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Bolivian naval ensign

Last modified: 2020-12-26 by rob raeside
Keywords: civil ensign | naval ensign | claim | irredentism | reintegración marítima | reivindicación marítima |
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[flag] image by Željko Heimer, 02 November 2016

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About the flag

Bolivia has a Naval force (in fact more likely a river force). That Naval Force (at first called Fuerza Fluvial y Lacustre (River and Lake Force) was established on January 1963 (more as a “symbolic Navy” since they lost that war and lost access to the sea). Then, such Force evolved and changed its name on January 1966 to be the Fuerza Naval Boliviana (Bolivian Naval Force) (still, the "Naval" title, symbolic…) Since 1966 onwards, until 2013, such “Navy” had a flag, thus, it is the Bolivian Navy flag.
Esteban Rivera, 15 April 2017

Recently, Bolivia changed its naval ensign. Now, this ensign bear in the canton two flags: the Bolivian one and the whipala. No change in the blue zone and in the 9 small yellow stars and the big yellow star.
Jaume Ollé, 01 November 2016

The original Naval Ensign was adopted as the Ensign of the Naval Force in 1966. It was not at that time called a Maritime Claim Flag, or anything similar. At some point since then, the general design of the Naval Ensign started to be used as a Maritime Claim Flag, and the concept of a Maritime Claim Flag became much more prominent than the concept of a Naval Ensign or Flag of the Navy. (Note that the Navy website has the Maritime Claim Flag all over it, and never refers to a naval flag of any sort.) In a similar time period, the design was modified to include the wiphala alongside the national flag. Since the Law passed last month, the idea of a Maritime Claim Flag is now legally formalised with the new design, and the same design is also established as the new Naval Ensign.
Jonathan Dixon, 16 April 2017

This flag appears to have replaced the flag originally adopted as a Naval Ensign, but more recently has been described and used more prominently as a Maritime Claim Flag, representing the irrendentist claim to a maritime province.
Jonathan Dixon, 01 November 2016

The Bolivian Navy flag also represents (and was started to be called) Bandera de Reintegración Marítima.
Esteban Rivera, 15 April 2017

The new version of the Bolivian Maritime Claim Flag, including the official Wiphala alongside the national flag in the canton, was given legislative status as a national symbol by the Bolivian parliament on 27 March 2017: Law No 290, the Law of the Maritime Claim Flag of the Plurinational State of Bolivia institutes the flag as an emblem of the sentiment, yearning and community spirit of the Bolivian people. It spells out the symbolism — the blue represents the Pacific Ocean maritime zone; the stripes of the national tricolour the independence heroes and the preservation and consolidation of the state, the mineral riches, and the fertility and hope of Bolivia; the wiphala the community system grounded in equity, equality, harmony, solidarity and reciprocity; and the stars Bolivia’s nine departments and historical Litoral Department.
Jonathan Dixon, 13 April 2017

[Unlike the ensign adopted in 1966,] the new approved legislation is actually a “maritime claim flag”. It was colloquially known as Bandera de Reintegración Marítima (Maritime Reintegration flag). The current flag in the recent legislation is to be used also by the Navy, thus, making it official. That is: both the current Ensign and the new flag are both different but related and are to be official flags (the later is not the evolution of the earlier).
Esteban Rivera, 14 April 2017

In terms of design and symbolism, the (newish) Maritime Claim Flag is definitely an evolution of the (1966) Naval Ensign. The website of the Bolivian Navy, both in 2011 and currently on a page published in 2015, speaks of the two as being the same flag. As I understand it, the recent legislation says the Maritime Claim Flag is the Pabellón Oficial de la Armada Boliviana. Surely this replaces the 1966 Pabellón de la Fuerza Naval Boliviana and makes it obsolete? The change in title simply reflects the current name of the Navy.
Jonathan Dixon, 15 April 2017

The colours of the national tricolour and the wiphala are as defined elsewhere, [the 2017 law indicates] the blue field Pantone 281C, and the stars Pantone 612C. The proportions of the flag are 2:3, in particular 200 cm × 300 cm, or 20 cm × 30 cm for car flags. The star in the fly is in the centre of the bottom fly quadrant, while the nine stars form a border round the two flags in the canton, along the inner edge of the top hoist quadrant.
Jonathan Dixon, 13 April 2017

The flag is to be flown by government and educational institutions as part of civic and cultural acts related to Bolivian maritime law, and also every business day of March for government bodies, and every Monday in March for educational institutions. More generally, the flag will be raised by the civilian population (including foreigners who wish to) for the Day of the Sea commemorations each year.
Jonathan Dixon, 13 April 2017

I note that while it was previously reported that the colour of the field was described as azul celeste [sky blue], this version of the decree specifies azul-mar [sea blue].
Jonathan Dixon, 23 September  2016

I haven’t been able to find any details regarding an official change to the flag. A Wikimedia Commons user has replaced the old Naval Ensign with the new flag, renaming the old one with the dates 1966-2013 (the user who named the file confirmed on Facebook that his source was simply them fact that 2013 was the earliest date that he had found for a photo of the flag including wiphala), although the Wiphala version is visible here in 2011. It might have been used as early as the 2009 decree mandating use of the Wiphala alongside the tricolour from government buildings, schools, etc.
Jonathan Dixon, 23 September 2016 and 16 April 2017

