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Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

In the history of great ideas, this just might be the greatest: Three Chilean architects have proposed building a tunnel under Chile linking Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean. By doing so, the architects hope, the two South American nations can finally put to rest a dispute that has festered since Chile defeated Bolivia in the Pacific War of 1879.

Bolivia, it seems, has had a wicked case of coast envy for the last 130 years and has demanded time and again that Chile allow it access to the sea. Apparently Bolivia has yet to say “please,” though, because thus far Chile has shown no interest in complying.

So the answer, at least as far as Chile is concerned, is to build a 93-mile-long tunnel from the Bolivian border to an artificial island that will be built using the dirt dug from the tunnel. The idea is such a hit in Santiago that the Chilean foreign minister, Mariano Fernandez, has already given the green light to further studies into the project and said that Chile “is open to all suggestions that foster Latin American integration.”



The Bolivian government has yet to express its opinion of the tunnel idea, but I think when it does, the expression might be something along the lines of, “Say what?”

You see, Bolivia is the 77th poorest country in the world, with an annual per capita gross domestic product of about $4,330 and a total 2008 GDP of $43.4 billion. The British Channel tunnel, which is similar in design to the proposed Bolivian tunnel, cost an estimated $21 billion to build. The Chunnell, however, is a mere 31 miles in length, which would make its Bolivian counterpart exactly three times as long.




Now, I realize that everything is more expensive in Europe, but the Chunnel was completed 15 years ago, meaning that inflation would probably make up the price difference. So let’s assume that the Bolivian tunnel would cost three times as much, weighing in at a hefty $63 billion. That would be the equivalent of a year and a half of income for every man, woman and child in the country.

To put that in perspective, if the U.S. were to spend a like amount on a project, that project would cost roughly $21 trillion. That’s more than we’ve spent so far bailing out banks, the auto industry, the insurance industry and seemingly every other industry that cries poverty. It’s not a lot more than we’ve spent, but it’s more.

Given the economic unreality of the Bolivian tunnel, it makes one wonder what Humberto Eliash, one of the architects who proposed the idea, was talking about when he said, “The only barriers to overcome are political.” I would consider a $63 billion price tag a pretty significant barrier, but that’s just me.

Eliash is right about one thing, though; there are definitely political barriers to overcome. According to the plan the tunnel would run beneath the “Line of Concord,” which forms the border between Chile and Peru. The reason for that, according to the architects, is that the area is relatively free of mines or cables that could make the project more complicated.

Of course, both Chile and Peru dispute the border, so the tunnel project would also need to be approved by Peru, which is currently at odds with Bolivia over the Peruvian government’s decision to grant asylum to former Bolivian opposition leaders.

Then there’s the island, which would be built in waters claimed by both Chile and Peru. That particular territorial disagreement is currently being disputed in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It’s possible that things will be sorted out by the time the proposed tunnel is finished, but in the meantime Bolivia will be stuck with a hell of a lot of dirt while it waits to see where it can put it.

A friend of mine pointed out that if you’re going to tunnel under a country, Chile is as good a choice as any, being the one nation that most resembles a strand of spaghetti. But given the cost and the political barriers that would have to be overcome, Bolivia might as well propose tunneling under Chile from north to south. Sure, that would mean a 2,700-mile-long tunnel, which is obviously never to going to happen, but it’s no less likely than what’s being proposed.


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