Belize (known as British Honduras till 1973) lies on the Caribbean coast of Central America, with Mexico on its north-west, and Guatemala to south-west. The country stretches about 280 km from north to south, with a greatest width of 109 km. The climate is subtropical, tempered by trade winds. Temperatures in coastal districts range from 10-35°C; inland the range is greater. Rainfall varies from an average of 1,295 mm in the north to 4,445 mm in the extreme south. The dry season usually extends from February to May, and there is sometimes a dry spell in August.
People & Languages
The population is 300,000. The country is a melting pot of many races, and over the years the multi-racial make-up has expanded through the influx of many people of Central America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. The main ethnic groups are: Mestizo, Creole, Ketchi, Yucatec and Mopan Mayas, Garifuna and (East) Indians.
English is the official language. However, English Creole is widely spoken. Spanish is also common and is taught in schools. In the south, there are people whose first language is Garifuna or Maya.
Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Mayans, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between 250AD and 900AD. Its decline left behind small groups whose descendants still exist in Belize, contributing to the culturally diverse population. The first reference to European settlement here was in 1638. These were later augmented by disbanded British soldiers and sailors after the capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. In 1763 Spain, with the Treaty of Paris, allowed the British settlers to engage in the logwood industry here. The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 reaffirmed those boundaries, and logwood concession was extended by the Convention of London in 1786. The decisive victory against the Spanish was won by the settlers, with British naval support, in the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798. After that, British control over the settlement gradually increased, and in 1871 British Honduras was formally declared a British Colony, with the Crown Colony System of Government introduced. The Legislative Assembly was replaced by a nominated Legislative Council, presided over by a Lieutenant Governor. The administrative connection with Jamaica was severed in 1884, with the appointment of a Governor. Further constitutional advances came in 1954 with the introduction of universal adult suffrage. The Ministerial System was adopted in 1961 leading up to Self Government in 1964. The country's name was changed to Belize on 1st June 1973. Independence was achieved on 21 September 1981, along with a new constitution.
The governance of Belize is on the Westminster style of parliamentary democracy. The British Queen remains the constitutional Head of State, represented in Belize by the Governor-General, who must be a Belizean. A Prime Minister and Cabinet make up the Executive, while a 31-member elected House of Representatives and a 12-member appointed Senate form the bicameral Legislature. The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are normally appointed from among non-members.
General Elections are held at intervals of not longer than five years. The voting age is 18. The most recent elections took place in November 2015. The United Democratic Party (UDP) won 19 seats in the House of Representatives; the remaining 12 were won by the People’s United Party (PUP).
Administrative Units & Major Cities
Belize is divided into six administrative districts: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. Each district town has a locally elected Town Council. A Village Council Act (2003) was enacted to establish the Village Councils. The capital city of Belmopan, often termed as the ‘Garden City', is the seat of Government. With an estimated population of 11,100, it is located well inland and was created following extensive damage to the former capital, Belize City, by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Belmopan also serves as a hurricane refuge for Belizeans and has the largest number of hurricane shelters in the country. Belize City, some 80 km northeast, is the hub of commercial activity, and one of the most urbanized centres of Belize, with an estimated population of 78,000.
Belize is a small, open, essentially a private enterprise economy, based on abundance of land, forest and water resources, and characterized by its proximity to the US (which accounts for approximately 34% of imports and 31% of exports) and historically close ties to the UK (6% of imports and 30% of exports). Belize is assisted in its development through economic cooperation programmes offered by the US, UK, Canada, Taiwan, and loans from the Caribbean Development Banks. From being largely an agricultural economy, Belize has evolved into an economy dominated by the services sector which constitutes 64% of the GDP. Agriculture, including forestry and fishing, still provides majority of the country's total foreign exchange earnings and employs about 1/3rd of the labour force despite its comparatively modest contribution to the GDP. Industry is yet to develop into a major component of the economy. The main industries are sugar and food (citrus, fisheries and bananas). Sugar is the main export and accounts for more than 33.4% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Tourism is another main pillar of the economy.
Belize has 14 overseas missions (including in Taiwan), and 12 resident Missions in the country. Belize is a member of the United Nations, the Nonaligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, the Association of Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), among others.
Prime Minister of Belize
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Directorate of Foreign Trade
Ministry of Public Finance
The National Assembly
Supreme Court of Belize
Belize Trade and Investment Development Service
Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture
Belize Tourism Board