Belize is a small nation in Central America, on the Caribbean Sea bordering Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. Honduras lies 75 km away at the two nations' closest point across the Gulf of Honduras[?] to the east. In the Spanish language Belize is usually called Belice. Belize was formerly known as British Honduras and the current name is derived from Belize City and the Belize River. Belize City the country's largest town (and only city), the principal port and its former capital.
|National motto: "Sub Umbra Floreo"|
(Latin: Under the Shade I Flourish)
|Governor-General[?]||Sir Colville Young[?]|
|Prime minister||Said Musa|
- % water
|Ranked 146th |
- Total (2002)
|From the United Kingdom
September 21, 1981
|Time zone||UTC -6|
|National anthem||Land of the Free|
The Mayan civilisation spread over Belize between 1500 BC and 300 AD and flourished until about 1200 AD. The first Europeans arrived in the area in the early 16th century and settlement began with shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic conflict with Amerindian tribes and the neighbouring Spanish.
Belize grew into a more official colony of the United Kingdom during the late 18th, early 19th century under the name of British Honduras, which became a crown colony in 1862. Self-governing since January 1964 and renamed to Belize in June 1973, the country achieved full independence in September 1981 after delays caused by territorial disputes with neighbouring Guatemala, which did not formally recognise the country until 1991.
Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The British monarch is head of state and is represented in the country by a governor general who must be a Belizean. The primary executive organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister who is head of government. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrently with their cabinet positions.
The bicameral Belizean parliament is the National Assembly, which 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 eight members, five are elected by the prime minister, two by the leader of the opposition, and one by the governor general on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.
See also: Prime Minister of Belize
Belize consists of 6 districts:
The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. In the south is found the low mountain range of the Maya Mountains[?], of which the highest point in Belize is Victoria Peak[?] at 1,160 m. Belize is located in between the Hondo[?] and Sarstoon Rivers[?], with the Belize River[?] flowing down in the centre of the country. All along the Caribbean coast are found coral reefs or cays.
The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and construction assuming greater importance. Sugar, the chief crop, accounts for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the country's largest employer.
The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in September 1998, led to GDP growth of 6.4% in 1999 and 10.5% in 2000. Growth decelerated in 2001 to 3% due to the global slowdown and severe hurricane damage to agriculture, fishing, and tourism. Major concerns continue to be the rapidly expanding trade deficit and foreign debt. A key short-term objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors.
Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About half the population is of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 25% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10% are Mayan; and about 6% are Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna[?]). The remainder includes European, Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern and North American groups.
English is the official language. Most Belizeans other than recent arrivals from neighboring countries have at least a working knowledge of English. English or Creole English predominates along the coast, and in the center and south of the country. In the west and north, the Spanish language is more widely spoken. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Maya groups still speak Maya languages, and an English Creole dialect, similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands, is spoken by most. Some communities in southern Belize mostly speak Garifuna[?].
Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remainder. About 5% belong to the German-/Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonite community.
Much of the material in these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.