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BREAKING – ICJ verdict: No obligation to negotiate sea access with Bolivia

THE HAGUE – The International Court of Justice in The Hague has decided that the Chilean government doesn´t need to negotiate sea access with Bolivia. The Chilean defense ahead of the trial had said that there was no legal obligation to negotiate. The ICJ judges agreed on that statement.

Ahead of the trial in The Hague, politicians from both Chile and Bolivia laid weight in the verdict, although both countries were hoping for different outcomes. The verdict from the ICJ today can be seen as a victory for Chile and a defeat for Bolivian president Evo Morales, who in the weeks ahead of the trial had called on “brother-president Sebastián Piñera” to “comply with international law and the rulings of the Hague Court.”

During the verdict, judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf lamented the fact that previous Chilean and Bolivian governments hadn’t come to an agreement over the maritime dispute. “There hasn´t been any progress in talks between the governments since 1950”, the judge said. About the Bolivian step to go to court, the president of the ICJ said that “Bolivia does not ask the Court to declare that it has a sovereign right to the sea, what it asks is that Chile is obliged to negotiate”, assuring that negotiations do not necessarily imply that both governments must reach an agreement.

The judge mentioned different historical agreements, made between the Bolivian and Chilean governments, where presidents agreed on starting dialogues, but the Chilean government explained these agreements as “not legally binding to start any negotiations over sovereign sea access”, whilst the Bolivian government explained such agreements as binding.

Chile vs. Bolivia: These are the real stakes at The Hague

For decennia, Bolivia has been demanding access to the sea, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Bolivia lost its access during the War of the Pacific in the 19th century and had after various refusals from the Chilean side to renegotiate access, the Morales administration had gone to the ICJ in The Hague. Evo Morales made land access a national priority, stating that Chile has not kept promises to negotiate over sovereign access, such as a land corridor and seaport. Bolivia wanted the coast back to be able to export their minerals and gas.

The question now is how both countries will continue after this verdict. These first days will be about politicians trying to make headlines with opinions on this verdict. For president Evo Morales, obtaining sea access became of major importance, as a positive outcome could lay a fundament for a new electoral term. Chile on the other hand, always keen on strictly following international law, can keep refusing any negotiations.

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