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I was reading the Wikipedia article for Quetzaltenango and the first thing I looked at was the map:

Belize1

As you can see Belize is at the eastern side. Its western and southern borders are showed with a dashed line because there's a land dispute between Belize and neighbouring Guatemala. Sounds like Guatemala claims whole of Belize as its territory! Oh, and I don't know why the red dot of the city isn't in the downloaded picture.

But why is Belize divided into two parts in the map? Why is there another dashed line inside of Belize? Why is the southern part in pale grey and the northern part in darker grey like other countries?

Is the pale grey part claimed by Guatemala? Or is the inside-dashed-line showing a dispute between Belize and Mexico?

I couldn't find any maps of Belize depicting that partition. The only map I found was from the Wikipedia article for Belize; but in that the dashed line is a road that goes through the Capital city of Belmopan instead of being a border:

Belize2

In all other maps (like this from Google Maps) the only dashed-line borders are the western and southern borders (and the inside dotted lines are just depicting borders of the provinces and they don't look like the dashed line in the Wikipedia map):

Belize3

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  • 1
    This is a question for whoever created the image.
    – Rick Smith
    Oct 22, 2023 at 14:50
  • 4
    IIRC the red dots on wiki maps are often added on top using JavaScript
    – Sam Dean
    Oct 23, 2023 at 8:31

2 Answers 2

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&tldr; There is a territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize pending at the International Court of Justice. Whether the map in question shows the territory claimed correctly is contentious.


If you go to the page of the file on Wikimedia Commons, you will find a revision list. The second entry, an edit to the map by user Janitoalevic has the comment

Added disputed territory

and you can see he added the dotted lines.

It took me a bit of prodding around, but then I found this author had also produced the file Disputed territory between Belize and Guatemala. It shows two parts, "Not disputed Belizean territory" and "Administered by Belize, claimed by Guatemala" and has the description

English: Map showing the disputed territory between Belize and the Republic of Guatemala.

Later on that page, there is a warning notice:

The factual accuracy of this map or the file name is disputed.
Reason: The border in this map seems to be based on the George Price Highway rather than the Sibun River.

Looking further, the map is used on an archived discussion page called Wikipedia:Graphics Lab/Map workshop/Archive/Feb 2018. The form and content of the map were discussed there, and, heureka!, there the political reason for the whole thing is mentioned:

..This map also has an issue in that the disputed territory marked on this map doesn't match the district boundaries within Belize, and also doesn't match the disputed boundary points on the Natural Earth Data. I'd be more comfortable with editing/combining this map if the disputed territory map linked to an official source for the location of the dispute boundary. This map suggests that a road might border the disputed territory (probably George Price Highway, as seen in these maps, but it doesn't extend to the land edge); it'd be useful to know if that were indeed the case...

No, the underlying request is reasonable (and important)...I've created a location map for Belizean–Guatemalan territorial dispute with conventional colours.

Guatemala has historically stated a claim on the complete territory of Belize, but relaxed that to about half of it in 1999.

Since Belize's independence, the border dispute has been quieter. In the early 1990s, Guatemala recognised the independence of Belize. However, in 1999, Guatemala shifted its stance back to inheriting claims from the Spanish Empire and the Federal Republic of Central America. Guatemala and Belize both stationed troops at the border, with a 1 km "adjacency zone" drawn on either side of the 1859 treaty borders. In 2008, Guatemala and Belize made a pact to have simultaneous referendums for their voters to send the issue to the International Court of Justice. The referendums passed in both countries by May 2019. As of June 2022, both countries are now settling the dispute at the International Court of Justice, with both countries confirmed to have submitted their initial briefs to the organisation. Even with these collective efforts, since 2000, the border ambiguity has led to two Guatemalans being shot and killed by Belizean forces for alleged encroachment of the border.

