The Hague, 1 April 2022 (TDI): Chile has opened a case against Bolivia at the highest court of the United Nations over a river on which both countries claim their right.

Chile seeks the international body to declare the Silala River an “international watercourse”. The river flows into the country from Bolivia, and Chile seeks recognition of equal rights to its waters.

It claims that it has been denied those rights since 1999. The hearings will begin this Friday. However, the judgment could take years.

Previously, there have been water-related disputes between the South American neighbors. Chile was willing to discuss the Silala river’s waters with Bolivia in 2000, but those discussions stalled. In 2016, Chile took Bolivia to the International Court of Justice to rule on disputes between the countries.

Thereafter, Bolivia also sued its neighbor to seek the court’s ruling that it had “sovereignty… over the artificial flow of Silala waters engineered, enhanced, or produced in its territory”. It also demanded that Chile pay compensation.

The court ruled in 2018 in Chile’s favor, ruling that it had no legal obligations to negotiate its territory with Bolivia.

Moreover, Bolivia seeks access to the Pacific Ocean that it lost to Chile in a war in the 19th century. Bolivia disputes Chile’s sovereignty over its northern parts that previously belonged to Bolivia. Access to the sea is a major issue in the foreign policy of the landlocked country.

Chile-Bolivia Relations

Chile and Bolivia have very limited diplomatic relations since 1979. That year, negotiations on territorial disputes broke down between the two countries, and Bolivia severed diplomatic ties.

Even so, the two countries have deep historical and cultural ties. Both nations were part of the Spanish Colonial Empire in the Americas long before their independence.

There have been efforts to revive the relationship. Both countries maintain economic treaties regarding tourism, cooperation, and trade.

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