It took two weeks for the news to reach La Paz. But when it did, a tide of nationalism swept across Bolivia that has not receded to this day.
The newspaper El Comercio recorded the Event in its editions of Feb. 28, 1879: Antofagasta, Bolivia's most important port on the Pacific, had been captured by the Chilean Navy. The takeover occurred during the War of the Pacific in which Chile ultimately defeated the allied forces of Bolivia and Peru.
Last week, a century after bolivia lost its maritime provinces and 75 years after it signed a peace treaty with Chile recognizing its defeat, Bolivian President Walter Guevara Arze succeeded in persuading the Organization of American States to pass a resolution recognizing that Bolivia's landlocked status is a matter of "continuing hemispheric concern." Bolivia has no seaports nor any easily navigable waterways leading to the sea. bNeighboring Paraguay also is technically landlocked, both has easy access to the sea down the Parana River.
Pedro Daza, Chile's ambassador to the OAS, said the resolution was "totally unacceptable" to his government because, he said, the OAS had no right meddling in what the Chileans maintain is a dispute that should be resolved only by Chile, Peru and Bolivia.
Of potentially far greater significance, Daza warned the 26 other OAS member-states that involvement in the dispute between Chile and Bolivia only has "opened a Pandora's box filled with surprises."
There are at least 12 countries in the region -- from Mexico in the north to Argentina in the south -- that have unsettled and, in many cases, highly emotional territorial claims against one or more of their neighbors.
In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras engaged in their tragicomic conflict known as the "football war." Last December, a territorial dispute brought Argentina and Chile to the brink of a potentially far more serious and destructibe armed conflict.
Argentina, according to U.S. intelligence sources, was then only nine hours away from attacking Chile over three disputed islands near the southern tip of South America and navigation rights in the Cape Horn area.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance told the OAS last week that the United States recognizes that peace in the hemisphere "could be endangered in the decade ahead by territorial disputes. President Carter has made clear our support for efforts to resolve differences within the hemisphere peacefully."
The United States also voted for the OAS resolution calling on Chlie and Bolivia to begin negotiations aimed at giving Bolivia a corridor to the Pacific through what is now Chilean territory.
The dispute is further complicated by the fact that the only corridor Chile feels would be feasible is located along Chile's northern border with Peru. The territory was captured from Peru by the Chileans in 1879, and in Peru is still known as "the captive provinces." According to a 1929 treaty, Peru has the right to approve any arrangement involving its former territory should Chile decide to cede it to a third party.
During an earlier bilateral effort to resolve Bolivia's access-to-the-sea problem, the Peruvians let it be known that they would veto Chile's proposal to cede to Bolivia about five miles of Peru's former seacoast. Peru feels Bolivia's new coastline should be carved from old Bolivian territory.
In addition to Chile's border disputes with its three neighbors -- Argentina, Bolivia and Peru -- there were several minor skirmishes last year between Ecuador andPeru. The Peruvians captured a large chunk of Ecuador's Amazon territory during a war between the two countries in 1941, and formally annexed the territory a year later.
Ecuador has renounced the treaty that supposedly settled that conflict 30 years ago, and reminded the OAS last week that it, too, wants to reopen negotiations with Peru aimed at a more equitable settlement of its territorial claims.
Colombia and Venezuela also have a border conflict over a peninsula that juts into the Caribbean. Sea rights off the peninsula have never been settled, and both countries believe there may be oil in the area.
Venezuela also claims about a third of neighboring Guyana. The dispute was one of the reasons the Guyanese were willing to lease a large tract of land to the Rev. Jim Jones who, they hoped, would establish a U.S. presence in the disputed area to make it more difficult for the Venezuelans to press their claim for the northern third of Guyana.
In Central America, besides the dispute between El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala claims a large portion of Belize, a British colony that has delayed its independence for fear that Guatemala would attack. Mexico also has a claim against Belize, although it has said it will respect the wishes of the Belizean people.
The deep emotion and nationalism involved in many of these disputes was evident here last week during the ninth OAS General Assembly. Thousands of Bolivians marched in front of the hotel where the conference was being held, shouting their hatred of the Chileans and demanding that the OAS act.
Among the placards the marchers carried was one that read: "Kill Chileans. The more the better. Give us back our sea."