Belize

Basic Information

Area: 22,965 sq. km (8,867 square miles)
Population: 240,204
Capital City: Belmopan (population: 8,130 at census of 12 May 2000)
People: Mestizos (Maya/Spanish) 53%, Black Creoles (of African descent) or Caribban (25%), Maya 10%, European, East Indian and Chinese 6%, and Garifuna 6%.
Language(s): Officially English; however, over half the population speak Spanish and Creole is also widely spoken. There are a number of indigenous languages, such as Garifuna, Maya and Ketchi.
Religion(s): Predominantly Christian; the Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination. Small groups practice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Bahai.
Currency: Belizean Dollar (BZ$). BZ$2 equates to US$1.
Major political parties: The People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP) and We The People.
Government: Two Chamber National Assembly. Senate of 13, 7 appointed by the Prime Minister, 3 by the Leader of the Opposition and one each by the National Trade Union Congress of Civil Society, the Belize Council of Churches and Belize Chamber of Commerce. The Lower House, the House of Representatives has 29 (not including the Speaker) directly elected members serving a five-year term.
Head of State: HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General.
Prime Minister: Said Musa.
Governor-General: Sir Colville Young.
Foreign Minister: Godfrey Smith.
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Belize is a member of the United Nations and WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the regional groupings of CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market), SICA (Central American Integration System), OAS (Organisation of American States), Commonwealth, ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific), NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), San Jose Group, Association of Caribbean States (ACS), CDB (Caribbean Development Bank), the World Bank Group, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and IADB (Inter-American Development Bank)

Geography

Belize is about the size of Wales. Much of the country is unpopulated forest areas. It lies off the Caribbean coast of Central America, bordering Mexico and Guatemala. It has a well-preserved environment and the world's fifth longest barrier reef and the longest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere (184 miles long) running along the offshore islands (or Cayes).

History

300 to 600 - Belize forms part of the Mayan Empire.
1638 – First record of British settlement in Belize.
1670 – Treaty of Madrid. Spain acknowledges Britain's title to Jamaica and other de facto possessions 'in the West Indies, or any part of America'.
1763 – Treaty of Paris. Spain concedes to Britain the right to cut logwood in the Bay of Honduras but retains claim of sovereignty over Belize.
1786 - Convention of London. Spain extends the area of Britain's logwood concession and Britain gives up her claim to the Mosquito Coast (in what is now Nicaragua).
1798 - Battle of St George's Caye. Decisive naval victory by British settlers against Spain. This was the last time that Spain attempted to gain control of Belize.
1859 – Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty concluded and ratified. Guatemala agrees to existing boundary with British Honduras as Belize was then called.
1862 – The settlement was given colonial status as British Honduras, with a Lieutenant-Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.
1871 – The Crown Colony System of Government was introduced.
1884 - The link with Jamaica was broken and the title of Lieutenant Governor was changed, with a Governor being appointed.
1919 - Beginning of the black independence movement.
1940 – Guatemala declares 1859 Treaty to be invalid.
1954 – George Price elected First Minister of British Honduras.
1964 – Belize became an internally self-governing British colony.
1960s to 1970s – numerous attempts were made to resolve the territorial dispute with Guatemala through negotiations.
1973 – British Honduras reverted to the name of Belize.
From 1975 onwards - successive UN Resolutions endorsed Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity.
1981 – On 11 March, Britain, Guatemala and Belize released a Heads of Government Agreement aimed at bringing about a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
1981 - On 21 September, Belize became an independent member of the British Commonwealth recognising HRH Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State.
1984 - The centre-right United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Manuel Esquivel, defeated the centre-left People's United Party (PUP) in elections in December.
1991 – Guatemala recognises the right of the Belizean people to self-determination.
1998 – The PUP led by Said Musa achieved a landslide victory at the general election on 27 August, taking 26 out of 29 seats in the National Assembly.
2003 – The PUP led by Said Musa win 22 of 29 seats in the National Assembly in general elections held on the 5 March. PUP Government therefore wins second term.

Recent History

Belize (formerly British Honduras) is the only Commonwealth country in Central America. As a British Dependent Territory, Belize enjoyed internal self-government, with some responsibility for external affairs from 1964 until full independence in 1981. Over three hundred years of history shared with Britain bequeathed her the English language, a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, as well many other state institutions similar to the UK's own.

