Water dispute adds to Chile-Bolivia antagonisms.

Author:Gaudin, Andres

With its hands already full examining claims Bolivia presented three years ago in hopes of forcing Chile to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, is now having to consider a completely separate case involving the Andean neighbors, this one submitted by Chile.

The Chilean suit, filed in June, demands that the government in La Paz allow shared use of water from the Silala, which begins as an aquifer and succession of springs in the Bolivian Altiplano (high-plateau) before flowing west across the border into Chile.

Bolivia's quest for direct ocean access, something it lost--along with a sizeable chunk of its national territory--in the bloody War of the Pacific (1879-1883), has been a permanent source of conflict between the two countries since the early 20th century, when the sides signed a treaty that both nations cyclically violate (NotiSur Jan. 23, 2004, and May 2, 2014). Their dispute over fresh water resources adds even more fuel to the fire.

Given the political and ideological profiles of the current leaders of the two countries, Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile), many political analysts had anticipated a possible rapprochement. Some even hoped that Bolivia and Chile might settle certain aspects of their long-running dispute. The reality of the situation, however, has proven otherwise, with no clear end to the conflict in sight.

Complicating matters are complaints from Bolivia regarding the treatment of Bolivian cargo operators in the Chilean ports of Antofagasta and Arica (both in territory Chile won in the War of the Pacific). The government in La Paz, together with the Camara Boliviana de Transporte Nacional e Internacional, a business association of freight movers, accuses Chilean port authorities of imposing special conditions and restrictions, including high tariffs, that increase operational costs for Bolivian handlers and thus have the double effect of making the country's exports less competitive and its imports more expensive.

Juan Carlos Alurralde, Bolivia's deputy minister of foreign affairs, spoke out publicly on June 3 about the demands Chilean authorities are exerting for the use of their ports. "This is a flagrant violation of international law and the Treaty of 1904," he said in reference to the accord that was supposed to have regulated relations between the countries. "[The Chileans] are demanding advanced payments, even security deposits,...

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