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Belize

BELIZE

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS BELIZEANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

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.

TOPOGRAPHY

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.

CLIMATE

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.

FLORA AND FAUNA

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.

ENVIRONMENT

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.

POPULATION

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%).

MIGRATION

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.

ETHNIC GROUPS

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.

LANGUAGES

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.

RELIGIONS

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.

TRANSPORTATION

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.

HISTORY

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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

POLITICAL PARTIES

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.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

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.

ARMED FORCES

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.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

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).

ECONOMY

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.

INCOME

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.

LABOR

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.

AGRICULTURE

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.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

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

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.

FORESTRY

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.

MINING

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.

ENERGY AND POWER

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.

INDUSTRY

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.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

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.

DOMESTIC TRADE

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.

FOREIGN TRADE

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.

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

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.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

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.

INSURANCE

There are several insurance companies doing business in Belize.

PUBLIC FINANCE

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%.

TAXATION

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 AND DUTIES

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.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

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.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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 DEVELOPMENT

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.

HEALTH

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

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.

EDUCATION

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.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

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.

MEDIA

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.

ORGANIZATIONS

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.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

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.

FAMOUS BELIZEANS

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Belize has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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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Belize

BELIZE

Major Cities:
Belmopan, Belize City

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

EDITOR'S NOTE

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 http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

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.

MAJOR CITIES

Belmopan

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.

Food

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.

Clothing

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.

Education

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

Sports

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.

Entertainment

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.

OTHER CITIES

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.

COUNTRY PROFILE

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.

Population

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.

Transportation

Automobiles

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.

Local

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.

Regional

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.

Communications

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.

Mail

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.

NOTES FOR TRAVELERS

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.

Pets

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 http://www.fema.gov/

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

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

*variable

RECOMMENDED READING

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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Belize

BELIZE

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

LOCATION AND SIZE.

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.

POPULATION.

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.

OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY

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.

POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION

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.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS

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.

Communications
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.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

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

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.

INDUSTRY

MINING.

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.

MANUFACTURING.

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.

CONSTRUCTION.

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.

SERVICES

TOURISM.

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.

FINANCIAL SERVICES.

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).

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

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.

MONEY

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.

POVERTY AND WEALTH

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.

WORKING CONDITIONS

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.

COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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.

FUTURE TRENDS

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Belize has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bh.html>. 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//www.tradeport.org/ts/countries/belize/bnotes.html>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Belize. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2001/wha/index.html>. Accessed July 2001.

World Bank. <http://www.worldbank.org/bz>. Accessed July 2001.

John Mazor

CAPITAL:

Belmopan.

MONETARY UNIT:

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.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

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

CHIEF IMPORTS:

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

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:

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

BALANCE OF TRADE:

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

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Belize

Belize

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)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

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.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Belize has no outside territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

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.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

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.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

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.

6 INLAND LAKES

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.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

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.

8 DESERTS

There are no notable desert regions in Belize.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

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

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

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.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

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.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

There are no notable plateaus or monoliths in Belize.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

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

14 FURTHER READING

Books

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. http://www.belizeaudubon.org/html/parks.html (accessed July 20, 2003).

Belize Country Overview. http://www.belizenet.com/ (accessed July 20, 2002).

Belize Online. http://www.belize.com/ (accessed July 20, 2003).

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Belize

Belize

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.


Bibliography


Belize, February 2001. Available from http:/www.countrywatch.altavista.com.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http://www.cia.gov.


Mark Connelly

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Belize

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.

History

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.

Bibliography

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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Belize

Belize

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.

Bibliography

"Belize." The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook. Available from http://www.cia.gov.

"Belize." World Press Freedom Review. International Press Institute 2001. Available from http://www.freemedia.at.

The Belize Times, 2002. Available from http://www.belizetimes.bz.

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

The Guardian News Online, 2002. Available from http://www.udp.org.bz.

The San Pedro Sun, 2002. Available from http://www.sanpedrosun.net.

"Welcome." Amandala 2002. Available from http://www.belizemall.com.

Jenny B. Davis

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Belize

Belize (formerly British Honduras)

area:

22,960sq km (8865sq mi)

population:

241,204

capital (population):

Belmopan (8130)

government:

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%

languages:

English (official), Creole

religions:

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

currency:

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.

Economy

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

Websites

http://www.belize.gov.bz; http://www.travelbelize.org

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Belize

Belize

Culture Name

Belizean

Orientation

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.

Socialization

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.

Religion

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.

Bibliography

Bolland, O. Nigel. New Nation in Central America, 1986.

. Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology, 1988.

Dobson, Narda. A History of Belize, 1973

Government of Belize. Belize Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for Fiscal Year 1999/2000 as Passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, 20 March 1999, 1999.

. 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.

Palacio, Joseph O. Development in Belize 19601980, 1996.

Phillips, Michael D., ed. Belize: Selected Proceedings from the Second Inter disciplinary Conference on Belize, 1996.

Shoman, Assad. "The Birth of the Nationalist Movement in Belize 19501954." Journal of Belizean Affairs 2: 340, 1973.

. Party Politics in Belize 19501986, 1987.

Stone, Michael Cutler. Caribbean Nation, Central American State: Ethnicity, Race, and National formation in Belize, 17981990, 1994.

UNICEF. A Situation Analysis of Children in Belize 1997, 1997.

Vernon, Dylan. International Migration and Development in Belize: An Overview of Determinants and Effects of Recent Movement, 1988.

Wilk, Richard, and Mac Chapin. Ethnic Minorities in Belize: Mopan, Kekchi, and Garifuna, 1990.

Joseph O. Palacio

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BELIZE

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

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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Belize

Belize

BELIZEANS 159
GARIFUNA 166

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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Belize

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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Belize

Belize

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
NATIONAL SECURITY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the July 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Belize

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.

Cities: Capital—Belmopan (2005 pop. est. 13,500) Other cities and towns—Belize City (60,800), Corozal (8,800), Orange Walk (15,300), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (16,800), Dan-griga (10,800), Punta Gorda (5,000), and San Pedro (8,400).

Terrain: Flat and swampy coast-line, low mountains in interior.

Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Belizean(s).

Population: (2006 est.) 299,766.

Annual growth rate: (2006) 3.4%.

Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.

Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.

Education: Years compulsory—9. (2005 est.) Attendance—60%. Literacy—76.5%.

Health: (2003) Infant mortality rate—14.8/1,000. Life expectancy—67.4 years.

Work force: (April 2006, 112,806) Services—60%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing—22%. Industry and commerce—16%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy

Independence: September 21, 1981.

Constitution: September 21, 1981.

Government branches: Executive—British monarch (head of state), represented by a governor general; prime minister (head of government, 5-year term). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly. Judicial—Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district magistrates.

Political subdivisions: Six districts.

Political parties: People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). National Reform Party (NRP), Vision Inspired By the People (VIP), People's National Party (PNP), We the People (WTP).

Suffrage: Universal adult.

Economy

GDP: (2005) $1.79 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2005) 5.1%; (2004) 9.2%.

Per capita income: (2005) $3,650.

Avg. inflation rate: (2006) 4.3%.

Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.

Economy: Primary sectors (13.1% of GDP, 2005) Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining. Secondary sectors (14.7% of GDP, 2005) Manufacturing, electricity and water supply, and construction. Tertiary sectors (63.2% of GDP, 2005) Hotels and restaurants, financial intermediation, and transport and communication.

Trade: Exports (2005)—$212.83 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets—U.S. (52.2%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2005)—$518.83 million: food, consumer goods, machinery, mineral fuels and lubricants. Major suppliers—U.S. (39%), Mexico, U.K.

Exchange rate: Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed rate of Belize $2=U.S. $1.

PEOPLE

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. It is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the population lives in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital. Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 48.7% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 24.9% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10.6% are Mayan; and about 6.1% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.7%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their indigenous languages, and an English Creole dialect similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 50%. Mennonite settlers number about 8,500.

HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the “Colony of British Honduras” until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.

GOVERNMENT

Belize is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model and is a member of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in the country by Governor General Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr., a Belizean and Belize's second governor general. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister (head of government). Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats in the National Assembly concurrently with their cabinet positions.

The National Assembly consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. The governor general appoints the Senate's 12 members. Six are appointed in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition. The Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the appointment of one senator each. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.

Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Cases may, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Privy Council in London. However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) to establish a “Caribbean Court of Justice,” which was inaugurated on April 16, 2005. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. However, the PUP lost one seat in Parliament during a by-election held after the death of a minister in October 2003, but still maintains a comfortable majority. Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998 to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.

The government continues to implement an economic adjustment program, with the aim of (1) increasing revenues, (2) decreasing public sector expenditures, (3) narrowing the fiscal deficit to 1% of GDP, (4) improving the balance of payments, and (5) increasing the country's foreign reserves. Belize's outstanding public debt at the end of 2006 was U.S. $1.10 billion, an amount that is equivalent to approximately 100% of GDP.

However, on January 31, 2007 the Government of Belize officially announced that the holders of Belize's public external commercial indebtedness have agreed to exchange their existing claims against the country for new bonds to be issued by Belize maturing in 2029. Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A longstanding territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment. Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System).

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Governor Gen.: Colville YOUNG, Sir

Prime Min.: Said MUSA

Dep. Prime Min.: Vildo MARIN

Min. of Agriculture & Fisheries: Vildo MARIN

Min. of Communications: Jose COYE

Min. of Culture: Francis FONSECA

Min. of Defense: Rodwell FERGUSON

Min. of Education: Francis FONSECA

Min. of Finance: Said MUSA

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Lisa SHOMAN

Min. of Foreign Trade: Lisa SHOMAN

Min. of Information: Godfrey SMITH

Min. of Health: Jose COYE

Min. of Home Affairs: Ralph FONSECA

Min. of Housing: Ralph FONSECA

Min. of Human Development: Sylvia FLORES

Min. of Labor: Francis FONSECA

Min. of Local Government: Jose COYE

Min. of National Development: Said MUSA

Min. of National Emergency ManagemenGodfrey SMITH

Min. of Natural Resources & the Environment: Florencio MARIN

Min. of Public Utilities: Ralph FONSECA

Min. of Tourism: Godfrey SMITH

Min. of Transport: Jose COYE

Min. of Works: Michael ESPAT

Min. of Youth & Sports: Rodwell FERGUSON

Attorney Gen.: Francis FONSECA

Governor, Central Bank: Jorge Meliton AUIL

Ambassador to the US: Lisa M. SHOMAN

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York:

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.

ECONOMY

Forestry was the only economic activity of any consequence in Belize until well into the 20th century when the supply of accessible timber began to dwindle. Cane sugar then became the principal export. Exports have recently been augmented by expanded production of citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel. The country has about 809,000 hectares of arable land, only a small fraction of which is under cultivation. To curb land speculation, the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land.

Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. Some 185 U.S. companies have operations in Belize, including Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment also is found in the telecommunications and agriculture sectors.

A combination of natural factors—climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins—support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as one of its major development priorities. In 2006, tourist arrivals totaled 900,000 (more than 90% from the United States).

Belize's investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, which sets out the development priorities for the country. A country commercial guide for Belize is available from the U.S. Embassy's Economic/ Commercial section and on the Web at: http://belize.usembassy.gov/investing_in_belize2.html

Infrastructure

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. As part of its financial austerity measures started in late 2004, the government froze expenditures on several capital projects. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, Delta Airlines, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, and San Salvador.

Trade

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although the economy recorded a growth rate of 4.0% in 2006, this achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United States and the European Union (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2005 totaled $518.83 million, while total exports were only $212.83 million. In 2005, the United States provided 39% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 52.2% of Belize's total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program, which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act—signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000—a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries. However, these two markets face considerable World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.

NATIONAL SECURITY

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, is comprised of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Lloyd Gillett, assumed total defense responsibility from British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain's claim to all “New World” territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses.

Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area. Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) “Heads of Agreement” was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.

Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an “adjacency zone” extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS. Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties.

Both countries now seem receptive to referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice for a binding decision. In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development, and on January 1, 2007 assumed the presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.

U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations. The United States is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment funds. It is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize, estimated to be 70,000 strong. Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives, Belize benefits from the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotics trafficking, and both governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between 2001 and 2003. The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing $2.5 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2006. Of this amount, nearly half a million dollars was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional programs. In addition, during the past 42 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. As of April 2007, the Peace Corps had 58 volunteers working in Belize. Until the end of 2002, Voice of America operated a medium-wave radio relay station in Punta Gorda that broadcast to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included the construction and renovation of several schools and youth hostels, medical assistance programs, and drug reduction programs. Private North American investors continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

BELMOPAN (E) Floral Park Road, APO/FPO Unit 7401, APO AA 34025, 011-501-822-4011, Fax 011-501-822-4012, Workweek: 08:00-17:00, Mondays–Fridays, Website: http://belize.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Joy Dellinger
AMB OMS:Virginia Phillips
FM:Gale Ruff
MGT:Sharon K. Featherstone
POL ECO:Thomas Wise
AMB:Robert J. Dieter
CON:Thomas Wallis
DCM:Leonard A. Hill
PAO:Thomas Wise
GSO:Sergey Troitsky
RSO:Patrick Harms
AFSA:Sue Kuester
APHIS:Glenn Germain
CLO:Barry Cuthbertson And Tammie Gandy
DEA:Floyd Baker
EEO:Thomas Wise
IMO:Allen Gandy
POL:Suzanne Kuester
State ICASS:Amanda Frantz

The U.S. Embassy is located in the City of Belmopan on Floral Park Street. The mailing address is P.O. Box 497, Belmopan, Cayo District, Belize, Central America: tel: 011-501-822-4011 from the United States or 822-4011 locally; fax: 011-501-822-4012 Main number; 822-4053 Administrative Office; 822-4050 Consular Section. E-mail address: [email protected], Web site address: http://belize.usembassy.gov/.

Other Contact Information

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade
Administration

Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE
Fax: 202-482-0464

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

February 9, 2007

Country Description: Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and resorts on the cayes to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the country-side. Crime is a growing concern.

Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize. Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize. All tourists and non-Belizean nationalities are required to pay an exit fee of U.S.$35 when leaving Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, Tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site http://www.embassyof-belize.org. Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, and Los Angeles, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York. Visit the Embassy of Belize web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/ belize for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security: Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize. Crime can be a serious problem, particularly in Belize City and remote areas. Road accidents are common. Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment. Medical care is limited. Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize's more challenging sites. Deaths and serious mishaps have occurred as a result of negligent diving tour operators and the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in scuba diving and snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour. Safety precautions and emergency response capabilities may not be up to U.S. standards.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries. There have not been any terrorist activities in Belize.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shooting, stabbing, murder, and rape, is on the rise. The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways and river ways. The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick-pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds. Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups have occurred this past year. Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. One of these occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while another occurred during an armed robbery at an isolated resort. One of these assaults has resulted in the death of the victim.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only in day-light hours, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street. Women's handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

If traveling by taxi, use only vehicles with green license plates, do not get in a taxi that is occupied by more than the driver, and do not let the driver pick up additional fares.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups occurred during the summer of 2006 in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Caracol regions of the western district of Belize. Due to increased police patrols, coordinated tours among resort security managers, and the arrest of two of the “highway bandits,” there have not been any additional robberies since June, 2006. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region. Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites. Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another. Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous. Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization. It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads. Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary. Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites. And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings. Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment. Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Country Specific Information for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011. The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim's home state. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances. Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas. Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas. Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country. The Government of Belize reported an outbreak of dengue fever in April, May and June of 2005. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Driving in Belize requires one's full attention, and drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations. The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars over-turning, and have few markings or reflectors. Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction. Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance causes many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted. Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. Moreover, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved.

Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.

Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times; bicyclists often ride contrary to traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs. Few bicycles have lights at night. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars. The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving. Pedestrians, motorcy-clists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard. Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas. For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.

Visit the website of Belize's Tourist Board and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.travelbelize.org.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize's Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained at: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov. It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Dual Nationality: A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/ she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is approximately 10 working days.

Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize's Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belize's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located in the capital city of Belmopan, approximately 50 miles west of Belize City. The U.S. Embassy is on Floral Park Road, Belmopan and the telephone number is 822-4011. 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, and U.S. and Belizean holidays. The Embassy Internet address is http://usembassy.state.gov/belize/; email [email protected]

International Adoption

April 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Belize is the Belize Human Services Department: Human Services Department, 2 nd Floor, commercial Center, P.O. Box 41, Belize City, Belize, Central America; Phone: ++501-227-7451 or 501-227-2057; Fax: ++501-227-1276.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: The government of Belize requires that at least one of the prospective adoptive parents must be a minimum of 25 years old and no fewer than 12 years older than the child. Single men cannot adopt female children. These restrictions can be waived if the court finds that special circumstances are warranted.

Residency Requirements: The Belize Supreme Court only processes adoptions for Belizean citizen children. According to Section 137 of the Belize Families and Children's Act, a person who is not a citizen of Belize may adopt a Belizean child if he or she:

  • Does not have a criminal record;
  • Has a current recommendation concerning his/her suitability to adopt a child from his/her country's probation and welfare office or other competent authority; and
  • Has satisfied the court that his/ her country of origin will respect and recognize the adoption order.

Belizean law prohibits the issuance of a final adoption order unless the non-Belizean prospective adoptive parent resides in Belize with the Belizean child for 12 months. A social worker will visit periodically to assess the parent-child relationship. Adoptive parents who are not citizens of Belize may receive an interim adoption decree, which the Government of Belize recognizes as permission for the prospective adoptive parent to take the child out of Belize and pursue a subsequent adoption in accordance with the laws of his/her own country.

Time Frame: The processing time for adoptions can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. The Belize Department of Human Services reports that “ward adoptions” (children in the custody of the Department of Human Services) can take up one year or more to process because of the need for home study reports, matching, placement and legal proceedings. For independent adoptions (children not in the custody of the Department of Human Services) the processing time is shorter. Because the adoption is child-specific—that is, the prospective adoptive parents have already selected a child—matching and placement are not necessary. These adoption proceedings take from 3 months to one year.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: There are no accredited adoption agencies in Belize. Generally, U.S. prospective adoptive parents work with an accredited adoption agency in the U.S. The prospective adoptive parents must submit a home study report from a social services agency in their state of residency and the U.S.-based agency must submit a notarized copy of their license to the Belize Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services is the only agency approved to conduct/verify home studies for adoption in Belize. Prospective adoptive parents should confirm all fees and conditions before sending payments to an attorney or representative. English is the official language of Belize, so all attorneys in Belize speak English.

International adoptions occur before a Supreme Court judge and require the services of a local attorney authorized to present cases before the Supreme Court. Adoptive parents who wish to obtain information about forms and detailed adoption requirements should contact a Belizean attorney. A list of attorneys can be found at the U.S. Embassy web site: http://belize.usembassy.gov.

Adoption Fees: Attorney's fees for adoption services in Belize range from $1,500to $5,000 (U.S. dollars). The cost can vary based on the attorney selected, the type of adoption (local vs. international) and the number of children being adopted. Attorneys’ fees include all costs related to the adoption process, such as court costs and filing fees. U.S. citizens adopting a child in Belize should report any exorbitant fees to the U.S. Embassy in Belize or to the U.S. Department of State.

Adoption Procedures: The Supreme Court of Belize processes all adoptions of Belizean citizen children. The Supreme Court will not adjudicate adoption cases involving non-Belizean citizen children and will instead refer the case to the child's country of citizenship. Adoption of Belizean citizen children must occur within the Belizean court system. There are no private adoptions or adoptions through extra-judicial processes. If the prospective adoptive parents reside outside of Belize and are not citizens of Belize, the adoption must be handled through the Supreme Court of Belize.

Full Adoptions: The Supreme Court will not issue a final adoption decree in a full adoption until the child has spent at least 12 months with the prospective adoptive parents and a social worker has submitted a written assessment of the child-parent relationship. Full adoptions are rare in Belize and, as of the time of this writing, can only be granted to Belizean citizens or residents of Belize.

Interim Adoptions: The Supreme Court may postpone the granting of a final adoption decree and issue an interim order instead. Under this procedure, the prospective adoptive parent(s) will have custody of the child for a probationary period of one year during which the adoptive parent(s) is/are required to provide quarterly reports to the Belize Suprem Court regarding the child's care and progress. These reports are usually filed with the Court by the adoptive parents’ attorney and a copy is also given to the Belize Department of Human Services. Upon submission of the final quarterly report, the attorney makes an application for the provisional order to be made final in the Supreme Court. The application will be granted based on the recommendation of the U.S. social worker who conducted the quarterly visits and wrote the reports. If the final adoption decree is granted, the Belize Registrar General for Vital Statistics will then place the child's name in the Adoption of Children Register.

The Chief Justice of Belize has determined that the “provisional,” “interim,” or “preliminary” adoption decrees often issued by the Supreme Court can be considered permission for the prospective adoptive parents to take the child out of Belize and to pursue a subsequent adoption process in accordance with the laws of their own country. American adoptive parents may apply for an Immediate Relative (IR)-4 visa for the child. The adoptive parents must obtain a Belize passport for the child which must be issued in the child's birth name.

Required Documents: The following documents are required by the Belize Human Services Department:

  • A valid police certificate;
  • Proof of home government approval to adopt (for U.S. citizens, this is an approved I-600 or I-600A);
  • An approved home study;

Embassy of Belize—Consular Section
2535 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
202-332-9636

Permanent Mission of Belize 820 2 nd Avenue
Suite 922
New York, NY 10017
212-599-0233

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Belmopan
Floral Park Road
Belmopan City, Belize
Central America
phone: 501-822-4011
fax: 501-822-4050

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Belize may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belize. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747. For information on international adoption of children and inter-nnational parental child abduction, call Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.