Politics

In the first post-independence elections in 1984, the centre-right United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Manuel Esquivel, defeated the centre-left People's United Party (PUP), which under George Price had dominated national politics for nearly 30 years. Price was returned to power at the 1989 elections, but lost again in 1993 to the UDP. At the 1998 general election , the PUP led by Said Musa achieved a landslide victory. Their manifesto promised new houses, the abolition of VAT, more jobs, classrooms and better health facilities. The new Government's agenda was strongly pro-poor and expansionary.

At the next general election in 2003 and the incumbent PUP government was re-elected for a second consecutive term.

It was a second landslide victory for the ruling PUP , winning 22 of the seats in the House of Representatives compared to the UDP's 7 and 53% of the popular vote compared to the UDP‘s 45%. It was also historic: this was the first time a government had been re-elected since independence in 1981.

For the 2003 election, the PUP had campaigned under the theme 'No Turning Back' on a manifesto promising education as the top priority. The manifesto also said that it would, among other things, create 20,000 new jobs, give local entrepreneurs the same access to investment incentives as foreign investors, and direct future foreign investors away from retail businesses towards agro-industry and other productive and foreign exchange-earning enterprises. They also promised to abolish property tax on properties valued under BZ$20,000 and to further reduce electricity and telephone rates.

PUP’s second term has been difficult, with allegations of corruption and poor macro-economic management.In August 2004, 7 Ministers resigned from the Cabinet expressing their disquiet over the Government's macro-economic performance - especially the growth of external debt and the use of government funds to support private sector ventures. PM Musa negotiated a change to portfolios that led to the return of the Ministers, all of whom pledged to increase Cabinet oversight of fiscal matters. Three of these Ministers were then removed from the Cabinet in December 2004, although two returned in November 2005.

In January 2005 the Government faced violent protests over the decision not to implement the final phase of agreed wage increases as part of a revised budget proposal. Following negotiations with the Unions the wage increases were re-instated and it was agreed that the Government would review the budget proposals and order a Commission to look into the collapse of the Development Finance Corporation, which has become bankrupt.

In April 2005 civil disturbances restarted after more disclosures about loans made by the Belize Social Security Board and the Government's handling of the sale and ownership of BTL, Belize's telecommunications supplier. These culminated in a riot in Belize City on 20 April when 27 people were injured and 100 arrested.

The government's financial problems continue, the budget deficit has not been bridged and the country's credit ratings have decreased. The government is in discussion with the IMF and economic adjustments are being made.

Economy

The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on agriculture - agro-based industry (dominated by sugar refining and citrus processing), and merchandising. Tourism, construction and marine products are assuming greater importance and tourism is now the largest foreign currency earner, having overtaken agriculture. Sugar, the chief crop, accounts for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the country's largest employer. Maize beans, rice and cocoa are grown. Honey production, eggs and poultry increased significantly in the 1980s.

According to the Government, Belize's rate of real GDP growth in 2004/05 was estimated at 4.2%. The economy's growth is attributed to the continued buoyancy in tourism and strong performances in the agriculture and construction sectors. Unemployment rate dropped to 11.6% in 2004 from 12.9% in 2003 and gross international reserves stood at $130.9 million at the end of December 2004, equivalent to 1.7 months of imports. Belize's exports in 2004 totalled Bz $410.13 m, while imports amounted to Bz $1,028.22 bn.

The tourism industry continued on its path of strong growth. Approximately 851,436 cruise ship tourists and 230,848 stay-over tourists visited Belize in 2004. Earnings from sugar exports increased by 12.7% to $78.9 million while citrus juice earnings shrank by 28.5% to $39.2 million. While banana exports rose by 7.2%, receipts stood at $49.7 million, only a marginal increase over 2003.

In the 2005/2006 budget proposal, the government proposed an increase to various business taxes, including business tax on professionals from 4% to 6%; business tax on banks under the Banks and Financial Institutions Act from 10% to 15%; business tax on real estate agents from 4% to 15% and business tax on gross casino earnings from 4% to 15%. In addition, the government raised taxes on beer, tobacco and soft drinks. There were no changes to the threshold on personal tax allowances which stands at $20,000, but the Prime Minister's overall aim is to eliminate personal income tax completely.

The Government faces a challenge on the economic front with a $70-90 million funding gap. It has to borrow money on less than favourable terms simply to pay off existing debts and retain the foreign currency reserves at the required 3-month limit. Public sector external debt stood at U.S. $968.8 million or 81% of GDP at the end November 31, 2004. Recurrent revenues of $574.2 million and recurrent expenditure of $640.2 million ($225 million of which is public sector wages) are projected in the 2005/06 financial year resulting in an overall deficit of $66 million or 2.8% of GDP. Foreign exchange is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain and the fixed exchange rate of B$2 to US$1 may well start to come under increasing pressure.

