Friday, October 29, 2010

Bolivia Sees the Sea; Argentina's Sea Change

In the War of the Pacific, which lasted from 1879 to 1884, Chile acquired about a third of its current territory, in the northerly Atacama Desert, from Peru and Bolivia. That marks the last time that Bolivia enjoyed direct access to the ocean but, with the cooperation of Peruvian president Alán García, the landlocked country will soon do so again - Peru has granted a strip of coastal access about 200 kilometers (roughly 120 miles) north of the Chilean border for Bolivia to do as it pleases - including establishing a naval presence there. At present, Bolivia’s navy is confined to Lake Titicaca (shared between Peru and Bolivia), and the eastward-draining rivers of the Amazon Basin.

The rights and wrongs of the war aside - and it’s easy to argue that the nitrate-rich Atacama would have contributed to prosperity for both Peru and Bolivia as it did to Chile - it’s questionable whether this “outlet to the sea” for which Bolivia has clamored for more than a century will revive anything other than Bolivian nationalism. In reality, for more than two decades since a paved road from the Chilean port of Arica (pictured above, it was part of Peru in the 19th century) reached the Bolivian border, Bolivia’s access to the sea is better than it ever was - for commercial ends at least. By far the closest and quickest route from the Andean highlands to the Pacific, Arica is also the place where Bolivians take their beach holidays.

In the 19th century, when Bolivia’s main port was the now crumbling ghost town of Cobija (pictured above, Cobija served as a location for the recent James Bond flick Quantum of Solace), it exported silver from the bonanza mine at Potosí, though Antofagasta eventually succeeded it. Today, though, it probably means that Bolivia will build a Pacific fleet that it doesn’t need, and can’t afford, in peacetime - primarily because of a long-lived irredentist grudge against Chile.

Kirchner's Candidacy Expires

Across the Andes, meanwhile, Argentina is experiencing a sea change of its own with the fatal heart attack of former president Néstor Kirchner on Wednesday morning in the tourist center of El Calafate - a town which the Santa Cruz province native helped put on the map with massive infusions of capital that helped build an international quality airport for the gateway to the Moreno Glacier (pictured above). With his widow, the current president Cristina Fernández, he also built the town’s sprawling Casa Los Sauces luxury hotel complex (pictured below), where accommodations go for around US$700 per night. The Kirchners maintain their own house on a contiguous property.

Kirchner, who served as president from 2003 to 2007 before being succeeded by Fernández, was by most accounts a notorious Type A personality who had had several other health scares in recent months. Widely considered the leading candidate to return to the presidency next year, he leaves a political vacuum despite the immediate outpouring of support for his widow from along the entire political spectrum. Soon enough, Argentines will learn whether Fernández can survive, politically, without the man that many of them considered her co-president, even as he held no formal executive power.

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