Entrance to the British Forces Airport Camp, British Honduras, long ago
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Entrance to the British Forces Airport Camp, British Honduras, long ago

In 1972, after Britain announced it was sending 8,000 servicemen to conduct amphibious exercises in Belize, and other parts of the Caribbean. Guatemala responded by massing troops on the border. Although no violence resulted, Britain thereafter increased the size of its regular garrison to act as a deterrent to Guatemalan adventurism.

Talks resumed in 1973 but broke off two years later when Guatemala threatened invasion, first in November 1975 and again in July 1977. Britain responded each time by sending in troops and aircraft. Britain kept a battalion of troops, a flight of fighter aircraft, and one-half squadron of RAF fighters and ground-attack aircraft in Belize after 1975. In all the British contingent grew from some 750 personnel in 1970 to about 1,500 in the mid-1970s. By this time, people living in the colony generally agreed that a continued British military presence would be necessary to guarantee security for an independent Belize.

Talks between Britain and Guatemala resumed in 1985, and all three countries began the work to draft a treaty to deal with outstanding economic, political, and territorial issues. Progress was interrupted in November 1988 when a Guatemalan gunboat fired on an unarmed British naval vessel in the disputed Gulf of Honduras. Britain dispatched two Royal Air Force Harrier jets to Belize in response, but the incident was quickly resolved after Guatemala indicated it had only fired warning shots at the vessel, which it claimed had strayed into Guatemalan waters.

Photograph courtesy Delvith Retreage

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