GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s Supreme Court announced on Monday that the country will hold a referendum on March 18 on its territorial dispute with Belize, an unresolved issue that has been simmering for more than a century.
“Do you agree that any legal claim by Guatemala against Belize regarding continental ... territories and any corresponding maritime areas ... be submitted to the International Court of Justice for its definitive resolution and that (the ICJ) may determine the borders of the ... parties?” is the question that will be presented to voters.
The lack of a clearly defined border between the two nations has resulted in several international incidents to date, and – according to the Guatemalan government – has resulted in 10 Guatemalan citizens being killed by Belizean troops.
The date for the referendum was announced in a government decree released before a conference at which further details were to be provided, and it mentions that all persons registered as citizens as of Dec. 17, 2017, will be allowed to participate in making their opinions known.
The announcement included a prohibition on any advertising or other propaganda regarding the referendum during the 36 hours prior to the opening of the polls.
In June 2008, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that resolving the dispute was his prime political goal, and he proposed that referendums be held in both countries to determine whether the two publics support resolving it in the ICJ.
An agreement to send the issue to the ICJ was signed on Dec. 8, 2008, with a referendum to be held on the issue simultaneously in the two countries on Oct. 6, 2013, but it was later suspended.
In May 2015, Belize allowed Guatemala to proceed with a referendum asking the ICJ to rule on the dispute although Belize admitted that it was not ready for such a vote, and in October 2016 Guatemala began the process to hold the referendum.
In the meantime, Guatemala and Belize have been participating in confidence-building measures approved by the Organization of American States, although Guatemala has claimed all or part of Belizean territory ever since 1821.