Belize-Guatemala Border Tensions Put Needed Cooperation at Risk

Belize-Guatemala Border Tensions Put Needed Cooperation at Risk
Guatemalan Defense Minister Gen. Williams Mansilla gives a press conference following the death of a 13-year-old boy in a shooting incident on the Belizean border, Guatemala City, April 23, 2016 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

Border tensions between Belize and Guatemala flared back up this weekend when Belizean soldiers shot and injured a Guatemalan man who allegedly threatened them with a machete after he was found illegally prospecting for gold on Belize’s side of the contested border. In an email interview, Margath Walker, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, discussed the border dispute between Belize and Guatemala.

WPR: What is the history behind the contested border between Belize and Guatemala, and what has caused the recent border tensions?

Margath Walker: The territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize dates back more than 150 years. The controversy originates in the 18th-century treaties between Britain and Spain. At the time of Guatemala’s independence in 1821, British Honduras—now Belize—remained under British colonial control. Britain regarded the territory between the Hondo River to the north and Sarstoon River to the south as its own, while the independent republic of Guatemala claimed inheritance of Spain’s sovereign rights over the same territory. Belize became independent in 1981, although Guatemala did not recognize the country for another 10 years due to its claim of ownership to 12,272 square kilometers of Belize’s territory, more than half the country.

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