On 18 October 1999, Guatemala's Foreign Minister sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Belize, Said Musa, reasserting Guatemala's claim. As a new line of reasoning for their claim (instead of basing it on the 1859 treaty), Guatemala asserted that it had inherited Spain's 1494 and 18th century claims on Belize and was owed more than half of Belize's land mass, from the Sibun River south:

The Government of Guatemala contends that the territory which belonged to the Federal Republic of Central America and, by succession, to the Republic of Guatemala, specifically the area from the Sibun River to the Sarstoon River, which is an integral part of the Province of Verapaz, must be returned to Guatemala.

So it seems there should be a map showing where the current claims of Guatemaly on Belize territory ends, but the only one produced for the use on Wikipedia might be wrong.


"the area from the Sibun River to the Sarstoon River" is a description that seriously lacks in precision. The headwaters of the Sibun river are in the middle of Belize, and no mention is made where a westward border should go from there. As for the "Province of Verapaz" mentioned, the Spanish Captaincy General of Guatemala had a province of that name until Spanish rule ended in 1821. A 2011 presentation by the Guatemaltecan Foreign Ministry contains on p. 9 the (very bad) reproduction of a map showing the provinces. I think I found a better reproduction here, with the Province of Verapaz in the center in green:

enter image description here

But at the end of that presentation, the territorial demands are all made on the basis of written historical accounts and no "final" map is forthcoming. Only a map showing Guatemala and Belize in the same color, with the inscription "Unresolved territorial differences" on Belizean territory is presented.

enter image description here

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  • So Guatemala wants the part that contains Belmopan! Oct 22, 2023 at 17:04
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    The map apparently appeared before in the Economist in 2018, well before that wiki guy made the change in 2022. So that wiki editor didn't invent it out of whole cloth. But I'm not entirely sure how The Economist came up with that map. Their article doesn't exactly explain neither the map nor the 53%. And the UK is generally biased towards Belize, so who knows... Oct 22, 2023 at 17:22
  • Yeah, it's probably based on the 18 October 1999 demand by the Guatemalan FM, although I've been unable to find out if that's [exactly] also what they demanded at the ICJ, more recently. Oct 22, 2023 at 17:41
  • 1
    @Fizz ...and since the Sibun river does not reach the 1859 border, the demand itself is highly unclear.
    – ccprog
    Oct 22, 2023 at 17:48
  • "The area from the Sibun River to the Sarstoon River". There is a similar statement (more a propaganda) that anti-Israels tell about Israelis: "They want the area between the Nile River to the Euphrates River." Oct 23, 2023 at 13:54
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There's changelog for that that says (in 2022) "Added disputed territory". Guatemala has a border dispute with Belize, but I'm not sure exactly what that entails. TLDR.

There are some other maps on the net that claim the dispute is along that line.

enter image description here

But I would take these with a grain of salt because other pages say that Guatemala claims the entirety of the Belize territory, with corresponding maps showing

Belize “erased” in map made in Guatemala".

These maps were created by the Guatemalan government as part of their “education campaign” campaign prior to the ICJ Referendum. All of the maps were to be included in all classroom textbooks starting in the fall of 2018.

So the extract extent of the dispute is in dispute on the internets, ha ha.


I managed to find the reason for that particular line. The Economist has a 2018 article:

IT SOUNDS like an outrageous act of provocation. In a referendum on April 15th, Guatemalan voters chose to file a claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) demanding sovereignty over 53% of Belize, their eastern neighbour.

enter image description here

So it looks like in more recent times, they've narrowed down the demands, although that piece in The Economist doesn't exactly explain either the "53%" or the exact map they used.

Yeah, it's probably based on the 18 October 1999 demand by the Guatemalan FM, although I've been unable to find out if that's exactly also what they demanded at the ICJ, more recently, after Belize accepted to have the case adjudicated there. But given the date of The Economist piece, it looks like they assumed Guatemala's standing demand was the 1999 letter (which is quoted in accepted answer.).

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    Looks like the border corresponds to the one of the Federal Republic of Central America which might have had more Spanish (as opposed to British) influence historically, judging from place names? (Caveat: I am clueless about this dispute and might be completely wrong).
    – gerrit
    Oct 23, 2023 at 7:35

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