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Information Belize

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Belice (Spanish)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: “Sub Umbra Floreo” (Latin)
"Under the Shade I Flourish"
Anthem: Land of the Free
Royal anthem:
God Save the Queen
Capital Belmopan
17°15′N 88°46′W / 17.25°N 88.767°W / 17.25; -88.767
Largest city Belize City
Official language(s) English
Recognised regional languages Kriol, Spanish, Garifuna, Maya, Plautdietsch
Ethnic groups Mestizo, Kriol, Spanish, Maya, Garinagu, Mennonite, East Indian
Demonym Belizean (English pronunciation: /bəˈliːziən/ or /bəˈliːʒən)/)
Government Parliamentary democracy and Constitutional monarchy
- Monarch Elizabeth II
- Governor-General Sir Colville Young
- Prime Minister Dean Barrow
Independence from the United Kingdom
- Date 21 September 1981
- Total 22,966 km2 (150th)
8,867 sq mi
- Water (%) 0.7
- 2009 estimate 307,899 (177th)
- 2000 census 240,204
- Density 15/km2 (198th²)
38/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
- Total $2.548 billion (163rd)
- Per capita $8,400 (74th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
- Total $1.359 billion
- Per capita $7,914
HDI (2007) 0.772 (medium) (93rd)
Currency Belize dollar (BZD)
Time zone central time (UTC-6)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .bz
Calling code 501

Belize (formerly British Honduras), is a country in Central America. Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and speaking many languages. Although Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the south and west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

With 8,867 square miles (22,960 km²) of territory and 320,000 people (2008 est.), the population density is the lowest in the Central American region and one of the lowest in the world. However, the country's population growth rate, 2.21% (2008 est.),is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Belize's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contributes to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot.

Belize is culturally unique among Central American nations. It is the only nation in Central America with a British colonial heritage, and is the only constituent nation of the Commonwealth of Nations in its region. Culturally, Belize has ties to both Latin America and the Caribbean but considers itself Central American.


Before the arrival of Europeans, the Maya civilization spread itself over Belize beginning around 1500 BC and flourished until about AD 800. The recorded history of the centre and south is dominated by Caracol, where the inscriptions on their monuments was, as elsewhere, in the Lowland Maya aristocratic tongue Classic Ch'olti'an.North of the Maya Mountains, the inscriptional language at Lamanai was Yucatecan as of 625 CE.

In the late classic period of Maya civilisation (before A.D. 1000), as many as 400,000 people may have lived in the area that is now Belize. Some lowland Maya still occupied the area when Europeans arrived in the 1500s. By then the primary inhabitants were the Mopan branch of the Yucatec Maya.

Spanish colonists tried to settle the inland areas of Belize, but Maya rebellions and attacks forced them to abandon these efforts.

English and Scottish buccaneers known as the Baymen first settled on the coast of Belize in 1638, seeking a sheltered region from which they could attack Spanish ships (see English settlement in Belize). The settlers turned to cutting logwood during the 1700s. The wood yielded a fixing agent for clothing dyes that was vital to the European woollen industry. The Spanish granted the British settlers the right to occupy the area and cut logwood in exchange for an end to piracy.

By 1724, the Baymen began importing African slaves who spent brief periods in Jamaica, the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua and elsewhere in the Western Caribbean to cut logwood and later mahogany. They led a better life than their fellows in the West Indies, but were still mistreated, systematically raped and bullied. Even so, these slaves assisted in the defence of the fledgling settlement for much of the late 1700s. As early as 1800, Africans outnumbered Europeans by about four to one. By then, the settlement's primary export had shifted from logwood to mahogany. Due to the lack of women in the colony, slave women intermingling with the Baymen whites was very common. This mixture created the Kriol ethnic group, accounting for as much as 60% of the colony's population until independence in 1981.

The Battle of St. George's Caye

The Battle of St. George's Caye' was a short military engagement that lasted from September 3-10, 1798, fought off the coast of what is now Belize. However, the name is typically reserved for the final battle that occurred on September 10. The British first appointed a superintendent over the Belize area in 1786. Prior to that time, the British government did not initially recognise the settlement in Belize as a colony for fear of provoking Spanish attack. This delay in governmental oversight allowed the settlers to establish their own laws and forms of government. During this time a few wealthy settlers gained control of the local legislature, known as the Public Meeting, as well as of most of the settlement's land and timber.

The battle took place between an invading force from what would become Mexico, attempting to claim Belize for Spain, and a small force of resident woodcutters called Baymen, who fought for their livelihood assisted by black slaves. The Spanish repeatedly tried to gain control by force over Belize, but were unsuccessful. Spain's last effort occurred on 10 September 1798, when the people of Belize decisively defeated a Spanish fleet at the Battle of St. George's Caye. The anniversary of the battle is now a national holiday in Belize.

