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CAPITAL: Belmopan

FLAG: The national flag consists of the Belize coat of arms on a white disk centered in a blue rectangular field with a narrow red stripe at the top and the bottom.

ANTHEM: Land of the Free.

MONETARY UNIT: The Belize dollar (b$), formerly tied to the UK pound sterling and now pegged to the US dollar, is a paper currency of 100 cents. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and 1 dollar, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. b$1= us$0.50000 (or us$1= b$2) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Imperial weights and measures are used. The exception is the measuring of petroleum products, for which the US gallon is standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Baron Bliss Day, 9 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Commonwealth Day, 24 May; National Day, 10 September; Independence Day, 21 September; Columbus Day, 12 October; Garifuna Day, 19 November; Christmas, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable holidays are Good Friday and Easter Monday.

TIME: 6 am = noon GMT.


Belize (formerly British Honduras), on the Caribbean coast of Central America, has an area of 22,966 sq km (8,867 sq mi), extending 280 km (174 mi) ns and 109 km (68 mi) we. Comparatively, the area occupied by Belize is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Bounded on the n by Mexico, on the e by the Caribbean Sea, and on the s and w by Guatemala, Belize has a total boundary length of 516 km (320 mi).

The capital city of Belize, Belmopan, is located in the center of the country.


The country north of Belmopan is mostly level land interrupted only by the Manatee Hills. To the south the land rises sharply toward a mountainous interior from a flat and swampy coastline heavily indented by many lagoons. The Maya and the Cockscomb mountains (which reach a high point of 1,122 m/3,681 ft at Victoria Peak, in the Cockscombs) form the backbone of the country, which is drained by 17 rivers. The coastal waters are sheltered by a line of reefs, beyond which there are numerous islands and cays, notably Ambergris Cay, the Turneffe Islands, Columbus Reef, and Glover Reef.


The climate is subtropical and humid, tempered by predominant northeast trade winds that keep temperatures between 1632°c (6190°f) in the coastal region; inland temperatures are slightly higher. The seasons are marked more by differences of humidity than of temperature. Annual rainfall averages vary from 127 cm (50 in) in the north to more than 380 cm (150 in) in the south. There is a dry season from February to May and another dry spell in August. Hurricanes occur from July to October.


Most of the forest cover consists of mixed hardwoodsmainly mahogany, cedar, and sapodilla (the source of chicle). In the flat regions there are extensive tracts of pine. The coastal land and the cays are covered with mangrove. Indigenous fauna include armadillo, opossum, deer, and monkeys; common reptiles include iguana and snakes.


Due to its low population density, Belize has suffered less than its neighbors from such problems as soil erosion and pollution. However, substantial deforestation has occurred and water quality remains a problem because of the seepage of sewage along with industrial and agricultural chemicals into the water supply. It is estimated that 18% of the country's rural population does not have access to pure water. Pollutants also threaten Belize's coral reefs. Removal of coral, picking orchids in forest reserves, spear fishing, and overnight camping in any public area (including forest reserves) are prohibited.

Approximately 21% of Belize's total land area is protected. Natural hazards to Belize's environment include hurricanes and coastal flooding. Belize's national capital was moved 129 km (80 mi) inland from Belize City to Belinopau because of hurricanes. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 3 species of birds, 4 types of reptiles, 6 species of amphibian, 18 species of fish, and 30 species of plants. Endangered species in Belize included the tundra peregrine falcon, hawksbill, green sea and leatherback turtles, American crocodile, and Morelet's crocodile.


The population of Belize in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 292,000, which placed it at number 170 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 36% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 101 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.3%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The government is especially concerned about the growing adolescent fertility rates. The projected population for the year 2025 was 396,000. The population density was 13 per sq km (33 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 49% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.32%. That year, the largest city was Belize City, with an estimated population of 52,600; the capital, Belmopan, had an estimated population of 9,000.

The first case of HIV infection was diagnosed in 1986; by 2005 approximately 2.4% of the population was believed to be infected. A national plan to combat HIV/AIDS was implemented in 1999.

The largest ethnic group in Belize is the Mestizo, which comprises 44% of the population. Other ethnic groups include Creole (30%), Mayan (10%), and Garifuna (6%).


The population of Belize increased significantly in 1993, when 40,000 Central American refugees and other immigrants, mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador, arrived in the country. This offset the heavy Creole emigration to North America. As of 1995, Belize still had 6,000 refugees from El Salvador and 2,000 refugees from Guatemala. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) negotiations with the government produced two significant developments in 1999. First, as of February 1999 refugees are able to apply for naturalization after five years of residence in the country. Second, in May 1999 the government enacted an amnesty program, offering permanent resident status for illegal immigrants and unregistered refugees. By 30 June 1999, some 10,000 families had registered. The total number of migrants in Belize in 2000 was 17,000.

In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as zero. Worker remittances in 2002 amounted to us$13.8 million.


According to the latest estimates, 46.4% of the population are mestizo (mixed White and Mayan); about 27.7% are Creole (of African descent); another 10% are Mayan; 6.4% are Garifuna (Carib); and 9.5% are comprised of various other groups, including those of Arab, European, Chinese, East Indian, North American, and Syrian-Lebanese ancestry.


The official language is English. At least 80% of the people can speak standard English and/or a Creole patois. Spanish is spoken by approximately 60% of the population; for one-third to one-half it is the first language. Although English is the language of instruction, other languages spoken include Garifuna (Carib), Mayan and other Amerindian languages, and, in the Mennonite colony, Low German.


About 58% of inhabitants are Roman Catholic. Only 7% of the populace are Anglicans; another 6% are Pentecostals. Other faiths and denominations generally have fewer than 11,000 members each. These include Methodists (4.2%), Seventh-Day Adventists (4.1%), and Mennonites (4%). There are approximately 6,000 Nazarenes and smaller numbers of Hindus, Baha'is, Baptists, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Rastafarians, and Salvation Army members. About 6% of the population claim to be nonbelievers or to have no religious affiliation.

There is no state religion, however, the preamble of the constitution recognizes the religious history of the country by asserting that the nation "shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God." Freedom of religion is generally respected in practice. Spirituality is a required topic in public schools as part of the social studies curriculum and all schools, both public and private, are required to provide 220 minutes per week of religious education or chapel services for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. However, students are not forced to participate in such instruction and the faith of the individual student, or their parents, is generally respected. Traditional Christian holidays are celebrated as public holidays.


In 2002, Belize had 2,880 km (1,789 mi) of roads, of which 490 km (304 mi) were paved. In 2003, there were 25,880 registered motor vehicles, 11,500 of which were passenger cars and 14,380 were commercial vehicles. The country had no railways. There are 825 km (513 mi) of waterways consisting of seasonally navigable river networks used by shallow-draft craft. Belize City is the main port. In the late 1970s, deepwater facilities were constructed through financing from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). Other ports and harbors include Big Creek, Corozol, and Punta Gorda. In 2005 Belize's merchant marine was comprised of 295 ships, totaling 1,015,270 GRT. Several shipping lines provide regular services to North America, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 2004, there were an estimated 44 airports, of which only 5 had paved runways as of 2005. International airports at Belize City (P.S.W. Goldson) and Punta Gorda handle services to the United States and Central America. Maya Airways provides domestic service, and there are various international air carriers.


Numerous ruins indicate that the area now called Belize was once heavily populated by Maya Indians, whose civilization collapsed around ad 900. Columbus sailed along the coast in 1502, but did not land. The first permanent settlement was established in 1638 by shipwrecked English seamen. Later immigrants included African slaves and British sailors and soldiers.

In its early colonial history the area was a virtual backwater, used only for logging and as a pirate base. A power struggle between England and Spain ensued over possession of the area, with the British prevailing by the 19th century. In 1862 the British organized the area as the colony of British Honduras. For the next century, forestry continued as the main enterprise until eventually supplanted by sugar.

On 1 January 1964, a constitution was promulgated, providing for self-government, although the United Kingdom maintained the defense force. That force remained in place partly because of a border dispute with Guatemala, going back to an 1859 treaty. The Guatemalan government pressed territorial claims over the southern quarter of the area. A settlement guaranteeing the country's independence by 1970 seemed to resolve the dispute, but rioting in British Honduras in May 1968 led to the repudiation of the agreement by both the United Kingdom and Guatemala.

The country dropped the appearance, if not the reality, of colonial dependence in 1973, adopting Belize as the official country name. The border dispute continued unabated until 1977, when Guatemala and the United Kingdom began new negotiations on Belize. The United Kingdom, Guatemala, and Belize reached agreement on a solution in March 1981, but disagreement soon followed. Finally, the United Kingdom decided to take matters into its own hands and granted Belize independence as of 21 September 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation, severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, and declared the date of independence a national day of mourning. In December 1986, the United Kingdom and Guatemala resumed diplomatic ties, but the 1,800-member British garrison remained in Belize. Since independence, control of the government has alternated between the People's United Party (PUP) led by George C. Price, which had dominated Belize's politics since the 1950s, and the United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Manuel Esquivel. The UDP won the elections of 1984 and 1993; in between, the PUP governed from 1989 to 1993. The PUP won the parliamentary elections of 1998 and 2003. Said Musa was prime minister under these PUP wins.

In 1991 Belize was admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS). The same year, Guatemala's new president, Jorge Serrano, reached an agreement with then-prime minister George Price that led to full Guatemalan recognition of Belize's independence the following year and the signing of a nonaggression pact between the two nations in 1993. The United Kingdom withdrew its troops from Belize in 1994.

Belize's tourism industry became a mainstay of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, growing from 64,000 tourists in 1980 to 247,000 in 1992. By 1995, tourism surpassed all other sectors, including the sugar industry, as a source of foreign exchange, and it continued to grow through the remainder of the decade. Challenges facing Belize in the late 1990s included high unemployment, a growing involvement in South American cocaine trafficking, and increased urban crime, which worsened in 1998 and 1999, prompting new gun control measures.

Negotiations continued with Guatemala over territorial disputes not settled by the 1991 agreement, mainly Guatemalan claims to land in the southern part of the country. Tensions between the two countries continued into the early months of 2000, when Belize's ambassador was expelled from Guatemala, and talks scheduled for February were suspended. But a hurricane in 2001 hurt Belize and Guatemala and helped reduce tensions between both countries. After three years of rapid economic growth, Belize's economy my expanded by just 3% in 2001 and 2002. Under the auspices of the OAS, both countries agreed to each having their own facilitator look into the territorial dispute. In August 2003, before facilitators' proposals were submitted to referenda in either country, the Government of Guatemala rejected the facilitators' proposals. The Guatemalan claim remained unresolved.

In January 2004, Britain's Privy Council by a split 3-2 decision dismissed an appeal to overturn the Belize government's approval of the proposed Chalillo hydroelectric dam. The then proposed dam on the Macal River at Chalillo would have created a lake extending 20 km (12 mi) up the Macal and 10 km (6 mi) up its tributary the Raspaculo, flooding 10 sq km (2,471 acres). The Canadian company Fortis, Inc. of Newfoundland under agreement with the Belizean government would build a 49.5 m (160 ft) high dam to provide hydroelectric power for Belize. The flooded locale would include areas designated for preservation as national environmental resourceshabitat to the highest density of big cats, jaguar, puma and ocelot, in Central America, rare Morelet's crocodiles, tapirs and scarlet macaws, as well as to cultural remains. Dissent against the project was worldwide. Fires used to remove forest cover to protect the construction area were large enough to be picked up by satellite. By October 2005, the dam was tested prior to its complete start.

In January 2005, public and private sector workers went on strike over budget measures, including tax increases, and for salary increases. By April antigovernment protests in the capital resulted in rioting. Opposition political groups and trade unions called for general elections (next scheduled for March 2008) citing Musa's mismanagement of the country. Acts of sabotage deprived the population of basic services including water, electricity and communications. In his "State of the Nation" address, 19 September 2005, Musa noted that despite the fear and uncertainty of the previous months, the economy had not collapsed. He intended to pursue his tax reform measures and highlighted the effect of rising oil prices on higher domestic costs of production consumer prices and as a drain on foreign reserves.

In October 2005, Belize reported its first case of dengue hemorrhagic fever in the country. It occurred in the Cayo District.


The independence constitution of 21 September 1981 (based on that of 1 January 1964) vests governmental authority in a governor-general appointed by the UK monarch, a cabinet headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral National Assembly. The governor-general on the advice of the prime minister appoints the cabinet ministers. The National Assembly consists of a 29-member House of Representatives elected by universal adult suffrage to serve five-year terms, and a Senate of eight members appointed by the governor-general (5 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the opposition, and 1 on the recommendation of the Belize Advisory Council). Parliamentary elections must be held at intervals of no longer than five years. The voting age is 18.


The two major parties in Belize are the current majority People's United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). George C. Price dominated Belize's politics after becoming the country's premier in 1964. The PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent. At independence in 1981, Price became prime minister and ruled for three years The UDP coalition, under Manuel Esquivel's leadership, took 21 House seats in 1984 and ruled until 1989, when the PUP again gained control and Price once again became prime minister. He called an early election in June 1993, which his party unexpectedly lost, placing the UDP in a dominant position, UDP 15 seats, PUP 13 seats.

Although it won a sweeping victory in the 1997 municipal elections, the opposition UDP held only three elected seats at the national level as of 1999. The PUP had increased its position in the subsequent August 1998 elections (PUP 26 seats and UDP 3 seats), after which Said Musa succeeded Manuel Esquivel as party leader and prime minister. The elections of 2003 were the fifth National Assembly elections since independence in 1981 and the first time that a political party had been in government for two successive terms. In the March 2003 elections, the PUP won 22 seats and the UDP 7 seats. Said Musa remained as prime minister. After the death of a minister in October 2003 the PUP lost one seat in the by-election, but still retained a majority. Dean Barrow led the opposition. There was one political pressure group, the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research or SPEAR headed by Adele Catzim.


Belize is divided into six administrative districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize City, El Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Except for Belize City, which has an elected city council of nine members, each is administered by a seven-member elected town board. Local government at the village level is through village councils.


The crown appoints the independent judiciary. The law of Belize is the common law of England, augmented by local legislation. The judiciary consists of the Magistrate's Courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is presided over by a Chief Justice. Appeals are to the court of appeal, established in 1968, and, until 2003, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. Six summary jurisdiction courts (criminal) and six district courts (civil) are presided over by magistrates.

On 9 June 2003, Caribbean leaders met in Kingston, Jamaica, to ratify a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The first session of the CCJ was scheduled for November 2003. Eight nationsBarbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobagohad officially approved the CCJ, although 14 nations were planning to use the court for appeals. Haiti had agreed to use the CCJ for resolution of trade disputes.

The judiciary has protected individual rights and fundamental freedoms. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 72 hours of arrest. Bail is liberally afforded. A jury trial is required in capital cases. The 1981 Constitution provides a wide range of fundamental rights and freedoms. Criminal defendants have rights to presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, counsel, appeal, and public trial. The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. The government generally respects these provisions.


The armed forces totaled an estimated 1,050 active personnel in 2005, supported by 700 reserves. The Army was structured into 3 infantry battalions, a maritime wing with 14 patrol craft, an air wing with 2 transports, but no combat aircraft, and 1 support group. The defense budget totaled $16 million in 2005.


Belize was admitted to the UN on 25 September 1981, four days after independence. Belize participates in a number of UN specialized agencies, such as ILO, ICAO, IFAD, IFC, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, and WHO. Belize joined the WTO in January 1995. Belize is also a member of the ACP Group, the Commonwealth of Nations, CARICOM, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Latin American Economic System, G-77, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the OAS. The country is part of the Nonaligned Movement and the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin American and the Caribbean (OPANAL). Belize has an unresolved boundary dispute with Guatemala. In environmental cooperation, Belize is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification. Belize is also a signatory to the Central American-US Joint Declaration (CONCAUSA).


The economy is dependent on agriculture and fishing. Sugar, bananas, and citrus fruits are the main cash crops. Until a recent depletion, the country's main export had been forest products, especially mahogany. Belize continues to import most of its consumer goods, including much of its food and all of its petroleum requirements. The tourism industry, fishing industry, and the garment manufacturing industry grew in importance during the late 1990s.

Belize started the decade of the 1990s positively. However, after five years of economic growth averaging 4.3%, the economy decelerated to 1.5% in 1996. This was largely due to a slowdown in tourism, a decline in fisheries production, and cutbacks in public spending and construction. The agricultural sector grew rapidly in that year, with banana and sugar production up by significant amounts, while production of oranges was nearly flat. Fishing was also hurt by corrective measures to overcome the taura virus, which affected farmed shrimp production and lowered lobster catches. In 1997, the government implemented austerity measures and capital projects that continued the economic depression in the short-run. The agricultural industry experienced a decline of production in 1998, but the fishing, tourism, and garment manufacturing industries gained ground. In 1997 and 1998, GDP growth hovered around 3%, but by 2004, the economy was growing at a rate of 4.5%, due to strong growth in the agriculture, fishing, and tourism industries. Inflation remained subdued at around 3% in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, the GDP growth rate was estimated at 3.8%.

Belize's future economic growth is linked to the improvement of technology and physical infrastructure. The Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the EU, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Canada, and Taiwan have provided assistance to Belize for the reconstruction and pavement of major highways, and the construction of houses. Electricity has become dependable, and the telecommunications system is reliable.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Belize's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $6,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 3%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 22.5% of GDP, industry 23%, and services 54.5%.

According to the World Bank, in 2002 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $14 million or about $51 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.5% of GDP.

In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 27% of household consumption was spent on food, 5% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 13% on education. It was estimated that in 1999 about 33% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The Belize labor force in 2001 (the latest year for which data was available) was estimated at 90,000. Of that number in that same year, approximately 27% of the labor force was employed in agriculture, 18% in industry, and 55% in services. In 2003, the unemployment rate was estimated at 12.9%. The Belize labor market is marked by a shortage of skilled labor and technical personnel.

Labor legislation covers minimum wages, work hours, employment of young persons, and workers' safety and compensation. The National Trades Union Congress of Belize is the major union federation, and the United General Workers' Union is the leading trade union. In 2005, there were eight independent unions, comprising about 11% of the labor force, which represented a cross-section of white-collar, blue-collar, and professional workers, including most civil service employees. There are procedural requirements that a union must meet, but the government freely recognizes the right to join unions and to strike. Unions representing "essential" service workers must give an intent to strike notice two days prior to a strike.

The labor act prohibits all employment for children under the age of 12, and children between the ages of 12 and 14 are not permitted to work during school hours. The minimum age for hazardous industry employment is 17. A minimum wage of $1.12 per hour covers all workers and is effectively enforced. This wage does not provide a decent standard of living. The legal workweek, as of 2005, was set at 45 hours or six days, with overtime pay required if work is beyond those limits. Workplace safety and health regulations are also effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Public Health, particularly in Belize City.


Only 4% (89,000 hectares/220,000 acres) of total land area is used for the production of seasonal and permanent crops. Most Mayans still practice the traditional slash-and-burn method of farming, under which at any one time some 80% of the land is left idle. More efficient agricultural colonies have been established by Mennonite immigrants. Sugar, citrus, and bananas are the leading agricultural exports. In 2004, Belize's major exports amounted to b$410.1 million, with sugar accounting for 20%; orange concentrate, 13.5%; bananas, 13%; and grapefruit, 5.8%. Sugarcane production, centered in the northern lowland around Corozal and the town of Orange Walk, totaled 1,149,000 tons in 2004. Citrus production is concentrated in the Stann Creek valley; the 2004 output included 213,000 tons of oranges and 56,000 tons of grapefruit. The US-based Hershey Foods Corp. has invested b$4 million in cacao cultivation in El Cayo; production in 2004 totaled 40 tons.

Because agriculture is not sufficiently diversified, the country relies heavily on food imports. By establishing a marketing board to encourage production of rice, beans, and corn, the government hopes eventually to become self-sufficient in these crops. Rice paddy production, which averaged 9,000 tons annually during 197981, fell to a reported 4,000 tons in 1990 but rose to 10,600 tons by 2004. Corn production, which had been hovering at 18,000 tons per year, rose to a reported 30,500 tons in 2004. Dry bean production was 4,000 tons. Export earnings from sugar in 2004 exceeded us$35.5 million. Belize's sugar industry is heavily dependent on preferential price markets; over 50% of its exports are sent to preferential price markets (principally the European Union). Citrus output (exported in concentrate form), expanded by 170% as new acreage planted in the late 1980s came into production and weather conditions were very favorable. In 1985, a consortium that included Coca-Cola paid b$12 million for 383,000 hectares (946,400 acres) northwest of Belmopan for a citrus farming project. Banana production was aided by privatization and restructuring in the production and marketing areas, which has acted as a catalyst to improve technology (success in combating sigatoka disease) and infrastructure. Banana production, however, fell from 68,000 tons in 1994 to 45,000 tons in 1995 before rising back to 79,400 tons in 2004. Papaya production totaled 27,700 tons in 2004; mangoes totaled 563 tons. Peanuts, pineapples, and winter vegetables are also grown for export.


Mennonite farms account for much of Belize's dairy and poultry output. In 2004, the nation had an estimated 21,200 hogs, 5,300 horses, 4,600 mules, 6,300 sheep, and 1,600,000 chickens. Cattle suited for breeding or crossbreeding with local cattle are Red Poll, Jamaica Black, Hereford, and Brahman (zebu); there were 57,800 head of cattle in 2004. Some 14,000 tons of poultry meat and 3,600 tons of milk were produced in 2004.


Fishing resources and development are good. In 2003, the total catch was 15,353 tons. Lobster, squid, and conch are the leading products; us$16.2 million in export earnings were derived from fishing in 2003. In the mid-1990s, shrimp production increased by 75% as a result of three new shrimp farms opening in 1992. Aquaculture accounted for 66% of the total catch in 2003. Fishery exports accounted for 12% of agricultural exports and almost 8% of total merchandise exports in 2003.


Although Belize is still rich in forest resources, the accessible stands of commercial timber have been depleted. Reforestation and natural regeneration in the pine forest (mainly in Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo Districts) and artificial regeneration of fast-growing tropical hardwood species are creating a resurgence in forestry. About 92% of Belize's land area is covered with forests and woodlands. Timber cutting is usually done during the short dry season. Total roundwood production in 2003 was 188,000 cu m (6.64 million cu ft). The principal varieties of trees cut are mahogany, pine, cedar, and rosewood. Exports of forest produce (including chicle) in 1965 amounted to one-third of total exports; in 2003, however, the export value was us$4.0 million.


Clays, limestone, marble, and sand and gravel for construction were the mainstays of Belize's minerals industry; none was reportedly exported in 2003. The Belize, Sibun, and Monkey rivers, as well as North and South Stann creeks, were the sites of clay, limestone, and sand and gravel operations. Clay production amounted to 500,000 tons in 2003; dolomite, 5,000 metric tons; limestone, 400,000 tons; sand and gravel, 130,000 cubic meters; marl, 1,140 cubic meters; and gold, 1,000 grams, by stream panning.


Electric power supplied by ten diesel-powered generators is inadequate. As of 2002 Belize imported about half its electricity from Mexico. Of the remainder, 30% came from the Mollejon dam and 20% from thermal sources. A central authority, the Belize Electricity Board, supplies and operates the national power system. In 2002, total capacity stood at 0.052 million kW, including power from the Board's generators and additional wattage supplied by private industries and individuals. Production in 2002 was 0.117 billion kWh, of which 0.039 billion kWh came from thermal sources (fossil fuels) and 0.078 billion kWh from hydropower. Construction of a 7 MW, us$50 million hydroelectric power station on the Macal River, upstream from the Mollejon dam, was under way as of 2002 despite a suit by environmental groups pending before Belize's supreme court. The dam would be privately owned until 2034, after which the plant would be transferred to the government. In 2002, the consumption of electricity in Belize totaled 0.109 billion kWh.


The manufacturing sector is small but has been expanding. Major industrial activities include textiles and garments, and sugar, citrus, and banana processing. The Development Finance Corporation promotes private capital investment in industry.

Aside from the processing of sugar, citrus, and bananas, the manufacturing sector in Belize continues to be quite small. Garment production stabilized and grew in the late 1990s after significant declines in 1994 and 1995 that resulted from heavy competition from Mexico and the United States. Other manufacturing productsbatteries, beer, and beveragesrepresent a minimal share and are protected by import substitution policies. Belize has witnessed increased export earnings from marine products in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Construction projects have included a multimillion dollar housing project designed to build 10,000 units, a us$14.7 million project to rehabilitate the country's southern highway, and us$9.5 million in upgrading health centers and hospitals.

Tourism is the number one source of foreign exchange earnings. Offshore business in Belize is a fledgling industry with high growth potential. Attractive incentives to foreign investment have been promoted by the government in order to attract capital.


University College of Belize and Wesley College, both in Belize City, offer some scientific and technical training, but Belizean students must go abroad for advanced study. The National Library Service operates a Technical/Reference Library in Belize City.


Except for warehouses and shops in Belize City, open markets still predominate in Belize. The domestic market is limited by high labor and energy costs. Small industries include cigarettes, beer, dairy products, and agricultural processing. Many residents shop in Mexico and Guatemala where prices for goods and services are lower. Within the country, most consumer goods are imported from the United States and Mexico. Since 1987, the government has maintained price controls on some basic items, such as bread, flour, rice, and fuel. A 9% sales tax applies to most goods (basic food items are exempt). A 14% sales tax applies to petroleum products, alcohol, and tobacco.

Normal business hours in Belize cities are 8 am to noon and 1 to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Banks are open from 8 am to 1 pm, Monday through Thursday, and from 8 am 4:30 pm on Fridays.


Belize's major partners are NAFTA, the United Kingdom, CARICOM and the European Union (EU). In 2004, the United States imported 37.2% of Belize's total exports, and supplied 30.1% of all Belizean imports.

The Belize export market depends mostly upon agriculture, in particular on the sugars, and fruit and nut trade. There are a few clothing exporters that deal in men's outerwear and undergarments. Other substantial exports include shellfish, wood, and vegetables.


The visible trade deficit is counterbalanced by overseas aid, British military expenditures, foreign remittances from expatriates, and receipts from tourism. Since the end of 1998, the trade deficit has widened, due to an increase in manufactured good purchases for the industrial and construction sectors. In 2005, the value of Belize's exports was estimated at us$349.9 million, and imports were valued at us$622.4 million. The current-account balance was estimated at -us$200.1 million in 2005. That year, Belize had us$90.45 million in reserves of foreign exchange and gold. As of June 2004, the external debt burden was us$1.362 billion.


The bank of issue is the Central Bank of Belize. Two foreign banks, Barclay's Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia, and two local banks, the Atlantic Bank and Belize Bank, conduct commercial banking. The Banking Ordinance was amended in 1996 to authorize offshore banking; in March 2000 over 14,000 offshore financial institutions were operating in Belize. Anti-laundering legislation was put into effect in 1998, and a small farmers' and business bank was created with bilateral aid from Taiwan.

In the fourth quarter of 1996, the Central Bank of Belize was obliged to defend the exchange rate by selling foreign exchange to commercial banks. The quantities involved were not announced, but international reserves fell from us$71 million at the end of September 1996, to us$65 million at the end of December 1996. However, year-end reserves were still significantly higher than the end-of-June figure of us$39 million. Contributing to this rise was the receipt in August of a Taiwanese government loan of us$26 million, as well as the proceeds of a bond issue for the new Central Bank building and increased sugar export receipts.

In 1998, the new government led by Said Musa lowered the liquidity and cash reserve requirements of commercial banks, and increased government spending on capital projects, in order to increase funds. Foreign assets had declined even further, from us$65 million in 1997 to us$51 million in 1998. A us$50 million loan from the Taiwanese government was granted for infrastructure development in 1998. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to us$189.8 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small-time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas us$505.5 million. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 12%.

There is no securities exchange in Belize.


There are several insurance companies doing business in Belize.


About half of Belize's recurrent expenditures are financed by customs duties; nearly all capital spending is funded by foreign loans

Current Account -162.7
   Balance on goods -189.9
     Imports -500.3
     Exports 310.4
   Balance on services 53.4
   Balance on income -72.1
   Current transfers 45.9
Capital Account 7.5
Financial Account 143.7
   Direct investment abroad
   Direct investment in Belize 25.0
   Portfolio investment assets
   Portfolio investment liabilities 110.0
   Financial derivatives 0.8
   Other investment assets -1.4
   Other investment liabilities 9.4
Net Errors and Omissions 3.8
Reserves and Related Items 7.7
() data not available or not significant.

and grants. Since an IMF standby stabilization program was implemented in 1985, fiscal responsibility has improved. The government typically budgets over 50% of projected spending to capital development, and raises 60% of current revenues from trade taxes. Government spending accounts typically for almost one-third of GDP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Belize's central government took in revenues of approximately us$262 million and had expenditures of us$329 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -us$67 million. Total external debt was us$1.362 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 1997, the most recent year for which it had data, budgetary central government revenues were b$322 million and expenditures were b$362 million. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$161 million and expenditures us$181 million, based on an official exchange rate for 1997 of us$1 = b$2.0000 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 20.9%; defense, 5.4%; public order and safety, 7.1%; economic affairs, 28.1%; housing and community amenities, 2.6%; health, 8.2%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.3%; education, 20.5%; and social protection, 5.9%.


Income tax is levied on companies and individuals. Corporate taxes are set at a fixed rate of 35% of the chargeable income. Personal income tax is levied on those earning more than us$10,000 per year, at a flat rate of 25%. A company granted a development concession has a tax holiday of up to 25 years. The Sales Tax Act of 1999 implemented a 12% tax on alcohol, tobacco, and fuel, and a 8% tax on all other items.


Customs duties are generally ad valorem. Belize uses the CARICOM common external tariff (CET), which ranges from 545%. There is also a stamp tax (normally 12%) on certain goods. Import duties on industrial products average 20% and there is a duty of 1525% on luxury items. Certain products require import licenses to protect domestic industry, including sugar and citrus fruits, but these will be removed.

The 1990 Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Act and the Commercial Free Zone (CFZ) Act of 1995 foster the import-export industry with tax incentives. Belize is a CARICOM member state, has free trade agreements with Venezuela and Colombia, and was working on a free trade agreement with Mexico in 1999.


As of 2006, proposals for foreign investments and applications for incentives are processed by BELTRAIDEBelize Trade and Investment Development Serviceformerly the Trade and Investment Promotion Service (TIPS). BELTRAIDE was designed as a one-stop shop for investors. In 2006, it was identifying as priority areas for investment agroindustries and food processing, tourism, aquaculture and horticulture, light manufacturing and assembly plants, deep-sea fishing, and forestry-related industries. An Aliens Land-Holding Ordinance governs real estate investment through licensing procedures.

Several incentive packages are available, outlined in the Fiscal Incentives Act of 1990, the International Business and Public Companies (IBC) Act, the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Act of 1990, and the Commercial Free Zone (CFZ) Act of 1995. No sectors are closed to foreign investment, but special permits and licenses for activities mostly reserved for Belize citizensmerchandising, sugar cane cultivation, internal transportation, bee-keeping, accounting, beauty salons, etc.may not be granted to foreigners. Fiscal incentives include tax holidays up to 25 years, tax and duty exemptions, reduced rents, and guaranteed repatriation of initial investment and profits.

IBCs are offered a host of tax exemptions and other incentives. EPZs offer duty exemptions on imports of capital equipment, spare parts, office furniture, and intermediate goods; tax exemptions; tax holidays of 20 years with options to extend; and no-cost work permits for professional and technical staff and up to 20% of the workforce. CFZ businesses are offered comparable incentives tailored to commercial enterprises. Three locations are designated EPZs-CFZs: the San Andres EPZ, eight miles from the Mexican border; an area adjacent to the Philip Goldson International Airport; and Price Barracks near Belize City.

Foreign direct investment was only us$7 million in 1987. In 1997, FDI was us$11.9 million, but rose to us$19 million 1998, and peaked at us$56 million in 1999. In 2000, FDI inflow was us$27.6 million and in 2001, us$34.2 million. In 2004, FDI amounted to us$254.8 million. In 1999, amendments to existing legislation and new legislationthe Gaming Control Act, the Retired Persons (Incentive) Act, the Limited Liability Partnership Act, the Mutual Funds Act, the International Insurance Act, the Belize Business Bureau Act, and the International Financial Servicesprovided the legal framework for expanded offshore services, e-commerce and real estate development. The government also began the sale of Belize citizenship to those willing to pay from $35,000 up to $50,000 for the honor, especially to those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada. More CFZs are being created in Belize City, Benque Viejo del Carmen, and Punta Gorda. E-zones, equipped with the latest information technology, were fused with the EPZs. All concessions must be negotiated through BELTRAIDE.


The government has opted to concentrate on developing agriculture, livestock, forestry, fishing, and tourism as foreign exchange earners. The main sources of bilateral aid are the United States and the United Kingdom; of multilateral aid, the United Nations (UN), Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Organization of American States (OAS), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Belize joined the OAS and IDB in 1992 in a move to increase its access to developing financing and external technical cooperation.

Belize undertook several fiscal adjustment measures in 1996, including the retrenchment of the public sector work force and the introduction of a major value-added tax (VAT) of 15%. These two measures caused an increase in annual inflation from 3.2% in 1995 to 4.7% in 1996 and an increase of 1.3% in the rate of unemployment, to 13.8% of the labor force. In 2005, the inflation rate was estimated at 3%. The unemployment rate stood at 12.9% in 2003.

The National Development Strategy 19962000 drafted by the Ministry of Economic Development stressed fiscal restraint, and identified activities to stimulate private sector development, including physical infrastructure improvement and financial sector reforms. Belize continues to strive toward meeting these goals.

A rural electrification project was underway in 200102, and the government pledged $20 million to restore essential services such as health and education facilities and transportation networks to communities harmed by Hurricane Keith. The government is investing in projects to alleviate poverty. The government has been engaged in implementing an IDB-funded project to improve the competitiveness of the country's agricultural products in foreign markets. The country aims to promote the growth of commercial agriculture through Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) although most of its trade is conducted with the United States and Europe, not with other Caribbean nations. Tourism averaged 20% of gross domestic product (GDP) from 19972005, but the industry was adversely affected by the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent decline in tourism to the region.


Social security systems provide benefits to all employed persons aged 1464. Both employers and employees make contributions towards old age pensions, disability, survivor, and health benefits. Retirement is set at age 60 for both men and women. There is a social assistance program for women aged 65 and older. Sickness and maternity benefits are available, as well as work injury. Full medical care is provided at government hospitals and clinics, and if necessary, treatment abroad is available.

Women have access to education and are active in all areas of national life, but face domestic violence and certain types of discrimination in the business sector. In 2004 domestic violence reports against women increased. The Women's Bureau of the Ministry of Labor and Social Services develops programs to improve the status of women. Despite these efforts, few women hold top managerial positions, and women generally earn less than their male counterparts. Child abuse is not a societal problem, however there are reports of families selling daughters to older men.

The rights of minority groups in Belize are generally well protected, although there have been continued reports of poor treatment of immigrant agricultural workers. Human rights are generally respected, although as of 2004 there have been reports of excessive police force and other violations. Prison conditions are improving.


Belize is relatively free of endemic diseases; during 19962000, communicable diseases were on the decline. Cardiovascular disease, mental illness, external trauma, and HIV/AIDS are significant public health problems. In 1995, 9,413 malaria cases were diagnosed. Belize was reported as a cholera-infected country in 1996, with 25 reported cases during that year. There are eight public hospitals. The Cayo and Belize districts have two hospitals each and all the remaining districts have one. There are 40 health centers and 35 rural satellites. As of 2004, there were an estimated 105 physicians and 126 nurses per 100,000 people.

Life expectancy was 68 years in 2005 and the infant mortality rate for that year was 25 per 1,000 live births. The total fertility rate was 4.0 per woman. There were 30 births per 1,000 people in 1999. The total mortality rate was estimated at 4.6 deaths per 1,000 people as of 2002. About 90% of one-year-old children had been vaccinated against measles by the mid-1990s. Approximately 82% of the Belize population had access to safe water and 57% had access to adequate sanitation. However, only 69% of rural households in the south of the country had safe water. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 2.40 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 3,600 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. The government has implemented a strategic program to deal with the AIDS epidemic.


Housing is inadequate, overcrowding is prevalent, and the situation has been aggravated by hurricane devastation (such as Hurricane Mitch 1998 and Hurricane Keith 2000). The government has put aside small sums for low-cost housing programs.

According to the 2001 census, about 83% of the population lived in undivided private homes and about 62% of all housing units were owner-occupied. About 44% of all households contained five or more members. About 32.8% of the housing stock was built in the period 198094; about 22% was built in 1979 or before. Only about 26% of all households had piped water leading directly into their homes. Another 17% had access to piped water to their yards. About 43.9% of the population still used outdoor pit latrines; but about 50% were linked to septic tanks or the public sewer system.


Primary education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 14. Primary schooling covers an eight-year course of study. Secondary education covers four years and consists of either a general course of study or classes at a vocational or trade school. Most schools are church-affiliated but still supported by the government. About 28% of children between the ages of three and four attend some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 100% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 69% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 21:1 in 2003. The ratio for secondary school was about 23:1.

The University of Belize was founded in 2000 by the merger of the University College of Belize (est. 1986), Belmopan Junior College, Belize School of Nursing, Belize School of Education, and Belize College of Agriculture. The University of the West Indies maintains a School for Continuing Education (SCE) in Belize. There are also several colleges providing specialized training such as the Belize Technical College, the Belize Teachers' College, and the Belize Vocational Training Center. In 2003, it was estimated that about 2% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 76.9%, with 76.7% for males and 77.1% for females.

The Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports is the primary administrative body. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.2% of GDP, or 18% of total government expenditures.


The National Library Service maintains a central library in the Bliss Institute, a children's library, and a branch library in Belize City. The National Library Service was established in 1966 to oversee the nation's public library system. In 2003, the public library network included 12 branch (operating on a full-time basis) and 17 sub libraries (open only about 20 hours per month). The University of Belize Library System includes four department branch libraries and one resource center, including the Management and Social Science Library (MASS Library) and the Engineering Resource Center.

The Museum of Belize, opened in 2002, houses historical and cultural exhibits in a former prison. The remains of the ancient Maya civilizationthe best known are at Xunantunichare being excavated by the government. The Department of Archaeology in Belmopan houses artifacts thus far uncovered.


Belize is connected by radiotelegraph and telephone with Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. This service, along with cable and telex services, is operated by Cable and Wireless Ltd. An automatic telephone network, covering the entire country, is operated by the Belize Telecommunications, which was fully privatized in early 1992. In 2003, Belize had 33,300 mainline telephones and 60,400 mobile phones in use.

The Belize National Radio Network, a government station in Belize City, transmits in English and Spanish. The first privately owned commercial radio station began broadcasting in 1990. In 2004, there were 10 privately owned commercial radio stations and 1 British military station. There were also two privately-owned television stations and several cable stations. The Belize Broadcasting Authority regulates all broadcasting and retains the right to preview certain broadcasts. In 1997, there were 133,000 radios and 41,000 television sets in use nationwide. In 2002, there were 30,000 Internet users in the country.

There are no daily newspapers. The largest weeklies in 2002 were Amandala (Black Power, circulation 45,000) and The Reporter (6,500), both published in Belize City. Belize Today, a monthly publication out of Belmopan, has a circulation of 17,000. The Belize Press Association was formed in 1995.

Though Belize's constitution assures the freedom of speech and press, there are provisions for the curtailment of these freedoms, including a law forbidding citizens from questioning financial statements submitted by public officials. The Supreme Court has warned journalists that questioning the integrity of the court or of its members could result in criminal charges. The government makes free use of Belize's largest radio facilities to produce partisan advertisements and party propaganda. The Belize Broadcasting Authority (BBA) asserts its right to delete defamatory or libelous material from political broadcasts.


The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry has its headquarters in Belize City. There are active workers' unions and professional associations, including the Belize Citrus Growers' Association and the Belize National Teachers' Union.

Youth organizations include the Belize Union of Students and Youth (BUSY), YMCA, YWCA, The Scout Association of Belize, an organization of Girl Guides, and a branch of the Red Cross Youth as part of the national chapter of the Red Cross. There are sports associations in the country for such pastimes as tennis, football (soccer), and track and field.

The United Democratic Party National Organization of Women (UPNOW) encourages involvement in party activities and educates women about political and social issues. The group also serves to defend women against discrimination and violence.

There are active chapters of Habitat for Humanity, the Lions Club, and Kiwanis International.


Belize is attracting growing numbers of tourists to its Mayan ruins, its barrier reef (the longest in the Western Hemisphere), and its beaches, forests, and wildlife. Tourist arrivals totaled 220,574 in 2003; mostly from the Americas. There were 5,050 hotel rooms in Belize with 8,166 beds and an occupancy rate of 41%. Visitors stayed an average of seven nights.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Belize City at us$183 per day.


George C. Price (b.1919), leader of the PUP, became the country's first premier in 1964. Manuel Esquivel (b.1940), leader of the UDP, was prime minister from 198489 and from 199398. Said Wilbert Musa (b.1944) succeeded Esquival in 1998.


Belize has no territories or colonies.


Ball, Joseph W. Cahal Pech, the Ancient Maya, and Modern Belize: The Story of an Archaeological Park. San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1993.

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Hennessy, Huw (ed.). Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatán. Maspeth, N.Y.: Langenscheidt, 2000.

Kelly, Joyce. An Archaeological Guide to Northern Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

McClaurin, Irma. Women of Belize: Gender and Change in Central America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

McKillop, Heather Irene. Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Simmons, Donald C. Confederate Settlements in British Honduras. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001.

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Major Cities:
Belmopan, Belize City

Other Cities:
Dangriga, Orange Walk, Punta Gorda, San Ignacio


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Belize. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The tiny country once known as British Honduras, lies on the Caribbean coast of Central America, tucked in between Mexico on the north and Guatemala on the west and south. Its first European settlement was made in 1638 by shipwrecked British sailors but, subjected to repeated attacks by neighboring Spanish colonies, it endured a troubled 150-year period until the British established control just before the turn of the 19th century. Full status as a crown colony was formally declared in 1862. Belize has been independent since 1981. Although Britain had sovereignty, Guatemala had long disputed Britain's claim to the territory, maintaining its own territorial claim allegedly inherited from Spain. Guatemala finally recognized Belize's independence in 1991. The Guatemalan claim, however, remains unresolved.

Belize is a land of natural wonders and broad ecological diversity. It is noted for its virgin rain forests and pine savannas; the richness of its marine and wildlife; and, especially, for its 176-mile-long barrier reef, second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Estuaries, caves, and cascading waterfalls add further wealth to the tropical environment.

Archaeological sites at Xunantunich and Altun Ha reveal the extensive Mayan civilization that flourished here approximately 1,500 years ago. With almost every new excavation, spectacular discoveries are made, and the country becomes ever more notable for its pre-Columbian culture.



Belmopan is situated some 50 miles inland in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, at the country's geographic center. When the capital was moved here in 1970 from Belize City, the principal municipality, the area first had to be cleared of its dense jungle growth. The city was built after the devastation wrought in 1961 upon Belize City by Hurricane Hattie. Although Belmopan is also vulnerable to hurricane winds, its mean altitude of 182.5 feet above sea level is greater than Belize City's, and this protects it against the waters which have inundated the latter in previous times, causing widespread damage and loss of life.

Belmopan is easily accessible by one of the country's two good highways, although heavy rains can cause severe flooding on the sections of road close to Belize City.

The capital's main point of interest is the National Assembly building, patterned on an ancient Mayan motif, and flanked by government ministries around a spacious esplanade.

The official residences of the governor-general and the prime minister also are here, as are some foreign consulates. The city is administered by an agency of the national government rather than by an elected municipal authority.

Belmopan lacks the amenities found in Belize City. It has a handful of shops and stores, a market, one movie theater, a hotel, two commercial banks, one service station, and a small hospital for minor health problems. On weekends, many people travel the short distance to Belize City for shopping and entertainment.

Current plans for Belmopan's future include expansion to accommodate several times its present population of about 6,000 with the addition of residential, governmental, commercial, industrial, educational, and medical facilities. A 20-room hotel has convention facilities. Also, the broad, fertile valley of the Belize River, stretching several miles to the north and west of Belmopan, provides an excellent area for agricultural development.

Belize City

Belize City is a mixture of modern concrete buildings, Victorian-style wood houses, and old buildings dating back to the 1800s. A branch of the Belize River, known as Haulover Creek, divides the city into "north-side" and "southside". Three bridges join the two halves. Downtown (alternately described as dumpy and charming) and the poorer sections of town are southside. The Fort George area and the Southern Foreshore, facing each other at the mouth of the Creek, are the older residential areas. Kings Park, Caribbean Shores and Bell Vista, where most Mission personnel live, are newer developments on the nourished, upriver toward the airport.

The city is built on reclaimed man-grove swamp and expansion can occur only by further reclamation, an expensive process. The two roads leaving the city pass through several miles of wetland before reaching slightly higher ground.

Seaward, the view is interesting. Four or five scenic cayes with good fishing, swimming, and skin-diving, lie within a 30-minute boat ride. The island villages of San Pedro and Caye Caulker are the favorite jumping-off spots where skin-diving and scuba equipment can be rented.

Close in to Belize City, the sea is shallow, muddy, and polluted. Freighters dock at a cargo pier outside the city, while cruise ships often anchor offshore in winter. Though locals can often be seen swimming along the city shoreline, there are no beaches. You should swim only at the cayes, along the reef, up rivers or at designated beach areas. The nearest white-sand beaches are 30 minutes east by boat or a one-hour drive south.


Most packaged, canned and bottled items needed in the average household can be bought in Belize. Four supermarkets and several small groceries carry a good supply of imported U.S. and British food and housekeeping supplies. Most baby foods, formulas and disposable diapers are available. Prices on all items are high. The supermarkets have imported fresh butter, margarine, various cheeses and a modest assortment of frozen products, including fruits, vegetables, bakery goods, and processed meats. Frozen whole chickens, chicken parts, beef and pork from local producers are stocked as well. Fresh meat is sold in various meat markets and, with the exception of lamb which is increasing in popularity, is in generous supply. Beef is not as tender here as in the U.S., but is lean and of quite acceptable quality. Local chickens are good, as are local dairy products in general.

Fish, conch, shrimp and lobster are caught and frozen locally. The supply of fresh fish varies according to the weather and prices are cheaper than in the U.S.

Mexico offers less expensive shopping: Chetumal is just over the border (two-hour drive), while Cancun and Merida (six-hour drives) boast fully stocked Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs.


The most important thing to keep in mind when buying clothing to wear in Belize is that the fabric must be suitable for the hot and humid climate. No garment will be wearable if the fabric is heavy or retains heat. Synthetics and double knits are too hot. Pure cotton is ideal, but always think lightweight and permanent press. There is one dry-cleaner in Belize City. Another consideration is the type of recreational activity most popular here. Casual clothing is acceptable for swimming, fishing, boating and travel to out-of-the-way archeological ruins. It also is a good idea to have a hat for protection from the sun. Ladies straw hats and men's summer caps can be purchased in Belize, but beachwear is best brought to post. Remember that clothes wear out quickly, as there is no change of season. Therefore, bring more, rather than less; little is available on the local market. Lightweight hiking boots and outdoor clothing or jungle fatigues are a good idea for hiking in the rainforest.

Men: Dress is cool and casual. Guayaberas (embroidered Mexican shirts with evenly hemmed tails worn outside the pants) are appropriate on most occasions and are worn in the office and for evening social events. Any open-necked short-or long-sleeved shirts are acceptable for business and most informal social occasions. Lightweight suits are worn for a few special events, especially official functions. Black-tie is almost never worn, but when it is, both black and white jackets are acceptable. Poor drainage in the city, which is one foot below sea level, floods streets and hides ditches during the rainy season, so getting wet is a part of life here. Sweaters are needed for winter evenings.

Women: Dressing is casual, although less so in the office where air-conditioning is efficient. Dresses or slacks are worn. Lightweight slacks and tops, and sleeveless dresses are worn for shopping and marketing. Sun-dresses are also popular for everyday wear. Stockings are never worn except occasionally in the evening and in the office. Hats are rarely required. Short cocktail dresses and patio-type clothes are worn at evening parties. Formal parties are rare, so the need for long evening dresses is minimal. In December and January, dresses with sleeves are comfortable. A light stole is useful to have in the evening during the cooler months. Bring a sweater and heavier clothing for traveling to mountain areas.

