Bolivia and Chile: What Will Become of Bilateral Ties When Gabriel Boric Becomes President?

By Sebastián Ochoa on January 19, 2022.

Bolivia to the Sea

Two months before Gabriel Boric assumes the Chilean presidency, what can be expected in Bolivia? ‘Sputnik’ consulted two analysts about the future of bilateral relations, battered since the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). In Bolivia they are waiting for March 11, when Gabriel Boric will assume the presidency of Chile, with the expectation of improving relations between the two countries that have not had ambassadors since 1884, the year of the end of the War of the Pacific. Will the new Chilean president facilitate access to a sovereign outlet to the sea for the Plurinational State? Sputnik consulted Chilean journalist Alfonso Ossandón, an asylum seeker in Bolivia, and Bolivian international affairs analyst Gabriel Villalba, who dared to make predictions about the bond that will soon unite both countries, whose presidents, Boric and Luis Arce, share ideas and a vision of how Latin America should be. “At some point, Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) offered Carlos Mesa (2003-2005) to reestablish diplomatic relations ‘here and now’. But it remained a phrase for bronze, like many phrases accumulated in the Book of the Sea [published by Bolivia], where you can collate a large number of promises made by Chilean executives,” Ossadón commented.

The journalist agreed with Salvador Allende (1970-1973) in the sense that “a debt must be settled with Bolivia, which involves not only reestablishing diplomatic relations, but also seeing mechanisms for sovereign access to the sea, which by history and by right belongs to the Bolivian people,” he said. Ossadón requested asylum in Bolivia in 2018, as a result of the harassment and threats suffered in his nation for publicly supporting the maritime cause of the Plurinational State: “I met in a school in Chile six Bolivian girls, who suffered racism and xenophobia. So there I socialized the Bolivian position in a school dynamic, so that the children would know that Bolivian children have another story about the War of the Pacific”. From that moment on, the Police and its Intelligence area did not stop following his steps.

Bolivia, Chile and Peru

For Ossadón, Bolivia, Chile and also Peru should strengthen their commercial ties, which would help the bloc to develop. In this sense, he mentioned that they should return to the path of the Qhapaq Ñan, the “great road” of the Inca Empire that linked six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The journalist said that the next Chilean president should strengthen the purchase of gas from Bolivia: “Chile needs gas, which should go not only to large industry, but also to homes. In this way, the Chilean population will also feel benefited by the relations between the two countries. The price of gas in Chile is scandalously high. This is due to a policy of corruption in the companies involved in this area. Cheaper gas has to be obtained for economic production”.

Ossadon went on to say that “Bolivia and Chile today are invited to strengthen common spaces, to defend both from interfering factors on their natural resources, to understand Bolivia’s inalienable aspiration to recover the sea”, and he explained that, for him, the Qhapaq Ñan “is not an abstract, archeological concept. It is an ancestral concept, it is the path of mutual relations, where not only the peoples of Bolivia and Chile benefit, but it radiates towards the rest of the continent”.

Chilean lithium

Ossadón pointed out that Chile is currently debating what to do with its lithium reserves. President Sebastián Piñera, who will leave office in two months, put out to tender last Wednesday its exploitation for 20 years and immediately awarded it to two companies. When asked about it, Boric stated that it was not up to the outgoing president to make such an important decision, although legally it is still one of his rights. Hours later, a court of justice decided to halt the lithium extraction tender.

Part of the Chilean population is aware of the importance of exploiting this resource for the benefit of the majority. These days Chile is talking about lithium. And they have set their eyes on the management that Bolivia has done, with the purpose of giving value to the raw material. But this has not yet been done by Chile. For this reason, now a process of debate on approaches to develop the exploitation of a strategic resource such as lithium is starting”, he said.

The generational factor

Gabriel Boric, at 35 years old, will be one of the youngest presidents in the world. As for Bolivia, after the 2019 coup, a growing participation of youth in politics was noticed.In fact, “in Arce’s entourage, many are young professionals, who although they were formed during the 14-year process of change of Evo Morales (2006-2019), generationally they handle other forms and technologies. This can be used to have a much more fluid communication with Boric’s team”.This factor “is not a guarantee of obtaining optimal results, but I do believe that eventually it will help to build bridges”.For Ossadón there is no better bridge than communication. Therefore, with the rise of leftist and progressive governments again in the region -Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru, for now- he considered that they should work together in communicational areas, with the purpose of reviving the path of the Qhapaq Ñan.

The result of the mobilization

For Gabriel Villalba, director of the Center for Our American Studies, Boric’s triumph in the elections of December 19, 2021 represents the imposition of the mobilized people over the power of the private media “It is necessary to analyze in depth the impact of the mobilized society over the influence that at a certain moment the hegemonic media in Chile came to have”, considered the analyst, and recalled that the Chilean media “tried to artificially generate certain susceptibility in this last election. Until the last moment they tried to impose from the Chilean media that there was going to be a tie” between Boric and José Antonio Kast, but “in the end, history is made by the people. All the mobilization that was generated in 2019 ended up generating not only the constituent process, but also a new government that provides very encouraging and optimistic signals for the whole region”.

How will the Bolivia-Chile link continue?

“Bolivia has always maintained fluid commercial and cultural relations with Chile, but not diplomatic relations. We do not have diplomatic relations, because in Bolivia we consider that we have fundamental pending issues with the Chilean State, for example the access to the Pacific Ocean with sovereignty”, mentioned Villalba. On the question of the sea, he recalled that “several Chilean governments have pronounced themselves, saying that they were not going to give even a millimeter of Chilean territory to Bolivia. But now, with Boric’s inauguration as president, there is some hope that bilateral relations will improve”.With Peru, where Pedro Castillo currently governs, “an integrated region can be built, to provide our peoples with commercial and political solutions towards regional integration”, said Villalba.

Like Castillo, when Boric takes office he will face a divided congress, without a majority of his party. If the new president really wants to facilitate a maritime solution for Bolivia, would the strong Chilean opposition allow it? “We should not force the issue too much, because Chilean common sense does not want to cede even an inch of its territorial sovereignty. So, by pressuring Boric I think we are hurting ourselves”, said the analyst.

Source: Sputnik Mundo, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English