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Belize

BELIZE

Compiled from the October 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Belize


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.

Cities:

Capital—Belmopan (2004 pop. est. 12,300) Other cities and towns—Belize City (59,400), Corozal (8,600), Orange Walk (15,000), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (16,100), Dangriga (10,400), Punta Gorda (4,900), and San Pedro (7,600).

Terrain:

Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.

Climate:

Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Belizean(s).

Population (2004 est.):

282,600.

Annual growth rate (2004 est.):

6.0%.

Ethnic groups:

Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.

Religion:

Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Language:

English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.

Education:

Years compulsory—9. (2000 est.): Attendance—60%. Literacy—76.5%.

Health:

(2003): Infant mortality rate—14.8/1,000. Life expectancy—67.4 years.

Work force (April 2004, 108,491):

Services—61.4%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing—20.4%. Industry and commerce—18.2%.

Government

Type:

Parliamentary democracy

Independence:

September 21, 1981.

Constitution:

September 21, 1981.

Branches:

Executive—British monarch (head of state), represented by a governor general; prime minister (head of government, 5-year term). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly. Judicial—Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district magistrates.

Subdivisions:

Six districts.

Political parties:

People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).

Suffrage:

Universal adult.

Economy

GDP (2004):

$1.04 billion.

Annual growth rate (2004):

4.6%; (2003): 9.2%.

Per capita income (2004):

$3,665.

Avg. inflation rate (2004):

3.1%.

Natural resources:

Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.

Primary sectors (13.9% of GDP, 2004 est.):

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining.

Secondary sectors (15.5% of GDP, 2004 est.):

Manufacturing, electricity and water supply, and construction.

Tertiary sectors (61.2% of GDP, 2004 est.):

Hotels and restaurants, financial intermediation, and transport and communication.

Trade:

Exports (2004)—$205.07 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets—U.S. (55%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2004)—$514.11 million: food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products. Major suppliers—U.S. (38.7%), Mexico, U.K.

Official exchange rate:

Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed rate of Belize $2=U.S. $1.


PEOPLE

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. It is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the population lives in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 48.7% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 24.9% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10.6% are Mayan; and about 6.1% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.7%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their indigenous languages, and an English Creole dialect similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 50%. Mennonite settlers number about 8,500.


HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the "Colony of British Honduras" until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21,1981.


GOVERNMENT

Belize is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model and is a member of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in the country by Governor General Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr., a Belizean and Belize's second governor general. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister (head of government). Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats in the National Assembly concurrently with their cabinet positions.

The National Assembly consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5year term. The governor general appoints the Senate's 12 members. Six are appointed in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition. The Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the appointment of one senator each. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.

Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Cases may, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Privy Council in London. However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) to work for the establishment of a "Caribbean Court of Justice," which is expected to come into being in 2006. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. However, the PUP lost one seat in Parliament during a byelection held after the death of a minister in October 2003, but still maintains a comfortable majority. Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998 to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.

Prime Minister Said Musa has embarked on an adjustment program, which calls for short and medium-term fiscal and monetary policy changes. These policy changes seek to (1) increase revenues, (2) narrow the fiscal deficit, from a high of 9% of GDP to 3%, (3) improve the balance of payments, particularly on the current account side, (4) increase foreign reserves, from less than one month's worth of the country's import bill to at least 3 months' worth, and (5) improve the country's ability to

service its huge, unsustainable foreign debt, which stands at close to Belize $2.4 billion or almost 100% of its GDP (Belize $2=U.S. $1). Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A longstanding territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment. Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System).

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 11/7/2005

Governor General: Colville YOUNG, Sir
Prime Minister: Said MUSA
Dep. Prime Minister: John BRICENO
Min. of Agriculture & Fisheries: Michael ESPAT
Min. of Culture: Mark ESPAT
Min. of Defense: Cordel HYDE
Min. of Education, Youth, & Sports: Cordel HYDE
Min. of Energy & Communications: Vildo MARIN
Min. of Finance: Said MUSA
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Godfrey SMITH
Min. of Health: Vildo MARIN
Min. of Home Affairs & Investment: Ralph FONSECA
Min. of Housing: Cordel HYDE
Min. of Human Development: Sylvia FLORES
Min. of Local Government, Labor, & Rural Development: John BRICENO
Min. of National Development: Mark ESPAT
Min. of Natural Resources & the Environment: John BRICENO
Min. of Public Service, Works, & Transport: Said MUSA
Min. of Tourism: Godfrey SMITH
Attorney General: Francis FONSECA
Governor, Central Bank: Jorge Meliton AUIL
Ambassador to the US: Lisa M. SHOMAN
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Stuart W. LESLIE

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.


ECONOMY

Forestry was the only economic activity of any consequence in Belize until well into the 20th century when the supply of accessible timber began to dwindle. Cane sugar then became the principal export. Exports have recently been augmented by expanded production of citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel. The country has about 809,000 hectares of arable land, only a small fraction of which is under cultivation. To curb land speculation, the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land.

Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. Some 185 U.S. companies have operations in Belize, including Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment also is found in the telecommunications and agriculture sectors.

A combination of natural factors—climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins—support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as one of its major development priorities. In 2004, tourist arrivals totaled almost one million (more than 90% from the United States).

Belize's investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, which sets out the development priorities for the country. A country commercial guide for Belize is available from the U.S. Embassy's Economic/Commercial section and on the Web at: http://belize.usembassy.gov/www hinvestingbelize.html.

Infrastructure

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. As part of its financial austerity measures started in late 2004, the government froze expenditures on several capital projects. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, and San Salvador.

Trade

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although the economy recorded a growth rate of 4.6% in 2004, this achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United States and the European Union (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2004 totaled $514.11 million, while total exports were only $205.07 million. In 2004, the United States provided 38.72% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 55% of Belize's total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program, which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act—signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000—a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries. However, these two markets face considerable World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.


NATIONAL SECURITY

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, is comprised of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Lloyd Gillett, assumed total defense responsibility from British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain's claim to all "New World" territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.

Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) "Heads of Agreement" was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.

Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an "adjacency zone" extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS.

Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties. Belize seems receptive to referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice for a binding decision, but Guatemala is reluctant to take this course.

In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development, and on July 1, 2003 assumed the presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.


U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations. The United States is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment funds. It is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize, estimated to be 70,000 strong. Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives, Belize benefits from the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotics trafficking, and both governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between 2001 and 2003.

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing over $2.4 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2005. Of this amount, nearly half a million dollars was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional programs. In addition, during the past 42 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. As of August 2005, the Peace Corps had 73 volunteers working in Belize. Until the end of 2002, Voice of America operated a medium-wave radio relay station in Punta Gorda that broadcast to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included the construction of seven schools and four water wells by National Guard soldiers in Stann Creek District in 2000. Another "New Horizons" humanitarian project was conducted in southern Belize in 2003. Private North American investors, responsible for some $250 million total investment in Belize, continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

BELIZE CITY (E) Address: 29 Gabourel Lane, Belize City; APO/FPO: Unit 7401, APO AA 34025; Phone: 011-501-227-7161; Fax: 011-501-223-5321; INMARSAT Tel: Voice: 383-133-235; Data: 383-133-238; Workweek: 08:00 - 17:00, Mondays -Fridays; Website: www.usemb-belize.gov.

AMB:Robert Dieter
AMB OMS:Linda Price
DCM:Lloyd Moss
POL:Brian DaRin
CON:Cynthia Gregg
MGT:D. Trent Dabney
CLO:Tuya DaRin
ECO:Marco Prouty
FAA/CASLO:Ms. Mayte Ashby (resident in Miami)
GSO:Nenita Whitaker
ICASS Chair:William Barbieri
IMO:Ronnie Rooker
INS:Mr. Roy Hernandez (Resident in Guatemala)
IPO:Jose Savinon
IRS:Mr. Frederick Dulas (Resident in Mexico City)
RSO:Patrick Harms
Last Updated: 10/19/2005

Other Useful Contacts

Caribbean/Latin
American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE
Fax: 202-482-0464


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

December 9, 2005

Country Description:

Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and resorts on the cayes to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside. Crime is a growing concern.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize. Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site http://www.embassyofbelize.org. Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, and Los Angeles, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York. Visit the Embassy of Belize web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/belize for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security:

Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize. Crime can be a serious problem (see Crime), particularly in Belize City and remote areas. Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.) Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment. Medical care is limited.

Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather.

Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize's more challenging sites. Deaths and serious mishaps have occurred as a result of negligent diving tour operators and the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in scuba diving and snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour. Safety precautions and emergency response capabilities are generally not up to U.S. standards.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers out-side the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shootings, stabbings, murder, and rape, is on the rise. The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways and river ways. The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick-pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds. Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups has occurred this past year. Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. One of these occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while another occurred during an armed robbery at an isolated resort. One of these assaults has resulted in the death of the victim.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only in daylight hours, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street. Women's handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

If traveling by taxi, use only vehicles with green license plates, do not get in a taxi that is occupied by more than the driver, and do not let the driver pick up additional fares.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups have been reported near the western border with Guatemala in the past few years, several of which escalated to sexual assault. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region. Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites. Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another. Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury. The number of armed robberies on river ways in the western districts increased significantly in early 2005.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous. Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization. It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads. Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary. Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites. And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings.

Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment. Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Consular Information Sheet for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://usembassy. state.gov/guatemala for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belize City. The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim's home state. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances. Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S. Although not common, there is evidence of the use of so-called date rape drugs, such as Ruhypnol.

U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet. A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a troublefree journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas. Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas. Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country. The Government of Belize reported an outbreak of dengue fever in April, May and June of 2005.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747, or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Tourists are encouraged to obtain medical insurance that would pay for medical treatment and medical evacuation before traveling to Belize.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Driving in Belize requires one's full attention, and drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations. The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Driving is on the righthand side of the road. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars over-turning, and have few markings or reflectors. Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction. Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted. Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcoholrelated accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. Moreover, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved.

Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a righthand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.

Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times; bicyclists often ride contrary to traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs. Few bicycles have lights at night. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars. The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard. Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas. For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.

Visit the website of Belize's Tourist Board and national authority responsible for road safety at www.travel belize.org.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize as not being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize's air carrier operations.

Special Circumstances:

It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Special Notice for Dual Nationals: A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is approximately 10 working days.

Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize's Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained at: http.www.hnc.noaa.gov

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belize's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located the intersection of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street in Belize City; telephone 011 (501) 227-7161/62/63, fax 011 (501) 223-5423. 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, and U.S. and Belizean holidays. The Embassy Internet address is http://usembassy.state.gov/belize/; e-mail [email protected]

International Adoption

January 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family

Disclaimer:

The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note:

U.S. citizens who wish to adopt in Belize can adopt in two different ways. In order to obtain a full adoption in Belize and for the child to receive an IR-3 visa, adoptive parents are expected to reside in Belize for 12 months before a final adoption is granted. U.S. citizen adoptive parents may also obtain provisional adoption that will allow a parent to take a Belizean orphan abroad to be adopted; children adopted in this manner receive an IR-4 visa.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.:

Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2004: 13
FY 2003: 12
FY 2002: 6
FY 2001: 5
FY 2000: 7

Adoption Authority in Belize:

Prospective adoptive parents interested in general information on adopting from Belize may also contact the Belize Human Services Department at:

Human Services Dept 2nd Floor, Commercial Center
P.O. Box 1185
Belize City, Belize, Central America
FAX: (011-501) 227-1276

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents:

An adoption order cannot be made unless the applicant—or in the case of joint application, one of the applicants—is at least 25 years old and is at least 12 years older than the child. Civil status is not relevant in regards to adoption orders except for single men who cannot adopt female children. Both of these restrictions can be waived if the court finds that special circumstances warrant an exceptional adoption order.

Residential Requirements:

There are two separate sets of requirements for adoption in Belize, depending on the adoptive parent's residence and citizenship. Belizean law prohibits the issuance of a final adoption order unless the applicant and child reside in Belize and the child is a Belizean citizen. Residence has been defined in the past as either physically residing in Belize for a minimum of six months or possession of Belizean Citizenship. For non-Belizean citizens or residents to receive a final adoption decree, adoptive parents must reside with their prospective child for 12 months in Belize; a social worker will visit periodically to assess the parent-child relationship. Non-residents may receive an interim adoption decree, however, which the Government of Belize has determined can be considered permission for the prospective adoptive parents to take the child out of Belize and to pursue a concurrent adoption process in accordance with the laws of their own country.

Time Frame:

Adoptions in Belize generally take between 12 and 24 months.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:

There are no accredited adoption agencies in Belize. Before sending a first payment to a lawyer or representative, adoptive parents should make sure that costs are inclusive and not subject to change. English is the official language of Belize so all attorneys in Belize speak English.

International adoptions occur before a Supreme Court Judge and require the services of a local attorney authorized to present cases to the Supreme Court. Adoptive parents who wish to obtain information about forms and detailed adoption requirements should contact a Belizean attorney. A list of attorneys can be found at http://belize.usembassy.gov/wwwhattorneysinbelize.html.

Adoption Fees in

Belize: Attorney fees for adoption services in Belize range from $3,000 to $5,000 U.S. dollars. U.S. citizens adopting a child in Belize should report any exorbitant fees to the American Embassy or to the Department of State.

Adoption Procedures:

Adoption of Belizean citizen children must occur within the Belizean court system; the courts will not approve the adoption of a non-Belizean child. There are no private adoptions nor adoptions through extra-judicial processes. If the prospective adoptive parents legally reside in Belize, the Belize Family Courts may handle the adoption. If the adoptive parents reside outside of Belize and are not citizens of Belize, the adoption must be handled through the Supreme Court of Belize.

Full Adoptions:

When there is a full adoption, the Supreme Court will not issue a Final Adoption Decree until the child has spent at least 12 months with the prospective adoptive parents and a social worker has submitted in writing an assessment of how well the child and parents have adapted to the relationship. Full adoptions are rare in Belize and can presently only be granted to either Belizean citizens or residents. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

Interim Adoptions:

The court may (and usually does) postpone the granting of a final adoption decree and issue an interim order. Under this procedure, the prospective adoptive parent(s) will have custody of the child for a probationary period of one year during which the adoptive parents are required to provide quarterly reports regarding the child's care and progress. Prospective parents who receive an interim order from the Belizean Court and would like to carry it out in the U.S. may seek an IR-4 visa for the child. Even though the child will be living in the U.S., the Belizean Court may request home study reports from a U.S. state social services or child welfare authority during the interim.

The Chief Justice of Belize has determined that the "Provisional", "Interim" or "Preliminary" Adoption decrees often issued by the Supreme Court can be considered permission for the prospective adoptive parents to take the child out of Belize and to pursue a concurrent adoption process in accordance with the laws of their own country. Please note that adoption orders made under these circumstances shall remain provisional for 12 months during which time quarterly reports on the status and progress of the adopted child shall be submitted to the court by a competent authority in the country where the adopted child lives. After the 12 months period has expired, an application can be made to the court for the adoption to be made final.

Documents Required by the Belizean Human Services Department for Adoption in Belize:

  • A police certificate;
  • An approved home study;
  • Proof of home government's approval to adopt. For U.S. citizens this will be an approved I-600 or I-600A.

Belize Embassy and Consulates in the United States:

Embassy of Belize
Consular Section
2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: 202-332-9636

Permanent Mission of Belize
820 2nd Avenue
Suite 922
New York, NY 10017 Telephone: 212-599-0233

U.S. Immigration Requirements:

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

Applying for a Visa for Your Child at the U.S. Embassy in Belize:

Adoptive parents should contact the consulate via telephone, fax, or email in advance to ensure that their paperwork has been received and to schedule an appointment for the visa application. In addition to the documents described in How Can Adopted Children Come to the United States, the child will need the following Belizean documents for the immigrant visa application:

  • An original of the child's birth certificate issued by the Registrar General indicating the name of both parents, if known;
  • If either or both birth parents are deceased: an original death certificate issued by the Registrar General;
  • If the child's birth parents are not deceased: court documents indicating that the Government of Belize has terminated parental rights and made the child a Ward of the Department of Human Services;
  • If a sole or surviving birth parent voluntarily relinquished the child for the adoption: a report from the Belize Department of Human Services indicating that the birth parent was incapable of proper care of the child;
  • The original adoption certificate issued by the Registrar General;
  • The Final Adoption Order issued by the Supreme Court of Belize or, if the parents intend to finalize an adoption of the child in their home state, the Interim Adoption Order issued by the Supreme Court of Belize and evidence that all pre-adoption requirements in that home state have been met;
  • A valid Belizean passport issued in the child's name

U.S. Embassy in Belize:

29 Gabourel Lane
Belize City, Belize
Telephone: 011-501-227-7161.

Additional Information:

Specific questions about adoption in Belize may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belize. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

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Belize

Belize

1 Location and Size

2 Topography

3 Climate

4 Plants and Animals

5 Environment

6 Population

7 Migration

8 Ethnic Groups

9 Languages

10 Religions

11 Transportation

12 History

13 Government

14 Political Parties

15 Judicial System

16 Armed Forces

17 Economy

18 Income

19 Industry

20 Labor

21 Agriculture

22 Domesticated Animals

23 Fishing

24 Forestry

25 Mining

26 Foreign Trade

27 Energy and Power

28 Social Development

29 Health

30 Housing

31 Education

32 Media

33 Tourism and Recreation

34 Famous Belizeans

35 Bibliography

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

1 Location and Size

Belize (formerly British Honduras), on the Caribbean coast of Central America, has an area of 22,966 square kilometers (8,867 square miles). The country is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Belize has a total boundary length of 516 kilometers (320 miles) and a coastline on the Caribbean Sea of 386 kilometers (240 miles). The country shares borders with Guatemala and Mexico. The capital city of Belize, Belmopan, is located in the center of the country.

2 Topography

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 reach a high point of 1,160 meters (3,805 feet) at Victoria Peak and form the backbone of the country,

GEOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Geographic Features

Area: 22,966 sq km (8,867 sq mi)

Size ranking: 147 of 194

Highest elevation: 1,160 meters (3,805 feet) at Victoria Peak

Lowest elevation: Sea level at the Caribbean Sea

Land Use*

Arable land: 3%

Permanent crops: 1%

Other: 96%

Weather**

Average annual precipitation: 164.8 centimeters (64.9 inches)

Average temperature in January: 23.5°C (74.3°F)

Average temperature in July: 27.6°C (81.7°F)

* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.

Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.

Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.

** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.

Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.

which is drained by 17 rivers. The lowest point is at sea level (Caribbean Sea).

The longest river is the Belize, with a distance of 288 kilometers (180 miles). The coastal waters are sheltered by a line of reefs. Beyond are numerous islands and cays, notably Ambergris Cay, the Turneffe Islands, Columbus Reef, and Glover Reef.

3 Climate

The climate is tempered by northeast trade winds that keep temperatures between 16 and 32°c (61 and 90°F) in the coastal region. Annual rainfall averages vary from 127 centimeters (50 inches) to more than 380 centimeters (150 inches). There is a dry season from February to May and another dry spell in August. Hurricanes occur from July to October.

4 Plants and Animals

Most of the forest cover consists of mixed hard-woods—mainly 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 (animals) include armadillo, opossum, deer, and monkeys; common reptiles include iguana and snakes.

5 Environment

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. 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. Endangered species in Belize include the tundra peregrine falcon; hawksbill, green sea, and leatherback turtles; American crocodile; and Morelet’s crocodile. In 2006, threatened species included 5 types of mammals, 3 types of birds, 4 types of reptiles, and 30 species of plants.

6 Population

The estimated 2005 population was 292,000. The population density was 12 persons per square kilometer (31 persons per square mile). Belmopan, the capital, had an estimated population of 9,000. Belize City had a population of 52,600. The projected population for the year 2025 was 396,000.

7 Migration

Due to its high emigration rate, Belize encourages immigration. The population of Belize increased significantly in 1993, with 40,000 Central American refugees and other immigrants, mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador. This offset the heavy Creole emigration to North America. In 1999, the government established programs to offer naturalization or permanent resident status to some illegal immigrants and refugees. About 10,000 families registered for those programs in the first year. The total number of migrants in Belize in 2000 was 17,000. In 2005, the estimated net migration rate was zero.

8 Ethnic Groups

According to the latest estimates, 46.4% of the population is mestizo (mixed white and Mayan);

nearly 27.7% is Creole (of African descent); another 10% is Mayan; 6.4% is Garifuna (Carib); and nearly 9.5% is comprised of various other groups, including those of Arab, European, Chinese, East Indian, North American, and Syrian-Lebanese ancestry. Residents of Belize are called Belizeans.

9 Languages

The official language is English. At least 80% of the people can speak standard English and/or a Creole patois (dialect). Spanish is spoken by approximately 60% of the population. 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.

10 Religions

About 58% of all inhabitants are Roman Catholic. Only 7% are Anglican and 6% are Pentecostal. Other faiths and denominations generally have fewer than 10,000 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 to 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.” Spirituality is a required topic in public schools as part of the social studies curriculum. All schools, both public and private, are required to provide 220 minutes per week of religious education or chapel services for students in kindergarten to sixth grade. However, students are not forced to participate in such instruction. The faith of the individual student, or their parents, is generally respected.

