I can think of little more out of place I’ve seen in my life than a naval academy conducting an exercise 12,000 feet up in the mountains in a completely landlocked nation. Though it’s been 133 years since Bolivia has had its own coastline, the streets and teleféricos here in La Paz are lined with advertisements promoting the campaign of getting the sea back for Bolivia. Having had the chance to go to the museum that tells the story of the Chilean-Bolivian conflict, I see that this a complex war that still has lasting effects for both countries today. I’ve talked to a few Paceños about this war and the word I got back most frequently is “unfair.” I was especially surprised when Dr. Miguel Centellas told us that he had to learn an anthem to sing at school that mentioned every town that was in the lost province. The Bolivian longing to have its coastline seems to be immeasurable, and it is true that having a coastline significantly can boost the economic output of the nation. But is it really about the sea?
You would never know it from the way people bemoan the loss of the sea, but I recently learned that Bolivia actually does have access to a port in Peru. Of course, it isn’t quite the same as having it on your own country, but Bolivia is not completely economically stymied by having no access to a coast. So I had to keep wondering what the big uproar was to continue calling the Chileans thieves and cheaters. That is until I started thinking about what a cause like this could do to the unity of a nation.
With as many different ethic groups there are in Bolivia, well over thirty, there is sure to be some domestic dispute quite frequently. A strong case, like the thought of having been wronged, can pull all these varying groups together. The question for me is what happens if Chile decides to (or eventually has to) cede some coastline territory to Bolivia? Sure, Bolivia gets what they always wanted, but how would that affect the landscape of Bolivian nationalism which seems to be tied into bemoaning the loss of the sea and having resentment for the Chileans? At any rate, it will be an interesting topic to watch in the upcoming years and one I will definitely continue to follow.