Guatemala border claim vs. Belize sovereignty

Guatemala border claim

Spanish colonization in the Americas

PRAYER ALERT on Guatemala border claim. Guatemala’s claim on the land of Belize goes back to 1493. At that time Pope Alexander VI proclaimed Spain’s right to the entire western hemisphere excluding Brazil. Accordingly Spain colonized all of Central and South America except Brazil and Belize. (Northward, the US evantually escaped its grasp.) In the 1820s Spain’s empire disintegrated into independent republics. Each of those republics claimed it inherited Spain’s sovereign rights in its area. Accordingly, Guatemala claimed Belize.

But neither Spain nor Guatemala has ever exercised authority over Belize. British Baymen settled in Belize from 1638 onward. They repelled repeated Spanish attempts to seize their land and wealth. Every September 10th Belize celebrates its final and decisive victory over the Spaniards in the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye. Spain never tried to reclaim the area again.

Guatemala border claim

Map of the border between British Honduras and Guatemala as delineated in the Wyke–Aycinena Treaty of 1859.

In 1859 Great Britain and Guatemala signed the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty. Guatemala agreed to recognize the present borders of Belize, then known as British Honduras. Great Britain promised to build a road from Guatemala to the British Honduran port of Punta Gorda. Thereby it would give Guatemala access to the Caribbean Sea. But Great Britain never built that road.

The border dispute was forgotten until the 1930s. At that time the Guatemalan government declared the 1859 treaty invalid due to the non-building of the road to the sea. Britain countered that Guatemala never exercised authority over the area, and never had protested British presence there before. But in its 1945 constitution—still in effect—Guatemala called British Honduras one of its 23 departments.

Since then, Guatemala has periodically massed troops at the border, usually to divert attention from domestic troubles. But the Guatemalan army has never crossed the border. When necessary, shows of British force sufficed to cause the Guatemalan troops to back down.

Other Latin American states at first supported Guatemala’s claim. But in the late 1970s Belizean leaders took their case for sovereignty to various international forums. They gained more and more support until the UN passed a pro-Belize resolution in November 1980. It demanded the independence of Belize within its 1859 borders before the UN held its next session in 1981. In the meantime, Belizean and Guatemalan representatives developed a compromise called the “Heads of Agreement.” It fell apart when Guatemala suddenly renewed its claims and Belizeans engaged in violent demonstrations against the negotiations.

Belize gained its independence from Britain in on September 21, 1981. It claimed the 1859 treaty borders as its own according to principles of international law. For example, uti possidetis juris provides that a newly independent state should have the same borders as its formerly dependent area. Also, the right to self-determination states that a people should freely choose their sovereignty without outside interference.

Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence in 1991. But the British kept their forces here to protect Belize until 2011. At that time the British-trained Belize Defence Force took full responsibility for the nation. The BDF has placed patrols along the edge of the internationally recognized borders. The Guatemalan military has placed personnel at strategic border points on its side.

In 2000 the two nations agreed to delineate an “adjacency zone.” It extends one kilometer on either side of the 1859 treaty line. To cross that zone is to face expulsion. We must pray that on both sides of the adjacency zone, Guatemalans and Belizeans turn from being contentious enemies to good neighbors.

PRAY WITH US. Father God, we thank You for the Prince of Peace. Because He preached peace to those who are near, and peace to those who are far away. You know that our Guatemalan friends live too far away for us to fellowship often. But with Jesus we can make and keep the peace. For through Him we both have access to You by one Spirit.

In the midst of the present conflict, we thank You for beginning a good work in bringing Belizean and Guatemalan evangelicals together. We ask that You make divine appointments to carry on this good work to completion. Bring healing to the wounds at our borders. Bring harmony where there is contention. And confirm the ancient boundaries and the divine identities you have given to each nation. The better we appreciate our differences, the more we can work together for Your purposes. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Read more

DailyInsight. There’s a difference between fighting words and winning words. Fighting words intensify conflicts. Winning words end them (See Eph. 4:30).

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