Guatemala and Belize Territorial Dispute

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.

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Article and image courtesy of The ISN Blog.

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