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Belize (bəlēzˈ), independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations (2020 est. pop. 397,621), 8,867 sq mi (22,965 sq km), Central America, on the Caribbean Sea. Belize is bounded on the N by Mexico, on the S and W by Guatemala, and on the E by the Caribbean. The capital is Belmopan. Belize City, the capital until 1970, is the largest city and main port.
Land and People
The land is generally low, with mangrove swamps and cays along the coast, but in the south rises to Victoria Peak (c.3,700 ft/1,128 m high). The climate is subtropical. Although most of the area is heavily forested, yielding mahogany, cedar, and logwood, there are regions of fertile savannas and barren pine ridges.
Besides the capital and Belize City, other important urban areas are Orange Walk, Corozal, and Dangringa. About evenly divided between urban and rural, the people are mainly of mestizo, creole, Mayan, or Garifuna (Afro–Caribbean Indian) descent. English is the official language; Spanish and Mayan are also spoken. About half the population is Roman Catholic; there is a large Protestant minority.
Economy and Government
Although only a small fraction of the land is cultivated, agriculture provides about 75% of Belize's exports, the chief of which are fish products, citrus, sugar, and bananas. Clothing and timber are also important products and export items, and there is some petroleum, which began being exported in 2006. Tourism is the main source of foreign exchange. Machinery, manufactured goods, fuel, chemicals, and food are imported. The United States, Great Britain, and Mexico are the main trading partners.
A parliamentary democracy, Belize is governed under the constitution of 1981. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general, is the head of state. The head of government is the prime minister. There is a bicameral National Assembly with a 12-seat appointed Senate and a 29-seat elected House of Representatives; all members serve five-year terms. The country is divided administratively into six districts.
In 1993 archaeologists discovered evidence of a farming community in Belize dating from 2500–1100 B.C. The Mayas first settled in the area some 200 to 300 years later, and a few ancient Maya cities still survive. The region was probably traversed by Cortés on his way to Honduras, but the Spanish made no attempt at colonization. British buccaneers, who used the cays to prey on Spanish shipping, founded Belize (early 17th cent.). British settlers from Jamaica began the exploitation of timber. Spain contested British possession several times until defeated at the last battle of St. George's Cay (1798). From 1862 to 1884 the colony was administered by the governor of Jamaica.
Guatemala long claimed the territory as part of its inheritance from Spain. As Belize progressed toward independence, the tension between Britain and Guatemala over the issue increased. In 1964 the colony gained complete internal self-government. Negotiations appeared to resolve the tensions with Guatemala, and on Sept. 21, 1981, British Honduras, as Belize, became the last British crown colony on the American mainland to achieve independence. However, the Guatemalan-British agreement did not hold, and independence prompted Guatemala to threaten war. Not until 1988 did Guatemala give de facto recognition to Belize, and in Sept., 1991, Guatemala officially recognized Belize's independence and sovereignty. Nonetheless, a British force aimed at guaranteeing independence remained in the country until Sept., 1994. The poorly defined border has remained a source of tension, and Guatemalan politicians have reasserted territorial claims on Belize.
In 1993 Manuel Esquivel of the United Democratic party (UDP) became prime minister; he was replaced in 1998 by Said Musa of the People's United party (PUP). In 2000, under the sponsorship of the Organization of the American States, Belize and Guatemala began negotiations to end their territorial dispute. In 2008 both governments agreed to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice following national referendums. Guatemala's plebiscite was held in 2018, and Belize's in 2019; both countries approved submitting the dispute to ICJ. Musa's party was returned to power in the Mar., 2003, parliamentary elections.
Corruption allegations and party infighting contributed to the PUP's loss in the Feb., 2008, elections, and Dean Barrow, the UDP party leader, succeeded Musa as prime minister. Barrow and the UDP also won the Mar., 2012, elections and the early Nov., 2015, elections, but in the Nov., 2020, elections the PUP, now led by John Briceño and benefiting from concerns about the economy and the spread of COVID-19, won a landslide victory.
See N. O. Bolland, The Formation of a Colonial Society (1977); J. A. Fernandez, Belize: A Case Study for Democracy in Central America (1989).
