The treaty between Britain and Guatemala defining Belize’s border was signed on April 30, 1859.
It delineated the boundaries of Belize in the west and in the south.
But eighty-one years later, Guatemala’s President General Jorge Ubico, renounced the treaty, and five years after that, a new Guatemalan constitution was introduced, incorporating the territory of Belize as part of Guatemala.
For more than 80 years, the people of Belize lived and worked with the full knowledge and conviction that they owned this land from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon.
President Ubico, (1931 to 1944) in renouncing the treaty of 1859 did not have the right to deprive the people of Belize of their heritage.
He could speak and act for the people of Guatemala, but not for the people of Belize. Guatemala insists that the 1859 Treaty is an unresolved contract which collapsed because Britain defaulted on her pledge “to use her best efforts” to build a dirt road in support of Guatemalan commerce.
There were extenuating circumstances why Britain defaulted. When Britain was ready to advance the project, Guatemala was tied up in internal strife and could not proceed. Later when Guatemala wanted to proceed, Belize did not agree to where the road should cross Belizean territory.
We in Belize hold that the 1859 Treaty is more than a mere trade agreement. It is a border treaty which defines Belize’s borders for all time. These are borders which cannot be wiped out at the stroke of a pen as President Ubico tried to do.
Belizeans have a right to expect to live in a country of their own as a sovereign and independent nation, with all of its territory in tact.
This is the legal position! It is supported by the distinguished Canadian consultants Bowett & Lauterpatch. This is the position supported by the United Nations, and it is the only position that the International Court of Justice can take in arbitrating this case. To do otherwise would set off a convulsive chain reaction of territorial claims and counter-claims all over the world.
Because of our southern boundary which is defined by the Sarstoon , Belize has a right to use this river, but only up to and as far as Gracias a Dios Falls, which is where Belizean territory ends and Guatemalan territory begins.
The Sarstoon River is essentially a Guatemalan river. It has its origin in the head waters of Alta Verapaz and it flows for 111 kilometers eastward towards the sea. It is of immense strategic, commercial and ecological importance to Guatemala, who in 2005 declared it a Protected Area.
Sarstoon Island is formed by sand and silt accumulated in Guatemala and deposited near the mouth of the river. Belize has a right to this island by virtue of the 1859 Treaty, but Guatemala also has a claim because she owns the river.
It is our view that by virtue Belize’s pledge to exercise restraint in pursuing our claim (Confidence-building Agreement 2005), it would be provocative for Belize at this late stage of the game to try to take possession of Sarstoon Island by building a forward operating base there.
To do so would be begging for trouble, and it could weaken our claim on the mainland as well.
For if we disregard the Doctrine of Continuous Occupation and take over Sarstoon Island with no history of having occupied it, what is to stop Guatemala from doing the same thing in her bid to take over the Belizean mainland!