General Information on Belize

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Introduction to Belize

Belize (pronounced /bəˈliːz/) is a country in Central America and is the only Central American country where English is an official language. Once part of the Mayan and Spanish empires, the Belizean territory was for more than a century a British colony known as British Honduras. It was renamed Belize in 1973 and was finally granted full independence in 1981.

Belize has a diverse society, composed of many languages and cultures. Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (SICA), and the Commonwealth of Nations. With 8,867 square miles (22,960 km²) of territory and 301,270 people, the population density is the lowest in the Central American region and one of the lowest in the world. The country's growth rate, 2.207% (2008 est.), is the highest in region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. It is bordered to the south and west by Guatemala, to the north and northwest by Mexico, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea.



The origin of the name Belize is unclear, but one idea is that the name is from the Maya word belix, meaning "muddy water," applied to the Belize River. Before the arrival of Europeans, Belize was part of the territory of the Maya. The Mopan Maya were the original inhabitants of Belize. The Maya civilization spread itself over Belize beginning around 1500 BC and flourished until about AD 900. In the late classic period of Maya civilization (before ad 1000), as many as 400,000 people may have lived in the area that is now Belize. Some lowland Maya still occupied the area when Europeans arrived in the 1500s. Spanish colonists tried to settle the inland areas of Belize, but they abandoned these efforts following Maya rebellion against Spanish authority.

English buccaneers first settled on the coast of Belize in 1638, seeking a sheltered region from which they could attack Spanish ships. The settlers turned to cutting logwood during the 1700s. The wood yielded a fixing agent for clothing dyes that was vital to the European woolen industry. The Spanish granted the British settlers the right to occupy the area and cut logwood in exchange for an end to piracy. Historical accounts from the early 1700s note that Africans were brought to the settlement from Jamaica to work as slaves and cut timber. As early as 1800 Africans outnumbered Europeans by about four to one. By then the settlement’s primary export had shifted from logwood to mahogany.

For fear of provoking Spanish attack, the British government did not initially recognize the settlement in Belize as a colony. It allowed the settlers to establish their own laws and forms of government. During this time a few wealthy settlers gained control of the local legislature, known as the Public Meeting, as well as of most of the settlement’s land and timber. The British first appointed a superintendent over the area in 1786.

The Spanish, who claimed sovereignty over the whole of Central America, tried often to gain control by force over Belize, but they were not successful. Spain’s last attack ended on September 10, 1798, when the people of Belize decisively defeated a Spanish fleet at the Battle of St. George’s Cay. The anniversary of the battle is now a national holiday in Belize.

In the early 1800s the British sought greater control over the settlers, threatening to suspend the Public Meeting unless it observed the government’s instructions to abolish slavery. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1838, but this did little to change working conditions for laborers in the Belize settlement. Because a small elite controlled the settlement’s land and commerce, former slaves had no choice but to continue to work in timber cutting.

In 1836, after the emancipation of Central America from Spanish rule, the British claimed the right to administer the region. In 1862 Great Britain formally declared it a British colony, subordinate to Jamaica, and named it British Honduras. As a colony Belize began to attract British investors. Among the British firms that dominated the colony in the late 1800s was the Belize Estate and Produce Company, which eventually acquired half of all the privately held land in the colony. Belize Estate’s influence accounts in part for the colony’s reliance on the mahogany trade throughout the rest of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

The Great Depression of the 1930s caused a near-collapse of the colonial economy as British demand for timber plummeted. The effects of widespread unemployment were worsened by a devastating hurricane that struck the colony in 1931. Perceptions of the government’s relief effort as inadequate were aggravated by its refusal to legalize labor unions or introduce a minimum wage. Demonstrations and riots in 1934 marked the beginning of an independence movement. In response, the government repealed criminal penalties for workers who broke their labor contracts and granted workers the right to join unions.

Economic conditions improved during World War II (1939-1945), when many Belizean men entered the armed forces or otherwise contributed labor to the war effort. Following the war the colony’s economy again stagnated. Britain’s decision to devalue the British Honduras dollar in 1949 worsened economic conditions and led to the creation of the People’s Committee, which demanded independence. The People’s Committee’s successor, the People’s United Party (PUP), sought constitutional reforms that would expand voting rights to all adults.

