The Unfounded Guatemala Claim Over Belize

A very concise and effective piece on why Belize should say "no" to the ICJ...

by Joaquin Magaña Sr.

In 1838 – 1839 the United Provinces of Central America broke up giving rise to the new countries of Central America. Guatemala Claimed that Belize was administered by Spain as part of the Captaincy of Guatemala and that they had inherited this sovereignty, as a result of the breakup of the federation. They say Belize was passed to Guatemala, since Belize had been considered part of Peten or Verapaz region of Guatemala. The fact is that there is by far more convincing historical evidence, however, to strongly suggest that Belize was considered by Spain as part of Yucatan (Mexico) NOT of Guatemala; but in any case, Spain never ever occupied Belize.

During the 18th century the Spanish attacked the settlement (Belize) many times, and in 1717, 1730, 1754, and 1779 forced the settlers to leave. However, the Spanish NEVER settled in Belize, and the British returned and expanded their settlement and trade. On September 10th, 1798 was the last time that the Spanish attacked. The British side won what became known as the Battle of St. George’s Caye. The Spanish retreated and NEVER again tried to control the settlement (Belize). The truth of the fact is that all attacks on the settlement came from the Captaincy of Yucatan (Mexico) NOT from Guatemala.

In 1859 after years of negotiation and under some prodding by the USA, the Anglo - Guatemalan Treaty was signed. It contained 8 articles, the first declaring boundaries as they exist until today. Article 2, 3, 4, and 5 concerned the constitution of a commission to demarcate the boundary. Article 7 which was the reason for the dispute later, called on both parties to establish “the easiest communication (either by means of a cart road, or employing the rivers, or both united, according to the opinion of the surveying engineers), between the fittest place on the Atlantic Coast, near the settlement of Belize, and the capital of Guatemala”. The problem with Guatemala is that its new constitution in 1945, declared Belize to be a part of Guatemala. As from then Guatemala has on several occasions threatened to invade Belize, prompting Britain to reinforce their protecting force in Belize. Guatemala then timidly subsides until future time.

The cart road was never built, and after sporadic negotiations over 80 years, Guatemala ended up repudiating the treaty in 1940, claiming that although it appeared to be a boundary treaty, it was in reality a disguised treaty of cession by which Guatemala ceded Belize to Britain. That article 7 represented the compensation to Guatemala and that since it was never fulfilled then the treaty was void and the territory reverted to Guatemala. But here, precisely was where Guatemala’s mistake was; there are experts and historians that agree that Guatemala failed as much as Britain in complying to fulfill their part in that article 7. For that reason Belize remained with the same boundaries as it is today. Belize had become the colony of “British Honduras” in 1862.

With these facts in hand it becomes clear that Guatemala’s claim is UNFOUNDED and it clearly shows they lack good faith as well; making them nothing less than a bully. Guatemala nor Spain has ever occupied Belize so they have never had rights over Belize. Guatemala did not even once protect, much less defend their so called sovereignty over the settlement (Belize). On the other hand the Captaincy of Yucatan, Mexico did it five times, but failed on the last attempt. The settlement which eventually became Belize was populated first by the indigenous people, then by the British, then their African slaves and on the latter part by the influx of the other ethnic groups and people that make up Belize today.

In 1964 Belize attained full Internal Self Government. Independence was to follow soon. The unfounded Guatemala claim delayed it. Belize needed to internationalize its cause to gain independence with all its territory intact. Not a square centimeter would be ceded to Guatemala was the Belize mantra. Belize had to lobby for international support to become independent. First it was CARICOM, then the Commonwealth, and around the world to lobby for support to self determination. Of great importance and impact was the support of the Non – Aligned Movement. In August 1975, Belize won the movement’s full support for a secure independence and territorial integrity.

Finally, in 1980 the USA changed its policy of neutrality and voted in favor of the UN resolution that called for the independence of Belize. It demanded the secure independence of Belize with ALL Its TERRITORY INTACT, before the next session of the UN in 1981. It called for Britain to continue to defend Belize, and on all countries to come to its assistance. 139 countries voted in favor of the resolution, with 7 abstentions and none against, Guatemala refused to vote. It is important to note that UN resolution requested at the same time that the relevant organs of the UN to take appropriate steps “to facilitate the attainment of independence by Belize and to guarantee its security and territorial integrity thereafter”. This thereafter is very important to Belize.

In concrete, Belize is not just a piece of vacant land, no; Belize is now a nation where the citizens, the people, had a right to self determination to gain independence. This was approved by the UN and became a reality. UN very clearly and unequivocally stated: to guarantee its security and territorial integrity THEREAFTER. Now the Anglo – Guatemalan dispute is between Britain and Guatemala NOT Belize; Belize is present in the negotiations to guarantee its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The settlement cannot include any land cession of the new independent Belize. The dispute cannot consider any Belizean territory; Belize has nothing to settle with bully Guatemala.

My question is: why take the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if UN has declared Belize independent with all its territory intact? Well that’s it. All has been said by UN, and clearly too. After all even if ICJ would declare that Guatemala’s claim is unfounded, is null and void, ICJ has no power to oblige Guatemala to accept that decision. Guatemala, after the case, can still refuse to accept the decision of the International Court of Law and continue claiming Belize if they so wish.

Going to ICJ is waste of badly needed money and time. If Guatemala didn’t invade Belize before, or right after independence when they were furiously red hot and humiliated by UN’s resolution, it is very unlikely they will do it now or in the future. If they would dare to invade, they would immediately be expelled by UN as no nation can invade another.

So let us not be intimidated by anyone. If we roll “our tails” like a frightened puppy Guatemala will be encouraged to persist in their nonsense. Belt up Belizeans, Belize is definitely not for grabs. Belize is for Belizeans with all its territory intact. Like it or not. Let us stand for our right no matter what. Let Britain and Guatemala settle their differences leaving Belize alone with its existing borders intact. Our territory is not for any sort of negotiation with no one. All of Belize with its existing borders is for Belizeans, period.


Response from a friend....

To paraphrase Abba Eban, Israel's former foreign minister, the the Guatemalan never miss a chance to miss a chance.

Belize’s interest in going to the ICJ would be.

1) sovereignty over its territory ( like we need a far away court fi tell we that Belize da fi we )

2) free up resources it currently devotes to the dispute (some of it is already bank rolled by the UK)

3) cooperation with its closest neighbor ( Belize have more spanish speakers than english speakers need i say more )

4) end Guatemalan civilian incursions into the Belizean territory

Belize going to the icj will not address most of these points litigation rarely breeds cooperation and Guatemalan civilian incursion into Belize would continue no matter what. the question becomes why Guatemala—a sure loser at the ICJ—is pushing for an ICJ solution ?

1)Guatemalan politicians gain a great deal from a submission of the case to the ICJ because accepting a negotiated settlement with Belize a politician could easily be seen as weak and lose political capital. Guatemalan politicians gain deniability for whatever decision the Court makes by forcing a popular vote on the ICJ issue, the politicians put the issue in the hands of the people, thereby shifting responsibility away from themselves

2) With time, Guatemala could exert more pressure on Belize to negotiate a settlement with Guatemala that is more advantageous to Guatemala than the OAS proposals