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Belize - Acknowledgments and Preface

Belize Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of William B. Mitchell, William A. Bibbiani, Carole E. DuPre, Diane Fairbank, Janice H. Hopper, Ransford W. Palmer, Theodore L. Stoddard, and Robert L. Wood.

The authors are grateful to individuals in various government agencies and private institutions who gave of their time, research materials, and expertise in the production of this book. These individuals include Ralph K. Benesch, who oversees the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program for the Department of the Army. None of these individuals, however, is in any way responsible for the work of the authors.

The authors also would like to thank those people who contributed directly to the preparation of the manuscript. They include Sandra W. Meditz, who reviewed drafts, provided valuable advice on all aspects of production, and conducted liaison with the sponsoring agency; Marilyn L. Majeska, who reviewed editing and managed production; and Barbara Edgerton and Izella Watson, who did the word processing. In addition, Vincent Ercolano and Richard Kolladge edited the chapters; Catherine Schwartzstein performed the final prepublication editorial review; Joan C. Cook compiled the index; and Malinda B. Neale and Linda Peterson of the Library of Congress Printing and Processing Section performed the phototypesetting, under the supervision of Peggy Pixley.

Thanks also go to David P. Cabitto, who provided valuable graphics support and who, along with the firm of Greenhorne and O'Mara, prepared the maps; and to Wayne Horne, who did the cover art and chapter illustrations. Finally, the authors acknowledge the generosity of the individuals and the public and private agencies who allowed their photographs to be used in this study.


Like its predecessor, this study is an attempt to examine objectively and concisely the dominant historical, social, economic, political, and military aspects of contemporary Belize. Sources of information included scholarly books, journals, monographs, official reports of governments and international organizations, and numerous periodicals. Chapter bibliographies appear at the end of the book; brief comments on sources recommended for further reading appear at the end of each chapter. To the extent possible, place-names follow the system adopted by the United States Board on Geographic Names. Measurements are given in the metric system.

The body of the text reflects information available as of January 1992. Certain other portions of the text, however, have been updated. The Bibliography lists published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.


Belize - Historical Setting


TWO THEMES DOMINATE the history of Belize: the outward struggle to establish and maintain an English-speaking nation in an area dominated by Hispanic peoples and culture, and the inward interaction between groups of different races and cultural backgrounds. Understanding contemporary social relations and the politics of Belize depends on understanding these diverse groups and their interpretations of past events.

The first English settlers arrived in the early 1600s in present-day Belize (known as the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras prior to 1862 and British Honduras from 1862-1973). Their arrival marked the beginning of a conflict with neighboring Spanish settlers that lasted for centuries. For the first 200 years, this conflict was part of the larger rivalry between Britain and Spain. In the early 1800s, after most of the Spanish colonies in the New World became independent, the conflict in Belize evolved into a Guatemalan territorial claim on the area that continued into the 1990s.

Like many nations that have recently emerged from colonialism, Belize has a population that is fragmented into many racial and cultural groups. The two largest groups are the Creoles, English-speaking or Creole-speaking blacks and people of mixed African and European heritage, and the Mestizos, Spanish-speaking people of mixed Mayan and Spanish European. Two other significant groups are the Garifuna, a group of African and Carib ancestry originally from the Lesser Antilles, and the Maya, descendants of the original inhabitants of Belize.

These groups all have different interpretations of key events in Belize's history. The subjugation of the indigenous people, the rivalry between Spain and Britain, slavery and the process of emancipation, the legacy of colonization, and the position of Belize in the modern world have all been subject to reinterpretation and debate. Despite the gradual emergence of a national identity, the differences among ethnic groups and their divergent outlooks on the present and the past play an important role in Belize today.




Perhaps as early as 35,000 years ago, nomadic people came from Asia to the Americas across the frozen Bering Strait. In the course of many millennia, their descendants settled in and adapted to different environments, creating many cultures in North America, Central America, and South America. The Mayan culture emerged in the lowland area of the Yucat�n Peninsula and the highlands to the south, in what is now southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, and Belize. Many aspects of this culture persist in the area despite nearly half a millennium of European domination. All evidence, whether from archaeology, history, ethnography, or linguistic studies, points to a cultural continuity in this region. The descendants of the first settlers in the area have lived there for at least three millennia.

Prior to about 2500 B.C., some hunting and foraging bands settled in small farming villages. While hunting and foraging continued to play a part in their subsistence, these farmers domesticated crops such as corn, beans, squash, and chili peppers-- which are still the basic foods in Central America. A profusion of languages and subcultures developed within the Mayan core culture. Between about 2500 B.C. and A.D. 250, the basic institutions of Mayan civilization emerged. The peak of this civilization occurred during the classic period, which began about A.D. 250 and ended about 700 years later.

Farmers engaged in various types of agriculture, including labor-intensive irrigated and ridged-field systems and shifting slash-and-burn agriculture. Their products fed the civilization's craft specialists, merchants, warriors, and priest-astronomers, who coordinated agricultural and other seasonal activities with a cycle of rituals in ceremonial centers. These priests, who observed the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and stars, developed a complex mathematical and calendrical system to coordinate various cycles of time and to record specific events on carved stelae.

Belize boasts important sites of the earliest Mayan settlements, majestic ruins of the classic period, and examples of late postclassic ceremonial construction. About five kilometers west of Orange Walk, is Cuello, a site from perhaps as early as 2,500 B.C. Jars, bowls, and other dishes found there are among the oldest pottery unearthed in present-day Mexico and Central America. The site includes platforms of buildings arranged around a small plaza, indicating a distinctly Mayan community. The presence of shell, hematite, and jade shows that the Maya were trading over long distances as early as 1500 B.C. The Mayan economy, however, was still basically subsistence, combining foraging and cultivation, hunting, and fishing.

Cerros, a site on Chetumal Bay, was a flourishing trade and ceremonial center between about 300 B.C. and A.D. 100. It displays some distinguishing features of early Mayan civilization. The architecture of Mayan civilization included temples and palatial residences organized in groups around plazas. These structures were built of cut stone, covered with stucco, and elaborately decorated and painted. Stylized carvings and paintings of people, animals, and gods, along with sculptured stelae and geometric patterns on buildings, constitute a highly developed style of art. Impressive two-meter-high masks decorate the temple platform at Cerros. These masks, situated on either side of the central stairway, represent a serpent god.

