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Belize and Belice: What’s in a name?

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2019. 11:32 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: This week controversy erupted over the latest use of a name some Belizeans refuse to recognize: Belice.

It is, effectively, the Spanish translation of Belize, the way Estados Unidos translates from the United States or Inglaterra from England.

Countries with Spanish-speaking populations conquered by Spain typically carry Spanish names – Mexico (pronounced Meh-hee-co with an accent on the ‘e’ there) or El Salvador (Spanish for ‘The Saviour’, i.e. Jesus Christ).

Of course, Belize wasn’t Belize until June 1, 1973, when then-Premier George Price decided on the change from British Honduras.

But “Belize” has a complicated and strange history with several theories of how the name came to be.

Whether you accept that it was a Scottish colonist named Peter Wallace who became the first settler on the Belize River and gave his bastardized name to Belize, or the Maya pronunciation which translates to “muddy waters”, the name was in use to describe the settlement until it became a Crown Colony in 1821.

With the name change in 1973, organizations that recognize Spanish as an official language started to refer to Belize as ‘Belice’, such as the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS).

But Belizeans most strongly object to any such reference by Guatemala, which has claimed Belize since its own independence and after referenda last year and this year, formally lodged a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Guatemala’s infamous ‘Belice es nuestro’ mantra is now outdated, Carlos Amador of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial (CACIF) Associations in Guatemala told journalists last year during a sponsored visit, but noted that until the dispute is settled, it regards the border as open, hence a dotted line where the straight line of the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty places the boundary.


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