The Day of the Sea or El Dia del Mar is a celebration dedicated for Bolivians to claim back their country’s coastline from Chile. The special day is spent with Bolivia’s president, school children, war veterans and fellow countrymen having a moment of silence while listening to the sound of the shore’s waves and seagulls squawking.
The holiday is celebrated every 23rd of March. It commemorates the first battle of the war known as the Battle of Topater or Battle of the Pacific which happened on March 23, 1879.
Day of the Sea is marked by solemn ceremonies all over Bolivia. Some lay down flowers at the statue of Bolivia’s hero of the Battle of the Pacific, Colonel Eduardo Abaroa Hidalgo who died in the battle. The Bolivian Naval Force also participates in the parades for the special day.
Bolivia was not a landlocked country before. Its borders stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean occupying vast desert landscape known before as the Litoral. Chile, Bolivia, and Peru were in the process of forming independent nations after the downfall of the Spanish invasion in the early 1800s. With tensions starting to build over various political and economic disputes, the new countries started bickering among themselves.
Bolivia lost its beautiful coastline to Chile as a result of one of the bloodiest South American conflicts in history called The Battle of the Pacific. The Battle of the Pacific happened in 1879 to 1884 between Chile and allied Peru and Bolivia.
The Bolivian army tried to defend the town of Calama but was defeated by the Chileans. The battle ended as Chile won and they signed the peace treaty in 1904. Bolivia since then lost its sea outlet becoming a landlocked country.
Bolivia still maintains its Naval Force even though they are now a landlocked country. It has not reconciled with the loss of its Pacific coast. The Navy’s existence symbolizes the hope for the possibility of Bolivia to regain again its coastal territory.
Reclaiming the coastline for Bolivians will make them joyous, not for having a place where they can have a beach vacation but for the opportunities it can opened for them if they have it back. Having sea access would bring significant economic. Direct access to the shipping routes to the Pacific would help to reduce the cost of goods which have to be imported through neighboring countries.
It is almost 140 years after the war and El Dia del Mar is still observed throughout the country. Huge patriotic parades are held in all major cities showcasing displays of national pride. Most of the parades are to soothe the country’s injured national pride.
Many people believe that reclaiming the coastline will be difficult especially given that Chile has settled the region for over 100 years and it will be tough to change. Even though Bolivians are aware of that, they still hope for the day that they will be able to gaze out at a beach they can call their own. Bolivia continues to pay tribute to the war they lost and still dreams to have a day that they will reclaim their own coastline.