The Maya were skilled at making pottery, carving jade, knapping flint, and making elaborate costumes of feathers. One of the finest carved jade objects of Mayan civilization, the head of the sun god Kinich Ahau, was found in a tomb at the classic period site of Alt�n Ha, thirty kilometers northwest of present-day Belize City. Settled at least as early as 200 B.C., the Alt�n Ha area at its peak had an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. At the beginning of the second century A.D., the inhabitants built their first major structure, a temple. The visitor today sees a group of temples, priests' residences, and other buildings around two adjacent plazas. In the vicinity, there are hundreds of other structures, most of which are still unexcavated. The Maya continued to rebuild some of the temples until almost the end of the ninth century. Excavations at Alt�n Ha have produced evidence suggesting that a revolt, perhaps of peasants against the priestly class, contributed to the downfall of the civilization. People may have continued to live at or to visit the site in the postclassic period, even though the ceremonial centers were left to decay. Some rubbish found at Alt�n Ha shows that people were at the site in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, perhaps to reuse the old structures or undertake pilgrimages to the old religious center.

Other Mayan centers located in Belize include Xunantunich and Baking Pot in Cayo District, Lubaant�n and Nimli Punit in Toledo District, and Lamanai on Hill Bank Lagoon in Orange Walk District. Xunantunich, meaning "Lady of the Rock," was occupied perhaps as early as 300 B.C., but most of the architecture there was constructed in the late classic period. As in all the lowland Mayan centers, the inhabitants continually constructed temples and residences over older buildings, enlarging and raising the platforms and structures in the process. The views are breathtaking from Xunantunich's "El Castillo," which, at thirty-nine meters, is the tallest man-made structure in Belize. Lamanai, less accessible to tourists than Alt�n Ha or Xunantunich, is an important site because it provides archaeological evidence of the Mayan presence over many centuries, beginning around A.D. 150. Substantial populations were present throughout the classic and postclassic periods. Indeed, people living in the area were still refacing some of the massive ceremonial buildings after the great centers, such as Tikal in neighboring Guatemala, had been virtually abandoned in the tenth century.

In the late classic period, probably at least 400,000 people inhabited the Belize area. People settled almost every part of the country worth cultivating, as well as the cay and coastal swamp regions. But in the tenth century, Mayan society suffered a severe breakdown. Construction of public buildings ceased, the administrative centers lost power, and the population declined as social and economic systems lost their coherence. Some people continued to occupy, or perhaps reoccupied, sites such as Alt�n Ha, Xunantunich, and Lamanai. Still, these sites ceased being splendid ceremonial and civic centers.

The decline of Mayan civilization is still not fully explained. Rather than identifying the collapse as the result of a single factor, many archaeologists now believe that the decline of the Maya was a result of many complex factors and that the decline occurred at different times in different regions.

Increasing information about Mayan culture and society helps explain the development, achievements, and decline of their ancient civilization and suggests more continuities in Mayan history than once had been considered possible. The excavation of sites, such as those at Cuello, Cerros, Alt�n Ha, Xunantunich, and Lamanai, has shown the extraordinary persistence of Mayan people in Belize over many centuries.




Colonially oriented historians have asserted that the Maya had left the area long before the arrival of British settlers. But many Maya were still in Belize when the Europeans came in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Archaeological and ethnohistorical research confirms that several groups of Mayan peoples lived in the area now known as Belize in the sixteenth century. The political geography of that period does not coincide with present-day boundaries, so several Mayan provinces lay across the frontiers of modern Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala. The Mayan province of Chetumal, for example, consisted of the northern part of presentday Belize and the southern coast of the Mexican state Quintana Roo. In the south, spreading west over the present-day frontier between Belize and Guatemala, were the Mop�n Maya, and still farther south, the Chol-speaking Manche groups. In central Belize lay the province of Dzuluinicob, meaning "land of foreigners" or "foreign people." This province stretched from New River in the north to Sittee River in the south, and from close to the presentday Guatemalan border in the west to the sea. The apparent political center of this province was Tipu, located east of modern Benque Viejo del Carmen. Lamanai, several towns on New River and on Belize River, and Xib�n on Sibun River, were included in this province.

Christopher Columbus traveled to the Gulf of Honduras during his fourth voyage in 1502. A few years later, two of his navigators, Mart�n Pinz�n and Juan De Sol�s, sailed northward along the coast of Belize to Yucat�n. In 1519 Hern�n Cort�s conquered Mexico, and Pedro Arias D�vila founded Panama City. Spain soon sent expeditions to Guatemala and Honduras, and the conquest of Yucat�n began in 1527. When Cort�s passed through the southwestern corner of present-day Belize in 1525, there were settlements of Cholspeaking Manche in that area. When the Spanish "pacified" the region in the seventeenth century, they forcibly displaced these settlements to the Guatemalan highlands. The Spanish launched their main incursions into the area from Yucat�n, however, and encountered stiff resistance from the Mayan provinces of Chetumal and Dzuluinicob. The region became a place of refuge from the Spanish invasion, but the escaping Maya brought with them diseases that they had contracted from the Spanish. Subsequent epidemics of smallpox and yellow fever, along with endemic malaria, devastated the indigenous population and weakened its ability to resist conquest.

In the seventeenth century, Spanish missionaries from Yucat�n traveled up New River and established churches in Mayan settlements with the intention of converting and controlling these people. One such settlement was Tipu, which was excavated in the 1980s. People occupied the site during preclassic, classic, and postclassic times, and through the conquest period until 1707. Though conquered by the Spanish in 1544, Tipu was too far from the colonial centers of power to be effectively controlled for long. Thousands of Maya fled south from Yucat�n in the second half of the sixteenth century, and the people of Tipu rebelled against Spanish authority. Although Tipu was too far south for the Spanish of Yucat�n to control, it was apparently too important to ignore because of its proximity to the Itz� of the Lago Pet�n Itz� region of present-day Guatemala. In 1618 and 1619, two Franciscans, attempting to convert the people built a church in Tipu. In 1638 a period of resistance began in Tipu, and by 1642, the entire province of Dzuluinicob was in a state of rebellion. The Maya abandoned eight towns at this time, and some 300 families relocated in Tipu, the center of rebellion. In the 1640s, Tipu's population totaled more than 1,000.