The government is in discussion with the IMF to address these problems and economic adjustments are being made.

Basic Economic Facts

GDP:Bz $1.974 bn (2003) 2.121 bn (2004)
GDP per head:U.S. $3,674 (2001) U.S. $3,611 (2003)
Annual growth:9.0% (2003) 4.2% (2004)
Inflation:2.6% (2003) 3.1% (2004)
Major Industries:sugar, citrus concentrates, bananas, marine products, garments, tourism.
Major trading partners:USA, EU, Mexico, CARICOM (Caribbean Community).
Exchange rate:Bz $3.8 to £1 approx.

International Relations

Belize's Relations with Neighbours

When Guatemala became independent in 1821, it claimed it had inherited the previous Spanish claim to the Southern part of Belize. Belize became self-governing in 1964. From 1975 successive UN resolutions endorsed Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity. In 1981 Belize became an independent state recognised by all nations except Guatemala. As relations improved, Guatemala recognised Belize as a sovereign and independent state in September 1991, though maintaining a territorial claim on Belize.

Since 2000, Belize and Guatemala have held a series of meetings under the auspices of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in an attempt to resolve the territorial dispute through peaceful negotiation. On 8 November 2000, Belize and Guatemala signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which provided a framework for managing disagreements and preventing incidents in the Adjacency Zone (Buffer Zone extending 1 kilometre east and west of the border line).

Two OAS sponsored facilitators, one each appointed by Belize and Guatemala, presented comprehensive recommendations to the Governments of Belize and Guatemala on 16 September 2002, proposing how the dispute could be settled and calling for referendums within 60 days of an agreement being signed. Both governments made the proposals public on 17 September. Although the Belize government publicly supported the recommendations, the Guatemalan government felt it could not.

Since then the Governments of Belize and Guatemala have been working with the OAS to secure an agreement to extend the CBMs as well as a process for maintaining the OAS facilitators' recommendations. Both Governments signed an agreement at the OAS Headquarters in Washington on 7 February 2003 covering these two issues. In late August 2003 Guatemala officially notified the OAS it could not accept the recommendations as they stood, citing constitutional difficulties. In the meantime the OAS established a 'Group of Friends' to encourage Belize and Guatemala to resolve their dispute. The UK agreed to become a member of the 'Group of Friends' on 1 September 2003.

The OAS continues to facilitate discussions between the two sides. In September 2005 a Framework for Negotiation and Confidence Building Measures agreement was signed by Belize and Guatemala. The Framework for Negotiation agrees that both sides, with OAS facilitation, will meet every 45 days and look to resolve the issues subject to dispute. If the Secretary General of the OAS determines at any stage it is not possible to agree on some issues then he will recommend those are submitted to independent arbitration. The Confidence Building Measures aim to build confidence between both sides, particularly in the Adjacency Zone.

Belize's Relations with the International Community

Belize is a member of the Commonwealth, UN and OAS. It has strong ties with English-speaking Caribbean states through its membership of CARICOM and has sought to strengthen ties with its neighbours in Central America through its membership of SICA.

Belize's Relations with the UK

As a Commonwealth Realm, Belize shares the same language as the UK and its political institutions are rooted in UK practice. Legal, education and health systems are established along British lines and there is a similar tradition of non-governmental organisations and respect for human rights. Aid, commercial and defence relations with the UK are also strong.

The UK supports Belize's pro-poor policies aimed at improving the quality of life for its people, and bringing about a sustainable environment. The UK continues to support Belize's sovereignty and territorial integrity and its efforts to find a peaceful resolution to its territorial dispute with Guatemala.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Department for International Development/Ministry of Defence is jointly funding a number of projects aimed at reducing the potential for conflict along the Belize/Guatemala border. The UK spent approximately £1.8 million in 2003-04 from the Global Conflict Prevention Pool, £1.5 million for projects in 2004/05, and has assigned £500,000 for projects in 2005/06. We will continue to work with the Organisation of American States (OAS) to ensure that our projects complement the OAS process aimed at facilitating a peaceful border settlement between Belize and Guatemala.

UK Development Assistance

In Belize, future DFID efforts will be focused at a strategic level on promoting greater cohesion, policy dialogue and further sustainable progress in those areas covered by the Commonwealth Debt Initiative (CDI) criteria, namely progress on addressing poverty, governance and economic management. DFID will also continue to support Belizean development efforts through regional approaches and institutions.

The EU gives aid to Belize through the Lome Convention. In 1999/00 Belize's allocation included a National Indicative Programme (NIP) of 9.4 m ECU, European Investment Bank capital of 8.2 m ECU and assistance from the EC budget of 13.4 m ECU. The UK share in each case was 16.37%. The bulk of this money was committed towards financing road and environmental projects.

Trade and Investment with the UK

The economy of Belize was traditionally based on forestry, mainly the export of logs, wood and mahogany. The economy is now based on its agriculture and non-traditional export sectors such as marine products and tourism.

UK exports to Belize for the period January – November 2004 totalled £7.58 m, while UK imports from Belize for the same period accounted for £42.2 m. Key exports include food and beverages, machinery and transport equipment and chemicals. Imports from Belize are chiefly vegetables, fruits and sugar. Major UK investors in Belize are Fyffes, Courts, CASCAL, Booker Tate, Kier International and Sir William Halcrow.

In recent years the Caribbean Britain Business Council (CBBC; formerly CARITAG) organised trade missions to Belize comprising between 6 - 10 companies. Recently, a CBBC trade mission visited Belize from 27 November - 1 December 2004, during which an agreement establishing a relationship between CBBC and the Belize British Chamber of Commerce (BBCC) was signed. CBBC visits to Belize have been considered successful and received the support of the British High Commission in Belmopan.

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council based in Caracas, Venezuela, covers Belize. Information about the work of the Council is available on its website:

Recent Visits

Said Musa, paid official visits to Britain in 1996 (as Leader of the Opposition) and June 2000 (as Prime Minister) as a Guest of Government. He also visited in December 2003 and November 2005 as part of the Caribbean Heads of Government delegation who met the PM. His predecessor, Manuel Esquivel, and Dean Barrow, then Minister for Foreign Affairs visited the UK in October 1997 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. John Briceno, Deputy Prime Minister, visited the UK on a sponsored visit in February 1999. Belize's Government Ministers frequently visit the UK for both private and official reasons.

HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Belize in February 1994. Mr Tony Lloyd, then Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister became the first Minister of the present British Government to visit Belize in February 1998. Peter Kilfoyle, then Minister at the Ministry of Defence visited in January 2000 followed by John Battle, then FCO Minister in July 2000. HRH The Princess Royal visited Belize in April 2001, and HRH The Duke of York in March 2002. Dr Denis MacShane, then FCO Minister for Latin America visited Belize and Guatemala in May 2002. And his successor Bill Rammell did likewise in January 2004.

Human Rights

Belize has ratified the following international human rights treaties:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Belize is also a Party to the American Convention on Human Rights and has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San Josť.

UK Support for Human Rights

The UK has supported a campaign to promote women's human rights in Belize and helped to set up the National Aids Commission in Belize, which HRH The Princess Royal opened in April 2001. We continue to lobby Belize for abolition of the death penalty. Belize has had a moratorium in place since 1985. We have also supported the creation of a Human Rights Centre in Belize.

Past Human Rights Abuses

The Belize Government generally has a good human rights record. There have been some alleged cases of excessive use of force including murder, arbitrary arrest and detention by the Police, but these are the exception. Prison conditions are poor, though improving under the private not-for-profit management of the KOLBE Foundation. There are some concerns regarding the rights of children and women, despite national education and awareness campaigns.

Health

Overall health conditions in Belize compare favourably with neighbouring Central American countries, though still poor. The government is the main provider of health services which include the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, a national referral hospital in Belize City, three regional and three district/community hospitals, approximately 40 health centres, 30 health posts and a mental health facility. A major reform of the health sector, including reorganisation of services, infrastructure development and financing is currently underway. Services provided by these facilities are complemented by national programmes for maternal and child health, environmental public health and water safety inspection, health promotion education and nutrition, dental health, communicable disease control and HIV/AIDS. The leading cause(s) of death in Belize is (are) heart disease, secondary to diabetes, hypertension and road traffic accidents, followed by high blood pressure and HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed in Belize in 1986. Since then, there has been an increase in incidence (rates) every year, and has now reached epidemic proportions. UNAIDS estimate there is a 2.01 percent prevalence rate of HIV in Belize which would rank the country as one of the highest in Central America and ninth in the Caribbean. The national AIDS Commission estimates that there are approximately 7000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Belize producing a 4% infection rate.