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A Bolivian Overprint with a Historical Background

Bolivian Overprint

We’ve always known that Bolivia was a landlocked country with no access to seaports. That’s what we learned in school, and that’s why I was so surprised to find this particular overprint on a Bolivian note. In Spanish on the face and English on the back, the red overprinted message is the same: “Sportsmen of the World, Bolivia has the right to recover its sea.”

I surmise that at some international sports competition that included participation from Bolivia, such overprints were available to the public. This example was found in a miscellaneous group of notes, and it immediately piqued my curiosity as to why Bolivia would make such a claim.

The dispute between Bolivia and Chile began in 1879, when Chile invaded the port city of Antofagasta on its northern border with Bolivia as part of a dispute over taxes. In the following four years, Chile took close to 50,000 miles of Bolivian land including a 250-mile coastline on the south Pacific Ocean.

A peace treaty was signed in 1904 with both parties accepting this state of affairs, but in return for a promise by Chile to establish the “fullest and freest” commercial access to port for Bolivia. It appears that Bolivia was not fully satisfied along these lines. It took Chile to an international court trying to force that country into negotiating a slice of its territory affording Bolivia a route to the sea. Judgment went against Bolivia, as Chile claims it has kept its promise. But the Bolivians still have to pay to get their goods to the seaport, and they have to submit to Chilean rules.

Throughout the years, Bolivians have never given up on their sea access desires. The country even went so far as to establish a navy in 1963 as a “river force.” This group was renamed the Armada Boliviana in 1981. Its main job is to patrol the borders with Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Also, on March 25 of every year a National Day of the Sea is declared. Bolivia may be landlocked on paper, but the citizenry certainly doesn’t believe it!