Piracy along the coast increased during this period. In 1642, and again in 1648, pirates sacked Salamanca de Bacalar, the seat of Spanish government in southern Yucat�n. The abandonment of Bacalar ended Spanish control over the Mayan provinces of Chetumal and Dzuluinicob.

Between 1638 and 1695, the Maya living in the area of Tipu enjoyed autonomy from Spanish rule. But in 1696, Spanish soldiers used Tipu as a base from which they pacified the area and supported missionary activities. In 1697 the Spanish conquered the Itz�, and in 1707, the Spanish forcibly resettled the inhabitants of Tipu to the area near Lago Pet�n Itz�. The political center of the Mayan province of Dzuluinicob ceased to exist at the time that British colonists were becoming increasingly interested in settling the area.



Belize Colonial Rivalry Between Spain and Britain

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain tried to maintain a monopoly on trade and colonization in its New World colonies, but northern European powers were increasingly attracted to the region by the potential for trade and settlement. These powers resorted to smuggling, piracy, and war in their efforts to challenge and then destroy Spain's monopoly. Early in the seventeenth century, the Dutch, English, and French encroached in areas where Spain was weak: the small islands of the Lesser Antilles, the no-man's-land of the Guianas between the Spanish and Portuguese dominions, and the uncharted coasts of Yucat�n and Central America. Later in the seventeenth century, England effectively challenged Spain in the western Caribbean, capturing Jamaica in 1655 and subsequently using this base to support settlements all the along the Caribbean coast from the Yucat�n to Nicaragua.

Early in the seventeenth century, on the shores of the Bay of Campeche in southeastern Mexico and on the Yucat�n Peninsula, English buccaneers began cutting logwood, which was used in the production of a dye needed by the woolen industry. According to legend, one of these buccaneers, Peter Wallace, called "Ballis" by the Spanish, settled near and gave his name to the Belize River as early as 1638. English buccaneers began using the tortuous coastline of the area as a base from which to attack Spanish ships. Some of the buccaneers may have been refugees expelled by the Spanish in 1641-42 from settlements on islands off the coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras. Buccaneers stopped plundering Spanish logwood ships and started cutting their own wood in the 1650s and 1660s. Logwood extraction then became the main reason for the English settlement for more than a century.

A 1667 treaty, in which the European powers agreed to suppress piracy, encouraged the shift from buccaneering to cutting logwood and led to more permanent settlement. The 1670 Godolphin Treaty between Spain and England confirmed English possession of countries and islands in the Western Hemisphere that England already occupied. Unfortunately, those colonies were not named and ownership of the coastal area between Yucat�n and Nicaragua remained unclear. Conflict continued between Britain and Spain, over the right of the British to cut logwood and to settle in the region. In 1717 Spain expelled British logwood cutters from the Bay of Campeche west of the Yucat�n. This action had the unintended effect of enhancing the significance of the growing British settlement near the Belize River.

The first British settlers lived a rough and disorderly life. According to Captain Nathaniel Uring, who was shipwrecked and forced to live with the logwood cutters for several months in 1720, the British were "generally a rude drunken Crew, some of which have been Pirates." He said he had "but little Comfort living among these Crew of ungovernable Wretches, where was little else to be heard but Blasphemy, Cursing and Swearing."

During the eighteenth century, the Spanish attacked the British settlers repeatedly. In 1717, 1730, 1754, and 1779 the Spanish forced the British to leave the area. The Spanish never settled in the region, however, and the British always returned to expand their trade and settlement. At the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, the Treaty of Paris conceded to Britain the right to cut and export logwood but asserted Spanish sovereignty over the territory. Still, there was never an agreement on the precise area in which logwood cutters could operate. The Spanish frontier town of Bacalar in the Yucat�n, refounded in 1730 after having been deserted for almost a century, became a base for operations against the British. When war broke out again in 1779, the commandant of Bacalar led a successful expedition against the British settlement, which was abandoned until the Treaty of Versailles in 1783 allowed the British to cut logwood in the area between the Hondo and Belize rivers. By that time, however, the logwood trade had declined and mahogany had become the chief export, so the settlers petitioned for a new agreement.


Belize - Beginnings of Self-Government and the Plantocracy


The British were reluctant to set up any formal government for the settlement for fear of provoking the Spanish. On their own initiative and without recognition by the British government, the settlers had begun annual elections of magistrates to establish common law for the settlement as early as 1738. In 1765 Rear Admiral Sir William Burnaby, commander in chief of Jamaica, arrived in the settlement and codified and expanded their regulations into a document known as Burnaby's Code. When the settlers began returning to the area in 1784, the governor of Jamaica named Colonel Edward Marcus Despard as superintendent to oversee the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras.

The Convention of London, signed in 1786, allowed the British settlers, known as Baymen, to cut and export logwood and mahogany from the Hondo River in the north southward to the Sibun River. The convention, however, did not allow the Baymen to build fortifications, establish any form of government, military or civil, or develop plantation agriculture. Spain retained sovereignty over the area and asserted the right to inspect the settlement twice a year. Britain also agreed to evacuate its settlement on the Mosquito Coast (Costa de Mosquitos) in eastern Nicaragua. Over 2,000 of these settlers and their slaves arrived in 1787 in the settlement of Belize, reinforcing the British presence.

The last Spanish attack on the British settlement occurred two years after the outbreak of war in 1796. The governor general of Yucat�n commanded a Spanish flotilla of some thirty vessels with some 500 sailors and 2,000 troops and attacked the British colonists in 1798. During several brief engagements culminating in a two-and-a-half-hour battle on September 10, the British drove off the Spanish. The attack marked Spain's last attempt to control the territory or dislodge the British.

Despite treaties banning local government and plantation agriculture, both activities flourished. In the late eighteenth century, an oligarchy of relatively wealthy settlers controlled the political economy of the British settlement. These settlers claimed about four-fifths of the land available under the Convention of London, through resolutions, called location laws, which they passed in the Public Meeting, the name given to the first legislature. These same men also owned about half of all the slaves in the settlement; controlled imports, exports, and the wholesale and retail trades; and determined taxation. A group of magistrates, whom they elected from among themselves, had executive as well as judicial functions, despite a prohibition on executive action.

