Belize was once part of the Maya civilization; Cortes probably traversed the region on his way Hondura. The Spanish did not colonize the are. Buccaneers founded Belize City in the early 1600’s and were followed by British Jamaicans, who exploited its timber. Spain long contested British possession, but in 1859 Guatemala and Britain agreed on British Honduras’s boundaries. In 1940 Guatemala declared the agreement invalid. British Honduras was granted internal self-government in 1964, but full independence was delayed by Guatemala’s claim.
Negotiations appeared to resolve that problem, though, and on September 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 not until 1988 did Guatemala give de facto recognition to Belize. A British force remained in Belize to guarantee its independence but nearly all were withdrawn before the end of 1994. In 1993 Manuel Esquivel, of the United Democratic Party, became Prime Minister.
Geography Belize is approximately 22,960 square kilometers. The country is divided into two main physiographic regions. Maya Mountains and associated basins and plateaus dominate southern half of country. Second region comprises northern lowlands and is drained by numerous rivers and streams. Coastline is flat and swampy and marked by many lagoons. Political In contrast to most Central America nations, elections in Belize are notable for their regularity, adherence to democratic principles, and an absence of violence.
The Representation of the People Ordinance and the constitution regulate electoral procedures. The constitution established an independent Elections and Boundaries Commission and charged it with the registration of voters, the conduct of elections, establishment of election districts, and all other related matters. The five members of the commission serve five-year terms of office. The governor general appoints all five members in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, who consults with the leader of the opposition before nominating the members.
National Assembly members and others who hold public office are barred from appointment. The constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen over the age of eighteen that meets the provisions of the Representation of the People Ordinance. Voting is not compulsory. Employers are required to give their employees time to vote and to pay them for the time they are away at the polls. Polls are open from 7 AM to 6 PM on Election Day, but anyone in line by 6 PM may vote, no matter how long it may take. The sale of liquor is barred while the polls are open.
Certain forms of political campaigning, including television advertisements, political speeches, and the distribution of political buttons, posters, banners, or flags are also prohibited. Canvassing of voters may not be disturbed, voter-to-voter conversation is barred, and only election officials may answer questions. The constitution mandates that votes be cast in a secret ballot. Economic Belize is a developing country. Its economy is based on agriculture. Sugar cane, which is raised on plantations, ranks as the country’s chief crop. Oranges, grapefruits, and bananas are next in importance.
Processed sugar is the main export. The country’s forests yield lumber, including pine and such tropical hardwoods as cedrela and mahogany. The Caribbean Sea procvides conchs, fishes, lobsters, and shrimp. Most of Belize’s industries are small. They include sugar refining, processing foods and wood, and the production of clothing, cement, and bricks. Belize receives much financial aid from other countries. Its government encourages foreign investment to create jobs. Melizeans are working to develop the tourist industry by building hotels and other facilities. Belize has an international airport.
A government operated radio network and several private radio and television stations broadcast in the country. Population Density The estimated population for Belize is 213,000 people. There is an average or 24 persons per square mile, and 52% are from rural areas and 48% urban. The populations in these areas are growing way to fast for the death rate, which is bringing overcrowded ness to some of the cities. Climate Regions Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region.
Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 C in January to 27 C in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature. Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters in the extreme south.
Seasonal differences in rainfall are the greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period known locally as the Little dry, usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season. Hurricanes have played key roles in Belizean history. They have caused major destruction, and devastation. They have caused plenty of damages and caused great rebuilding projects.
Cities The capital city of Belize is Belmopan, which is centrally located. Orange Walk is a town, northwestern Belize, situated on the west bank of the New River. Established in early colonial times, it was pillaged by hostile Indians in 1872. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it conducted a thriving trade in mahogany. The town declined after demand for mahogany lessened. Sugarcane and citrus fruit cultivation and rum distilling are the main economic activities. The area’s inhabitants are primarily Spanish-speaking mestizos.
Recently excavated Maya archaeological sites date from 600 BC to AD 50. Pop. 11,728. Belize city former capital and chief seaport of Belize (formerly British Honduras). The city occupies both banks of the Haulover Creek, a delta mouth of the Belize River on the Caribbean coast. Its name was probably derived from an ancient Maya Indian word that refers to the Belize River, which was until the 10th century a heavily populated trade artery of the Maya Empire. Exports include sugar, mahogany, cedar, and other timbers (both mill wood and in the round), citrus fruits, coconuts, copra, bananas, and corn (maize).
Furniture, boats, and wood products are manufactured, and livestock (hogs and cattle) are raised in the surrounding area. Fisheries and sawmilling are local activities. Ethnic Groups Many Belizeans are of mixed ancestry, most of them descendant of immigrants. Mestizos (of mixed Maya Indian and European ancestry) are the largest ethnic group, accounting for more than two-fifths of the population. English-speaking people of largely African and African-European ancestry, who are called Creoles, account for nearly one-third of the population and predominate in the central coastal regions.
Mestizos predominate in the more sparsely inhabited interior, along with the Maya, who account for one-ninth of the population. Several thousand Garifuna, formerly called Black Caribs who are descendants of the Carib Indians and Africans exiled from British colonies in the eastern Caribbean (Lesser Antilles) in the 18th century, live in communities on the south coast. People of European and East Indian ancestry are also present, as are smaller numbers of Chinese, Arabs, and others.