Sunday, August 22, 2004

Belize - Commentary and History

I wrote the following after reading information out of my travel guide, Footprint Central America and Mexico 2004 by Peter Hutchison, taking to locals, and reading information on the internet.

About the same size as the state of Massachusetts, the country of Belize hold a population of roughly 250,000 people. The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan has a population of about 200,000. The country is 174 miles north to south by about 80 miles east to west. It is bordered by Mexico on the north, Guatemala on the west and south, and by the Caribbean Sea on the east.

Two very interesting facts about Belize: 1) It gained its independence from the United Kingdom just over 20 years ago on September 21, 1981 and 2) It is the only country in Central America, and one of two in Latin America to have English as the official language - one of four in all of the Americas (United States, Canada, Guyana, and Belize).

HISTORICALLY, the Classic Maya inhabited Belize from the forth to the ninth century and the population is estimated to have been 10 times what it is now. The first settlers came from Britain with their black slaves from Jamaica in 1640 to cut logwood for dye, among many other trees. Britain was able to stay in the area by maintaining treaties with Spain. However, in 1798, the settlers badly beat Spain and assumed to be British by contest. The British government, however, made no claim. When Guatemala and Mexico became independent 1821, both claimed Belize as theirs in the absence of Spanish rule. Britain then suddenly made claim. In 1862 Britain declared Belize as a colony. Mexico took back all claims in 1893. Guatemala never ratified an agreement and till this day, still feels things are not totally resolved. Border friction still exists, as Guatemala continues to fight for Belize`s southern half through peaceful ways (court system).

GOVERNMENTALLY, Belize is a parliamentary democracy, has its capital in Belmopan, and consists of six administrative divisions (6 districts; Belize, Caye, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, Toledo). The queen of England is still the head of the country (chief of state) and she is represented by a governor general in Belize who is Belizean. A prime minister in Belize who is Belizean runs the country. What does that mean? The queen has the power to suggest laws but the laws are always subject to approval in Belize. Belize has a choice to go back under British rule at any time, and Britain`s military will protect Belize if needed. There is a senate and house of representatives under a national assembly. General elections run at least every five years.

ECONOMICALLY, Belize`s main exports are citrus fruits, sugar, and bananas which make up 65% of all export earnings. Half of the population of Belize is employed through various areas related to those exports. Ten percent of export earnings comes from the garment industry. After agriculture, tourism is the second largest component of foreign revenue. However, according to a local newspaper, tourism is not yet sustainable and many huge efforts are being made to improve. Efforts are also being made to become less dependent as the country still imports 20% of all their food.

The following information comes from the 2000 Census and Footprint Central America and Mexico 2004. CULTURALLY, about 44% of the population are mestizo, 11% are Mayan, 30% are "predominantly black and of mixed ancestry, the so-called Creoles, a term widely used in the Caribbean". About 7% of he population are Garifuna (Black Caribs). The remainder are of unmixed European ancestry (the majority Mennonites who speak a German dialect) and a group of North Americans. There are also East Indian and Chinese immigrants and their descendants.

English is the official language; 1800,000 people speak ┬┤creole┬┤ English; Spanish is widely spoken in northern and western areas; 22,000 people speak Mayan languages, 15,000 speak Garifuna, and 3,000 German.

In terms of education, like the United States, children are required to attend school. However, unlike the United States public schools, no schools in Belize are free. Belizeans must pay not only for school, but also for books and required uniforms.

The LAND in Belize is low and flat in the north and has mountains in the south (Maya Mountains, the Cockscomb Range, and he Mountain Pine Ridge). The highest point rises o 3,675 feet at Victoria Peak. Belize`s coastlands are low and swampy with mangroves, lagoons (both fresh and salt water), and beaches (some sandy). The fifth longest barrier reef in the world - the longest in the Western Hemisphere lies off of its coast. There are also many cayes (pronounced "keys", meaning islands) that lie 10 o 40 miles off the coast. Some are developed into sandy beached tourist resort areas while others are small and undeveloped. Roughly 184 miles of reefs and cayes protect Belize from the Caribbean. Much of Belize is also good farmland for mangoes, bananas, sugar cane, rice, and citrus. It is a very beautiful country.

Click here for more facts, for a map.

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