On March 23, Bolivia commemorated the Battle of Calama and the Day of the Sea. President Luis Arce, during an event commemorating the day in the capital La Paz, declared he would intensify efforts to obtain Bolivia’s sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, a right that he said he would never renounce.
Bolivia lost its maritime access and became a landlocked country during the War of the Pacific, fought between Chile and a Bolivian-Peruvian alliance between 1879 and 1884.
The Battle of Calama was the first battle of the war. On March 23 in 1879, the Chilean army, backed by the British Empire, invaded Bolivia and took possession of the Antofagasta and Calama coastal regions.
The invasion of Bolivia was in response to the move by the Bolivian government to raise taxes on joint Chilean and British mining companies. When the companies refused to pay the new tax, Bolivia moved to nationalize the mines. In response, Chile declared war on Bolivia, which lasted five years with a death toll of as many as 18,000 Bolivians. In 1904, Bolivia officially ceded its coastal territories to Chile.
During the commemoration President Arce remembered the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country, and lamented the “[mutilation]” of the “direct and ancestral relationship” of the Bolivians with the sea.
Arce called on “Bolivian women and men to learn from the lessons of the past, which teach us that no natural resource is safe from predatory capitalist anguish and foreign interests, neither then nor now.”
President Arce also called on his Chilean counterpart Gabriel Boric to initiate “a new stage of bilateral relations that will allow us to have a frank, sincere dialogue.”