Bolivia closer to the sea: Chile grants free access in Iquique
June 15, 2008 - MercoPress

Chile announced on Tuesday that the northern port of Iquique will be of free transit for Bolivia and suggested advances on the bilateral negotiation agenda for ending Bolivia's landlocked condition which dates back to 1879/1883 when the so called Pacific or Saltpeter war (*).

(above) Iquique port

Deputy Foreign Affairs minister Alberto van Klaveren made the announcement in La Paz where he met with his Bolivian counterpart Hugo Fernandez to consider the 13 point agenda agreed in 2006 by president Evo Morales from Bolivia and Chile's Michelle Bachelet.

"I can announce that the decree for the opening of the port to Bolivian operations has been approved and has gone through all the necessary steps", said Van Klaveren before stating that "Iquique is the first Chilean port which opens for the free transito f Bolivia since 1904".

He added that bilateral relations "are going through an excellent moment" and suggested that in the "maritime issue", both countries have managed "to advance in terms of criteria and observations".

"We've always held that in the maritime issue we want to advance with no haste but without pause", said Van Klaveren, who described discussions as "very serious".

The Bolivian Deputy minister Fernandez read part of the joint act stating that both officials reiterate "their conviction that through the dialogue process, a realistic and looking into the future approach, the necessary agreements can be reached".

According to the document the options which "offer greater viability in the short term" have emphasised.

The announcement follows a Monday meeting when both countries agreed on a framework Defence cooperation agreement, the first ever since both countries were involved in the Pacific war of the XIX century.

The accord includes exchange of information on defense issues; know how and experience in peace keeping operations; mutual interest cooperation in the military industry and opening of communication channels in these areas, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries Defence ministers.

So far cooperation had been limited to formal military academic exchanges, which had been agreed a year ago.

"It's a historic event, we still have differences dating back to the XXth century but we hope that this century relations will improve for the better of our countries and peoples", said Walker San Miguel, Bolivia's Defence minister during the joint press conference in La Paz.

"It's essential our Armed Forces reach an understanding on the institutional framework and I believe we've advanced considerably", indicated Chile's Defence minister Jose Goñi, who had previously met with Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Bolivia (together with neighboring Peru) went to war with Chile from 1879 to 1883, when the country finally lost its Pacific outlet and Peru a southern province.

Since 1978 relations at ambassador level have been broken when negotiations for a Bolivian outlet to the Pacific failed. However relations between both countries have improved considerably since the beginning of the administrations of Evo Morales and Chile's Michelle Bachelet.

Goñi also mentioned that Chile has so far managed clear and eliminate 25% of antipersonnel mines which were planted along the Bolivian border under the Chilean military government of General Augusto Pinochet.

Chile expects to reach 40% elimination and destruction of these mines by the end of the year promised the Chilean minister. His Bolivian counterpart San Miguel thanked Chile for keeping his country informed on the task.

(*) The War of the Pacific, sometimes called the Saltpeter War in reference to its original cause, was fought between Chile and the joint forces of Bolivia and Peru, from 1879 to 1883. Chile gained substantial mineral-rich territory in the conflict, annexing both the Peruvian provinces of Tarapacá and Arica and the Bolivian province of Litoral, leaving Bolivia as a landlocked country.