About Belize

General Information

Full country name: Belize
Area: 22,966 sq km
Population: 266,440
Capital City: Belmopan
People: 49% mestizo, 25% Creole, 11% Maya, 6% Garífuna
Language: English
Religion: 50% Catholic, 27% Protestant.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -6

Currency: Belize Dollar (BZ$)

Electricity: 110/220V 60HzHz

Country Dialing Code: 501

Belize FlagFlag description:

Blue with a narrow red stripe along the top and the bottom edges; centered is a large white disk bearing the coat of arms; the coat of arms features a shield flanked by two workers in front of a mahogany tree with the related motto SUB UMBRA FLOREO (I Flourish in the Shade) on a scroll at the bottom, all encircled by a green garland.

Location

Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Mexico
Geographic coordinates: 17 15 N, 88 45 W
Map references: Central America and the Caribbean
Area:
total:
22,966 sq km

water: 160 sq km
land:
22,806 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than Massachusetts
Land boundaries: total: 516 km
Border countries: Guatemala 266 km, Mexico 250 km
Coastline: 386 km

 

Belize Environment

Dabbling its toes in the Caribbean Sea, Belize has more in common with its island neighbors than with the fiery volatility of Central America. English-speaking, Creole-dominated and with a thoroughly coup-free history, this tiny country has an atmosphere so laid-back it’s almost comatose.

Belize possesses an unparalleled natural beauty, rich with animal and plant life. Belize also posses an unspoiled Caribbean coastline, lush rain forest, clear tropical waters and coral reefs.

Land

Half of the country is covered by dense (but rapidly disappearing) jungle, the rest is farmland, scrub and swamp. The tropical forests provide habitats for a wide range of animals, including jaguar, puma, ocelot, armadillo, tapir and crocodile. The country also harbors keel-billed toucan, an abundance of macaws and parrots, and heron and snowy egret.

Belize is hot and humid year round, but respite from the weather can be found in the cooler mountains or from the tropical breezes which waft over the cayes. Rainfall is a whopping 4m (13ft) a year, most of it falling between June and November.

Normal conditions in Belize are sub-tropical; sunny and warm with temperatures averaging between 23 and 30 degrees Celsius or 74 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Evening temperatures drop a little, but generally remain warm and comfortable throughout the day and night. The dry season runs from late November to early May.

Animals & Plants

As the 1990s began, sugar was still the Belizean economy’s single largest export earner. Sugar production involved a unique hybrid of agricultural and industrial activity. Sugarcane cultivation, on one hand, and the mechanical chemical transformation of cane into sugar, on the other hand, made for this peculiarity. Both processes needed to be coordinated because of the perish ability of the crop.
Citrus production, mainly oranges and grapefruit, occurs predominantly in Belize ‘s Stann Creek District. The citrus trade began in the 1920s, but became significant only in the 1980s, when Belizean-produced citrus concentrate became exempt from United States tariff duties under the terms of the CBI. Exports of fresh citrus fruit to the United States were restricted because of infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly. Citrus, much like sugar, underwent sharp price and production fluctuations, although overall export receipts from citrus concentrate markedly increased during the 1980s because of high prices.

Commercial cultivation of bananas began in the late nineteenth century, when United States and British investors first established plantations. Although the banana trade between British Honduras and New Orleans at first seemed promising, commerce was wiped out in the 1920s by an outbreak of the Panama disease. Another attempt to cultivate bananas was begun by the British during the 1960s, but the plantations were destroyed by hurricanes in 1975 and 1978. The subsequent takeover of banana cultivation by the Banana Control Board, a public enterprise, had the effect of further inhibiting production.

 

Belize is a cultural anomaly in Central America, with a society oriented more to Britain , the English-speaking Caribbean countries, and North America , than to neighboring Spanish-speaking republics. During the 1980s, efforts to forge a common national identity among a small, multiethnic population challenged the colonial orientations of Belizean society. Regional conflicts, migration, and intensified relationships with the United States also posed challenges.

The deepening of social, economic, and political ties to the United States during the 1980s prompted critics in Belize and abroad to complain that the country merely exchanged one colonial master for another. In addition, emigration of Belizeans to the United States and of Central Americans to Belize further challenged Belizean society, which was already deeply divided by differences of ethnicity, race, and class.

Belize might appear to be the archetypical postcolonial “plural society,” a mosaic of discrete cultural groups with their own value systems and institutional forms, joined together only by the forces of the marketplace and coercive authority. Indeed, a number of scholars have described Belize as split between two cultural complexes–one English-speaking, and Creole, and the other Spanish speaking , and Mestizo. Belizean social and cultural diversity was, however, much more complex than this bipolar model suggests. Language and religion cut across ethnic and racial categories. Moreover, race was a complex and elusive concept. For example, both Creoles and Garifuna shared an African heritage, but they were culturally different and had a long-standing enmity toward each other.

Ethnic boundaries in Belize were also notoriously fuzzy. Intermarriage between members of different groups has historically been widespread. Identification of people of mixed ancestry varied considerably; one recent survey of secondary-school students found eight different permutations of Creole identity alone. This variability was not limited to Creoles. Some urban, European looking Spanish-speakers identified themselves as Maya; many Mestizos no longer spoke Spanish in the home or had become evangelical Protestants.

Not all individuals of multiple ancestries felt comfortable identifying with a particular ethnic group; in the words of one Belizean youth, many Belizeans were “all mix up.” A small, but significant number of people eschewed potentially divisive ethnic categories and referred to themselves simply as “Belizeans.” Ethnicity competed with other identities, such as those based on status, occupation, and political affiliation, for primacy in social interaction. Belizean society was as divided by class differences as it was by race, language, religion and ethnicity.

 

Archaeologists have determined that the Maya settled in Belize as early as 1500 BC. Their civilization reached its height between AD 250 and 900 – descendants of the Maya continue to live in Belize today.

The Spanish claimed Central America along with the rest of their New World possessions, but they didn’t settle the area that would become Belize . The first sustained European presence came instead from British buccaneers and shipwrecked British sailors, who soon realized that Belize ‘s forests of mahogany were a valuable commodity. Slaves were brought in to harvest the timber, and the Baymen – as the British settlers were known – began to extract a tidy profit from the jungle.

Spain continued to claim the area, however, and the decisive battle between the Spanish and British was fought September 10 1798 , off St. George’s Caye. The British won and continued to rule the area despite advances by Mexico and Guatemala in the 1820s. The settlement became known as British Honduras , though it wasn’t until 1862 that it officially became a British colony. In 1973 the name was changed to Belize , and on 21 September 1981 , the country declared its independence from Britain .

Today, Belize is a multicultural and multilingual society. Descendants of the Maya, the English and the African slaves have been joined by Mennonites who immigrated to Belize by way of Canada after World War II. Mestizos are a large and growing group, and East Indians, Chinese and expatriate Europeans and North Americans are also part of the Belizean melting pot.