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Bolivian Naval Ensign

Last modified: 2000-09-01 by antonio martins
Keywords: civil ensign | irredentism | naval ensign |
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[Naval Ensign of Bolivia]
by Stuart Notholt and António Martins, 23 Oct 1998
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The red-yellow-green civil flag of Bolivia is authorized for use as a civil ensign by Bolivian registered shipping, despite the fact that Bolivia has no coastline. Fair enough. But Bolivia also has a naval ensign -- which normally would imply a coastline and a navy to defend it.

The flag is light blue with a Bolivian flag in the canton. There are nine yellow stars below and to the right of the canton and a larger tenth star in the fly.

This is a good example of a flag being used to maintain a geopolitical claim. Bolivia had access to the Pacific until 1884 and getting it back has been one of the dominant trends of Bolivian domestic and international politics ever since. To cut a long and complicated story short, in 1879 Chile declared war on Peru and Bolivia which had, in alliance, seized various territories, including valuable nitrate mines, along the Pacific coast. The Bolivians and Peruvians lost. In 1904 the Chilean control over the coastal access lost by Bolivia was confirmed by treaty, the deal being that Bolivia should have access to the port of Arica via a railway to be built at Chilean expense. This was completed in 1913, but the Bolivians renewed their territorial claim in 1918. In 1932, Bolivia tried to gain access to the Atlantic by going to war with Paraguay. Quite how this was supposed to work, given that Paraguay is itself landlocked, is something I’ve not seen satisfactorily explained. Anyway, Bolivia lost disastrously, and Paraguay annexed about a third of Bolivia's territory. In 1962 the whole business flared up again and Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Chile. In 1975, Chile suggested a land swap as part of a package which would give Bolivia sea access, and a year later Peru came up with further suggestions. The stalemate continues, although discussions were held between Chile and Bolivia in 1991. The meeting, held between 18/22 March, coincided with Bolivia's 'Day of the Sea' the timing and symbolism of which were fairly obvious.

The 9 small stars on the Bolivian naval flag represent the current 9 departments of Bolivia while the tenth symbolizes Bolivia's irredentist claim for sea access.

Stuart Notholt, 11 Feb 1996

Bolivia, now landlocked, still has a navy (on the Titicaca lake), with officers and admirals indeed, and flying a naval ensign to maintain the hope of getting back the maritime Atacama department, annexed by Chile after a border war. Bolivia also has a flag for this lost departement, Litoral de Atacama.
Ivan Sache, 03 Feb 1998, and Santiago Dotor, 05 Feb 1999

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