Bolivia is taking Chile to court over a war it lost 134 years ago -- and it reenacted a pivotal battle on the final day of the case

In April 1884, Bolivia signed a treaty ending the War of the Pacific, granting Chile 240 miles of coastline – and Bolivia’s only outlet to the sea.

More than 130 years later, Bolivia’s government has taken Chile to the The Hague to reclaim access to the Pacific.

Bolivia won the right to argue its case before the court in late 2015, and the two countries delivered their final arguments this month. On March 28 – the day Chile made its final statement to the court – Bolivian President Evo Morales led his country’s army in a recreation of its 1879 victory at the Battle of Canchas Blancas.

Chile granted Bolivia trading access to the Pacific through its territory in a 1904 treaty in exchange for making the territorial loss permanent. But Morales said this month that Chile offered “no guarantee of free movement of people or goods,” and Bolivia’s lawyers have said the country only wants the court to ensure “Chile return to the negotiating table in good faith.”

Chile has argued that previous treaties settled the matter, telling the court Bolivia wants “to force Chile to negotiate in perpetuity until its obsession is fulfilled.” Some Chilean historians have argued the battle never actually happened.

Below, you can see how Bolivia recreated a victory in a war it’s still contesting today.

The War of the Pacific sprung from competing claims over a mineral-rich portion of the Atacama Desert, over which Bolivia, Chile, and Peru all claimed control.

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The three countries had claimed the area since they gained their independence from Spain in the 1820s, and a tax dispute prompted the war in 1879.

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The Battle of Canchas Blancas took place in western Bolivia on November 12, 1879. According to the recently discovered diary of a Bolivian colonel, several hundred Bolivian soldiers, peasants, and indigenous people armed with machetes, clubs, and stones defeated a force of about 1,500 Chilean soldiers backed by cavalry and artillery.

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

The defeat halted the Chilean force’s advance toward Paraguay. More than 300 were killed, but the victory is a source of pride for Bolivia. Chilean historians have disputed whether the battle even happened, though, with one saying, “the battle is sort of a legend generated in the bosom of the Bolivian army.”

Source: Latin America Herald Tribune,La Tercera, El Mercurio Nacional

“Our Indians and soldiers saved the fatherland,” Morales said at the reenactment, lamenting the “Chilean oligarchy” that he said was holding on to a “colonial mentality” about the war and its resolution.

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

Soon after its defeat at Canchas Blancas, however, Chile gained the advantage, occupying Lima, the Peruvian capital, in 1881. By 1883, Peru had left the conflict, signing a peace deal.

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Bolivia signed a peace treaty with Chile in 1884. Its quest to regain access to the sea would lead it into another conflict a half-century later: the brutal Chaco War, in which Paraguay rebuffed Bolivia’s efforts to reach the Atlantic via the Rio de la Plata river system.

Source: Business Insider, Encyclopedia Britannica

From the conflict, Chile gained what are now its three northernmost regions, whose resources supplied Chile most of its government revenues for the next 40 years.

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Bolivia lost more than 46,000 square miles of territory, including the copper-rich Antofagasta region. Peru lost vital resource-rich provinces in its south, though it gained some territory back in 1929.

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Bolivia, which maintains a navy, has not relented in efforts to regain access to the sea, a campaign that has strained its relations with Chile. The two countries have not had full diplomatic relations in decades.

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Bolivia filed suit with the International Court of Justice in 2013, asking it to compel Chile to negotiate “in good faith.” “Bolivia is not asking to be granted a wish,” Morales said on Twitter this month. “Bolivia demands that its sovereign right to the sea be returned.”

Evo Morales/TwitterBolivian President Evo Morales presides over the reenactment of the Battle of Canchas Blancas, a Bolivian victory in the War of the Pacific, March 28, 2018.

Source: Business Insider, Evo Morales

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