U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES:  BELIZE
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NOVEMBER 1994

Official Name:  Belize  


PROFILE

Geography
Area:  22,963 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than 
Massachusetts.  Cities:  Capital--Belmopan (pop. 3,800).  Other city--
Belize City (47,700).  Towns--Dangriga, Orange Walk, Corozal, Punta 
Gorda, San Ingacio, Santa Elena, and San Pedro.  
Terrain:  Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.  
Climate:  Hot and humid.

People
Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Belizean(s).  
Population (1993 est.):  205,000.  
Annual growth rate:  About 3%.  
Ethnic groups:  Creole, Garifuna, mestizo, Amerindian.  
Religions:  Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, 
Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist.  
Languages:  English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan.  
Education:  Years compulsory--9.  Attendance--55%.  Literacy--75%.  
Health:  Infant mortality rate--35/1,000.  Life expectancy--60 yrs.  
Work force (65,000):  Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing--33%.  
Industry and commerce--33%.  Services--11.5%.  Other--22.5%.

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, five-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 (1993):  $414 million.
Annual growth rate (1993):  4.3%.  
Per capita income:  $2,073.  
Avg. inflation rate (1993):  1.7%.
Natural resources:  Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.
Agriculture (13.6% of GDP):  Products--sugar, citrus fruits and juices, 
bananas, mangoes, papayas, honey, corn, beans, rice, cattle.
Industry (13.4% of GDP):  Types--clothing, fruit processing, beverages.
Tourism (17.8% of GDP):  Visitor arrivals (1993 est.)--260,056.
Trade (1993 est.):  Exports--$143 mil-lion:  sugar, clothing, citrus 
concentrate, lobster, fish, bananas, farmed shrimp.  Markets--U.S., 
U.K., CARICOM.  Imports--$284 million:  food, consumer goods, building 
materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products.  Suppliers--U.S., 
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.  
Slightly more than half of the people live in six urban areas, primarily 
along the coast.  About one-fourth live in Belize City, the former 
capital, commercial center, and principal port.  Population has 
increased dramatically in the last few years from the inflow of Central 
American refugees and other immigrants--estimated at 40,000 in 1993 and 
mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador--more than offsetting the heavy 
emigration of the Creole population to North America.

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent.  About 30% are of African and 
Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; 44% of the population is of mixed local 
Indian and European descent (mestizo); about 18% is composed of Afro-
Amerindian (Garifuna), Mayan, or other Amerindian ethnic groups.  The 
remainder, about 8%, includes European, East Indian, Chinese, Middle 
Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the 
most recently arrived refugees.  Spanish is the native tongue of about 
50% of the people and is spoken as a second language by another 20%.  
The various Indian groups still speak their original 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 about 75%.  About 60% of the population are Roman Catholic; 
the Anglican Church and Protestant Christian groups account for most of 
the remaining 40%.  Mennonite settlers number about 7,400.


HISTORY

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC 
and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1000.  Several major 
archeological sites--notably Caracol, Lamanai, Labaantun, Altun Ha, and 
Xunantunich--reflect the advanced civilization and much denser 
population of that period.  European contact began in 1502 when 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 
five-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.

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by a coalition of the 
United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Alliance for Belizean 
Rights (NABR), which won 16 of the 29 seats in the House of 
Representatives on June 30, 1993.  The People's United Party (PUP) won 
the other 13 seats.  The PUP had governed Belize from September 1989 
until June 1993, and the UDP from December 1984 until September 1989.  
Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for over
30 years.

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.  The country is divided into six districts:  Corozal, Orange 
Walk, Cayo, Belize, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

National Security

The Belize Defence 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 Alan Usher, assumed total defense responsibility from departing 
British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994.  The United Kingdom 
continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize 
(BATSUP) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School.  
The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the 
United Kingdom.

Principal Government Officials

Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Dr. Colville N. Young, Sr.
Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Defense--Manuel E. Esquivel
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Economic 
Development, and Attorney General--Dean O. Barrow
Ambassador to the United States and the OAS--Dean Lindo
Ambassador to the United Nations--Edward Laing

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts 
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.:  202-332-9636; fax:  202-332-
6888).


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.  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 and promote agriculture, 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.  Tourism, though, is a booming 
industry.

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 business.  Development costs are high, but the Government of 
Belize has designated tourism as its second development priority after 
agriculture.  Visitors totaled 260,056 in 1993; the tourist industry is 
worth $50 million per year.  Government policy is to reserve tourism 
development which is less capital intensive for Belizeans, but it 
welcomes foreign investor interest in larger projects.

