Country profile: Belize
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize has more in common with the
Caribbean island-states than with its Central American neighbours. This is
reflected in its principal languages, English and Creole, and in its mainly
Anglo-Caribbean style of architecture and its relatively non-violent
political culture.
However, the country also has many peoples and cultures found elsewhere in
the Americas - Spanish-speaking Mestizos, who are of mixed Maya Indian and
European ancestry, Creoles, who speak a Creole dialect of English and who
are largely of African and African-European extraction, and Garifuna, who
are descendants of Carib Indians and Africans.
Nonetheless, Belize's ethnic make-up is changing, and the country is moving
rapidly to being a Spanish-speaking nation. This follows an amnesty for many
immigrants from neighbouring Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Belize was the last British colony on the American mainland, its
independence delayed until 1981 by long-running tension with neighbouring
Guatemala, which claims a large portion of its territory. Indeed, despite
recognising Belize's independence in 1991, Guatemala has never entirely
dropped its claim on its small neighbour.
Like many Caribbean states, Belize's economy has undergone a fundamental
transformation, with the service sector overtaking agriculture, fishing and
forestry. In particular, the tourism industry, which is already a major
source of foreign currency, has great potential, thanks to Belize's
wide-ranging attractions, from abundant wildlife and Mayan ruins to diving,
swimming and fishing.
But tourism has its costs, and, among the challenges facing Belize is the
threat to the habitats of mammals and birds.
In addition, Belize faces increasing violent crime, much of which is
drug-related, and has to contend with the problem of drugs trafficking to
the US.
Population: 249,200
Capital: Belmopan
Major languages: English (official), Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna (Carib),
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 73 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 Belizean dollar = 100 cents
Main exports: Sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, clothing, fish products,
molasses, wood
Average annual income: US $2,940
Internet domain: .bz
International dialling code: +501
Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor-General Sir
Colville Young
Prime Minister: Said Wilbert Musa
Born in 1944, Musa became prime minister in 1998, when his People's United
Party won a landslide victory. Prior to that, he held a number of government
posts over a 25-year period, including attorney-general and foreign
A lawyer, Said was a key figure in drafting the constitution at independence
and in the discussions leading to independence.
During the 1998 election campaign Musa ran on an anti-tax platform and
pledged to make Belize a party to international treaties on indigenous
peoples' rights. However, the problem of indigenous rights, especially Maya
land and resource rights, remains unresolved.
Agriculture and fisheries minister: Daniel Silva
Finance minister: Said Musa
Foreign minister: Assad Shoman
Defence minister: George Cadle Price
Tourism minister: Mark Espat
Although the Belizean media are free from the kind of government
interference experienced in neighbouring countries, successive governments
have been sensitive even to minor criticisms. Furthermore, while the
constitution guarantees media freedom, it provides exceptions in the
interest of national security, public order and morality.
Belize has no daily newspapers, but there are a number of privately-owned
weeklies, some of which are subsidised by major political parties.
The two radio stations of the state-run Broadcasting Corporation of Belize
were privatised in 1998, but the government has retained ownership of
Fourteen private television stations operate, including four cable systems.
The press
Amandala - weekly, independent
The Belize Times - weekly, mouthpiece of the People's United Party
The Reporter - weekly
The San Pedro Sun - weekly
CTV (channel 9) - commercial
Tropical Vision (channels 7 and 11) - commercial
Broadcasting Corporation of Belize (BCB) - privatised in 1998, broadcasts in
English and Spanish and carries programmes in Garifuna and Maya
Love FM - private, commercial
Radio Krem Ltd - private