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The Territorial Dispute between Guatemala & Belize #448776
10/15/12 07:06 AM
10/15/12 07:06 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 72,131
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. Photo: Lisa B/flickr

Under the Radar: The Territorial Dispute between Guatemala and Belize

The late twentieth century saw a wave of democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet republics became independent states in their own right, while countries in Latin America began to break away from their colonial pasts, as well as from the dictatorships and civil wars that followed independence in the 19th century. While Huntington’s famous ‘third wave’ of democracy saw the emergence of democratic structures in previously autocratic regimes, unresolved territorial claims, border disputes and questions surrounding the relationship between self-determination and sovereignty continue to affect regional security in Latin America today.

Guatemala and Belize are two countries that have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over land and maritime boundaries since the 19th century. Guatemala once claimed all of modern-day Belize (which it borders to the Northeast) as its territory, but today restricts its claims to the southern half of the country and its islands.

After decades of negotiations between the countries had failed to resolve the dispute, the Organization of American States (OAS) (under whose auspices the negotiations had been held) suggested in 2008 that the case be referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for independent arbitration.

A year from now, on 6 October 2013, a referendum will be held in both Guatemala and Belize to come to a decision about the referral. ICJ rulings on these so-called “contentious issues” are binding for the states that submit cases to the court.

Guatemala’s land and maritime claims date back to the two countries’ colonial pasts when Guatemala was a Spanish colony and Belize was controlled by the British who formally incorporated it as a crown colony, under the name “British Honduras,” in 1862.

Guatemala argues that it inherited imperial Spain’s territorial rights to Belize upon independence in 1821. As one of the countries west of the ‘Line of Demarcation’ established in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas (which apportioned all “New World” territories either to Spain or Portugal), Belize fell to Spain and was only later settled by British and Scottish Baymen in disregard of the treaty.

Following the doctrine of uti possidetis, Guatemala’s claims rest on these rights “inherited” from Spain as well as on Article 7 of the so-called Guatemalan Treaty of 1859, which (allegedly) stipulates that Guatemala recognized Belize only in exchange for the construction of a road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic. Eighty years later, Guatemala declared the treaty void, in light of Britain’s failure to meet its treaty obligations, and claimed Belize’s territory in its entirety. Belize, on the other hand, bases its claims on its rights to territorial integrity and self-determination in customary international law, pointing to the longstanding presence of British and Belizean governments on its soil.

Despite numerous UN resolutions calling for Belize’s territorial integrity to be respected, following accusations of Guatemalan neo-colonialism by Belize’s multi-racial population, Guatemala refused to recognize Belize’s independence in 1981 in what became known as the Heads of Agreement Crisis. In the 90s, Guatemala moved to formally recognize Belize but continued to insist on the validity of its territorial claims, which now amounted to half of the country’s territory. Ten years later, negotiations resumed, again under the auspices of the OAS, which initiated the implementation of formal Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) along with efforts to liberalize trade and strengthen relations between the two countries. In response to an increasing number of hostile incidents at the border, the so-called ‘adjacency zone’ (which extends 1km east and west of the border line) was set up as a buffer.

With hundreds of Guatemalans crossing into Belize each day to find work, and middle class families sending their children to Belizean schools to improve their English, significant cross-border movement between the two countries has existed for years. Illegal movement, however –made possible by a porous border that Belize accuses Guatemala of failing to adequately police – poses major security problems for the region, especially in regard to drug trafficking and drug-related violence, corruption and money laundering. When so-called “campesinos” from Guatemala are caught smuggling “xate” (an ornamental plant sold in Holland and the US) across the border, they are imprisoned in Belize in conditions that have drawn accusations of human rights violations from the Guatemalan government.

Despite efforts to ease tensions between the two countries, the conflict could not be resolved, which has led the OAS to recommend that the case be submitted to an international tribunal. In 2008, both Guatemala and Belize signed the “Special Agreement to Submit Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular, and Maritime Claim to the International Court of Justice.”

If the submission of the case to the ICJ is confirmed by referenda in both countries in 2013, a final settlement of the dispute can be expected in the next few years. With international legal opinion leaning in favor of Belize and its right to territorial integrity, the hope is that a clear demarcation of the border will go some way towards resolving the issues surrounding border incursions and illegal settlements that continue to affect security in the region today.

