On April 15 Guatemala will hold a “popular consultation,” or referendum to allow Guatemalans to decide if the 150-year-old territorial, maritime and insular dispute with Belize should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final resolution.
In 1992, Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence but borders were not clearly defined because Guatemala claims several islands, keys and maritime territories – that amount to roughly 12,200 square kilometers – is half of what Belize claims to be its territory.
The origins of the dispute, however, date back to colonial times.
In 1783, the Spanish crown signed the Treaty of Paris through which it allowed the British crown to use the resources of 6,600 square kilometers, an extension increased by the British until it reached approximately 11,000 square kilometers.
After independence, in September 1821, Guatemala inherited all the former Spanish territories, including the land temporarily granted to the British for their exploitation and use.
Guatemala signed the treaty of Aycinena-Wyke in 1859, agreeing to recognize British sovereignty over the territory of Belize in exchange for a road that would connect the City of Guatemala to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic coast.
The British failed to build the road, resulting in the agreement was declared null in 1871, which meant the British had to give back the territory of Belize to Guatemala.
In 1981 Belize declared its independence, citing the Aycinena-Wyke treaty as the reference for its territorial borders. More than a decade later Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence but not its borders because the Aycinena-Wyke treaty is considered void by Guatemala.
The two countries signed a Special Agreement, in 2008, before the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States to solve the dispute in the ICJ. However, this must first be approved by the Guatemalans and Belizeans, through a referendum.