Bolivia takes sea access dispute with Chile to world court

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Bolivia made an emotional appeal Monday for the International Court of Justice to order Chile to enter talks over granting the landlocked South American nation access to the Pacific Ocean, saying the dispute will remain a source of conflict if it's not resolved.

Bolivia lost its only seacoast to Chile in a war between from 1879 to 1883, and has been demanding access to the Pacific for generations. Bolivia also accuses Chile of reneging on pledges to negotiate.

"For 139 years, Bolivia has suffered the historical injustice of becoming landlocked," former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze told judges sitting in the ornate Great Hall of Justice at the world court's headquarters, the Peace Palace. "Restoring Bolivia's sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia."

Chile argues that its border with Bolivia was settled in a 1904 treaty and that it's not under any legal obligation to negotiate. Chile's lawyers will present their case later this week.

Prof. Payam Akhavan, a lawyer representing Bolivia, said that despite the treaty, Chile had made repeated pledges to find a solution to the dispute.

"If the 1904 treaty settled all issues for all times, if there was no remaining dispute, why did the parties continue to negotiate sovereign access for more than a century?" he said.

"This case is not an academic exercise. It is not mere political posturing," Akhavan told judges. "The people have suffered real and continuing injury. Chile cannot sweep this dispute under the carpet. It will remain a constant source of conflict until it is resolved."

Rodriguez said that Bolivia's lack of direct access to the sea is holding back its economy.

"It is estimated that if Bolivia had not been stripped of the sea, the annual GDP (gross domestic product) growth could be at least 20 percent higher," he told judges.

Rulings by the court, the United Nations' highest judicial organ, are final and binding. Judges will likely take months to issue a decision.

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