For centuries the question of the Belize/Guatemala territorial issue has hampered and stunted economic growth and development in Belize and retarded commercial relations between these two countries. A concerted effort has been made in the past to improve and normalize relations through diplomatic channels and negotiations.
Initially, these efforts were solely the work of the United Kingdom, the colonial power excercing defacto sovereignty over the territory of Belize which Guatemala claimed. Later on though, in the period after Belizean self-government, and especially since the early and mid-1970's, home-grown Belizean leaders played a critical role in shaping and promoting their country's interests in the controversy. The transition from colonial to local leadership, and the change in objectives from Imperial satisfaction to the pursuit of national sovereignty, was an important one. We shall therefore see, when we come to look at the strategy used by the Belizean leaders in their quest for self-determination, how certain developments in international relations favourable to developing countries enabled the Belizeans to advance their cause.
Despite these efforts, today the claim still looms over Belize with no imminent solution in sight; however, the approach of removing barriers through joint economic co-operation/ collaboration, far beyond the what was put on paper in the past, could pave the way to a future where Belize and Guatemala could emerge as working partners to meet the challenges of todays changing economic world.
This paper proposes to analyze most of the mechanisms employed to find a solution, including, treaties, proposals, and agreements, since the origin of the claim, particularly focusing on the points almost always economic in nature, that could lead Belize and Guatemala to achieving a present-day framework of cooperation and friendship.
Against this background, this paper hopes to give a global perspective of events and factors occurring in Belize, Guatemala and the hemisphere which have greatly influenced the direction this issue has taken. However the primary objective it hopes to achieve is to raise a new level of awareness by proposing viable ways, rooted in economic and commercial considerations of approaching the Belize-Guatemala issue. Ultimately the goal is to stimulate action to create the changes needed.
Before the study of these two countries can be done, it is essential to understand the people, culture, governments, economies etc., which comprise them. Only then may one begin to understand the depth and complexities of the historical and current relationship.
The differences between the two countries are many and significant. The common history which Guatemala shares with the rest of Central America is not the same history that shaped Belize.
Unlike Guatemala's population of approximately 10 million people, Belize is Central America's least populated country with only 200,000 residents. (1) While Guatemala's official language is Spanish, Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America with Spanish as a second language. Perhaps because of its relatively small population, Belize has managed to meet the basic social needs of its population without putting too much of a strain on its system. It has maintained a high literacy rate, 75%, a per capita GDP of $1,635.00 and a life expectancy of 66 male and 70 female. Guatemala, on the other hand, with a larger population finds it a burden to meet these needs. It has a literacy rate of 55% which does not include the indigenous population; its per capita GDP is $1,300.00 and it has a life expectancy of 62 for males and 67 females. (2)
Belize's area extends 8,866 square miles (23, 657 sq. km), about the same size as New Hampshire. Belize is slightly larger than El Salvador and double the size of Jamaica. It is situated south of the Yucatan Peninsula facing the western Caribbean, bordered on the north and northwest by Mexico and on the west by Guatemala. One theory is that the name 'Belize' has its roots in the country's early history and comes from the name of a Scottish pirate, Wallace, who is said to have first harbored inside the reef. From Wallace came the River Wallix which is also called the Rio Valis (or Balis) and later became Ballace, and finally the Belize River. (3) Others believe that it is a derivation of the Mayan word 'beliz,' meaning muddy waters.
Belize comprises two geographical regions nearly equal in size. The northern region is low (averaging 18 inches above sea level at Belize City) and generally flat. It is cut by several rivers such as the Belize River, the New River, and the Sibun. The river system was the primary method of internal travel until the 1950's. In the southern region, the Maya Mountains rise steeply to about 1,500 to 3,000 feet above sea level. (4) Physical features include, Coral reefs, largest in the Western Hemisphere, and atolls; belts of low coastal areas; flat, dry coastal plains; elevated mountainous masses; ravines, river gorges, waterfalls. (5) The administrative districts which comprise Belize include: Belize Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. In the north, the districts of Corozal and Orange Walk, the heart of the sugar industry and the early base of the mestizo population, border the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and reflect Mexican influences. To the west is Cayo, whose urban center is San Ignacio-Santa Elena and which becomes distinctively more Spanish speaking as it nears the Guatemalan border. In the South is Stann Creek, with the Garifuna town of Dangriga serving as its commercial hub. Citrus and banana plantations occupy its valleys and lowlands. Still farther south is Toledo, the home of the Mopan and Kekchi Maya, its center being the tranquil town of Punta Gorda. (6)
Guatemala and Belize share the same Maya history. The Maya Indian empire flourished in these lands for over 1,000 years before the Spanish came. However, while the Spanish settled and colonized Guatemala they only held sovereignty over Belize. The Spanish never settled Belize. The British did, and this fact changed the course of history for Belize. Thus, Belize and Guatemala were developed into separate entities.