The landowners resisted any challenge to their growing political power. Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, the first superintendent appointed by the governor of Jamaica in 1784, was suspended in 1789 when the wealthy cutters challenged his authority. When Superintendent George Arthur attacked what he called the "monopoly on the part of the monied cutters" in 1816, he was only partially successful in breaking their monopoly on landholding. He proclaimed that all unclaimed land was henceforth crown land that could be granted only by the crown's representative but continued to allow the existing monopoly of landownership.


Belize - Slavery in the Settlement, 1794-1838


Cutting logwood was a simple, small-scale operation, but the settlers imported slaves to help with the work. Slavery in the settlement was associated with the extraction of timber, first logwood and then mahogany, as treaties forbade the production of plantation crops. This difference in economic function gave rise to variations in the organization, conditions, and treatment of slaves. The earliest reference to African slaves in the British settlement appeared in a 1724 Spanish missionary's account, which stated that the British recently had been importing them from Jamaica and Bermuda. A century later, the total slave population numbered about 2,300. Most slaves, even if they were brought through West Indian markets, were born in Africa, probably from around the Bight of Benin, the Congo, and Angola--the principal sources of British slaves in the late eighteenth century. The Eboe or Ibo seem to have been particularly numerous; one section of Belize Town was known as Eboe Town in the first half of the nineteenth century. At first, many slaves maintained African ethnic identifications and cultural practices. Gradually, however, the process of assimilation was creating a new, synthetic Creole culture.

The whites, although a minority in the settlement, monopolized power and wealth by dominating the chief economic activities of trade and cutting timber. They also controlled the first legislature and the judicial and administrative institutions. As a result, the British settlers had a disproportionate influence on the development of the Creole culture. Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist missionaries helped devalue and suppress African cultural heritage.

Cutting wood was seasonal work that required workers to spend several months isolated in temporary makeshift camps in the forest, away from families in Belize Town. Settlers needed only one or two slaves to cut logwood, a small tree that grows in clumps near the coast. But as the trade shifted to mahogany in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the settlers needed more money, land, and slaves for larger-scale operations. After 1770 about 80 percent of all male slaves aged ten years or more cut timber. Huntsmen found the trees, which were then cut, trimmed, and hauled to the riverside. During the rainy season, settlers and slaves floated rafts of untrimmed logs downriver, where the wood was processed for shipment. Huntsmen were highly skilled and valued slaves, as were the axmen who cut the trees while standing on a springy platform four to five meters high. Another group of slaves cared for the oxen that pulled the huge logs to the river. Others trimmed the trees and cleared the tracks. The use of small gangs of slaves for cutting wood reduced the need for close supervision; whip-wielding drivers, who were ubiquitous on large plantations elsewhere, were unknown in the settlement.

The colonial masters used domestic slaves, mostly women and children, to clean their houses, sew, wash and iron their clothes, prepare and serve their food, and raise their children. Some slaves cultivated provisions that would either be sold or used to save their owners some of the cost of importing food. Other slaves worked as sailors, blacksmiths, nurses, and bakers. Few slaves, however held jobs requiring a high level of skill. Young people started work by waiting on their masters' tables, where they were taught to obey, then most of the young women continued in domestic work while the young men became woodcutters. This rigid division of labor and the narrow range of work experience of most slaves limited their opportunities after legal emancipation in 1838.

The slaves' experience, though different from that on plantations in other colonies in the region, was nevertheless oppressive. They were frequently the objects of "extreme inhumanity," as a report published in 1820 stated. The settlement's chaplain reported "instances, many instances, of horrible barbarity" against the slaves. The slaves' own actions, including suicide, abortion, murder, escape, and revolt, suggest how they viewed their situation. Slaves who lived in small, scattered, and remote groups could escape with relative ease if they were willing to leave their families. In the eighteenth century, many escaped to Yucat�n, and in the early nineteenth century a steady flow of runaways went to Guatemala and down the coast to Honduras. Some runaways established communities, such as one near Sibun River, that offered refuge to others. When freedom could be attained by slipping into the bush, revolt was not such a pressing option. Nevertheless, numerous slave revolts took place. The last revolt in 1820, led by two black slaves, Will and Sharper, involved a considerable number of well-armed individuals who "had been treated with very unnecessary harshness by their Owner, and had certainly good grounds for complaint."

One way the settler minority maintained its control was by dividing the slaves from the growing population of free Creole people who were given limited privileges. Though some Creoles were legally free, they could neither hold commissions in the military nor act as jurors or magistrates, and their economic activities were restricted. They could vote in elections only if they had owned more property and lived in the area longer than whites. Privileges, however, led many free blacks to stress their loyalty and acculturation to British ways. When officials in other colonies of the British West Indies began giving free blacks expanded legal rights, the British Colonial Office threatened to dissolve the Baymen's Public Meeting unless it followed suit. The "Coloured Subjects of Free Condition" were granted civil rights on July 5, 1831, a few years before the abolition of slavery was completed.

The essence of society, a rigidly hierarchical system in which people were ranked according to race and class was well established by the time of full emancipation in 1838. The act to abolish slavery throughout the British colonies, passed in 1833, was intended to avoid drastic social changes by effecting emancipation over a five-year transition period. The act included two generous measures for slave owners: a system of "apprenticeship" calculated to extend their control over the former slaves who were to continue to work for their masters without pay, and compensation for the former slave owners for their loss of property. These measures helped ensure that the majority of the population, even when it was legally freed after apprenticeship ended in 1838, depended on their former owners for work. These owners still monopolized the land. Before 1838, a handful of the inhabitants controlled the settlement and owned most of the people. After 1838, the masters of the settlement, a tiny elite, continued to control the country for over a century by denying access to land, and by promoting economic dependency of the freed slaves through a combination of wage advances and company stores.