(formerly British Honduras), a country in Central America on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, occupying the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. On the north and northwest it borders Mexico, on the west and south Guatemala, and on the east the Caribbean Sea. It is a possession of Great Britain. Area, 23,000 sq km. Population, 120,000(1969, estimate). The administrative center is the city of Belmopan, and there are six administrative districts.
The administration of Belize is headed by a governor who is appointed by the British government. The country’s constitution, which was granted by the British Parliament and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1964, established British Honduras as a colony with the right to internal self-government. It has a parliament (the National Assembly) consisting of two houses (from 1961 to 1964 only one house). The members of the upper house, the Senate, are appointed by the governor, and the deputies of the House of Representatives are elected by the population for five-year terms. There is a government (the cabinet of ministers), which is headed by the prime minister.
Natural features. A large part of the territory of Belize is a low-lying valley abounding in lakes and lagoons; the Maya Mountains are in the south, reaching heights of 1,122 m. The climate is tropical trade-wind. The average monthly temperature is 25°-27°C. Precipitation is about 2,000 mm a year. The Hondo and the Belize are the most important rivers. About half of the territory of the country is covered with constantly wet tropical forests of valuable species of trees (such as rubber, logwood, and mahogany) on reddish-yellow lateritic (predominantly ferrous) soils. The animal life is related to the Central-American province of the Neotropical zoological-geographic region.
Population. About 75 percent of the population are Negroes and mulattoes; about 17 percent are Maya Indians (in the northern and western parts of the country); the rest include mestizos from Guatemala and Honduras, black Caribs (on the southern coast; the offspring of Negro-Indian marriages), whites, and immigrants from India. English is the official language: 60 percent of the population speaks a local dialect of it. and it is understood by almost all the rest of the Indian-speaking inhabitants. Mestizos and some of the Indians speak Spanish. More than half of the population are Catholics, and the rest are Protestants. The official calendar is the Gregorian.
From 1963 to 1969 the average rate of growth of the population was 3.2 percent a year. In 1969, 40,000 inhabitants were involved in the economy, and about two-fifths of them in agriculture. A large part of the population lives on the coast, where the important cities of Belize (population, 42.000 in 1968), Stann Creek, Corozal, and Punta Gorda are located. The important cities in the interior regions are Cayo and Orange Walk.
Historical survey. Until the beginning of the 16th century the territory of Belize was settled by Indian tribes. In the 16th century, after the conquest of Central America by the Spaniards, the northern part of Belize (between the Hondo and Sibun rivers) was made a part of “New Spain” (Mexico), and the southern (between the Sibun and Sarstoon rivers) a part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. In 1638. English settlements began to appear on the shores of Belize. They were ruled by pirates and colonists from the island of Jamaica who had brought Negro slaves for work on the plantations and in the timber-cutting industry. In the 17th and 18th centuries there were many conflicts between the English settlers and the Spanish authorities. In accordance with the Paris Treaty of 1763 and the Versailles Treaty of 1783. the English settlers received diplomatic and military support from the mother country and were given the right to engage in the forest industry, and the Spanish remained the dominant power in Belize. In 1798 the Spanish tried to liquidate the English settlements, but with the aid of the English fleet the colonists defeated them.
In 1840 the English began to call Belize “British Honduras” and in 1862 it was officially declared to be an English colony. (At first it was subordinated to the governor of Jamaica, but in 1884 it became a separate colony.) In accordance with the Anglo-Mexican treaty of 1898. Mexico was obliged to preserve the status quo on the borders of Honduras, but it retained the right to make claims on the part of the territory of Honduras that formerly belonged to it if a change in favor of Guatemala took place. In 1966, Guatemala, considering Honduras a part of its territory, declared it to be its own eastern department.
As a result of the dominance of the English colonizers, Honduras became an agricultural appendage of the mother country and a source of raw materials for it. The monopolies of the USA also began to penetrate Honduras beginning in the early 20th century. The struggle of the people against the oppression of the colonizers, which became especially sharp in the 1930’s (there were strikes in 1938, 1945, 1954. and I960), forced the British to grant Honduras internal self-government in 1961. The National Council of Economic Development was created in 1963. In 1973 the country was officially renamed Belize.
The main political parties in Belize are the People’s United Party (founded in 1950), which received 17 of 18 seats in the House of Representatives in the elections of 1969, and the National Independence Party (founded in 1958), which received one seat in the 1969 elections.
