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International border dispute between Belize and Guatemala

Sarstoon Island
Sarstoon Island

In recent months a political issue has been escalating between Belize and Guatemala over their southern border, which is defined along the Sarstoon River. Way back in 1857 a peace treaty between British Honduras ( now the country of Belize) and Guatemala was signed which defined the borders between the two countries, and which remain today. However, the British did not complete some of their promises outlined in the treaty, namely to build a road to Guatemala from southern Belize, and the Guatemalan government has used this transgression in a long running dispute in which they claim the southern half of Belize as their territory. The dispute has officially long been put to rest through international arbitration, but the Guatemalan government still remains resentful of the settlement and occasionally sanctions incidents along the border to keep up the tension with Belize and let Belizeans know they are still unhappy with the agreement.

The current issue on the front burner is a dispute over exactly where the border line runs along the Sarstoon River, and in particular if an island at the mouth of the river belongs to Belize or Guatemala. Several citizen sponsored trips to the river in order to demonstrate sovereignty over the island have been met with Guatemalan military patrols and turned back. Last weekend a larger expedition consisting of 5 boats of civilians went to the river, and once again there was an aggressive encounter with the Guatemalan patrol who tried to turn back the Belizeans. Apparently several boats were rammed, terse threats exchanged, and then several of the Belizeans boats escaped and were able to circumnavigate the island.

The Belizean military and government have been staying at arms length from these protests in order to prevent the situation from escalating, and now are having meetings with Guatemalan diplomats over how to resolve the issue. The OAS (Organization of American States) has also been involved and were in fact at the Sarstoon last weekend to observe the situation. At this point the issue has not been resolved, although neither country is threatening increased military action. However, at some point the issue will have to be resolved, and Guatemala will have to quit their aggressive behavior towards Belize over these border disputes!