The Belize-Guatemala Territorial Dispute – Part 2

One problem with treating Guatemala’s claim as irrelevant is that it does nothing to stop Guatemala’s unofficial ‘colonisation’ of western Belize. Now that Petén is so environmentally damaged, poor Guatemalans have been coming over the unpatrolled border in increasing numbers. Harvesting of xate (a palm leaf used in flower arrangements), illegal logging, poaching endangered animals (like rare Scarlet Macaws), looting Maya ruins, and now gold-mining, are all becoming daily problems in the Chiquibul (a protected area that contains 7% of Belize’s land). And Belize simply doesn’t have the manpower or resources to patrol the huge jungle. There have been several years of skirmishes between Guatemalans and the BDF (Belize Defence Force – the Belizean Army), at times necessitating an armed escort for tourists visiting the remote Maya site of Caracol. And things came to a bloody head last year, when Guatemalans shot and killed a BDF soldier at Caracol, in full view of tourists. The damage to Belize’s fragile environment and its economically-important tourist industry is far worse than any macho posturing and sabre-rattling from Guatemalan politicians. And while these problems won’t suddenly disappear if the claim is dropped, the prevailing Guatemalan view that ‘Belice es nuestro’ isn’t exactly discouraging these incursions – on the contrary, it’s giving them an air of undeserved legitimacy. Continue reading

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The Belize-Guatemala Territorial Dispute – Part 1

At every Guatemalan border crossing, on the Guatemalan side, in the immigration office where travellers get their passports stamped, is a map of the country. Not too surprising really, but these maps are a bit different – they include Belize in the territory of Guatemala. At first, I thought they were on display only in the Guatemala-Belize border crossings, to make some kind of unsophisticated point to their neighbour. But they seem to be in every crossing – they’re certainly on the Mexico-Guatemala borders, as I’ve recently seen them there first-hand. Continue reading