U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: BELIZE
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Belize
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.
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%.
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.
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.,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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-
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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
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-
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