11 Transportation

In 2002, Belize had 2,880 kilometers (1,789 miles) of roads, of which 490 kilometers (304 miles) were paved. In 2003, there were 25,888 registered motor vehicles, 11,500 of which were passenger cars. The country had no railways. In 2005, Belize’s merchant marine was comprised of 295 ships. Several shipping lines provide regular services to North America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Belize City is the main port. In 2004, there were 44 airports, only 5 of which had paved runways. International airports at Belize City and Punta Gorda handle service to the United States and Central America.

12 History

The area now called Belize was once heavily populated by Maya Indians, whose civilization collapsed around ad 900. The first permanent European settlement was established in 1638 by shipwrecked English seamen. Later immigrants included African slaves and British sailors.

England struggled with Spain over possession of the area, with the British winning by the 19th century. In 1862, they created the colony of British Honduras. For the next century, forestry was the main enterprise until eventually replaced by the sugar industry.

After attaining self-government on 1 January 1964, the country adopted Belize as its official name in 1973, although not fully independent

BOIGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Name: Said Wilbert Musa

Position: Prime minister of a parliamentary democracy

Took Office: 27 August 1998, reelected in 2003

Birthplace: San Ignacio, Belize

Birthdate: 19 March 1944

Education: Manchester University, law degree, 1967

Spouse: Joan Pearson

Of interest: Musa made the colony’s history accessible to school children in social studies textbooks for the first time.

yet. The United Kingdom granted Belize independence as of 21 September 1981. Guatemala, which claimed the southern quarter of the area, refused to recognize the new nation and severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. In December 1986, the United Kingdom and Guatemala resumed full diplomatic ties, but an 1,800-member British garrison remained in Belize. The United Kingdom withdrew its troops in 1994.

Tensions with Guatemala over territorial disputes not settled in 1991 continued into early 2000, when Belize’s ambassador was expelled from Guatemala. But a hurricane in 2001 hurt both Belize and Guatemala and helped reduce tensions between the two countries. As of early 2006, the dispute had not been resolved.

13 Government

Governmental authority is vested in a governor-general appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom, a cabinet headed by a prime minister, and a two-chamber National Assembly. The National Assembly consists of a 29-member House of Representatives elected by universal adult voting, and a Senate of 8 members appointed by the governor-general. The voting age is 18 and parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years. Belize is divided into six administrative districts. Belize City has an elected city council of nine members. All

other districts have elected town boards of seven members. Local government at the village level is through village councils.

14 Political Parties

The two major parties in Belize are the current majority People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP). Following the March 2003 elections, the PUP held 22 seats and the UDP had 7 seats in the National Assembly.

15 Judicial System

There are Magistrate’s Courts, a Supreme Court, and a Court of Appeal. Six summary jurisdiction courts (criminal) and six district courts (civil) are presided over by magistrates. In 2003, Caribbean leaders met in Jamaica to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Eight nations, including Belize, approved the CCJ.

16 Armed Forces

The Belize defense force consisted of 1,050 active personnel in 2005, supported by 700 reserve members. The defense budget was us $ 16 million in 2005.

17 Economy

By 1995, tourism had surpassed the sugar industry as the leading source of foreign exchange. The economy also relies on agriculture and fishing. Garment manufacturing has gained in importance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country continues to import most of its consumer goods, including much of its food and all of its petroleum requirements. In 2005, the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was estimated at 3.8%.

18 Income

In 2005 Belize’s gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at us$1.8 billion, or us$6,800 per capita. The annual growth rate of the GDP was estimated at 3.8%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 3%. In 2002, remittances from citizens working abroad totaled us$14 million.

19 Industry

Major industrial activities include sugar, citrus, and banana processing and textiles and garments production. Other manufactured products include batteries, beer, and other beverages.

Construction projects in 2001 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 a us$9.5 million project to upgrade health centers and hospitals.

Yearly Growth Rate

This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.

20 Labor

The labor force is estimated at about 90,000. In 2001, about 27% of the labor force was employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, 18% in industry, and 55% in services. Labor legislation covers minimum wages, work hours, employment of young persons, and workers’ safety and compensation. Unemployment averaged 12.9% in 2003.

Labor laws prohibit employment for children under the age of 12. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 are not permitted to work during school hours. In 2005, 11% of the labor force was unionized. The workweek is set at 45 hours or 6 days.

21 Agriculture

Only 4% of the 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. More efficient agricultural colonies have been established by Mennonite immigrants. Sugar, citrus, and bananas are the leading agricultural exports. Sugarcane production totaled 1.1 million tons in 2004. Citrus production that year included 213,000 tons of oranges and 56,000 tons of grapefruit. Banana production was at 79,400 tons. Papaya production totaled over 27,700 and mango production was at 563 tons. Other agricultural crops include peanuts, pineapples, rice, corn, and dry beans.

In 1985, a consortium that included Coca-Cola paid us$6 million for 383,000 hectares (946,400 acres) northwest of Belmopan for a citrus farming project. The U.S.-based Hershey Foods Corp. has invested b $ 4 million in cacao cultivation in El Cayo.

Because agriculture is not sufficiently diversified, the country relies heavily on food imports. Export earnings from sugar in 2001 exceeded us$35 million.

22 Domesticated Animals

Farms established by Mennonites (a religious sect) 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.

Yearly Balance of Trade

The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).

23 Fishing

In 2003, the total catch was 15,353 tons. Lobster, squid, and conch are leading products. In the mid-1990s, shrimp production increased by 75% as a result of three new shrimp farms opening in 1992. Whiteleg shrimp and spiny lobster are the leading species by volume.

24 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 round-wood production in 2003 was 188,000 cubic meters (6.64 million cubic feet). The principal varieties of trees cut are mahogany, pine, cedar, and rosewood. In 2003, timber exports were valued at us$ 4 million.

Selected Social Indicators

The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.

IndicatorBelize Low-income countriesHigh-income countriesUnited States
sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
Per capita gross national income (GNI)*$6,550 $2,258$31,009$39,820
Population growth rate2.3% 2%0.8%1.2%
People per square kilometer of land12 803032
Life expectancy in years: male66 587675
female70 608280
Number of physicians per 1,000 people1.1 0.43.72.3
Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)n.a. 431615
Literacy rate (15 years and older)94.1% 65%>95%99%
Television sets per 1,000 people200 84735938
Internet users per 1,000 people134 28538630
Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)n.a. 5015,4107,843
CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)3.11 0.8512.9719.92
* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.
n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than

25 Mining

Clays, limestone, marble, and sand and gravel for construction are the mainstay of Belize’s inerals industry. 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. Other product totals included 5,511 tons of dolomite, 400,000 tons of limestone, 130,000 cubic meters (4.5 million cubic feet) of sand and gravel, and 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds) of gold, obtained by stream panning.

26 Foreign Trade

Belize’s most important imports are machinery, food, fuels, consumer goods, industrial supplies, and transportation equipment. The country’s major exports include sugar, fruits, nuts, clothing, shellfish, wood, and vegetables. In 2004, the United States received 37% of Belize’s total exports and supplied 30% of all Belizean imports.

27 Energy and Power

Electric power is supplied by ten diesel-powered generators and is considered to be inadequate. Belize imports half of its electricity from Mexico. In 2002, total production of electricity in Belize was 117 million kilowatt hours. About 30% of the electricity was produced by the Mollejon dam and 20% from fossil fuels.

28 Social Development

Social security benefits are available for employed persons between the ages of 14 and 64. Workers’ compensation covers agricultural workers. Full medical care is provided at government hospitals and clinics. Women are active in all areas of national life, but they face domestic violence and discrimination in the business sector.

29 Health

Belize is relatively free of endemic (widespread) diseases. Cardiovascular disease, mental illness, external trauma, and human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) are significant public health problems. In 1995, 9,413 malaria cases were diagnosed.

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. In 2005, there were an estimated 110 physicians and 126 nurses for every 100,000 people.

In 2005, the life expectancy was 68 years (66 for men and 70 for women). The infant mortality rate was 25 deaths per 1,000 live births.

As of 2004, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 3,600. The government has implemented a strategic program to deal with the AIDS epidemic.

Housing is inadequate and the situation has been aggravated by hurricane devastation. The government has put aside small sums for low-cost housing programs. The vast majority of houses are made of wood, while the rest are made of concrete or adobe.

According to a 2001 census, about 83% of the population lived in undivided private homes. Only about 26% of all households had piped water leading into their homes. About 44% of the population still used outdoor pit latrines.

31 Education

Primary education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of five and fourteen and includes eight grade levels. 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. In 2003, it was estimated that 100% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school and approximately 69% of eligible children were in secondary school. The pupil-teacher ratio for secondary school was 23 to 1.

The University of Belize was founded in 2000 by the merger of five colleges. 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; Belize Teachers’ College; and the Belize Vocational Training Center. There are also two special schools maintained by the government for children with mental and physical disabilities. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 94.1%. In 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP), or 18% of total government expenditures.

32 Media

Belize is connected by radiotelegraph and telephone with Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. In 2003, Belize had 33,200 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. As of 2004, there were 10 privately owned commercial radio stations and 1 British military station. There were two privately owned television stations and several cable stations. In 1997, there were 133,000 radios and 41,000 television sets in use nationwide. In 2002, there were 30,000 Internet users.

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.

Though Belize’s constitution assures freedom of speech and the press, there is a law forbidding citizens from questioning financial statements submitted by public officials. The Supreme Court has also warned journalists that questioning the integrity of the Court or of its members could result in criminal charges.

33 Tourism and Recreation

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, with most from the Americas. There were 5,050 hotel rooms and 8,166 beds.

34 Famous Belizeans

George C. Price (1919– ), leader of the PUP, became the country’s first premier in 1964. Manuel Esquivel (1940– ), leader of the UDP, was prime minister from 1984 to 1998. Said Wilbert Musa (1944– ) succeeded Esquival in 1998.

35 Bibliography

BOOKS

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

Hennessy, Huw, ed. Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatán. Maspeth, NY: Langenscheidt, 2000.

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

Morrison, Marion. Belize. New York: Children’s

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Belize

Belize

Compiled from the October 2006 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Belize

PROFILE

PEOPLE

HISTORY

GOVERNMENT

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

ECONOMY

NATIONAL SECURITY

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.

Cities: Capital—Belmopan (2005 pop. est. 13,500) Other cities and towns—Belize City (60,800), Corozal (8,800), Orange Walk (15,300), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (16,800), Dangriga (10,800), Punta Gorda (5,000), and San Pedro (8,400).

Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.

Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Belizean(s).

Population: (2005 est.) 291,800.

Annual growth rate: (2005.) 3.3%.

Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.

Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.

Education: Years compulsory—9. (2000 est.) Attendance—60%. Literacy—76.5%.

Health: (2003) Infant mortality rate—14.8/1,000. Life expectancy—67.4 years.

Work force: (April 2005, 110,786) Services—62.3%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing—22.4%. Industry and commerce—15.3%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy

Independence: September 21, 1981.

Constitution: September 21, 1981.

Government branches: Executive—British monarch (head of state), represented by a governor general; prime minister (head of government, 5-year term). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly. Judicial—Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district magistrates.

Political subdivisions: Six districts.

Political parties: People’s United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). National Reform Party (NRP), Vision Inspired By the People (VIP).

Suffrage: Universal adult.

Economy

GDP: (2005) $1.79 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2005) 5.1%;: (2004) 9.2%.

Per capita income: (2005) $3,650.

Inflation rate: (2005) 3.7%.

Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.

Sectors: Primary sectors (13.1% of GDP, 2005) Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining. Secondary sectors (14.7% of GDP, 2005) Manufacturing, electricity and water supply, and construction. Tertiary sectors (63.2% of GDP, 2005) Hotels and restaurants, financial intermediation, and transport and communication.

Trade: Exports (2005)—$212.83 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets—U.S. (52.2%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2005)—$518.83 million: food, consumer goods, machinery, mineral fuels and lubricants. Major suppliers—U.S. (39%), Mexico, U.K.

Exchange rate: Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed rate of Belize $2=U.S. $1.

PEOPLE

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. It is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the population lives in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 48.7% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 24.9% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10.6% are Mayan; and about 6.1% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.7%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their indigenous languages, and an English Creole dialect similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 50%. Mennonite settlers number about 8,500.

HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the “Colony of British Honduras” until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.

GOVERNMENT

Belize is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model and is a member of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in the country by Governor General Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr., a Belizean and Belize’s second governor general. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister (head of government). Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats in the National Assembly concurrently with their cabinet positions.

The National Assembly consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. The governor general appoints the Senate’s 12 members. Six are appointed in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition. The Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the appointment of one senator each. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.

Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Cases may, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Privy Council in London. However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) to establish a “Caribbean Court of Justice,” which was inaugurated on April 16, 2005. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People’s United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. However, the PUP lost one seat in Parliament during a by-election held after the death of a minister in October 2003, but still maintains a comfortable majority.

Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998 to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.

Prime Minister Said Musa has embarked on an adjustment program, which calls for short- and medium-term fiscal and monetary policy changes. These policy changes seek to (1) increase revenues, (2) narrow the fiscal deficit, from a high of 9% of GDP to 3%, (3) improve the balance of payments, particularly on the current account side, (4) increase foreign reserves, from less than one month’s worth of the country’s import bill to at least 3 months’ worth, and (5) improve the country’s ability to service its huge, unsustainable foreign debt, which stands at close to Belize $2.4 billion or almost 100% of its GDP (Belize $2=U.S. $1). Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable

development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A longstanding territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment. Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System).

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 7/31/2006

Governor General: Colville YOUNG, Sir

Prime Minister: Said MUSA

Dep. Prime Minister: John BRICENO

Min. of Agriculture & Fisheries: Vildo MARIN

Min. of Communications: Jose COYE

Min. of Culture: Mark ESPAT

Min. of Defense: Cordel HYDE

Min. of Education: Francis FONSECA

Min. of Finance: Said MUSA

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Eamon COURTENAY

Min. of Foreign Trade: Eamon COURTENAY

Min. of Information: Godfrey SMITH

Min. of Health: Jose COYE

Min. of Home Affairs: Ralph FONSECA

Min. of Housing: Cordel HYDE

Min. of Human Development: Sylvia FLORES

Min. of Labor: Francis FONSECA

Min. of Local Government: Jose COYE

Min. of National Development: Mark ESPAT

Min. of National Emergency Management: Godfrey SMITH

Min. of Natural Resources & the Environment: John BRICENO

Min. of Public Utilities: Ralph FONSECA

Min. of Tourism: Godfrey SMITH

Min. of Transport: Jose COYE

Min. of Works: Michael ESPAT

Min. of Youth & Sports: Cordel HYDE

Attorney General: Francis FONSECA

Governor, Central Bank: Jorge Meliton AUIL

Ambassador to the US: Lisa M. SHOMAN

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York (Acting): Janine COYEFELSON

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.

ECONOMY

Forestry was the only economic activity of any consequence in Belize until well into the 20th century when the supply of accessible timber began to dwindle. Cane sugar then became the principal export. Exports have recently been augmented by expanded production of citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel. The country has about 809,000 hectares of arable land, only a small fraction of which is under cultivation. To curb land speculation, the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land.

Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. Some 185 U.S. companies have operations in Belize, including Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment also is found in the telecommunications and agriculture sectors.

A combination of natural factors—climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins—support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as one of its major development priorities. In 2005, tourist arrivals totaled almost one million (more than 90% from the United States).

Belize’s investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, which sets out the development priorities for the country. A country commercial guide for Belize is available from the U.S. Embassy’s Economic/Commercial section and on the Web at: http://belize.usembassy.gov/investing_in_belize2.html.

Infrastructure

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. As part of its financial austerity measures started in late 2004, the government froze expenditures on several capital projects. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, Delta Airlines, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, and San Salvador.

Trade

Belize’s economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although the economy recorded a growth rate of 3.1% in 2005, this achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United States and the European Union (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2005 totaled $518.83million, while total exports were only $212.83 million. In 2005, the United States provided 39% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 52.2% of Belize’s total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program, which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act—signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000—a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries. However, these two markets face considerable World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.

NATIONAL SECURITY

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, is comprised of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Lloyd Gillett, assumed total defense responsibility from British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belize’s principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain’s claim to all “New World” territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.

Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) “Heads of Agreement” was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize’s independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.

Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an “adjacency zone” extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS.

Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties. Both countries now seem receptive to referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice for a binding decision.

In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development, and on July 1, 2003 assumed the presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.

U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations. The United States is Belize’s principal trading partner and major source of investment funds. It is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize, estimated to be 70,000 strong. Because Belize’s economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives, Belize benefits from the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotics trafficking, and both governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between 2001 and 2003.

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing $2.5 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2006. Of this amount, nearly half a million dollars was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional programs.

In addition, during the past 42 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. As of September 2006, the Peace Corps had 63 volunteers working in Belize. Until the end of 2002, Voice of America operated a medium-wave radio relay station in Punta Gorda that broadcast to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included the construction and renovation of several schools and youth hostels, medical assistance programs, and drug reduction programs. Private North American investors continue to play a key role in Belize’s economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

BELIZE CITY (E) Address: 29 Gabourel Lane, Belize City; APO/FPO: Unit 7401, APO AA 34025; Phone: 011-501-227-7161; Fax: 011-501-223-5321; INMARSAT Tel: Voice: 383-133-235; Data: 383-133-238; Workweek: 08:00–17:00, Mondays– Fridays; Website: www.usemb-belize.gov.

AMB:Robert Dieter
DCM:Leonard Hill
POL:Stacie Hankins
CON:Cynthia Gregg
MGT:D. Trent Dabney
DAO:Derek Dickey
DEA:Floyd Baker
FAA/CASLO:Ms. Mayte Ashby (resident in Miami)
GSO:Nenita Whitaker
IMO:Juan Beccera
INS:Mr. Roy Hernandez (Resident in Guatemala)
IPO:Jose Savinon
IRS:Mr. Frederick Dulas (Resident in Mexico City)
NAS:Ana Savinon
RSO:Patrick Harms

Last Updated: 9/20/2006

BELMOPAN CITY (E) Address:; APO/FPO: Unit 7401, APO AA 34025; Phone: 822-4011 (as of 11/27/2006); Workweek: 08:00–17:00, Mondays–Fridays; Website: www.usembbelize.gov.

AMB:Robert J. Dieter
DCM:Leonard A. Hill
POL:Stacie Hankins
CON:Cynthia Gregg
MGT:D. Trent Dabney
DEA:Floyd Baker
GSO:Nenita V. Whitaker
IMO:Juan Beccera
IPO:Jose Savinon
NAS:Ana Savinon
RSO:Patrick Harms

Last Updated: 9/1/2006

Other Contact Information

Caribbean/Latin
American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE
Fax: 202-482-0464

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : February 9, 2007

Country Description: Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and resorts on the cayes to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside. Crime is a growing concern.

Exit/Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize. Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize. All tourists and non-Belizean nationalities are required to pay an exit fee of U.S.$35 when leaving Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, Tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site http://www.embassyofbelize.org/. Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, and Los Angeles, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Belize. Visit the Embassy of Belize web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/belize for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security: Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize. Crime can be a serious problem, particularly in Belize City and remote areas. Road accidents are common. Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment. Medical care is limited.

Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize’s more challenging sites. Deaths and serious mishaps have occurred as a result of negligent diving tour operators and the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in scuba diving and snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour. Safety precautions and emergency response capabilities may not be up to U.S. standards. The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries. There have not been any terrorist activities in Belize.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shooting, stabbing, murder, and rape, is on the rise. The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways and river ways. The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick-pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds. Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups have occurred this past year. Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. One of these occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while another occurred during an armed robbery at an isolated resort. One of these assaults has resulted in the death of the victim.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only in daylight hours, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street. Women’s handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

If traveling by taxi, use only vehicles with green license plates, do not get in a taxi that is occupied by more than the driver, and do not let the driver pick up additional fares.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups occurred during the summer of 2006 in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Caracol regions of the western district of Belize. Due to increased police patrols, coordinated tours among resort security managers, and the arrest of two of the “highway bandits,” there have not been any additional robberies since June, 2006. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region. Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites. Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another. Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous. Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization. It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads. Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary. Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites. And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings.

Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment. Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Consular Information Sheet for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011. The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim’s home state. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances. Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas. Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas. Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country. The Government of Belize reported an outbreak of dengue fever in April, May and June of 2005. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Driving in Belize requires one’s full attention, and drivers must take extraordinary efforts to drive defensively to avoid dangerous situations. The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Valid U.S. driver’s licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning, and have few markings or reflectors. Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction. Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance causes many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted. Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. Moreover, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved. Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.

Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times; bicyclists often ride contrary to traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs. Few bicycles have lights at night. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars. The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard. Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas.

For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.

Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at Visit the website of Belize’s Tourist Board and national authority responsible for road safety at www.travelbelize.org.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained at: http//www.nhc.noaa.gov.

It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Special Notice for Dual Nationals: A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is approximately 10 working days.

Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize’s Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belize’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration/Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in the capital city of Belmopan, approximately 50 miles west of Belize City. The U.S. Embassy is on Floral Park Road, Belmopan and the telephone number is 822-4011. The Embassy Internet address is http://usembassy.state.gov/belize/; e-mail [email protected]

International Adoption : April 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Belize is the Belize Human Services Department:

Human Services Department
2 nd Floor, Commercial Center
P.O. Box 41
Belize City, Belize
Central America
Phone: ++501-227-7451
or 501-227-2057
Fax: ++501-227-1276

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: The government of Belize requires that at least one of the prospective adoptive parents must be a minimum of 25 years old and no fewer than 12 years older than the child. Single men cannot adopt female children. These restrictions can be waived if the court finds that special circumstances are warranted.