For further information on the topic, please view the following publications from our partners:

Guatemala: Squeezed Between Crime and Impunity

In the Shadows of Globalisation: Drug Violence in Mexico and Central America

Guatemala: Drug Trafficking and Violence


Re: The Territorial Dispute between Guatemala & Belize [Re: Marty] #448868
10/17/12 06:34 AM
10/17/12 06:34 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 72,131
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

COLA Lashes out At Guatemala; Elrington Derides "Extremists"

On Friday night you heard Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington speak about a "diplomatic crisis" Belize is facing after a BDF soldier shot and killed Guatemalan Francisco Quinn Yat 10 days ago.

He explained that the Guatemalans have issued a 21 day ultimatum to Belize to come up with an explanation of the circumstances surrounding his death. They have also threatened to close the border with Belize and send home Belize's Ambassador, Fred Martinez. As a goodwill gesture, the Government of Belize has offered the family of Quinn Yat what is called a compassionate payment - the sum not yet determined.

Quinn-Yat was shot 7 miles within Belizean territory within the Chiquibul Forest by a BDF Sergeant who says he fired multiple warning shots with his M-16 rifle but Quinn Yat kept advancing on him, machete in hand.

On Friday, we discussed with Elrington the complex rules of engagement for the BDF in the Chiquibul where danger lurks around every corner.

Here's part two of our interview with him:..

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We have in fact been contemplating how can we in fact deal with the trespassers and those who are stealing and panning for gold without causing any fatality in the way in which we deal with it. It's something very worrying because it puts the other government in difficulty too. They have got to explain to their populist who many times are very emotional about issues like these how is it that a country like Belize is causing death to our people - military is doing it and we seem to be helpless and can't do anything about it."

Jules Vasquez
"These encroachments are not idle trespass. These incursions are actually to pilfer resources from a national reserve, 2; those who come across the border are often armed or often hostile and engaged many times in lucrative commercial trade - I am saying that anyone who would have such a circumspect approach that, well it's only a matter of trespass, has to not have one blinking idea of what is the lay of the land and what's happening on the ground there."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"You have to be careful in dealing with it Jules because it is trespass, it is also stealing. But I don't think it is correct to suggest that this trespass and this stealing is sanctioned by the authorities there."

Jules Vasquez
"Is it your opinion that the BDF, the Minister of National Security should advise the BDF on changing the rules of engagement?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I think that that is already a decision which has been taken by them themselves and I think the government is thinking that it might be the correct view. You see, it's a situation where you are dealing with people who are really civilians who are looking to keep an existence."

Jules Vasquez
"You are looking at people who are armed and hostile and in the bush."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"That's an assumption you are making."

Jules Vasquez
"I've been there."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"That's not the assumption we are making. We can't take the view that they are armed and hostile. We find them and when we find them they are making a farm or cutting Xate or they are cutting down your timber tree and you get upset, but the majority of them are able to be deterred and leave quite peacefully. There are a few who perhaps might become irate and try to act in less than a cooperative manner."

Jules Vasquez
"These are civilians who in many cases have no respect for Belizean soldiers - many time have racial feelings towards those soldiers. Also have no respect for the civil authorities here in our country."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I don't want to agree with you Jules. I think you know if you were to just do the research over the last two years, you would probably find that these same people you are talking about have had more conflict with their own people, their own military people than they have had with Belize because they go into their own reserves in Guatemala - you see how they disseminated the place over there."

Jules Vasquez
"The bush of Chiquibul is an extremely dangerous place to be because as a soldier or someone patrolling that area you don't know where a hostile attack may come from. I am saying that it is a particularly tricky situation because these people move around on bare-foot through that area."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"It's not a safe place but the sense I get Jules is that the vast majority are ordinary peasants who are seeking out an existence. Most of them are not violent because the amount of encounters that we make with them over the years is numerous. You only hear of the ones that go array. But most of them are quite easily dealt with in a very amicable peaceful sensible way."

Jules Vasquez
"Would you accept that if in a group some elements within that group act like outlaws in a hostile fashion then your response has to be tailored to meet that in every case."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"The provisions of our law covered all those situations so that your response must be consistent with our laws and our laws take all those circumstances into consideration and if in fact your reaction is different from what the law prescribes you could find yourself in trouble. If your reaction is consistent with what the law prescribes you are perfectly all right."

