General — 09 December 2008 — by Adele Ramos
Much has been said about the Belize position on the territorial dispute with Guatemala, but not much has been relayed on the Belize side of the border on what the Guatemala position is. The extent of the information popularly relayed to Belizeans is that the Guatemalans now consider the 1859 Convention it signed with England to be null and void, and that our neighbor claims more than half our territory.
In this installment of ICJ Stats, we relay to you some vital information we found while perusing the official website of Guatemala’s Ministry of External Relations – which set out their version of the story, from the colonial era to present times. We think that this information is vital to our full understanding of all the issues that may go on the table if the case is ever taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – but certainly, even if the case is never heard there, it is important for us to understand what the official Guatemalan account of the dispute is.
The information we found documented by the Guatemalan Ministry of External Relations included a series of six maps concerning the territories of Belize and Guatemala, as well as a historical synopsis or summary, and an update on the current situation, leading up the negotiations held under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS).
There are 6 maps posted under the section captioned: Mapas del differendo (Maps of the differendum). (We reproduce herein those that are clear enough for readers to see and understand.) The first is titled “Concessions from Spain to England.” That map, said the Guatemalan foreign ministry, shows the territory of Belize (occupied by Belize) according to our Constitution, which includes the concessions made by Spain to Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Versailles and the 1786 Treaty of Paris. There is a large block of land from central to southern Belize – encompassing much of the Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, which the Guatemalan government describes as “the illegal occupation” by the British of the Province of Verapaz.
The second map is called the Map of Guatemala (Maximilian Connestern) and dated 1859. That map, says the Guatemala government website, describes the territory of Guatemala and its provinces, corresponding to the year when the treaty of 1859 (Aycinena-Wike) was signed, known as the “Boundary Treaty.” The Province of Verapaz, as the Constitution of Guatemala states at this moment, is what is shown clearly by Maximilian Connestern, says the documentation.
The third map shown is that of Central America – which was at the time of the 1816 map (Thompson’s General Atlas), the entire concession area of Spain.
The fourth map of Mexico and Guatemala (A.M. Perrot – 1827) is of French origin, which the Guats say also demonstrates that the territory of Guatemala was recognized worldwide, with the Province of Verapaz, which they say was “usurped” by the British.
The fifth map – also of Central America – makes reference to the Dallas-Clarendon treaty of 1850, signed with the United States, in reference to the construction of a canal. A series of maps were produced during the assessment process, and the map published on the Guatemala Ministry of Foreign Affairs website is one of them. In that map, Belize was a very small area to the north-east of the current territory, “with Belize recognized with the limits of the concession from Spain.”
The sixth and final map published on the website is a map of Central American (1856) – taken reportedly from the United States Senate. The Guat government says that this map corroborates, as does the previous one, that during the mid-1800’s the limits of Belize were as set out in the concessions from Spain.
The website also posts a summary dating back to the colonial era. It says that British pirates came to the region around 1750. The “freebooters,” as the Guats describe them, went deeper and deeper into the forest, exploiting the area they eventually began to call British Honduras.
It notes that the 1763 treaty with Spain gave Britain permission to cut wood in the area. The subsequent 1783 treaty established the limits within which the British were to exploit the forestry resources in the area, specifically “Palo de Tinto” or dyewood. The specific area – according to the Spanish – was 4,804 square kilometers (just over 1,800 square miles).
Two years later the British sought to expand the concession area, and approval was given in 1786 for 1,884 sq. kilometers (or roughly 700 square miles) more, reaching to the Sibun River.
The total concession area, says the Guatemala summary, was 6,688 sq. kilometers (or 2,608 sq. miles), bounded by the Rio Hondo in the north, the Province of Yucatan, and the Sibun River in the south. Outside that southern boundary, claims the Guatemalans, was the region of Verapaz, under the jurisdiction of the Alcaldía Mayor of Verapaz.
It claims that in 1817 and 1819, the British Parliament recognized that Belize was not under the dominion of British rule.