As part of the British Empire

In the early 1800s, the British sought greater control over the settlers, threatening to suspend the Public Meeting unless it observed the government's instructions to abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1838, but this did little to change working conditions for labourers in the Belize settlement. Slaves of the colony were valued for their potentially superior abilities in the work of mahogany extraction. As a result, former slave owners in British Honduras earned £53.6.9 on average per slave, the highest amount paid in any British territory.

Soon after, a series of institutions were put in place to ensure the continued presence of a viable labour force. Some of these included greatly restricting the ability of individuals to obtain land, a debt-peonage system to organise the newly "free". The position of being "extra special" mahogany and logwood cutters undergirded the early ascriptions of the capacities (and consequently limitations) of people of African descent in the colony. Because a small elite controlled the settlement's land and commerce, former slaves had no choice but to continue to work in timber cutting.

In 1836, after the emancipation of entral America from Spanish rule, the British claimed the right to administer the region. In 1862, Great Britain formally declared it a British Crown Colony, subordinate to Jamaica, and named it British Honduras. As a colony, Belize began to attract British investors. Among the British firms that dominated the colony in the late 1800s was the Belize Estate and Produce Company, which eventually acquired half of all the privately held land in the colony. Belize Estate's influence accounts in part for the colony's reliance on the mahogany trade throughout the rest of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a near-collapse of the colonial economy as British demand for timber plummeted. The effects of widespread unemployment were worsened by a devastating hurricane that struck the colony in 1931. Perceptions of the government's relief effort as inadequate were aggravated by its refusal to legalise labour unions or introduce a minimum wage. Demonstrations and riots in 1934 marked the beginning of an independence movement. In response, the government repealed criminal penalties for workers who broke their labour contracts and granted workers the right to join unions.

Economic conditions improved during World War II (1939–1945) when many Belizean men entered the armed forces or otherwise contributed labour to the war effort. Following the war, the colony's economy again stagnated. Britain's decision to devalue the British Honduras dollar in 1949 worsened economic conditions and led to the creation of the People's Committee, which demanded independence. The People's Committee's successor, the People's United Party (PUP), sought constitutional reforms that would expand voting rights to all adults.


Constitutional reforms were initiated in 1954 and resulted in a new constitution ten years later. Britain granted British Honduras self-government in 1964, and the head of the PUP—independence leader George Price—became the colony's prime minister. British Honduras was officially renamed Belize in 1973. Progress toward independence, however, was hampered by a Guatemalan claim to sovereignty over the territory of Belize. When Belize finally attained full independence on 21 September 1981, Guatemala refused to recognise the new nation. About 1,500 British troops remained to protect Belize from the Guatemalan threat.

With Price at the helm, the PUP won all elections until 1984. In that election, first national election after independence, the PUP was defeated by the United Democratic Party (UDP), and UDP leader Manuel Esquivel replaced Price as prime minister. Price returned to power after elections in 1989. Guatemala's president formally recognised Belize's independence in 1992. The following year the United Kingdom announced that it would end its military involvement in Belize. All British soldiers were withdrawn in 1994, apart from a small contingent of troops who remained to train Belizean troops.

The UDP regained power in the 1993 national election, and Esquivel became prime minister for a second time. Soon afterward Esquivel announced the suspension of a pact reached with Guatemala during Price's tenure, claiming Price had made too many concessions in order to gain Guatemalan recognition. The pact would have resolved a 130-year-old border dispute between the two countries. Border tensions continued into the early 2000s, although the two countries cooperated in other areas.

The PUP won a landslide victory in the 1998 national elections, and PUP leader Said Musa was sworn in as prime minister. In the 2003 elections the PUP maintained its majority, and Musa continued as prime minister. He pledged to improve conditions in the underdeveloped and largely inaccessible southern part of Belize.

In 2005, Belize was the site of unrest caused by discontent with the People's United Party government, including tax increases in the national budget. On February 8, 2008, Dean Barrow of the UDP was sworn in as Belize's first black prime minister.

Throughout Belize's history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of all or part of the territory. This claim is occasionally reflected in maps showing Belize as Guatemala's twenty-third department. As of March 2007, the border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious. Guatemala's claim to Belizean territory rests, in part, on the terms Clause VII of the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859 which (supposedly) obligated the British to build a road between Belize City and Guatemala. At various times the issue has required mediation by the United Kingdom, Caribbean Community heads of Government, the Organization of American States, Mexico, and the United States. Since independence, a British garrison has been retained in Belize at the request of the Belizean government. Notably, both Guatemala and Belize are participating in the confidence-building measures approved by the OAS, including the Guatemala-Belize Language Exchange Project.

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