Belize - Emigration of the Garifuna


At the same time that the settlement was grappling with the ramifications of the end of slavery, a new ethnic group, the Garifuna appeared. In the early 1800s, the Garifuna, descendants of Carib peoples of the Lesser Antilles and of Africans who had escaped from slavery, arrived in the settlement. The Garifuna had resisted British and French colonialism in the Lesser Antilles until they were defeated by the British in 1796. After putting down a violent Garifuna rebellion on Saint Vincent, the British moved between 1,700 and 5,000 of the Garifuna across the Caribbean to the Bay Islands (present-day Islas de la Bah�a) off the north coast of Honduras. From there they migrated to the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and the southern part of present-day Belize. By 1802 about 150 Garifuna had settled in the Stann Creek (present-day Dangriga) area and were engaged in fishing and farming.

Other Garifuna later came to the British settlement of Belize after finding themselves on the wrong side in a civil war in Honduras in 1832. Many Garifuna men soon found wage work alongside slaves as mahogany cutters. In 1841 Dangriga, the Garifuna's largest settlement, was a flourishing village. The American traveler John Stephens described the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda as having 500 inhabitants and producing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

The British treated Garifuna as squatters. In 1857 the British told the Garifuna that they must obtain leases from the crown or risk losing their lands, dwellings, and other buildings. The 1872 Crown Lands Ordinance established reservations for the Garifuna as well as the Maya. The British prevented both groups from owning land and treated them as a source of valuable labor.



Belize Constitutional Developments, 1850-62

In the 1850s, the power struggle between the superintendent and the planters coincided with events in international diplomacy to produce major constitutional changes. In the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, Britain and the United States agreed to promote the construction of a canal across Central America and to refrain from colonizing any part of Central America. The British government interpreted the colonization clause as applying only to any future occupation. But the United States government claimed that Britain was obliged to evacuate the area, particularly after 1853, when President Franklin Pierce's expansionist administration stressed the Monroe Doctrine. Britain yielded on the Bay Islands and the Mosquito Coast in eastern Nicaragua. But in 1854, Britain produced a formal constitution establishing a legislative for its possession of the settlement in present-day Belize.

The Legislative Assembly of 1854 was to have eighteen elected members, each of whom was to have at least �400 sterling worth of property. The assembly was also to have three official members appointed by the superintendent. The fact that voters had to have property yielding an income of �7 a year or a salary of a �100 a year reinforced the restrictive nature of this legislature. The superintendent could defer or dissolve the assembly at any time, originate legislation, and give or withhold consent to bills. This situation suggested that the legislature was more a chamber of debate than a place where decisions were made. The Colonial Office in London became, therefore, the real political-administrative power in the settlement. This shift in power was reinforced when in 1862, the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras was declared a British colony called British Honduras, and the crown's representative was elevated to a lieutenant governor, subordinate to the governor of Jamaica.


Belize - Mayan Emigration and Conflict


As the British consolidated their settlement and pushed deeper into the interior in search of mahogany in the late eighteenth century, they encountered resistance from the Maya. In the second half of the nineteenth century, however, a combination of events outside and inside the colony redefined the position of the Maya.

During the Caste War in Yucat�n, a devastating struggle that halved the population of the area between 1847 and 1855, thousands of refugees fled to the British settlement. The Legislative Assembly had given large landowners in the colony firm titles to their vast estates in 1855 but did not allow the Maya to own land. The Maya could only rent land or live on reservations. Nevertheless, most of the refugees were small farmers who, by 1857, were growing considerable quantities of sugar, rice, corn, and vegetables in the Northern District (now Corozal and Orange Walk districts). In 1857 the town of Corozal, then six years old, had 4,500 inhabitants, second in population only to Belize Town, which had 7,000 inhabitants. Some Maya, who had fled the strife in the north but had no wish to become subjects of the British, settled in the remote area of the Yalbac Hills, just beyond the woodcutting frontier in the northwest. By 1862 about 1,000 Maya established themselves in ten villages in this area, with the center in San Pedro. One group of Maya, led by Marcos Canul, attacked a mahogany camp on the Bravo River in 1866, demanding ransom for their prisoners and rent for their land. A detachment of British troops sent to San Pedro was defeated by the Maya later that year. Early in 1867, more than 300 British troops marched into the Yalbac Hills and destroyed the Mayan villages, provision stores, and granaries in an attempt to drive them out of the district. The Maya returned, however, and in April 1870, Canul and his men marched into Corozal and occupied the town.

Two years later, Canul and 150 men attacked the barracks at Orange Walk. After several hours of fighting, Canul's group retired. Canul, mortally wounded, died on September 1, 1872. That battle was the last serious attack on the colony.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Mop�n and Kekch� Maya fled from forced labor in Guatemala and came to British Honduras. They settled in several villages in southern British Honduras, mainly around San Antonio in Toledo District. The Maya could use crown lands set aside as reservations, but these people lacked communal rights. Under the policy of indirect rule, a system of elected alcaldes (mayors), adopted from Spanish local government, linked these Maya to the colonial administration. However, the remote area of British Honduras in which they settled, combined with their largely subsistence way of life, resulted in the Mop�n and Kekch� Maya maintaining more of their traditional way of life and becoming less assimilated into the colony than the Maya of the north. The Mop�n and Kekch� Maya maintained their languages and a strong sense of identity. But in the north, the distinction between Maya and Spanish was increasingly blurred, as a Mestizo culture emerged. In different ways and to different degrees, then, the Maya who returned to British Honduras in the nineteenth century became incorporated into the colony as poor and dispossessed ethnic minorities. By the end of the nineteenth century, the ethnic pattern that remained largely intact throughout the twentieth century was in place: Protestants largely of African descent, who spoke either English or Creole and lived in Belize Town; the Roman Catholic Maya and Mestizos who spoke Spanish and lived chiefly in the north and west; and the Roman Catholic Garifuna who spoke English, Spanish, or Garifuna and settled on the southern coast.


Belize - Formal Establishment of the Colony, 1862-71


Largely as a result of the costly military expeditions against the Maya, the expenses of administering the new colony of British Honduras increased, at a time when the economy was severely depressed. Great landowners and merchants dominated the Legislative Assembly, which controlled the colony's revenues and expenditures. Some of the landowners were also involved in commerce but their interest differed from the other merchants of Belize Town. The former group resisted the taxation of land and favored an increase in import duties; the latter preferred the opposite. Moreover, the merchants in the town felt relatively secure from Mayan attacks and were unwilling to contribute toward the protection of mahogany camps, whereas the landowners felt that they should not be required to pay taxes on lands given inadequate protection. These conflicting interests produced a stalemate in the Legislative Assembly, which failed to authorize the raising of sufficient revenue. Unable to agree among themselves, the members of the Legislative Assembly surrendered their political privileges and asked for establishment of direct British rule in return for the greater security of crown colony status. The new constitution was inaugurated in April 1871 and the new legislature became the Legislative Council.

Under the new constitution of 1871, the lieutenant governor and the Legislative Council, consisting of five ex officio or "official" and four appointed or "unofficial" members, governed British Honduras. This constitutional change confirmed and completed a change in the locus and form of power in the colony's political economy that had been evolving during the preceding half century. The change moved power from the old settler oligarchy to the boardrooms of British companies and to the Colonial Office in London.



Belize The Colonial Order, 1871-1931

The forestry industry's control of land and its influence in colonial decision making retarded the development of agriculture and the diversification of the economy. In many parts of the Caribbean, large numbers of former slaves, some of whom had engaged in the cultivation and marketing of food crops, became landowners. British Honduras had vast areas of sparsely populated, unused land. Nevertheless, landownership was controlled by a small European monopoly, thwarting the evolution of a Creole landowning class from the former slaves. Rather than the former slaves, it was the Garifuna, Maya, and Mestizos who pioneered agriculture in nineteenth-century British Honduras. These groups either rented land or lived as squatters. However, the domination of the land by forestry interests continued to stifle agriculture and kept much of the population dependent on imported foods.

Landownership became even more consolidated during the economic depression of the mid-nineteenth century. Exports of mahogany peaked at over 4 million linear meters in 1846 but fell to about 1.6 million linear meters in 1859 and 8,000 linear meters in 1870, the lowest level since the beginning of the century. Mahogany and logwood continued to account for over 80 percent of the total value of exports, but the price of these goods was so low that the economy was in a state of prolonged depression after the 1850s. Major results of this depression included the decline of the old settler class, the increasing consolidation of capital and the intensification of British landownership. The British Honduras Company emerged as the predominant landowner of the crown colony. The firm originated in a partnership between one of the old settler families and a London merchant and was registered in 1859 as a limited company. The firm expanded, often at the expense of others who were forced to sell their land. In 1875 the firm became the Belize Estate and Produce Company, a London-based business that owned about half of all the privately held land in the colony. The new company was the chief force in British Honduras's political economy for over a century.

This concentration and centralization of capital meant that the direction of the colony's economy was henceforth determined largely in London. It also signaled the eclipse of the old settler elite. By about 1890, most commerce in British Honduras was in the hands of a clique of Scottish and German merchants, most of them newcomers. This clique encouraged consumption of imported goods and thus furthered British Honduras's dependence on Britain. The European minority exercised great influence in the colony's politics, partly because it was guaranteed representation on the wholly appointed Legislative Council. The manager of the Belize Estate and Produce Company, for example, was automatically a member of the council, while members of the emerging Creole elite were excluded from holding seats on the council. The Creoles requested in 1890 that some seats on the council be opened to election (as had occurred in Canada and New Zealand) in the hope of winning seats, but the Legislative Council refused. In 1892, the governor appointed several Creole members, but whites remained the majority. In the 1920s, the Colonial Office supported agitation for an elective council as long as the governor had reserve powers to allow him to push through any measures he considered essential without the council's assent. But the council rejected these provisos, and the issue of restoring elections was postponed.

Despite the prevailing stagnation of the colony's economy and society during most of the century prior to the 1930s, seeds of change were being sown. The mahogany trade remained depressed, and efforts to develop plantation agriculture in several crops, including sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas, and coconuts failed. A brief revival in the forestry industry took place early in the twentieth century as new demands for forest products came from the United States. Exports of chicle, a gum taken from the sapodilla tree and used to make chewing gum, propped up the economy from the 1880s. Much of the gum was tapped in Mexican and Guatemalan forests by Mayan chicleros who had been recruited by labor contractors in British Honduras. A short-lived boom in the mahogany trade occurred around 1900 in response to growing demand for the wood in the United States, but the ruthless exploitation of the forests without any conservation or reforestation depleted resources. The introduction of tractors and bulldozers opened up new areas in the west and south in the 1920s, but this development led again to only a temporary revival. At this time, mahogany, cedar, and chicle together accounted for 97 percent of forest production and 82 percent of the total value of exports. The economy, which was increasingly oriented toward trade with the United States, remained dependent and underdeveloped.

Creoles, who were well-connected with businesses in the United States, challenged the traditional political-economic connection with Britain as trade with the United States intensified. Men such as Robert S. Turton, the Creole chicle buyer for Wrigley's of Chicago, and Henry I. Melhado, whose merchant family dealt in illicit liquor during prohibition, became major political and economic figures. In 1927, Creole merchants and professionals replaced the representatives of British landowners, (except for the manager of the Belize Estate and Produce Company) on the Legislative Council. The participation of this Creole elite in the political process was evidence of emerging social changes that were largely concealed by economic stagnation. These changes accelerated with such force in the 1930s that they ushered in a new era of modern politics.


Belize - The Genesis of Modern Politics, 1931-54


The Great Depression shattered the colony's economy, and unemployment increased rapidly. The Colonial Report for 1931 stated that "contracts for the purchase of mahogany and chicle, which form the mainstay of the Colony, practically ceased altogether, thereby throwing a large number of the woodcutters and chicle-gatherers out of work." On top of this economic disaster, the worst hurricane in the country's recent history demolished Belize Town on September 10, 1931, killing more than 1,000 people and destroying at least three-quarters of the housing. The British relief response was tardy and inadequate. The British government seized the opportunity to impose tighter control on the colony and endowed the governor with reserve powers, or the power to enact laws in emergency situations without the consent of the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council resisted but eventually passed a resolution agreeing to give the governor reserve powers in order to obtain disaster aid. Meanwhile, people in the town were making shelters out of the wreckage of their houses. The economy continued to decline in 1932 and 1933. The total value of imports and exports in the latter year was little more than one-fourth of what it had been in 1929.

