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Area: 22,966 km2 (8,867 mi2)
Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior
Climate: Hot and humid – subtropical (dry and wet seasons)
Subdivisions: Six districts – Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo
Cities: Belize City, Belmopan (capital)
Towns: Corozal, Orange Walk, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Benque Viejo del Carmen, San Ignacio, and San Pedro
Population: 312,971 (2010 census)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo, Creole, East Indians, Garifuna, Maya, Mennonite, Chinese
Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Mennonite, other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist
Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan
Belizeans are a warm, friendly and welcoming people which add to the charm of the country as a major tourist destination. Belize is a melting pot of racial diversity and the majority of the population is of mixed ethnicity. Although English is the official language, Creole, a local dialect, and Spanish are both widely spoken throughout.
The population tends to be concentrated in the urban areas Belize City, Belmopan and the major district towns. This has resulted in sparsely populated rural areas.
The first inhabitants of Belize were the Maya. The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. The legacy of these can be found in the numerous archeological sites throughout the country. The largest site in Belize and one of the most important in the region is Caracol in the Cayo district.
Belize was colonized by Great Britain in the mid 1600’s but was not officially a Crown Colony status was received in 1862, then-known as British Honduras.
The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in 1973 and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.
For more on the history of Belize:
Official Name: Belize
Independence: September 21, 1981
Branches of Government: Executive – Cabinet (headed by the Prime Minister who is the Head of Government); Legislative – bicameral National Assembly; Judicial – Caribbean Court of Justice, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, District Magistrates.
Political Parties: United Democratic Party (UDP), People's United Party (PUP), Vision Inspired by the People (VIP)
Suffrage: Universal adult
Belize is a parliamentary democracy modeled off the Westminster system from the United Kingdom and is a member of the Commonwealth. HM Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and is represented in the country by a Governor General, Sir Colville Young, Sr. The Prime Minister, the Hon. Dean Barrow, is Head of Government and the Cabinet consists of Members of the National Assembly, primarily Members of the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly is bi-cameral and consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 31 members of the House are elected through a first-past-the-post democratic election for a term not exceeding 5 years. The Governor General appoints the Senate's 12 members upon the advice of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The judicial system includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. In June 2010, the Belizean Government made the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) the highest court for Belize, replacing the Privy Council in London.
Belizean politics are dominated by two parties, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP). Though politics in Belize can be lively, the system is stable and political violence is exceptionally rare.
On 7th March, 2012 the UDP was returned to office by a majority of 17 seats to the PUP’s 14 seats. In the 2008 elections, the UDP had dominated the House of Representatives by 25 seats to 6.
The PUP governed Belize from 1998-2008; 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.
Forestry was the chief economic activity in Belize during the colonial period and cane sugar quickly replaced timber as the main export as the world market declined. Industries such as citrus, bananas, seafood, and apparel diversified the export market in the late 20th century.
The agricultural sector suffered from damage caused by hurricanes that struck Belize in late 2007 and late 2010 and heavy flooding in mid-June and October of 2008. The farmed shrimp industry, a chief export earner until 2005, continues to decline. Belize was adversely impacted by the global downturn in 2009, but the economy recovered modestly in 2010. Services and commerce have become increasingly more important to the growth of GDP. However, Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes.
Tourism is Belize’s number one foreign exchange earner, followed by exports of crude oil, marine products, citrus, sugar, and bananas. Because of the uncertain future of these traditional exports, efforts are being made toward agricultural diversification. Agriculture currently provides some 71% of the country's total foreign exchange earnings and employs approximately 29% of the total labor force.
Trade Relations with Mexico
Mexico has been one of Belize’s long-standing trading partners. Informal trade has taken place between the people of both countries since pre-colonial times and has continued uninterrupted to the present day.
Mexico’s strategic geographical position on the continent has also made it important for Belize’s trade relations with the United States, Belize’s biggest trading partner.
During the 2010 Belize – Mexico Mixed Commission it was agreed that Belize would enter into negotiations with Mexico for a Partial Scope Agreement (the same concept as a free trade agreement, but on specific goods and services). Preparations have begun on formulating the list of goods which will enjoy preferential trade tariffs.
Mexico - Belizean Relations
Belize and Mexico, as two countries that share a common border, have traditionally enjoyed warm and cordial relations since Belize’s independence on the 21st of September, 1981.
Bilateral relations between Belize and Mexico consist of a wide variety of sectors ranging from trade, commerce and investment to political consultations at the highest levels of government.
In 2010 Prime Minister Dean Barrow made an official visit to Mexico and met with President Felipe Calderon to demonstrate Belize’s commitment to further strengthening ties with Mexico and cooperation activities of mutual interest.
Through a formal mechanism known as the “Mixed Commission”, Belize and Mexico have conducted joint projects in areas of environment, infrastructure, trade, culture, education, transport, tourism, security and health.
The Belize – Guatemala Territorial Differendum
The territorial dispute between the two countries dates back to colonial times when what is now Belize was initially claimed by Spain but was never settled or administered by them, which left the area open to British settlement.
Despite the signature and ratification of a border delimitation treaty in 1859 between Guatemala and the United Kingdom and the reaffirmation of the treaty terms in 1931, Guatemala now claims more than half of Belize’s territory and almost all its islands and maritime spaces based on a claim it believes it inherited from Spain. Belize rejects the Guatemalan claim in its entirety.
On 27th April, 2012 after a meeting between government officials of Belize and Guatemala it was announced that both countries have agreed on 6th October, 2013 as the date on which to hold simultaneous referenda in each country. The question, which will be the same in both countries, will be whether they agree to take the unresolved territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). If both countries agree the matter will be put before the International Court of Justice for a decision as to the location of the border between the two countries.
For more on the Belize – Guatemala Territorial Differendum: