Area: 22,966 sq. km. (8,867 sq. mi.); slightly
larger than Massachusetts.
Cities: Capital--Belmopan (2004 pop.
est. 12,300) Other cities and towns--Belize
City (59,400), Corozal (8,600), Orange Walk
(15,000), San Ignacio & Santa Elena (16,100),
Dangriga (10,400), Punta Gorda (4,900), and San
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 (2004 est.): 282,600.
Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 6.0%.
Ethnic groups: Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Mayan.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist,
other Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.
Languages: English (official), Creole, Spanish,
Education: Years compulsory--9. (2000
est.): Attendance--60%. Literacy--76.5%.
Health: (2003): Infant mortality rate--14.8/1,000.
Life expectancy--67.4 years.
Work force (April 2004, 108,491): Services--61.4%.
Agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing--20.4%.
Industry and commerce--18.2%.
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).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP (2004): $1.04 billion.
Annual growth rate (2004): 4.6%; (2003): 9.2%.
Per capita income (2004): $3,665.
Avg. inflation rate (2004): 3.1%.
Natural resources: Arable land, timber, seafood,
Primary sectors (13.9% of GDP, 2004 est.):
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining.
Secondary sectors (15.5% of GDP, 2004 est.):
Manufacturing, electricity and water supply, and
Tertiary sectors (61.2% of GDP, 2004 est.):
Hotels and restaurants, financial
intermediation, and transport and communication.
Trade: Exports (2004)--$205.07 million:
cane sugar, clothing, citrus concentrate,
lobster, fish, banana, and farmed shrimp.
Major markets--U.S. (55%), U.K., CARICOM.
Imports (2004)--$514.11 million: food,
consumer goods, building materials, vehicles,
machinery, petroleum products. Major
suppliers--U.S. (38.7%), 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
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
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 work
for the establishment of a "Caribbean Court of
Justice," which is expected to come into being
in 2006. 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 1981.
Prime Minister Said Musa has embarked on an
adjustment program, which calls for short- and
medium-term fiscal and monetary policy changes.
These policy changes seek to (1) increase
revenues, (2) narrow the fiscal deficit, from a
high of 9% of GDP to 3%, (3) improve the balance
of payments, particularly on the current account
side, (4) increase foreign reserves, from less
than one month’s worth of the country’s import
bill to at least 3 months’ worth, and (5)
improve the country’s ability to service its
huge, unsustainable foreign debt, which stands
at close to Belize $2.4 billion or almost 100%
of its GDP (Belize $2=U.S. $1). 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, National
Development, and the Public Service--Said Musa
Minister of Home Affairs and Public
Attorney General and Minister of Education and
Culture, Youth and Sports--Francis Fonseca
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and
Ambassador to the United States and the
Ambassador to the United Nations--Stuart Leslie
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: 800-624-0686.
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 land.
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
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
2004, tourist arrivals totaled almost one
million (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, and TACA provide international air
service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami,
Charlotte, and San Salvador.
Belize's economic performance is highly
susceptible to external market changes. Although
the economy recorded a growth rate of 4.6% in
2004, 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 2004 totaled $514.11
million, while total exports were only $205.07
million. In 2004, the United States provided
38.72% of all Belizean imports and accounted for
55% of Belize's total exports. Other major
trading partners include the United Kingdom,
European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean
Common Market (CARICOM) member states.
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) challenges.
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
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. Belize seems receptive to referring the
dispute to the International Court of Justice
for a binding decision, but Guatemala is
reluctant to take this course.
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 July 1, 2003 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 over
$2.4 million in various bilateral economic and
military aid programs to Belize in FY 2005. 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 August 2005, the
Peace Corps had 73 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
of seven schools and four water wells by
National Guard soldiers in Stann Creek District
in 2000. Another "New Horizons" humanitarian
project was conducted in southern Belize in
2003. Private North American investors,
responsible for some $250 million total
investment in Belize, continue to play a key
role in Belize's economy, particularly in the
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lloyd W. Moss
Economic/Political Officer--Marco G. Prouty
Consul--Cynthia F. Gregg
Management Officer--D. Trent Dabney
Military Liaison Officer--LTC David T. Treleaven
U.S. Embassy is located in Belize City at
the corner of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street.
The mailing address is P.O. Box 286, Belize
City, Belize, Central America: tel: 011-501-
227-7161 from the United States or 227-7161
locally; fax: 011-501-223-0802 Executive Office;
223-5321 Administrative Office; 227-1468
Economic/Commercial/Political Office; 223-5423
Consular Section. E-mail address:
email@example.com, Web site address:
Other useful contacts
Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036