M. N. POZDNEEV
Economy. Belize is a weakly developed agrarian country dependent on English and American capital. In 1968, 47,000 hectares (ha) of land were under cultivation, the majority of which belonged to foreign companies. On the plantations along the coast, export crops are the main product—especially sugarcane (14,000 ha. and 68,000 tons of raw sugar in 1969–70) and citrus fruits (mainly oranges, mandarins, and grapefruits. 45,000 tons). Coconut palms, pineapples, and bananas are also grown. The main consumer crops are rice (on the coast, 2,000 ha. 7,400 tons in 1968–69), corn (7.000 ha, 8.000 tons), and haricot beans. Livestock are raised in the southern, more elevated region (30,000 head of cattle in 1969–70). In the forests, valuable tropical woods are gathered (especially mahogany and resinous pine), as well as chicle. Fish are caught in the coastal waters (sharks and flying fish; 1.000 tons in 1967), as are crayfish and turtles.
The country’s industry is insignificant. In 1966 the established power of the electric power stations was 5.200 kilowatts; the production of electricity was 14.2 million kilowatt hours. Certain branches of industry are relatively well developed: timber, citrus fruit processing (Stann Creek). sugar (Corozal and Orange Walk), and tanning. The main industrial center and seaport is Belize. There were 1,200 km of roads in 1966. The main airport is Stanley Field, near Belize. There are many more imports than exports. In 1968 about 50 percent of the exports consisted of sugar. 21 percent of citrus fruits and juices, and 5 percent of timber. The major imports are machines and transportation equipment, food products, mass consumption items, and fuel. Belize trades mainly with Great Britain, the USA, Canada, and the states of the West Indies. The monetary unit is the Belizean dollar (0.25 pound sterling in 1969).
V. M. GOKHMAN
Medicine and public health. In 1967 the birth rate was 32 persons per 1,000 inhabitants; about 50 percent of the population is under 14 years old. On the coast, dysentery, typhoid fever, poliomyelitis, and infectious hepatitis are encountered. Cutaneous leishmaniasis and American trypanosomiasis are most common in the mountainous area.
V. V. TARASOV
Education. An absolute majority of the adult population is illiterate. In 1962 a law was passed requiring the education of all children from six to 14 years of age. Instruction is in English. At five and six years of age, children go to two-year schools for young children, and then they transfer to primary school for six years of schooling. High school has two levels (four plus two years of instruction). Professional training is conducted in a two-year technical college. Two pedagogical colleges enroll graduates from the first level of high school to prepare primary school teachers. There are no institutions of higher learning. In the 1965–66 academic year, more than 27,000 studied in primary schools and kindergartens, 2.600 in high schools, 146 in the pedagogical colleges, and 283 in the technical colleges. In Belize there is a central library of more than 70.000 volumes.
REFERENCESNarody Ameriki, vol. 2. Moscow. 1959.
Waddell, D. A. G. British Honduras: A Historical and Contemporary Survey. New York-London, 1961.
Official name: Belize
Capital city: Belmopan
Internet country code: .bz
Flag description: Blue with a narrow red stripe along the top and the bottom edges; centered is a large white disk bearing the coat of arms; the coat of arms features a shield flanked by two workers in front of a mahogany tree with the national motto Sub umbra florero on a scroll at the bottom, all encircled by a green garland
National anthem: “Land of the Free”
National motto: “Sub Umbra Florero” (Under the shade I flourish)
National animal: Tapir or Mountain Cow (Tapirello Bairdii)
National bird: Keel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos Solfurantus)
National flower: Black Orchid (Encyclia Cochleatum)
National tree: Mahogany tree (Swietenia Macrophilla)
Geographical description: Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Mexico
Total area: 8,867 sq. mi. (22,966 sq. km.)
Climate: Tropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May)
Nationality: noun: Belizean(s); adjective: Belizean
Population: 294,385 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo 48.7%, Creole 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 9.7%
Languages spoken: Spanish 46%, Creole 32.9%, Mayan dialects 8.9%, English (official) 3.9%, Garifuna (Carib) 3.4%, German 3.3%, other 1.4%, unknown 0.2%
Religions: 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 (including Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist) 14%, none 9.4%