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Belize Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
July 2007

Background Note: Belize

Boys maneuver boat past pier and
toward beach of Caye Caulker, Belize.
December 28, 2005. [© AP Images]

Flag of Belize is 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 related motto SUB UMBRA FLOREO (I Flourish in the Shade) on a scroll
at the bottom, all encircled by a green garland.



Area: 22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Massachusetts.
Cities: Capital--Belmopan (2005 pop. est. 13,500) Other cities and
towns--Belize City (60,800), Corozal (8,800), Orange Walk (15,300), San
Ignacio & Santa Elena (16,800), Dangriga (10,800), Punta Gorda (5,000), and
San Pedro (8,400).
Terrain: Flat and swampy coastline, low mountains in interior.
Climate: Subtropical (dry and wet seasons). Hot and humid. Rainfall ranges
from 60 inches in the north to 200 inches in the south annually.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Belizean(s).
Population (2006 est.): 299,766.
Annual growth rate (2006): 3.4%.
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. (2005 est.): Attendance--60%.
Health: (2003): Infant mortality rate--14.8/1,000. Life expectancy--67.4
Work force (April 2006, 112,806): Services--60%. Agriculture, hunting,
forestry, and fishing--22%. Industry and commerce--16%.

Type: Parliamentary democracy
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), National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). National Reform Party
(NRP), Vision Inspired By the People (VIP), People's National Party (PNP), We
the People (WTP).
Suffrage: Universal adult.

GDP (2005): $1.79 billion.
Annual growth rate (2005): 5.1%; (2004): 9.2%.
Per capita income (2005): $3,650.
Avg. inflation rate (2006): 4.3%.
Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood, minerals.
Primary sectors (13.1% of GDP, 2005): Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and
Secondary sectors (14.7% of GDP, 2005): Manufacturing, electricity and water
supply, and construction.
Tertiary sectors (63.2% of GDP, 2005): Hotels and restaurants, financial
intermediation, and transport and communication.
Trade: Exports (2005)--$212.83 million: cane sugar, clothing, citrus
concentrate, lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp. Major markets--U.S.
(52.2%), U.K., CARICOM. Imports (2005)--$518.83 million: food, consumer
goods, machinery, mineral fuels and lubricants. Major suppliers--U.S. (39%),
Mexico, U.K.
Official exchange rate: Since 1976 Belizean banks have bought U.S. dollars at
the rate of 2.0175 and sold them at 1.9825, making for an effective fixed
rate of Belize $2=U.S. $1.

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 population lives 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 48.7% of the population is
of mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 24.9% are of African and
Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10.6% are Mayan; and about 6.1% are
Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder, about 9.7%, includes European,
East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and North American groups.

English, the official language, is spoken by virtually all except the
refugees who arrived during the past decade. 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 indigenous languages, and an
English Creole dialect similar to the Creole dialects of the English-speaking
Caribbean Islands is spoken by most. The rate of functional literacy is 76%.
About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other
Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remaining 50%. Mennonite
settlers number about 8,500.

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 Christopher Columbus sailed
along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by
shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English
settlements were established. This period also was 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.

Belize is a parliamentary democracy based 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.
The governor general appoints the Senate's 12 members. Six are appointed in
accordance with the advice of the prime minister, 3 with the advice of the
leader of the opposition. The Belize Council of Churches and the Evangelical
Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the
Belize Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil
Society Steering Committee each advise the Governor General on the
appointment of one senator each. The Senate is headed by a president, who is
a nonvoting member appointed by the governing party.

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.
However, in 2001 Belize joined with most members of the Caribbean Common
Market (CARICOM) to establish a "Caribbean Court of Justice," which was
inaugurated on April 16, 2005. The country is divided into six districts:
Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo.

Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party
(PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5,
2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while
the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. However, the PUP
lost one seat in Parliament during a by-election held after the death of a
minister in October 2003, but still maintains a comfortable majority. Dean
Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998
to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP
from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more
than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in

The government continues to implement an economic adjustment program, with
the aim of (1) increasing revenues, (2) decreasing public sector
expenditures, (3) narrowing the fiscal deficit to 1% of GDP, (4) improving
the balance of payments, and (5) increasing the country's foreign reserves.
Belize's outstanding public debt at the end of 2006 was U.S. $1.10 billion,
an amount that is equivalent to approximately 100% of GDP. However, on
January 31, 2007 the Government of Belize officially announced that the
holders of Belize's public external commercial indebtedness have agreed to
exchange their existing claims against the country for new bonds to be issued
by Belize maturing in 2029. 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 longstanding 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 also has taken
steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of
SICA (Central American Integration System).

