I found that suprising, as well, but assume their treaty may cover this provision. Below are two pieces from the Economist
, including a clarification from Chile's Ambassador to the UK.
The inalienable right to a beach
Dec 4th 2003 | LA
From The Economist print edition
A territorial row that refuses to die
AMID all his “revolutionary” bombast, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, occasionally delivers undiplomatic home truths. So it was last month, when he spoke of his dream of “swimming on a Bolivian beach” on the Pacific. That provoked Chile, which deprived Bolivia of its coastline in the War of the Pacific of 1879-83, to recall its ambassador in Caracas. It also highlighted one of South America's most stubborn territorial grievances.
Not dispute—for Chile insists that there is none. A 1904 treaty, ratified by the Congresses of both countries, legalised its annexation of Bolivia's nitrate-rich coastal province of Antofagasta. Chile also grabbed Arica and Iquique from Peru. But in Bolivia, the loss still rankles. In 1978, it broke diplomatic relations over the issue (they have been restored, but not fully).
Each year, Bolivia's presidents mark the “Day of the Sea”, often with a vow to recover a Pacific port. The landlocked navy has not been disbanded; it chugs forlornly around Lake Titicaca. Maps in barracks, and in the offices of some politicians, still show Bolivia's pre-1879 boundaries. Schoolchildren learn that they have an inalienable right to a coast.
More seriously, modern economic research suggests that being landlocked is a development handicap. Bolivia's foreign ministry claims that this has docked 1% a year in GDP growth. And revanchist nationalism played a big role in the overthrow in October of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who had championed a scheme to export natural gas. The cheapest way is through a Chilean port.
Chilean officials retort that they have already granted Bolivia access to the sea, in the form of guaranteed tariff-free use of Arica and Antofagasta, where it operates its own customs service and warehouses. They say that the two countries were close to sealing a free-trade agreement recently, until Bolivia had second thoughts. The government's stance is in line with public opinion. According to one recent poll, only 14% would countenance ceding sovereignty over any ports. Chileans point out that wars shifted many South American borders in the past two centuries.
Fair enough. But given how much fine talk Latin American presidents devote to regional unity, Chile's position seems a touch anachronistic. Its northern coastline consists of empty deserts and a few quiet ports. Could it not share sovereignty over a little-used harbour, and an adjoining beach, allowing the Bolivian flag to flutter beside the Pacific, along with Chile's?
The benefits would be mutual. Such a gesture would help get Bolivia's gas out of the ground. This could fuel Chile's northern copper mines and, perhaps, a petrochemical industry. Instead of glowering at one another, the Chilean and Bolivian armies could stage joint patrols against drug traffickers. Bolivian diplomats have long failed to interest outside bodies in this dispute. But last month Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, while visiting Bolivia, offered to help the two sides talk. Perhaps he was poorly briefed—or perhaps he was being farsighted.
Chile and beyond
– I would like to point out some imprecisions in your article on Chile and Bolivia (“The inalienable right to a beach”, December 6th). As you state, the boundaries between Chile and Bolivia were established by a treaty in 1904 and ratified by both parliaments. Bolivia also lost territory to Brazil, Peru, Paraguay and Argentina.
The allegation that Bolivia's lack of access to the sea costs it more than 1% of GDP a year is difficult to defend. Bolivia has wide tariff-free access to Chilean ports in Arica and Antofagasta. Bolivia's only international asphalt road is the La Paz-Arica highway. It has much less access to the north, south and west. It has an open connection to the Pacific Ocean through Chilean territory by road and rail (the latter owned by a Bolivian company). High-level discussions are taking place in Bolivia about a pipeline through Chile to export gas to California. It seems that Bolivian public opinion will not accept the project passing through Chile without sovereignty over the territory. Nobody has mentioned that for 40 years a Bolivian pipeline has crossed Chilean territory, used free of tariff by Bolivia.
It is very dangerous to promote the alteration of boundary treaties, especially when they are legitimate and provide stability for the region. This does not apply only to Latin America. Look at the geography of Europe and you will realise that it is an almost impossible affair. The mutual benefits you describe could be achieved successfully without talks about the boundaries between Chile and Bolivia.