Latin America & Caribbean

Belize country profile

Map of Belize

Tucked between the Caribbean Sea and the rainforest on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize is the home of a small and diverse nation.

The country, formerly known as British Honduras, was the United Kingdom's last colony on the American mainland and still maintains strong ties with Britain.

Today Belize, which considers itself part of both the Caribbean and Central America, is cultivating relations with Latin America and the United States, although there is a lingering conflict with neighbouring Guatemala, which has made claim to part of Belize's territory in the past.

Tourism is a major source of foreign currency. Belize's attractions include wildlife, Mayan ruins and one of the longest barrier reefs in the world.

Belize has a problem with violent crime, largely drug-related, and the trafficking of narcotics to the US, however. In 2011 Belize was added to a US blacklist of countries considered to be major producers or transit routes for illegal drugs.

FACTS

Belize

Capital: Belmopan

  • Population 324,000

  • Area 22,965 sq km (8,867 sq miles)

  • Major languages English (official), Spanish, Belizean Creole, Mayan, Garifuna (Carib)

  • Major religions Christianity

  • Life expectancy 75 years (men), 78 years (women)

  • Currency Belizean dollar

Getty Images

LEADERS

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor

Prime minister: Dean Barrow

Image copyright Getty Images

Dean Barrow was re-elected for an unprecedented third five-year term in office in Belize in November 2015.

Mr Barrow was elected to parliament in 1984 and served in senior positions in UDP governments. He led the party in opposition until its victory at the polls in 2008, unseating the People's United Party (PUP) government of Said Musa, which had been in power for 10 years.

Mr Barrow, a lawyer, has invested much of the $150m (£98m) Belize received from Venezuela in the past years in an ambitious infrastructure programme and road building. Belize is heavily dependent on aid from Venezuela, which also offers it oil at discounted prices.

Critics of Mr Barrow link bringing the 2015 polls forward to a possible Venezuelan move to cut its funding.

At the beginning of his new term Mr Barrow was expected to have to grapple with Belize's much larger neighbour, Guatemala, whose newly elected president, Jimmy Morales, said he would pursue with renewed vigour his country's claims over more than half of Belize.

MEDIA

The constitution guarantees media freedom, but provides exceptions in the interest of national security, public order and morality.

There are no official curbs, but internet use is low because of a lack of infrastructure and high costs, says US-based Freedom House.

Belize has no daily newspapers; some weeklies are subsidised by political parties.

Radio listeners rely on a range of commercial outlets, most of them networked nationwide. Privately-owned TV stations are on the air and cable TV is available in the towns.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in the history of Belize:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A volunteer force pictured in 1972 helped secure the country. After independence in 1981 Britain provided protection in the face of Guatemalan threats

16th-19th centuries - The Spanish arrive; Spanish rule ends in 1862 when Belize is formally declared a British crown colony and named British Honduras.

1954 - Constitutional reforms give Belize limited autonomy; general elections won by People's United Party (PUP), led by George Price.

1964 - New constitution gives Belize full autonomy and introduces universal adult suffrage and a two-chamber parliament. In 1973, the country changes its name from British Honduras to Belize.

1981 - Belize becomes independent with George Price as prime minister, but Guatemala refuses to recognise it. About 1,500 British troops remain to defend the country against Guatemalan territorial claims. Guatemala recognises Belize's independence in 1992 although the territorial conflict remains.

2002 - Belize, Guatemala agree on a draft settlement to their long-standing border dispute at talks brokered by the Organisation of American States (OAS). The deal, which proposed referendums in both countries, is rejected by Guatemala in 2003.

2005 - Rioting breaks out in the capital during a wave of anti-government protests.

2011 - Belize is added to US blacklist of countries considered to be major producers or transit routes for illegal drugs.

2015 - Prime Minister Barrow leads his ruling United Democratic Party to a record third consecutive five-year term in a snap election. Territorial conflict with Guatemala continues; Guatemala has made claims to all or part of Belize since 1940.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Xunantunich temple is one of several relics of an ancient Mayan civilisation

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