A Brief History of Belize

HISTORY

The country of Belize was first inhabited by the Maya Indians who had an incredibly advanced civilization. They had their own writing called glyphs and their own calendar. The Mayas were also skilled mathematicians. They were the first culture to discover the concept of zero. They were also great architects. They built massive temples, cities, and palaces. The cities were well-planned and the temples were shaped like pyramids. Tikal, located in Guatemala, was the largest Maya city ever built and included five pyramids. The Mayas were also skilled astronomers. They studied the stars and learned to tell when the rainy season would come.

The great Mayan civilization, which had lasted 1,000 years, began to decline around the year of 900 A.D. It is unknown why the Mayan civilization ended, but there are many theories. One is that the population of the Mayas grew too great. With a lack of food and possible internal fighting, the civilization fell apart.

There followed a period of occupation by Indian tribes, then 100 years of Belize being the hideout for pirates. These pirates took advantage of the many Cayes of the coast of Belize.Then around 1650, these pirates started to log the mahogany and logwood forests of Belize. These loggers came to be known as baymen. The pirates used the labor of black slaves to log the wood and then sent it to England.

It wasn't until 1862 that "British Honduras" was recognized as part of the British Commonwealth. After WW I, when black soldiers were returning to British Honduras, the first stirring of independence came about in British Honduras. These soldiers objected to the discrimination they experienced by the British colonial bureaucracy when they came home. They protested, but they were crushed by British police. The first viable challenge to British colonial rule was the labor movement in Belize.

From 1920-1980 independence was sought and finally achieved, through the efforts of workers, labor unions and the nationalist movement. The country formerly known as British Honduras became Belize in 1981.

Early leaders of Belize included George Price and Manuel Esquivel. Most government officials favor close ties to the United States, increased foreign investment and an increase in tourism


GEOGRAPHY

Belize is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, south of Mexico and east of Guatemala. The total area of Belize is 22,960 square miles and the land area is 22,800 square miles. Belize is slightly larger than Massachusetts, or almost exactly the same size as El Salvador. Belize has a coastline of 208 miles, and land boundaries total 279 miles. These boundaries are bordering Guatemala for 144 miles and bordering Mexico for 135 miles.

Belize has hardly any elevation at all. Most of the terrain is dense tropical rain forest. On the coast, the terrain is mostly a swampy plain. In the southern area of the country, the Maya Mountains penetrate. The highest peak in Belize is Victoria Peak. It is 3,000 feet high. Off the coast, thousands of islands exist. Some major spots for tourism are: Ambergris Caye, The Turneffe Islands, Caye Caulker, Lighthouse Reef, and Half Moon Caye.

The climate of Belize is tropical. It is very hot and humid. The average temperature is 79 degrees. This temperature varies little throughout the year.

Belize is a country with many natural resources. A few natural resources of Belize are: arable land potential, timber, fish, sugar, (which is the main resource), bananas, citrus, cocoa, tropical hardwood, shrimp, and beef. Belize is rich in natural resources which are virtually untapped. A small manufacturing sector also exists in Belize. It produces the following: beer, cigarettes, batteries, flour, fertilizer, nails, and roofing. Because of its rich and diverse natural resources, I expect Belize to become an up-and -coming world economic player.

PEOPLE

Belize is a relatively small country of the world. The population in 1992 was 229,00 and is expected to double its size in 22 years. There is much ethnic diversity in Belize. Black Creoles, which make up 39.7% of the population, are the largest ethnic division. Another is the Mestizos, which are Spanish-speaking people. The Mestizos make up 33.1% of the population. The next one is the Maya. There are three different types of Maya: the Yucatan in the north, Mopan in the west and south, and Ketchi in the south. These Maya groups account for ten percent of the population. There are also the Garifina or Black Caribs. They live in southern Belize and account for seven point six percent of the population. The last two groups are: East Indian, which accounts for two point one percent of the population, and other, which accounts or eight percent of the population.

A group of 3,000 Mennonite farmers, who speak a German patois, live self-sufficiently in northern Belize. The merchants of Belize are also very widespread. The merchants are of Lebanese, Chinese, and East Indian descent. Twenty-five percent of Belize's population lives abroad. Whether it is realized or not, there are many Belizeans in the United States. For example, there are Belizean communities in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, and probably any other city in the United States.

The official language of Belize is English, but other languages are also spoken, such as Spanish, and Creole, which is a slang mixture of many languages. Food preferences in Belize include chicken with rice and beans, Mexican - type dishes and fresh seafood.

The religions of the Belizeans also vary greatly. The majority of Belizeans are Roman Catholic, making up sixty-two percent and Protestants next with 30%.

Belizeans make a living by the natural resources of their country. The primary business there is agriculture. Other agro-based industries and merchandising are also main employment factors. Tourism and construction are also assuming increasing importance. Agriculture accounts for 30% GNP and provides 75% of Belize's export earnings. The United States is Belize's main trading partner. Exports to the United States include sugar, clothing, seafood, molasses, citrus, wood, and wood products. Other partners in trade with Belize include the United Kingdom, Trinidad, Tobago, and Canada. Some other industries of Belize are garment production, citrus concentrates, sugar refining, rum, and beverages.

The education in Belize is quite good. The literacy rate is 91%. In Belize, there is one daily newspaper and 25 museums and sites, which include the Belize Zoo and Hol Chan National Marine Park.


GOVERNMENT

Belize's government is a parliamentary democracy. The legal system is English law, and the political parties include the People's United Party, the United Democratic Party, and the Belize Popular Party. Suffrage in Belize is universal at age 18. The branches of the government include British Forces and Belize Defense Forces, which include the Army, Navy, Air Force and Volunteer Guard. The government consists of elected officials.


RELATIONSHIP TO THE WORLD

Belize is a peaceful nation. There were some minor land disputes with Guatemala which were settled in the late 1980's to early 1990's. Belize is, and has been, an exporter for many years. In the 1600's, Belize exported mahogany and logwood to England. Today, Belize still exports its many natural resources and is also developing because of investors who are pouring money into the country. Belize is becoming a world banking center. Belize is also very conscientious of its country. Belize protects the beautiful natural habitats of the country. That is being eco-conscious.


RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNITED STATES

Belize has friendly diplomatic ties with the United States. There is also a lot of trading that takes place between the two countries. The United States also creates a good portion of the tourist industry for Belize. Belize is also a major corporate banking center for the United States, and there is rapid investment there. In 1985, Coca-Cola and two Houston investors bought a 50,000 acre citrus farm for exportation to the United States. Eighty percent of private property in Belize is owned by foreigners.



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