About Belize
- General
- Population
- Languages
- Constitution and Government
- Elections and Political Parties
- Administration and Local Government
- Real Sector Activities
- International Partners in Development
- The Financial System
- Currency and Exchange Rate
- Finance
- Industries

General
Belize (formerly British Honduras until the name of the country was changed in 1973) lies on the eastern or Caribbean coast of Central America, bounded on the north and part of the west by Mexico, and on the south and the remainder of the west by Guatemala. The inner coastal waters are shallow and are sheltered by a line of coral reefs, dotted with islets called 'cayes', extending almost the entire length of the country.

There is a low coastal plain, much of it covered with mangrove swamp, but the land rises gradually towards the interior. The Maya Mountains and the Cockscomb Range form the backbone of the southern half of the country, the highest point being Doyle's Delight (1124 meters above sea level) in the Cockscomb Range. The Cayo District in the west includes the Mountain Pine Ridge, ranging from 305 to around 914 meters above sea level. The northern districts contain considerable areas of tableland. There are many rivers, some of them navigable for short distances by shallow-draught vessels. A large part of the mainland is forest.

The area of the mainland and cayes is 8,867 square miles. The country's greatest length from north to south is 280 kilometers and its greatest width is 109 kilometers. The climate is subtropical, tempered by trade winds. Temperatures in coastal districts range from about 10 °C (50°F) to about 35.6°C (96°F); inland the range is greater. Rainfall varies from an average of 1,295 millimeters in the north to 4,445 millimeters in the extreme south. The dry season usually extends from February to May and there is sometimes a dry spell in August.
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Population
Today Belize's population is estimated to be at approximately 273,700. The country is a melting pot of many races and over the years the muliti-racial make-up has risen through the influx of many people of Central America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. Males outnumber the female population only by 1%.

The population census shows that the main ethnic groups: Mestizo, Creole, Ketchi, Yucatec and Mopan Mayas, Garifuna and East Indian maintains a large percent of Belize's population. Other ethnic groups: German and Dutch Mennonites, Chinese, Arabs and Africans accounts for a small percentage of the population. The ethnic groups, however, are heavily intermixed.
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Languages
English is the official language of Belize. However, English Creole is widely spoken and remains a distinctive part of everyday conversations for most Belizeans. Spanish is also common and is taught in primary and secondary schools in order to further develop bi-lingualism.

Spanish is spoken as a mother tongue by the majority of the people in the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts, north of Belize and the Cayo District in the west, In the southern Districts: Stann Creek and Toledo, there are people whose first language is Garifuna or Maya.
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Capital
Belmopan is the capital of the country. Built in 1970, it is the seat of Government and has been classified as the Garden City of the country. It was created following extensive damage to the former capital Belize City, caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Belmopan is geographically located at the centre of the country, some 80 kilometers to the south-west of Belize City on higher ground. It serves as a hurricane refuge for Belizeans and has the largest number of hurricane shelters in the country. Its population today is estimated at 11,100 and is increasing as more people relocate to the Capital. However, Belize City still remains the hub of commercial activity and one of the most urbanized centers of Belize with a population of 58,000 people.

Numerous ruins indicate that for hundreds of years Belize was heavily populated by the Maya Indians, whose relatively advanced civilization reached its height between A.D. 250 and 900. Eventually the civilization declined leaving behind small groups whose offspring still exist in Belize contributing positively to the culturally diverse population.

In 1502, Columbus sailed through parts of the Caribbean, but did not actually visit the area later known as British Honduras.

The first reference to European settlement in the colony was in 1638. These were later augmented by disbanded British soldiers and sailors after the capture of Jamaica from Spain in 1655. The settlement, whose main activity was logwood cutting (logwood was used in the past to produce dye), had a troubled history during the next 150 years. It was subjected to numerous attacks from neighboring Spanish settlements (Spain claimed sovereignty over the entire New World except for regions in South America assigned to Portugal).

It was not until 1763 that Spain in the Treaty of Paris allowed the British settlers to engage in the logwood industry. The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 reaffirmed those boundaries and logwood concession was extended by the Convention of London in 1786. But Spanish attacks continued until a decisive victory was won by settlers, with British naval support, in the Battle of St. George's Caye in 1798. After that, British control over the settlement gradually increased and in 1871 British Honduras was formally declared a British Colony.