Completely closed leather or synthetic shoes are a bit warm for Belize. So canvas espadrilles and sandals are common daytime wear. Women's casual shoes are sold here, but styles and fit are limited. Narrow sizes are not available.

Children: Infants and children wear simple clothing. Cotton T-shirts, light pants, shorts, and simple dresses are worn. Sneakers are the usual footwear, so bring a supply. Children tend to dress up for birthday parties and religious services.

All schools mandate that uniforms be worn. Children's shoes are available, but don't count on the local selection. Some British and American toys and baby supplies are sold, but prices are high.

Supplies and Services

Most all necessities can be bought at one of the several department, hardware, and drugstores, but shortages occur. Hobby, recreational, beauty and medicinal/medical items can be another story. If they are available, they're expensive. Make sure you bring along books, art supplies, CDs and special needs like cosmetics, medicines and toiletries. A good rule of thumb is: If it's not in every store in the U.S., don't assume it's to be found anywhere in Belize (though sometimes Belize can surprise you).

There is one dry cleaner in Belize City and three or four commercial laundromats. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics, etc., are easy to find, but service is generally slow, and replacement parts not always on hand. Barbers and hairdressers are competent, as are upholsterers, drapery makers, dressmakers and jewelers.

Domestic Help

Most American households have a maid, though experienced and trained servants are difficult to find. Domestic workers typically do not live in, and work 6-8 hours per day. The legal minimum wage for domestics is Bz$2.25 per hour. Overtime is paid for extra hours. Employers pay Social Security tax for all domestics who work over 23 hours per week. Maids do routine cleaning, laundry and child care, and may speak Spanish and/or English. Night baby-sitting and help at parties requires overtime pay. Hours and fringe benefits should be agreed upon at time of employment.

Religious Activities

Belize is roughly 60% Roman Catholic and 38% Protestant. Although church attendance is relatively low, the country is very religious; prayers accompany virtually every public ceremony. Denominations represented in Belize include Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Hindu, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonite, Methodist, Mormon, Muslim, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist. All conduct services in English.


Local schools provide good education through the junior high school level. The basics are taught, but creative art, music and laboratory science are lacking. The school year usually begins the first Monday after September 10, and ends in mid-June. There is a three-week vacation at Christmas and a two-week vacation at Easter.

Some schools have U.S. priests and nuns on their staff, but most of the schools are staffed by Belizeans. The educational system is basically British (although the textbooks in some schools come from the U.S.), and some of the curriculum and the approach to learning differs from that in the U.S. Most students reentering schools in the U.S. have no difficulty at their expected grade level.

To enter first grade, a child must be five years old by January 1, following the beginning of the school year. Infant I (kindergarten) enrolls children from ages three to five, and there are morning and afternoon sessions.

Most foreign grade-school children attend the British Toucan School, located at the Belize Defense Forces Airport Camp. Some others attend the new and privately operated Belize Elementary School.

At the high school level, girls can attend St. Catherine Academy or Palloti, both of which are run by Roman Catholic nuns. St. John's College, run by Jesuit priests, is the premier school for boys. The Anglican Cathedral College is a coeducational high school. Belmopan Christian Academy in Belmopan offers an American curriculum and several American teachers. These schools are regarded as the best in Belize.

Special Educational Opportunities

St. John's Sixth Form is a coeducational junior college with U.S. accreditation. St John's College Extension and the Extramural Department of the University of the West Indies offer a few evening courses for adults. Several people have learned Spanish through these courses as well as the Mexican Cultural Institute. These night classes are attended by working people who are studying to pass the high school equivalency test or who are upgrading then office skills by taking commercial courses

The University College of Belize provides higher education. Degrees are offered in Business Administration, Math English, Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Health, Education and Social Work Elective courses are in English, Literature Economics, History and Mathematics


Adequate exercise and outdoor recreation are essential to morale and physical wellbeing in Belize. Opportunities for outdoor recreation are limitless, while those who don't like the outdoors are likely to find life here frustrating. Jogging and bicycling are popular. Close proximity to some of the world's most beautiful boating and swimming makes this an ideal post for water sports. Sailing, canoeing (on rivers), sea kayaking, motor-boating, SCUBA, snorkeling, fishing, and exploring the barrier reef and the cayes are popular activities. From Belize City, water taxis take you out to the cayes. There are plenty of boats for hire, or bring your own. Outboard motors are in ample supply and cheaper than in the U.S. Races for various classes of local and imported sailboats are held two or three times a year. Fishing tournaments, too, are held several times a year. Manatee can be seen upriver; and it is possible to canoe from the Guatemalan border into Belize City in 3 or 4 days (experienced outfitters can arrange the trip). The Belize Pickwick Club, the main tennis and social club, is in decline and membership is expensive. There are a few free or less expensive courts to be found around town, and partners are easy to find.

There is one private golf course. The Caye Chapel course is on an island ten miles east, and is being upgraded whilst the entire island is remade into an exclusive resort. It charges Bz$50/round. (Bring your own set of clubs, rentals don't exist here.) Golf is also possible in Cancun.

The cost of recreational and hobby equipment is high. It's a good idea to bring your own supplies and equipment. A fully equipped gymnasium is available northside at reasonable monthly fees.

Bird watching and hiking are popular activities. Belize is a world famous bird watching destination with over 560 species. An enthusiastic and professional Belize Audubon Society is active throughout the country. Belize has several caves to explore. Some can even be floated through on rivers in inner tubes.

The Radisson Fort George Hotel and Marina, and the Fiesta Inn open their main pools to non-hotel guests, who have come for a meal. Also, a public pool has just been completed.

The Belize Fishing Association benefits sports fishermen and promotes fishing-related tourism. The association explores all kinds of sport fishing, organizes fishing tournaments, and advances marine conservation by maintaining records of fish caught in Belizean waters, such as grouper, snapper, tuna, marlin and swordfish.

Popular sports include karate, softball, basketball, horse racing, body building, soccer and cross-country bicycle racing.

The government reciprocally issues amateur radio licenses upon presentation of a U.S. license. The Belize Amateur Radio Society offers code and technical courses. In addition to high frequency operations, there is wide-spread two-meter activity across the country, with the assistance of active repeaters.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Possibilities for weekend excursions are limitless. Roads, hotels, food and restaurants are generally good, the language is English, distances are short, and the variety of scenery great. A wide variety of ethnic groups can be found, and rural people are friendly. Particularly welcoming are the resident Americans, who are scattered all across the country, and are preeminent in the tourism industry.

A number of Mayan ruins in Belize have been excavated and partially restored. The two well-excavated ruins are Xunantunich, 70 miles west of Belize City, and Altun Ha, 30 miles north. The latest ruin, Caracol, rivaled (and in fact once defeated) Tikal, and requires an adventurous 4-wheel trek into Belize's tropical rainforest. Many sites are still under excavation and archeologists sometimes welcome visitors.

The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, 30 miles west of the city, is a trend-setting world-class facility, started and run by an American. It offers not only an interesting selection of Belizean wildlife in their natural settings, but also has educational programs on the flora and fauna of the region. A Baboon Sanctuary (actually black howler monkeys), butterfly farms across the country, bird sanctuaries (featuring the Western Hemisphere's largest bird, the jabiru) near Belize City and several national parks nationwide have established trails and guides. The world's only jaguar reserve is in the south.

The Mountain Pine Ridge, about three hours from Belize City off the Western Highway, provides a change of climate with cool nights. A number of resorts in the 3,000-foot high Pine Ridge offer horseback riding through Mayan ruins, inner tubing through ancient river caves, and ecological camping trips. Caves, waterfalls, natural pools and scenic views abound. The Mexican town of Chetumal (a two-hour drive), with freshwater, crystal clear lagoons for swimming close by, makes a good weekend excursion. The modern resorts of Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres are six hours by car and are popular vacation sites. Cancun boasts every American chain restaurant and a Wet n Wild water park. Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan is also a six hour drive. It has excellent shopping and sightseeing facilities, and can be used as a base for visits to the famous ruins of Uxmal and Chichen-Itza.

Guatemala City and the colonial town of Antigua are an inexpensive and easy flight away. The quaint, sinking Guatemalan island village of Flores and the nearby Mayan ruins of Tikal are three hours by car.

Closer to home is Ambergris Caye, a large sandy island, only 15 minutes by plane or 1-1/2 hours by boat from Belize City. A fishing village turned tourist hub, San Pedro, is the premier jumping off spot for the best fishing, diving and boating. Many other lovely cayes are minutes from Belize City by boat, a couple with cabana guest rooms. Placencia, a rustic, mainland fishing village about 30 minutes by air or three hours by car, is one of several popular beach-front village vacation spots in the south.


The Calypso Bar and Grill, part of the Fiesta Inn, has a live band and dancing every Thursday through Saturday nights, and attracts an older crowd. Lindbergh's Landing is a popular hangout, and the happy hour at Mangos restaurant is well-attended. The Bellevue Hotel is favored by older young people. Karaoke is popular. There are several nightclubs, but no movie theaters.

There are a number of festivals year round. September 10, the anniversary of the Battle of St. George's Caye, and September 21, Independence Day, both feature parades, beauty contests, street dances and special events. Pan American Day and Garifuna Settlement Day (the anniversary of their arrival in Belize) are also celebrated.

Social Activities

The 3,000-strong American community consists mainly of business people who have enterprises, hotels or farms on the cayes or in the interior. Several American clergy and religious orders live in Belize City and in the districts. An American Chamber of Commerce formed in 1998.

Your social life can be active or quiet depending on inclination. Belizeans are friendly and easy to get to know, and a wide circle of acquaintances can easily develop. Most social activity takes place in the home, out on the cayes, and through scheduled events of the various clubs. Both Rotary and Lions have active branches in Belize.


DANGRIGA (formerly called Stann Creek) is located in east-central Belize on the Caribbean Sea. The town was founded by black refugees from Honduras in 1823. It soon became a trading center and port for timber, fish, coconuts, and bananas. Dangriga has facilities for canning and freezing orange juice. The town's population is about 7,000.

Situated on the New River in northeastern Belize, ORANGE WALK is about 50 miles north of the capital. During the late 19th and early 20th century, Orange Walk enjoyed prosperous mahogany trading. Today, the economy is based on sugarcane and rum distilling. The area's inhabitants are a mixture of Maya Indians, Creoles, and a small number of Mennonites. The city's population is about 10,400.

PUNTA GORDA , in southern Belize, lies on a coastal plain about 75 miles south of Belmopan. Livestock are raised locally. Punta Gorda is linked to Belmopan by the Southern and Hummingbird highways via Dangriga. Its exports include coconuts, sugarcane, and bananas. Most of the 2,600 residents are Caribs.

SAN IGNACIO (formerly called El Cayo or Cayo) is the administrative center of the Cayo district in west-central Belize. The town lies on the Belize River, near the border with Guatemala. Rice, beans, cattle, and corn are traded in San Ignacio. The town's inhabitants are mostly Maya Indians, mestizos, and a substantial number of Mennonites. The population is about 8,000.


Geography and Climate

Belize is located along Central Americas eastern coast, bordered to the north by Mexico, to the west and south by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. It measures 175 miles north to south and 69 miles across at its widest point. Total land area is about the same as New Jersey.

The savannas of northern Belize are flat and dry compared to the rest of the country (receiving only 50 inches of rain a year). The primary source of income for the predominantly Mestizo population there is sugarcane. South and westward, the hilly inland terrain is more forested, including some remaining stands of mahogany. Next is the Mountain Pine Ridge range, with pine-covered peaks of over 3,000 feet that enjoy cool nights year round. To the south are citrus plantations, fishing, and rainforests where the annual rainfall increases to 120 inches. The Mayan Indian and Garifuna inhabitants subsist primarily upon small-scale farmsubsist and fishing.

Much of the coastline consists of either dense growths of mangrove habitats or broken, low-lying and narrow sandy shoreline. Belize City itself rests upon filled mangrove forest, with an elevation that is actually a foot below sea level.

The central Belize District is the most populated of six and is predominantly Creole. Economic activity centers around commerce and some light manufacturing Belize's barrier reef is the second largest in the world, running some 150 miles nearly the entire length of the coast, featuring three of the Caribbean's four atolls Small islands or cayes (pronounced keys; abound in the crystal-clear waters of the reefs.

Belize's subtropical climate is hot and humid most of the year. In Belize City the average daily temperature is 85°F, but the daytime high is often in the 90s between May and October, with uncomfortably high humidity. Dry season runs from January through April. Heavy rains begin in June and can continue through December. Mosquito outbreaks are a perennial result. From March to November, a fairly steady breeze makes the heat in Belize City less intolerable. The coolest period is December to February, when the average daily temperature is only 75°E During this period, night temperatures can drop into the upper 50s.

Tropical storms and hurricanes can occur from June through November. In 1931 and 1961, hurricanes devastated Belize City; Hattie in 1961 put 15 feet of water in the chancery. Hurricane Greta (1978) was much less intense, but still covered the first floor of the chancery with 18 inches of water.

The country's capital is Belmopan, at the country's geographic center in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. It was conceived and constructed as the capital after hurricane Hattie's devastation. Though Belmopan is still vulnerable to hurricane winds, its distance inland (50 miles) and 180-foot elevation protect it from the waters that inundate Belize City. Belmopan is an easy hour away by paved highway.

Belmopan's modest main point of interest is its government buildings, styled after ancient Mayan architecture, arranged around a wide plaza. While it lacks the amenities of Belize City, it does have a handful of shops and produce stalls, a supermarket, banks, three hotels and a hospital. Plans to increase the city's 7,000+ population have stalled in recent years, and Belize City remains the principal shopping, business and entertainment center.


Belize's three major ethnic groups are the Mestizo (Spanish/Indian descent), the Creole (African/European descent) and the indigenous Maya Indians. Garifuna (African/Arawak Indian descent), East Indian, Lebanese, European, Mennonite and Chinese people make up the rest of the population, which is estimated at 230,000. Average annual growth rate is 2.6%, due to a high birth rate coupled with a higher immigration than emigration rate.

The Creole and Garifuna together comprise roughly 36% of the population. Descended from African slaves, the two groups are distinguished by lineage and culture. The Creole, who predominate in Belize City, intermarried with Europeans, and their local English dialect is also known as Creole. Their culture is a blend of West Indian, British and American. The Garifuna are slaves intermarried with Carib Indians, who were deported by the British from the French West Indies around 1800. Garifuna communities are in the south. They maintain distinctly African cultural traits, while their first language combines an African dialect with Maya and Spanish words.

About 45% of Belizeans are of Latin and/or Indian lineage. Some are direct descendants of the regional Mayan tribes, who have become part of the money economy, learned Spanish, and married Latin descendants; this group is often referred to as the Mestizo. In remote areas, such as in the south, some Mayans still maintain some ethnic purity in custom and language.

In recent years, the influx of Hispanic refugees has had a significant impact on the population of Belize. The refugees came mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras during the wars of the 1980s. A reduced number still come, primarily for economic reasons. Official estimates place their numbers at 40,000. Some are being assimilated into Belizean society, working as laborers or in service industries in the larger towns. Many live as squatters, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture on interior lands.

Mennonites of European stock are often seen in black clothing and horse and buggy. They inhabit the northwest, and produce lovely furniture and much of the country's poultry and vegetables. The few remaining British subjects, the Lebanese, East Indian and Chinese business communities are predominantly in Belize City. English is the official language and mother tongue of over half of the population, with Spanish, Mayan dialects and Garifuna spoken as the first language of the rest of the population. Literacy is liberally estimated at 90%.

Public Institutions

After more than 200 years of British colonization, independence was granted on September 21, 1981. But Belize has enjoyed internal self-government since 1964, boasting the most stable democracy in the region, with a British-style parliamentary government, headed by a Prime Minister and 10 or more Cabinet ministers who all serve in the House of Representatives or Senate. Upon independence, Belize joined the Commonwealth, making Queen Elizabeth the head of state. The monarch is represented by a Governor General, whose appointment is recommended by the Prime Minister.

In 1993, British Forces withdrew all but a small training detachment of its former garrison. Today, defense is the responsibility of the small but dedicated Belize Defence Force (BDF). Policemen, like the British bobby, are unarmed on the beat.

There are two principal political parties-the People's United Party (PUP), and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The two have exchanged control of the government in every election since independence.

