Belize Guatamala territory dispute

British lumberjacks set up settlements in the eventual Belize. The Spanish granted them the territory. When war broke out in Europe there was an attack which was repulsed. Over the next 20 years the British had grown into the assigned area and some unsettled areas of South America establishing the now existing Belize. The Spanish never had any rule over the territory. Up to 1859 the British continued to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the settlement, further establishing administrative control and implementing a comprehensive legal and legislative system.


In 1859 a treaty officially established the boundaries of Belize.
In 1940 Guatemala declared the Treaty to be void, alleging failure to implement article 7 (That the British build a road which they never did) A new Guatemalan Constitution in 1945 declared Belize to be Guatemalan territory
Belizean culture and nationality developed throughout the 19th century (and the British became the minority). Self-government was achieved in 1964, but full independence was delayed until 1981 only because of the Guatemalan claim to the territory.


Guatemala changed its argument in 1999. it rested its case on the 18th century Treaties between Britain and Spain covering the area between the Hondo and the Sibun Rivers. Guatemala claimed that the area between the Sibun River and the Sarstoon River was ‘illegally’ occupied by Britain, and argued that the area south of Sibun up to the Sarstoon River must be “returned” to Guatemala together with all the cayes which were not included in those Treaties. The area thus claimed by Guatemala amounts to over 12,000 square kilometres, which is more than half of Belize’s territory. The British occupied this territory when it was uninhabited and unsettled.
Belize rests its case on two firm pillars: the right of a people to self- determination and the fact that Guatemala’s claim is legally untenable.


Negotiations began between Britain and Guatemala and Belize. In 1975 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution affirming Belize’s right to secure independence with all its territory and declared that any proposals emerging from negotiations between Britain and Guatemala must respect this right
In 1980, the UN resolution declared that Belize should become independent by the following year. The entire global community supported this decision
the territory was perfected through the process of acquisitive prescription, which is a recognised means in International Law for acquiring title to territory
Guatemala never occupied, nor did it ever exercise any control or jurisdiction over, any part of the territory of Belize.


from 1859 until as late as March 1938, Guatemala insisted on British compliance with the Treaty. Two years later, and eighty years after the Treaty, it declared the boundary treaty void! International law cannot countenance such a proposition.


Even with the attainment of independence, it remained important for Belize to resolve the Guatemalan claim, since Belize depended on Britain’s defence guarantee for its security and since Guatemala’s non-recognition of Belize’s sovereignty effectively blocked Belize’s involvement in certain organisations such as the OAS.


After a change in government in 1987 serious negotiations began focusing on issues like the maritime boundary and economic cooperation. The understanding developed that the essence of a negotiated solution lay in Guatemala accepting Belize’s traditional borders and in Belize agreeing to limit its rights to territorial seas in the south.


On August 14th, 1991 the Guatemalan government recognised the right of the Belizean people to self-determination. On August 16th, the Belize Government introduced the Maritime Areas Bill into its Parliament, allowing for the future negotiation of Guatemala’s access to the high seas through its own territorial waters as a sign of good faith by Belize.


On September 5th, 1991 the Guatemalan Government recognised the independence of Belize, an act later upheld by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala
Guatemala’s claim to Belize was restated in 1994, after Britain, assuming Guatemala’s good faith, retired its defence garrison from Belize. Belize has only a very small Defence Force.


Any proposition that Belize relinquish territory that has been in its undisturbed possession for almost two centuries would be utterly against the fundamental principles of International law
Apart from the historical recognition in law and in fact by Guatemala of the present boundaries, recent statements and actions by the Guatemalan government clearly demonstrate the solidity of Belize’s position:
In July 1990, a meeting at the highest levels between Belize and Guatemala agreed that their land borders were as stated in the 1859 Treaty, and that negotiations would be pursued to agree on maritime boundaries. On the basis of this, Guatemala formally recognised Belize’s sovereignty a year later, it being clearly understood that it was recognising Belize’s sovereignty over its traditional land territory.

In February 1992, the Foreign Minister of Guatemala wrote a note of apology to his Belizean counterpart after an advertisement for oil exploration by the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines in a trade journal erroneously included Belizean territorial waters. The Minister noted that his Ministry had not been consulted, that it was an involuntary error, and that it would not be repeated. Indeed, a July 1992 issue of the ad. did not include that area.

In a joint statement of July, 1992, the two governments agreed that any references to their respective territories “will be based on the existing reference monuments”, i.e. those placed by British/Guatemalan teams in accordance with the 1859 Treaty.
In a joint press release on 16 April, 1993, the two governments referred to the previous statement, and “agreed to jointly undertake any repair work necessary, as has been done in the past, and to clear an area of 50 feet radius around each of the monuments.”
In technical talks on 7 November, 1997, the Guatemalan
officials emphasised that Guatemala was not looking for land cession, and that if Guatemala were to win a legal case on the claim, compensation would not involve the cession of land.

On 24 February 2000 elements of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) entered Belizean territory and, in a carefully planned operation, kidnapped four members of Belize’s security forces and then purported to submit them to trial in Guatemalan courts for illegal entry. This is the very first time in our entire history that such a blatant act of violation of sovereignty has occurred. We are grateful to the swift actions of the international community that resulted in their release unharmed after a week.


It is a mark of Belize’s good will and its desire to live in peace and harmony with its neighbour that although it rightfully recognises no merit whatsoever in Guatemala’s unfounded claim Boundaries In particular, Belize is willing to agree to forego some of its rights under the International Convention on the Law of the Sea in order to grant Guatemala permanent access to the Caribbean Sea through its own territorial sea