From an early date the settlers had governed themselves under a system of primitive democracy by Public Meeting. A set of regulations referred to as Burnaby's Code was effected in 1765 and this, with some modification, continued until 1840 when an Executive Council was created.

In 1853 the Public Meeting was replaced by a Legislative Assembly (partly elected, on a restrictive franchise), with the British Superintendent, an office created in 1786 at the settlers' request, as Chairman. When the settlement became a colony in 1871 the Superintendent was replaced by a Lieutenant Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.

The Crown Colony System of Government was introduced in 1871, and the Legislative Assembly by its own vote was replaced by a nominated Legislative Council with an official majority presided over by the Lieutenant Governor.

An unofficial majority was created in 1892, and this constitution, with minor changes, continued until 1935 when the elective principle was once again introduced on the basis of adult suffrage with a low-income qualification. The administrative connection with Jamaica was severed in 1884, when the title of Lieutenant Governor was changed and a Governor was appointed.

Further constitutional advances came in 1954 with the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage and an elected majority in the Legislature, the Ministerial System was adopted in 1961 leading up to Self Government in 1964. The country's name was changed on 1st June, 1973, from British Honduras to Belize.

Independence was achieved on September 21, 1981 and a new independence constitution introduced. Belize was then admitted as a member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth of Nations.
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Constitution and Government
Belize achieved full independence on September 21, 1981. It is now a member of the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the Nonaligned Movement, the Organization of American States and the newly-formed Association of Caribbean States. Diplomatic relations have been established with many countries. Belize is also a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and related institutions.

The Government of Belize is operated on the principles of Parliamentary Democracy based on the Westminster System. The country is a sovereign, democratic state.

A Prime Minister and Cabinet make up the Executive Branch, while a 29-member elected House of Representatives and a nine-member appointed Senate form a bi-cameral legislature.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the constitutional Head of State. She is represented in Belize by a Governor-General, who must be a Belizean.

The Cabinet consists of a Prime Minister, other Ministers and Ministers of State who are appointed by the Governor-general on the advice of the Prime Minister, the person commanding the support of the majority party in the House of Representatives. Five Senators are appointed by the Governor-general on the advice of the Prime Minister, two on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and one on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are elected either from among the members of these Houses (providing they are not ministers) or from among persons who are not members of either House.
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Elections and Political Parties
General elections are held at intervals of not longer than five years. The voting age is 18. The Prime Minister has the right to advise the Governor-general to dissolve the National Assembly and so determine the date of the general elections.

The most recent elections took place took place in August 1998. The People's United Party (PUP won 26 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, the remaining 3 were won by the United Democratic Party (UDP))
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Administration and Local Government
There are six administrative districts: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. With the abolition of the posts of the District Officers, the district administration is now jointly run by a number of Government functionaries, namely the District Accountant, the Officer Commanding the District Police and the Heads of various Government departments based in the districts.

Each district town has a locally elected Town Board of seven members. The Cayo District has two Town Boards, namely, San Ignacio and Benque Viejo.

Belize City is administered by a nine-member City Council. There is also a Town Board in the Belize District, namely San Pedro Town Board in Ambergris Caye.

The Capital city of Belmopan is administered by the Reconstruction and Development Corporation.

Local Government in the villages is carried on with the help of village councils who do not at present have a legal standing. A Village Councils Act to formally establish Village Councils is in the process of being enacted.
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Real Sector Activities
In 2001, Belize's real GDP growth was up by 4.6% as compared to 10.8% increase in 2000. The economic slowdown was attributed to a contraction in some economic sub-sectors as a result of two natural disasters in rapid succession, declining export prices, and the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on tourism and other activities.

Belize's current economic base dates back to the mid-20th century when there was a shift from the production of forestry products such as logwood, mahogany and chicle towards large-scale plantation-type agriculture with citrus and banana cultivation in the south of the country and sugarcane in northern Belize.

