Chile recognises Palestinian sovereignty but skirts around the 1967 question, Bolivia pursues lost access to the sea and Punta Arenas is paralysed by protests over gas prices.
Tension escalated between Chile and Bolivia this week, as Bolivian Foreign Secretary David Choquehuanca said he ‘would not rule out’ taking the two countries’ longstanding dispute over access to the sea to the International Court of Justice.
Following victory over an alliance between Peru and Bolivia in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific, Chilean territorial expansion left Bolivia landlocked; the removal of coastal access has remained a point of conflict between the two nations, which severed diplomatic ties in 1978. In recent years, these neighbours have generally appeared to be on friendlier terms, although Bolivia has refused to relinquish its claims to Pacific access.
Chilean Secretary of State Alfredo Moreno made telephone contact with Choquehuanca to express the government’s uneasiness over the remark. Following the call, Choquehuanca issued a public clarification in which he acknowledged that the issue will continue to form part of ongoing bilateral negotiations between the two countries, as decided at the meeting between Morales and Piñera during the Mercosur summit in Brazil last month. The Chilean government has denied that Bolivia has any juridical grounds for a case at the Hague, but has agreed to a diplomatic meeting between Moreno and Choquehuanca on 17 January.
Another significant development to international relations for Chile this week was the government’s official recognition of the ‘free, sovereign and independent’ state of Palestine. As announced by Alfredo Moreno on Friday, Chile joins other Latin American nations, including Argentina and Brazil in acknowledging Palestinian sovereignty.
This is an issue of considerable weight in Chile, as well as internationally, as the country is home to around 400,000 people of Palestinian origin, thought to be the largest such community outside the Arab world. However, Chile’s statement has been branded ‘lukewarm’ by the Palestinian Federation, since it does not explicitly support the pre-1967 borders. The Jewish Community group in Chile has commended the ‘prudence’ of the Piñera administration’s cautious stance.
In domestic news, Thursday saw mass protests in the southern city of Punta Arenas, as around 3500 people gathered in the main square in anger over the 16.8% rise in gas prices. One of the southernmost cities in the world, Punta Arenas is the main settlement on the Strait of Magellan and the capital of Chile’s administrative region of Magallanes y Antártica Chilena.
The city’s mayor, Vladimiro Mimica has argued that in such cold climates gas is ‘a necessity, not a luxury’ in both domestic and industrial situations. The demonstrations, lead by labour unions and community organisations, brought the streets to a standstill in protest at the recently announced price increase, which will come into effect in February. Demonstrators disrupted traffic and blocked access to the airport, as well as tourist routes to the Torres del Paine national park.
In Santiago, Minister for Energy Ricardo Raineri responded to the protests by reaffirming the need for the price hike, arguing that over the last decade the price of gas in the region had failed to keep pace with international fluctuations.