Belize -- Geography --
Lagrest City: Belize City
Currency: Belize Dollar (BZD)
Languages: English (official), Kriol, Spanish, Garifuna
Religion: 49.6% Roman Catholics, 29% Protestants, 21.4% Hindus and Islamites
Population: 322,100 (2008)
Ethnic groups: Mestizo, Kriol, Spanish, Maya, Garinagu, Mennoonite, East Indian
Area: 22,966 km2
Climate: tropical, with pronounced wet and dry seasons; significant variations in weather patterns by region
Districts: Belize District, Cayo District, Corozal District, Orange Walk District, Stann Creek District, Toledo District
Belize is a small Central American nation, located at 17°15' north of the equator and 88°45' west of the Prime Meridian on the Yucatan Peninsula. It borders the Caribbean Sea to the east, with 386 km of coastline. It has a total of 516 km of land borders—Mexico to the north-northwest (250 km) and Guatemala to the south-southwest (266 km). Belize's total size is 22,960 km?, of which 22,800 km? is land and 160 km? is water; this makes the country ten times larger than the Australian Capital Territory, about half the size of Nova Scotia, slightly larger than Wales, and slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and the only one without a Pacific coastline. Many coral reefs, cays, and islands to the east—such as Ambergris Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Glover Reef, and the Turneffe Islands—are part of Belize's territory, forming the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the western hemisphere stemming approximately 322 km (200 miles) and the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. The country's largest river is the eponymous Belize River.
Belize -- History --
The history of Belize dates back thousands of years. The Maya civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 200 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, 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.
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 -- Economy --
Belize has a small, essentially private enterprise economy that is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and construction recently assuming greater importance. In 2006, the cultivation of newly discovered crude oil, has presented new prospects and problems for this developing nation. It has yet to be seen if significant economic expansion will be made by this. To date, oil production equal 3,000 bbl/day (2007 est.) and oil exports equal 1,960 bbl/day (2006 est.). Sugar, the chief crop, accounts for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the country's largest employer. The new government faces important challenges to economic stability. Rapid action to improve tax collection has been promised, but a lack of progress in reining in spending could bring the exchange rate under pressure. The tourist and construction sectors strengthened in early 1999, leading to a preliminary estimate of revived growth at 4%. Infrastructure continues to be a major challenge for the economic development of Belize. Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Trade is important and the major trading partners are the United States, Mexico, the European Union, and Central America.
Belize -- Culture --
The Belizean culture is made up of beautiful people of influences and people from Kriol, Maya, Garinagu (also known as Garifuna), Mestizo (a mixture of Spanish and Indian), Mennonites who are of German descent, with a blend of many other cultures from Chinese to Lebanese. It is a unique blend that emerged through the country's long and occasionally violent history.
Belizeans are informal and friendly in greeting one another; it is considered rude not to greet even a slight acquaintance, the clerk or receptionist when entering a place of business. It is, however, considered impolite to greet by first names, unless one has already established a relationship of some depth (you have had one or more conversations together). A simple nod of the head or shouting is acceptable when passing someone on the street. Other acceptable greetings are handshakes, combinations of palms and fingers touching, thumbs locking and slaps on the back, or even a kiss on the cheek for someone to show great appreciation and trust.
Another aspect of the culture is the idea of the mystical healing and Obeah (a term used in the West Indies to refer to folk magic, sorcery, and religious practices derived from Central African and West African origins. Obeah can either be a form of 'dark' magic or 'good' magic).
Belize -- Political system, law and government --
Belize is a parliamentary democracy.
The structure of government is based on the British parliamentary system, and the legal system is modeled on the common law of England. The current head of state is Elizabeth II, Queen of Belize. Since the Queen primarily resides in the United Kingdom, she is represented in Belize by the Governor-General. However, the cabinet, led by the Prime Minister of Belize, who is head of government, acting as advisors to the Governor-General, in practice exercise executive authority. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrent with their cabinet positions.
The bicameral National Assembly of Belize is composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The thirty-one members of the House are popularly elected to a maximum five-year term and introduce legislation affecting the development of Belize. The Governor-General appoints the twelve members of the Senate, with a Senate president selected by the members. The Senate is responsible for debating and approving bills passed by the House.
Belize is a full participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).