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Landlocked Bolivia fails in bid to make Chile grant access to Pacific Coast

The judge dismissed the case but urged dialogue to find a solution.

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Bolivians watch a live broadcast of the ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

Bolivians watch a live broadcast of the ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

Bolivians watch a live broadcast of the ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

The United Nations’ highest court has rejected landlocked Bolivia’s bid to force Chile to the negotiating table over granting access to the Pacific Ocean.

In a legal ruling on Monday from the Hague-based International Court of Justice that was broadcast live throughout Bolivia, the 15-judge panel said that a string of agreements, memorandums and statements produced over decades of talks had not created a legal obligation on Chile to enter negotiations.

In a sweeping rejection of the Bolivian case, the court, by a 12 to three majority, dismissed eight different legal arguments presented by Bolivia’s lawyers.

The court’s rulings are final and binding.

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Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera, centre, accompanied by his wife Cecilia Morel, is embraced by people celebrating the ruling (Esteban Felix/AP)

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera, centre, accompanied by his wife Cecilia Morel, is embraced by people celebrating the ruling (Esteban Felix/AP)

AP/PA Images

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera, centre, accompanied by his wife Cecilia Morel, is embraced by people celebrating the ruling (Esteban Felix/AP)

In Chile, President Sebastian Pinera described it as “a great day” for the country.

“The International Court of Justice has done justice,” he said.

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He also accused his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, who was in court for the hearing, of “creating false expectations”.

Bolivia lost its only coast to neighbouring Chile during an 1879-1883 war and the nation has demanded ocean access for generations.

Restoring Bolivia’s sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia

Restoring Bolivia's sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of BoliviaFormer Bolivia president Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze

Chile has a coastline that stretches some 2,675 miles.

At hearings in March, the former Bolivian president, Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, told judges: “Restoring Bolivia’s sovereign access to the sea would make a small difference to Chile, but it would transform the destiny of Bolivia.”

But Chile argued in court that its border with Bolivia was settled in a 1904 treaty and that it had no obligation to negotiate.

The world court’s president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, agreed, but added that the decision “should not be understood as precluding the parties from continuing their dialogue and exchanges, in a spirit of good neighbourliness, to address the issues relating to the landlocked situation of Bolivia, the solution to which they have both recognised to be a matter of mutual interest”.

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A woman in La Paz. Bolivia watches the court ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

A woman in La Paz. Bolivia watches the court ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

AP/PA Images

A woman in La Paz. Bolivia watches the court ruling (Juan Karita/AP)

Mr Morales sat in the front row of his country’s delegation in the wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice.

After the hearing, he cast Mr Yusuf’s words as a “call to continue with the dialogue.”

Meanwhile in Bolivia, disappointment swept across a crowd gathered in the Plaza Murillo in the capital, La Paz, where a giant screen had been set up to show the court session.

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Bolivia’s President Evo Morales gives a brief statement at the UN World Court after judges delivered their verdict (Peter Dejong/AP)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales gives a brief statement at the UN World Court after judges delivered their verdict (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales gives a brief statement at the UN World Court after judges delivered their verdict (Peter Dejong/AP)

While there had been folkloric dances and celebrations before the ruling, people walked away in silence afterward.

“This is an injustice for a country that lost its sea. We had hope in the court,” said Segundina Orellana, an official with a coca growers group in the city of Cochabamba.

In an indication of the significance of the decision for both counties, Catholic bishops in Bolivia and Chile on Sunday called on their congregations to accept the court’s ruling “with faith, peace and good sense”.


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