Jules Vasquez
"As a state, are we maintaining our position that these three killings were justified? These were not wonton or indiscriminate use of deadly force, these were measured uses of that force when no other suitable option could have deescalated the situation."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"This last one here Jules I can recall very vividly because it only happened a week ago. Based on the report that I saw, I have found the view that it was a case of self-defense, a clear case of self-defense. But that is not my job; that is the job for the DPP or for the courts, so that we have to wait to hear from the DPP first before we can make that kind of announcement."

Jules Vasquez
"In both of the last two cases the soldiers felt a reasonable apprehension of a threat on their life."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"You obviously are satisfied with that view but it is not necessary a view that the Guatemalans are satisfied with. It's a case where civilians who motivated by a need; hunger, poverty and alike go into people's property whether it is the property of the government or of an individual and steals. This is not unique to Belize, it's not unique to Guatemala, it happens all over world. The question is how do you respond to it - because a person is stealing your lumber you shoot them to kill them - that is not considered to be a correct response internationally. Here in Belize you have a lot of lasting - a lot of people go into people farms in the night and they steal their oranges and they steal their watermelons and if you catch them into there you can't shoot to kill. If your life is threatened you can defend yourself but outside of that it creates a problem; whether domestically or internationally it creates a problem."

We also spoke with Elrington in greater depth about the compassionate payment that will be made to the family of Francisco Quinn Yat by the government of Belize.

He told us the exact figure is still being worked on, but it is a sensitive issue. Over the years, a fair number of Belizeans have lost their lives from the barrel of BDF or Police weapons, and to get compensation, the family of the deceased would have to sue the government.

But Elrington explained the Quinn Yat case is a different matter because a lot is riding on it. Here's how he outlined the political cost-risk analysis:...

Jules Vasquez
"In making a compassionate payment as it's called, we are accepting some blame, I am saying "Boco T" was killed while in custody while at San Pedro police station and his family hasn't been paid anything."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I hear what you are saying and I understand it but it doesn't mean - I can't see the relation that "Boco T" have with this one [Jules Vasquez - it does] - but I am saying that this is a compassionate payment which the Cabinet agrees upon and I think it is in context of the fact that we had three deaths at the hands of the military. It's easy for you to understand that that could happen. It's not so easy for the rest of the world to understand that that could happen and it's almost impossible to make the Guatemalan constituency - the populist and the right winners understand it as readily. The compassionate payment that we may make may be insignificant compare to what we will lose by having our borders close, having our ambassador sent home and having the poor people not being able to access medical attention or our business people not being able to conduct business with them and we don't know for how long. The loss that one can get from that kind of response in my mind could be very harmful to Belize but I understand what you are saying in terms of that we could have given it to "Boco t" - but if we don't give it to him (Guatemalan) the consequence is going to be far less grave than if in fact we don't show that in fact we want to be compassionate and that we really regret the deaths of these three notwithstanding the fact that they may well have been wrongly in our country and in fact acting in an unlawful way."

As might have been expected - Elrington's public explanations have elicited angry responses - and COLA was the first to openly condemn the foreign minister.

The pressure group issued a press release on Saturday calling the compassionate grant quote,"international kow-towing and subservient behavior."

Though he spoke in advance of the COLA declaration, Elrington had to see it coming - and he spoke of the pitfalls of adopting extreme positions:..

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"Every in Belize seems to want to get the extreme position, but clearly you have a situation where you are no match for the Guatemalans; not diplomatically, not militarily. If you want to fight and shout and put your citizens in danger, that's fine, but as a responsible government we in the government have to do whatever we think is necessary to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation."

"The last thing I would want is for the Guatemalans to send back our Ambassador and close the border with us. But they could do that. It is going to hurt business, it's going to hurt people who are ill, it's going to hurt the relationship we have with SICA, it's going to hurt the relationship we have with the OAS. It's going to really have serious regional and international repercussions."

"We as a small peaceful nation believe that we have a responsibility to try to avoid that course of action at all cost. We understood and the Prime Minister understood that there will be those who will want to take it out of context and make a big thing of it. That is why you have to have leaders - leaders have to be able to see beyond. You have to keep your cool, keep your head with you and then look at the greater good; yes you are going to get some flak here, but isn't it better to take some flak here than to have the borders close, than to have your ambassador expelled - that you have difficulty dealing with your international partners who support you, the question is for making a balance."

Since Saturday, COLA has teamed up with other pressure groups to form the Belize Coalition for Justice. They will have a press conference tomorrow to lay out their anti-Guatemala position and we'll have coverage of that.

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