Constitutional reforms were initiated in 1954 and resulted in a new constitution ten years later. Britain granted British Honduras self-government in 1964, and the head of the PUP—independence leader George Price—became the colony’s prime minister. British Honduras was officially renamed Belize in 1973. Progress toward independence, however, was hampered by an old Guatemalan claim to sovereignty over the territory of Belize. When Belize finally attained full independence on September 21, 1981, Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation. About 1,500 British troops remained to protect Belize from the Guatemalan threat.

With Price at the helm, the PUP won all elections until 1984. In that election, first national election after independence, the PUP was defeated by the United Democratic Party (UDP), and UDP leader Manuel Esquivel replaced Price as prime minister. Price returned to power after elections in 1989. Guatemala’s president formally recognized Belize’s independence in 1992. The following year the United Kingdom announced that it would end its military involvement in Belize. All British soldiers were withdrawn in 1994, apart from a small contingent of troops who remained to train Belizean troops.

The UDP regained power in the 1993 national election, and Esquivel became prime minister for a second time. Soon afterward Esquivel announced the suspension of a pact reached with Guatemala during Price’s tenure, claiming Price had made too many concessions in order to gain Guatemalan recognition. The pact would have resolved a 130-year-old border dispute between the two countries. Border tensions continued into the early 2000s, although the two countries cooperated in other areas.

The PUP won a landslide victory in the 1998 national elections, and PUP leader Said Musa was sworn in as prime minister. In the 2003 elections the PUP maintained its majority, and Musa continued as prime minister. He pledged to improve conditions in the underdeveloped and largely inaccessible southern part of Belize.

Throughout Belize's history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of all or part of the territory. This claim is occasionally reflected in maps showing Belize as Guatemala's twenty-third province. As of March 2007, the border dispute with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious; at various times the issue has required mediation by the United Kingdom, Caribbean Community heads of Government, the Organisation of American States, and the United States. Since independence, a British garrison has been retained in Belize at the request of the Belizean government. Notably, both Guatemala and Belize are participating in the confidence-building measures approved by the OAS, including the Guatemala-Belize Language Exchange Project.

In 2005, Belize was the site of unrest caused by discontent with the People's United Party government, including tax increases in the national budget. On February 8, 2008, Dean Barrow was sworn in as Belize's first black prime minister.




Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Mexico

Geographic Coordinates:

17 15 N, 88 45 W


total: 8,867 sq mi (22,966 km²)
land: 8,806 sq mi (22,806 km²)
water: 62 sq mi (160 km²)

Area - Comparative:

Slightly smaller than Massachusetts, USA
Slightly larger than Wales, UK.

Area by District:

Belize: 1,623 sq mi (4,204 km²)
Cayo: 2,061 sq mi (5,338 km²)
Corozal: 718 sq. mi (1,860 km²)
Orange Walk: 1,829 sq. mi (4,737 km²)
Stann Creek: 840 sq. mi (2,176 km²)
Toledo: 1,795 sq. mi (4,648 km²)

Land Boundaries:

total: 321 miles (516 km)
border countries: Guatemala 166 miles (266 km), Mexico 156 miles (250 km)


240 miles (386 km)

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm in the north, 3 nm in the south; note - from the mouth of the Sarstoon River to Ranguana Cay, Belize's territorial sea is 3 nm; according to Belize's Maritime Areas Act, 1992, the purpose of this limitation is to provide a framework for negotiating a definitive agreement on territorial differences with Guatemala.

Exclusive economic zone: 200 nm


tropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May)


Flat, swampy coastal plain; low mountains in south

Elevation Extremes:

Lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 ft (0 m)
Highest point: Doyle's Delight 3,806 ft (1,160 m)

Natural hazards:

hurricanes (June to November) and coastal flooding (especially in south)




311,500 (July 2008 est.)

Population Density:

34/sq mi (13/km²)

Population by District:

Belize: 93,200
Cayo: 73,400
Corozal: 36,300
Orange Walk: 47,100
Stann Creek 32,200
Toledo: 29,300

(July 2008 est.)

Population by Cities & Towns:

Belize City: 63,700
Belmopan: 16,400
Benque Viejo del Carmen: 8,200
Corozal Town: 9,100
Dangriga: 11,600
Orange Walk Town: 16,000
Punta Gorda: 5,300
San Ignacio & Santa Elena: 18,300
San Pedro: 10,400

(July 2008 est.)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 38.4% (male 58,987/female 56,674)
15-64 years: 58.1% (male 88,521/female 86,450)
65 years and over: 3.5% (male 5,095/female 5,543)

(2008 est.)

Population Growth Rate:

2.207% (2008 est.)

Birth Rate:

27.84 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)

Death Rate:

5.77 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)

Sex Ratio:

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.92 male(s)/female
total population: 1.03 male(s)/female

(2008 est.)

Infant Mortality Rate:

total: 23.65 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 26.35 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 20.81 deaths/1,000 live births

(2008 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth:

total population: 68.19 years
male: 66.39 years
female: 70.08 years

(2008 est.)

Total Fertility Rate:

3.44 children born/woman (2008 est.)


noun: Belizean(s)
adjective: Belizean

Ethnic Groups:

Mestizo 48.7%, Creole/Kriol 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 9.7%


Roman Catholic 49.6%, Pentecostal 7.4%, Anglican 5.3%, Seventh-Day Adventist 5.2%, Mennonite 4.1%, Methodist 3.5%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.5%, other 14%, none 9.4%

(2000 Census)


Spanish 46%, Creole/Kriol 32.9%, Mayan dialects 8.9%, English 3.9% (official), Garifuna 3.4%, German 3.3%, other 1.4%, unknown 0.2%

(2000 Census)


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 76.9%
male: 76.7%
female: 77.1%

(2000 census)



Country Name:

conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Belize
former: British Honduras

Government Type:

parliamentary democracy


name: Belmopan
geographic coordinates: 17 15 N, 88 46 W
time difference: UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Administrative Divisions:

6 Districts; Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, Toledo

31 Constituencies: Albert, Belize Rural Central, Belize Rural North, Belize Rural South, Belmopan, Caribbean Shores, Cayo Central, Cayo North, Cayo North East, Cayo South, Cayo West, Collet, Corozal Bay, Corozal North, Corozal South East, Corozal South West, Dangriga, Fort George, Freetown, Lake Independence, Mesopotamia, Orange Walk Central, Orange Walk East, Orange Walk North, Orange Walk South, Pickstock, Port Loyola, Queen's Square, Stann Creek West, Toledo East, Toledo West

District Capitals:

Belize: Belize City
Cayo: San Ignacio
Corozal: Corozal Town
Orange Walk: Orange Walk Town
Stann Creek: Dangriga
Toledo: Punta Gorda


21 September 1981 (from UK)

Legal System:

English law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction


18 years of age; universal

Executive Branch:

Chief of State: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Sir Colville YOUNG, Sr. (since 17 November 1993)

Head of Government: Prime Minister Dean BARROW (since 8 February 2008); Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar VEGA (since 12 February 2008)

Cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister

Elections: the monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the governor general; prime minister recommends the deputy prime minister

Legislative Branch:

Bicameral National Assembly consists of the Senate (12 seats; members appointed by the governor general - 6 on the advice of the prime minister, 3 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 1 each on the advice of the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Better Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee; to serve five-year terms) and the House of Representatives (31 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms)

Elections: House of Representatives - last held 6 February 2008 (next to be held in 2013)

Election results: seats by party - UDP 25, PUP 6

Judicial Branch:

Supreme Court of Judicature (the chief justice is appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister); Court of Appeal

Political Parties & Leaders:

National Alliance for Belizean Rights or NABR; National Reform Party or NRP [Cornelius DUECK]; People's National Party or PNP [Wil MAHEIA]; People's United Party or PUP [Said MUSA]; United Democratic Party or UDP [Dean BARROW]; Vision Inspired by the People or VIP [Paul MORGAN]; We the People Reform Movement or WTP [Hipolito BAUTISTA]

International Organization Participation:


National Flag:

The red, white and blue flag of Belize is a symbol of the unity of our nation. Prior to Independence the People's United Party (PUP) proposed a blue flag with the Coat of Arms in a white circle. Because of the close association of the flag with the PUP, public opinion was divided as to its suitability to act as a unifying symbol.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) did not propose a flag, but called for a flag that could rally all citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. As a consequence, the bi-partisan National Symbols Committee invited citizens to submit designs for a National Flag.