Arts, Science, and Education

Most exponents of Belizean art are the Garifuna, Creole, Maya and East Indian peoples. The work of wood and slate carvers, black coral jewelers, and local musicians and vocalists are readily available in stores where tourists shop, although much of the handicrafts are imported from Guatemala. There are many talented and popular painters, some of whom are exhibited fairly regularly in Belize City, especially at the National Handicraft Center and the Mexican Cultural Center.

Various choral societies practice and perform regularly. There are five national dance companies under the auspices of the National Arts Council, a couple of which have toured overseas on occasion.

The Belize National Theater Company and the Arts Council put on three to four shows a year, favoring works by local and Caribbean writers.

Scientific activity centers around the excavation of some of the 900 pre-Mayan/Mayan ruins throughout the country. A historical society, run by an American expatriate, is active.

The government and private citizens have set aside tens of thousands of acres of wildlife and ecological habitats where researchers study everything from herbal medicines to the coral reefs, manatees, mangrove trees and the spiny lobster. Reportedly, Belize has a higher percentage of its land (40%) held as nature reserves or parks than any other country; and ecotourism is popular.

The University College of Belize (UCB), the only 4-year junior college with U.S. accreditation; the Belize Agricultural College; the University of the West Indies (UWI) Belize campus; and the Belize Teachers College are the premier institutions of higher learning. Check with the individual institutions, however, for their accreditation and academic levels of proficiency, as relevance and carryover to American programs may differ greatly.

There are relatively few cultural traces of two centuries of British colonialism; widespread cable television in particular, has increasingly Americanized the country.

Commerce and Industry

Sugar, citrus, rice, bananas, fishing, cattle ranching, and tourism have long since surpassed logging as the country's major economic activities. Still, only a small percentage of the cultivable land is in use, and tourism is now the largest industry (160,000 tourists, 65% of them Americans, visited in 1997).

Historically, Belize has exported agricultural products such as sugar and bananas, and has imported everything else. Through the efforts of Mennonite and Central American immigrants, it has achieved a modicum of self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs like rice, corn, and red kidney beans. There are only a handful of small industries-cigarettes, beer, soft drinks, floor milling, concrete blocks, dairy products and agricultural processing.

Since Belize's modest market imports almost everything from the U.S., the UK or the English-speaking Caribbean, the cost of living remains high. Many Belizeans do their shopping in Mexico or Guatemala, where goods are cheaper.



Private cars are a necessity and air-conditioned, heavy-duty vehicles are popular. High clearance vehicles are needed for traveling out of town. Parts and service are most easily obtained for Fords and Toyotas, which have full dealerships here. Jeep, Chrysler, Land Rover, Mitsubishi and Suzuki have agencies, with a limited supply of parts. The Ford Explorer and Suzuki Vitara or Side-kick are among the most popular models. Flood damage and poor maintenance make urban streets so full of potholes that tires and shock absorbers often need replacement (some would say high clearance is needed in town as well).

Driving licenses and registration certificates are issued with minimum formality and free of charge. Third-party liability insurance is compulsory and can be obtained locally at reasonable rates. Regular, high-octane, leaded and unleaded, and diesel fuels are readily available.


Tropic Air and Maya Island Airways are the two local airlines, using single-and twin-engine planes to serve the district towns, resort cayes and Tikal, Guatemala.

Paved roads link Belize City north to the Mexican and west to the Guatemalan borders. A dry-weather road (now being paved) connects to Punta Gorda in the far south. Roads on to Tikal, Guatemala and Cancun and Merida, Mexico are paved and in good shape.

Regular, inter-city bus service (on modern as well as aging buses) operates on the all-weather roads. In-town bus service is infrequent. Traffic moves on the right, American-style. Taxis are reasonably priced (Bz$5 per person within the city during the day), and are usually available.


From Houston and Miami, Belize is a 2 hour flight. TACA makes daily flights from these cities, San Salvador (with connections to all Central America), and Roatan and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Continental Airlines flies twice daily from Houston, while American Airlines flies daily from Miami. Commuter airlines link Belize City to Tikal, Guatemala, and Chetumal and Cancun, Mexico.

Commercial cargo flights arrive in Belize weekly. Freighters make port calls from Miami two or three times a week, taking three days to make the journey. It is also possible to sail on cruise ships that call at Belize City in the winter.


Telephone and Internet

Belize enjoys excellent but expensive telephone service. All districts and major population centers are now linked by dial service. Direct-dial capability to the U.S. and many other countries is available through the local phone company. It is possible to use USA Direct for both AT&T and MCI from Belize if you have a calling card.

The country is Internet-friendly, with a well developed net, lots of web sites and home e-mail service readily available.


International airmail service between Belize and the U.S. is reliable. Postage for a one-half ounce letter to the U.S. is 75¢ (US3 80 equivalent). International air parcel post from the U.S. is expensive, but fast and reliable. Airmail packages sent from Belize to the U.S. are slightly less expensive and service is equally reliable. International mail from Belize can be registered and insured.

Personal mail between the U.S. and Belize can take from four days to a week (first class or priority mail). The same is true of parcel post. Fourth class mail generally arrives within a month; and mail is received on a daily basis.

Radio and TV

There are few facilities for entertainment and recreation, so two local TV stations and 60-plus cable channels make a TV and VCR a necessity.

There has also been a rapid increase in the number of radio stations across the country. For the most part, programming consists of contemporary and Caribbean music. Live programming takes the form of newscasts, talk shows, government and public service announcements and political propagandizing. Though the country is English-speaking, Spanish stations and programs are on the rise.

British Forces Belize broadcast on FM in Belize City, and IBB/VOA can be heard on AM. Short-wave reception is good.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

There are five weekly newspapers in circulation in Belize. All are in English and each represents a different point of view. Four are published in Belize City, and one in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

A variety of U.S. magazines, including the Latin American editions of Time and Newsweek are sold locally. Several poorly stocked bookstores carry detective, Western, gothic romance and comic books. Belize City has a new public lending library with novels, text and reference books, but few are new.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Some local doctors are well-trained and competent to thwart common ailments. Diagnosis and treatment of complicated illnesses are difficult due to lack of equipment and facilities. Trained laboratory technicians are available, but equipment and supplies in the government hospitals are limited. For these reasons, serious conditions and cases involving special care are treated in Miami. Many Belizeans travel to Mexico or Guatemala for medical attention. Local ophthalmologists provide high quality care, and glasses, contact lenses, and exams are comparatively priced to the U.S. Emergency dental work should be evacuated to the U.S.

Several pharmacies carry a wide variety of basic medicines. However, bring to post a supply of prescription drugs, medicines and first aid supplies, since these items are imported and scarcities occur.

Community Health

Although Belize City now has a modern water treatment plant, and sanitation has improved greatly in recent years, things are still well below U.S. standards. About 90% of urban households are connected to the citywide sewage system, but sewage still runs in some open canals which empty into the sea. Although there is regular removal of city garbage, it is common to see it strewn about.

Houseflies, horseflies, sandflies, mosquitoes, roaches, land crabs, rats, and mice are widespread, and mildew, rot rust, and salt air corrosion are a continuous problem. For pets, ticks and fleas are a constant annoyance. Bring plenty of tick/flea shampoo, spray, collars, powder or whatever you normally use to control the problem (what is available here is expensive).

The constant mildew and dust in the city can aggravate allergies and sinus conditions, and colds are common. The high heat and humidity make this a debilitating climate, and extra exertion can quickly bring on heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Preventive Measures

No specific immunizations are recommended for Belize.

Bring an ample supply of insect repellent (Belizean mosquitoes are immune to Skin So Soft) and sunscreen to avoid the damaging effects of overexposure to the sun's rays. The latter is particularly important when traveling to the cayes by boat where the sun's intensity is amplified by the reflection from the sea.


Passage, Customs & Duties

From the Texas border, it is a 1,650 mile drive across Mexico to Belize City, most of it on 4-lane toll expressways. Good hotels, restaurants, spectacular scenery and mild mountain temperatures mark the route. Or, one can drive to Miami and take a plane from there to Belize City.

Plane connections to Belize are through Miami and Houston.

U.S. citizens need a passport valid for duration of stay. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds. Visitors for other purposes must obtain a visa. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 332-9636. Information is also available at the Belizean Consulate in Miami or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Belize are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize City and obtain updated information on travel and security in Belize. The U.S. Embassy is located at the intersection of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street in Belize City; telephone 011 (501) 2-77161/62/63. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for the 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. lunch hour.


Although no restrictions exist for bringing pets, and no quarantine is imposed, a current rabies shot and a health certificate (valid for no more than six months prior to arrival in country) are required. Also, a pet importation permit is required from the Vet Clinic in Belize, and a copy of it is required by the international carrier before personnel can board with their pet(s). A fee of BA 10 per pet is levied, and the permit is valid for 60 days. A veterinarian's health certificate must show an examination conducted not more than 10 days before arrival in country.

Heartworm is a deadly illness in Belize, therefore all dogs must receive constant preventative medication. Daily and monthly worming medicines are available, but you may want to bring your own supply to guard against shortages. Belize has a good clinic with several veterinarians, usually trained in the U.S. or Britain.

Firearms and Ammunition

Weapons must be registered with local authorities upon arrival. Only the following non-automatic firearms and ammunition may be brought to Belize.

Item Quantity: Pistols 1, Rifles 1, Shotgun 1. Ammunition: Rifle/pistols 100 rounds, Shotgun 50 rounds.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The Belize dollar (BA) rate of exchange has remained steady for over 20 years at Bz$2-US$1. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. It is not possible to access U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. Travelers, however, can obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Distances are measured in miles and weights in pounds.

Disaster Preparedness

Belize is a hurricane-prone country. The coastal islands of Belize, which are low-lying and lack high ground, are particularly vulnerable to direct hits by hurricanes and tropical storms. The islands have been cut off from communications and assistance during previous hurricanes. Extensive flooding as a result of storm activity is common both on the islands and in areas of the country not directly affected by hurricanes. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar. 9Baron Bliss Day

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Holy Saturday*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

May 1Labor Day

May Commonwealth Day*

May 28Memorial Day

Sept. 10 National Day

Sept. 21 Independence Day

Oct. 12 Pan American Day

Nov. 19Garifuna Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Dec. 26 Boxing Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Conroy, Richard (vice-consul here196062). Our Man in Belize. St. Martins Press, 1998.

Fernandez, Julio. Belize: A Case Study for Democracy in Central America. Avebury, 1989.

National Geographic. "Belize, theAwakening Land." January 1972. National Geographic. "La Rita Maya." October 1989.

Rabinowitz, Alan. Jaguar. S truggle and Triumph in the Jungle of Belize. Arbor House: New York, 1986.

Smithsonian Magazine. "Illuminating the Maya's Path in Belize." December 1989.

Sutherland, Anne. The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins. Bergen & Garvey, 1998

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Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is a Central American nation roughly the size of Massachusetts. Belize shares borders with Guatemala and Mexico, to the west and the northwest, respectively. To the east it borders the Caribbean Sea, with a coastline of 240 miles. It has an area of 22,966 square kilometers (8,867 square miles). The capital, Belmopan, is located in the center of the country.


Belize, with an estimated 249,183 people in 2000, is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. The population has been growing at about 2.86 percent a year since 1995, when the population stood at 216,500.

The Belizean population is ethnically diverse, with the majority of the inhabitants being of multiracial descent. Approximately 46 percent of the people are mestizo (of mixed Mayan and European descent), 30 percent are African and Afro-European (Creole), 10 percent are Mayan, and 6 percent are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder are European, Chinese, East Indian, Middle Eastern, and North American.

The Belizean population is young, with 43 percent below the age of 15 in 2000. Life expectancy is 71 years. In 2000, only 3 percent of the population was over 64. The birth rate in 2000 was 32.29 per 1,000, while the death rate was 4.81 per 1,000.

Over half of Belizeans live in rural areas. About 25 percent live in Belize City, the former capital which is also the principal port and commercial center.


In 1999, Belize's GDP grew at a quick pace, reaching to US$740 million. The per capita income (at PPP) was approximately US$3,100 a year (1999 est.). Economic figures for 2000 were expected to drop due to damage stemming from Hurricane Keith, which caused massive damage to the primary agricultural sector. In addition, the country had US$244 million in foreign debt .

Well into the 1900s, Belize depended on forestry to sustain its economy. When timber supplies began to dwindle, cane sugar emerged as the main source of foreign exchange. Although a majority of the arable land in Belize had still not been cultivated in 1999, agriculture was one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy, contributing 13.4 percent of GDP. Sugar was the leading export earner, bringing in approximately 50 percent of all domestic export revenues and accounting for half of all farmland in Belize.

While sugar production remained a staple in the last half of the 1990s, agricultural performance was accentuated by the production of citrus fruits (primarily oranges and grapefruits), which nearly doubled between 1995 and 1999. Bananas, the second most important crop, accounted for 16 percent of total exports in 1999.

The performance of agricultural products was enhanced by preferential access to U.S. and European markets. Under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), which was launched in August of 1990, products derived from citrus fruits, such as frozen concentrated juices, enjoyed duty -free access to American markets. Sugar and banana producers also relied on favorable quotas to maintain high export levels to the European Union. This preferential access was called into question in 1995 when the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the European Union (EU) went against free trade legislation by giving preference to Caribbean banana exports. In preparation for the potential loss of this particular market, Belize began to diversify its exports, increasing the farming of nontraditional crops such as chili peppers, papayas, and vegetables.

The manufacturing base in Belize is fairly limited, accounting for only 9 percent of the employed labor force ; however, initiatives have been taken to stimulate growth in the sector. An Export Processing Zone (EPZ) allowing for the duty-free import of equipment and machinery was established near the international airport at Belize City, and a commercial free zone providing similar tax exemptions was set up at Corozal, along the Mexican border. The government in Belize took significant steps to shore up the country's infrastructure , promoting tourism and attracting foreign investment. In 1999, some 185 U.S. companies had operations in Belize. Tourism has risen steadily, and was the fastest growing sector of the Belizean economy in 2000.


The first settlement in Belize was established by a shipwrecked British seaman in 1638. The British government began administering the territory in 1786 and made it a crown colony in 1871. Self government in Belize was first granted by the British in 1964, when the country was still known as British Honduras. In 1973 the country's name was changed to Belize, and by 1974 a 2-party political system had emerged. This system continued after Belize gained independence from Britain on 21 September 1981. At the time of independence, Guatemala claimed a portion of territory on the western border of Belize. This border continues to be a point of contention between the countries, even after Guatemala formally recognized Belize's independence in 1991.

Under the independence constitution of 1981, the executive branch of the government is made up of the prime minister and the cabinet. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in the Parliament, or National Assembly, which is made up of 2 houses: a 29-member House of Representatives, and a Senate of 8 appointed members.

A parliamentary democracy, Belize is a member of the British Commonwealth. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. She is represented in Belize by a governor-general, whose role is largely ceremonial. In 2000, Sir Colville Young held the post. Chief administrative duties fall to the prime minister, a position held by Said Musa, elected in August 1998.

The country's 2 main political parties are the People's United Party (PUP), established in 1950, and the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was established in 1974. The UDP is considered the more conservative of the 2 parties. It has a strong following in the urban Creole population. The PUP grew out of the trade union movement and has traditionally drawn support from the mestizo population. Both parties have curbed government spending to lower the deficit and they have financed this deficit with foreign aid. Both parties have sought to expand the manufacturing base, and have tried to diversify trade. The 2 parties differ on tax policy.

The UDP, after winning elections in 1993 for only the second time in history, levied a 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services. This VAT was instituted to offset revenue losses stemming from Belize's entry into the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1974, which had lowered import and export tariffs . The move was strongly criticized by the PUP, and during the run up to the 1998 election, the PUP vowed to repeal the tax. The PUP won the 1998 election, taking 26 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, and Said Musa became the country's prime minister.

Musa's administration made good on election promises. The VAT was abolished and replaced by an 8 percent sales tax. Taxes on the purchase of petroleum products, alcohol, and tobacco increased. Foods and medicines, as well as basic utilities such as water and electricity, were exempted from the tax, as were small businesses. The personal income tax was reduced to a maximum level of 25 percent. PUP officials hoped the tax policy would stimulate business activity and raise consumer spending so that government revenues would increase despite lower tax rates. The PUP also promised to decentralize government power, build 10,000 new houses, and create 15,000 new jobs.


