Belize place on globe
A small nation on the eastern coast of Central
America, on the Caribbean Sea bordered by Mexico
to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south.
The country is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional
monarchy which recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as
Sovereign. The nation of Honduras is a near neighbour,
75 km away (47 miles) across the Gulf of Honduras
to the east. The name is derived from the Belize
River which Belize City, the former capital and
largest city, is also named after. In Spanish it
is usually called Belice. Belize was a British colony
for more than a century, known as British Honduras,
until 1973. It became an independent nation in 1981.
Belize is a member of Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
and the Sistema de Integracion Centro Americana
(SICA) and considers itself to be both Caribbean,
and Central American.
History of Belize
The Maya civilization spread over Belize between
1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD
The first Europeans arrived in the area in the early
16th century and settlement began with British privateers
and shipwrecked English seamen as early as 1638.
The origin of the name Belize is unclear but one
explanation is that it derives from the Spanish
pronunciation of Wallace, the name of the pirate
who created the first settlement in Belize in 1638.
Another possibility is that the name is from the
Maya word belix, meaning "muddy water",
applied to the Belize River.
The early "settlement of Belize in the Bay
of Honduras" grew from a few habitations located
at Belize Town and St George's Caye, into a de-facto
colony of the United Kingdom during the late 18th
century. In the early 19th century, the settlement
was called the British Honduras, and in 1862 it
became a Crown Colony.
Hurricane Hattie inflicted significant damage upon
Belize in 1961. The government decided that having
a coastal capital city that is below sea level was
too risky. Over several years, the British colonial
government designed a new capital Belmopan at the
exact geographic centre of the country, and in 1970
began slowly moving the governing offices there.
British Honduras became a self-governing colony
in January 1964 and was renamed Belize in June 1973;
it was Britain's last colony on the American mainland.
George Price led the country to full independence
in September 1981 after delays caused by territorial
disputes with neighbouring Guatemala, which did
not formally recognise the country until 1992.
Throughout Belize's history, Guatemala has claimed
ownership of all or part of the territory. This
claim is occasionally reflected in maps showing
Belize as Guatemala's most eastern province. In
2005, the border dispute with Guatemala remains
Belize is located between the Hondo and Sarstoon
Rivers, with the Belize River flowing down in the
centre of the country. The north of Belize consists
mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places
heavily forested. The south contains the low mountain
range of the Maya Mountains, whose Victoria Peak
is the highest point in Belize at 1,160 m. All along
the Caribbean coast are found coral reefs or cays.
Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the
western hemisphere and the second longest in the
world after the Great Barrier Reef.
The climate is tropical and generally very hot and
humid. The rainy season lasts from May to November
and hurricanes and floods are frequent natural hazards.
The small, essentially private enterprise economy
is based primarily on agriculture, agro-based industry,
and merchandising, fishing, with tourism (especially
scuba diving) and construction assuming greater
importance. Sugar, the chief crop, accounts for
nearly half of exports, while the banana industry
is the country's largest employer. Citrus production
has become a major industry along the Hummingbird
The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal
policies, initiated in September 1998, led to GDP
growth of 6.4% in 1999 and 10.5% in 2000. Growth
decelerated in 2001 to 3% due to the global slowdown
and severe hurricane damage to agriculture, fishing
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