GUATEMALA CITY – The armed forces of neighboring Belize should be “less aggressive,” Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales said on Monday, while adding that both countries must work to ease tensions over their long-standing territorial dispute.
“The army of Belize has to be less aggressive and use force to a lesser degree, use it proportionally depending on each case,” the foreign minister said.
Morales said Guatemala also has a responsibility to prioritize the development of the communities along the contested border to reduce economic pressure on residents to cross into Belize in search of work.
The boundary is the object of a quarrel that goes back to 1820, when Guatemala became independent from Spain and Belize was a British colony.
Tensions have risen following an April 19 incident on the border that ended with the fatal shooting of a Guatemalan teenager by Belizean security forces.
Last Friday, members of a Belizean security patrol wounded one man in the course of arresting three Guatemalans engaged in illegal mining on territory administered by Belize.
Belize said the wounded young man was shot in self-defense as he toward a member of the security patrol “aggressively with a machete.”
Morales traveled last weekend to the area of the April 19 confrontation, accompanied by representatives of the Organization of American States.
Belize won independence in 1981, but Guatemala did not formally recognize its neighbor until 1991 and continues to claim more than half of the former British colony’s 22,965 square kilometers (8,867 square miles) of territory.
In 2008, the two countries agreed to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but the accord was never implemented because it proved impossible to satisfy the requirement that the respective populations endorse the pact in simultaneous referendums.
Seven years later, the parties signed an additional protocol allowing non-simultaneous plebiscites. Guatemala’s congress, however, has yet to ratify the revision.