There are 1,594 miles of roads in Belize, 303 of which are paved. Of the 4 main highways in Belize, 2 provide border crossings into Mexico and Guatemala. All the main towns and villages are linked to the capital, Belmopan, and to Belize City. Some roads, including major sections of highway, are vulnerable to damage or closure during the rainy season. The road network in Belize was improved in the 1980s, but not enough to support a significant growth in travel, tourism, and manufacturing. A US$14.7 million renovation of the Southern Highway began in 1998. Another US$8.5 million was allocated for the construction of a bypass road and 2 bridges in northern Belize. Funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) were used to improve rural access roads. There is regular bus service to and from all main towns.

Belize has 10 ports of entry, the largest of which is at Belize City. Nine major shipping lines run cargo services in and out of Belize City. The main southern ports are at Punta Gorda and Big Creek. The Philip Goldson International Airport, 9 miles from Belize City, handles a majority of the country's commercial air traffic. The airport is served by 3 international carriers: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Grupo Taca. From Belize, direct flights are available to Miami, Houston, Dallas, and San Salvador.

The communications network in Belize is extensive. Belize Telecommunications, which was privatized between 1988 and 1992, operates the network and provides modern service to the entire country. The number of subscribers grew from over 3,300 in 1995 to over 30,000 in 1999. Cell phone and Internet use are on the rise. There are no daily papers published in Belize, but there are 2 main weeklies: the Belize Times, which is sympathetic to the PUP, and the Guardian, which favors the UDP. The Broadcasting Corporation of Belize ran only 2 radio stations before it was privatized in 1998. As of 2000 there were 15 radio stations. Television viewers have access to a number of local television stations as well as cable television, which provides up to 50 international channels.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Belize 31,000 3,023 AM 1; FM 12; shortwave 0 133,000 2 41,000 2 12,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Mexico 9.6 M (1998) 2.02 M (1998) AM 865; FM about 500; shortwave 13 (1999) 31 M 236 25.6 M 51 2.5 M
Guatemala 665,061 (2000) 663,296 (2000) AM 130; FM 487; shortwave 15 (2000) 835,000 26 1.323 M 5 65,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

Residents in Belize receive their energy from Belize Electricity (BEL), which, after power sector reforms in 1992, emerged as the single producer and distributor of electric power. In 1999 the government gave up majority control of the company, selling a portion of its shares to the public and the rest to Fortis of Canada, boosting Fortis's ownership to 62.96 percent. The majority of Belize's fuel needs are met through the import of oil from the United States.


While efforts to diversify the Belizean economy are underway, the leading economic sector is still agriculture, leaving the country's economic performance vulnerable to fluctuations in international demand and shifts in commodity prices. To bolster economic stability and increase foreign investment, the Belizean government targeted tourism as its primary growth sector. An intensive marketing campaign was launched on U.S. television in the late 1990s to attract visitors, and loans were secured for the restoration of archeological sites. Manufacturing is another sector that has been targeted for growth. Manufacturing proceeds made a solid contribution to the GDP, but in 1998 industry employed only 32 percent of the labor force, less than the 38 percent employed in the agricultural sector. Mining is limited because of a lack of extensive resources. Construction activity increased in 2000 due to reconstruction from Hurricane Keith, but contracts for major projects are often awarded to overseas firms who generally have more building experience and wider access to skilled labor.


Agriculture, which employs over one-third of Belize's labor force, is vital to the country's economy, accounting for nearly 22 percent of the GDP in 1999 and about 68 percent of export earnings.

Sugar is produced in the north of the country and is the nation's largest agricultural export, accounting for 50 percent of domestic export revenues and half of all arable land use. Preferential quotas and tax rates on sugar exports granted by the United States and the European Union have kept sugar revenues high. The United States bought 16,772 tons and the European Union bought 39,400 tons of sugar from Belize in 1999.

Fruits, such as bananas, oranges, and grapefruits, are the country's second largest agricultural export. Fruit production, which occurs in the Stann Creek Valley, is affected by weather and international market conditions. For example, Hurricane Keith caused great setbacks in the agricultural sector in 2000. Also, export revenues rose to record levels in 1995-96, but as international prices fell, earnings slumped. Citrus concentrate and bananas enter the United States duty free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Recent developments in the industry could make the citrus sector more competitive against the banana market. In 1998-99, 2 citrus companies were purchased by the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC). The company wants to increase citrus production by making factories more efficient and by rehabilitating existing groves.

Banana production is significant, accounting for 16 percent of total exports in 1999. Production was controlled by the state-run Banana Control Board until 1991. It was then taken over by a growers' association which, through efficient management, raised banana production to record levels by the mid-1990s. Other export crops include assorted vegetables and tropical fruits, chili peppers, papayas, and organic cocoa.

Increased rearing of livestock has helped Belize become self-sufficient for fresh meat and poultry products. Belizean slaughter houses produced 3.3 million pounds of beef in 1999, along with 1.9 million pounds of pork. Some of this output was exported to Honduras and Guatemala. Despite increased production, processed meats were still imported from the United States. Fishing is an important component of the economy, providing food for domestic consumption as well as an important source of foreign exchange. Belize exported over 5,200 tons of marine products in 1999, most of it lobster and shrimp.

The timber industry, which once dominated the economy, has continued to struggle, contracting 6.9 percent in 1999. While 79 percent of Belize is covered by forest and woodlands, only 15 percent is suitable for timber production. Sawnwood exports earned only US$2.1 million in 1999, approximately 1.3 percent of total export revenue.

Most farms in Belize are small, less than 20 hectares. Government financing has generally favored large export-producing farms, making it difficult for small farmers to obtain capital for improvements. To help remedy the situation, the government (in November of 1998) created the Small Farmers and Business Bank to meet small farmers' needs.



While gold, bauxite, barytes, and cassiterite do exist in Belize, they are not found in sufficient quantities to render them commercially viable. Dolomite limestone, which is used as road ballast and agricultural fertilizer, was the only mineral exploited in 2000. Agricultural-grade dolomite is sold on the domestic market to banana and citrus producers. It is also exported to the Windward Islands and Jamaica. Belize Minerals, the main local producer of dolomite, has sought new export markets in Central and South America, and has tried to produce a different grade of dolomite for use in the steel industry.


The manufacturing sector in Belize was targeted for growth, but in 1999 was still fairly small. Most manufacturing is done for domestic consumption. Export production generally involves the processing of agricultural products or the assembly of garments from imported fabric for re-export to the United States under the CBI. The assembly sector in Belize has had trouble competing with low-cost producers, especially those in Mexico. Between 1993 and 1995 earnings in the sector dropped 50 percent.


The government pledge to build 10,000 new houses, along with commitments to improve the infrastructure, stimulated increased activity in the construction sector, but contracts were primarily awarded to foreign firms that had more highly skilled workers and more building experience. Reconstruction after Hurricane Keith in 2000 was expected to produce a leap in construction activity.



Belize has all the ingredients of an attractive holiday destination. It has a mild climate, calm blue waters, and a large barrier reef that is ideal for scuba diving. It is also home to jungle ecosystems and ancient ruins. The government, wishing to capitalize on these attractions, targeted the tourist industry for expansion.

In 1996, Belize ratified the Munda Maya agreement with Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, pledging cooperation in the management of Mayan archeological sites. In 1997 Belize launched a marketing campaign to attract visitors, producing commercials for American television and putting ads in U.S. magazines. And in 1999, the country obtained a US$11.4 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to further advance the sector's development. That same year, the government was planning to build a tourist village in Belize City which would cater primarily to cruise ship passengers who come to shore for brief periods of time.

In 1995, 121,270 people visited Belize. By 1999, that number had increased to 167,096, a majority of which were Americans. Cruise ship arrivals, which numbered 7,953 in 1995, had risen to 34,130 by 1999. By the end of the decade, tourists were contributing over US$100 million a year to Belize's economy. In 1999, 1,365 jobs (over 30 percent of the jobs created that year) were added in the services sector.


There are 4 commercial banks in Belize. Belize Bank is owned by Carlisle Holdings. The other 3 banks are subsidiaries of larger foreign banks: Barclays Bank (UK), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Canada), and the Atlantic Bank (Honduras).

There are 2 development banks: the Small Farmers and Business Bank, which was established to help meet the needs of small farmers and businessmen, and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which caters to the needs of large-scale producers. The DFC typically directs institutional funds from other agencies such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to meet the government's development priorities.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Belize
Exports Imports
1975 .067 .088
1980 .111 .150
1985 .090 .128
1990 .108 .211
1995 .143 .257
1998 .154 .325
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

Small enterprise owners who are in need of credit or technical assistance can also receive help from the National Development Foundation of Belize, a lending institution that was established from grant funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).


Belize is highly dependent on the United States and Great Britain for trade. These 2 countries alone bought 80 percent of Belize's exports in 1999. That same year, the United States supplied Belize with over half its imported goods.

Due to its limited export base and high degree of dependence on imported goods for much of its domestic consumption, Belize has run persistent trade deficits . In 1999, export receipts amounted to US$182.7 million. This was less than half the import bill of US$374.4 million, resulting in a trade deficit of about US$192 million.

Trade with the United States has been stimulated by Belize's participation in the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a U.S.-sponsored program to increase investment in Caribbean nations. The initiative allows member countries duty-free access to American markets. Other major trading partners include the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and CARICOM member states.


The Central Bank of Belize regulates the primary financial mechanisms of the country, setting liquidity and cash reserve requirements and determining the interest rate structure. The Central Bank also regulates most forms of foreign exchange in the country. At the end of September 1996, after receiving a US$20 million loan from Taiwan and issuing a US$10 million regional bond, international reserves in Belize reached an all-time high of US$79 million. Budget controls and high reserves in the early 1990s gave way to increased spending and

Exchange rates: Belize
Belizean dollars (Bz$) per US$1
2001 2.000
2000 2.000
1999 2.000
1998 2.000
1997 2.000
1996 2.000
Note: Fixed rate pegged to the US dollar.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

widening government deficits in 1997-98, putting pressure on Belize's fixed exchange rate with the United States. Reserves fell sharply, dwindling to US$43 million by 1998. The declines were reversed in 1999 due to increased borrowing and larger inflows of foreign exchange stemming mainly from the sale of home mortgages to the Royal Merchant Bank of Trinidad. By the end of 1999 monetary reserves had rebounded to US$70.2 million.


According to a census carried out in 1991, 38,000 people, or about 23 percent of the population, fell below the World Bank Poverty Threshold (meaning they made less than US$740 a year). The same census showed that 7 percent of the population was extremely poor (lacking the sufficient food and rudimentary services to ensure good health). Belize City has traditionally received a disproportionate share of government revenues because of the population representation system. Money is channeled directly into the Belizean Central Bank, and the resulting distorted spending has accelerated population growth in the port city, exacerbating poverty and social problems. The rural populations, particularly in the poorer districts of Toledo, Cayo, and Stann Creek have limited access to basic education, health care, safe drinking water, and sanitation. In 2001, 7 percent of the population was illiterate and 17 percent of the population did

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Belize 1,624 2,036 1,822 2,543 2,725
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Mexico 3,380 4,167 4,106 4,046 4,459
Guatemala 1,371 1,598 1,330 1,358 1,533
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Belize 27 10 5 3 13 5 38
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Mexico 30 6 4 2 7 5 46
Guatemala N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

not have access to safe drinking water. Life expectancy for both men and women was 71 years and the infant mortality rate was high, at 28 deaths per 1,000 live births.


Unemployment was estimated at 14.3 percent in 1998, among a total workforce of 71,000. Workers in Belize have the right to organize unions, and the law bars discrimination against employees on the basis of union affiliation. However, it is not uncommon for union sympathizers to be fired on grounds purportedly unrelated to their union activities. Effective redress for workers in this situation is difficult. They can file complaints with the Labor Department, but their cases are often difficult to prove. There were 11 unions in Belize in 2000 whose members comprised about 11 percent of the workforce. While officially the unions are independent of the political parties, most hold strong sympathies for either the UDP or the PUP.

Forced labor in Belize is forbidden by law, as is child labor. Children under the age of 14 are not permitted to enter the workforce, and those under 17 are not allowed to operate dangerous machinery. Children between 5 and 14 years old are required to attend school, although truancy and dropout rates are significant.

There is a minimum wage in Belize which applies to all full-time workers. The wage is generally set at US$1.10 per hour but fluctuates depending on the field of work. Those in the export industries receive at least US$1.00 per hour. Domestic workers in private homes and shop assistants are paid an hourly minimum rate of US$0.87. The minimum wage, as a sole source of income, is not enough to provide a decent standard of living. Most workers are paid more than the minimum. The standard workweek is 45 hours over 6 days. Anything more is considered overtime. Over the course of a year workers are given 13 public holidays and 2 weeks vacation.

Working conditions for documented workers are fairly good. For undocumented workers, especially the Hispanic laborers who make their livings on the banana farms, things can be more difficult. Worker housing on banana farms often lacks running water and electricity. Many times this housing is placed close to the fields, where exposure to pesticides is high. There are health and safety regulations in Belize covering numerous industries. However, enforcement and inspection are generally limited to urban areas or accessible rural areas where violations have been reported.


1502. Christopher Columbus sails along the coast of what is now Belize.

1638. The first recorded settlement is established by a shipwrecked English seaman.

1871. Belize becomes a Crown Colony of the British Empire. The territory is known as British Honduras.

1950. The PUP is founded.

1954. Universal suffrage is introduced.

1961. A ministerial system is established.

1964. The British grant the colony self government.

1973. British Honduras becomes Belize.

1974. The UDP is founded. Belize joins CARICOM.

1981. Belize gains independence and drafts a new constitution. Guatemala claims part of Belizean territory.

1984. The UDP wins elections.

1989. The PUP wins elections.

1991. Belize is admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS). Guatemala recognizes independence.

1992. Belize joins the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

1993. The UDP takes over once again, instituting a 15 percent VAT.

1994. Britain withdraws its garrison of 1,200 army and 300 air force personnel.

1998. The PUP comes to power; the 15 percent VAT is abolished and replaced with an 8 percent sales tax.


Belizean development was set back by Hurricane Keith, which swept through the country in October 2000. The damage, concentrated primarily in the north, amounted to US$280 million according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America. Promoting recovery in the agricultural sector, the infrastructure, and livestock will require a sustained, massive investment. Increased activity in construction resulting from damages caused by the hurricane was expected to boost the economy by 7 percent in 2001, but inflation was also expected to rise due to lowered agricultural production and a rise in the cost of food. The tourism sector will probably suffer until reconstruction is completed, but tourism has been touted as the most optimistic sector of the Belizean economy.


Belize has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Belize. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook. <>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Belize. <http://www.state, gov/global/human_rights/1999_hrp_report/belize.html>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Background Notes: Belize. <http//>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Belize. <>. Accessed July 2001.

World Bank. <>. Accessed July 2001.

John Mazor




The Belize dollar, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 2:1. One Belize dollar (Bz$) is equal to 100 cents. Belizean currency comes in 100-, 50-, 20-, 10-, 5-, and 2-dollar bills with the occasional 1-dollar bill. Coins come in 1-dollar, 50, 25, 10, 5, and 1 Belizean cent units. The 25-cent piece is called a shilling.


Sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, clothing, fish products.


Food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products.


US$740 million (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$150 million (1998 est.). Imports: US$320 million (1998 est.).

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Official name: Belize

Area: 22,806 square kilometers (8,803 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Victoria Peak (1,122 meters / 3,680 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 6 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 109 kilometers (68 miles) from east to west; 280 kilometers (174 miles) from north to south.

Land boundaries: 995 kilometers (618 miles) total boundary length; Guatemala, 269 kilometers (167 miles); Mexico, 251 kilometers (156 miles)

Coastline: 475 kilometers (295 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Belize is in Central America. Belize is located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea at the southeastern edge of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Known as British Honduras until 1973, Belize has a land area of 22,806 square kilometers (8,803 square miles), which makes it slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts.


Belize has no outside territories or dependencies.


