U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Belize, March 1999 
Released by the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. 

Official Name: Belize

PROFILE 

Geography

Area: 22,923 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than 
Massachusetts. 
Cities: Capital--Belmopan (pop. 5,845). Other cities and towns--Belize 
City (52,500), Corozal (7,795), Orange Walk (13,425), San Ignacio & 
Santa Elena (11,690), Dangriga (6,930), Punta Gorda (3,680), and San 
Pedro (3,250).
Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.
Climate: Sub-tropical (dry and wet seasons); hot and humid. Rainfall 
ranges from 
60 in. in the north to 200 in. in the south annually. 

People 

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Belizean(s).
Population (1997 est.): 230,000.
Annual growth rate (1997 est.): 2.9%.
Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, other Protestant, 
Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.
Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, Mayan. 
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--60%. Literacy--75%.
Health (1995): Infant mortality rate--27/1,000. Life expectancy--71 yrs.
Work force (71,000): Services--50.8%. Agriculture, hunting, forestry,
fishing--27.2%. Industry and commerce--17.8%. Other--4.2%. 

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, 5-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).
Suffrage: Universal adult. 

Economy

GDP (1997): $618.3 million.
Annual growth rate (1997): 4.4%; (1996, 1.4%).
Per capita income: $2,688.
Avg. inflation rate (1997): 1%.
Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals. 
Agriculture (17% of GDP): Products--sugar, citrus concentrate, bananas, 
papayas, honey, corn, beans, rice, cattle.
Industry (18% of GDP): Types--clothing, fruit processing, beverages. 
Tourism (18% of GDP): Tourist arrivals (1997)--160,000 (60% from the 
U.S.). 
Trade: Exports (1997)--$176.3 million; cane sugar, clothing, citrus 
concentrate, banana, and marine products. Major markets--U.S.(1997, 
45.5%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (1997)--$286.2 million; food, consumer 
goods, building materials, vehicles, machinery, petroleum products. 
Major suppliers--U.S. (1997, 51.5%); Mexico, U.K.
Exchange rate: Since 1976, Belize $2=U.S.$1. 

PEOPLE 

Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in Central America; it is 
larger than El Salvador and compares in size to the state of 
Massachusetts. Slightly more than half of the people live in rural 
areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, 
commercial center, and former capital. Most Belizeans are of multiracial 
descent. About 44.1% of the population is of mixed Mayan and European 
descent (mestizo); 31% are of African and Afro-European (Creole) 
ancestry; about 9.2% are Mayan; and about 6.2% are Afro-Amerindian 
(Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.2%, 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 Mayan groups still speak their original languages, and an 
English Creole dialect (or Kriol in the new orthography), similar to the 
Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands, is spoken by 
most. The rate of functional literacy is a little over 75%. About 60% of 
the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and Protestant 
Christian groups account for most of the remaining 40%. Mennonite 
settlers number about 7,000. 

HISTORY 

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC 
and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major 
archeological sites -- notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, 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 was also 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 
5-year term. Of the Senate's eight members, five are selected by the 
prime minister, two by the leader of the opposition, and one by the 
governor general.

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United 
Party (PUP), which won 26 of the 29 seats in the House of 
Representatives on August 27, 1998.  The United Democratic Party (UDP) 
won the other three seats.  Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition.  
The UDP governed Belize from 1993-98; the PUP had governed Belize from 
1989-93; and the UDP from 1984-89.  Before 1984, the PUP had dominated 
the electoral scene for over 30 years and was the party in power when 
Belize became independent in 1981. 

Prime Minister Said Musa has an ambitious plan to encourage economic 
growth while furthering social-sector development.  Belize traditionally 
maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable 
development.  A lack of government resources seriously hampers these 
goals.  On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law 
enforcement capabilities.  A long-running territorial dispute with 
Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has 
increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, 
including trade and environment.  Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is 
actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and has also 
taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors.

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 assumed total defense responsibility from 
British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom 
continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize 
(BATSUB) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. 
The BDF receives military assistance from the United States, Mexico, 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 Foreign Affairs--Said Musa
Senior Minister--George Price
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Natural Resources & Environment--John 
Briceno
Minister of Public Utilities, Transport, and Communications--Maxwell 
Samuels
Minister of National Security and Immigration--Jorge Espat
Minister of Budget Planning and Management, Economic Development, 
Investment and Trade--Ralph Fonseca
Minister of Sugar Industry, Local Government, and Latin American 
Affairs--Florencio Marin
Minister of Human Development, Women and Youth--Dolores Balderamos 
Garcia
Minister of Industry, Commerce, Public Services and Labour--Jose Coye
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries--Daniel Silva
Minister of Works--Henry Canton
Minister of Education and Sports--Cordel Hyde
Attorney General and Minister of Housing--Dickie Bradley
Minister of Tourism--Mark Espat
Minister of Health--Servulo Bacza
Minister of Rural Development and Culture--Marcial Mes

Ambassador to the United States and the OAS--James Murphy 
Ambassador to the United Nations--Michael Ashcroft

Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts 
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) 
and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New 
York City: 800-624-0686. 