Residency Requirements: The Belize Supreme Court only processes adoptions for Belizean citizen children. According to Section 137 of the Belize Families and Children’s Act, a person who is not a citizen of Belize may adopt a Belizean child if he or she:

  • Does not have a criminal record;
  • Has a current recommendation concerning his/her suitability to adopt a child from his/her country’s probation and welfare office or other competent authority; and
  • Has satisfied the court that his/her country of origin will respect and recognize the adoption order.

Belizean law prohibits the issuance of a final adoption order unless the non-Belizean prospective adoptive parent resides in Belize with the Belizean child for 12 months. A social worker will visit periodically to assess the parent-child relationship. Adoptive parents who are not citizens of Belize may receive an interim adoption decree, which the Government of Belize recognizes as permission for the prospective adoptive parent to take the child out of Belize and pursue a subsequent adoption in accordance with the laws of his/her own country.

Time Frame: The processing time for adoptions can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. The Belize Department of Human Services reports that “ward adoptions” (children in the custody of the Department of Human Services) can take up one year or more to process because of the need for home study reports, matching, placement and legal proceedings. For independent adoptions (children not in the custody of the Department of Human Services) the processing time is shorter. Because the adoption is child-specific—that is, the prospective adoptive parents have already selected a child—matching and placement are not necessary. These adoption proceedings take from 3 months to one year.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: There are no accredited adoption agencies in Belize. Generally, U.S. prospective adoptive parents work with an accredited adoption agency in the U.S. The PAPs must submit a home study report from a social services agency in their state of residency and the U.S.-based agency must submit a notarized copy of their license to the Belize Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services is the only agency approved to conduct/verify home studies for adoption in Belize. Prospective adoptive parents should confirm all fees and conditions before sending payments to an attorney or representative. English is the official language of Belize, so all attorneys in Belize speak English.

International adoptions occur before a Supreme Court judge and require the services of a local attorney authorized to present cases before the Supreme Court. Adoptive parents who wish to obtain information about forms and detailed adoption requirements should contact a Belizean attorney. A list of attorneys can be found at the U.S. Embassy web site: http://belize.usembassy.gov.

Adoption Fees: Attorney’s fees for adoption services in Belize range from $1,500to $5,000 (U.S. dollars). The cost can vary based on the attorney selected, the type of adoption (local vs. international) and the number of children being adopted. Attorneys’ fees include all costs related to the adoption process, such as court costs and filing fees. U.S. citizens adopting a child in Belize should report any exorbitant fees to the U.S. Embassy in Belize or to the U.S. Department of State.

Adoption Procedures: The Supreme Court of Belize processes all adoptions of Belizean citizen children. The Supreme Court will not adjudicate adoption cases involving non-Belizean citizen children and will instead refer the case to the child’s country of citizenship. Adoption of Belizean citizen children must occur within the Belizean court system. There are no private adoptions or adoptions through extra-judicial processes. If the prospective adoptive parents reside outside of Belize and are not citizens of Belize, the adoption must be handled through the Supreme Court of Belize.

Full Adoptions: The Supreme Court will not issue a final adoption decree in a full adoption until the child has spent at least 12 months with the prospective adoptive parents and a social worker has submitted a written assessment of the child-parent relationship. Full adoptions are rare in Belize and, as of the time of this writing, can only be granted to Belizean citizens or residents of Belize.

Interim Adoptions: The Supreme Court may postpone the granting of a final adoption decree and issue an interim order instead. Under this procedure, the prospective adoptive parent(s) will have custody of the child for a probationary period of one year during which the adoptive parent(s) is/are required to provide quarterly reports to the Belize Supreme Court regarding the child’s care and progress. These reports are usually filed with the Court by the adoptive parents’ attorney and a copy is also given to the Belize Department of Human Services. Upon submission of the final quarterly report, the attorney makes an application for the provisional order to be made final in the Supreme Court. The application will be granted based on the recommendation of the U.S. social worker who conducted the quarterly visits and wrote the reports. If the final adoption decree is granted, the Belize Registrar General for Vital Statistics will then place the child’s name in the Adoption of Children Register.

The Chief Justice of Belize has determined that the “provisional,” “interim,” or “preliminary” adoption decrees often issued by the Supreme Court can be considered permission for the prospective adoptive parents to take the child out of Belize and to pursue a subsequent adoption process in accordance with the laws of their own country. American adoptive parents may apply for an Immediate Relative (IR)-4 visa for the child. The adoptive parents must obtain a Belize passport for the child which must be issued in the child’s birth name.

Documentary Requirements: The following documents are required by the Belize Human Services Department:

  • A valid police certificate;
  • An approved home study;
  • Proof of home government approval to adopt (for U.S. citizens, this is an approved I-600 or I-600A).

Embassy of Belize—Consular Section:
2535 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
202-332-9636

Permanent Mission of Belize
820 2 nd Avenue
Suite 922
New York, NY 10017
212-599-0233

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel. state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Belize:
29 Gabourel Lane
Belize City, Belize
Central America
501-227-7161

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Belize may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Belize. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Belize

Belize

Type of Government

The Belize government is a parliamentary democracy with power distributed across three separate branches of government. The executive branch consists of a governor general who acts as head of state and a prime minister who serves as head of government. The bicameral legislature, the National Assembly, comprises an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. Members of the independent judiciary are appointed; English common law forms the basis of judicial decisions.

Background

The least-populated nation in Central America, Belize is located west of Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea. Mayan civilization dominated the region from about 1500 BC to 1000 AD, and the Maya legacy can still be seen in major archaeological sites such as Altun Ha and Xunantunich. The first European contact came in 1502 when Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) sailed along its shore; the first recorded European settlement occurred in 1638, when shipwrecked English sailors built a small colony in the area of what is now Belize City. The region was contested by both the British and Spanish during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but by 1798 it had come under British control. In 1871 the region was reorganized as one of England’s Crown colonies.

Wood was the major export of Belize until the twentieth century, including logwood, which was important in the formulation of dyes for the wool industry, and mahogany used for furniture. By the twentieth century indiscriminate logging had taken its toll, and the local economy thereafter focused on renewable agricultural exports such as sugar cane and bananas. While the colonial estate owners prospered, the vast majority of the population was impoverished.

The independence movement was led by Belize’s trade and labor groups, most prominently the British Honduras Workers and Tradesmen’s Union (later the General Workers Union). Social unrest was stirred in 1950 by British devaluation of the Belize dollar, and as a result of ensuing demonstrations, the People’s United Party (PUP) was founded. Unofficially, people began calling their country Belize instead of British Honduras and began demanding separation from England. Universal adult suffrage was granted in 1951, and with the country’s first elections in 1954, PUP came to power in the newly constituted Legislative Council.

In 1961 a severe hurricane struck the low-lying capital of Belize City, prompting the country to move its capital inland to Belmopan. When the country was granted internal autonomy and self-government in 1964, George C. Price (1919–) became its first premier. Full independence, however, was delayed by a border dispute with Guatemala. Belize became the official name of the country in 1973, and eight years later, the dispute with Guatemala still unresolved, Belize became an independent member of the British Commonwealth, with Price acting as its first prime minister.

Government Structure

Under the terms of the 1981 constitution, Belize is a parliamentary democracy. It recognizes the British monarch as ceremonial head of state, represented locally by a governor general. Real executive power is wielded by the prime minister and the cabinet, chosen from the majority party in the parliament, or National Assembly.

The bicameral National Assembly consists of a twenty-nine-seat House of Representatives (due to increase to thirty-one in the 2008 elections), whose members are elected by popular vote via universal adult suffrage every five years. The prime minister can call for earlier elections if needed. Legislative power in the National Assembly favors the House of Representatives over the Senate. Not only can the House of Representatives introduce and pass legislation, but it can do so over the Senate’s objections, as long as the Senate receives notice of the legislation introduced. The Senate’s role is more advisory—for example, it confirms bills passed by the House, authorizes ratification of treaties, and approves appointments of judges and ambassadors. Its twelve members are appointed to five-year terms: six on the advice of the prime minister, three on the advice of the opposition, and one each on the recommendation of the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches; the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau; and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee.

Belize is divided into six administrative districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Belize City has an elected city council of nine members; the other districts are each administered by a seven-member elected town board. Village councils govern at the village level.

The independent judiciary, whose members are appointed, consists of local magistrates, the Supreme Court (presided over by a chief justice), and the Court of Appeal. The law of Belize is the common law of England, as supplemented by local legislation. Defendants have rights to presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, counsel, appeal, and public trial. The final court of appeal is the regional Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), based in Trinidad.

Political Parties and Factions

Though several political parties operate in Belize, the country essentially has a two-party system. The two major parties are the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP).

Formed in 1950 and led for forty years by George C. Price, the PUP derives its support primarily from conservative voters. It dominated Belize elections from 1954 to 1984 and was instrumental in the country’s struggle for independence. Price and the PUP returned to power in 1989 but lost in the 1993 elections. Under the leadership of Said Musa (1944–), the party was returned to power in 1998 and 2003.

The UDP was founded in the 1970s from a merger of several smaller liberal parties. Representing a center-left position on the political spectrum, the UDP first came to power in 1984 under the leadership of Manuel Esquivel (1940–). The party’s second electoral victory came in 1993, also under Esquivel.

Other smaller parties with no members in parliament include the We the People Reform Movement (WTP) and the National Reform Party (NRP). Unions also continue to have a strong voice in the country, including the Public Service Union (PSU) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB).

Major Events

Guatemala refused to recognize Belize’s independence in 1981 and severed relations with the United Kingdom over the dispute. Though relations were restored in 1986, the British continued to maintain soldiers in Belize as a preventative measure. After Belize was admitted to the Organization of American States (OAS), Guatemala granted full recognition of Belize’s independence in 1992. The following year the two countries signed a non-aggression pact, and in 1994 the United Kingdom withdrew its troops from Belize. Despite this progress, there is still considerable dispute between Belize and Guatemala regarding Belize’s southern border and maritime territorial limits.

In the 1980s and 1990s Belize turned from agriculture to tourism as the basis of its economy. The number of tourists grew quickly; from 64,000 tourists in 1980 to 247,000 in 1992. By the mid-1990s the contribution of tourism to GDP outpaced that of the sugar industry.

Twenty-First Century

Challenges to the stability of Belize in the twenty-first century include continuing instability related to the territorial dispute with Guatemala. Talks between Belize and Guatemala have continued amid persistent tensions. In 2000 the Belize ambassador was expelled from Guatemala and talks were broken off, but they were later resumed.

In 2005 Belize was wracked with labor unrest, demonstrations, and strikes by both public and private sector workers as a result of a proposed government budget requiring tax increases. Further strikes were called later in the year as a result of the government’s attempt to privatize the telephone system. Labor disputes are complicated by high unemployment rates and low overall wages.

Belize is also experiencing a rise in violent crime—fueled by the South American drug trade and high unemployment—which threatens the continued growth of tourism. In a positive economic development, petroleum was discovered in commercial quantities in 2006.

Government of Belize. (accessed May 3, 2007).

Thomson, P. A. B. Belize: A Concise History . London: Macmillan Caribbean, 2005.

Twigg, Alan. Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide . British Columbia: Harbour Publishing, 2006.

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Belize

Belize

A 1997 newswire article posed the question: Is Belize Caribbean or Central American? The comment was made in May, when Belize sent its deputy prime minister, Dean Barrow, to a historic Caribbean-U.S. summit in Bridgetown, Barbados, attended by U.S. president Bill Clinton, while Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel chose to attend a Central American summit in Costa Rica. As the only Central American country in the fourteen-member Cari-bbean Community (CARICOM), Belize has sometimes been described as being a "remote" state of the Caribbean. Barrow commented that while trying to draw closer to Central America, CARICOM re-mained more important for this former British colony, because it was Belize's first line of support in its longstanding diplomatic struggle with Guatemala. On September 25, 2006, Belize joined the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), established by the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua with the aim of contributing to the social and economic development of the region. Prime Minister Said Musa noted that Belize's integration in the Central American region had been much slower, "but we are well poised to take advantage of our geographic position in the Central American isthmus" (http://channel5belize.com/archive).

CONTEMPORARY BELIZE

In the early twenty-first century, Belize has moved ethnically, religiously, and economically from a Caribbean perspective to a more Central American one. In the 2005 mid-year updates to the decennial 2000 census, Belize's population stood at 291,800, up 3.3 percent from the previous year and almost equally divided between urban (50.2 percent) and rural (49.8 percent). In 2000 the Cayo District in the west was the fastest-growing district, with population up 29.3 percent over the census of 1991. Belize and Stann Creek, two districts that had experienced high rates of emigration, grew substantially over the decade as well, yet it was unclear whether this represented a slowing of emigration or high levels of immigration. Belizeans began immigrating to the United States in the 1970s, first to New York and afterward to Los Angeles. Approximately 45,000 to 55,000 Belizeans and their U.S.-raised children currently reside in greater Los Angeles, representing about 45 percent of the total number in the United States.

Demography

Mestizos (the term originally applied to individuals of mixed Spanish and Yucatecan Mayan descent but now applied to immigrants from Guatelamala and El Salvador as well) are now the largest ethnic group in Belize, making up 48.7 percent of the population, followed by Creoles (individuals of mixed African and European ancestry), accounting for 24.9 percent. This continued a pattern noted in the 1991 census. For the first time, both urban and rural areas were predominantly Mestizo. Of Belize's six districts, Mestizos were the largest ethnic group in Corozal (76 percent), Orange Walk (77 percent), and Cayo (63.7 percent), while Creoles predominated in Belize (59 percent), Garifuna (Black Caribs) in Stann Creek (31 percent), and Mayas in Toledo (65.4 percent). Almost half of the population (49.6 percent) was Roman Catholic. Surprisingly, only 53.6 percent claimed to speak English well, whereas 52 percent claimed to speak Spanish well. The literacy rate was 76.5 percent in 2000, up 5.2 percent from 1991. Some 85 percent of the population was native born, with the remainder being immigrants from the Central American countries of Guatemala (42.5 percent), El Salvador (17.6 percent), and Honduras (14 percent).

Economy

With an economy based primarily on tourism and the export of primary products, a small domestic population base, weak infrastructure, and heavy consumer demand influenced by the saturation of cable television from the United States since the 1980s, Belize has struggled in its efforts to grow its economy. After World War II the economy became more diversified, and sugar replaced mahogany as the leading export. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the leading exports were citrus (orange and grapefruit concentrate), marine products (white farm shrimp and lobster), sugar, bananas, garments, and papayas. These totaled US$206.64 million in 2005. These were dwarfed by imports totaling US$592.92 million. The United States was Belize's leading trading partner, taking 52.27 percent of its exports and providing 39.11 percent of its imports. While the inflation rate at 3.7 percent was up more than a percentage point in 2005, unemployment at 11 percent remained a serious problem. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 3.7 percent.

Belize was once a colonial backwater, but tourism has become a major source of revenue over the past several decades. While most of the tourists have been attracted to the offshore islands for skin and scuba diving, recent governments have encouraged ecotourism and archaeological exploration. By 2004 approximately 42 percent of Belize's land area was under some form of protective status. This included 988,000 acres of forest reserves, 408,000 acres of national parks, 388,000 acres of wildlife sanctuaries, 306,000 acres of private reserves, 111,000 acres of nature reserves, and 28,000 acres of archaeological reserves. In the late 1990s Belize began cooperating with Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to promote Mundo Maya, offering tourist ventures in the former Maya areas. In 2000 Carnival Cruise Lines joined Norwegian and several smaller lines in making Belize City a stop on their Caribbean cruises. By January 2007 the Belize Tourism Board reported tourist arrivals at the Philip Goldson International Airport up 2.9 percent from 2005 to about 250,000. Cruise passenger arrivals, which reached a peak of 850,000 in 2004, declined to 650,000 in 2006. The opening of a new Southside cruise port planned for 2008 might help, but the future of the cruise industry remained uncertain. There is also fear that the big-spending adventure travelers will go elsewhere if Belize becomes a mass tourist spot. The average cruise passenger spends only $45 in Belize. The $18 million Las Vegas Casino opened in Corozal in September 2006. Located between the northern border checkpoint and the commercial free zone in Corozal, it is designed to cater to

Belize
Population: 294,385 (2007 est.)
Area: 8,867 sq mi
Official language: English
Languages: English, Spanish, Creole, Mayan languages, Garifuna, German
National currency: Belizean dollar (BZD)
Principal religions: Roman Catholics, 49.6%; Pentecostals, 7.4%; Anglicans, 5.3%; Seventh-day Adventists, 5.2%; Mennonites, 4.1%; Methodists, 3.5%.
Ethnicity: Mestizo, 48.7%; Creole, 24.9%; Maya, 10.6%; Garifuna, 6.1%; Other, 9.7%.
Capital: Belmopan
Other urban centers: Belize City
Annual rainfall: The north of the country has 50 in of rain on average, the south, over 150 in.
Principal geographical features: Mountains: Cockscomb, Maya
Rivers: Belize, Hondo, New
Islands: Ambergris Cay, Hicks Cay, Turneffe Islands, numerous reefs.
Economy: GDP per capita: $8,400 (2006)
Principal products and exports: Agricultural: sugar, bananas, citrus, fish.
Industrial: clothing, forest products
Government: Belize became independent of the United Kingdom in 1981 and governed as a parliamentary democracy. The legislature is a bicameral National Assembly made up of a 12-seat Senate and a 29-seat House of Representatives. The head of government is the prime minister. The head of state is a governor general appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom. Representatives are directly elected. Senators are appointed by the prime minister, governor general, and leading institutions.
Armed forces: The Belize Defense Force maintains an Army, Maritime Wing, Air Wing, and Support group. There were approximately 1,050 active duty and 700 reserve personnel in 2005.
Transportation: Ports: Belize City, Big Creek, Corozol, Punta Gorda.
Roads: 303 mi paved / 1,481 mi unpaved
Airports: 4 paved runway airports, 40 unpaved. International airports at Belize City and Punta Gorda.
Media: Major weekly newspapers include Amandala, Belize Today, and The Reporter. 10 private and 1 government radio stations, 2 private television stations.
Literacy and education: Total literacy rate: 76.5% (2000)
Education is free and compulsory for children ages 5 to 14. The University of Belize provides higher education.

thousands of Mexicans visiting the free zone. Tourism revenues were estimated at BZ$312.4 million (US$158.36 million) in 2003.

Crime and Health

Serious social problems of recent vintage also threaten the country and its tourist industry. Once a small domestic producer of marijuana, Belize has become an important transshipment spot in the Colombian cocaine trade. Los Angeles-style gangs began to appear in Belize City in the 1990s, accompanied by crack cocaine. The murder rate soared. While the police department has been reluctant to make crime statistics public, both murders and burglaries were on paths toward record highs in 2007. Channel 5 Belize reported 87 murders in 2006. This was up from 2005 when there were 81 murders and 1,660 burglaries. By July of 2007 there had been 49 homicides, many gang related. One reporter dubbed Belize the "big league of flying bullets" and spoke of an epidemic of violence plaguing the country. In less than twenty years AIDS has become a very serious problem. The national prevalence rate now exceeds 2 percent of the population. Men and women were equally affected in the 434 new infections reported in 2005. AIDS was the number one killer of those aged thirty to forty-nine. One optimistic sign was that more Belizeans were being tested.

Oil

One of the most positive economic developments in recent years was the discovery of oil near Spanish Lookout in western Belize in 2006. Dating back to the colonial period, the oil and gas industry experienced more than fifty dry wells before striking pay dirt. Belize Natural Energy Ltd. (BNE), made up of more than seventy small investors from Ireland, drilled five successive wells before hitting a dry hole. Production has stabilized at 2,700 barrels of oil per day. With no infrastructure in place, getting the oil to refineries will require new investment. Belize joins Guatemala and Cuba as the only oil and gas producers in the western Caribbean.

HISTORY

Once referred to as a "colonial dead end" or "the place that is no place," by the twenty-first century Belize was a struggling democracy dedicated to ecotourism and a center of intensive archaeological investigation. It was the setting for countless mystery novels, whose killers drifted off to Belize never to be seen again.

The Maya

Projectile points discovered near Ladyville tend to confirm the presence of early humans in Belize around 9000 bce. Settled farming communities began to appear between 2500 and 2250 bce. There is evidence of maize cultivation, pottery production, and trade in jade and obsidian at several pre-Classic sites (1250 bce–250 ce). There are indications of terracing and canal building at Pulltrouser Swamp and Cerros, in northern Belize, and at Nohmul, near Orange Walk Town. A manufacturing industry produced oval axes, hoes, and adzes at Colha, near Cerros. Pyramids typical of the Classic period of Maya architecture were constructed at Nohmul.

Excavation of Maya sites in Belize is ongoing and accelerated during the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. The major sites include Actun Balam, Altun Ha, Cahal Pech, Caracol, Cerros, Cuello, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Nim Li Punit, Nohmul, Pusilha, Uxbena, and Xunantunich.