Belize's climate is subtropical and humid, but it is modified by the northeast trade winds that consistently blow toward the equator. Temperatures range between 16°C and 32°C (61°F and 90°F) along the coast and are slightly higher inland. Changes in humidity, rather than temperature fluctuations, mark the changes in seasons. The mean annual humidity is 83 percent, but many days the humidity is masked by cooling sea breezes. November to January are traditionally the coolest months, and there are dry seasons from February to May and again in August. Some days and nights in the mountains can be very cold, but the mean annual temperature there is a comfortable 22°C (72°F). Annual rainfall averages from 127 centimeters (50 inches) in the northern portion of the country to more than 380 centimeters (150 inches) in the south. The number of rainy days varies considerably from place to place. The hurricane season lasts from July to October. Hurricanes can cause serious damage and flooding along the coast. Belize City, once the capital, has suffered severe damage from hurricanes since the 1930s. After hurricanes destroyed over half the buildings in Belize City in 1931 and again in 1961, the capital was relocated further inland, to Belmopan.


The country is divided into two main topo-graphic regions. The Maya and Cockscomb Mountains and their associated basins and plateaus dominate the southern half of the country. The northern lowlands, drained by numerous rivers and streams, make up the second region. Belize is located on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate.

In the far south lies the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where jaguars, pumas, oce-lots, margays, agoutis, anteaters, armadillos, boa constrictors, and dozens of bird species thrive.


Belize's eastern border lies on the Caribbean Sea. The central coast is on the open sea, but the northern shoreline forms one side of Chetumal Bay, while the southern coast borders the Gulf of Honduras and Amatique Bay.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The coastline of Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America, is full of indented areas, providing for many beaches as well as swamp-lands and lagoons. Belize's shore is sheltered by the second-longest barrier reef in the world, dotted with a large number of smaller coral reefs and cays. A barrier reef is an underwater formation of coral that lies parallel to the coast. The Lighthouse Reef contains an underwater cavern, known as Blue Hole Cave. Explored by Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, Blue Hole Cave measures 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter and 120 meters (400 feet) in depth.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Chetumal Bay lies between the northernmost points of Belize and its neighbor to the west, Mexico.

Islands and Archipelagos

To the north of the barrier reef, numerous islands and caysincluding Ambergris Cay, the Turneffe Islands, Columbus Reef, and Glover's Reeflie off the coast of Belize. More than one thousand small islands dot the coastline of Belize.

Coastal Features

The Belize coastline is flat and swampy and marked by many swamps and lagoons.


There are several small lakes in the northern half of the country. Two of the major inland bodies of water are the Northern and Southern Lagoons, which lie south of Belize City and near the coast.


Seventeen rivers, among them the Belize River, crisscross the countryside. The Belize River runs across the center of the country, draining into the Caribbean Sea near Belize City. About 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Belize City, an area along the Belize River features a nature preserve to provide a protected habitat for the black howler monkey. Dozens of other native bird and animal species thrive there as well.

Just south of the Belize River, the shorter Sibun River flows northeastward from the highlands in the center of the country to empty into the Caribbean Sea south of Belize City. Monkey River is located in the south of the country, emptying into the Caribbean near the Gulf of Honduras. In the north, the Hondo River marks the border with Mexico.

Hidden Valley Falls, aptly known as the Thousand Foot Falls for their 323-meter (1,000-foot) drop, are located near the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve in the mountains south of Belmopan. These scenic falls are the highest in Central America.


There are no notable desert regions in Belize.


The country north of Belize City is mostly level, interrupted only by the Manatee Hills.


The Maya and Cockscomb mountain ranges form the backbone of the country. The Maya Mountains rise to a height of 1,100 meters (3,400 feet), extending northeast to southwest across the central and southern parts of the country. The country's highest elevation, Victoria Peak, is located in the Cockscomb Mountains.


Because most caves in Belize contain artifacts from the ancient Mayans, the government requires all explorers to obtain a permit to explore them. There are numerous caverns in the limestone foothills of the Maya range. A region near the Southern Lagoon features limestone cones that rise above the citrus trees that grow in the area. Blue Creek Cave lies just north of Punta Gorda.

In western Belize, southwest of Belmopan, lie Chechem Ha and Barton Creek Caves, where archaeologists have unearthed ceremonial pots and human skulls and bones from the ancient Mayans.


There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Belize.


Belize's Mayan ruins include the residential compounds and ritual sites found at El Pilar on the border with Guatemala.



Crandell, Rachel. Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play. New York: Henry Holt, 2002.

Hoffman, Eric. Adventuring in Belize: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to the Islands, Waters, and Inland Parks of Central America's Tropical Paradise. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994.

Jermyn, Leslie. Belize. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

Norton, Natasha. Belize. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1997.

Wright, Peggy, and Brian E. Coutts, eds. Belize. Oxford: Clio Press, 1993.

Web Sites

Belize Audubon Society. (accessed July 20, 2003).

Belize Country Overview. (accessed July 20, 2002).

Belize Online. (accessed July 20, 2003).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Belize
Region: North & Central America
Population: 249,183
Language(s): English, Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna (Carib), Creole
Literacy Rate: 75%

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a central American country on the Caribbean Sea bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. A British colony for more than a century, Belize is now a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The official head of state, Queen Elizabeth, is represented by a governor general. The head of government is a prime minister. Belize occupies 22,965 square kilometers (8867 square miles), 92 percent of which is forest and swampland. In 2000 the population was estimated at 249,183 people, making Belize the least densely populated nation in Central America. English is the official language of Belize, though approximately half the inhabitants also speak Spanish. Most of the population is of mixed mestizo, Creole, Maya, and African descent. Approximately 60 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. The literacy rate, variously estimated at 75 to 90 percent, is the highest in Latin America. Poverty and unemployment remain pervasive, though the economy has benefited from an increase in tourism and foreign investment in the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of the labor force work in the service sector. Belize has greater trade and cultural links with the United States and Europe than its Central American neighbors. In 1997 the United States purchased 45 percent of Belize's exports, while Mexico accounted for less than 4 percent. Belize receives American television broadcasts via satellite and relies greatly on American news sources.

In Belize education is provided by a loose confederation of school subsystems, most following the British model. The Belizean school system is divided into five sectors: preschool, primary school, secondary school, tertiary (junior colleges/sixth forms), and adult and continuing education. Higher education is available in colleges in Belize City and Corozal. The University College of Belize is the largest institution of higher education in the country. Belize contributes to the University of the West Indies, which operates a small extramural department in Belize City. Other postsecondary institutions include the Belize School of Nursing, the Belize School of Agriculture, and the Belize Teachers' College. Only a small percentage of Belizeans receive any kind of postsecondary education.

Education is compulsory for children aged 5 to 14. Religious denominations operate the majority of primary schools, which enrolled 47,200 students in the early 1990s. Religious institutions managed the majority of secondary schools until the 1980s, when expanded public schools began to enroll more than 50 percent of the students. Approximately 8,900 students attended secondary schools in the 1990s.

The Ministry of Education and Sports is responsible for the school system in Belize. The Ministry cooperates with volunteer agencies and church schools to ensure that all Belizeans are given "the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for full and active participation in the development of the nation."

Educational philosophies and practices in Belize were greatly influenced by the British system and Jesuit institutions from the United States. Since the 1960s the Peace Corps and other U.S. volunteer programs have introduced American pedagogical methods.

Belizean nationalists long wished to decolonize the educational system and rely less on foreign academic institutions. In 1979 the ruling People's United Party (PUP) established the Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology (BELCAST) as a state institution free of church involvement. The government secured funds from the European Economic community for construction, but the campus was never built. The rival United Democratic Party (UDP) assumed power in December 1984 and established an alternative college, created and maintained by Ferris State College of Big Rapids, Michigan. Nationalists were dismayed that the new University College of Belize would be administered by non-Belizeans. Intense political controversy arose in 1991 when it was discovered that the university had not been properly accredited, calling into question the value of its degrees. A new PUP government severed its agreement with Ferris State College, and the state of Belize assumed full control over the university.

In the 1980s studies conducted by Belizean government and outside observers revealed that up to one-third of primary school students dropped out before they turned 14. Dropout rates and absenteeism were notably higher in rural areas where the seasonal demand for agricultural labor led many students to opt for work rather than school. The studies indicated that many poor parents did not regard education as a priority for their children, seeing few benefits from secondary or tertiary schooling. The children of illegal aliens, farm workers, and subsistence farmers are increasingly ill-equipped to find employment in an economy where secondary school credentials are considered minimum requirements for employment. In the late 1980s, only 60 percent of students completing primary school attended a secondary school.

Secondary schools in Belize are not free, and government attempts at providing financial aid have proven inadequate to assist the vast majority of low income families. It is estimated that 50 percent of secondary school students drop out before completing their studies. In some city schools, the drop out rate has reached 70 percent, caused mainly by lack of funds, poor discipline, and teenage pregnancy. Fewer than 15 percent of secondary school graduates continue their education by entering the sixth form, which would prepare them for university studies.

Higher education opportunities in Belize are extremely limited. Few scholarships to foreign universities are available, though in the 1980s a number of Belizeans were given scholarships to Cuban universities. In the mid-1980s Central American Peace Scholarships were awarded to Belizeans, giving them opportunities to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities.

In 2000 the Ministry of Education and Sports called for a series of school reforms. The ministry called for designing a national curriculum, administering national testing, devising criteria for teacher training and licensing, and establishing higher standards in all levels of education.

As a country increasingly dependent on international trade and tourism, Belize recognizes the importance of education to both improve its national prospects in a global economy and alleviate the chronic poverty of many of its citizens.


Belize, February 2001. Available from http:/

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Mark Connelly

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Belize (bəlēz´), independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations (2005 est. pop. 279,500), 8,867 sq mi (22,965 sq km), Central America, on the Caribbean Sea. Belize is bounded on the N by Mexico, on the S and W by Guatemala, and on the E by the Caribbean. The capital is Belmopan. Belize City, the capital until 1970, is the largest city and main port.

Land and People

The land is generally low, with mangrove swamps and cays along the coast, but in the south rises to Victoria Peak (c.3,700 ft/1,128 m high). The climate is subtropical. Although most of the area is heavily forested, yielding mahogany, cedar, and logwood, there are regions of fertile savannas and barren pine ridges.

Besides the capital and Belize City, other important urban areas are Orange Walk, Corozal, and Dangringa. About evenly divided between urban and rural, the people are mainly of mestizo, creole, Mayan, or Garifuna (Afro–Caribbean Indian) descent. English is the official language; Spanish and Mayan are also spoken. About half the population is Roman Catholic; there is a large Protestant minority.

Economy and Government

Although only a small fraction of the land is cultivated, agriculture provides about 75% of Belize's exports, the chief of which are fish products, citrus, sugar, and bananas. Clothing and timber are also important products and export items, and there is some petroleum, which began being exported in 2006. Tourism is the main source of foreign exchange. Machinery, manufactured goods, fuel, chemicals, and food are imported. The United States, Great Britain, and Mexico are the main trading partners.

A parliamentary democracy, Belize is governed under the constitution of 1981. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general, is the head of state. The head of government is the prime minister. There is a bicameral National Assembly with a 12-seat appointed Senate and a 29-seat elected House of Representatives; all members serve five-year terms. The country is divided administratively into six districts.


In 1993 archaeologists discovered evidence of a farming community in Belize dating from 2500–1100 BC The Mayas first settled in the area some 200 to 300 years later, and a few ancient Maya cities still survive. The region was probably traversed by Cortés on his way to Honduras, but the Spanish made no attempt at colonization. British buccaneers, who used the cays to prey on Spanish shipping, founded Belize (early 17th cent.). British settlers from Jamaica began the exploitation of timber. Spain contested British possession several times until defeated at the last battle of St. George's Cay (1798). From 1862 to 1884 the colony was administered by the governor of Jamaica.

Guatemala long claimed the territory as part of its inheritance from Spain. As Belize progressed toward independence, the tension between Britain and Guatemala over the issue increased. In 1964 the colony gained complete internal self-government, and in 1981 Belize achieved independence, a development that prompted Guatemala to threaten war. Relations improved, however, and in Sept., 1991, Guatemala officially recognized Belize's independence and sovereignty. Nonetheless, a British force aimed at guaranteeing independence remained in the country until Sept., 1994. The poorly defined border, however, remained a source of tension. In 1993 Manuel Esquivel of the United Democratic party (UDP) became prime minister; he was replaced in 1998 by Said Musa of the People's United party (PUP). In 2000, under the sponsorship of the Organization of the American States, Belize and Guatemala began negotiations to end their territorial dispute, and in 2002 they reached agreement on a draft settlement, which must be approved by national referendums. Musa's party was returned to power in the Mar., 2003, parliamentary elections. Corruption allegations and party infighting contributed to the PUP's loss in the Feb., 2008, elections, and Dean Barrow, the UDP party leader, succeeded Musa as prime minister. The UDP also won the Mar., 2012, elections, although it saw its majority reduced.


See N. O. Bolland, The Formation of a Colonial Society (1977); J. A. Fernandez, Belize: A Case Study for Democracy in Central America (1989).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Belize
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 249,183
Language(s): English, Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna (Carib), Creole
Literacy rate: 70.3%

Formerly known as British Honduras, the Central American country of Belize broke from Great Britain to become an independent country in 1981. Despite its independence, the English monarch is still the chief of state, represented locally by a Governor General. A Prime Minister leads the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. English is the official language of Belize, but many Belizeans speak Spanish, Mayan, Creole, and Garifuna, a Caribbean dialect. The population is approximately 256,000 and the approximate literacy rate is 75 percent. The basis of the Belizean economy is agriculture, especially sugar and bananas, but tourism and construction are becoming more important every year.

The Belizean Constitution provides for general press freedom, and the media operates freely. The government has occasionally been sensitive to criticism: in 2000, the editor of the San Pedro Sun was publicly threatened by a government minister for criticism about the government's environmental policy.

The capital of Belize is Belmopan, but the media center of the country is Belize City. Belize has no daily newspaper; most newspapers publish weekly, and all are printed in English. Politics play a large part in the country's publications. The most widely read weekly is Amandala, which began in 1969 as a stenciled newsletter for the United Black Association for Development and now publishes in print and online. The Belize Times, published in English and Spanish and posted online, bills itself as the official newspaper of the People's United Party. The Guardian (known as The People's Pulse before 1998) is the official newspaper of a rival political group, the United Democratic Party. It also maintains an online presence. Beyond politicsand the mainlandis The San Pedro Sun, which publishes every Friday from San Pedro Town, located on Ambergris Caye, the largest of some 200 cayes off the coast of Belize. The content is also posted online. The Reporter is also a popular Belize City weekly.

There are 12 FM stations and one AM station serving approximately 133,000 radios in Belize. Two television stations broadcast to about 40,000 televisions. There are two Internet service providers.


"Belize." The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook. Available from

"Belize." World Press Freedom Review. International Press Institute 2001. Available from

The Belize Times, 2002. Available from

Benn's Media, 1999, Vol. 3, 147th Edition, p. 247.

The Guardian News Online, 2002. Available from

The San Pedro Sun, 2002. Available from

"Welcome." Amandala 2002. Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Belize (formerly British Honduras)


22,960sq km (8865sq mi)



capital (population):

Belmopan (8130)


Constitutional monarchy

ethnic groups:

Mestizo (Spanish-Indian) 44%, Creole (mainly African-American) 30%, Mayan Indian 11%, Garifuna (Black-Carib Indian) 7%, White 4%, East Indian 3%


English (official), Creole


Christianity (Roman Catholic 58%, Protestant 29%), Hinduism 2%


Belize dollar = 100 cents

Republic in Central America, on the Caribbean Sea.

Land and climate

Swamp vegetation and rainforest cover large areas. North Belize is mostly low-lying and swampy. Behind the s coastal savanna plain, the land rises to 1122m (3681ft) at Victoria Peak in the Maya Mountains. The River Belize flows across the centre of the country. Belize has a humid tropical climate, with high annual temperatures and an average annual rainfall ranging from 1300mm (50in) in the n to more than 3800mm (150in) in the s. Belize is prone to hurricanes, and suffered widespread damage in 2000 and 2001.

History and Politics

Between c.300 bc and ad 1000, Belize was part of the Maya Empire, which declined long before Spanish explorers reached the coast in the early 16th century. Spain claimed the area but did not settle. Shipwrecked British sailors founded the first European settlement in 1638. Over the next 150 years Britain gradually took control of Belize and established sugar plantations using slave labour. In 1862 Belize became the colony of British Honduras. Renamed Belize in 1973, it gained independence in 1981. Guatemala, who had pressed a claim to Belize since the early 19th century, objected to its newly independent status and British troops remained in Belize to prevent a possible invasion. In 1991 Guatemala recognized Belizean independence, but still claimed the s half of Belize. In 1993 Britain began to withdraw its troops. Mayan land rights is a contentious political issue.