Belize's well-established policy of encouraging new foreign investment 
has been an important factor in attracting capital.  Promising 
opportunities for growth and investment include citrus, bananas, beef, 
aquaculture, tropical fruits, forest, tourism, forest products, and 
apparel.  Belize is one of only two Central American countries that 
share a land border with Mexico, which is a member of NAFTA; this may 
help future efforts to attract foreign investment.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program aims to 
help Belize plan the best use of its resources in agriculture, forestry-
-including tropical forestry and biodiversity protection--and tourism.  
It includes technical assistance and training in these areas to help the 
Government of Belize manage agriculture and tourism growth in a rational 
and ecologically sound manner.

Infrastructure

Economic growth in Belize is constrained by a lack of infrastructure.  
Electric service is expensive and unavailable in some rural areas.  No 
roads exist to large tracts of potentially arable land and timber.  Some 
roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or 
closure during the rainy season.  Inadequate roads and ports limit 
external marketing, although expansion of port handling facilities has 
been undertaken in Belize City, and a new deep-water port has been 
completed in Big Creek to complement facilities in Belize City and 
Commerce Bight.  Barges and lighters are used for sugar, bananas, and 
other shipments.

The government recognizes the need to develop the country and has 
budgeted $92 million in fiscal years 1994-95 for capital expenditure.  
Much of the government's operating expenses are derived from customs 
duties and taxes, but most of the capital expenses are met through 
foreign assistance.  The Government of Belize, U.S. assistance projects, 
and other donors are working to improve the country's infrastructure.  

USAID, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom have projects to 
upgrade the quality of the Belizean road system.  Steel and concrete 
bridges are being constructed to ensure year-round passage to remote 
portions of the country.  Rural electrification is moving forward, with 
the construction of a multi-million-dollar hydroelectric project by an 
American firm, and urban electric power is becoming more dependable. 

Under aid agreements with the United Kingdom and the Caribbean 
Development Bank, a new international airport terminal has been built 
and the runway lengthened.  A new water and sewer system has been 
completed in Belize City with the help of the Canadian International 
Development Agency, and the construction of a new 100-bed hospital for 
Belize City is currently underway with EU assistance.

Trade

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market 
changes.  Although outstanding growth has been achieved in recent years, 
the successes are vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and 
the continuation of trade preferences.  

Belize consistently has had a substantial trade deficit, reaching $141 
mil-lion in 1993.  The deficit is financed primarily by foreign aid, 
foreign investment, and remittances from Belizeans working in the United 
States.  Imports in 1993 totaled $284 million, while exports were only 
$143 million.  In 1992, the United States accounted for 58% of Belize's 
imports and 51% of exports.  Belize is the highest per capita importer 
of U.S. consumer-ready food products of any Central American country.  
Other major trading partners are the European Union (14.7% of imports, 
of which the United Kingdom accounts for 8%), and Mexico (8.8% of 
imports).

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through 
the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).  However, Belizean 
trade with the rest of the Caribbean is limited compared to that with 
the United States and Europe.  The country is a beneficiary of the 
Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a U.S. Government program 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.  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 or control 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.  The Guatemalan claim remains unresolved, however.

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.  Belize already was a member 
of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973; in 1990, the country became a 
member of the Organization of American States (OAS).

As a member of CARICOM, Belize strongly backed efforts by the United 
States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to 
facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power.  
The country agreed to contribute personnel to the Multinational Force, 
which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 
1994, and to the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH).


U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial 
relations since they were established in the 1930s.  The United States 
is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment 
funds and is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize.  
An estimated 35,000 Belizeans live in the United States.  Because 
Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability 
are important U.S. objectives in an often troubled region, Belize 
benefits from the Caribbean Basin Initiative.  Through its active USAID 
program, the United States is now the largest provider of economic 
assistance to Belize.  The Peace Corps has 43 volunteers in the country.  
American investment and tourism are growing rapidly.  Excellent air and 
shipping links to the United States facilitate trade and travel.  

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Ambassador--George C. Bruno
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gerard M. Gallucci
USAID Director--Robert T. Dakan
Political Officer--John Connerley
Economic/Commercial Officer--Robert Merrigan
Consul--Michael Schimmel
Administrative Officer--Sylvie Martinez

The U.S. embassy is located in Belize City at the corner of Gabourel 
Lane and Hutson Street.  The mailing address is P.O. Box 286, Belize 
City, Belize, Central America; tel.:  011-501-2-77161 from 
the U.S., or 77161 locally; fax to embassy:  011-501-2-30802/35321 (24-
hour coverage).  

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