Piñera embarks on victory visit, as pressure mounts on Morales

ANTOFAGASTA – President Sebastián Piñera visited together with a delegation including foreign minister Roberto Ampuero Antofagasta. They walked along the historic dock (Muelle Histórico de Antofagasta) to celebrate the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling against Bolivia’s maritime demand. The verdict was clear refutation of Bolivia’s claims over a stretch of land, enveloping Antofagasta, to access the Pacific Ocean.

After the ICJ ruled on Monday that, based on the 1904 Treaty, Chile has no obligation to negotiate with Bolivia over sovereign access to the sea, Chile’s highest authorities visited the city of Antofagasta. On the occasion, Piñera dropped again the catchy line that “Antofagasta has been, is and will continue to be Chilean,” according to a foreign ministry press release.

The verdict and the Antofagasta visit come as a godsend to Piñera, whose poll numbers have been falling for weeks. But to his credit, he shared the moment with ex-president Michelle Bachelet. Radio Biobio quoted Piñera as saying that Bachelet “maintained a firm and clear attitude in defense of the interests of our country.” Bolivia’s demand may have failed in court, but it achieved to unite Chile’s establishment parties.

Chile’s joy, Bolivia’s tears

With the ruling, Chile’s ex-foreign minister Heraldo Muñoz boldly considers the case closed. This seems to be wishful thinking and a relapse into complacency. According to Bolivia’s state-news agency ABI, President Evo Morales was “surprised” at the verdict. “We respect (the ruling), but we do not agree; the demand is reaffirmed with more conviction because we are on the side of truth, justice and we are right,” Morales said.

Contradicting himself, Morales promised to send the ICJ a list of several contradictions and accused to Court of taking the side of “a group” (12 judges of 15 ruled in favor of Chile). Morales will make more noise in the coming weeks to drown out mounting pressure. Having promised access to the sea for years, he couldn’t deliver. The opposition, according to Bolivisión, calls on Morales to not run again in next year’s elections because of his damaged credibility.

Notably, the opposition does not side with Chile but has finally found an issue on which Morales failed. The president’s popularity rested significantly on his ability to poke Chile and rally the country behind the cause.

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