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. Cane 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, 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. The American embassy knows of 
185 U.S. companies which have operations in Belize, including Dominion 
Resources, Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso.  Tourism attracts 
the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S. investment 
is also found in the energy, telecommunications, and agriculture 
sectors. 

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 industry. Development costs are high, but the Government of 
Belize has designated tourism as its second development priority after 
agriculture. In 1996, tourist arrivals totaled 160,000 (more than 60% 
from the U.S.) and tourist receipts amounted to $75.5 million. 

Belize's investment policy is codified in the Belize Investment Guide, 
which sets out the development priorities for the country. A Country 
Commercial Guide for Belize is available from the U.S. Embassy's 
Economic/Commercial section and on the Web at 
http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/1999/wha/belize
99.html. 

Infrastructure 

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be 
the scarcity of infrastructure investments. Although electricity, 
telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the 
most expensive electricity in the region. Large tracts of land which 
would be suitable for development are inaccessible due to lack of roads. 
Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage 
or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and 
Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the U.S. and the 
U.K., although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City 
and 15 feet in southern ports. International air service is provided by 
American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Taca to gateways in 
Houston, Miami, and San Salvador. 

Several capital projects are currently underway. The largest of these is 
a $53.5 million project to rehabilitate the Southern Highway, which 
leads to Punta Gorda. In addition, two public hospitals in the Orange 
Walk and Stann Creek districts are being rehabilitated, and major 
improvements at the Philip Goldson International Airport and at the San 
Pedro Airstrip were completed by 1998. 

Trade 

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market 
changes. Although moderate growth has been achieved in recent years, the 
achievements are vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and 
continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the 
U.S. and U.K.

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United 
States as its number one trading partner. Total imports in 1997 totaled 
$286.2 million, while total exports were only $176.3 million. In 1997, 
the U.S. accounted for 45.5% of Belize's total exports and provided 
51.5% of all Belizean imports. Other major trading partners include the 
U.K., European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market 
(CARICOM) members.

Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through 
CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small 
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 in 1494. 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 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. Recent foreign policy 
initiatives include joining with the other Central American countries in 
signing the CONCAUSA agreement on regional 
sustainable development. 

Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. In 1990, it 
became a member of the Organization of American States (OAS).  As a 
member of CARICOM, Belize 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, and contributed 
military personnel to the Multinational Task Force.

U.S.-BELIZEAN RELATIONS 

The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial 
relations. 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, estimated to be 70,000 strong. 
Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political 
stability are important U.S. objectives in a region successfully 
emerging from a prolonged period of civil strife, Belize benefits from 
the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Initiative. 

In May 1997, then-Prime Minister Esquivel joined President Clinton and 
his counterparts from Central America and the Dominican Republic in 
Costa Rica to celebrate the remarkable democratic transformation in the 
region and reaffirm support for strengthening democracy, good 
governance, promoting prosperity through economic integration, free 
trade, and investment. The leaders also expressed their commitment to 
the continued development of just and equitable societies and 
responsible environmental policies as integral elements of sustainable 
development. 

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations 
between the U.S. and Belize. President Clinton designated Belize a major 
transit nation for cocaine in April 1996; the U.S. is working closely 
with the Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotic trafficking. In 
October 1996, the U.S. and Belize signed a Stolen Vehicle Treaty, and 
both governments seek to control the flow of illegal immigrants to the 
U.S. through Belize. 

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to 
Belize, contributing $1.94 million in various bilateral economic and 
military aid programs to Belize in 1998. The U.S. Agency for 
International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in 1996 after 
a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of 
development assistance to Belize. In addition, during the past 37 years, 
almost 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Belize. The Peace 
Corps currently has 48 volunteers working in Belize. In Punta Gorda, the 
U.S. Government's International Broadcasting Bureau (formerly the Voice 
of America) operates a medium-wave radio relay station which broadcasts 
to the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. 
The U.S. military has a diverse assistance program in Belize, including 
provision of medical teams, humanitarian assistance, and construction of 
schools and roads.  Private American investors, responsible for some 
$250 million total investment in Belize, continue to play a key role in 
Belize's economy, including tourism, agriculture, and commerce. 

Principal U.S. Officials 

Ambassador--Carolyn Curiel
Deputy Chief of Mission--Robert Fretz 
Economic/Commercial/Political/Public Affairs Officer--George Aldridge 
Consul--David Chang
Administrative Officer--Joel Danies

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: 011-501-2-77161/2/3; fax: 011-501-2-30802/35321.) 
Internet address: http://www.usemb-belize.gov/

OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464 Fax: 202-822-0075
Internet address: http://www.claa.org

U.S. Department of Commerce 
International Trade Administration 
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel.: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE 
Fax: 202-482-0464
Internet address: http://www.ita.doc.gov

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country.

Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information 
quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term 
conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: 
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). 
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will 
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. 
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is 
required). The CABB also carries international security information from 
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of 
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication 
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a 
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
4000.

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water 
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information 
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is 
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal 
Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas 
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country 
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). 
Registering with the embassy may help you to replace lost identity 
documents or help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information:

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 
http://www.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by 
the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.

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