End of the Road: Will Taiwan Pick Up Britain’s Tab in Guatemala?

“Officially, the British are unpopular in Guatemala,” wrote Nicholas Wollaston, while traveling in the Central American country in 1961. “For Britain occupies the whole of Belice Province by force, and calls it British Honduras. There are three empty seats in the Guatemala assembly with blue and white ribbons and marked ‘Belice’ [sic], and every map in Guatemala proves Britain’s guilt.”

Those empty seats are no longer there – the military junta of Efrain Rios Montt having abandoned the charade upon seizing power in 1982. Presumably the evangelical dictator, who died earlier this month aged 91 with the latest of his war crimes trials pending, was too occupied with his “beans and bullets” policy of ethnic cleansing against indigenous groups to bother about territorial bickering with his diminutive neighbor.

Also gone is any particular hostility toward the British, official or otherwise. Travelers to the country would be hard pressed to meet a Guatemalteco who has even heard of the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty of 1859 from which the controversy over Belize’s status sprung.

Yet, in other ways, the Guatemalan government’s stance has become more virulent than ever. “In the past, Britain has offered to take the dispute to the international court,” wrote Wollaston. “But Guatemala has always refused.”

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