December 6, 1962
Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Record of Visit of Bolivian Chargé d’Affaires Jorge Calvimontes with Comrade Pithart, Prague
No. 37 061/62
[Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
Record of Bolivian Chargé d’Affaires [Jorge] Calvimontes’s Visit
with cde. [comrade] Pithart
[6 December 1962]
[Preamble to document 37 061/62: Opening exchange between Calvimontes and Pithart, where Calvimontes informed Comrade Pithart about his recent visits in the past weeks to fellow socialist countries, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union. Calvimontes then requests permission to speak to Comrade Pithart about the difficulties Bolivia faces due to its inland, landlocked position.]
Bolivia had not always had difficulties associated with export and import due to its inland location. When Bolivia gained its independence after 1825, it had extensive territory to the west, giving the country very convenient access to the Pacific Ocean (with Antofagasta serving as the capital of Departamento Litoral). But over the course of several years, the Bolivian Republic was subject to constant curtailment of territory, causing its area to shrink from more than 2 mil. km2 to less than half its original size. Departamento Litoral, which provided Bolivia with direct access to the Pacific Ocean was lost after the conflict with Chile in 1879. There soon followed the surrendering a big portion of Bolivian northeastern territory to Brazil in 1903, which decreased Bolivian territory even further, thus making it more vulnerable than ever. A bloody war with Paraguay in 1932 deprived Bolivia of Gran Chaco in the south. The War of Gran Chaco is believed to have been catalyzed by British and American imperialistic interests which led to a dispute over oil supplies. Bolivia, as an underdeveloped country had neither the strength nor the inclination to defend its borders which again left Bolivia half its former size. Loss of access to the Pacific Ocean gave rise to serious complications for Bolivia as mineral extraction comprises nearly 90% of its net export income.
Although Bolivia is supposed to have free transit through Chile’s north harbors as stated in a peace agreement signed in Chile in 1904, reality indicates otherwise. That is why Bolivia has not totally ruled out the possibility of the agreement’s revision. Although Bolivia fully recognizes the peace agreement of 1904, it disaffirms its fairness due to the substantial monetary investment it had also put into its former coastal areas. The reality is that both Chile and Peru seize the imported and exported goods, while legal rights give full claim to Bolivia. This form of embargo is imposed in order to manipulate the terms and conditions that had already been stated and agreed upon. For instance, the Chilean government seized around 4,500 tons of military equipment in Port Arica, Chile, which were so desperately needed during the Bolivia-Paraguay war in 1933. According to the agreement, this particular delivery fell under the free transit provision. However, Chile misapplied its “neutrality”. This resulted in financial and time losses as the delivery had to be redirected through Peru. However, Peru not only seized the Bolivian military equipment but also four Bolivian purchased bombers. Another example of the drawbacks of Bolivia’s highly inconvenient inland location is seizure of mining equipment in 1952. This followed soon after Bolivian mines had been nationalized and former mine owners implemented an embargo through the Chilean government. Consequently, this resulted in 6 month delivery delays, which had a catastrophic impact on the Bolivian economy.
It is crucial to appreciate the fact that virtually all goods going into Bolivia have to go through one of the three ports in Chile – Arica, Mollendo or Antofagasta. Bolivia has always tended towards the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic Ocean. This might be due to Bolivia’s geographic and demographic conditions. Unlike the Atlantic Ocean where Bolivia has never established any transport connection, the Pacific Ocean presents an ideal route which is connected by three railroads. These railroads serve as the only means of exporting Bolivian mineral recourses. Nevertheless, Bolivian exports fall under tariffs imposed by Chile’s port and transport companies, which naturally translates into higher commodity prices. Due to Port Arica not being a modern port, insurance companies demand more than triple the standard rate, resulting in goods that are up to 35% more expensive. This continuous cost increase related to both import and export causes permanent fund leakage and constant financial bleeding. Should the current situation persist, Bolivia will be unable to attain any level of improvement. In fact, the current situation acts as a brake, retarding economic growth.
Moreover, Bolivia’s ‘landlocked’ position also prevents development of any stable or sustainable connection with the outside world. The issues stated above were the reason behind the Bolivian government’s decision to put forward a proposal to the Organization of United Nations (UN) to arrange a direct meeting between Bolivia and Chile regarding the transfer of one of Chile’s ports to Bolivia. This request is based on historical and economic arguments stated above. Bolivia’s chargé d’affaires, Calvimontes, informed the delegation that Bolivia was willing to reimburse Chile for access to the port provided the nature of the settlement did not mean conceding any more land. Czechoslovak comrade Pithart was asked to inform his government about the previously stated problem and to support the idea at a meeting of the UN.
Just two days after the meeting between Bolivia’s chargé d’affaires, Calvimontes, and comrade Pithart regarding the Bolivian proposal to the UN as pertaining to Chile’s port, Calvimontes informed Czechoslovak officials about another problem between Bolivia and Chile. This time Calvimontes addressed the problem of the partial draining of the Lauca River by Chile. This act represents an aggression from Chile’s side and led to the severing of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Having already taken all possible steps to resolve the issue in a peaceful way, Bolivia governed by its principles based on complying with the norms of international law and contractual obligations, put forward a proposal to the Organization of American States. The proposal was not only met with disregard and a lack of interest in addressing the matter, but endless postponements. The draining of the Lauca River poses a major problem as it is the primary irrigation source for the Altiplano Bolivian plateau. Moreover, the Lauca River discharges into Lake Coipasa which might dry out and become a salt lake if Lauca’s stream flow continues to be diverted to Chile.
According to the recommendations made by the OEA, Foreign Affairs Ministers representing both countries involved agreed on a renewal of diplomatic relations. When Chile’s representative had finally handed the Memorandum of Renewal of Diplomatic Relations to Bolivia at the UN conference on November 3rd 1962, the problem regarding the Lauca River was not even mentioned. There was simply no mention of the topic that had started all the turmoil in the first place. This caused the Bolivian government to once again appeal to the Organization of American States. It is essential that Bolivia considers this whole situation with all seriousness since the Lauca River’s water is vitally important for Altiplano’s agriculture. The gravity of this situation has become more pressing after Teodoro Moscoso’s statement was released by the press. Moscoso claimed that the problem of the Lauca River should be solved by setting up a committee between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia that would address directly utilizing Lake Titicaca. Moscoso’s proposal has been found unacceptable as Chile has nothing to do with the lake. And as far as Peru and Bolivia are concerned, there have never been any disputes between the countries. This has also recently been confirmed. Moscoso’s words are obviously related to an existing plan of irrigating the north of Chile. Comrade Pithart’s response was the same as before which was a reassurance to inform the Czechoslovak government.
[Calvimontes ends by thanking Comrade Pithart for his attention and understanding and hopes to hear back regarding a response to what he has just disclosed. Calvimontes hands Comrade Pithart a ‘red book’ of the official government report regarding the issues surrounding the Lauca River.]
Conversation lasted 50 min.
Interpreted and record taken by Z. Velísek
7. 12. 1962
Bolivian chargé Calvimontes goes on at length regarding Bolivia's conflict with Chile, which was rooted in Bolivia's desire for access to the Pacific Ocean.
The History and Public Policy Program welcomes reuse of Digital Archive materials for research and educational purposes. Some documents may be subject to copyright, which is retained by the rights holders in accordance with US and international copyright laws. When possible, rights holders have been contacted for permission to reproduce their materials.
To enquire about this document's rights status or request permission for commercial use, please contact the History and Public Policy Program at [email protected].