The Bitter sea

Nick Ballon

2013 - Ongoing

Bolivia

In 1879, the Bolivian hero Eduardo Abaroa died fighting a war that led to Bolivia’s loss of the sea as Chile’s powerful army, backed by Britain, trampled over the nation. A statue of Abaroa lies in the centre of a plaza in La Paz, his finger pointing up and his other hand holding a gun to the floor as he sits in an almost kneeling position. The statue commemorates the dates and the antiquity of the events that lead to Bolivia’s demise. It also highlights the national pride and persistence that exist in Bolivia’s continuing efforts to regain access to the sea and to disrupt, once again, their border with Chile.

Due to Bolivia’s powerful defeat, the nation not only mourns lost economic opportunities but also the material land and the connection to the ocean, to the water, to a history of birth and life itself. While Chile today states that Bolivia has free access to the sea through the Arica port, which guarantees freedom of transit for Bolivian commerce, this is not enough; the sentimental roar of feelings are not only tied to the economy. This is a fresh wound and its healing not only stings but also creates a sense of regrowth, an opportunity to heal completely. For Bolivia, this would mean regaining some of the coastal land.

Like Abaroa’s kneeling pose and pointing finger, this series of photographs delicately depicts the emotional relationship Bolivia has with the sea: despite its defeat it holds its head high as it seeks for ways to both remember and regain the ocean. At first glance, a navy without the sea seems sad, but if you look closer there is a certain pride alongside or despite of this sullen atmosphere. Rather than cowering, Bolivia continues to fight for what they see as theirs. This time using international law, mass street parades and a proud navy instead of bullets.

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