Belize is a lower-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$3200). Agriculture forms the base of the economy. Sugar cane is the chief commercial crop. Other crops include bananas, beans, citrus fruits, maize, and rice. Forestry, fishing, and tourism are important.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name



Identification. Previously called British Honduras, the country now known as Belize derives its name from one of two historical sources: Maya root words or the surname of the Scottish buccaneer Peter Wallace, who maintained a camp near present-day Belize City in the seventeenth century. Belizeans affectionately refer to their country as "the Jewel."

The formation of a consciousness of a national culture coincided with the growth of the nationalist movement in the 1950s toward independence. It was a phenomenon that occurred simultaneously among neighboring British West Indian colonies.

Ethnic and geographic identification coincides with the areas where ethnic groups settled. In the north and west there are the mestizos, people formed by the union of Spaniards and Maya. In the central part, there are the Creoles, formed by the intermarriage of the British and their African slaves. In the south, there are the Garifuna, also called Black Caribs, along the coast and the Maya farther inland.

The building of the capital city, Belmopan, in the late 1960s was a crowning achievement of the nationalist movement, radically transforming the settlement pattern. The immediate reason was to rebuild after the massive destruction of the old capital, Belize City, by a hurricane in 1961; another reason was to attract the population into the hinterland to engage in agriculture, which the government was promoting to replace timber, the hallmark of the colonial economy. The government was attempting to build a national culture emerging from colonialism with a new settlement pattern and a new economy.

Location and Geography. Belize is at the southern end of the Yucatan peninsula, facing the Caribbean Sea. It covers 8,866 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) and has the second largest barrier reef in the world, which shelters scores of cays.

Demography. Immigration has been a major demographic factor. The latest massive inflow came from Latinos in the neighboring countries fleeing the civil unrest of the 1980s. Together with the long-resident Spanish-speaking group, they have become the largest ethnic group, according to the census of 1991. This group numbered 81,275, or 44 percent, of the national population of 189,392. The other main groups are the Creoles, 55,386 (30 percent); Maya, 20,447 (11 percent); and Garifuna, 12,343 (7 percent). While immigration has built the population, emigration has introduced a transnational fluidity between Belize and the United States. Since the 1960s thousands have left to settle in American cities, although many of those people retain family ties in Belize.

Linguistic Affiliation. The different groups speak their own languages, but the language spoken across ethnic lines is a form of pidgin English called Creole. There is much bilingualism and multilingualism. English is taught in all primary schools; however, its use is limited to official discourse and it appears more often in the written form than in the spoken.

Symbolism. The proponents of the nationalist movement introduced symbols as essential parts of the national culture they were crafting in the 1960s and 1970s. Prominent among them were the national bird, the toucan; tree, mahogany; and animal, tapir. In official discourse there was increasing use of the term "fatherland" to galvanize public sentiment away from a distant colonial power to a new nation state rooted in the cultural history of the Maya, the aboriginal settlers of the subregion.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The metamorphosis of Belize from a colony to a nation followed a set procedure postwar Britain had followed with dozens of other colonies: handing over the instruments of political power gradually to a democratically elected leadership. In Belize, the steps included introducing adult suffrage in 1954 and internal self-government in 1964, concluding an agreement with Guatemala to continue negotiations over its claims to Belizean territory, and gaining full independence on 21 September 1981.

National Identity. The development of a national identity became a task for the political party that won all the elections until 1984, becoming the voice of the nationalist movement and therefore earning the right to receive the instruments of statehood from Britain. Heading the party was an elite group whose members were Creole, urban-based, well educated, and mainly of lighter skin color.

Ethnic Relations. Transforming the nature of ethnic relations was a crucial task for the emerging political elite. The major change was from a British-imposed pecking order to a system in which all ethnic groups would have full access to the rights and privileges of citizenship. It was a deliberately inclusive approach that was popular and gave the impression of generating full public participation.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

At a distribution rate of eight persons per square kilometer, Belize has one of the lowest population densities in the hemisphere. The impact of underpopulation and the dispersed location of communities becomes clear when traveling through the countryside for miles and finding clusters of small villages nucleated around small towns. Traditionally, communities were built along waterways both seacoast and riverbanks to facilitate the transportation of timber logs for export. This basic pattern still remains for almost all the towns.

Another trait reflective of the earlier easy availability of timber is the predominance of wood as the basic material for housing. Hurricane devastation, however, has led to the greater use of ferro-concrete for building after 1960.

The architecture has also changed with the use of the main building material. Up to the middle of this century the design of houses was influenced by styles from the turn of the twentieth century found throughout the British West Indies.

At the private level the current small sizes of houses for the large numbers of occupants leads to relatively small space available for individuals. On the other hand, there has been too little allocation of space for public parks, where children and adults can spend recreation time. The country's landscape, therefore, consists of a series of small but congested communities, an irony for a country with abundant land.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Imported bleached wheat flour, corn, beans, rice, and poultry are the daily staples. There are hardly any food taboos, but there are beliefs across ethnic groups that certain foods, notably soups and drinks, help restore health.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Apart from specific preferences for some food items at large religious ceremonies, especially among the Garifuna, the items eaten at ceremonies are basically those eaten daily. At such ceremonies, there are usually store-bought alcoholic beverages. Only in some rural communities are home-fermented fruit wines drunk.

Basic Economy and Trade. The national currency is known as the Belizean dollar. In the 1990s, there were periods when the country was self-sufficient in corn, rice, beans, poultry, pork, and beef, marking the first time that demand for those staples was satisfied consistently. However, the third largest import is food, which in 1996 amounted to 17 percent of total imports.

Food production for export receives favorable treatment by the government, including lobbying for international markets. The result is that food itemsmainly sugar, citrus, and banana accounted for 86 percent of exports in 1996 and contributed almost 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings.

Land Tenure and Property. The most pervasive legacy of colonialism in the modern economy is the concentration of land in large holdings owned by foreigners who use the land for speculation. This monopoly resulted in only 15 percent of the land available for agriculture being used for that purpose in the early 1980s. The government has never had a comprehensive land redistribution policy.

Commercial Activities and Major Industries. The gross domestic product (GDP) index shows the services sector (including banks, restaurants, hotels and personal services) as the largest, totaling 57 percent of a total GDP of $718 million in 1996. Within this sector, trades, restaurants, and hotels made up 18 percent. The main industry in the private sector remains agriculture, with fishing and logging lagging far behind.

Division of Labor. The most significant characteristic of the division of labor is the extensive movement of people, including foreign laborers entering agricultural industries andservice workers moving from their communities to areas where jobs are available. Agriculture supplies about 30 percent of all jobs. It consists of manual labor dominated by men from Honduras and Guatemala. Belizeans predominate in professional jobs and white-collar services. They commute daily from various parts of the country or stay during the week in Belmopan, Belize City, and the cays, where tertiary-sector jobs are available.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. While there is the traditional stratification into ethnic groups in the countryside, in urban communities there are conspicuous degrees of socioeconomic inequality in which skin color supersedes ethnicity. At the highest level, there are lighter-skinned Creoles, mestizos, and newly arrived North Americans, east Indians, and Middle Easterners. At the lower levels, there are darker-skinned Creoles and Garifuna. The highest levels retain control of the two political parties and the retail trade and other services in the tertiary sector. Those in the lower levels are largely unemployed.

The Maya and Garifuna demonstrate the surviving tribal traits of the aboriginal peoples. Both have the highest levels of poverty and participate least in the political and socioeconomic arenas. The Maya are subdivided into the Mopan and Ketchi peoples.

Political Life

Government. The government is a parliamentary democracy, and there is separation of the executive, legislature, and judiciary. However, the political parties have virtually eliminated the power of the legislature in favor of a cabinet of ministers.

Leadership and Political Officials. The Peoples United Party and the United Democratic Party provide the informal mechanisms that make the formal structures of the government function. Both draw support across all ethnic groups and social classes. All members of the government maintain openness to the public and encourage their constituents to communicate with them.

Social Problems and Control. The police force is the first line of intervention against crime. However, the police are active only in urban communities and the few villages with police stations. The judiciary is a survival from the British system, and appeals can still proceed as far as the Privy Council in London. Locally, the formal functioning of the system is jeopardized by a lack of judges, magistrates, and prosecutors, resulting in a backlog of cases.

The violent crimes that occur most frequently are murder and manslaughter, rape, and indecent assault. The most prevalent property crimes are larceny, theft, burglary, and robbery.

Military Activity. The national army provides protection against Guatemala, which in the past threatened to invade and implement its claim to Belizean territory. The army also is involved in drug interdiction efforts and assists in disaster preparedness and relief.

Social Welfare, Change Programs, and Nongovernmental Organizations

The government provides minimal amounts of money as relief for the indigent and for the public in times of disaster. Social change programs are targeted at groups such as youth, refugees, and the poor, usually in cooperation with multilateral agencies. The programs have been primarily ameliorative rather than focusing on skills and entrepreneurial training.

Several nongovernmental organizations are the intermediaries for international funding for these programs. Starting in the 1980s, the nongovernmental organizations have carried out many programs in raising social consciousness, research, environmental conservation, and economic development. With the steady dwindling of international support the nongovernmental organizations have declined in numbers. The few remaining are seriously attempting to finds alternative sources of support locally. They are increasingly factoring voluntarism within their support base. Such voluntarism had been the cornerstone of voluntary organizations that preceded the current crop of nongovernmental organizations in community self-help.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Only a few women participate in the political, economic, social, and religious spheres; for example, among the twenty-nine elected members of the House of Representatives, there are only two women. A similar pattern exists in the religious ministries and the private sector.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender status tends to be more equitable at the levels of the household and the smaller community. Nominally there are more women-headed households among the Garifuna and Creole than among the Maya and mestizos. However, even among the Creole and Garifuna, deference is shown to male partners or relativeswhether they are co-resident or notif they contribute financially and morally to the well-being of the household. In many rural communities, men and women function equally as shamans and healers.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Despite a tradition of openly accepted liaisons, there has always been a high social value placed on church-blessed unions. Among the Creoles and Garifuna, there may be prolonged common-law unions that are eventually recognized. Among the Maya, men and women start their conjugal lives before age 18 years life. Mestizos start a few years later and tend to remain in long-lasting unions. There are stringent requirements for divorce, but partners of broken marriages often live with others in common-law unions.

Domestic Unit and Kin Groups. Childbearing is not confined within the domestic unit among many Belizeans. The first child or two may be born without any agreement between the parents to form a domestic unit. This leads to high rates of illegitimacy in some ethnic groups. For example, between 1970 and 1980, illegitimacy among the Creole and Garifuna was 70 to 80 percent, whereas among mestizos it was around 40 percent.

The separation of childbearing from domesticity leads to a need for extended families, which are primarily cognate kin groups. Apart from child rearing, the functions performed by kin groups include labor exchange and providing general support in times of need.

Inheritance. Most Belizeans die intestate but abide by the spirit of the laws governing inheritance. Priority is given to legal spouses and children whether from a legal marriage or not. Similar legislation was being planned in 1999 for surviving common-law spouses.


Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing and early education are areas where urban people expect government support. Traditional practice persist in rural communities, where child rearing is provided by the extended family.

By law, a child has to attend primary school up to age fourteen. Through rote memory, a child learns the three R's and develops an appreciation of the national culture as well as learning basic Christian beliefs. Only 40 percent of primary school leavers go on to secondary schools because of poor performance in the national school-leaving examination and for lack space and limited funds for uniforms, textbooks, and fees.

Higher Education. Less than 1 percent of the population qualifies for higher education. A national university that was started in 1987 offers a limited range of programs; it has a student population of less than five hundred. The country also subscribes to the University of the West Indies, where annually about fifty Belizeans start their studies.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity is the main religion. Most of the people are Roman Catholics, Anglican, Methodists, Baptists, or Mennonites. There are some Moslems and Hindus.

Religious Practitioners. The power of churches comes from their spiritual strength as well as from the state. State law allows for the incorporation of churches, relieving them from paying taxes. Ministers are state-sanctioned marriage officers, and the state integrates them as copartners in managing the vast majority of primary schools.

Rituals and Holy Places. Belize City and Belmopan are important sites for religious denominations. The Anglican Saint John's Cathedral was consecrated in Belize City in 1826. Roman Catholics have cathedrals in Belize City and Belmopan.

Death and Afterlife. In the areas of death and the afterlife, the non-Christian belief systems of the ethnic groups are most noticeable. Most groups celebrate elaborate ceremonies on behalf of the deceased. All the ethnic groups believe that their ancestors can intervene to influence events daily life.

Medicine and Health Care

Because of the inadequacy of the health care system, Belizeans use the medical services in Guatemala and Mexico. Many also resort to traditional systems, which employ amulets, plants, baths, incantations, and ancestral rituals. While Western-trained health workers once ostracized practitioners of the traditional system, the government has advocated some collaboration in the case of birth attendants.

Secular Celebrations

Three secular holidays predate the nationalist movement. Baron Bliss Day on 9 March celebrates a British benefactor who established a trust fund for the country's welfare. Commonwealth Day on the fourth Monday in May celebrates participation the British Commonwealth of Nations. Saint George's Caye Day on 10 September commemorates the victory by settlers in the last military effort of Spain to retake Belize in 1798. Holidays introduced as a result of the nationalist movement and later independence are 1 May, 21 September, 12 October, and 19 November. International Labour Day occurs on 1 May, 21 September marks the day Belize acquired independence in 1981, 12 October is Pan American Day, and 19 November commemorates the arrival and settlement of the Garifuna people.

The Arts and Humanities

Artists support themselves primarily by selling their works at exhibitions and performing at concerts. The buyers include wealthy Belizeans who display art for their private pleasure. The National Arts Council promotes training and the display of various forms of art.

Literature, Graphic Arts, and Performance Arts. A small body of written literature is published locally. There is a potentially rich source of oral literature, but hardly any is preserved in writing. The best developed graphic arts are painting and sculpture. Sculpture builds on a rich tradition of the use of wood. Mainly self-taught persons whose work demonstrates folkloric dimensions engage in painting and sculpture. A similar localized mode prevails in the performance arts, except drama and dance. Regional and international plays are performed in schools and occasionally for the public. There is much public support for those events.

Punta rock music is a component of the national culture that was created in the early 1980s by the Garifuna. It has become popular along the Caribbean coast of Central America.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Foreign scientists mainly from North America do almost all the scientific research in the country. Studies in the fields of Maya archaeology, natural history, and the physical environment are primary contributors to our understanding of the significance of Belize within the subregion. Plans for consolidation of the University College of Belize includes promoting research for its students and faculty.


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Dobson, Narda. A History of Belize, 1973

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. Abstract of Statistics, Belize 1998, 1998.

Krohn, Hunter Lita, et al., eds. Readings in Belizean History, 2d ed., 1987.

Palacio, I. Myrtle. Who and What in Belizean Elections 1954 to 1993, 1993.

. Redefining Ethnicity: The experiences of the Garifuna and Creole, 1995.

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Joseph O. Palacio

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BELIZE [Pronounced ‘Be-LEEZ’]. A country of the Central American Caribbean and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: English (official), CREOLE, Spanish, Mayan, Carib. Colonized in the 17c by shipwrecked British sailors and disbanded soldiers known as baymen. After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, they became loggers. Supported by the Royal Navy, they defeated the Spanish in 1798. The colony of British Honduras was established in 1862, changed its name to Belize in 1973, and became independent in 1981. See CARIBBEAN ENGLISH.

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Belize in central America, south of Mexico, is a little larger than Wales. It was originally part of the Maya empire. English colonists were repeatedly driven out by the Spaniards. In 1862 it was formed into a colony as British Honduras and was renamed Belize in 1973. Though it became independent in 1981, British troops remained as protection against Guatemalan claims. Belize is a constitutional monarchy, with the queen as head of state, within the Commonwealth. Its main exports are sugar, bananas, and mahogany.

J. A. Cannon

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The people of Belize are called Belizeans. About one-third of the population is of African descent, while about 45 percent is mestizo (mixed race). Another 15 percent is Maya and 7 percent Garifuna (Carib Indian). There are small numbers of people of European, Chinese, Asian Indian, and Syrian-Lebanese ancestry. For more information on the Maya, see the chapter on Mexico in Volume 6.

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BelizeAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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