Belize is a young country in many respects. Only recently has it celebrated a quarter of a century of independence. The custom-designed capital of the country, Belmopan, is one of the youngest cities of on the planet, being only a little older than the state of Belize itself. Belize is a modern and dynamic country with a rich historical heritage.
Belize is a seaside country, located in the southeast part of the Yucatan peninsula, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. In land, along Hondo River, Belize borders with Mexico on the north and with Guatemala in the south and in the west.
Belize spans approximately 280 kilometres from the north to the south and 105 kilometres from the west to the east, with a total land area of 22`965 square kilometres. In spite of the fact that Belize is smaller than, for example, Belgium, or the states of Vermont or Massachusetts, several big rivers flow through the country. One of them, the Belize River, has given the name to the whole country and its largest city.
Belize is a land of forests. The virgin tropical forest occupies almost 95% of its territory, covering it with a green blanket. Rich in tropical flora and fauna, these forests are a treasure-trove for a researcher, a traveller or … furniture manufacturer. Lots of rare and precious species of timber grows in Belize – mahogany, redwood, the cedar. In a trivial way, a piece of Belize is probably enjoyed daily by almost everyone – a special gum component extracted from the trees of the Central and the South America is part of the casual chewing gum.
The highest point of the country is the Victoria Peak (1120 m), situated in the Maya Mountains in the nothern part of the country.
The virgin rainforest of Belize is matched in beauty and natural richness by the tropical waters of the Caribbean along the Belizean coast. There are hundreds of postcard-perfect small picturesque islands and reefs, surrounded by the longest barrier-reef in the Norther Hemisphere (322 km), which is the second longest in the world. Rich in nautical wildlife and home to probably the largest variety of corals in the world, Belize is a paradise for divers.
The capital of Belize, Belmopan, is one of the youngest cities and one of the smallest national capitals in the world. The city has been founded in 1970, in the exact geographical centre of the country. Building of the city took 12 years. Today Belmopan is the most modern and urbanistic city of Belize, house to most state institutions, banks and businesses. Belmopan combines modern architecture and tropical greenery, which has earned it the second name – the Garden City. The largest city and the major commercial, transport and cultural centre of Belize is Belize City – the former capital of the country.
The time zone of Belize is EST – 1 (GMT – 6).
The State and Government
Belize is an independent country, member of the British Commonwealth, United Nations, WTO, IMF and other international organizations.
Belize is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy at once. The formal head of the state is the Queen of Great Britain. She is formally represented in Belize by the Governor General, who has primarily ceremonial functions. The legislature is effected by the National Assembly, which consists of the House of Representatives (29 deputies elected for 5 years) and the Senate (12 appointed members). The executive authority in the country is carried out by the Government led by the Prime Minister; the Government is subordinated to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party, which has the majority in the House of Representatives.
The state consists of six administrative districts: Belize, Corozal, Cayo, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo.
The legal and judicial systems of Belize are based on the British Common Law.
The national currency of Belize is the Belizean dollar. Since 1976 it is tied to the US dollar at the rate 2BZD = 1USD. At the same time, the US dollar has free circulation on the territory of the country, being legal means of payment.
The economy of Belize is mainly private based. Belize is a traditional exporter of many tropical agrarian goods: citrus, bananas, sugar, marine products and timber, which has been always a basis of the export. The import consists mostly of machinery, high-tech, fuel and manufactured goods. Tourism plays an important role in the national economy and revenues. Tourists are attracted by the exotic wildlife and nature, excellent diving possibilities and the monuments of the ancient Maya culture.
Diversifying the economy, Belize is developing the sector of the offshore services. The start to the industry was given in 1990 with an adoption of the International Business Companies Act, based on the British Virgin Islands model of the legislation. Since then, there are already tens of thousands of international business companies have been registered by international entrepreneurs, who have chosen Belize as their corporate domicile.
At the moment, five commercial banks offer their financial services in Belize: The Belize Bank, The First Caribbean International Bank, The Atlantic Bank, The Alliance Bank, and The Bank of Nova Scotia.