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Governor General--Sir Colville N. Young, Sr.
Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and the Public Service--Said Musa
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries--Vildo Marin
Minister of Home Affairs, Public Utilities and Housing--Ralph Fonseca
Attorney General and Minister of Labor, Education and Culture--Francis
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--Lisa Shoman

Ambassador to the United States--Nestor Mendez, Chargé d'Affaires, a.i.
Ambassador to the OAS--Lisa Shoman
Ambassador to the United Nations--Janine Coye Felson

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:

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. Exports have recently
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

Domestic industry is limited, constrained by relatively high-cost labor and
energy and a small domestic market. Some 185 U.S. companies have operations
in Belize, including Archer Daniels Midland, Texaco, and Esso. Tourism
attracts the most foreign direct investment, although significant U.S.
investment also is found in the 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 one of its major development priorities. In 2006,
tourist arrivals totaled 900,000 (more than 90% from the United States).

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:

A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the
scarcity of infrastructure investments. As part of its financial austerity
measures started in late 2004, the government froze expenditures on several
capital projects. 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 United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a
maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American
Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, Delta Airlines, and TACA provide
international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte,
Atlanta, and San Salvador.

Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market
changes. Although the economy recorded a growth rate of 4.0% in 2006, this
achievement is vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and
continuation of preferential trading agreements, especially with the United
States and the European Union (cane sugar) and the United Kingdom (bananas).

Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as
its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2005 totaled $518.83 million,
while total exports were only $212.83 million. In 2005, the United States
provided 39% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 52.2% of Belize's
total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom,
European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member

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) program, which forms part
of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act--signed into law by
President Clinton on May 8, 2000--a comprehensive U.S. Government program
designed 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. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for
the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries. However,
these two markets face considerable World Trade Organization (WTO)

The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, is comprised of
a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and
maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General
Lloyd Gillett, 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 and the United Kingdom.

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 have been underway 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 continued contentions. 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.

Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an
"adjacency zone" extending one kilometer east and west from the border.
Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial
claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to
submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the
Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration
represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean
Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS.

Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has
been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties. Both
countries now seem receptive to referring the dispute to the International
Court of Justice for a binding decision.

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. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American
countries in signing the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on
regional sustainable development, and on January 1, 2007 assumed the
presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month
period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a
member of the OAS in 1990.

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. It 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, Belize benefits from the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative.

International crime issues dominate the agenda of bilateral relations between
the United States and Belize. The United States is working closely with the
Government of Belize to fight illicit narcotics trafficking, and both
governments seek to control the flow of illegal migrants to the United States
through Belize. Belize and the United States brought into force a Stolen
Vehicle Treaty, an Extradition Treaty, and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty
between 2001 and 2003.

The United States is the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize,
contributing $2.5 million in various bilateral economic and military aid
programs to Belize in FY 2006. Of this amount, nearly half a million dollars
was provided by the U.S. Military Liaison Office. The U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office in August 1996
after a 13-year program during which USAID provided $110 million worth of
development assistance to Belize. Belize still benefits from USAID regional
programs. In addition, during the past 42 years, almost 2,000 Peace Corps
volunteers have served in Belize. As of April 2007, the Peace Corps had 58
volunteers working in Belize. Until the end of 2002, Voice of America
operated a medium-wave radio relay station in Punta Gorda that broadcast to
the neighboring countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The U.S.
military has a diverse and growing assistance program in Belize that included
the construction and renovation of several schools and youth hostels, medical
assistance programs, and drug reduction programs. Private North American
investors continue to play a key role in Belize's economy, particularly in
the tourism sector.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Robert J. Dieter
Deputy Chief of Mission--Leonard A. Hill
Economic/Political Officer--Thomas Wise
Consul--Kimberly Valdes-Dapena, Acting
Management Officer--vacant
Military Liaison Officer--LTC Tammy McNamara

The U.S. Embassy is located in the City of Belmopan on Floral Park Street.
The mailing address is P.O. Box 497, Belmopan, Cayo District, Belize, Central
America: tel: 011-501- 822-4011 from the United States or 822-4011 locally;
fax: 011-501-822-4012 Main number; 822-4053 Administrative Office; 822-4050
Consular Section. E-mail address:, Web site address:

Other useful contacts
Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Office of Latin American and the Caribbean
14th & Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 202-482-1658; 202-USA-TRADE
Fax: 202-482-0464

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give 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.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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