What Countries Border Belize?

Border crossing from Guatemala near San Ignacio, Belize.  Editorial credit: Mark52 / Shutterstock.com
Border crossing from Guatemala near San Ignacio, Belize. Editorial credit: Mark52 / Shutterstock.com

Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is a country that is situated on Central America’s east coast. The country has an area of about 8,867 square miles, which makes it the 147th largest country in the world. The capital city is Belmopan while the largest city is Belize City. Belize is bordered by the two neighboring nations of Mexico (to the northwest) and Guatemala (to the south and the west). Aside from these countries, the Caribbean Sea also borders the country on the east. The two countries bordering Belize have had their challenges and problems in the past although the signs indicate a better future.

Belize–Mexico Border

The Belize-Mexico border divides Mexico and Belize and runs for about 155 miles mostly along the course of the Hondo River. The border acts as a divide between Belize and the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo. The current boundary was agreed on back in 1893 and was finalized later in 1897. The exploration of the border in the past was tricky due to the remoteness of the location, especially on the Mexican side. For this reason, the British were able to occupy most of the border region when Belize was known as British Honduras.

Belize–Guatemala Border

Interestingly, running for about 165 miles, the border of Belize and Guatemala is an almost straight line. This international border is clearly described in the 1859 Wyke–Aycinena Treaty. In Article I of the treaty, the border begins in the Bay of Honduras at River Sarstoon’s mouth and then goes through the mid-channel all the way to Gracias a Dios Falls. After the falls, the border branches right and goes on a direct line to Garbutt's Falls, which is on the River Belize. After the Garbutt’s Falls, the border heads north all the way to the Mexican Frontier.

Border Disputes

Unfortunately, the Belize and Guatemala have a long-running border dispute that is not resolved yet. The dispute also extends to the neighboring countries in Central America. Since 1821, Guatemala has laid claim to the territory of Belize. The dispute goes all the way back to the tie when Spain claimed all the territories of the New World west of the line drawn by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. Essentially, the treaty divided the world into two with the separating line passing between Portugal and Spain, However, Britain and other powers failed the recognize the treaty, which is why the British went ahead and settled in Belize. A later treaty in 1670, the Godolphin Treaty, between Spain and England allowed England to occupy territories in the Western Hemisphere, including Belize. However, Spain used a vague point in the treaty to maintain its claim on the territory of Belize.

Eventually, in the 1820s, the Spanish Empire collapsed and led to the establishment of independent republics such as Mexico and Guatemala. Being part of the former Spanish Empire, Guatemala believes that the previous claim of the Spanish Empire on Belize still stands. However, the UK never accepted these claims, hence the conflict. Today, the conflict only exists between Guatemala and Belize since the Mexicans withdrew their claim back in 1893 after it came to an agreement with Britain. However, Mexico stated that the claim to Belize will be revived if Guatemala succeeds in getting part of Belize.

Over the years, the conflict between the two countries has become violent. For example, in 2000, a Guatemalan was murdered by a Belizean patrol in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve on the Belizean side. Later, in 2005, an agreement was signed by the two countries that committed both nations to maintain peace. In 2015, the Belizean government allowed Guatemala to forward the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after a referendum. The Guatemalan referendum was finally done in April 2018 with 95.88% of the voters approving of the idea of taking the issue to the ICJ.


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