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LATIN AMERICA: After 130 Years, Seeking A South American Peace In La Paz

Chile and Bolivia have made history by coming together to resolve a land dispute that dates back to 1879. But still much ground to travel.

Bolivia's Evo Morales and Chile's Sebastián Piñera together in September (courtesy: Chilean govt)

EYES INSIDE - LATIN AMERICA

After 60 years, Chile and Bolivia are finally talking. On Monday, the foreign ministers of both nations began meeting in the Bolivian capital La Paz in an effort to settle a dispute dating back to the 19th century over Bolivia "s access to the Pacific Ocean. The two nations are working off of a 13-point agenda first proposed five years ago aimed at jumpstarting negotiations over land Bolivia lost in the 1879 War of the Pacific. Last year, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed it was time the issue was settled once and for all.

Chilean Foreign Affairs minister Alfredo Moreno arrived in La Paz this week, the first time in more than a half a century that a Chilean foreign minister has come to the land-lock nation to discuss the issue that has been a constant thorn in bilateral relations.

Moreno told Chilean and Bolivian reporters that his government was opened to negotiations but at the same time wanted to guarantee national sovereignty over land Bolivia wants back.

The talks got off to a rocky start when Hugo Fernández, a former deputy foreign minister of Bolivia said that ex-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had offered Bolivia 28-square kilometer "enclave" just north of Iquique so that it could have access to the Pacific Ocean, according to the AFP's Spanish-language edition.

In a statement from Santiago, the Chilean Foreign Ministry said that such proposals can only be taken up by the authorities who are now in government and not by former officials, reports Chile's top daily El Mercurio. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who visited Santiago last month, said that the two countries cannot allow the issue to fester for another 100 years, but has declined to detail his government's own proposal.

In 1879, Bolivia lost about 400 kilometers of coastline after Chile defeated a Bolivian-Peruvian coalition during the War of the Pacific. Peru also lost its southern most province, which is now part of Chilean territory. In 1975, then dictators Hugo Banzer of Bolivia and Augusto Pinochet of Chile tried in vain to hammer out an agreement, and the countries broke off diplomatic relations. Bolivia has warned that it might be forced to take its case against Chile to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Peru has also filed a suit against the Chilean government.

To observers on both sides, the talks are seen as a positive step in improving relations and settling the ancient dispute. "I believe this is the moment to establish specific terms and strong points to begin formal negotiations," said Chilean Senator Alejandro Navarro, as quoted by La Razón of La Paz.

Former Bolivian Foreign Minister Armando Loaiza called the first meeting an "important step." More than 130 years after blood was shed over the land, and 60 years of diplomatic silence, standing together in the aptly named La Paz (Peace) is a big step indeed.

Martin Delfín

Worldcrunch

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