08 March 2008


In 1983, while crossing the border from Guatemala into Belize, I noticed the prominent, official sign on the Guatemalan side informing travelers heading east that they were entering the Guatemalan province of Belice’ (Spanish orthography). The dispute goes back to when, in the nineteenth century, the British took the area and its valuable forest resources (indeed, it became a logging colony), yet was still claimed by the Guatemala government, which based its claim upon the prior Spanish authority over Central America.

On that first visit I noticed British fighter jets protecting Belizean airspace. Upon revisiting in 2000, besides continuing hispanicization of the country, the British military was gone. Its presence had deterred Guatemala from acting on its threats. Guatemala finally relinquished most of its claims except for a small area near Punta Gorda (I visited a Maya village there) in the south. In 2000, disputes resurfaced.

This illustrates that a state, as part of its raison d’etat, is supremely mindful of its territorial integrity. Its borders must be protected; its claims not easily given up. Consequently, its maps are not cartographically neutral.

No comments: