Belize (/bÉËliËz/) is a country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is the only country in Central America whose official language is English, though Belizean Creole (Kriol) and Spanish are also commonly spoken. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Its mainland is about 290Â km (180Â mi) long and 110Â km (68Â mi) wide.
With 22,800 square kilometres (8,800Â sqÂ mi) of land and as of 2014 a population of 340,844, Belize has the lowest population density in Central America. The country's population growth rate of 1.97% per year (2013) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.
Belize's abundance of terrestrial and marine species and its diversity of ecosystems give it a key place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. Originally part of the British Empire, it shares a common colonial history with other Anglophone Caribbean countries. From 1862 to 1973 the area went by the name of British Honduras. It became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1981, retaining Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
Belize is considered a Central American and Caribbean nation with strong ties to both the Latin American and Caribbean regions. It is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Central American Integration System (SICA), the only country to hold full membership in all three regional organisations.
Belize is known for its September Celebrations, and has long been a wide distributor of chicle gum and punta music.
The origin of the name Belize is unclear, but the earliest record of the name is found in the journal of the Dominican priest Fray JosÃ© Delgado, dating to 1677. Delgado recorded the names of three major rivers that he crossed while travelling north along the Caribbean coast: Rio Soyte, Rio Xibum, and Rio Balis. These names, which correspond to the Sittee River, Sibun River and Belize River, were provided to Delgado by his translator. It is likely that Delgado's "Balis" was actually the Mayan word belix (or beliz), meaning "muddy-watered".
Others have suggested that the name is derived from a Spanish pronunciation of the name of the Scottish buccaneer Peter Wallace, which was applied to an early settlement at the mouth of the Belize River, although there is no proof that Wallace actually settled in the area and some have characterised this claim as a myth. Several other possible etymologies have been suggested by writers and historians, including French and African origins.
The Maya civilization emerged at least three millennia ago in the lowland area of the YucatÃ¡n Peninsula and the highlands to the south, in what is now southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and western Honduras. Many aspects of this culture persist in the area despite nearly 500 years of European domination. Prior to about 2500 BC, some hunting and foraging bands settled in small farming villages; they later domesticated crops such as corn, beans, squash, and chili peppers.
A profusion of languages and subcultures developed within the Maya core culture. Between about 2500 BC and 250 AD, the basic institutions of Maya civilisation emerged. The peak of this civilisation occurred during the classic period, which began about 250 AD.
The Maya civilization spread across what is now Belize around 1500 BC, and flourished there until about 900 AD. The recorded history of the middle and southern regions is dominated by Caracol, an urban political centre that may have supported over 140,000 people. North of the Maya Mountains, the most important political centre was Lamanai. In the late Classic Era of Maya civilisation (600â"1000 AD), as many as 1 million people may have lived in the area that is now Belize.
When Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century, the area that is now Belize included three distinct Maya territories: Chetumal province, which encompassed the area around Corozal Bay; Dzuluinicob province, which encompassed the area between the New River and the Sibun River, west to Tipu; and a southern territory controlled by the Manche Ch'ol Maya, encompassing the area between the Monkey River and the Sarstoon River.
Conquest and early colonial period (1506â"1862)
Spanish conquistadors explored the land and declared it a Spanish colony but chose not to settle because of its lack of resources like gold and the strong defence of the YucatÃ¡n by the Mayans. English and Scottish settlers and pirates known as the Baymen entered the area in the 17th and 18th century respectively and established a logwood trade colony, slave economy and port in what became the Belize District.
Baymen first settled on the coast of what is now Belize in 1638, seeking a sheltered region from which they could attack Spanish ships (see English settlement in Belize). The settlers turned to cutting logwood during the 18th century, establishing a system of slave labour using black slaves. The wood yielded a fixing agent for clothing dyes that was vital to the European wool industry. The Spanish granted the British settlers the right to occupy the area and cut logwood in exchange for an end to piracy.
The British first appointed a superintendent over the Belize area in 1786. Before then the British government had not recognised the settlement as a colony for fear of provoking a Spanish attack. The delay in government oversight allowed the settlers to establish their own laws and forms of government. During this period, a few wealthy settlers gained control of the local legislature, known as the Public Meeting, as well as of most of the settlement's land and timber.
The Battle of St. George's Caye was a 1798 military engagement off the coast of Belize between a Spanish invading force from what would become Mexico, attempting to capture the Baymen-controlled territory for Spain from a small force of Baymen and their Black slaves.
Spain's last attempt occurred on September 10, 1798, when the Baymen and their black slaves repelled the Spanish fleet in a short engagement with no known casualties on either side. The anniversary of the battle is a national holiday in Belize and is celebrated by some Belizeans to commemorate the "first Belizeans" and the defense of their territory.
As part of the British Empire (1862â"1981)
In the early 19th century, the British sought greater control over the settlers, threatening to suspend the Public Meeting unless it observed the government's instructions to eliminate slavery in whole. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1838, but this did little to change working conditions for labourers in the Belize settlement.
Slaves of the colony were valued for their potentially superior abilities in the work of mahogany extraction. As a result, former slave owners in British Honduras earned Â£53.69 on average per slave, the highest amount paid in any British territory.
Soon after, a series of institutions were put in place to ensure the continued presence of a viable labour force. Some of these greatly restricted the ability of individuals to obtain land, in a debt-peonage system to organise the newly "free". The position of being "extra special" mahogany and logwood cutters undergirded the early ascriptions of the capacities (and consequently the limitations) of people of African descent in the colony. Because a small elite controlled the settlement's land and commerce, former slaves had no choice but to continue to work in timber cutting.
In 1836, after the emancipation of Central America from Spanish rule, the British claimed the right to administer the region. In 1862, Great Britain formally declared it a British Crown Colony, subordinate to Jamaica, and named it British Honduras.
As a colony, Belize began to attract British investors. Among the British firms that dominated the colony in the late 19th century was the Belize Estate and Produce Company, which eventually acquired half of all the privately held land in the colony. Belize Estate's influence accounts in part for the colony's reliance on the mahogany trade throughout the rest of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a near-collapse of the colonial economy as British demand for timber plummeted. The effects of widespread unemployment were worsened by a devastating hurricane that struck the colony in 1931. Perceptions of the government's relief effort as inadequate were aggravated by its refusal to legalise labour unions or introduce a minimum wage. Economic conditions improved during World War II as many Belizean men entered the armed forces or otherwise contributed to the war effort.
Following the war, the colony's economy again stagnated because of the pressures caused by its damaging effect. Britain's decision to devalue the British Honduras dollar in 1949 worsened economic conditions and led to the creation of the People's Committee, which demanded independence. The People's Committee's successor, the People's United Party (PUP), sought constitutional reforms that expanded voting rights to all adults. The first election under universal suffrage was held in 1954 and was decisively won by the PUP, beginning a three-decade period in which the PUP dominated the country's politics. Pro-independence activist George Cadle Price became PUP leader in 1956 and the effective head of government in 1961, a post he would hold under various titles until 1984.
Under a new constitution Britain granted British Honduras self-government in 1964. On June 1, 1973 British Honduras was officially renamed Belize. Progress toward independence, however, was hampered by a Guatemalan claim to sovereignty over Belizean territory.
Independence (since 1981)
While Belize finally attained independence on September 21, 1981, about 1,500 British troops remained in Belize, the declared purpose being to provide protection from a Guatemalan threat. To forestall any possible incursions the British had previously stationed a detachment of Royal Air Force (RAF) VTOL Hawker Siddeley Harriers in the territory in 1975, and again in 1977, as a deterrent. Guatemala refused to recognise the new nation because of its longstanding territorial dispute with the British until 1991.
With Price at the helm, the PUP won all national elections until 1984. In that election, the first national election after independence, the PUP was defeated by the United Democratic Party (UDP). UDP leader Manuel Esquivel replaced Price as prime minister, with Price himself unexpectedly losing his own House seat to a UDP challenger. The PUP under Price returned to power after elections in 1989. Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano ElÃas formally recognised Belize's independence in 1991. The following year the United Kingdom announced that it would end its military involvement in Belize, and the RAF Harrier detachment was withdrawn the same year, having remained stationed in the country continuously since its deployment had become permanent there in 1980. British soldiers were withdrawn in 1994, but the United Kingdom left behind a military training unit to assist with the newly created Belize Defence Force.
The UDP regained power in the 1993 national election, and Esquivel became prime minister for a second time. Soon afterwards Esquivel announced the suspension of a pact reached with Guatemala during Price's tenure, claiming Price had made too many concessions to gain Guatemalan recognition. The pact may have curtailed the 130-year-old border dispute between the two countries. Border tensions continued into the early 2000s, although the two countries cooperated in other areas.
The PUP won a landslide victory in the 1998 national elections, and PUP leader Said Musa was sworn in as prime minister. In the 2003 elections the PUP maintained its majority, and Musa continued as prime minister. He pledged to improve conditions in the underdeveloped and largely inaccessible southern part of Belize.
In 2005, Belize was the site of unrest caused by discontent with the PUP government, including tax increases in the national budget. On February 8, 2008, Dean Barrow was sworn in as prime minister after his UDP won a landslide victory in general elections. Barrow and the UDP were re-elected in 2012 with a considerably smaller majority.
Throughout Belize's history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of all or part of Belizean territory. This claim is occasionally reflected in maps showing Belize as Guatemala's twenty-third department. As of June 2015, the border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious. Guatemala's claim to Belizean territory rests, in part, on Clause VII of the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859, which obligated the British to build a road between Belize City and Guatemala. At various times the issue has required mediation by the United Kingdom, Caribbean Community heads of government, the Organization of American States (OAS), Mexico, and the United States. Notably, both Guatemala and Belize participate in confidence-building measures approved by the OAS such as the Guatemala-Belize Language Exchange Project.
Government and politics
Belize is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The structure of government is based on the British parliamentary system, and the legal system is modelled on the common law of England. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title Queen of Belize. Since the Queen resides in the United Kingdom, she is represented in Belize by the Governor-General. However, the cabinet, led by the Prime Minister of Belize, who is head of government, acting as advisers to the Governor-General, in practice exercise executive authority. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrent with their cabinet positions.
The bicameral National Assembly of Belize is composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 31 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum five-year term and introduce legislation affecting the development of Belize. The Governor-General appoints the 12 members of the Senate, with a Senate president selected by the members. The Senate is responsible for debating and approving bills passed by the House.
Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Belize. Constitutional safeguards include freedom of speech, press, worship, movement, and association. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magistrates grouped under the Magistrates' Court, which hears less serious cases. The Supreme Court (Chief Justice) hears murder and similarly serious cases, and the Court of Appeal, hears appeals from convicted individuals seeking to have their sentences overturned. Defendants may, under certain circumstances, appeal their cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Since 1974 the party system in Belize has been dominated by the centre-left People's United Party and the centre-right United Democratic Party, although there have been other small parties that have participated at all levels of elections in the past. Though none of these small political parties have ever won any significant number of seats and/or offices, their challenge has been growing over the years.
Belize is a full participating member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, Organization of American States (OAS), Central American Integration System (SICA), Caribbean Community (CARICOM), CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which currently pertains only to Barbados, Belize and Guyana. In 2001 the Caribbean Community heads of government voted on a measure declaring that the region should work towards replacing the UK's Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is still in the process of acceding to CARICOM and SICA treaties, including trade and single market treaties.
Belize is an original member (1995) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and participates actively in its work. The pact involves the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) subgroup of the Group of African, Caribbean, and Pacific states (ACP). CARIFORUM presently the only part of the wider ACP-bloc that has concluded the full regional trade-pact with the European Union.
The Belize Defence Force (BDF) serves as the country's military and is responsible for protecting the sovereignty of Belize. The BDF, with the Belize National Coast Guard and the Immigration Department, is a department of the Ministry of Defence and Immigration. In 1997 the regular army numbered over 900, the reserve army 381, the air wing 45 and the maritime wing 36, amounting to an overall strength of approximately 1400. In 2005, the maritime wing became part of the Belizean Coast Guard. In 2012, the Belizean government spent about $17 million on the military, constituting 1.08% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
After Belize achieved independence in 1981 the United Kingdom maintained a deterrent force (British Forces Belize) in the country to protect it from invasion by Guatemala (see Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory). During the 1980s this included a battalion and No. 1417 Flight RAF of Harriers. The main British force left in 1994, three years after Guatemala recognised Belizean independence, but the United Kingdom maintained a training presence via the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) and 25 Flight AAC until 2011 when the last British Forces left Ladyville Barracks, with the exception of seconded advisers.
Belize is divided into six districts, shown below with their areas (in km2) and populations at the 2010 Census:
These districts are further divided into 31 constituencies. Local government in Belize comprises four types of local authorities: city councils, town councils, village councils and community councils. The two city councils (Belize City and Belmopan) and seven town councils cover the urban population of the country, while village and community councils cover the rural population.
Belize is on the Caribbean coast of northern Central America. It shares a border on the north with the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on the west with the Guatemalan department of PetÃ©n, and on the south with the Guatemalan department of Izabal. To the east in the Caribbean Sea, the second-longest barrier reef in the world flanks much of the 386 kilometres (240Â mi) of predominantly marshy coastline. The area of the country totals 22,960 square kilometres (8,865Â sqÂ mi), an area slightly larger than El Salvador, Israel, Massachusetts or Wales. The many lagoons along the coasts and in the northern interior reduces the actual land area to 21,400 square kilometres (8,263Â sqÂ mi).
Belize is shaped like a rectangle that extends about 280 kilometres (174Â mi) north-south and about 100 kilometres (62Â mi) east-west, with a total land boundary length of 516 kilometres (321Â mi). The undulating courses of two rivers, the Hondo and the Sarstoon River, define much of the course of the country's northern and southern boundaries. The western border follows no natural features and runs north-south through lowland forest and highland plateau.
The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. The flora is highly diverse considering the small geographical area. The south contains the low mountain range of the Maya Mountains. The highest point in Belize is Doyle's Delight at 1,124Â m (3,688Â ft).
Belize's rugged geography has also made the country's coastline and jungle attractive to drug smugglers, who use the country as a gateway into Mexico. In 2011, the United States added Belize to the list of nations considered major drug producers or transit countries for narcotics.
Environment preservation and biodiversity
Belize is a country with a rich variety of wildlife, because of its unique position between both North and South America, and a wide range of climates and habitats for plant and animal life. Belize's low human population and approximately 22,970 square kilometres (8,867Â sqÂ mi) of undistributed land makes for an ideal home for the more than 5,000 species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals, including armadillos, snakes, and monkeys.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a nature reserve in south-central Belize established to protect the forests, fauna and watersheds of an approximately 400 square kilometre area of the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains. The reserve was founded in 1990 as the first wilderness sanctuary for the jaguar and is regarded by one author as the premier site for jaguar preservation in the world.
Vegetation and flora
While over 60% of Belize's land surface is covered by forest, some 20% of the country's land is covered by cultivated land (agriculture) and human settlements. Savannah, scrubland and wetland constitute the remainder of Belize's land cover. Important mangrove ecosystems are also represented across Belize's landscape. As a part of the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that stretches from southern Mexico to Panama, Belize's biodiversity â" both marine and terrestrial â" is rich, with abundant flora and fauna.
Belize is also a leader in protecting biodiversity and natural resources. As of July 2010 the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations of Belize (APAMO) reported that 36% of Belize's land territory falls under some form of official protected status, giving Belize one of the most extensive systems of terrestrial protected areas in the Americas.
By contrast, Costa Rica only has 25.8% of its land territory protected. Around 13% of Belize's territorial waters, which contain the Belize Barrier Reef, are also protected. The Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Site and is the second-largest barrier reef in the world, behind Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
A remote sensing study conducted by the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) and NASA, in collaboration with the Forest Department and the Land Information Centre (LIC) of the government of Belize's Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE), and published in August 2010 revealed that Belize's forest cover in early 2010 was approximately 62.7%, down from 75.9% in late 1980. A similar study by Belize Tropical Forest Studies and Conservation International revealed similar trends in terms of Belize's forest cover. Both studies indicate that each year, 0.6% of Belize's forest cover is lost, translating to the clearing of an average of 24,835 acres (10,050Â ha) each year. The USAID-supported ERVIR study by CATHALAC, NASA, and the MNRE also showed that Belize's protected areas have been extremely effective in protecting the country's forests. While only some 6.4% of forests inside of legally declared protected areas were cleared between 1980 and 2010, over a quarter of forests outside of protected areas were lost between 1980 and 2010.
As a country with a relatively high forest cover and a low deforestation rate, Belize has significant potential for participation in initiatives such as REDD. Significantly, the SERVIR study on Belize's deforestation was also recognised by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), of which Belize is a member nation.
Geology, mineral potential, and energy
Belize is known to have a number of economically important minerals, but none in quantities large enough to warrant mining. These minerals include dolomite, barite (source of barium), bauxite (source of aluminium), cassiterite (source of tin), and gold. In 1990 limestone, used in road-building, was the only mineral resource being exploited for either domestic or export use.
The similarity of Belizean geology to that of oil-producing areas of Mexico and Guatemala prompted oil companies, principally from the United States, to explore for petroleum at both offshore and on-land sites in the early 1980s. Initial results were promising, but the pace of exploration slowed later in the decade, and production operations halted. As a result, Belize depends almost totally on imported petroleum for its energy needs.
In 2006, the cultivation of newly discovered crude oil in the town of Spanish Lookout has presented new prospects and problems for this developing nation. The country also has considerable potential for hydroelectric and other renewable energy resources, such as solar and biomass. In the mid-1980s, one Belizean businessman even proposed the construction of a wood-burning power station for the production of electricity, but the idea foundered in the wake of ecological and economic concerns.
Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 metres (980Â ft) offshore in the north and 40 kilometres (25Â mi) in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 kilometres (190Â mi) long section of the 900 kilometres (560Â mi) long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from CancÃºn on the northeast tip of the YucatÃ¡n Peninsula through the Riviera Maya up to Honduras making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the New Caledonia Barrier Reef.
It is Belize's top tourist destination, popular for scuba diving and snorkelling, and attracting almost half of its 260,000 visitors. It is also vital to its fishing industry. In 1842 Charles Darwin described it as "the most remarkable reef in the West Indies".
The Belize Barrier Reef is home to a large diversity of plants and animals, and is one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world:
- 70 hard coral species
- 36 soft coral species
- 500 species of fish
- hundreds of invertebrate species
With 90% of the reef still to be researched, some estimate that only 10% of all species have been discovered.
World Heritage Site status
Many countries interested in the conservation and protection of natural and cultural heritage sites of the world accede to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage that was adopted by UNESCO in 1972. In 1996 the Reserve System was designated a World Heritage Site because of its vulnerability and the fact that it contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biodiversity (according to criteria VII, IX, and X).
Belize also became the first country in the world to completely ban bottom trawling in December 2010.
Despite these protective measures, the reef is under threat from oceanic pollution as well as uncontrolled tourism, shipping, and fishing. The main threats are hurricanes, along with global warming and the resulting increase in ocean temperatures, which cause coral bleaching. It is claimed by scientists that over 40% of Belize's coral reef has been damaged since 1998.
Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24Â Â°C (75.2Â Â°F) in January to 27Â Â°C (80.6Â Â°F) in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.
Average rainfall varies considerably, from 1,350Â mm (53.1Â in) in the north and west to over 4,500Â mm (177.2Â in) in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, less than 100Â mm (3.9Â in) of rainfall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry", usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.
Hurricanes have played keyâ"and devastatingâ"roles in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet levelled the northern town of Corozal. Only six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300Â km/h (186Â mph) and 4Â m (13.1Â ft) storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some 80 kilometres (50Â mi) inland to the planned city of Belmopan.
In 1978 Hurricane Greta caused more than US$25Â million in damages along the southern coast. On October 9, 2001, Hurricane Iris made landfall at Monkey River Town as a 233Â km/h (145Â mph) Category Four storm. The storm demolished most of the homes in the village, and destroyed the banana crop. In 2007 Hurricane Dean made landfall as a Category 5 storm only 40Â km (25Â mi) north of the Belizeâ"Mexico border. Dean caused extensive damage in northern Belize.
The most recent hurricane to affect Belize directly was the Category 2 Hurricane Richard, making landfall approximately 32Â km (20Â mi) south-southeast of Belize City at around 00:45 UTC on October 25, 2010. The storm moved inland towards Belmopan, causing estimated damage of BZ$33.8Â million ($17.4Â million 2010Â USD), primarily from damage to crops and housing.
Belize has a small, mostly privatised enterprise economy that is based primarily on export of petroleum and crude oil, agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and construction recently assuming greater importance. It has yet to be seen if this will bring significant economic expansion. As of 2007, oil production was 3,000Â bbl/d (480Â m3/d) and as of 2006 oil exports were 1,960Â bbl/d (312Â m3/d). The country is also a producer of industrial minerals. In agriculture, sugar, like in colonial times, remains the chief crop, accounting for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the populations's largest employer.
The new government faces important challenges to economic stability. Rapid action to improve tax collection has been promised, but a lack of progress in reining in spending could bring the exchange rate under pressure. The tourist and construction sectors strengthened in early 1999, leading to a preliminary estimate of revived growth at 4%. Infrastructure remains a major economic development challenge; Belize has the region's most expensive electricity. Trade is important and the major trading partners are the United States, Mexico, the European Union, and Central America.
Belize has five commercial banks, of which the largest and oldest is Belize Bank. The other four banks are Heritage Bank, Atlantic Bank, FirstCaribbean International Bank, and Scotiabank (Belize). A robust complex of credit unions began in the 1940s under the leadership of Marion M. Ganey, S.J., and is a continuing resource for the betterment of the peoples across economic and cultural lines.
The largest integrated electric utility and the principal distributor in Belize is Belize Electricity Limited. BEL was approximately 70% owned by Fortis Inc., a Canadian investor-owned distribution utility, which represented less than 2% of Fortis assets. Fortis took over the management of BEL in 1999, at the invitation of the government of Belize in an attempt to mitigate prior financial problems within the locally managed utility. In addition to its regulated investment in BEL, Fortis owns Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL), a non-regulated hydroelectric generation business that operates three hydroelectric generating facilities on the Macal River.
On June 14, 2011, the government of Belize nationalised the majority ownership interest of Fortis Inc. in Belize Electricity Ltd. The Belize utility encountered serious financial problems after the country's Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in 2008 disallowed âthe recovery of previously incurred fuel and purchased power costs in customer rates and set customer rates at a level that does not allow BEL to earn a fair and reasonable returnâ, Fortis said in a June 2011 statement. BEL appealed this judgment to the Court of Appeal; however, a hearing is not expected until 2012. In May 2011, the Supreme Court of Belize granted BEL's application to prevent the PUC from taking any enforcement actions pending the appeal. The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a statement saying the government had acted in haste and expressed concern over the message it sent to investors.
In August 2009, the government of Belize nationalised Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), which now competes directly with Speednet. As a result of the nationalisation process, the interconnection agreements are again subject to negotiations. Both BTL and Speednet boast a full range of products and services including basic telephone services, national and international calls, prepaid services, cellular services via GSM 1900 megahertz (MHz) and 3G CDMA 2000 respectively, international cellular roaming, fixed wireless, dial-up and internet, high-speed DSL, internet service, and national and international data networks.
A combination of natural factorsâ"climate, the Belize Barrier Reef, over 450 offshore Cayes (islands), excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, scuba diving, and snorkelling, numerous rivers for rafting, and kayaking, various jungle and wildlife reserves of fauna and flora, for hiking, bird watching, and helicopter touring, as well as many Maya ruinsâ"support the thriving tourism and ecotourism industry. It also has the largest cave system in Central America.
Development costs are high, but the government of Belize has made tourism its second development priority after agriculture. In 2012, tourist arrivals totalled 917,869 (with about 584,683 from the United States) and tourist receipts amounted to over $1.3Â billion.
Belize's population was 324,528 in 2010. Belize's total fertility rate in 2009 was 3.6 children per woman. Its birth rate was 27.33 births/1,000 population, and the death rate was 5.8 deaths/1,000 population.
The Maya are thought to have been in Belize and the YucatÃ¡n region since the second millennium BC; however, much of Belize's original Maya population was wiped out by disease and conflicts between tribes and with Europeans. Three Maya groups now inhabit the country: The Yucatec (who came from YucatÃ¡n, Mexico, to escape the Caste War of the 1840s), the Mopan (indigenous to Belize but were forced out by the British; they returned from Guatemala to evade slavery in the 19th century), and Q'eqchi' (also fled from slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century). The later groups are chiefly found in the Toledo District.
Creoles, also known as Kriols, make up roughly 21% of the Belizean population and about 75% of the diaspora. They are descendants of the Baymen slave owners, and slaves brought to Belize for the purpose of the logging industry. These slaves were ultimately of West and Central African descent (many also of Miskito ancestry) from Nicaragua and born Africans who had spent very brief periods in Jamaica and Bermuda. Bay Islanders and ethnic Jamaicans came in the late 19th century, further adding to these already varied peoples, creating this ethnic group.
For all intents and purposes, Creole is an ethnic and linguistic denomination. Some natives, even those blonde and blue-eyed, may call themselves Creoles. The designation is more cultural than racial, and is not limited to some certain physical appearance.
Belize Creole English or Kriol developed during the time in slavery, and historically was only spoken by former slaves. However, this ethnicity has become synonymous with the Belizean identity, and as a result it is now spoken by about 75% of Belizeans. Belizean Creole is derived mainly from English. Its substrate languages are the Native American language Miskito, and the various West African and Bantu languages brought into the country by slaves. Creoles are found all over Belize, but predominantly in urban areas such as Belize City, coastal towns and villages, and in the Belize River Valley.
The Garinagu (singular Garifuna), at around 4.5% of the population, are a mix of West/Central African, Arawak, and Island Carib ancestry. Though they were captives removed from their homelands, these people were never documented as slaves. The two prevailing theories is that in 1635, they were either the survivors of two recorded shipwrecks, or somehow took over the ship they came on.
Throughout history they have been incorrectly labelled as Black Caribs. When the British took over Saint Vincent and the Grenadines after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, they were opposed by French settlers and their Garinagu allies. The Garinagu eventually surrendered to the British in 1796. The British separated the more African-looking Garifunas from the more indigenous-looking ones. 5,000 Garinagu were exiled from the Grenadine island of Baliceaux. However, only about 2,500 of them survived the voyage to RoatÃ¡n, an island off the coast of Honduras. The Garifuna language belongs to the Arawakan language family, but has a large number of loanwords from Carib languages and from English.
Because RoatÃ¡n was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garinagu petitioned the Spanish authorities of Honduras to be allowed to settle on the mainland coast. The Spanish employed them as soldiers, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America. The Garinagu settled in Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Punta Negra, Belize, by way of Honduras as early as 1802. However, in Belize November 19, 1832 is the date officially recognised as "Garifuna Settlement Day" in Dangriga.
According to one genetic study, their ancestry is on average 76% Sub Saharan African, 20% Arawak/Island Carib and 4% European.
The Mestizo culture originated from a mixture of mainly Spanish and Maya. The Mestizos are the largest ethnic group in Belize and make up approximately half of the population. The Mestizo towns centre on a main square, and social life focuses on the Catholic Church built on one side of it. Spanish is the main language of most Mestizos and Spanish descendants, but many speak English and Belize Kriol fluently. Due to the influence of Kriol and English languages many Mestizos speak what is known as "Kitchen Spanish".
Around the 1840s, Mestizo, Spanish, and Yucatec settlers from Mexico began to settle in the north because of the Caste War of YucatÃ¡n. They predominate in the Corozal, Orange Walk, and much of the Cayo district, as well as San Pedro town in Ambergris Caye.
Some 4% of the population are German-speaking Mennonite farmers and craftsmen. The vast majority are so-called Russian Mennonites of German descent who settled in the Russian Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most Russian Mennonites live in Mennonite settlements like Spanish Lookout, Shipyard, Little Belize, and Blue Creek. These Mennonites speak Plautdietsch (a German dialect) in everyday life, but use mostly Standard German for reading (the Bible) and writing. The Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites came mostly from Mexico in the years after 1958. There are also some mainly Pennsylvania German-speaking Old Order Mennonites who came from the United States and Canada in the late 1960s. They live primarily in Upper Barton Creek and associated settlements. These Mennonites attracted people from different Anabaptist backgrounds who formed a new community. They look quite similar to Old Order Amish, but are different from them.
The remaining 5% or so of the population consist of a mix of Indians, Chinese, whites from the United States and Canada, and many other foreign groups brought to assist the country's development. During the 1860s, a large influx of East Indians who spent brief periods in Jamaica and American Civil War veterans from Louisiana and other Southern states established Confederate settlements in British Honduras and introduced commercial sugar cane production to the colony, establishing 11 settlements in the interior. The 20th century saw the arrival of more Asian settlers from mainland China, South Korea, India, Syria, and Lebanon. Said Musa, the son of an immigrant from Palestine, was the Prime Minister of Belize from 1998 to 2008. Central American immigrants and expatriate Americans and Africans also began to settle in the country.
Emigration, immigration, and demographic shifts
Creoles and other ethnic groups are emigrating mostly to the United States, but also to the United Kingdom and other developed nations for better opportunities. Based on the latest U.S. Census, the number of Belizeans in the United States is approximately 160,000 (including 70,000 legal residents and naturalised citizens), consisting mainly of Creoles and Garinagu.
Because of conflicts in neighbouring Central American nations, Mestizo refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have fled to Belize in significant numbers during the 1980s, and have been significantly adding to this group. These two events have been changing the demographics of the nation for the last 30 years.
English is the official language of Belize, a former British colony. English is the primary language of public education, government and most media outlets. The majority of Belizeans regardless of ethnicity speak an English-based creole called Belizean Creole (also referred to as Kriol) for most informal, social and interethnic dialogue.
When a Creole language exists alongside its lexifier language, as is the case in Belize, a continuum forms between the Creole and the lexifier language. It is therefore difficult to substantiate or differentiate the number of Creole speakers compared to English speakers. Belizean Creole might best be described as the lingua franca of the nation.
Approximately 50% of Belizeans self-identify as Mestizo, Latino, or Hispanic and 30% speak Spanish as a native language. When Belize was a British colony, Spanish was banned in schools but today it is widely taught as a second language. "Kitchen Spanish" is an intermediate form of Spanish mixed with Belizean Creole, spoken in the northern towns such as Corozal and San Pedro.
Over half the population is bilingual, and a large segment is actually multilingual. Being such a small, multiethnic state, surrounded by Spanish-speaking nations, multilingualism is strongly encouraged.
Belize is also home to three Mayan languages: Qâeqchiâ, the endangered indigenous Belizean language of Mopan, and Yucatec Maya. Approximately 16,100 people speak the Arawakan-based Garifuna language, and 6,900 Mennonites in Belize speak mainly Plautdietsch while a minority of Mennonites speak Pennsylvania German.
Religious freedom is guaranteed in Belize. According to the 2010 census 40.1% of Belizeans are Roman Catholics, 31.8% are Protestants (8.4% Pentecostal; 5.4% Adventist; 4.7% Anglican; 3.7% Mennonite; 3.6% Baptist; 2.9% Methodist; 2.8% Nazarene), 1.7% are Jehovah's Witnesses, 10.3% adhere to other religions (Maya religion, Garifuna religion, Obeah and Myalism, and minorities of Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha'is, Rastafarians and other) and 15.5% profess to be irreligious.
Once a Catholic-majority country (they numbered around 49% in 2000, down from 57% in 1991), the percentage of Roman Catholics in the population has been decreasing in the past few decades due to the growth of Protestant churches, other religions and non-religious people. The Greek Orthodox Church has a presence in Santa Elena. Hinduism is followed by most Indian immigrants.
Belize has a high prevalence of communicable diseases such as malaria, respiratory diseases and intestinal illnesses.
A number of kindergartens, secondary, and tertiary schools in Belize provide quality education for studentsâ"mostly funded by the government. Belize possesses about five tertiary level institutions, which offer associates, bachelors, and undergraduate degrees. The biggest university is the University of Belize.
Education in Belize is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14 years. As of 2010, the literacy rate in Belize was estimated at 79.7%, one of the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.
The educational policy is currently following the "Education Sector Strategy 2011â"2016", which sets 3 objectives for the years to go: Improving access, quality and governance of the education system by providing technical and vocational education and training.
The majority of violence in Belize stems from gang violence, which includes trafficking of drugs and persons, drug smuggling routes, and sales rights. Even so, violence in Belize is relatively lower compared to other Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
In 2011, 125 murders were recorded in Belize, giving the country a homicide rate of 39 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the sixth highest in the world. Compared to the other districts in Belize, Belize District (containing Belize City, specifically the southern part), had the most murders by far compared to all the other districts. In 2007, 54% of the murders occurred in the Belize District. This increase in violence in the south of Belize City is largely due to gang warfare. Belize also has gang influence from gangs in other Central American countries such as MS-13 and 18 Street.
Aside from the high number of murders, there are also rape cases (38 reported in 2007), robberies (507 reported in 2007), and burglaries (1,244 cases in 2007). In 2007, the Belize police seized 130 firearms, 507 kilos of cannabis and 32 kilograms of cocaine, and disposed of over twenty-three thousand mature marijuana plants.
The Belize Police Department has implemented many protective measures in hopes of decreasing the high number of crimes. These measures include adding more patrols to "hot spots" in the city, obtaining more resources to deal with the predicament, creating the "Do the Right Thing for Youths at Risk" program, creating the Crime Information Hotline, creating the Yabra Citizen Development Committee, an organisation that helps youth, and many other initiatives. The Belize Police Department began an Anti-Crime Christmas campaign targeting criminals; as a result, the crime rates dropped in that month. In 2011, the government established a truce between many major gangs, lowering the murder rate.
Belize's social structure is marked by enduring differences in the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige. Because of the small size of Belize's population and the intimate scale of social relations, the social distance between the rich and the poor, while significant, is nowhere as vast as in other Caribbean and Central American societies, such as Jamaica and El Salvador. Belize lacks the violent class and racial conflict that has figured so prominently in the social life of its Central American neighbors.
Political and economic power remain vested in the hands of a relatively small local elite, most of whom are either white, light-skinned Creole, or Mestizo. The sizable middle group is composed of peoples of different ethnic backgrounds. This middle group does not constitute a unified social class, but rather a number of middle-class and working-class groups, loosely oriented around shared dispositions toward education, cultural respectability, and possibilities for upward social mobility. These beliefs and the social practices they engender, help distinguish the middle group from the grass roots majority of the Belizean people.
In 2012, the World Economic Forum ranked Belize 102nd out of 135 countries in its Global Gender Gap Report. Of all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Belize ranked 3rd from last and had the lowest female-to-male ratio for primary school enrollment. In 2013, the UN gave Belize a Gender Inequality Index score of 0.435, ranking it 79th out of 148 countries.
As of 2013, 48.3% of women in Belize participate in the workforce, compared to 81.8% of men. 13.3% of the seats in Belize's National Assembly are filled by women.
In Belizean folklore, there are the legends of Lang Bobi Suzi, La Llorona, La Sucia, Luguchu Ellis, Tata Duende, Chatona, X'tabai, Anansi, and the cadejo.
Most of the public holidays in Belize are traditional Commonwealth and Christian holidays, although some are specific to Belizean culture such as Garifuna Settlement Day and Baron Bliss Day. In addition, the month of September is considered a special time of national celebration. Besides Independence Day and St. George's Caye Day, Belizeans also celebrate Carnival during September, which typically includes several events spread across multiple days. In some areas of Belize, however, Carnival is celebrated at the traditional time before Lent (in February).
Belizean cuisine is an amalgamation of all ethnicities in the nation, and their respectively wide variety of foods. It might best be described as both similar to Mexican/Central American cuisine and Jamaican/Anglo-Caribbean cuisine.
Breakfast typically consists of bread, flour tortillas, or fry jacks that are often homemade. Fry jacks are eaten with various cheeses, refried beans, various forms of eggs or cereal, along with powdered milk, coffee, or tea. Midday meals vary, from lighter foods such as rice and beans or beans and rice with or without coconut milk, tamales, "panades" (fried maize shells with beans or fish), and meat pies, escabeche (onion soup), chimole (soup), caldo, stewed chicken and garnaches (fried tortillas with beans, cheese, and sauce) to various constituted dinners featuring some type of rice and beans, meat and salad or coleslaw.
In rural areas, meals are typically more simple than in cities. The Maya use maize, beans, or squash for most meals, and the Garifuna are fond of seafood, cassava (particularly made into cassava bread or Ereba) and vegetables. The nation abounds with restaurants and fast food establishments selling fairly cheaply. Local fruits are quite common, but raw vegetables from the markets less so. Mealtime is a communion for families and schools and some businesses close at midday for lunch, reopening later in the afternoon. Steak is also common.
Punta is by the far most popular genre of Garifuna music and has become the most popular genre in all of Belize. It is distinctly Afro-Caribbean, and is sometimes said to be ready for international popularization like similarly-descended styles (reggae, calypso, merengue).
Brukdown is a very popular modern style of Belizean music related to Calypso. It evolved out of the music and dance of loggers, especially a form called buru. Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca imported from Jamaica and the rest of the West Indies, and Rap, Hip-Hop, heavy metal and rock music from the United States, are also popular among the youth of Belize.
The major sports in Belize are football (soccer), basketball, volleyball and cycling, with smaller followings of boat racing, track and field, softball and cricket. Fishing is also popular in coastal areas of Belize. The Cross Country Cycling Classic, also known as the "cross country" race or the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic, is considered one of the most important Belize sports events. This one-day sports event is meant for amateur cyclists but has also gained a worldwide popularity.
This cycling event in Belize has seven rider categories based on rider rating, age, and gender. Action-packed and thrilling, this most interesting sporting event allows for the participation of tourists and visitors alike from all over the world. The cycling routes offer views across the resplendent greenery of the forest areas and the meandering rivers. This makes the event even more popular among the tourists.
The history of Cross Country Cycling Classic in Belize dates back to the period when Monrad Metzgen picked up the idea from a small village on the Northern Highway (now Phillip S. W. Goldson Highway). The people from this village used to cover long distances on their bicycles to attend the weekly game of cricket. He improvised on this observation and added thrill by sowing the idea of a sporting event in the difficult terrain of Western Highways, which were then poorly built.
On Easter day, citizens of Dangriga participate in a yearly fishing tournament. First, second, and third prize are awarded based on a scoring combination of size, species, and number. The tournament is broadcast over local radio stations, and prize money is awarded to the winners.
The Belize national basketball team is the only National Team that has achieved major victories internationally. During the 1998 Caricom Men's Basketball Championship, held at the Civic Center in Belize City. Belize went on to win the championship and proceeded to participate in the 1999 Centrobasquet Tournament in Havana. The National Team finished seventh of eight teams after winning only 1 game despite playing close all the way. In a return engagement at the 2000 CARICOM championship in Barbados, Belize placed fourth. Shortly thereafter, Belize moved to the Central American region and won the Central American Games championship in 2001.
The team has failed to duplicate this success, most recently finishing with a 2 and 4 record in the 2006 COCABA championship. The team finished second in the 2009 COCABA tournament in Cancun, Mexico where it went 3â"0 in group play. Belize won its opening match in the Centrobasquet Tournament, 2010, defeating Trinidad and Tobago, but lost badly to Mexico in a rematch of the COCABA final. A tough win over Cuba set Belize in position to advance, but they fell to Puerto Rico in their final match and failed to qualify.
The National Flower of Belize is the black orchid (Prosthechea cochleata, also known as Encyclia cochleata).
The National Tree of Belize is the Mahogany tree (Swietenia macrophylla), one of the magnificent giants of the Belize rain forest. Rising straight and tall to over a hundred feet from great buttresses at the roots, it emerges above the canopy of the surrounding trees with a crown of large, shining green leaves.
In the early months of the year, when the leaves fall and new red-brown growth appears, the tree can be spotted from a great distance. The tree puts out a great flush of small whitish flowersâ"the blossom for dark fruits, which are pear-shaped capsules about six inches long. When the fruits mature, they split into five valves, which frees large winged seeds that are carried away by the wind. They fall on the shaded protection of the forest floor and germinate to begin a new life cycle. The mahogany tree matures in 60 to 80 years.
British settlers exploited the Belizean forest for mahogany, beginning around the middle of the 17th century. It was originally exported to the United Kingdom in the form of squared logs, but shipments now consist mainly of sawn lumber. The motto "Sub Umbra Florero" means: Under the shade (of the mahogany tree) I flourish.
The keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) is the national bird of Belize. It is noted for its great, canoe-shaped bill and its brightly coloured green, blue, red and orange feathers. Toucans are found in open areas of the country with large trees. It is mostly black with bright yellow cheeks and chest, red under the tail and a distinctive white patch at the base of the tail.
Toucans make a monotonous frog-like croak. They like fruit, and eat by cutting with the serrated edge of their bills. Toucans nest in holes in trees, using natural holes or holes made by woodpeckers, often enlarging the cavity by removing soft, rotten wood. They lay two to four eggs, which both parents incubate. The nesting stage lasts from six to seven weeks.
Belize's National Animal is the Baird's tapir, the largest land mammal of the American tropics. It is also known as the mountain cow, although it is actually related to the horse and the rhinoceros. It is protected under Belizean law.
- Belizean people
- Index of Belize-related articles
- Outline of Belize
- The Forgotten District â" a documentary on Maya ecotourism in southern Belize
Belize Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment / SERVIR. August 2010.
- The Belize Debt-for-Nature Swap: Foundations of a Framework for Program Evaluation Emil A. Cherrington. Unpublished Master of Science thesis, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. June 2004.
- Government of Belize â" Official governmental site
- Wikimedia Atlas of Belize
- Profile at U.S. Department of State
- Belize National Emergency Management Organization â" Official governmental site
- Belize Wildlife Conservation Network â" Belize Wildlife Conservation Network
- CATHALAC â" Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean
- LANIC Belize page
- Belize entry at The World Factbook
- Belize at UCB Libraries GovPubs
- Belize at DMOZ
- Belize from the BBC News
- Key Development Forecasts for Belize from International Futures
- Hydromet.gov.bz â" Official website of the Belize National Meteorological Service