Today, Belize's society is ethnically diverse and culturally rich. The various groups include: the Creoles, a mixture of Caucasian and African. This group is descended from the English log cutters and their African slaves; Garinagu, a mixture of African and Arawak Indians who came to Belize seeking safe haven from the oppression they were subjected to in the Caribbean and Central America; the Mestizos, of Spanish and Maya Indian derivation. European, East Indian, Chinese, and Arabs comprise the remainder. Finally, Belize is also home to communities of German Mennonites.
During most of this century, Creoles were the largest ethnic group, followed by Mestizos, Gariganu and Mayas. However, the most recent census of 1991 show that Mestizos outnumber the Creoles.
Belize's Parliamentary Democracy is based on English Common law. There is a Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister; a bi-cameral National Assembly made up of the House of Representatives (elected) and Senate (nominated). The inheritance of these legal and political systems from the British has been a saving grace for Belize. Whilst the rest of Central America has suffered political instability for decades, particularly in the 1980's, Belize was not affected politically and remains today a model country of democracy and stability in Central America.
While Belize has lagged behind in industry, trade and tourism in comparison with the rest of Central America, and CARICOM, it is emerging into the 21st century with most of its environment still relatively untouched and pristine. Thus eco-tourism is now an economic mainstay and has recently been winning world-wide attention is becoming one of Belize's biggest cash flow activities.
In addition, the Mayan heritage which Belize shares with Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras has initiated the Mundo Maya project to promote tourism throughout the region. This project responds to increasing demands by tourists for authentic experiences in other cultures in a well preserved and protected environment. Traditionally in the twentieth century its economy was based on the export of timber, but after this industry became exhausted, Belize had to diversify into agriculture which became its major export earner. Today, its major commodities include citrus, bananas, seafood, and sugar. (7)
These exports depend on preferential access to the large industrial markets of the United States and Europe. With the U.S. market, the most important links are the sugar import quota program and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Because Belize is a CBI beneficiary, its agricultural exports have been exempt from U.S. import duties since 1984. (8)
In Europe, Belize benefits from the provisions of the LomÄ Convention, under which some sixty developing countries, including those of the Commonwealth Caribbean, enjoy quotas for the low-tariff entry of certain agricultural goods. Belize's sugar and bananas enjoy preferential access to European markets. (9) As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Belize also enjoys preferential trade rights in the Caribbean region.
Guatemala was a Spanish colony from 1524-1821. Briefly a part of Mexico and then of the U.S. of Central America, the Republic was established in 1839. (10) Since 1945 when a liberal government was elected to replace the long-term dictatorship of Jorge Ubico, the country has seen a variety of military and civilian governments and periods of civil unrest. Political violence caused large numbers of Guatemalans to seek refuge in Mexico and Belize. Shortly after the government of President Jorge Serrano Elias recognized Belize's independence, he was ousted on June 1, 1993 after attempting an auto-coup and Ramiro de Leon Carpio was elected president by congress June 6, 1993. (11)
Recently, Guatemala has committed itself to the maintenance of peace and democracy to ensure that a democratic system is in place There have been moves by the Government of Guatemala to stop the violent oppression of indigenous peoples and to stop the massive human rights violations Guatemala is known for. This effort has manifested itself in the Peace Treaty that the government hopes to sign with the URNG of which will ensure recognition and respect for the rights of its indigenous people.
Guatemala's type of government is Republican. Their executive branch is comprised of the President of the Republic and the Vice-President of the Republic, whom are elected under universal suffrage, for a five-year term, and cannot be re-elected; next, are Ministers and Vice-Ministers of State. (12) About the size of Tennessee, at 42,042 sq. miles, Guatemala is located in Central America with Mexico on its North-East, El Salvador on the South and Honduras and Belize on the East. The central highland and mountain areas are bordered by the narrow Pacific coast and the lowlands and fertile river valleys. (13)
During the 1960's, industrial production was geared to import substitution with an eye to supplying the Central American Common Market ( CACM). However, toward the end of the '80's, Guatemala adopted a development policy whose principal goal was to promote exports in order to accelerate sustained economic growth and to increase production, employment, and foreign currency income. (14)
In 1992, sustained growth in the Gross Domestic Product of 4.8%, surpassed the rate of production growth for the sixth consecutive year. The country has experienced a great surge in the construction industry, but its traditional industries have been sugar, coffee (one third of exports), bananas, cotton and cardamom. Its natural resources include oil, nickel, rare woods, fish and chicle. It's major trading partners are the U.S. and Central America. (15)
In Belize and Guatemala, history and geography have combined to produce two linked but distinct nations. The hands of fate have brought these two distinct countries to face many challenges. The following pages will try to tell the story of their complex relationship, from the origins of the dispute, through the process of negotiations and finally to a projection of the future.
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