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BELIZE / GUATEMALA
Tensions grow
Javier Llopis Puente*
5/13/2016
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The assassination of a Guatemalan child by Belizean soldiers on border area unleashes a diplomatic conflict.

In circumstances still unclarified, Julio René Alvarado Ruano, 13 years old, was killed by shots fired by Belizean public order officials on the border between the two countries on Apr. 20 in an incident that also left his father and his brother wounded.

In a message to the nation, the President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, called the attack “cowardly and excessive,” and declared that the Guatemalan army will guarantee  “strict actions to protect sovereignty,” referring to the territorial dispute continuing for a century and a half between the two countries.

The following day, Guatemala mobilized 3,000 military troops to the border with Belize “to prevent new incidents,” affirmed the Guatemalan Defense Minister, Williams Mansilla.   Also, the Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize was called home for consultations.

Antoine Gely, a Guatemalan political scientist at the Institute of Political Studies of Paris, in a statement to Noticias Aliadas, called this reaction “ridiculous” because “the borders in Guatemala are marginal in every sense; they are generally rural zones in which the State is not present.” In this sense, he pointed out, “this matter is seen by the state as an opportunity to pretend that is taking care of some security issues.”

On the other hand, the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, emphasized that Belize “has a long history and tradition as peace-loving country, respectful of international law and human rights.”

Barrow and Morales met on Apr. 24 at the United Nations headquarters in New York on the occasion of the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Both leaders agreed to do all necessary to lower the tensions due to the death of Alvarado Ruano.

Contradictory versions
According to the Belizean authorities, an Army patrol was investigating illegal activities in the Chiquibul National Park, in the west of the country. Official sources ensure the patrol was attacked at nightfall and responded in its own defense which resulted in the unfortunate death of the adolescent.

The Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its doubts about the Belize version, calling it an “excuse.” The Guatemalan authorities insist that the photographs of the boy’s body show that he received eight shots, four of them in the back. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Morales, recalled that since 1999, 10 Guatemalan citizens have died from “Belizean bullets.”

At the request of the governments of both countries, the Organization of American States (OAS) announced in an Apr. 27 statement that it will undertake an investigation into the incident “that will be conducted independently of the tasks of verification that are already underway”. Also, the OAS announced that it will proceed immediately with the selection and deployment of relevant experts to investigate as soon as possible.”

The conflict between Belize and Guatemala is long-standing. When the then Province of Guatemala obtained its independence from the Kingdom of Spain in 1821, Belize came to depend exclusively upon the government of Guatemala. With the British-Guatemalan Wyke-Aycinena Treaty of 1859, Guatemala recognized Belize as a British colony in exchange for the United Kingdom to build a road linking the country with the Belizean city of Punta Gorda.

In 1884, after the United Kingdom failed to comply with the treaty, Guatemala reclaimed the territory of Belize. London did not agree to the claim and, almost a century later, in 1981, Belize got its independence. Ten years later, in 1991, Guatemala recognized its independence, but not without claiming 12,272 square kilometers of Belizean territory, the equivalent of more than 50 percent of the country.

Gely indicated that the only interest that may currently have Guatemala to claim the territory of Belize  “is new land that can be exploited for intensive agriculture, mining, among others.” In this sense, “the supposed colonial ambitions of Guatemala” could result in the increase of the population and geographic complexity in a country with serious problems of internal security. —Latinamerica Press.

*Peruvian, graduate in Political Science at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris—Sciences Po, France, who presently is doing an internship at Comunicaciones Aliadas.


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