The design selected by the Committee is a royal blue flag with one horizontal red stripe at the top, one at the bottom, and a white circle with the Coat of Arms in the centre.

Coat of Arms:

The shield of the Coat of Arms is divided into three sections by a vertical line and an inverted V.

The base section represents a ship in full sail on waves of the sea. The two upper sections show tools of the timber industry in Belize: a paddle and a squaring axe in the right section and a saw

Supporting the shield are two woodcutters, the one on the right holding a beating axe over his shoulder in his right hand, and the one on the left holding a paddle over his shoulder in his left hand.

Above the shield rises a mahogany tree. Below the shield is the motto scroll, with the words "Sub Umbra Floreo" (Under the shade I flourish). A wreath of leaves encircles the Coat of Arms.

The Coat of Arms embodies an important aspect of the history of Belize, as the mahogany industry formed the basis of our economy in the 18th and 19th centuries.

National Motto:

"Sub Umbra Floreo" - These Latin words mean, "Under the shade I flourish."

National Anthem:


(Click here to listen to the National Anthem)

O, land of the free by the carib Sea,
our manhood we pledge to thy liberty!
No tyrants here linger, despots must flee
This tranquil haven of democracy
The blood of our sires which hallows the sod,
Brought freedom from slavery oppression's rod,
By the might of truth and the grace of God.
No longer shall we be hewers of wood.

Arise! ye sons of the Baymen's clan,
put on your armour, clear the land!
Drive back the tyrants, let despots flee-
Land of the Free by the Carib Sea!

Nature has blessed thee with wealth untold,
O'er mountains and valleys where praries roll;
Our fathers, the Baymen, valiant and bold
Drove back the invader; this heritage hold
From proud Rio Hondo to old Sarstoon'
Through coral isle, over blue lagoon;
Keep watch with the angels, the stars and moon;
For freedom comes tomorrow's noon.

Arise! ye sons of the Baymen's clan,
put on your armour, clear the land!
Drive back the tyrants, let despots flee-
Land of the Free by the Carib Sea!

National Prayer:


Almighty and Eternal God, who through Jesus Christ
has revealed your glory to all nations, please protect and
preserve Belize, our beloved country.

God of might, wisdom and justice, please assist our
Belizean government and people with your Holy Spirit of
counsel and fortitude.

Let the light of your divine wisdom direct their plans
and endeavours so that with your help we may attain our
just objectives. With your guidance, may all our
endeavours tend to peace, social justice, liberty, national
happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge.

We pray, O God of Mercy, for all of us that we may
be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the
observance of your most holy law, that we may be
preserved in union and in that peace which the world itself
cannot give. And, after enjoying the blessings of this life,
please admit us, dear Lord, to that eternal reward that you
have prepared for those who love you. Amen.

National Animal:

The Tapir or Mountain Cow (Tapirello bairdii) is the largest land mammal of the American tropics.

The tapir is a stoutly built animal with short legs, about the size of a donkey and weighs up to 600 pounds.

Its general color is dusty brown with a white fringe around the eyes and lips, white tipped ears and occasional white patches of fur on the throat and chest.

In spite of it's local name, the tapir is not a cow. It is closely related to the horse and is also kin to the rhinoceros.

The tapir is a vegetarian. It spends much of its time in water or mud shallows, and is a strong swimmer.

The National Animal is protected under the law thus the hunting of the tapir is illegal.

National Bird:

The Keel Billed Toucan (Ramphastos solfurantus) is the National Bird of Belize. It is noted for its great, canoe-shaped bill, brightly colored green, blue, red and orange feathers

The bird is about 20 inches in overall length. It is mostly black with bright yellow cheeks and chest, red under the tail and a distinctive white patch at the base of the tail.

Toucans are found in open areas of the country with large trees. They make a monotonous frog-like croak. Toucans like fruits, and eat by cutting with the serrated edge of their bills.

