Landlocked Bolivia is Thirsty for Victory

Last week, a group of students timidly gathered outside of the Sausalito Stadium in Chile’s Viña del Mar. “An ocean for Bolivia!,” they chanted over and over. The students, who’ve been protesting outside the soccer stadiums of Copa América, are part of an ongoing movement demanding a better educational system in their nation. But they’ve also been demonstrating in solidarity with their neighbor Bolivia, the poorest country in South America.

For several years now, Bolivian President Evo Morales – a soccer lover who has even played professionally – has been leading a campaign demanding sovereign access to the sea via Chile. This is a conflict that actually dates back to the early 20th century, when, after several years of battle, Chile and Bolivia signed a truce called the Treaty of Peace and Frienship. Among other things, this truce handed Chile control of all Bolivian territories that their troops currently occupied. Since then, Bolivia has had no exit to the sea.

Protesters kick soccer balls during a demonstration to demand changes in the education system, in Santiago, Chile
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In an effort to renegotiate these terms, Morales has sued Chile in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which has led to some of the worst antagonism between the governments in recent history. The lawsuit is currently on hold while the International Court contemplates Chile’s claim of lack of competency in the matter, and is projected to be resolved by the end of the year.

In the meantime, fútbol is another avenue for war. Bolivia has been a pleasant surprise at this year’s Copa América; they won a game in the tournament for the first time in 18 years (defeating Ecuador 3-2), tied with Mexico, and have advanced to the next round, where they’ll face off against Perú in the quarterfinals.

Although a victory for Bolivia won’t grant them access to the ocean, the lawsuit has increased Bolivians’ interest in the match against Chile and the Copa América.

Having advanced to the next round is already a great accomplishment for a country that hasn’t delivered on the world stage since their 1994 World Cup qualification and the 1996 Copa América final.

Meanwhile, there is not much to do other than scream “An ocean for Bolivia! An ocean for Bolivia!