All About Belize

Belize is a beautiful English-speaking country that boasts of rivers, waterfalls, limestone caves, ancient Mayan ruins and temples, protected rain forests, hundreds of cayes and a diverse cultural heritage. Belize’s towns and villages tell of the country’s historical Spanish and British colonial past, while the buildings that are presently being erected are proof of modern day designs and development.

Belize, a Brief Historical Background

Spanish settlers came to Belize during the 14th century. The indigenous people, the Mayans, were physically enslaved and were forced to adhere to Spain’s cultural and religious practices. Despite the resistance put up by the Mayans, most of their coastal settlements were destroyed, forcing them to move deep into the interior of forests. Belize had a population of about 400,000 Mayans, 86 per cent of whom died as a result of war and European diseases.

The first records of British settlement in Belize were in the 17th century. The first British settlers were pirates, adventurers and buccaneers who lived in camps that were used as military bases for attacking Spanish vessels. The British settlers became known as Baymen who soon occupied themselves with cutting logwood, which became the main economic activity of the British settlers in Belize for over 100 years. The conflicts that ensued during the 18th century between the Spanish and British settlers for the right to cutting logwood was ended by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, by which the British were granted the rights over the Spanish to continue their economic and other trading activities. The Spanish, however, never remained in Belize, and with the decline of the logwood trade, mahogany became the newly exploited resource.

By the 18th century, the Mayan survivors were forced out of the interior forests and were used as a means of cheap labour in mahogany production. However, a new labour force was needed since the Mayan population had rapidly dwindled and was insufficient. Similar to the other British settlements throughout the new World, African slaves were bought for working the mahogany forests. Belize’s history thus followed the same pattern of that in the other English speaking islands where African slave labour was used for fueling the sugar industry.

The African slave trade was also known as the Triangular Trade because of the triangular route that was used for traveling to the new world from the African coast. In Africa the captured natives, now slaves, were bartered in exchange for goods that were manufactured in Europe. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was made fully effective in 1838 after a system of limited freedom was granted under the “Apprenticeship” system.

Modern day politics

Up until 1973, Belize was known as British Honduras. In 1954, universal adult suffrage was introduced, in 1964, Belize became a self-governing country and independence was granted in 1981. Party politics first started in 1964 along with the formation of the People’s United Party PUP which, under the leadership of George Price, was the ruling party in Belize for 30 years, until it lost the general elections to the United Democratic Party UDP in 1984.

Honorable Dean Oliver Barrow was elected Prime Minister of Belize in February 2008, when the UDP won 25 out of 31 constituencies and the PUP won just 6. Between 1993 and 1998, Hon. Barrow served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minster of the UDP, and then became leader of the opposition in 1998 for the period of time that the UDP was out of office.

Belize’s parliamentary system is based on the Westminster system. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is the head of state and is represented by the governor-general. The Prime Minister is the head of government and is elected during general elections by popular vote for a period of five years.

The Dean Barrow administration is committed to delivering prudent and transparent governance and plans to bring about systematic changes for the development and reconstruction of Belize.

Today’s Economy

From the late 19th to early 20th century several efforts to diversify the Belizean economy were made. Diversification measures included the production and export of bananas, coffee, cocoa and tropical oil products, all of which proved to be unsuccessful before the Second World War.

Today, Belize’s main income earner is tourism, while other products such as citrus, marine products, bananas, and apparel, cane sugar and petroleum products account for a large percentage of Belize’s exports. Changes in the country’s fiscal policies have contributed to the growth of Belize’s offshore sector, which serves as means of attracting direct foreign investment and earning income.

The discovery of high grade crude oil deposits in various parts of the country gives hope of developing an oil industry which would greatly benefit the Belizean economy. To achieve this, several geological, seismic and topographical studies are being conducted.