At Altun Ha, a site near the north coast of Belize that flourished from c. 800 bce to 925 ce, with a later reoccupation in the fifteenth century, archaeologist David Pendergast, from the Royal Ontario Museum, discovered large quantities of carved jade, including a 5.9-inch-high, 9.74-pound, full-round head of Kinich Ahau, the sun god. In 2007 Arlen and Diane Chase of the University of Central Florida began their twenty-third excavation season at Caracol, the largest known Classic Maya city in the southern Maya lowlands. In 650 ce the urban area of Caracol had a radius of approximately six miles and may have boasted a population of 140,000 people. These were supported by an immense agricultural field system and elaborate planning. Lamanai in the Orange Walk District was also excavated by the Royal Ontario Museum from 1974 to 1986. It is the first known southern Maya lowlands site with continuous occupation from c. 1500 bce to 1650–1700 ce. In 1997 Belize's largest speleo-archaeological project was launched as part of the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project directed by archaeologist Jaime Awe. He has also conducted excavations at Cahal Pech, Baking Pot, and many other sites. Some of the most exciting research by Heather McKillop from Louisiana State University describes salt production along the eastern Maya littoral. While searching underwater for evidence of these salt factories in the Punta Ycacos Lagoon in the Toledo District in 2004, her crew discovered the first completely intact, full-sized Maya canoe wooden paddle.

Most Maya centers in the lowlands of Belize experienced political and economic decline in the tenth century for reasons still not understood. Some populations dispersed along lakeshores and rivers. However, the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century found many communities still flourishing and engaging in an extensive trading network.

The Spanish

Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) may have passed through Belize en route to Honduras in 1524–1525. However, it was not until 1544 that the province of Chetumal, which included portions of Belize, was successfully conquered. Belize was incorporated into the two newly created provinces of Chetumal (north) and Dzuluinicob (south). A contributing factor in the ease of conquest may have been pre-Conquest population decline. Population in the region went down between 1517 and 1542 from about 800,000 to about 250,000.

For almost a century, from 1544 to 1638, the Spanish dominated communities at Tipu in the west and Lamanai in the northwest. Indians in these areas were granted in encomienda to Spaniards and were forced to supply labor and cacao beans. Anti-Spanish rebellions occurred during 1567 and 1568. In 1638 Lamanai and Tipu joined in a widespread rebellion that expelled the Spaniards from most of Belize until after 1695.

The Bay Settlement

The date of the first British settlement in the Bay of Honduras has not been documented. Legends tell of a settlement along the Cockscomb Coast in the 1630s, whereas others argue that a Scottish-born privateer, Peter Wallace, founded a settlement in 1638. Sustained settlement by British settlers owed its origin to the logwood tree. According to The Dyer's Assistant by James Haigh et al. (1870), logwood—when cut into small shavings or chips—was useful for making a great number of colors and shades, from sedan blacks to shades of gray to fine violets, but most commonly for purples. These were used in the European woolen, linen, cotton, and hat manufacturing industries.

While the Treaty of Madrid (1670) between England and Spain marked the first acknowledgement that England had some rights in the West Indies, these were never clearly defined. If logwood cutters viewed this treaty as supporting their territorial claims along the Central American coast, neither the British or Spanish governments ever supported their claims.

This illegal settlement in the heart of the Spanish Empire was under frequent attack from Spanish authorities in Yucatán, and it was abandoned and resettled several times. Article 17 of the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of 1763 gave the settlement some legitimacy by legalizing the cutting, loading, and carrying away of logwood. By the time logwood cutting was legalized, the baymen had turned to the more profitable cutting of mahogany. Mahogany, used in shipbuilding and in the English furniture industry, remained the principal export of the settlement until the mid-twentieth century. Because the baymen were said to prefer hard liquor to hard labor, they began importing African slaves after 1724 to cut timber. Several slave revolts between 1765 and 1773, plus the large number of runaways who sought asylum in Yucatán, suggest that while slavery in Belize may have differed from slavery on the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, it was probably no less onerous. In 1769 Lieutenant James Cook made a trip from the Belize River to the Rio Hondo and thence cross-country to Merida. He wrote that "in traveling through the swamps it is very troublesome, the mules being knee deep, in the dry season, in a stiff blueish mud, often times nearly sticking fast, and the boughs of the logwood trees so low, as to oblige you to lay flat on the mules shoulders whilst the animal is all that time plunging in endeavoring to extricate himself from the mire" (Cook 1769, n.p.).

The earliest form of government in the settlement was the public or town meeting. In these gatherings, magistrates were elected to administer a code based on common law and ancient usage called Burnaby's Code, written by Admiral Sir William Burnaby, commander in chief at Jamaica.

By 1779 the bay settlement consisted of plantations along the banks of several rivers, with settlers numbering about five hundred and slaves totaling about three thousand. Saint George's Cay, a small island just off the coast, was the nominal capital. The Spaniards successfully attacked the cay in 1779, forcing the settlers and their slaves to march overland to Mérida. Four years later, in compliance with the Treaty of Versailles (1783), the Spanish granted the British logwood concessions between the Hondo and Belize rivers. Three years after that the treaty was extended by the Convention of London (1786) to permit the extraction of both logwood and mahogany as far south as the Sibún River. The treaty also forced the British to abandon settlements at Roatán and along the Mosquito Coast. Some 2,214 settlers and their slaves from these settlements moved to Belize.

A writer for the Britannic Magazine (1794) stated that trade with "Honduras" was far greater than imagined. He estimated that it involved fifteen hundred seamen shipping twelve thousand tons, giving employment to thirty thousand cabinetmakers and dyers in an enterprise worth one and a half million pounds annually. Annual exports were between five and six million feet of mahogany, two thousand tons of logwood, fustic, ironwood, lignum vitae, zebrawood, brazilwood, cedar and several other woods, turtle shell, sarsaparilla, deerskins, gums, and live turtle. The number of inhabitants in 1790 amounted to about four thousand, of whom four-fifths were slaves. The principal food was salt beef, pork, turtle, and fish.

In 1798 the Spanish, under the command of the captain-general of Yucatán, Arturo O'Neil, launched an unsuccessful attack on the bay settlement, known since as the Battle of Saint George's Cay. The settlers' success in this battle is commemorated on September 10th. Well-prepared and armed with advance intelligence from spies in Havana, the British repelled a much larger Spanish force, although one weakened by yellow fever. This represented the last serious attempt by the Spanish to dislodge the Baymen from their settlement.

The Central American Republics

With the onset of the independence of Central America in 1821, the British threat had been reduced to the single settlement of Belize (they had largely abandoned settlements in Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Bay Islands). The thirty years after independence saw the reestablishment of the settlement of the Bay Islands, the reassumption of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Coast, the expansion of the boundaries of Belize, and a tremendous expansion of commercial relations between Great Britain and Central America, with most of the trade passing through Belize. The absence of any deepwater port along the Caribbean coast dictated that British goods be shipped to Belize and then transshipped in coastal vessels to Central American ports. The British entrance into the Central American retail trade coincided with the appearance of commission houses and branches of British commercial companies in Belize. By 1831, considering the British Caribbean as a whole, Belize ranked second only to Jamaica as an importer of British manufactures. However, unable to induce the British to relinquish their position in Belize and unable to develop a satisfactory alternate commercial route, Central Americans became increasingly hostile over the status of Belize.

In 1828 Great Britain claimed the territory of Belize on the basis of conquest, long use, and custom and in 1835 asked Spain to cede the territory. When no response was forthcoming, the British began to exercise more formal jurisdiction over the territory. By the time the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) between Great Britain and the United States was negotiated, Britain's position was that it had acquired rights of possession.

To legitimize its jurisdiction, Britain signed a treaty with Guatemala on April 30, 1859. The first six articles defined the boundaries of Belize. Article 7 provided for the construction of a road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast. Guatemala viewed this as compensation for its loss of territory. When Guatemala failed to ratify a supplementary convention to this treaty in 1863, the end of the stipulated period, the Britain felt that it was now released from the obligation under Article 7. This was disputed by Guatemala. The dispute has festered for more than a century and a half. Guatemala continues to question whether Britain legitimately occupied the territory of Belize.

The bay settlement formally became the Crown Colony of British Honduras in 1862. It was administered by a lieutenant governor who was under the nominal supervision of the governor of Jamaica. When this tie with Jamaica was severed in 1884, the position of lieutenant governor was elevated to governor.

A Depressed Economy

After 1850 Belize's lucrative reexport trade to Central America declined severely and the economy became dependent on the country's own natural resources. The mahogany trade dominated the economy until well into the twentieth century. The peak year in the nineteenth century was 1846, when exports totaled 13.7 million feet. Thereafter, the wholesale cutting of young trees and the exhaustion of almost all accessible trees seriously depleted the country's timber resources. The increased costs of extracting less accessible reserves combined with declining prices in Europe led to declining profits. By 1870 exports totaled only 2.75 million feet. Levels of exports equal to those of 1846 were not reached again until 1906, when 11 million feet were exported.

Land ownership was increasingly monopolized by a small number of families that developed partnerships with metropolitan companies. Four companies—Young, Toledo and Company; Sheldon Byass and Company; John Carmichael; and the British Honduras Company—owned most of the land by 1870. In 1875 the British Honduras Company became the Belize Estate and Produce Company. That same year, after it acquired property from Young, Toledo, and Company, it became the largest landholder in the colony, owning about half of all privately held land.

The emancipation of the slaves in the 1830s brought little economic improvement in their lives. Through use of a "company store" approach, the freedpersons were kept permanently in debt to the lumber companies. Advances on wages were paid to mahogany workers just prior to the Christmas season. This money being quickly expended, supplies for the cutting season had to be purchased on credit from the employer at exorbitant markups.

A limited trade in chicle, the coagulated latex of the sapodilla tree, began in the late nineteenth century. This tree extract, used in the manufacture of chewing gum, was shipped to the United States. Wrigley's was the predominant purchaser. Exports reached a peak in 1930 with more than four million pounds. Thereafter, the industry went into a decline brought on by overtapping of the trees, the world depression, and a switch to synthetics.

Bananas were first exported in 1890. Between 1896 and 1912 annual exports averaged 500,000 bunches. Prospects appeared bright until 1913, when Panama disease struck the area and exports began a rapid decline. In the same area of the Stann Creek Valley where bananas had previously been grown, a grapefruit industry was established in the 1920s. By 1933 more than 13,000 cases were being exported. Although several attempts were made to develop the sugar industry prior to World War II, none proved very successful.

By 1890 Belize had a population of about thirty thousand. Twelve thousand people (largely Creoles of African and Caucasian descent) lived in Belize City. Another ten thousand Spanish-speaking Mestizos, refugees from the Caste War in Yucatán, were living in the Corazal District. Four thousand Kekchi and Maya were living in the southern and western regions. Three thousand Garifuna, who had arrived in the colony in the early 1800s from Honduras, lived in Stann Creek and Punta Gorda and surrounding villages. Small numbers of East Indians, imported to work on sugar estates, lived in the south.

However, for most of the period the capital, Belize City, was the colony. The Creoles dominated the political and social life of the colony, and together with a small group of Europeans, they also controlled the economy.

From Colony to Independence, 1862–1981

In 1871 the crown colony system of government was introduced. The Legislative Assembly was replaced by a Legislative Council composed of five official and five unofficial members, all appointed by the lieutenant governor. This council remained in existence until 1936, when elections resumed. By 1945 six members of the council were elected and four were appointed by the governor. New constitutions in 1954 and 1960 increased the role of elected officials vis-à-vis the governor. Membership in the Legislative Assembly, which included six cabinet ministers, was expanded to eighteen, eleven of whom were elected. The governor's powers were curbed, and he was required to act with the advice of the ministers.

The 1964 constitution granted internal independence. However, the continuing dispute with Guatemala delayed the event until 1981. In preparation, a new capital, Belmopan, was constructed some fifty miles west of Belize City. Disastrous hurricanes in 1931, 1955, and 1961 had made this a necessity. On September 21, 1981, Belize achieved full independence with a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system.

A prime minister and cabinet make up the executive branch, while a twenty-nine member elected House of Representatives and an eight-member appointed Senate form a bicameral legislature. The British monarch is the titular head of state and is represented in Belize by a governor-general, who must be a Belizean.

Political Developments since 1945

Considerable labor agitation was provoked in the 1930s by the rapid decline in the mahogany industry during the preceding decade, the Great Depression, and a hurricane of September 10, 1931, which killed one thousand people. Antonio Soberanis Gómez (1897–1975) lobbied for improved wages and work for the unemployed. A barber by trade, he created and led the laborers and unemployed association in the 1930s. The country's first trade union was founded in 1943. It later merged interests with a growing nationalist movement to form Belize's first political party, the People's United Party (PUP), in 1950. Shortly thereafter, George Price, one of its founders, was elected party leader. Price won an unbroken series of local and national elections until 1984. Over a thirty-year period the PUP obtained continuous mandates from the electorate, first to launch a final attack against colonialism and then to lead the new nation into economic prosperity.

The principal opposition party, the United Democratic Party (UDP), was founded on September 27, 1973, from three smaller parties. Manuel Esquivel served as party chairman from 1976 to 1982 and party leader from 1982 to 1998. In 1984 he led the UDP to a stunning victory (twenty-one of twenty-eight seats) and became Belize's second prime minister. During a five-year term, sound fiscal management and encouragement of foreign investment in tourism and manufacturing helped invigorate the country's economy. However, intraparty wrangling, charges of corruption, and a series of contested party caucuses led to a surprising electoral defeat in 1989. By winning fifteen of the twenty-eight seats that year, the PUP was restored to power and George Price once again became prime minister.

Following the PUP's return to power, the government led by Price steered a course similar to his predecessor's by encouraging agricultural exports and expanding textile manufacturing. Belize took a leadership role in the new ecotourist movement, which seeks to promote preservation of flora and fauna while providing expanded opportunities for the ecologically minded traveler. Several major new hotels were completed in Belize City and a new deepwater port completed at Big River. Improvements were also made in the country's infrastructure, although construction of a much-needed hospital in Belize City suffered repeated delays. By 1992 Belize's economy was suffering from a worldwide recession.

Buoyed by the municipal elections of March 1993, Price decided to call a general election before the end of his term. Soon after this fateful decision, though, a series of events developed in rapid succession that contributed to his government's defeat on June 30. These included Britain's announcement that it would withdraw all of its defense forces from Belize by January 1994 and a 25 May coup in Guatemala. Before the June election, the opposition UDP attacked the Price government for failing to address satisfactorily the security implications for Belize of these two events.

The UDP won sixteen of twenty-nine seats in the new parliament and on July3, Manuel Esquivel was sworn in again as prime minister. He quickly made good on several of his campaign promises by introducing free education at all levels and announced structural reforms to depoliticize the public service. Seeking long-term solutions to Belize's economic problems and under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Esquivel government in October 1995 announced plans to cut government spending by eliminating civil service jobs and freezing teacher wages. This prompted protest marches on Belmopan in October and November. Unmoved, in December the government fired seven hundred public servants, just before Christmas. At the Equivel government's behest, a Value Added Tax (VAT) was passed on April 1, 1996. While these moves appeased Belize's foreign creditors, they were unpopular at home and sealed the fate of the UDP for more than a decade.

Despite predictions of a tight election, on August 27, 1998, the PUP, with its new leader, Said Musa, crushed the Esquivel government, winning twenty-six of twenty-nine seats in the House. The former prime minister lost his own seat and resigned as party leader in favor of Dean Barrow. The new prime minister, a native of San Ignacio, had served as a cabinet minister in the previous Price administrations and was a lawyer trained in the United Kingdom. He had played a key role in drafting Belize's Constitution of 1981. Having campaigned hard on the theme of the need to get the economy moving again, that became a top priority.

During its first term (1998–2003) the Musa government approved the establishment of the University of Belize, made up of five tertiary institutions. At the September celebration of independence in 2000, it recognized the former prime minister, George Price, now senior minister, as a National Hero of Belize. Complaining of the economic mess it had inherited, the government was cautious in introducing measures to spur investment. With the opposition still in disarray, Musa, running on a platform of "No Turning Back," led his party to a resounding victory in the national and municipal elections of March 5, 2003. Winning twenty-two of twenty-nine legislative seats, his became the first government to win two consecutive elections. Because of frequent rumors of corruption at high levels, Musa asked all cabinet members to sign a code of conduct.

Thereafter, the government made a series of economic blunders that further weakened the economy. In 2004 it allowed the Social Security Board (SSB) fund to invest in more than eighteen hundred private mortgages valued at more than $53 million and loaned a further $43 million through a newly created Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to promote economic development. When some borrowers defaulted, Belizeans began to worry about future pensions. Economic woes worsened when the government decided to raise money by selling its majority share in BTL (Belize Telecommunications Ltd) to an American company, Innovative Communication, chaired by Jeffrey Prosser, on April 1, 2004. In November of that year, Forbes magazine reported that Prosser had a mountain of debt and was in Washington, D.C., trying to stave off creditors and regulators. Several months later, on February 10, 2005, the government announced that it had taken back BTL and ousted Prosser, who had defaulted on payments. Continuing economic problems, investigations of misconduct at the SSB and DFC, and lowered credit ratings prompted civil unrest and widespread protests and strikes by teachers, students, and public employees in April 2005, with protestors no doubt egged on by the opposition UDP.

On March 2, 2006, this growing economic crisis led to a UDP landslide in the municipal elections. The UDP captured a majority of seats in two cities and seven towns, winning sixty-four of sixty-seven council seats and capturing 60 percent of the popular vote. It now seemed poised to reclaim the national government in the elections of 2008. While Belize signed a partial scope agreement with Guatemala on June 28, 2006, aimed at increasing trade, no progress was made on the long-standing boundary dispute. A report from the International Narcotics Control Strategy complained that Belize continued to be a transshipment point in the cocaine trade in partnership with Mexican and Colombian drug dealers.

As Belize celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary of political independence on September 21, 2006, Prime Minister Musa noted that his government was implementing a comprehensive package of fiscal, monetary, and financial-sector reforms. These included a 10 percent general sales tax introduced on July 1. For Belize's creditors, however, it was a case of too little, too late. With external debt reaching US$1.1 billion, Belize was forced to default and seek cooperation from the country's private creditors. The government blamed the costs associated with rebuilding from four hurricanes and two major storms between 1998 and 2002. Financial critics blamed fiscal recklessness on the part of the government. In February 2007 Belize became the first country in seventy years to use a collective action clause to restructure a sovereign bond governed by New York law, thus quickly restructuring half of its debt.

See alsoAltun Ha; British-Latin American Relations; Caracol; Caribbean Common Market (CARIFTA and CARICOM); Cerros; Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850); Creole; Drugs and Drug Trade; International Monetary Fund (IMF); Madrid, Treaty of (1670); Mestizo; Musa, Said; Price, George.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

General and Pre-1900 Diplomatic Histories

Cook, Lieutenant James. Remarks on a Passage from the River Balise in the Bay of Honduras, to Merida. London: Printed for C. Parker, 1769.

Dobson, Narda. A History of Belize. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Longman Caribbean, 1973.

Grant, C. H. The Making of Modern Belize: Politics, Society, and British Colonialism in Central America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Humphreys, R. A. The Diplomatic History of British Honduras, 1638–1901. New York, Oxford University Press, 1961.

Recent Sources on the Maya

About Caracol. Available from http://www.caracol.org.

Chase, Diane Z., and Arlen F. Chase. Studies in the Archaeology of Caracol. 1994. San Francisco: Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute (Monograph 7), 1994.

Garber, James F., ed. The Ancient Maya of the Belize Valley: Half a Century of Archaeological Research. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

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

McKillop, Heather. In Search of Maya Sea Traders. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.

Spain, Britain, and the Maya

Jacobi, Keith P. Last Rites for the Tipu Maya: Genetic Structuring in a Colonial Cemetery. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000.

Jones, Grant D. Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule: Time and History on a Colonial Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1984.

Jones, Grant D. The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Naylor, Robert A. Penny Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, 1600–1914: A Case Study in British Informal Empire. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Bolland, O. Nigel. Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology, 2nd edition. Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize: Cubola Productions, 2003.

Clegern, Wayne M. British Honduras: Colonial Dead End, 1859–1900. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967.

Finamore, Daniel. "Pirates of the Barcadares: Early Mariners in Belize Left Archaeologists Tantalizing Traces of Their Lives but No Buried Treasure." Natural History, November 2002.

Johnson, Melissa A. "The Making of Race and Place in Nineteenth-Century British Honduras." Environmental History 8, no. 4 (2003): 598-617. Also available from http://historycooperative.press.uiuc.edu/journals/eh/8.4/johnson.html.

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

Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Arvigo, Rosita. Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

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

Macpherson, Anne S. From Colony to Nation: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912–1982. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Palacio, Myrtle. Who and What in Belizean Elections: 1954–1993. Belize: Glessima Research, 1993.

Roessingh, Carel et al. Entrepreneurs in Tourism in the Caribbean Basin: Case Studies from Belize, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Surinam. Amsterdam: Dutch University Press, 2005.

Shoman, Assad. Party Politics in Belize. Belize: Cubola Productions, 1987.

Shoman, Assad. 13 Chapters of a History of Belize. Belize City, Belize: Angelus Press, 1994.

Sutherland, Anne. The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1998.

Wiegan, Krista E. "Nationalist Discourse and Domestic Incentives to Prevent Settlement of the Territorial Dispute between Guatemala and Belize." Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 11 (2005): 349-383.

Ethnic Studies

Koop, Gerhard S. Pioneer Years in Belize. Belize City, Belize: G. S. Koop, 1991.

Loewen, Royden. Diaspora in the Countryside: Two Mennonite Communities and Mid-Twentieth-Century Rural Disjuncture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.

Palacio, Joseph O. The Garifuna: A Nation Across Borders—Essays in Social Anthropology. Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize: Cubola Productions, 2005.

Roessingh, Carel. The Belizean Garifuna: Organization of Identity in an Ethnic Community in Central America. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2001.

Wilk, Richard W. Household Ecology: Economic Change and Domestic Life among the Kekchi Maya in Belize. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.