Toucans nest in holes in trees, using natural holes or holes made by woodpeckers, often enlarging the cavity by removing soft, rotten wood.

They lay two to four eggs which are incubated by both parents. The nesting stage lasts from six to seven weeks.

National Flower:

The Black Orchid (Encyclia cochleatum) is the National Flower of Belize. This orchid grows on trees in damp areas, and flowers nearly all year round.

Its clustered bulblike stems vary in size up to six inches long and carry two or three leaves.

The black orchid flower has greenish-yellow petals and sepals with purple blotches near the base. The "lip" (one petal of special construction, which is the flower's showiest) is shaped like a valve of a clam shell (hence the name Encyclia Cochleatum) and is deep purple-brown, almost black, with conspicuous radiating purple veins.

National Tree:

The Mahogany Tree (Swietenia macrophilla) is one of the magnificent giants of the forest. Rising straight and tall to over a hundred feet from great buttresses at the roots, it emerges above the canopy of the surrounding trees with a crown of large, shining green leaves.

In the early months of the year, when the leaves fall and new red-brown growth appears, the tree can be spotted from a great distance.

The tree puts out a great flush of small whitish flowers - the blossom for dark fruits, which are pear-shaped capsules about six inches long.

When the fruits mature they split into five valves, freeing large winged seeds which are carried a protection of the forest floor and germinate to begin a new life cycle. The mahogany tree matures in 60 to 80 years.

British settlers exploited the forest for mahogany, beginning around the middle of the 17th century. It was originally exported to the United Kingdom in the form of squared logs, but shipment now consits mainly of sawn lumber.

The mahogany tree forms part of Belize's Coat of Arms. The motto "Sub Umbra Florero" means: Under the shade (of the mahogany tree) I flourish.



Economy Overview:

In this small, essentially private-enterprise economy, tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner followed by exports of marine products, citrus, cane sugar, bananas, and garments. The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in September 1998, led to sturdy GDP growth averaging nearly 4% in 1999-2007. Oil discoveries in 2006 bolstered the economic growth in 2006 and 2007. Major concerns continue to be the sizable trade deficit and unsustainable foreign debt. In February 2007, the government restructured nearly all of its public external commercial debt, which will reduce interest payments and relieve liquidity concerns. A key short-term objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors.

GDP (purchasing power parity):

$2.444 billion (2007 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate):

$1.274 billion (2007 est.)

GDP - real growth rate:

2.2% (2007 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP):

$7,900 (2007 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:

agriculture: 21.3%
industry: 13.7%
services: 65%

(2007 est.)

Agriculture Products:

bananas, cacao, citrus, sugar; fish, cultured shrimp; lumber; garments


garment production, food processing, tourism, construction, oil


$415 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)

Exports - Commodities:

sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood

Exports - Partners:

US 33.9%, UK 33.6%, Cote d'Ivoire 3.7% (2006)


$641 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)

Imports - Commodities:

machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods; fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals; food, beverages, tobacco

Imports - Partners:

US 35.7%, Mexico 13%, Cuba 7.7%, Guatemala 7.2%, China 4.3% (2006)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:

$109 million (31 December 2007 est.)

Debt - External:

$1.2 billion (June 2005 est.)

Currency (Code):

Belizean dollar (BZD or BZ$)

Exchange Rates:

BZ$2 = US$1 (pegged)

Fiscal Year:

1 April - 31 March



Telephones - main lines in use:

33,900 (2006)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

118,300 (2006)

Telephone System:

general assessment: above-average system; fixed-line teledensity of 12 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular telephone density of about 40 per 100 persons

domestic: trunk network depends primarily on microwave radio relay

international: country code - 501; landing point for the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) fiber-optic telecommunications submarine cable that provides links to South and Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and the US; satellite earth station - 8 (Intelsat - 2, unknown - 6) (2007)

Radio Broadcast Stations:

AM 1, FM 16, shortwave 0 (2006)

Television Broadcast Stations:

6 (2007)

Internet Country Code:


Internet Hosts:

1,942 (2007)

Internet Users:

34,000 (2006)
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