The Problem of Guatemalan intruders taking over land in the Chiquibul Forest is but the beginning of a land struggle between landless peasants from Guatemala and the people of Belize.
Already the Guatemalans have trespassed along the border, clearing the forest and creating private farms for themselves. If they can hold on to their farms long enough, they will have a claim on the land by virtue of occupation.
Our strongest case for the ownership of Belize is the fact that we have long possessed this land and its waters for more than 200 years. The Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798 and the Boundary Treaty of 1859 are like reinforcement bars which support our right to the land, but if Guatemala had at any time since 1798 occupied any portion of Belize, our claim to this land would be a lot weaker in any international court of law.
Belize, therefore, has to find a way for an international tribunal to validate her claim to all the land as defined by our Constitution – that is to say – all the lands contained between the two natural borders of the Rio Hondo in the north and the Sarstoon River in the south, using the artificial boundary in the west, agreed upon by Guatemala and the United Kingdom in the Treaty of 1859.
If we don’t do that, we will continue to have the problem of Guatemalan incursion. If we do not have the authority to expel them peacefully, according to international law, we will have two choices: either to accept the incursions as these occur more and more, fuelled by the press of an expanding Guatemalan landless population, or we find a way to expel the invading hordes physically, using force, meaning a border war.
Part of the problem we face is that Guatemalans living in the Peten Province believe and are convinced that they have a right to the land. They have been taught to believe that the land belongs to them, and there is nothing that Belize can do to change that.
What we need is an internationally recognized authority that will say to Guatemala and to the World that Belize is the true owner of the land in question.
The concern so often expressed by Belizeans, who are fearful that the International Court at the Hague might award to Guatemala land which we are not prepared to relinquish, is baseless. If the International Court at the Hague were to make such an award, it would have to reverse itself on long-established precedents, which the Court has already set. A judgement awarding any part of Belize to Guatemala would cause pandemonium and territorial unrest all over the world. It is no exaggeration to state that the International Court could not contemplicate such a move.
Guatemala already knows this. Her purpose in bringing her case to the International Court is twofold. First, she wants to be compensated for Britain’s broken promise of 1859. Secondly she wants to get rid of a land claim which has caused her nothing but embarrassment.
But if Belize does not play her cards right, we can create a problem for ourselves! If Guatemalan squatters can estblish an enclave on Belize territory and can hold it long enough to establish a claim of their own (We have seen this happen in eastern Ukraine) the International Court of Justice at the Hague could rule that these persons deserve to be compensated – either by Belize offering them land, or by Belize paying them compensation!