Wright, Peggy, and Brian E. Coutts, comps. Belize. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: CLIO Press, 1993. Also a Net Library e-book (2002).

Online Sources

Attorney General's Ministry. Available from http://www.belizelaw.org.

Belize Free Press. Available from http://belizefreepress.com.

Central Statistical Office (CSO). Available from http://www.cso.gov.bz.

Elections and Boundaries Department of Belize. Available from http://www.belize-elections.org/index.html.

Government of Belize. Available from http://www.belize.gov.bz/index.php.

                                        Brian E. Coutts

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Belize

Belize

  • Area: 8,867 sq mi (22,966 sq km) / World Rank: 149
  • Location: Located in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, Belize is bounded on the north by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala.
  • Coordinates: 17° 15′N and 88° 45′W.
  • Borders: 320 mi (516 km) / Guatemala, 165 mi (266 km); Mexico, 155 mi (250 km)
  • Coastline: 239 mi (386 km)
  • Territorial Seas: . Territorial seas vary from 12 NM in the north to the south 3 NM.
  • Highest Point: Victoria Peak, 3,680 ft (1,122 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sea level
  • Longest Distances: 174 mi (280 km) N-S; 68 mi (109 km) E-W
  • Longest River: Belize River, 180 mi (288 km)
  • Natural Hazards: Hurricanes; coastal flooding
  • Population: 256,062 (2001 estimate) / World Rank: 174
  • Capital City: Belmopan, located in the center of the country
  • Largest City: Belize City, on the Caribbean coast, population 46,342 (2000 est.)

OVERVIEW

The Belize River effectively cuts the country into northern and southern halves. The north features predominantly level landscape, interrupted only by the Manatee Hills, while the south, containing the Maya and Cockscomb mountain ranges, is generally elevated and contains plateaus and basins. The coastlines are flat and swampy and are marked by numerous lagoons. Just beyond the shoreline is the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, in which numerous islands known as cays are located.

Belizean geology consists largely of varieties of limestone, with the notable exception of the Maya Mountains, a large intrusive block of granite and other Paleozoic sediments. Several major faults rive the Mayan highlands, but much of Belize lies outside the tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America.

MOUNTAINS AND HILLS

Mountains

The Maya and Cockscomb mountain ranges form the backbone of the country and dominate the southern landscape. Mountains in the Maya range rise to a height of 3,400 ft (1,100 m), and run northeast to southwest across the central and southern parts of the country. The highest elevation, Victoria Peak, is located in the Cock-scomb range, located just below the Maya range.

Plateaus

The area north of Belize City is mostly flat, broken occasionally by the Manatee Hills. During the Cretaceous period, what is now the western part of the Maya Mountains stood above sea level, creating the oldest land surface in Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau. This plateau is covered in pine trees and houses interesting bird life, including the stigeon owl, pine siskin, eastern bluebird, and orange breasted falcon. Some areas, such as Badly Beacon, are infertile due to excessive erosion.

INLAND WATERWAYS

Lakes

Located on the central coast of Belize, the Northern and Southern lagoons are rich in marine wildlife. The population of manatees, a large marine mammal, is particularly large here, and the lagoons are also known as the Manatee Lagoons. Limestone hills, marshes, and mangroves surround the area.

Rivers

Seventeen rivers, among them the Belize, drain the countryside. The Belize runs across the center of the country, draining into the Caribbean Sea near Belize City. The city itself is bisected by Haulover Creek, one of the river's tributaries. Monkey River is located in the south of the country, emptying into the Caribbean near the Gulf of Honduras. The Sibun River, which drains the Maya Mountain range, carries large amounts of forest debris as it flows down to the ocean. In the north, the Hondo River marks the border with Mexico.

Hidden Valley Falls, aptly known as the Thousand Foot Falls for their 1,000-ft (323-m) drop, are located near the Mountain Pine Ridge. These scenic falls are the highest in Central America.

Wetlands

The coastal regions are particularly swampy due to their proximity to the Caribbean Sea and their susceptibility to hurricanes and flooding. Crocodiles are common in the heavily vegetated swamplands.

THE COAST, ISLANDS, AND THE OCEAN

Oceans and Seas

Belize's eastern border lies on the Caribbean Sea. The central coast is on the open sea, but in the north it is one side of Chetumal Bay, and in the south it fronts on the Gulf of Honduras and Amatique Bay.

The Coast and Beaches

The coastline of Belize is full of indented areas providing for a dynamic coastline with many beaches, as well as swamplands and lagoons. Belize's barrier reef, the second largest in the world, stretches over the entire coastline. Within this expansive reef, smaller coral reefs and cays can be found.

Major Islands

More than 1,000 small islands dot the coastline of Belize. Laughing Bird Cay, 11 miles (17.6 km) off the coast of Placentia Village, is found within a faro, a steep sided coral island on the continental shelf. Laughing Bird Cay contains several smaller reefs and a lagoon, which house an abundant variety of coral, the main attraction of the cay. Beyond the barrier reef, numerous cays—Ambergris Cay, Columbus Reef, and Glover's Reef—line the coast of Belize. The Turneffe Islands, just east of Belize City, comprise about 200 small islands covered in mangroves. These trees nourish the surrounding waters, providing for unique marine life.

CLIMATE AND VEGETATION

Temperature

Belize has a humid tropical climate that is tempered by its northeast trade winds. Temperatures generally remain between 16° and 32° C (61° and 90° F) along the coastal regions but are higher inland. The southern mountain regions have an average annual temperature of 72°F (22°C), with temperatures generally cooler between November and January. It is the level of humidity, rather than actual changes in temperature, which differentiates the seasons. The average humidity level is 83 percent.

Population Centers – Belize
(POPULATION AT 2000 CENSUS)
Name Population Name Population
Belize City 49,050 Dangriga 8,814
Orange Walk 13,483 Belmopan (capital) 8,130
San Ignacio 13,260 Corozal Town 7,888
SOURCE : Government of Belize
Districts – Belize
POPULATIONS FROM 2000 CENSUS
Name Population Area (sq mi) Area (sq km) Capital
Belize 68,197 1,624 4,206 Belize City
Cayo 52,564 2,061 5,338 San Ignacio
Corozal 32,708 718 1,860 Corozal
Orange Walk 38,890 1,829 4,737 Orange Walk
Stann Creek 24,548 840 2,176 Dangriga
Toledo 23,297 1,795 4,649 Punta Gorda
SOURCE : Government of Belize.

Rainfall

Rainfall increases dramatically from north to south, ranging from 50 in (127cm) in the northern regions to more than 150 in (380 cm) in the south. Hurricanes are prevalent between July and October. There is a generally dry season lasting from February to May, when rainfall is predictable throughout the country.

Forests and Jungles

About half of the country is covered by forest areas, which are quickly disappearing. The tropical forests harbor a wide variety of wildlife, including jaguars, pumas, macaws, crocodiles, and the endangered black howler monkey that is found only in Belize. Many other endangered species, such as the peregrine falcon, the iguana, and several types of hawks and parrots, are found in the lush forest areas.

HUMAN POPULATION

In July 2001 the population was estimated at 256,062, with approximately half the population living in urban areas. Overall population density is 28.9 people per sq mi (11.6 people per sq km), with the density highest on agricultural land. Ethnic groups are the Mestizo (43.7 percent), Creole (29.8 percent), Mayan (10 percent), Garifuna (6.2 percent), and others (10.3 percent).

NATURAL RESOURCES

The valleys of the Belize, Sibun, and Monkey Rivers are mining sites for clay, gravel, and limestone. Although only 10 percent of total land area is currently arable, there is great potential for development. Additional natural resources are timber, fish, and hydropower.

FURTHER READINGS

Bradbury, Alex; updated by Peter Hutchinson. The Bradt Travel Guide. Belize. Guilford, Conn.: Bradt Publications, 2000.

Fisk, Erma J. Parrot's Wood. New York: Norton, 1985.

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

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

Virtual Belize Tour. http://www.belizeexplorer.com/ (Accessed June 27, 2002)

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

GEO-FACT

A s British Honduras, Belize was the last British colony on the American main land. Belize became independent in 1981.

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Belize

Belize

At a Glance

Official Name: Belize

Continent: North (Central) America

Area: 8,803 square miles (22,800 sq km)

Population: 256,062

Capital City: Belmopan

Largest City: Belize City (47,723)

Unit of Money: Belizean dollar

Major Languages: English (official), Spanish, Mayan

Literacy: 70%

Land Use: 2% arable, 2% meadow, 92% forests, 4% other

Natural Resources: Timber, fish

Government: Parliamentary democracy

Defense: 14 million

The Place

Located on the northeast coast of Central America, Belize is the second-smallest mainland country of the Americas, as well as the least populated.

The landscape of Belize is quite diverse. The northern half of the country is fairly flat, with a top elevation of less than 200 feet (60 m). This section is made up mostly of limestone lowlands, coastal swamps, and cays. Just off the coast lies the Belize Barrier Reef—the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The southern part of Belize is mountainous. The Maya Mountains extend from the southwestern border of Guatemala to the center of Belize. Victoria Peak has an elevation of 3,681 feet (1,122 m)—the highest spot in the country. The southern part of the country averages more than three times as much rain per year as the northern part.

Almost half of the country is covered by forests. Some 50 different species of trees grow in the country, depending on climate. Some of the most common trees in Belize include mahogany, cedar, and pine. Mangrove trees also grow along the coast.

The People

There is much cultural diversity in Belize because most of the people are descendants of immigrants. The ethnic make up of Belize changes frequently. Many immigrants from Mexico, South Asia, and the Middle East have settled in Belize over the last few decades. At the same time, many native Belizeans have left the country. The Mestizos are of mixed Mayan and European ancestry. The Creoles have African-European ancestry. Almost half of the Belize population is under 15 years of age.

The people of Belize enjoy a wide variety of lifestyles. Dress, foods, religions, entertainment, and language can vary by community. Even with different customs, people coexist peacefully. Life expectancy is 69 years.

There are distinct social classes in Belize. The middle class is able to afford expensive items. The poor, however, often rely on social services. In the Belizean labor force, one-third are employed by agriculture. Another 16% of the population work in services, 15% in government, and 11% in commerce.

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Belize

BELIZE

Compiled from the July 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.




Official Name:
Belize

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
NATIONAL SECURITY
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 22,923 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.

Cities: Capital—Belmopan (2000 pop. est. 8,305) Other cities and towns—Belize City (54,125), Corozal (8,075), Orange Walk (13,795), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (13,545), Dangriga (9.020), Punta Gorda (4,425) and San Pedro (4,965).

Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.

Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Belizean(s).

Population: (2002 est.) 265,200.

Annual growth rate: (2002 est.) 3.3%.

Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.

Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist.

Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—60%. Literacy—76%.

Health: (1998) Infant mortality rate—21.5/1,000. Life expectancy—72 years.

Work force: (April 2001, 96,100) Services—50.8%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing—27.2%. Industry and commerce—17.8%. Other—4.2%.


Government

Type: Parliamentary.

Independence: September 21, 1981.

Constitution: September 21, 1981.

Branches: Executive—British monarch (head of state), represented by a governor general; prime minister (head of government, 5-year term). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly. Judicial—Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district magistrates.

Subdivisions: Six districts.

Political parties: People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).

Suffrage: Universal adult.


Economy

GDP: (2002) $858.6 million.

Annual growth rate: (2002) 4.4%; (2001) 4.6%.

Per capita income: (2002) $3,237.5.

Avg. inflation rate: (2002) 2.3%.

Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.

Agriculture: (12.7% of GDP) Products—sugar, citrus fruits and juices, bananas, mangoes, papayas, honey, corn, beans, rice, cattle.

Industry: (14% of GDP) Types—clothing, fruit processing, beverages.

Tourism: (22% of GDP) Tourist arrivals (2002)—199,493.

Trade: Exports (2002)—$294.5 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets—U.S. (48.5%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2002)—$526.8 million: food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products. Major suppliers—U.S. (60%), Mexico, U.K.

Official exchange rate: Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed rate of Belize $2=U.S.$1.




PEOPLE

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America; it is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the people live in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 46.4% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 27.7% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10% are Mayan; and about 6.4% are Afro-Amerindi an (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.5%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.


English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their original languages, and an English Creole dialect (or "Kriol" in the new orthography), similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands, is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 60% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 40%. Mennonite settlers number about 7,160.




HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was begun by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.


Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the "Colony of British Honduras" until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.




GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Belize is a parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model and is a member of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in the country by Governor General Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr., a Belizean and Belize's second governor general. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister (head of government). Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats in the National Assembly concurrently with their cabinet positions.


The National Assembly consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. Of the senate's 12 members, the Governor General appoints six in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition, one each with the advice of the Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a non-voting member appointed by the governing party.


Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP governed Belize from 1998-2003; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.

Prime Minister Said Musa has an ambitious plan to encourage economic growth while furthering social-sector development. Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A long-running territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment. Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System). Belize assumed the Presidency of SICA for a 6-month period beginning July 1, 2003.


Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magi strates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Cases may, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Privy Council in London. However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of CARICOM to work for the establishment of a "Caribbean Court of Justice," which is expected to come into being in the near future. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 1/14/04


Governor General: Young, Colville, Sir

Prime Minister: Musa, Said

Dep. Prime Minister: Briceno, John

Min. of Agriculture & Fisheries: Baeza, Servulo

Min. of Communications, Transport, & Public Utilities: Samuels, Maxwell

Min. of Education, Youth, & Sports: Fonseca, Francis

Min. of Finance, & Home Affairs: Fonseca, Ralph

Min. of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, Defense, & National Emergency Management: Smith, Godfrey

Min. of Health & Communications: Marin, Vildo

Min. of Housing & Transport: Hyde, Cordel

Min. of Human Development: Flores, Sylvia

Min. of Foreign Trade: Courtenay, Eamon

Min. of Local Government & Labor: Mes, Marcial

Min. of National Development: Musa, Said

Min. of Natural Resources, the Environment, Commerce, & Industry: Briceno, John

Min. in the Office of the Prime Minister: Fonseca, Francis

Min. of Tourism, Culture, & Investment: Espat, Mark

Min. of Works: Coye, Jose

Attorney General: Courtney, Eamon

Governor, Central Bank: Auil, Jorge Meliton

Ambassador to the US, Canada, & the OAS: Shoman, Lisa M.

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Leslie, Stuart W.



Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.




NATIONAL SECURITY

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, consists of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Cedric Borland, assumed total defense responsibility from British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.




ECONOMY

Forestry was the only economic activity of any consequence in Belize until well into the 20th century when the supply of accessible timber began to dwindle. Cane sugar then became the principal export and recently has been augmented by expanded production of citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel. The country has about 809,000 hectares of arable land, only a small fraction of which is under cultivation. To curb land speculation, the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land.


Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. The embassy knows of some 185 U.S. companies which have operations in Belize, including, Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment also is found in the energy and agriculture sectors.


A combination of natural factors—climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins—support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as one of its major development priorities. In 2002, tourist arrivals totaled 199,493 (more than 50% from the United States).


Belize's investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, which sets out the development priorities for the country.


Infrastructure

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region, despite recent cuts in commercial and industrial rates. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, and San Salvador.

Several capital projects are either currently underway or are programmed to start in 2003. The largest of these is a $15 million rural electricification program to be jointly implemented by the government and the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) company. In addition, the government will continue to implement an Inter-American Development Emergency Reconstruction Fund of $20 million aimed at restoring essential services such as health and education facilities and transportation networks to communities which were severely damaged by Hurricane Keith in late September-early October 2000. The government also will invest close to $4.2 million in projects targeted at poverty alleviation across Belize.


The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, continues to implement the IDB-funded Modernization of Agricultural Health Project. This $2.5 million project seeks to improve the competitiveness of Belize's agricultural products and thus enhance the ability of Belizean farmers and processors to maintain and expand the sale of their high-quality products to foreign markets.


The government will continue investing $9.5 million in its health sector reform program, as well as $9 million under the IDB-funded Land Management Project over the next 2 years. The Belizean Government will spend close to $1.4 million in improving access to archaeological sites in Belize, especially "Caracol."

Trade

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although growth as high as 8.2% was achieved in 2000, this achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United States (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).


Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number one trading partner. Imports in 2002 totaled $526.8 million, while total exports were only $294.5 million. In 2002, the United States provided 60% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 54.5% of Belize's total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.


Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000), a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. EU and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries.




FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain's claim to all "New World" territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.


Negotiations proceeded for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) "Heads of Agreement" was not implemented due to disagreements. Thus, Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.


Negotiations between Belize and Guatemala resumed on February 25, 2000, in Miami, Florida, but were suspended due to a February 24, 2000 border incident wherein a four-man Belize border patrol was taken into custody by a larger Guatemal an patrol. Ten days later the men were released, but the incident inflamed nationalistic passions on both sides. Further talks were held March 14, 2000, between both countries at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, with the presence of the OAS Secretary General.


Eventually the two parties agreed to respect an "adjacency line" extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the Organization of American States. This process required that each country name a facilitator and that both sides present their case to the facilitators so that they could propose a just and durable solution. The facilitation process, which started in September 2000 with the appointment of the two facilitators at the OAS headquarters, concluded on September 16, 2002, when both facilitators submitted their recommendations for a solution to the Belize-Guatemal a border dispute to the OAS, Belize, and Guatemala. The facilitators' proposals have not been submitted to referenda in either country, and the Guatemalan claim remains unresolved.


In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the CONCAUSA agreement on regional sustainable development, and assumed the presidency of SICA (Central America Integration System) for a 6-month period beginning July 1, 2003.


Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.




U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations. The United States is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment funds and also is home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize, estimated to be 70,000 strong. Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives, Belize benefits from the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotic trafficking, and both governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between 2001 and 2003.


The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing about $2.89 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2002. Of this amount, nearly $2.3 million was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional programs. In addition, during the past 34 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Belize. As of May 2003, the Peace Corps has 53 volunteers working in Belize. In Punta Gorda, Voice of America operated, until the end of 2002, a medium-wave radio relay station that broadcasted to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included the construction of seven schools and four water wells by National Guard soldiers in Stann Creek District in 2000. Another "New Horizons" humanitarian project was conducted in southern Belize in 2003. Private American investors, responsible for some $250 million total investment in Belize, continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Belize City (E), 29 Gabourel Lane • P.O. Box 286, Unit 7401, APO AA 34025, Tel [501] 227-7161 thru 63, Fax 30802; ADM Fax 35321; DEA Fax 33856; PC Fax 30354; MLO Fax 52553; ECO Fax: 71468; CON Fax 35423; IBB Fax 22147. E-mail: [email protected]

AMB: Russell F. Freeman
AMB OMS: Mary M. Mertz
DCM: Lloyd W. Moss
ECO/COM: Edgar L. Embrey
CON: Robin L. Haase
MGT: Wayne A. McDuffy
RSO: Thad T. Osterhout
POL: Kathryn A. Taylor
IPO: Joyce Clark
MLO: LTCOL David A. Decker
DEA: Raymond D. Kelly
P/C: William Barbieri
IBB: Michael R. Hardegen
AGR: Stephen M. Huete (res. Guatemala)
FAA: Ruben Quinones (res. Miami)

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Other Contact Information

Caribbean/Latin American Action:
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075


U.S. Department of Commerce:

International Trade Administration Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658 202-USA-TRADE
Fax: 202-482-0464.



TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet
January 20, 2004


Country Description: Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and nice resorts on the cayes to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside.

Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize. Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their website http://www.embassyofbelize.org/home.html. Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and Belleville, IL, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York. Special Notice for Dual Nationals: A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is over two weeks.


Safety and Security: Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize. Crime is a serious problem (see Crime), particularly in Belize City and remote areas. Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.) Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment. Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Rental diving equipment is not always properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize's more challenging sites.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.


For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet website at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.


The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.


Crime: The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shootings, stabbings, murder, and rape, has risen in recent years. Although Belize City is the site of more reported incidents than other areas of the country, crime occurs in all districts, including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, or Placencia during all times of the day. The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways. The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick-pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by cr iminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds.


Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups is a problem. Although violent sexual assault is not common, it does occur. Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. At least one of these rapes occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while another occurred during an armed robbery at an isolated resort.


To minimize the risk of being targeted, visitors should travel in groups, stay off the streets after dark, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items.


Armed robberies of American tourist groups have been reported near the western border with Guatemala, several of which escalated to sexual assault. In particular, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region. Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites. Visits to the more remote sites - with or without a guide - are not recommended. Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another. Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.


Americans visiting the border area should carefully consider their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment. Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Consular Information Sheet for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy website at http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.


A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

In addition, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belize City. The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim's home state. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.


U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas. Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas. Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.


Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In addition, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved. The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be entirely accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor


Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Driving is on the righthand side of the road. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.


Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning, and have few markings or reflectors. Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved and easily flooded after storms. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction. Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted. Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges.


Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a righthand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.


Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times; bicyclists often ride contrary to traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars. The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.


Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard. Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas.

For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.


For additional information about road travel in Belize, please see the U.S. Embassy home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/belize. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department Of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning drivers' permits, vehicle requirements, and insurance in Belize, please e-mail the U.S. Embassy at [email protected]


Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize's civil aviation authority as Category 2 — not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, no service to the U.S. by Belizean air carriers would be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.intl.faa.gov/.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, the DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Customs Regulations: Penalties for possession of unlicensed firearms or unlicensed ammunition are strict, including high fines and mandatory jail sentences for repeat offenders. U.S. citizens contemplating bringing firearms or ammunition into Belize should contact the Belizean Embassy in Washington, D.C., for additional information.


