The International Court of Justice (ICJ) held its final hearing on a land dispute between Chile and Bolivia on March 28. Bolivia, which became landlocked following the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, claims Chile has failed to keep its diplomatic promises to negotiate over Bolivia’s access to the sea. The case began in 2013 when Bolivia brought its claim to the ICJ, though the two countries have carried on without full diplomatic relations since 1978.
The land in question is part of the Antofagasta region of northern Chile, a mineral-rich part of the Atacama Desert. The Bolivian government argued that it needs sovereign control over part of the region or guaranteed freedom of movement for people and goods across the Bolivia-Chile border. Bolivian officials claim that their access to Chilean ports falls short of these standards.
The Chilean government countered the proposal by arguing that Bolivia already enjoys access on terms that exceed the requirements of a 1904 peace treaty. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera commented on the case by affirming the validity of the treaty and denying any obligation on Chile’s part to negotiate further. Piñera further criticized Bolivia’s claim by asking if a ruling by the ICJ can unilaterally turn the citizens of Antofagasta into foreign nationals.
The ICJ, however, did not consider whether this land should be transferred from Chile to Bolivia. Instead, it simply evaluated whether prior diplomatic agreements mandate further negotiation between the two countries. The court will issue a binding ruling in the coming months as to whether Chile is required to renegotiate with Bolivia over access to the sea.