Belize has a small open economy, and its principal sectors are currently (1) agriculture, (2) manufacturing, which primarily includes agro-products such as sugar and citrus products, and (3) services, which includes primarily tourism. From 1997 through 2001, tourism averaged 20.2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Agriculture, agro-product manufacturing and tourism are the major foreign exchange earners. Currently, sugar, citrus and banana account for at least 60% of the earnings accruing from merchandise exports. Also, marine products (including seafood such as shrimp) and small manufacturing make notable contributions to exports. Significant proportions of these products are sold under preferential arrangements that ensure that the price received is significantly higher than world market prices. The preferential arrangements are at odds with the move toward free trade at the turn of the century, and it is envisaged that such arrangements will gradually be phased out.

During 2001, Belize's exports of goods and services represented approximately 55.1% of GDP, with exports of goods representing 33.4% of GDP. The United States and the United Kingdom are major trading partners of Belize. During 2001, exports to the United States were U.S.$86.7 million, or 53.8% of total exports, and exports to the United Kingdom were U.S.$37.1 million, or 23.0% of total exports.

The relative strengths of the Belizean economy include an abundance of land, forest, and water resources, Belize's proximity to the U.S. market, and the country's historically close ties to the United Kingdom. Belize's environmental resources also create substantial opportunities in the nature-based tourism market. Although historically Belize has not been significantly impacted by hurricanes, during 2001 and 2000 two substantial hurricanes and one tropical storm did adversely affect the Belizean economy, illustrating the vulnerability of Belize to natural disasters. The declining preferred market access available to certain export products such as bananas and sugar under various international arrangements is another challenge for Belize.
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International Partners in Development
Belize maintains diplomatic relations with almost every nation in the world. It is a member of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS), and the respective agencies of each organization. Belize is also a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) group of countries, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the British Commonwealth, the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and several other international agencies. Belize is also a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and the ACP and is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act, and the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement, or CARIBCAN. In addition, Belize benefits from its bilateral relations with a number of countries including the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Mexico.
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The Financial System
The financial system is comprised of the Central Bank of Belize and a number of financial institutions.

The Central Bank of Belize was established pursuant to the Central Bank Act of 1982, the Bank Act. The Central Bank has a statutory obligation under the Bank Act to foster monetary stability and promote credit and exchange conditions conducive to economic growth within the context of the government's economic policy. The Bank Act provides the Central Bank with the statutory authority for regulating the activities of the Belizean banking system.

Besides the Central of Belize, the Belizean financial system was composed of 58 financial institutions as at March 31, 2002, and these included:
  • five commercial banks;
  • four offshore banks;
  • one government-owned development bank (the DFC);
  • fifteen credit unions;
  • three building societies;
  • seventeen insurance companies;
  • one government-owned savings bank;
  • one government-owned small farmers and business bank; and
  • eleven money exchanges
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    Currency and Exchange Rate
    The currency unit is the Belize dollar (Bz.$). The Belize dollar has been pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of Bz.$2.00 to U.S.$1.00 since May 1976.
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    Finance
    Presently, import and Revenue Replacement duty accounts for 38% of total Recurrent Revenues, while Taxes on Goods and Services 30%. The next important source is Income Tax, which accounts for 22% of total Recurrent Revenues. The main items of expenditures are Education, Health, National Security and Ministry of Works. The 2002-2003 national budget projects expenditure of 371.9 and revenues of 404.7 million.

    Capital expenditures is finances through economic cooperation programs with the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America and the Republic of China and loans from the Caribbean Development Banks.
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    Industries
    The main industries are sugar, citrus, fisheries and bananas. Sugar accounts for more than 33.4% of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Because of the uncertain future of these traditional exports, major efforts are being made towards agricultural diversification. Industrial development is encouraged through a number of incentives which include the awarding by government of tax holidays and import duty exemption on inputs of up to a maximum of 25 years to qualifying companies

    Belize is home to a number of growing enterprises which include, but not limited to, the manufacture of metal doors and windows, furniture, concrete blocks, bricks, clothing, boat building, soft drink bottling, brewing, cigarette manufacture, tire recapping, the production of flour and animal feed, wire and paper products, an agricultural fertilizer plant, matches, plywood and other wood products, a meat packing plant, food processing operations and the manufacture of rolled steel bars for the construction industry and a host of other manufacturing activities.
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