1898 treaty coordinates and map are inconsistent, CEO Alexis Rosado says

Adele Ramos
Official information reaching Amandala is that the Governments of Belize and Mexico will make attempts to renew talks on the 1898 boundary treaty, which the parties claim had some errors resulting in a mismatch between the coordinates spelt out in the document, and the on-the-ground facts, as outlined on the accompanying map – the basis of Belize’s current national map.

It is a significant issue, highlighted in the media this week in Ambergris Today’s top story as well as in the Mexican press.

Speaking with Amandala this afternoon, Alexis Rosado, chief executive officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that it was during the OAS facilitation process to address the border between Belize and Guatemala that Belize observed that the coordinates in the document did not match the sketch map.

The way the treaty now is, Mexico gets more land – on paper – than was intended, he told us, claiming that the reason for the error was the lack of technology, and because borders were drawn “willy nilly [without order or plan; haphazardly].”

According to Rosado, there haven’t been any talks between Mexico and Belize for over a year, as there were administration changes on both sides of the border.

He described the problem as a “technical glitch.” He said that if one were to follow the line stipulated in the treaty, it would run south of the Río Hondo, the current border of Belize and Mexico – suggesting that the northernmost part of what we recognize as Belize belongs to Mexico.

The accompanying sketch map, said Rosado, is our “saving grace” – as it demonstrates that the parties to the treaty – at the time Mexico and Great Britain, intended for the borderline to run concurrent with the Río Hondo, not south of that river as the treaty coordinates indicate.

He attributed the error, particularly, to lack of proper technology.

Of note is that there are some places on the border where the river runs underground, and there is no on-the-ground demarcation in some places to say where the border actually lies.

Mexican officials have said that the entire 1898 treaty will have to be redrafted, but any new agreement would, on the Belize side, require passage through the National Assembly.

Belize’s Constitution makes specific reference to the boundary treaties with Mexico and Guatemala, and any revised treaty or amendment to the treaty would, therefore, require an alteration to the Constitution.

In September 2002, after talks began with Mexico regarding what were perceived to be problems with the 1898 treaty, a similar situation arose with Guatemala, whereby the border line was said, by then Prime Minister Said Musa, to be a short distance east of the Aguas Turbias marker – which, he indicated, Belizeans had wrongly believed to be the northern marker.

“I have been advised that when the true point of intersection, due north from Garbutt’s Falls and at the 17 degrees 49 minutes north latitude point, is determined scientifically, it is likely to be about 200 meters to the east of the Aguas Turbias marker,” said Musa. “The result will be that a sliver of land – which has been estimated by our [then] Boundary Commissioner, Lindsay Belisle, as some 3.3 square miles – and which we have hitherto considered as a part of Belize, will revert to its rightful owner, Guatemala. For it is land that was never truly part of Belize.”

Rosado claims that altering the treaty with Mexico wouldn’t affect the size of Belize, which we know to be 8,867 square miles, because nothing would change on the ground, and traditional borders would remain intact.

When we reported on the matter back in January 2007, Mexican officials took the view that the 1898 treaty would have to be redrafted.

We understand from Foreign Affairs that due to the recent publication in the Mexican press, indicating that Mexico was waiting on Belize to proceed, Belize intends to send a formal correspondence to Mexico as a signal that they want to resume the talks which so far have been described as peaceful and cordial.