Individuals and organizations must obtain a permit to possess pre-Columbian artifacts. Permits are not granted for the export or sale of such artifacts. The possession, sale, or export of artifacts, or the attempt to sell or export artifacts, carry stiff fines and jail sentences. Individuals in possession of such artifacts have been arrested and fined.


Individuals and organizations must obtain a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit to collect, possess and/or export certain plants, animals and plant and animal products. Failure to obtain the proper permits can result in confiscation of the item and imposition of fines and jail sentences.


Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belizean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.


Disaster Preparedness: Belize is a hurricane-prone country. The hurricane season is primarily June through November each year. The coastal regions and islands are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. The islands, which have no high ground, have been cut off from communications and assistance during previous hurricanes. Extensive flooding as a result of storm activity is possible in many parts of Belize, including in those areas not directly hit by a particular storm. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.


As in all countries, unforeseen disasters are always possible in Belize. Travelers should be aware, however, that many emergency services common in most of the U.S. (such as dedicated life flight helicopters) are not available in Belize, while others (such as fire or ambulance services) are very limited and can be hours away from victims in remote areas of the country. In addition, Belize lacks fireboats or other resources to handle effectively any significant crisis in/near their waters involving large cruise ships or their passengers.


Special Circumstances: It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone the Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747. The OCS call center can answer general inquiries regarding international adoptions and abductions and will forward calls to the appropriate country officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.


Registration/Embassy Location:

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 to 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) 227-7161/62/63. 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.

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Belize

Belize

POPULATION 262,999
ROMAN CATHOLICISM 49.6 percent
PROTESTANTISM 27.0 percent
OTHER 14.0 percent
NONRELIGIOUS 9.4 percent

Country Overview

INTRODUCTION

Belize, known as British Honduras until 1973, is located on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south.

During the 1700s British colonists and their African slaves went to Belize from other British-controlled Caribbean islands for agricultural development and to exploit the forests for lumber and dyes. Belize achieved its independence from Britain in 1981 and became part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Its government is a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister. Nevertheless, Guatemala has continued to insist that part of southern Belize belongs to the Republic of Guatemala, and maps of that country have historically included Belize as part of its national territory.

Because of its British influence, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the national language. Protestantism was the dominant religion until the 1930s. As a result of the large-scale immigration of Spanish-speaking peoples from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the size of the Spanish-speaking Catholic population had increased to about half of the nation's total population by the year 2000.

Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About half of the population is of mixed Mayan and Spanish descent (Mestizo); a quarter are of African and Afro-European (West Indian Creole) ancestry; about 10 percent are of Mayan Indian descent; and about 6 percent are Afro-Amerindian (Black Carib or Garifuna). The rest of the population includes European, East Indian (descendants of immigrants from India), Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups (American and Canadian citizens). The European population includes many Swiss-German Mennonites who arrived in the 1950s and '60s by way of Canada and Mexico. The sizeable community of East Indians is traditionally Hindu; their ancestors went to Belize in the 1880s to work on the sugar plantations as indentured servants. There are also small communities of Jews and Arabs (mainly Lebanese Christians) in Belize.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

Since the mid-nineteenth century freedom of religion has existed in Belize, and the constitution of 1981 provides for freedom of religion. The government generally respects this right in practice. Religion in Belize historically has been associated with ethnicity and region; Protestant groups have dominated in Belize City, and the Roman Catholic Church has been dominant among the Amerindian and Garifuna populations in the rest of the country.

Among the older religions in Belize, relations are generally friendly. Some religious groups work together on social service projects; such ecumenical efforts are usually coordinated by the Belize Council of Churches or nondenominational service organizations.

Major Religions

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

PROTESTANTISM

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

DATE OF ORIGIN 1851 c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 130,000

HISTORY

Roman Catholicism was first taken to the colony of British Honduras (now Belize) in the late 1840s by Mayan refugees from Mexico, who were nominal adherents to the religion. In 1848 the Mayans had revolted against the Mexican government and the large landowners who had oppressed them since the Spanish conquest. The resulting Caste War forced many Indians to flee south to British Honduras. This migration led to the growth of Roman Catholicism in the northern region of the colony.

The first two Jesuit priests in British Honduras arrived in 1851; they had been sent by the apostolic vicar of Jamaica to preach the Gospel and convert the natives. The Catholic Church gained strength in the colony as a result not only of the missionary zeal of the Jesuits (mainly Europeans) but also of their readiness to work in the remote villages of the interior. There they found a greater responsiveness among the Spanish-speaking Indians and Mestizos than they had among the English-speaking Creoles (largely Protestants) in the coastal settlements.

The growth of the Catholic Church in British Honduras during the late nineteenth century led Pope Leo XIII to create the Vicariate of Belize in 1893. The vicariate was administered by the American Society of Jesus (Jesuits) from Missouri. In 1956 a bishopric was created in Belize, but the Missouri Jesuits maintained their control of church affairs.

The Catholic Church was the dominant religion of Belize during most of the twentieth century. It reached its high point (65 percent) in 1970; it began slowly declining thereafter, largely because of the growth of Protestant groups among the Indian and Mestizo populations. By 2000 the Catholic population in Belize had fallen to 50 percent.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

David F. Hickey, S.J., became the first bishop of the Diocese of Belize in 1956. The first Belizean-born bishop, O.P. Martin, was appointed in 1984.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

Belize has not produced any significant Roman Catholic theologians or authors.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Redeemer was the first Roman Catholic temple built in Belize (1853). The first wooden structure was destroyed by a fire in 1856, and it was rebuilt in 1857–58. The cathedral is headquarters for the Diocese of Belize City and Belmopan (the capital).

WHAT IS SACRED?

In many Catholic churches throughout Belize there are statues of Mary, Jesus, the apostles, and other saints. These are revered and maintained by the faithful and used for special occasions, such as the processions during Easter Week, Christmas, and saint's days.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

For Catholics in Belize the most important religious holidays are Lent (the 40 days before Easter) and Holy Week (the final week of Lent). Christmas is more of a family holiday than a religious one, although there are special activities, such as pageants and parades.

MODE OF DRESS

There is no special dress code for Catholics in Belize.

DIETARY PRACTICES

Belizean Catholics observe the same dietary practices as Catholics worldwide.

RITUALS

All the traditional rituals of the Catholic Church are practiced in Belize, but many poor Catholics often do not have the resources to pay for formal religious ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals.

RITES OF PASSAGE

In Belize Catholic ritual marks the important transitions in life: baptism, confirmation, marriage, and last rites. Many poor couples, however, cannot afford a formal church wedding and forego this ritual for a civil ceremony or decide to live together without the benefit of a ceremony.

MEMBERSHIP

For many Belizeans affiliation with the Catholic Church has been more of a social obligation than a moral and spiritual commitment. Historically Catholicism has been more identified with the Mestizo, Mayan, and Garifuna communities than with the Creole population or other ethnic minorities, but since the 1970s many Creoles have converted to Catholicism. Although the Catholic clergy has attempted to evangelize non-Catholics in Belize, most of the increase in Catholic affiliates since the 1950s has been a result of the immigration of Catholics from nearby Spanish-speaking countries, mainly Mexico and Guatemala.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Catholic religious devotion in Belize is a sphere of activity traditionally dominated by women and children, and this trend has been strengthened by the role of church-run public schools, which are administered by the Catholic Church in partnership with the government. Many non-Catholic children have been influenced by the positive examples of their Catholic teachers and consequently have become Catholics along with other family members.

Liberation theology (a progressive Catholic political and social movement that originated in Latin America during the 1960s) has not had much influence in Belize. The polarization between the conservative and liberal-progressive wings of the Catholic Church, common in other Latin American countries, was not as strong in Belize. This was a result of various circumstances. For example, Belize is mainly an English-speaking country, and most liberation theology literature was originally written in Spanish. Further, most Belizeans share a common cultural heritage with other English-speaking Caribbean nations, where the Catholic Church is a minority religion. Another factor is that some elements of liberation theology have been closely identified with Marxism and Marxist-inspired liberation movements that have sought the violent overthrow of the established government, usually in areas where right-wing dictatorships seriously restricted civil liberties. This was not the case in Belize.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

Since the 1960s a large gap has emerged in Belize between the moral and ethical teachings of the Catholic Church and the practices of the Catholic population, resulting in an overall disintegration of traditional family values. For example, there has been an increase in the number of couples opting for a civil rather than a religious wedding, the divorce rate has risen, and the number of children born to single mothers has grown.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Catholic social thought has continued to influence political life in Belize, mainly through primary and secondary schools run by the church. Of particular importance has been the Jesuit-administered Saint John's College (a secondary school), which in the 1940s educated many leaders of the nationalistic movement. These Catholic leaders, along with others, sought independence from Great Britain and formed the People's United Party (PUP), which was the party in power when Belize finally achieved independence in 1981.

Most Catholics do not vote as a bloc on important issues in Belize, but politicians have tended not to support positions that contradict Catholic social doctrine because they fear a backlash from conservative Catholic voters.

Although no political party or social movement in Belize has been based on religious affiliation, Roman Catholics have had close ties to the PUP, which dominated Belizean politics from the 1950s until 1984. Nevertheless, the leadership of the United Democratic Party (UDP) has included many Roman Catholics, some of whom who held key government positions when the UDP was in power (1984–89 and 1993–98). Beginning in 1998 the Belizean government was once again controlled by the PUP.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

The growth of Protestant denominations and non-Protestant Christian groups at the local level—where many of these groups are openly hostile to the Catholic Church—is seen as threatening to the social cohesion of some ethnic communities, especially in Mayan and Garifuna villages and Mestizo towns that traditionally have been Catholic.

During the 1990s a growing number of Catholics in Belize were unhappy with the church's official policy on issues such as birth control, divorce, remarriage, abortion, the role of women in the church, obligatory celibacy for priests and nuns, the absolute authority of the pope and bishops, and the lack of lay participation in decision making.

CULTURAL IMPACT

Catholicism has had a significant influence on many aspects of Belizean life, especially among the Mestizos, Mayans, and Garifunas, where Catholic religious symbols are dominant but are mixed with indigenous cultural elements. The result has been a syncretism of religious values and a blending of art forms such as music, dance, and handcrafts.

PROTESTANTISM

DATE OF ORIGIN c. 1770 c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 71,000

HISTORY

Beginning in the 1770s Anglican chaplains were sent to the Colony of British Honduras (now Belize) by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Their goal was to attend to the spiritual needs of the British colonists and the military garrison concentrated in Belize City. In 1824 the colony became part of the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica. Until the 1860s the Anglican Church, financed by the colonial government, dominated the religious life of the colonists. The Diocese of British Honduras was created in 1891. The size of the Anglican community in Belize has fluctuated over the years, mainly because of natural population growth and migration.

During the early 1800s groups of "nonconformists," or "dissenters" (meaning non-Anglicans), began arriving in British Honduras, leading to an erosion of Anglican influence. These included Baptist and Methodist missionaries from England and Presbyterians from Scotland. The British Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society sent missionaries to Belize in the 1820s. Early Methodist missionary endeavors in Belize were plagued by sickness, storms, staff shortages, and membership growth and decline.

The London Baptist Missionary Society began work in Belize City in 1822, not to serve the spiritual needs of the English colonists (as had been the case with the Anglicans) but to Christianize their slaves and the "freedmen" (former slaves). During the 1880s the Jamaican Baptist Missionary Society took responsibility for Baptist work in Belize. In 1961 the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society (from the United States) began to work with the Belize Baptist Mission. In the late 1970s several Southern Baptist missionaries arrived in Belize to begin work in the interior and to assist Baptist work in Belize City.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church entered Belize in the early 1900s, extending the work it had begun in Honduras in 1887. The Adventist Mission in British Honduras was officially organized in 1922.

In 1931 the Church of the Nazarene entered Belize. During the 1960s work began among East Indians, Garifuna, Kekchí, and Mopan-Maya. The Nazarenes started a program of Theological Education by Extension (decentralized theological education in which the teachers go to the students rather than having the students go to a central location where the teachers live) throughout Belize in several languages, including English, Spanish, and various Indian dialects.

In the 1950s numerous Anabaptist-Mennonite groups began arriving in Belize from Mexico, Canada, and the United States. By 1978 there were at least 15 Mennonite agricultural colonies in the country, mainly composed of Old Colony Mennonites (Reinlaenders) and Kleinegemeinde Mennonites ("The Little Brotherhood"), both of whom speak Low German (the dialects spoken in parts of northern Germany). After Hurricane Hattie devastated parts of Belize in 1961, a number of Mennonite agencies, including the Beachy-Amish and the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, arrived to offer disaster relief. By 1978 the Belize Evangelical Mennonite Church had been organized with five congregations among Creoles, Mestizos, Mayans, and Garifuna.

Other non-Pentecostal Protestant groups in Belize include the Gospel Missionary Union, the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, numerous independent Churches of Christ, the Wesleyan Church, and dozens of independent churches. Although few Pentecostal churches existed in Belize in 1960, since that time the Pentecostal movement has experience substantial growth throughout the country. By 2000 there were about a dozen Pentecostal denominations, with approximately 4,780 members.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

Several of the early British and American missionaries made significant contributions to the work of their respective denominations in Belize. These included Joseph Bourne (served 1822–34), Alexander Henderson (1834–79), and Robert Cleghorn (1889–1939) for the British and Jamaican Baptists; James Edney (1832–50), Richard Fletcher (1855–80), and James William Lord (1881–1911) for the Wesleyan Methodists; Gordon and Joyce Lee (1955–1980s) for the Gospel Missionary Union; the N.T. Dellingers (1961–1980s) for the Conservative Baptists; and Paul and Ella Martin (1964–1980s) for the Mennonites.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

Belize has not produced any significant native Protestant theologians or authors. The English missionary Robert Cleghorn, who served in Belize (1889–1939) with the Belize Baptist Mission, wrote A Brief History of Baptist Missionary Work in British Honduras, 1822–1939 (1939), a highly descriptive account of missionary work in Belize.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

Protestant places of worship in Belize include churches, mission stations, and preaching points (locations where occasional preaching takes place in outlying areas). There are no known "holy places" among Protestants. Anglicans have a special reverence for Saint John's Cathedral in Belize City; built in 1817, it is considered the oldest Protestant church building in the country, as well as the oldest Protestant church in Central America.

WHAT IS SACRED?

Anglicans often revere and maintain statues of Mary, Jesus, the apostles, and other Christian saints; these are used for special occasions. No other Protestant groups in Belize have any use for such statues.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

There are no Protestant holidays or festivals that are unique to Belize.

MODE OF DRESS

There are no special modes of dress among Protestants in Belize, except for the Mennonites. Most of the Old Colony Mennonites continue to wear garments like those that were worn in the nineteenth century by their German and Swiss ancestors.

DIETARY PRACTICES

The Adventists are vegetarians and produce a variety of health-food products. Otherwise, there are no special dietary restrictions among Protestants in Belize.

RITUALS

Most Protestant groups in Belize place strong emphasis on the rituals of repentance and conversion for young people and adults, followed by the adult believer's baptism. Pentecostal groups add the rituals of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and faith healing as important ceremonies in the life of their congregations; "dancing in the Spirit" is only practiced by some Pentecostals.

RITES OF PASSAGE

There are no special rites of passage among Protestants in Belize, but baptism—for infants among Anglicans and Methodists and for adults among most other Protestant groups—is important as an official initiation into the Christian faith.

MEMBERSHIP

Except for the Adventists and the Pentecostals, who have aggressive programs of evangelism (preaching the Gospel in every possible location), most Protestant groups in Belize have not experienced significant growth in the past 20 years. Mennonite membership is restricted largely to their isolated agricultural colonies and to the biological growth of their families.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

In the nineteenth century it was clear that the very existence of the colony depended upon slave labor, even though the Abolition Act of 1807 had made it illegal for British subjects to engage in the slave trade. Most of the early Baptist and Methodist missionaries, as well as some of the Anglican chaplains, argued against the slave trade and condemned its abuses during the early nineteenth century. These abolitionist evangelicals eventually achieved a significant following among freed slaves and poor immigrants.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

The Protestant population in Belize has maintained stronger marriage and family ties than has the nominal Catholic population. Most Protestants are affiliated with conservative evangelical congregations that promote strong family values based on New Testament teachings.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Since the early colonial era Protestant churches in Belize have been heavily involved in the operation of public and private schools (which have been subsidized by the government). This has given the Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and Adventists a distinct advantage in the nation's socialization process and in maintaining their own social strength within Belizean society. Until the 1930s these English-speaking Protestant groups dominated the political and social life of the nation.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

There have been conflicts between the older denominations (Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists) and the newer ones, especially those that arrived after the Second World War (mainly Pentecostal groups). The relationship between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other Protestant groups has often been tense because of some of the Adventist's unique beliefs and practices (such as Saturday worship and vegetarianism). Tensions also increased between Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church—a result of a decline since the 1930s in Protestantism's social strength and an increase in that of Catholicism.

Because of their unique denominational histories, Belizean Protestants vary greatly in their views on issues such as birth control, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and the role of women in the church and society. The Old Colony Mennonites and the Adventists represent the most conservative views on these issues, whereas the Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians profess more liberal views. The viewpoints of people in other Protestant denominations tend to fall between these two extremes.

CULTURAL IMPACT

Historically Protestantism has had a strong influence on many aspects of Belizean life, including music, art, and literature, mainly through the socialization process in their churches and private schools and particularly among the Afro-American Creole population. Protestant churches and schools teach a "Protestant worldview" that is notably different from a "Roman Catholic worldview." This difference is derived from the distinctive history, theology, organizational structure, and social fabric of Protestantism, which originated in Europe and was taken to Belize via the British West Indies before 1930. Since then the older Belizean Protestant culture has been strongly influenced by Protestants from North America, mainly the Mennonites and Pentecostals, who imported their own styles of morality, worship, music, literature, and art forms.

Other Religions

Non-Protestant Christian groups in Belize include Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Unity School of Christianity, and the Children of God (disciples of cult leader David Berg [1919–94]).

Non-Christian religions include the Bahai faith, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism among the immigrant population; animistic religions among the Mayan Indians; Garifuna religion among the Black Caribs (Afro-Amerindians); and Myalism-Obeah, Rastafarianism, and Black Muslim religions among the Creoles (who are concentrated in Belize District).

The East Indians in Belize are traditionally Hindus, and the Lebanese are traditionally Maronite Christians. Many of the Mayans are nominal Catholics who maintain native Amerindian religious practices, such as shamanism (a religion involving a spiritual guide and healer) and witchcraft. The Afro-Amerindian people known as Garifunas or Black Caribs were deported by the British from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in 1797 to the Bay Islands of Honduras; eventually they settled along the Caribbean coast of Central America, from Belize in the north to Nicaragua in the south. Most Garifunas are marginal Christians (some claim to be Catholics, whereas others have been influenced by Protestants) who largely maintain their unique cultural and religious (animistic) practices, in which spirit-possession is a strong component of normal village life. Most West Indian Creoles are English-speaking and Protestant, but some continue to practice Myalism, a syncretistic Afro-Caribbean religion that was dominant among their slave ancestors in the British colonies; Obeah is the practice of "black magic," or witchcraft associated with Myalism.

Clifton L. Holland

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Bibliography

Brierly, Peter, ed. World Churches Handbook. London: Christian Research, 1997.

Cleghorn, Robert. A Brief History of Baptist Missionary Work in British Honduras, 1822–1939. London: The Kingsgate Press, 1939.

Holland, Clifton L., ed. World Christianity: Central America and the Caribbean. Monrovia, Calif.: MARC-World Vision, 1981.

PROLADES-RITA official website. 23 August 2004. http://www.prolades.com.

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Belize

BELIZE

Compiled from the August 2004 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Belize


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.

Cities: Capital—Belmopan (2000 pop. est. 8,305) Other cities and towns—Belize City (54,125), Corozal (8,075), Orange Walk (13,795), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (13,545), Dangriga (9.020), Punta Gorda (4,425), and San Pedro (4,965).

Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.

Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Belizean(s).

Population: (2003 est.) 266,440.

Annual growth rate: (2003 est.) 2.44%.

Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.

Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—60%. Literacy—76%.

Health: (1998) Infant mortality rate—27.07/1,000. Life expectancy—67.4 years.

Work force: (April 2001, 96,100) Services—50.8%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing—27.2%. Industry and commerce—17.8%. Other—4.2%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy

Independence: September 21, 1981.

Constitution: September 21, 1981.

Branches: Executive—British monarch (head of state), represented by a governor general; prime minister (head of government, 5-year term). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly. Judicial—Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, district magistrates.

Administrative subdivisions: Six districts.

Political parties: People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).

Suffrage: Universal adult.

Economy

GDP: (2003) $1.28 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2002) 4.4%;: (2001) 4.6%.

Per capita income: (2002) $3,237.

Avg. inflation rate: (2002) 2.3%.

Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.

Agriculture: (12.7% of GDP) Products—sugar, citrus fruits and juices, bananas, mangoes, papayas, honey, corn, beans, rice, cattle.

Industry: (14% of GDP) Types—clothing, fruit processing, beverages.

Tourism: (22% of GDP) Tourist arrivals (2002)—199,493.

Trade: Exports (2002)—$294.5 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets—U.S. (54.5%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2002)—$526.8 million: food, consumer goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products. Major suppliers—U.S. (60%), Mexico, U.K.

Official exchange rate: Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed rate of Belize $2=U.S. $1.