What is not clear to me: When the wiphala was first included in either flag, and whether this was before / at the same time as / after the early uses of the flag as a “claim flag” as opposed to simply a naval flag. Whether the original Naval Ensign (no wiphala) continued to exist alongside the Claim Flag including wiphala until 28 March 2017, either in actual use or legally. Legally, I haven’t seen any evidence that the Ensign was formally changed before this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that meant very little in practice. This is complicated by the way that Navy website talks about the history of the claim flag without acknowledging any change in design: It seems to me that the Navy website writers viewed the Maritime Claim Flag as a continuation of the 1966 ensign even before it was formalised, despite the expanded usage and updated design.
Jonathan Dixon, 16 April 2017

There is a fair amount of press about use of this flag to support Bolivia’s maritime access claim, especially since the establishment of a directorate to pursue the claim in 2011 and the bringing of a case to the International Court of Justice in 2013. However, the relevant flag is no longer the one adopted in 1966, but a new one including the Wiphala. The new version of the flag includes the Wiphala in the canton to the fly side of the national tricolour, within the nine stars.
Jonathan Dixon, 23 September 2016

A 2015 report on the Navy website describes a vigil awaiting a ruling by the I.C.J., involving the hoisting of the flag on public buildings. It explains the flag as follows, ignoring the fact that the Wiphala is a recent inclusion:

La Bandera de Reintegración Marítima, emblema oficial de los bolivianos que presenta el firme propósito de recuperar el Litoral cautivo con el que Bolivia nació a la vida independiente. Creada por decreto Ley del 13 de Abril de 1966, durante la Presidencia del Alfredo Ovando Candia. Tiene las siguientes características: Campo azul–mar en el ángulo superior izquierdo la enseña nacional y la wiphala rodeada de nueve estrellas que representan a los departamentos del País y en el centro una estrella de mayor tamaño en representación del “Litoral”, el décimo Departamento de Bolivia.
Jonathan Dixon, 23 September 2016

A large flag erected for Día del Mar 2016.The flag can also be seen in pictures from Día del Mar 2013: large flag hoisted and handwaver (discussion).
Jonathan Dixon, 23 September 2016


Obviously, numerous “imprecise” variations [of the naval ensign] exist. And I guess that each batch of these flags made is unique and different in details from any other.
Željko Heimer, 02 November 2016

I am guessing that there were not any official specifications until the creation of the recent legislation. Even the printable version from the Navy website doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with the description in the law.
Jonathan Dixon, 14 April 2017

When it comes to the stars, though, I haven’t found any examples which follow the official construction of the original flag in leaving a gap between the stars and the top/hoist. There does seem to be some variation in how close the 9 stars are to the flags in canton.
Jonathan Dixon, 01 November 2016

Here is a large banner with a 6×7 Wiphala, which looks like it has been made by simply folding the bottom row out of sight.
Jonathan Dixon, 01 November 2016

Handwavers used for Sea Day 2011

[flag] image by António Martins, 02 November 2016

A crop from the image at this article. It seems clear that these paper hand-wavers are an unofficial variant. The versions used official appear to have the standard 7×7 wiphala (example).
Jonathan Dixon, 01 November 2016

These hand-wavers are probably cheaply made, but judging from the amount of squares in the wiphala (and if I have counted correctly), the two flags in the canton are not square each.
Željko Heimer, 01 November 2016

The photo shows two handheld paper flaglets. On the canton, by the hoist, the Bolivian tricolor and the other filled with an extended wiphala pattern with 9×7=63 squares. This has three full diagonals, instead of the usual one — from the top: orange, yellow and white. The full spectrum used is green - blue - purple - red - orange - yellow - white (and again green and blue, to make nine rows); the shade of blue seems to be the same as the one used for the main area of the flag.
António Martins, 01 November 2016

The design of these two handheld flaglets contains indeed clearly includes those 9×7=63 squares (and they are really squares, not tall oblong rectangles) and yet the two areas of the canton are identical in size and ratio (which can be ascertained also by looking at the five stars under it, presumed equal and equidistant). This makes the canton not in the former official 300:420 ratio 0.7̅1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅, but rather 9:(7+7) = 9:14 = 0.642857143.
António Martins, 01 November 2016

The presented paper handheld flaglets show other differences compared with the official version, namely the flat solid, non-faceted design of the stars and their position around the canton (not unlike the one reported variant of the previous ensign). The overall specs of the paper handheld flaglet seem to be something like (18+27):(28+6+28), with the smaller stars being centered vertically along the vertical midline of the cloth and arranged inside imaginary rectangles with the same width as each of the tricolor stripes. The big star seems to be centered on the fly area, defined as the reciprocal of the canton.
António Martins, 01 November 2016

Is the repetition of the yellow stripe intentional in this context? The history of landlocked Bolivia’s irredentist claims on northern, coastal Chile and the very nature of this flag, a naval ensign, makes me think that this is not mere chance nor a matter of unavoidable geometry. While the very pattern would made it impossible to avoid including along with the white diagonal another diagonal used in one of the other three flags, the most balanced design would have the “home” white diagonal (Qulla Suyu = Bolivia) in the central position, flanked by both yellow (Kunti Suyu) and green (Anti Suyu) — therefore diffusing any serious allegation of hidden irredentism.
António Martins, 01 November 2016

My instinct is that your possible explanation is a bit of a stretch, and it’s more likely that someone started with yellow in the bottom hoist corner, just as in the official wiphala (Qulla Suyu). But it is true that no one waving this flag is trying to avoid allegations of irredentism — both in design and in use this flag is intended to present a claim on the littoral province.
Jonathan Dixon, 01 November 2016

A simpler explanation occurred to me: the 9×7 “chessboard” as arranged in those paper flaglets is the only possible one that avoids that either of the three stripes touch a square of the same color. If anyone notices that this design gives unexpected primacy to the Kuntisuyu flag and not only to the Qullasuyu flag, as pointed out, that could be seen as a good thing.
António Martins, 02 November 2016

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