The Belize Estate and Produce Company survived the depression years because of its special connections in British Honduras and London. Since 1875 various members of the Hoare family had been principal directors and maintained a controlling interest in the company. Sir Samuel Hoare, a shareholder and former director, was a former British cabinet member and a friend of Leo Amery, the British secretary of state for the colonies. In 1931, when the company was suffering from the aftereffects of the hurricane and the depression, family member Oliver V.G. Hoare contacted the Colonial Office to discuss the possibility of selling the company to buyers in the United States. The British government rescued the company by granting it an area of virgin mahogany forest and a loan of US$200,000 to erect a sawmill in Belize Town. When the government almost doubled the land tax, the large landowners refused to pay. The government accepted some virtually worthless land in lieu of taxes and in 1935 capitulated completely, reducing the tax to its former rate and annulling the landowners' arrears by making them retroactive to 1931. But small landowners had paid their taxes, often at a higher rate.

Robert Turton, the Creole millionaire who made his fortune from chicle exports, defeated C.H. Brown, the expatriate manager of the company, in the first elections for some of the Legislative Council seats in 1936. After the elections, the governor promptly appointed Brown to the council, presumably to maintain the influence of what had for so long been the colony's chief business. But Brown's defeat by Turton, one of the company's chief local business rivals, marked the decline of old British enterprises in relation to the rising Creole entrepreneurs with their United States commercial connections.

Meanwhile, the Belize Estate and Produce Company drove Mayan villagers from their homes in San Jose and Yalbac in the northwest and treated workers in mahogany camps almost like slaves. Investigators of labor conditions in the 1930s were appalled to discover that workers received rations of inferior flour and mess pork and tickets to be exchanged at the commissaries, in lieu of cash wages. As a result, workers and their families suffered from malnutrition and were continually in debt to their employers. The law governing labor contracts, the Masters and Servants Act of 1883, made it a criminal offense for a laborer to breach a contract. The offense was punishable by twenty-eight days of imprisonment with hard labor. In 1931 the governor, Sir John Burdon, rejected proposals to legalize trade unions and to introduce a minimum wage and sickness insurance. The conditions, aggravated by rising unemployment and the disastrous hurricane, were responsible for severe hardship among the poor. The poor responded in 1934 with a series of demonstrations, strikes, petitions, and riots that marked the beginning of modern politics and the independence movement.

Riots, strikes, and rebellions had occurred before, during and after the period of slavery, but the events of the 1930s were modern labor disturbances in the sense that they gave rise to organizations with articulate industrial and political goals. In 1894 mahogany workers rioted against a cut in their real wages caused by devaluation. In 1919 demobilized Creole servicemen protested British racism. But British troops soon stopped these spontaneous protests, which were indicative of discontent but had little lasting effect. In contrast, a group calling itself the Unemployed Brigade marched through Belize Town on February 14, 1934, to present demands to the governor and started a broad movement. Poor people, in desperation, turned to the governor, who responded by creating a little relief work--stone-breaking for US$0.10 a day. The governor also offered a daily ration of two kilograms of cooked rice at the prison gates.

The unemployed, demanding a cash dole, turned to Antonio Soberanis G�mez (1897-1975), who denounced the Unemployed Brigade's leaders at a meeting on March 16, 1934, and took over the movement. For the next few weeks, Soberanis and his colleagues of the Labourers and Unemployed Association (LUA) attacked the governor and his officials, the rich merchants, and the Belize Estate and Produce Company at biweekly meetings attended by 600 to 800 people. The workers demanded relief and a minimum wage. They couched their demands in broad moral and political terms that began to define and develop a new nationalistic and democratic political culture.

Soberanis was jailed under a new sedition law in 1935. Still, the labor agitation achieved a great deal. Of most immediate importance was the creation of relief work by a governor who saw it as a way to avoid civil disturbances. Workers built more than 300 kilometers of roads. The governor also pressed for a semirepresentative government. But when the new constitution was passed in April 1935, it included the restrictive franchise demanded by the appointed majority of the Legislative Council, which had no interest in furthering democracy. High voter- eligibility standards for property and income limited the electorate to the wealthiest 2 percent of the population. Poor people, therefore, could not vote; they could only support members of the Creole middle classes that opposed big-business candidates. The Citizens' Political Party and the LUA endorsed Robert Turton and Arthur Balderamos, a Creole lawyer, who formed the chief opposition in the new council of 1936. Working-class agitation continued, and in 1939 all six seats on the Belize Town Board (the voting requirements allowed for a more representative electorate) went to middle-class Creoles who appeared more sympathetic to labor.

The greatest achievements of the agitation of the 1930s were the labor reforms passed between 1941 and 1943. Trade unions were legalized in 1941, but the laws did not require employers to recognize these unions. Furthermore, the penal clauses of the old Masters and Servants Act rendered the new rights ineffectual. Employers among the unofficial members at the Legislative Council defeated a bill to repeal these penal clauses in August 1941, but the Employers and Workers Bill, passed on April 27, 1943, finally removed breach-of-labor-contract from the criminal code and enabled British Honduras's infant trade unions to pursue the struggle for improving labor conditions. The General Workers' Union (GWU), registered in 1943, quickly expanded into a nationwide organization and provided crucial support for the nationalist movement that took off with the formation of the People's United Party (PUP) in 1950. The 1930s were therefore the crucible of modern Belizean politics. It was a decade during which the old phenomena of exploitative labor conditions and authoritarian colonial and industrial relations began to give way to new labor and political processes and institutions.

The same period saw an expansion in voter eligibility. Between 1939 and 1954, less than 2 percent of the population elected six members in the Legislative Council of thirteen members. In 1945 only 822 voters were registered in a population of over 63,000. The proportion of voters increased slightly in 1945, partly because the minimum age for women voters was reduced from thirty to twenty-one years. The devaluation of the British Honduras dollar in 1949 effectively reduced the property and income voter-eligibility standards. Finally, in 1954 British Honduras achieved suffrage for all literate adults as a result of the emerging independence movement. This development was a prelude to the process of constitutional decolonization.

The origins of the independence movement also lay in the 1930s and 1940s. Three groups played important roles in the colony's politics during this period. One group consisted of working-class individuals and emphasized labor issues. This group originated with Soberanis's LUA between 1934 and 1937 and continued through the GWU. The second group, a radical nationalist movement, emerged during World War II. Its leaders came from the LUA and the local branch of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. The group called itself variously the British Honduras Independent Labour Party, the People's Republican Party, and the People's National Committee. The third group consisted of people who engaged in electoral politics within the narrow limits defined by the constitution and whose goals included a "Natives First" campaign and an extension of the franchise to elect a more representative government.

