To begin with, Guatemala does not have a claim against the sovereign nation of Belize, which is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and of the United Nations. We are a sovereign country because we belong to the British Commonwealth of Nations and, our titular Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II.
Guatemala declared its claim to the territory that now forms the nation state of Belize, which was being administered at the time by the British Government. It based its claim to the lands formerly owned by Spain and recognized as such by the Catholic nations, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Russia, which ruled the world, on a doctrine called “uti possidetis.” The doctrine posited that Guatemala was the successor to Spain in the New World, and inherited her possessions.
Britain rejected Guatemala’s claim, which gave rise to the British/Guatemala dispute. The dispute was apparently settled by the 1859 Treaty between the two countries, where a boundary was drawn between Guatemala and the disputed territory then known as the settlement of Belize. Subsequently, Guatemala declared that the 1859 Treaty was invalidated because Britain failed to comply with one of the conditions agreed and re-advanced its claim to all of British Honduras, which Belize was named when it became a Crown Colony in 1860.
Since then, Guatemala has advanced a claim to smaller and smaller portions of British Honduras, in pursuit of its dispute with Great Britain up to 21st September, 1981, when Belize became an independent nation/state.
Since 1981, the Government of Belize is responsible for the nation’s defence from external threat. From our own resources, we have established a Belize Defence Force. We have not been called upon to defend our country since Independence, and we are not likely to be, because our foreign policy is to have friendly relations with all our neighbors and we are not going to provoke attack from any other country. We seek and foster mutually beneficial relationships with regional bodies, as well as individual nations in a climate of civility and respect. Also, because of the power and influence of regional bodies and the United Nations, nations are encouraged and constrained to settle their differences peacefully.
Guatemala has never dropped her original claim to the Settlement of Belize, though since Independence, the two countries have diplomatic relations. There is a Belizean Ambassador in Guatemala City and a Guatemalan Ambassador in Belmopan. This is because both nations know that the Independence of Belize with all its territories is irreversible. Yet the claim exists and Guatemala persists in demanding a settlement.
The Belize Position
Our position, as I understand it, is viz:-
1. We don’t have a dispute with Guatemala over land.
2. There is an agreed border between the nation/states of Belize and Guatemala, which was established in the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala that is recognized by the United Nations.
3. The validity of Guatemala’s original claim was never tested and, in any case, is no consequence to be Independent State of Belize.
4. In respect of the claim, what we have with Guatemala is a difference: our position is that Guatemala’s original claim, which became a dispute between Guatemala and Great Britain, has been overtaken by the fact that the disputed territory is now the land which belongs to the Independent sovereign state of Belize.
Since Independence, Guatemala has not been behaving as a friendly neighbor. There have been many and varied incursions of Guatemalans into Belizean territory. There have also been incidents involving armed Guatemalan civilians and soldiers with Belizean soldiers which gave rise to the exchange of protest notes between the two countries’ Foreign Ministries.
Also, since Independence and, up to last year when an agreement was reached, our two countries have been trying to negotiate a settlement of Guatemala’s claim.
It must be noted that both People’s United Party and United Democratic Party governments in Belize have been engaged in these negotiations. Both parties have always been a prominent part of the negotiating teams, as well as prominent and distinguished Belizeans from the other Estates.
The agreement reached was that the Guatemalan claim should be put before the International Court of Justice for adjudication based on a document jointly agreed to by our two countries called the Compromis. In that document, the main issue that the ICJ is required to settle, is the boundary between Guatemala and Belize, which has already been established by Treaty and confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly.
Why then should Belizeans agree, by an affirmative vote, to a referendum, to submit the Compromis for adjudication by the International Court of Justice? My answer is, because that is the only way that the governments of Guatemala and Belize have agreed that the former’s claim can be settled.
In a democratic country, the government elected by the people is empowered to negotiate and act on behalf of the people. So. When the negotiations between Belize and Guatemala began after Independence, the people were not consulted to determine whether or not our governments should seek to negotiate a settlement of the claim. If they had, we would have agreed, because we had confidence in our governments.
Now we have before us a referendum which we will be required to vote on, come October this year. In considering how to vote, I think it might be helpful to ask yourself these questions:
1. Do we want the Guatemala claim settled?
2. Should we want the Guatemala claim settled?
3. Is what is proposed an acceptable way to settle the claim?
The answers to these questions, in conjunction with the following thoughts should point the way for each citizen to vote “yes” or “no” in the referendum.
Those who are against settling the Guatemalan claim by submitting it to the International Country Justice for adjudication say:
1. Guatemala has nothing to lose, only to gain.
2. Belize has nothing to gain, only to lose.
Neither of these two statements is true. The claim is for land, and if the court decides against Guatemala, she will have to give up her claim. Her hope is that the Court may decide that there was some validity to her original claim when Belize was a colony of Great Britain, but, a court which is an entity created by the United Nations will not take away land from one of its members as an award to settle a claim.
What we can gain when the court decides the issue is that Guatemala will have to abandon its claim and establish normal relations between our two countries.
What Guatemala can gain is the respect and good will of the international community, if it lets the ICJ decide the merits of her original claim.
We are advised that the United States of America and Great Britain are urging us to agree to let the ICJ adjudicate the claim and, that they have a foreign policy agenda which may not be in our best interests. Let us take this into account but, let us not be deterred from acting as a mature, responsible nation capable of making wise judgments. It must be remarked that those great countries can exercise no influence over the thirteen jurists who will decide the issue if it is submitted to them for adjudication.
In addition to these thirteen, both Belize and Guatemala world have the right to nominate a judge ad hoc to sit and adjudicate the claim.
All that has been written before comes down to this: When two countries have a dispute or a difference (in the case of Belize and Guatemala) and it cannot be settled by direct negotiation, it can only be settled by adjudication. There is only one court that can adjudicate and make a judgment which is binding on both parties, i.e., the International Court of Justice.