Belize and Guatemalan Border Dispute

Belize’s principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain’s claim to all “New World” territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.

Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) “Heads of Agreement” was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established. 
 
Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an “adjacency zone” extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expenditure of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS).


Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties. In November 2007, the Secretary General of the OAS recommended that the dispute be referred to the International Court of Justice. Currently Belize and Guatemala are preparing for a referendum, to be held simultaneously in both countries, on whether this dispute will move forward to the ICJ. No date for the referendum has been set. 
 
In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. In 2005 Belize joined other Central American countries participating in the Cooperating Nations Information Exchange System (CNIES), which assists in locating, identifying, tracking, and intercepting civil aircraft in Belize’s airspace. Belize and other Central American countries signed the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development. Belize held the presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA) for a 6-month period in 2007. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973, and held the chairmanship of CARICOM for a 6-month period in 2008. Belize became a member of the OAS in 1990. 
 
Source: U.S. Department of State