Despite its relatively small area, there is no deficiency of place in Belize. It is the most sparsely populated country in the Central America. It has been different before. It is estimated that around the end of the 1st millenium AD here were more than 400`000 Maya, living in the territory of the modern Belize. The todays population of Belize is only around 288`000. The country is multi-racial and multi-ethnic. The basic ethnic groups are Mestizo (49%) and Creole (25%). Over 10% of Belizeans are the present Maya, and 6% – Black Caribes, Garifuna.
The Belizeans are a very young nation. Every second inhabitant of Belize is under the age of 19. At the same time, the average life expectancy in the country is an impressive 68,3 years and the birth-rate is among the highest in the world – on average, around four children to one family. 94% of the population are literate.
Approximately half of the total population of Belize live in cities. The largest city and the main economic and cultural centre is Belize City, with a population around 80 000.
Quite uniquely, Belize is the only country in the whole Central and South America having English as the official language. This fact makes all international business and tourism notably easier in Belize. Spanish and ethnic minority languages are also widely spoken besides English.
Religion plays a notable role in the life of Belize. Nine out of ten Belizeans are religious. Christianity is the dominant religion, about 50% of the population being Roman Catholic, 27% – Protestant. Ancient pre-historic religious practices and cults are still alive in the more remote areas of the country.
The warm and humid tropical climate of Belize is determined by the dominating Atlantic trade winds. The average temperature in July is +25C, in January – about +22C. Deeper in-land, where the equalizing influence of the trade winds weakens, temperatures of +38C in summer are not uncommon.
The humidity of the climate is fairly high, with the South of the country receiving most of the generous rainfall. The predominant wet season runs from June till October, whereas the driest months are February till May.
Transport and Communications
The times, when it took months for the European ships to reach the New World, have long gone. The largest airport of the country – Phillip S. W. Goldson International (official abbreviation “BZE”) – is situated outside Belize City. Belize is a little more than 2 hours by direct flights from Miami, Houston or New Orleans. Flights to Belize are also available out of Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C. and from Toronto, Canada. Direct flight connections are also available from Mexico and Guatemala.
Belize has a modern system of telecommunications, although the state telecommunications monopoly still exists. The mobile communications GSM 1900 standard is developed even better than the landline telecoms services and still continues to extend. Broadband internet services are widely available.
The national internet-domain extension of Belize is .bz
Belize is rich in ancient history. Once upon a time, the region was home to the powerful and mysterious civilizations of the past. The territory of the modern Belize has been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. When the first Europeans stepped on these grounds, some Maya tribes still inhabited the coastal lowlands. At the time, Spaniards did not succeed in getting into the depth of the country, where Maya were still strong enough. One and a half century later the English privateers came to claim the these lands for themselves.
The pirates were not the quietest of all neighbours. Therefore, Spaniards allowed the more peaceful British settlers to come to these places, in exchange for the help in struggle against the pirates. Englishmen settled well in Belize and all the further history of the country became inseparably connected with the British Empire. At the same time, the inhabitants of Jamaica began to be brought to Belize for work in the logging industry. In 1800 Africans already twice outnumbered the natives of the Europe. 1838, the year of the abolition of the slavery, came as a major watershed in the history of Belize.
Originally, the territories formally had had a local independent government due to the reasons of diplomacy: not to cause a conflict between Spain and the British Empire. However, in 1786 the British government appointed a representative to Belize for the first time – the Quartermaster General. By 1862 Belize has been officially declared as a British colony and was renamed into British Honduras. The country existed under this name for more than a hundred years.
The export of timber has always been the basis of the colony´s economy. The prosperity of the British Honduras depended on the demand of timber in the world markets. The fall of the demand in the thirties of the XX century led to an economic crisis and became one of the underlying reasons for the Belize`s movement for independence. This movement partly succeeded in 1964, when the Great Britain gave self-management rights to the last British colony on the American continent. In 1973 the colony renamed itself into Belize, and in 1980 United Nations adopted its special resolution, recognizing the independence of Belize.
On September 21st, 1981 Belize was proclaimed as an independent state.
Unlike most other countries of the Central American region, the history of Belize has always been a history of the peaceful co-existence of the various ethnic and national groups. Stability is an inherent characteristic of Belize. Due to the British protectorate, Belize had almost never known any wars or serious social disturbances. Belize has grown into a tolerant multicultural society, based on the principles of respect and democracy.
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