Bolivia and Peru put an end Tuesday to years of political friction between their presidents, Evo Morales and Alan García, with an agreement that will allow the highland country to have access to the Pacific Ocean for its vital exports, a rapprochement characterized as historic.
The socialist Morales and the liberal García sealed the pact in the port of Ilo, in southern Peru, expanding an agreement signed in 1992 by which Peru ceded an industrial and commercial foreign-trade zone to landlocked Bolivia.
“This meeting is in order to relaunch a new friendship, a new strategy of integrating Bolivia with Peru,” Morales said in a speech following the signing of the agreement, on a platform set up at the edge of the sea, which served as a backdrop.
Morales, an indigenous leader opposed to the free market and allied with the leftist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, arrived in Peru with a large entourage of military and civilian authorities for a visit of less than a day.
This is the first relatively significant agreement between Morales and García, under whose administrations trade between the two neighboring countries has remained at low levels.
With the 1992 agreement, Peru ceded to Bolivia a coastal strip located seventeen kilometers from Ilo, between the southern departments of Moquegua and Tacna, the latter of which borders on Chile. The pact has a renewable ninety-nine-year term.
In addition, Peru granted a land area of 163.5 hectares within the Ilo Industrial Foreign-Trade Zone.
BOLIVIA ON THE PACIFIC
Now, the pact has been expanded with greater port facilities and facilities for free transit in the area granted to Bolivia, where it will be possible to establish Bolivian industries and shipping warehouses for the export of the country’s products, such as minerals.
The pact will also enable Bolivia to have a berth for its naval ships and an annex of its Naval School.
The agreement also renews for ninety-nine years a tourist foreign-trade zone in Ilo, in which a sport and fishing pier will be able to be constructed with Bolivian capital, and the area of the grant was extended from 2 square kilometers to 3.6 square kilometers, to be called “Mar Bolivia” [Bolivia Sea], according to the pact signed.
“This supplementary protocol opens the intercontinental door to us; the sea is for world trade, the sea is so that the products of our peoples can circulate and have access to these ports,” affirmed Morales, who appeared emotionally moved and promised investments worth millions in the terminal.
“Ninety-nine years: that gives us confidence to make significant investments in the port of Ilo,” the indigenous president said.
The presidents signed the “Ilo Declaration” that sealed the pact, which includes exemptions in the areas of customs duties, taxes, and labor law, as well as the completion in 2011 of 314 kilometers of highway still to be built between Tacna and La Paz.
The presidential event was facilitated, according to the La Paz administration, by the recent handover by Lima of two Bolivian right-wing former officials who had taken refuge in Peru in order to evade corruption charges.
Morales and García – a fervent promoter of private investment – have clashed several times in the last four years over issues of ideology and of international politics.
Peru went without an ambassador in La Paz for forty-five days last year after Morales characterized as a “neoliberal genocide” the deaths of thirty-four police officers and members of indigenous communities in a protest in the Peruvian Amazon against García’s administration, which will conclude next year.
RELATIONS WITH CHILE
The pact between Peru and Bolivia comes at a time in which both countries maintain disagreements over the maritime border and access to the sea, respectively, with their neighbor Chile.
Bolivia has concentrated its efforts on obtaining sovereign access to the sea by way of the northern Chilean port of Arica, something that Santiago has rejected several times.
Peru, Bolivia, and Chile confronted one another in the nineteenth century in what is known as the War of the Pacific, in which Peru lost the region of Arica and Bolivia lost its access to the sea.
A treaty between Lima and Santiago establishes that any cession of sovereignty by Chile to Bolivia regarding former Peruvian territory should take place in consultation with Peru.
“Our return to the sea is something that Bolivians cannot renounce. This work will continue, we hope, so that with the understanding of all, one day Bolivia may recover sovereign access to the sea,” Morales affirmed.
President García, after highlighting the signing of the agreement expanding Bolivia’s access to the sea for its exports, welcomed this new relationship with Morales that puts an end to “old quarrels” and supported the Bolivian ambition to obtain access to the sea.
“I believe, friend and brother president, that this is much more than the words or the literary perspectives that have sometimes separated us; these are historic acts in favor of our peoples,” the president said during his speech.
“We are interested in strengthening our South American people and saying, as I said in 1990, that Peru will never be an obstacle in the bilateral dialogue that should lead to Bolivia recovering its sovereign access to the sea,” García noted.
Morales and García, who embraced several times as a sign of friendship and awarded decorations to one another, laid a wreath at the statue of the Peruvian hero of the war with Chile, Adm. Miguel Grau.