The Guatemalans claim that in 1821, when Guatemala broke away from Spanish rule, it inherited all the rights of the crown of Spain over the territory, which included Belize. The British were not established outside the concession area at this time, even though they had, at times, ventured past the Sibun to cut wood.
The Guatemalan synopsis goes on to make reference to the constitution of the Central American Federation – the group of five countries, including Guatemala, which broke from Spanish rule in 1821. It claims that the constitution defined the extent of the territory, and Belize, at the time, formed a part of Verapaz, which was said to be a part of the integrated region of Central America.
It claims that Britain made a series of moves to gain control over the territory. In 1833 they abolished slavery in Belize, and in 1834, Frederick Chatfield, a clever politician/diplomat, was presented as the new consul…the superintendent of the territory occupied by the British. He approved the extension of the line at Garbutt’s Falls (Belize River) in May 1835, and the British continued the advances towards the Sarstoon.
In 1837, Belize participated in a Guatemalan national assembly of constituents, as members of the territory of Guatemala, and Guatemala’s first constitution of 1843 included what is now known as the southern territory of Belize, it further adds.
The account continues: The English, in their quest to totally control the Caribbean Sea, created the protectorate of the Miskito in Nicaragua in 1850, and signed with the United States the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty regarding the construction of a canal.
In 1854 they wrote the first Constitution for Belize, and set up a Legislative Assembly exclusively for the English, giving no access to the Maya or the Blacks of Belize.
A subsequent treaty with the US (Dallas-Clarendon) of 1856 excluded Belize and said that the boundaries with Guatemala had been established. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate published a map of Central America in 1856 that had Belize divided in two parts – one part under British rule and the other under the rule of Guatemala, from the Sibun to the Sarstoon.
When Guatemalan General Rafael Carrera rose to power, he sought a definitive solution to the territorial dispute – and so came the 1859 Convention, the official account says. It points next to Clause 7 of the treaty as “compensation” for ceding the territory: the construction of a road, which it said was never realized. They contend that Carrera did not have the legal authority to sign such a treaty, and that the convention was in violation of the previous Clayton-Bulwer Treaty – resulting in a letter of protest from the US.
The demarcation of the border was initiated three years later, in 1861, with representatives for Guatemala and Britain. The British rep received orders to stop the demarcation, and up to May 1862 only 26 pyramids were placed. The demarcation process did not continue. In 1884, Guatemala protested and rejected the document of 1859 – a denunciation confirmed by the Guatemalan Congress in 1946.
Britain established a government in the area they occupied in 1868, and in 1933 it pressed Guatemala to complete the demarcation, the summary further says. General Jorge Ubico was the then president of Guatemala, but talks to settle still did not yield closure. Four years later, there were talks concerning submitting the matter to foreign arbitration. The Guatemalan government did a White Paper which set out the full historical account of the controversy. It says that it sent this document to all its allies, which at the time would have included the United States.
They recount that in 1945 Guatemala published a constitution that said that Belize was a part of its territory, and in 1946 Congress declared that the 1859 Convention was not valid, and denounced it internationally.
Britain responded that according to Article 36 of the United Nations Convention, the controversy ought to be submitted to the ICJ, but Guatemala insisted that the case should be considered on the basis of principles of equity and history, in addition to considerations of international law – a position that was rejected by the British.
During the 50’s and 60’s, the Guats say, the US offered its good offices to help resolve the claim, but the British did not agree. Amid negotiations, Britain announced that it would unilaterally grant Belize its independence, and the then president of Guatemala responded by putting its troops on the Belize border.
They contend that the Guatemalan President, General Romeo Lucas Garcia, wanted to discuss a solution to the differendum. Meanwhile, the United Nations affirmed the right of Belizeans to self-determination and independence. The Heads of Agreement were signed in London between Guatemala’s Foreign Minister and Belize Premier George Price in 1981. Purportedly, that agreement was to set the framework for further negotiations and a definitive end to the dispute. Britain announced its intent to grant Belize Independence that same year, in 1981.
Belize’s Constitution, promulgated on the eve of Independence, declared that the boundaries were those set out in the 1859 Convention, which Guatemala had denounced. For its part, Guatemala maintained its position, insisting that it had rights over the territory of Belize.
