Belize and Guatemala Territorial Dispute – What You Need to Know
Although it is rarely discussed in the country, Belize has had an ongoing dispute with Guatemala over the border between the two countries since 1821. Currently being adjudicated by the International Court of Justice, there is little for investors to worry about as the de facto border has been in place for over a century, and there is little chance that it will be changed.
The dispute over the border began long before Belize was an independent country. During the colonial era when Belize was known as British Honduras, the British disputed with Spain over the legalities of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which theoretically conceded all New World territories to Spain and Portugal.
Spain was the first European power to visit Belize, but the Spanish encountered stiff resistance from the native Maya people and soon relinquished control. Starting on the coast, English and Scottish “Baymen” began logging valuable hardwoods in what is now Belize around 1638. In 1670, Spain and England signed the Godolphin Treaty, which ceded all “settled areas” to England. The problem, however, was that the “settled areas” were not defined.
In 1783, Spain and Britain signed the Treaty of Versailles, which gave Spain sovereignty over Belize. But after the Baymen revolted, the British colony in Jamaica sent a small fleet to provide assistance. Despite facing an overwhelming superiority in numbers, the British fleet scored a stunning victory over the Spanish in 1798 during the Battle of St. George’s Caye, the commemoration of which is now a national holiday in Belize. As a result of this battle, Britain gained de facto control over Belize.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and Britain had de facto control over the territory that is now eastern Belize. In 1859, the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty was signed between Guatemala and British Honduras, with the border between the two countries drawn in a straight line down the map. Although the treaty was ratified by both governments, Guatemala claimed in 1940 that the treaty was void because the British had failed to build a road as stipulated in the terms of the treaty.
In 1981, Belize became independent and claimed full jurisdiction over the territory inside its current borders. Guatemala, however, has continued to dispute the location of the border. Investors interesting in buying property in Cerros Sands, however, have nothing to worry about as Corozal District is located in eastern Belize and has never been claimed by Guatemala.