PEOPLE

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America. It is larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the State of Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the population lives in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial center, and former capital.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About 46.4% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 27.7% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10% are Mayan; and about 6.4% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.5%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the refugees who arrived during the past decade. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Mayan groups still speak their indigenous languages, and an English Creole dialect (or "Kriol" in the new orthography), similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands, is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%. About 60% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 40%. Mennonite settlers number about 7,160.


HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the "Colony of British Honduras" until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.


GOVERNMENT

Belize is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model and is a member of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is head of state and is represented in the country by Governor General Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr., a Belizean and Belize's second governor general. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister (head of government). Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats in the National Assembly concurrently with their cabinet positions.

The National Assembly consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. The governor general appoints the Senate's 12 members. Six are appointed in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the leader of the opposition. The Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the appointment of one senator each. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.

Members of the independent judiciary are appointed. The judicial system includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Cases may, under certain circumstances, be appealed to the Privy Council in London. However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) to work for the establishment of a "Caribbean Court of Justice," which is expected to come into being in the near future. The country is divided into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998 to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.

Prime Minister Said Musa has an ambitious plan to encourage economic growth while furthering social-sector development. Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A longstanding territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment.

Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System). On July 1, 2003 Belize assumed the presidency of SICA for a 6-month period.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/25/05

Governor General: Colville YOUNG , Sir
Prime Minister: Said MUSA
Dep. Prime Minister: John BRICENO
Min. of Agriculture & Fisheries: Michael ESPAT
Min. of Defense: Said MUSA
Min. of Education, Culture, Youth, & Sports: Francis FONSECA
Min. of Energy & Communications: Vildo MARIN
Min. of Finance: Said MUSA
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Godfrey SMITH
Min. of Health: Vildo MARIN
Min. of Home Affairs & Investment: Ralph FONSECA
Min. of Housing: Servulo BAEZA
Min. of Human Development: Sylvia FLORES
Min. of Local Government, Labor, & Rural Development: Marcial MES
Min. of National Development: Assad SHOMAN
Min. of Natural Resources & the Environment: John BRICENO
Min. of Public Service, Works, & Transport: Jose COYE
Min. of Tourism: Godfrey SMITH
Attorney General: Francis FONSECA
Governor, Central Bank: Jorge Meliton AUIL
Ambassador to the US, Canada, & the OAS: Lisa M. SHOMAN
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Stuart W. LESLIE

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.


ECONOMY

Forestry was the only economic activity of any consequence in Belize until well into the 20th century when the supply of accessible timber began to dwindle. Cane sugar then became the principal export. Exports have

recently been augmented by expanded production of citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel. The country has about 809,000 hectares of arable land, only a small fraction of which is under cultivation. To curb land speculation, the government enacted legislation in 1973 that requires non-Belizeans to complete a development plan on land they purchase before obtaining title to plots of more than 10 acres of rural land or more than one-half acre of urban land. Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and energy and a small domestic market. The U.S. Embassy knows of some 185 U.S. companies which have operations in Belize, including Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment also is found in the energy and agriculture sectors. In addition, in March 2004, American investor Jeffery Prosser of Innovative Communications Corporation bought Belize Telecommunications Limited.

A combination of natural factors—climate, the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, numerous islands, excellent fishing, safe waters for boating, jungle wildlife, and Mayan ruins—support the thriving tourist industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of Belize has designated tourism as one of its major development priorities. In 2002, tourist arrivals totaled 199,493 (more than 50% from the United States).

Belize's investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, which sets out the development priorities for the country. A country commercial guide for Belize is available from the U.S. Embassy's Economic/Commercial section and on the Web at: http://usembassy.state.gov/belize/wwwhinvestingbelize.html

Infrastructure

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region, despite recent cuts in commercial and industrial rates. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season.

Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, and San Salvador. Several capital projects are either currently underway or were programmed to start in 2003. The largest of these is a $15 million program aimed at supplying rural areas with electricity, to be jointly implemented by the government and the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) company. In addition, the government will continue to implement an Inter-American Development Emergency Reconstruction Fund of $20 million aimed at restoring essential services such as health and education facilities and transportation networks to communities which were severely damaged by Hurricane Keith in late September-early October 2000. The government also will invest close to $4.2 million in projects targeted at poverty alleviation across Belize.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through the Belize Agricultural Health Authority, continues to implement the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Modernization of Agricultural Health Project. This $2.5 million project seeks to improve the competitiveness of Belize's agricultural products and thus enhance the ability of Belizean farmers and processors to maintain and expand the sale of their high-quality products to foreign markets.

The government will continue investing $9.5 million in its health sector reform program, as well as $9 million under the IDB-funded Land Management Project over the next 2 years. The Belizean Government will spend close to $1.4 million in improving access to archaeological sites in Belize, especially Caracol.

In addition, the Chalillo Dam Project on the Macal River, proposed by Prime Minister Musa in 1999, has been underway for several years. The project aims to provide Belize with an internal source of electricity.

Trade

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although growth as high as 8.2% was achieved in 2000, this achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United States (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2002 totaled $526.8 million, while total exports were only $294.5 million. In 2002, the United States provided 60% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 54.5% of Belize's total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program, which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act—signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000—a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries.


NATIONAL SECURITY

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, is comprised of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Cedric Borland, assumed total defense responsibility from British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain's claim to all "New World" territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.

Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) "Heads of Agreement" was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.

Negotiations between Belize and Guatemala were scheduled to resume on February 25, 2000, in Miami, Florida, but were suspended due to a February 24, 2000 border incident wherein a four-man Belize border patrol was taken into custody by a larger Guatemalan patrol. Ten days later the men were released, but the incident inflamed nationalistic passions on both sides. Further talks were held March 14, 2000, between the two countries at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, with the OAS Secretary General present.

Eventually, on November 8, 2000 the two parties agreed to respect an "adjacency zone" extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS. This process required that each country name a facilitator and that both sides present their case to the facilitators so that they could propose a just and durable solution. The facilitation process, which started in September 2000 with the appointment of the two facilitators at the OAS headquarters, concluded on September 16, 2002, when both facilitators submitted their recommendations for a solution to the Belize-Guatemala border dispute to the OAS, Belize, and Guatemala. The facilitators' proposals have not been submitted to referenda in either country. In August 2003, the Government of Guatemala rejected the facilitators' proposals, and so the Guatemalan claim remains unresolved.

In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the Conjunta Centro america-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development, and on July 1, 2003 assumed the presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.


U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations. The United States is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment funds. It is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize, estimated to be 70,000 strong. Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives, Belize benefits from the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotics trafficking, and both governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between 2001 and 2003.

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize, contributing about $2.89 million in various bilateral economic and military aid programs to Belize in FY 2002. Of this amount, nearly $2.3 million was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996 after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional programs. In addition, during the past 42 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. As of May 2004, the Peace Corps had 52 volunteers working in Belize. Until the end of 2002, Voice of America operated a medium-wave radio relay station in Punta Gorda that broadcast to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The U.S. military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included the construction of seven schools and four water wells by National Guard soldiers in Stann Creek District in 2000. Another "New Horizons" humanitarian project was conducted in southern Belize in 2003. Private North American investors, responsible for some $250 million total investment in Belize, continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

BELIZE CITY (E) Address: 29 Gabourel Lane, Belize City; APO/FPO: Unit 7401, APO AA 34025; Phone: 011-501-227-7161; Fax: 011-501-223-5321; INMARSAT Tel: Voice: 383-133-235; Data: 383-133-238; Workweek: 08:00-17:00, Mondays-Fridays; Website: www.usembbelize.gov

AMB:Russell F. Freeman
AMB OMS:Mary Mertz
DCM:Lloyd Moss
POL:Tanya Ward
CON:Cynthia Gregg
MGT:D. Trent Dabney
CLO:Tuya DaRin
DEA:Raymond Kelly
ECO:Edgar L. Embrey
FAA/CASLO:Ms. Mayte Ashby (resident in Miami)
GSO:Nenita Whitaker
ICASS Chair:William Barbieri
IMO:Ronnie Rooker
INS:Mr. Roy Hernandez (Resident in Guatemala)
IPO:Frank E. Sauer
IRS:Mr. Frederick Dulas (Resident in Mexico City)
NAS:Kerry Osterhout
RSO:Thad H. Osterhout
Last Updated: 2/7/2005

Other useful contacts

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE;
Fax: 202-482-0464


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

August 11, 2004

Country Description: Belize is a developing country. Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and nice resorts on the caye to a range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside.

Entry/Exit Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize. U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize. Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site http://www.embassyofbelize.org/home.html. Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and Belleville, IL, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York. Special Notice for Dual Nationals: A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is over two weeks.

Safety and Security: Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize. Crime can be a serious problem (see Crime), particularly in Belize City and remote areas. Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.) Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment. Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather. Rental diving equipment may not always properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize's more challenging sites.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shootings, stabbings, murder, and rape, is on the rise. The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways. The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick-pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break. Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds. Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, or Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups can be a problem. Although violent sexual assault is not common, it does occur. Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. At least one of these rapes occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while another occurred during an armed robbery at an isolated resort.

To minimize the risk of being targeted, visitors should travel in groups, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items. As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach. Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street. Women's handbags should be zipped and held close to the body. Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket. Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups have been reported near the western border with Guatemala in the past few years, several of which escalated to sexual assault. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region. Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites. Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another. Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous. Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization. It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads. Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary.

Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations. Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites. And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings.

Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment. Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Consular Information Sheet for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/guatemala for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved. Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes. Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit as well as the main police office for assistance.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances. Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S. Although not common, there is anecdotal evidence of the use of so-called date rape drugs, such as Ruhypnol.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belize City. The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim's home state. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Medical Facilities: Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas. Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas. Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In addition, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved. The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be entirely accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning, and have few markings or reflectors. Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes. The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved and easily flooded after storms. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction. Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belizean roads. Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted. Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required. Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges.

Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.

Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times; bicyclists often ride contrary to traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars. The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard. Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas.

For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down. For additional information about road travel in Belize, please see the U.S. Embassy home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/belize. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department Of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, home page at http://travel.state.gov/travel/abroad_roadsafety.html. For specific information concerning drivers' permits, vehicle requirements, and insurance in Belize, please e-mail the U.S. Embassy at [email protected]

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belize's civil aviation authority as Category 2*—not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Belize's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, no service to the U.S. by Belizean air carriers would be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Customs Regulations: Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize's Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the U.S. may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found at http://www.ustr.gov/reports/2003/special301.htm.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belizean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Special Circumstances: It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize. However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Disaster Preparedness: Belize is a hurricane-prone country. The hurricane season is primarily June through November each year. The coastal regions and islands are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. The islands, which have no high ground, have been cut off from communications and assistance during previous hurricanes. Extensive flooding as a result of storm activity is possible in many parts of Belize, including in those areas not directly hit by a particular storm. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

As in all countries, unforeseen disasters are always possible in Belize. Travelers should be aware, however, that many emergency services common in most of the U.S. (such as dedicated life flight helicopters) are not available in Belize, while others (such as fire or ambulance services) are very limited and can be hours away from victims in remote areas of the country. In addition, Belize lacks fireboats or other resources to handle effectively any significant crisis in/near their waters involving large cruise ships or their passengers.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

Registration/Embassy Location: . Americans living in or visiting Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, you'll make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact you in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at the intersection of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street in Belize City; telephone 011 (501) 227-7161/62/63, fax 011 (501) 223-5423. 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, and U.S. and Belizean holidays. The Embassy Internet address is http://usembassy.state.gov/belize/; e-mail [email protected]

International Adoption

January 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this circular relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign counsel.

NOTE: Belizean law prohibits the issuance of an adoption order unless the applicant and infant reside in belize and the infant is a belizean citizen. Residence has been defined in the past as either physically residing in belize for a minimum of six months or possession of belizean citizenship.

General: U.S. citizens attempting to adopt a Belizean child must comply with Belizean law, U.S. Immigration law, and any state pre-adoption requirements (including home studies and finger print checks). Prospective adoptive parent(s) should exercise due diligence to ensure that they are dealing with reputable agencies and lawyers. Adopting parents should thoroughly investigate the background of the prospective adoptive child to ensure that they are not unknowing accessories to any wrongdoing. The Embassy is on constant guard against child-trafficking and urges adopting parent(s) to do likewise. The American Embassy and the Department of State stand ready to assist adoptive parents, within the limits of our authority. Reports to the American Embassy or the Department of State about successes or problems with foreign adoptions are very useful and any assistance adoptive parents can provide in this regard is much appreciated.

Availability of Children for Adoption: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans:

Number of Immigrant Visas Issued to Belizean Orphans Fiscal Year: IR-3 Immigrant Visas Issued to Belizean Orphans Adopted Abroad, IR-4 Immigrant Visas Issued to Belizean Orphans Adopted in the U.S.

FY-1988: 2, 3
FY-1989: 1, 3
FY-1990: 5, 5
FY-1991: 2, 2
FY-1992: 3, 3
FY-1993: 4, 1
FY-1994: 2, 1

Belizean Adoption Procedures: Orphans in Belize may only be adopted through the judicial process. There are no private adoptions or adoptions through extrajudicial processes. Judicial adoptions do not require a court decree declaring that the infant has been abandoned. Since adoptions occur before a Supreme Court Judge, only local attorneys may function for the prospective parent(s). Those persons wishing information on the forms and procedures to follow for adoptions should contact a Belizean attorney.

Age and Civil Status Requirements: An adoption order cannot be made unless the applicant or, in the case of joint application, one of the applicants is at least twenty-five years old and is at least twenty-one years older than the infant, unless the court finds extenuating circumstances in favor of the adoption. Single men cannot adopt infant females unless the court finds that special circumstances warrant an exceptional adoption order. Civil status is not relevant to adoption orders except in the case of males adopting females.

Time Frame: Adoptions in Belize generally take two months.

Belizean Fees: Attorney fees range from $1,00 to $2,500 U.S. dollars. U.S. citizens adopting a child in Belize should report any exorbitant fees to the American Embassy or to the Department of State.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: There are no adoption agencies in Belize. Before sending a first payment to a lawyer or representative, adopting parents should make sure that costs are inclusive and not subject to change. Attorneys in Belize speak English. A list of attorneys is available from the American Embassy or the Department of State.

Belizean Embassy and Consulates in U.S.:

Embassy of Belize, Consular Section
2535 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
tel: (202) 332-9636

Permanent Mission of Belize
820 2nd Avenue, Suite 922
New York, N.Y. 10017
tel: (212) 599-0233

In addition, Belize has honorary consuls located throughout the United States.

Embassy Interview with Biological Mother: The Embassy requires that the biological mother be interviewed on the day that she signs the irrevocable release of parental rights over the child. The future petitioner or legal representative must contact the Consular Section at least one day in advance to schedule this interview. Interviews are scheduled from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. every workday except Friday. The biological mother must present her birth certificate and social security card or passport. When the interviewing consular officer determines that there are no obstacles to the adoption, the biological mother will sign a certification before the officer which must be presented to the courts during adoption proceedings. The purpose of this procedure is to ensure that the child qualifies for a visa under U.S. law.

Before You Travel to Belize to Receive the Child: Before you make plane reservations for yourselves or for an escort and the child, make absolutely certain with your lawyer or agency that the Belizean passport has been issued and the BCIS approval cable has reached the U.S. Embassy. It can take up to three weeks to receive the Belizean passport.

Scheduling Appointment With U.S. Consular Officer: It is advisable to contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize City at least one day in advance to check that the documents are in order and to set an appointment for the immigrant visa interview. The Embassy cannot guarantee issuance of the visa in advance of the interview. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

What Documents to Bring With You to U.S. Embassy: Note: Since each case is different, it is possible that the Embassy will request additional documents after a preliminary review of the application of the prospective adoptive parent(s).

For the immigrant visa application the child will need:

  • 1. An original of the child's birth certificate issued by the Registrar indicating the name of both parents if known.
  • 2. If either or both of the birth parents are deceased, an original death certificate issued by Registrar General.
  • 3. The certification of the natural mother signed before a consular officer in those cases where the child has not been declared abandoned by the court.
  • 4. The original Adoption Certificate issued by the Registrar General.
  • 5. The original adoption order signed by a Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize.
  • 6. A valid passport issued in the name of the adopted child.
  • 7. Two 1 3/4 inch color visa photographs.
  • 8. Medical examination (according to Embassy instructions). If the minor has a physical or mental disability, a notarized statement will be required from the prospective adoptive parent(s) in the United States indicating that they are fully aware of the physical or mental disability of the minor and in spite of that fact that they have the intention of finalizing the adoption.
  • 9. In cases where the minor has not been seen or observed in person by the prospective adoptive parent(s), a notarized statement by those parents will be required indicating that although they have not seen or observed the minor in person, they are nevertheless willing to adopt or readopt the minor in the United States. Both parties must sign the I-600 after the child has been identified. This means that if one party has gone abroad to arrange the adoption, and the other remained in the U.S., the I-600 must be sent by one spouse to the other with the child's identity information completed and an original signature of the spouse reflecting their concurrence with the procedure. This is generally done by express courier in the interests of time.
  • 10. In the case of a minor taken to the United States by a third party, for example a legal representative or social assistant of an adoption agency or other entity, a notarized statement will be required authorizing that person to take the minor to the United States with the purpose of placing him/her with the prospective adoptive parent(s). This statement can also be included in the Judge's authorization for the child to leave Belize. Note: There are no provisions in BCIS regulations for approving petitions signed by agents with powers of attorney. Consequently, even if an agent is physically accompanying the child to the U.S., the petition itself must be signed by the adoptive parent(s), after the child has been identified.

Medical Examination Fee: The adopted child must have a medical examination performed by one of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate's panel physicians before the immigrant visa can be issued. The cost of this medical examination is approximately U.S. $50.00 and must be borne by the adoptive parent(s).

U.S. Immigrant Visa Fee: The fee for the immigrant visa is $200.00 and may be paid either in U.S. dollars or local currency. This $200 does not include medical examinations, costs of documents, the petition, etc. The American Embassy does not accept personal checks or credit cards.

American Embassy Assistance: Upon arrival in Belize to try to arrange an adoption, U.S. citizens should register at the American Embassy, Consular Section, American Citizens Services. The Embassy will be able to provide information about any outstanding travel advisories and to provide other information about the Bahamas including lists of physicians, attorneys, interpreters and translators. The American Embassy is located at 29 Gabourel Lane, Belize City, Belize, Central America. tel: 011-501-2-35321.

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Belize

Belize

Belize borders Mexico on the north, Guatemala on the west, and the Caribbean Sea on the east, with an area of 22,960 square kilometers (8,867 square miles). As of 2003, it had 266,440 inhabitants of diverse ethnicities. Its sociocultural characteristics are more like those of an English-speaking island in the Caribbean rather than those of any of its neighbors in Latin America. Tropical forests are the predominant vegetation in Belize's hot and humid climate; the landscape is flat in the north and a low range of mountains exists in the south.

According to a 2001 estimate, the economy depended on service industries (representing 58% of the gross domestic product [GDP]), agriculture (18%), and other small industries (24%). In 2003 there was some diversification, with tourism and shrimp farming taking on a share of the GDP. As of 2002, the GDP per capita was U.S.$4,900. One 1999 study reported that 33 percent of the population had an income below the poverty line.

The first European settlers were English pirates, who in the seventeenth century started a logwood industry, which proved more profitable than piracy and caused English settlements to grow in the region. In the nineteenth century the colony attracted dispossessed peoples, such as the Garifuna and Maya, who had fled either the Caste War of Yucatan (1847–1901) or the prospect of forced labor in Guatemala. A small-scale legislature began meeting in the early 1800s; in 1854 the British created a formal constitution and officially established the colony of British Honduras in 1862. The early 1900s were a period of political and social change. The emerging black English-speaking middle class began to press for the right to vote, participation in the political process, and tangible political power. Labor disturbances, a reaction to the protection of plantation owners' interests, resulted in the legalization of trade and soon demands were broadened to include political reform.

In 1950 the first political party, the People's United Party (PUP), was formed. Universal suffrage was granted to literate adults in 1954. The United Democratic Party (UDP), founded in 1974 by the merger of the Liberal Party, the National Independence Party, and the People's Development Movement, is Belize's second-largest party. In 1978 the country changed its name from British Honduras to Belize. The final obstacle to independence was Guatemala's unresolved territorial claim of all of Belize. By 1980 no international support for this claim existed, and full independence was granted to the nation in 1981.

Belize is a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is the British monarch, who is represented by a governor-general who has a largely ceremonial role and is not subject to a fixed term of office. The government is led by a prime minister, who is named by the lower house of the bicameral legislature. According to the constitution, political power rests with those who are responsible to the democratically elected House of Representatives, principally the cabinet and the prime minister. Prime ministers since the 1960s have included George Cadle Price of the PUP, who served from 1964 to 1984 and 1989 to 1993; Manuel Esquivel of the UDP, who served from 1984 to 1989 and 1993 to 1998; and Said Wilbert Musa of the PUP, who was elected in 1998.

The constitution has established an independent judiciary and guarantees fundamental human, civil, and political rights. Elections are noted for their regularity, adherence to democratic principles, and absence of violence.

See also: Caribbean Region; Constitutional Monarchy; Parliamentary Systems.

bibliography

Anzinger, Gunnar. "Belize." Government on the WWW. <http://www.gksoft.com/govt/en/bz.html>.

"Belize." In CIA World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2005. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bh.html>.

Cubola Productions. A History of Belize—Nation in the Making. <http://www.belizenet.com/history.html>.

Library of Congress Federal Research Division. Belize—A Country Study. <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/bztoc.html>.

Birgit Schmook

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