2019 Belizean territorial dispute referendum

Belize International Court of Justice 2018 Guatemalan territorial dispute referendum
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Belizean territorial dispute referendum, 2019
Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?
Location Belize
Date8 May 2019
Votes %
Yes 53,388 55.37%
No 43,029 44.63%
Valid votes 96,417 99.28%
Invalid or blank votes 702 0.72%
Total votes 97,119 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 148,500 65.4%

A referendum on the territorial dispute with Guatemala was held in Belize on 8 May 2019.[1] Voters were asked whether the territorial dispute with neighbouring Guatemala should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

The vote had originally been scheduled for 10 April but was delayed by a legal challenge.[2][3] When it took place, the proposal was approved by 55% of voters.


A commitment to take the Belizean–Guatemalan territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice was signed by the countries' governments in December 2008. A referendum was held in Guatemala on the proposal on 15 April 2018. As required by previous agreements, a referendum was required to be held in Belize within six months.[4][5] Guatemalan Vice President Jafeth Cabrera stated that the Belizean vote would be held in May 2018, but the Belizean government released a statement denying the claim and stated that the referendum would be held after a voter re-registration process has occurred to ensure an accurate and fair vote.[6]


The referendum was challenged in court by the opposition People's United Party (PUP) on the grounds that it was based on the 2008 Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala, which might lead to territorial changes that were inconsistent with Belize's constitution. That led to an injunction being issued by the Supreme Court, delaying the referendum.[7] Following the issuing of the injunction, the Belizean government introduced legislation that it believed would address the injunction.[8] However, the PUP claimed that an amendment to the constitution, requiring a two-thirds majority vote, was needed before the referendum could be held.[9]

The Belizean government's new referendum legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on 12 April 2019, and by the Senate on 15 April.[10][11] The PUP objected to the new referendum bill on the grounds that it was based on the 2008 Special Agreement, which was still the subject of the court proceedings under which the injunction delaying the referendum was issued. PUP attorney Kareem Musa stated that the PUP would have supported a referendum based on the pre-existing referendum legislation, which did reference the 2008 Special Agreement.[12]

The European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a joint declaration, dated 11 April 2019, urging the Belizean government to hold a vote as soon as possible.[13] Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales also urged the government to hold the referendum quickly. Meanwhile, Morales sparked controversy by drawing Belize as part of Guatemala during a visit to a school.[14] On 15 April 2019, Guatemalan gunboats also prevented the Belizean coast guard from patrolling the Sarstoon River on the border between the two countries.[15]

On 15 April 2019, the Belizean government asked for the injunction to be set aside in light of the 10 April deadline for holding the referendum and introducing a new referendum bill had passed. The court refused to set aside the injunction before the substantive hearing,[16] and set the hearing for 29 April.[17]


Choice Votes %
Yes 53,388 55.37
No 43,029 44.63
Invalid/blank 702
Total 97,119 100
Registered voters/turnout 148,500 65.40
Source: Elections & Boundaries Department
Vote share

See also


  1. ^ Government announces new referendum date Breaking Belize News, 18 April 2019
  2. ^ "The Impact of the Delayed I.C.J. Referendum". Channel 5 Belize. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. ^ Belice define fecha para la consulta popular sobre el diferendo territorial Prensa Libre, 30 April 2018
  4. ^ "Guatemala avalará en las urnas el 15 de abril diferendo con Belice". Prensa-latina.cu. Retrieved 2018-04-15.
  5. ^ "Guatemaltecos irán a las urnas en 2018 por el referéndum con Belice | Publinews". Publinews.gt. Retrieved 2018-04-15.
  6. ^ "Belize Government rejects referendum date by Guatemala's Vice President". Belize News and Opinion on www.breakingbelizenews.com. 2018-04-16. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  7. ^ Cayetano, Isani (9 April 2019). "PM Barrow Dismisses Idea of a Mutual Decision to Delay I.C.J. Referendum". Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  8. ^ "P.U.P. Demands Order Papers for Friday's House Meeting". Channel 5 Belize. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  9. ^ "New Legislation to be Passed, but No New Referendum Date as Yet". Channel 5 Belize. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  10. ^ Ali, Marion (13 April 2019). "Emotions Ran High During Debate Over ICJ Referendum". Reporter. Archived from the original on 5 September 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  11. ^ Sanchez, Jose. "Senate passes Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill, 2019". Love FM. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  12. ^ "New Referendum Bill a concern for the PUP". Breaking Belize News. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  13. ^ Ramo, Wellington C. "ICJ referendum in Belize: Joint statement from EU, UK and US". Caribbean News Now. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  14. ^ "President Morales of Guatemala calls on Belize to conduct ICJ Referendum". Breaking Belize News. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  15. ^ "Guatemalan navy gunboats block Belize Coast Guard from accessing the Sarstoon river". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  16. ^ "ICJ Referendum Injunction Courtroom Drama Continues". Reporter. Archived from the original on 1 May 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Guatemalan navy gunboats block Belize Coast Guard from accessing the Sarstoon river". Retrieved 16 April 2019.