The Transboundary Dispute Over the Waters of the Silala/Siloli: Legal Vandalism and Goffmanian Metaphor
34 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 11, 2017
The waters of the Silala/Siloli, located in the hyper-arid Atacama Desert dividing Bolivia and Chile, originate in Bolivia, flow for a mere four kilometers before entering Chile, and flow for four more kilometers before commingling with the San Pedro tributary and debouching into the Pacific Ocean. And yet this tiny basin, located in one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth, forms what the United Nations calls one of the most hydropolitically vulnerable basins in the world. Bolivia claims that a Chilean concessionaire artificially diverted the waters in 1908 and Chile now illegally draws from the waters, long after Bolivia terminated the concession agreement. Chile claims the waters form a natural transboundary watercourse that would flow as a servitude into Chile even if the waters never had been augmented or directed by the canals. Questions of law and fact blur the legal status of these waters, their possible relationship to a transboundary aquifer, and the customary application of equitable and reasonable use standards regarding a river, if indeed the Silala/Siloli is a river. As the case heads toward The Hague for consideration by the International Court of Justice, this Article concentrates on the evolving relationship between these historically troubled riparians, borrowing from the sociological framework analysis of Erving Goffman to investigate how international dispute settlement mechanisms may indeed be challenged by ceremonial forms of dramaturgy that play more to domestic audiences than pacific settlement outcomes. In the Anthropocene age, acute concerns about fresh water and non-navigable watercourses now have the potential to erupt into major conflicts between states. These conflicts draw critical attention to the evolving relationship between groundwater and surface water regimes, certainly in the great hydrographic basins of the world and, as this case details, in one of the smallest and most remote catchments on earth.
Keywords: Transboundary Watercourse, Servitude, War of the Pacific, Dramaturgy, Equitable Use
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation