by Katherine Platt
One day when I was living in Antigua, Guatemala, I opened the newspaper and found a story on the Guatemala-Belize territorial conflict. This really surprised me because I had no idea that in the 21st century there were still territorial disputes in Latin America. As a matter of fact, there are others going on in the Western Hemisphere. For example, the tiny Isla Calero is disputed by Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Archipelago is disputed by Colombia and Nicaragua.
What is unique about the Guatemala-Belize dispute is that Guatemala claims a sizable amount of the Belizean territory. Before 1999, Guatemala claimed the whole of Belize. Currently, Guatemala claims 12,000 square kilometers, which is more than half of Belize’s territory. Just for comparison purposes, Guatemala is about the size of Tennessee and Belize is about the size of New Hampshire.
The genesis of this territorial conflict can be traced back to colonial times when British loggers settled into what is today known as Belize, but which back then was Spanish territory. There was a feud between Spain and Britain on who legally owned British Honduras (as Belize was known prior to 1981). Once Guatemala became an independent nation-state, Guatemalans inherited the feud from Spain and started to claim British Honduras as their own.
Years and centuries go by, and the Guatemala-Belize conflict continues to date. Dr. Krista Wiegand argued that Guatemala and Belize haven’t been able to resolve their dispute because politicians from both countries use this conflict as part of their national discourse. For years, Guatemalan politicians have indoctrinated their constituents that Belize belongs to them. Dr. Wiegand explains, “leaders in Guatemala cannot drop a claim for territory that has been previously indoctrinated as an integral part of their homeland, without risking domestic punishment.” At the same time, if the Prime Minister of Belize were to cede half of Belize to Guatemala, that would be contradictory to previous government stances that Guatemala has no legal rights over their territory.
If Dr. Wiegand is correct on her analysis, then this conflict will never come to an end. No Guatemalan President wants to be remembered in history as the president who gave away Belize. And no Belizean Prime Minister wants to go down in history as the president who gave half of their territory to Guatemala.
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