Its 1985 Constitution stipulated that the executive was being given the power to seek a resolution on the rights of Guatemala with respect to Belize, in conformity with national interests, and specifically stipulated that any agreement on this matter be submitted to a process of popular consultation – what is now being called a referendum.
The Government of Jorge Serrano recognized the independence of the people of Belize, but he never withdrew the territorial claim, the Guatemala Foreign Minister summary states. In 1995, during the presidency of Ramiro de León Carpio, Chancellor Maritza Ruiz de Vielman sent notification to the United Nations recognizing the independence of Belize and its right to self-determination, but not its territory, as Guatemala did not resolve the claim, under the territorial dispute.
In 1999, the then president Alvaro Arzu offered resolution to the Government of Belize via an international tribunal, arbitration or international court. Guatemala’s position was that it sought the reclamation of that part of Belize that it insists was originally a part of the Province of Verapaz.
The summary paints a picture of Belize’s being the aggressor during purported attempts by Guatemala to seek a solution to the dispute.
In January 2000, it says, then president Alfonso Portillo Cabrera communicated with then Belize Prime Minister Said Musa, expressing the desire to foster better relations with neighboring Belize, but at the same time expressing the desire to urgently bring an end to the dispute in accordance with the principles, rules and practices enshrined in international law. Eleven days later the mayor of Melchor de Menchos found the corpse of a farmer, Samuel Ramirez, killed by the Belize Defence Force.
The following month, while Belize and Guatemala officials met in Miami, Guatemalan armed forces captured a patrol of BDF and police, which the Guatemalans say had gone into the Peten, Guatemala, with their weapons. It was because of this incident that the Belizean officials left the negotiating table, the Guatemalans say. They document that 4 days later, a makeshift bomb was hurled at the Guatemalan Embassy in Belize.
The summary accuses Belize’s then ambassador to Guatemala – current Chief Negotiator for the differendum, Fred Martinez – of leaving the country at the time of arraignment with the four accused security officers of Belize – in contravention, it claims, of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Guatemalan government, soon after, asked Martinez to vacate his diplomatic post.
In March, Guatemala asked the OAS to intervene, and by July, appointments were made for a panel of facilitators as well as a mixed commission, and a mechanism was established for relations between the security forces of both countries, says the report.
The facilitators were to submit their recommendations to both governments. The recommendations should have included the themes that would have been worked out through bilateral talks, and those which would have been submitted either to international court or a court of international arbitration, the Guat statement says.
They meanwhile point to further incidents, allegedly caused by Belizean armed forces, including allegations that Belizean military stole a flag at a primary school at Santa Rosa, which they described as being a part of Poptun, Peten. They claim the flag was later returned by the Government of Belize.
[Nowhere in the summary did the Guatemalans say anything about repeated incursions into the southern part of Belize’s territory – particularly in the protected areas – and the illegal logging and harvesting of the xate palm.]
Belize’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, said to be Assad Shoman, signed at the OAS a set of confidence building measures, which included procedures for joint patrols on the border.
Now to Guatemala’s account of “The Present State of the Differendum,” datedOctober 22, 2008
Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence in the early 1990’s, on the basis of the principle of self-determination of the people.
October 1999 – Guatemala reiterated its claim to Belize, and agreed to the OAS-mediated intervention.
September 2002– The facilitation process was complete, but since the negotiated process did not reach a resolution, the juridical resolution via the International Court of Justice was proposed.
August 2003 – Guatemala rejected the proposals of the facilitators, under the OAS regime, taking the position that they were not equitable and not compliant with the Constitution.
September 2005 – New confidence building measures were agreed between Belize and Guatemala. Submission to the ICJ is the international judicial mechanism most recommended to resolve the dispute, as long as the constitutions of both parties are first adhered to.
Having failed at negotiating a settlement of the dispute, it was at the end of this OAS-mediated process that the parties came up with the special agreement, or compromis, to be signed in Washington, D.C., on Monday, December 8.