 1879 snatched more than 400km of shoreline and 120,000 km squared of mineral rich lands.

Twenty five years later both sides signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty, to which Chile always resorts when the La Paz claim to a sea exit is raised.

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