In 1947 a group of graduates of the elite Saint John's College won control of the Belize City Council and started a newspaper, the Belize Billboard. One member of this group, George Cadle Price, topped the polls in the 1947 election when he opposed immigration schemes and import controls and rode a wave of feeling against a British proposal for a federation of its colonies in the Caribbean. Price was an eclectic and pragmatic politician whose ideological position was often obscured under a cloak of religious values and quotations. He has remained the predominant politician in the country since the early 1950s.

The event that precipitated Price's political career and the formation of the PUP, was the devaluation of the British Honduras dollar on December 31, 1949. In September 1949, the British government devalued the British pound sterling. In spite of repeated denials by the governor that the British Honduras dollar would be devalued to maintain the old exchange rate with the British pound, devaluation was nevertheless effected by the governor, using his reserve powers in defiance of the Legislative Council. The governor's action angered the nationalists because it reflected the limits of the legislature and revealed the extent of the colonial administration's power. The devaluation enraged labor because it protected the interests of the big transnationals, such as the Belize Estate and Produce Company, whose trade in British pounds would have suffered without devaluation while it subjected British Honduras's working class, already experiencing widespread unemployment and poverty, to higher prices for goods--especially food--imported from the United States. Devaluation thus united labor, nationalists, and the Creole middle classes in opposition to the colonial administration. On the night that the governor declared the devaluation, the People's Committee was formed and the nascent independence movement suddenly matured.

Between 1950 and 1954, the PUP, formed upon the dissolution of the People's Committee on September 29, 1950, consolidated its organization, established its popular base, and articulated its primary demands. Belize Billboard editors Philip Goldson and Leigh Richardson were prominent members of the PUP. They gave the party their full support through anticolonial editorials. The PUP received the crucial support of the GWU, whose president, Clifford Betson, was one of the original members of the People's Committee. Before the end of January 1950, the GWU and the People's Committee were holding joint public meetings and discussing issues such as devaluation, labor legislation, the proposed West Indies Federation, and constitutional reform. The GWU was the only mass organization of working people, so the early success of the PUP would have been impossible without the support of this union. On April 28, however, the middle-class members of the People's Committee (formerly members of the Christian Social Action Group, to which the founders of the Belize Billboard belonged) took over the leadership of the union and gave Betson the dubious honorific title of "patriarch of the union." A year later, George Price, the secretary of the PUP, became vice president of the union. The political leaders took control of the union to use its strength, but the union movement declined as it became increasingly dependent upon politicians in the 1950s.

The PUP concentrated on agitating for constitutional reforms, including universal adult suffrage without a literacy test, an all- elected Legislative Council, an Executive Council chosen by the leader of the majority party in the legislature, the introduction of a ministerial system, and the abolition of the governor's reserve powers. In short, PUP pushed for representative and responsible government. The colonial administration, alarmed by the growing support for the PUP, retaliated by attacking two of the party's chief public platforms. In July 1951, the governor dissolved the Belize City Council on the pretext that it had shown disloyalty by refusing to display a picture of King George VI. Then, in October, the governor charged Belize Billboard publishers and owners, including Richardson and Goldson, with sedition. The governor jailed them for twelve months with hard labor. Soon after, PUP leader John Smith resigned because the party would not agree to fly the British flag at public meetings. The removal of three of four chief leaders was a blow to the party, but the events left Price in a powerful position. In 1952 he comfortably topped the polls in Belize City Council elections. Within just two years, despite persecution and division, the PUP had become a powerful political force, and George Price had clearly become the party's leader.

The colonial administration and the National Party, which consisted of loyalist members of the Legislative Council, portrayed the PUP as pro-Guatemalan and even communist. The leaders of the PUP, however, perceived British Honduras as belonging to neither Britain nor Guatemala. The governor and the National Party failed in their attempts to discredit the PUP on the issue of its contacts with Guatemala, which was then ruled by the democratic, reformist government of President Jacobo Arbenz. When voters went to the polls on April 28, 1954, in the first election under universal literate adult suffrage, the main issue was clearly colonialism--a vote for the PUP was a vote in favor of self-government. Almost 70 percent of the electorate voted. The PUP gained 66.3 percent of the vote and won eight of the nine elected seats in the new Legislative Assembly. Further constitutional reform was unequivocally on the agenda.




British Honduras faced two obstacles to independence: British reluctance until the early 1960s to allow citizens to govern themselves, and Guatemala's complete intransigence over its long- standing claim to the entire territory (Guatemala had repeatedly threatened to use force to take over British Honduras). By 1961, Britain was willing to let the colony become independent. From 1964 Britain controlled only defense, foreign affairs, internal security, and the terms and conditions of the public service. On June 1, 1973, the colony's name was changed to Belize in anticipation of independence. After 1975 Britain allowed the colonial government to internationalize its case for independence, so Belizeans participated in international diplomacy even before the area became a sovereign nation. The stalemate in the protracted negotiations between Britain and Guatemala over the future status of Belize led Belizeans to seek the international community's assistance in resolving issues associated with independence. Even after Belize became independent in 1981, however, the territorial dispute remained unsettled.

The territorial dispute's origins lay in the eighteenth-century treaties in which Britain acceded to Spain's assertion of sovereignty while British settlers continued to occupy the sparsely settled and ill-defined area. The 1786 Convention of London, which affirmed Spanish sovereignty was never renegotiated, but Spain never attempted to reclaim the area after 1798. Subsequent treaties between Britain and Spain failed to mention the British settlement. By the time Spain lost control of Mexico and Central America in 1821, Britain had extended its control over the area, albeit informally and unsystematically. By the 1830s, Britain regarded the entire territory between the Hondo River and Sarstoon River as British.

The independent republics that emerged from the disintegrating Spanish Empire in the 1820s claimed that they had inherited Spain's sovereign rights in the area. Britain, however, never accepted such a doctrine. Based on this doctrine of inheritance, Mexico and Guatemala asserted claims to Belize. Mexico once claimed the portion of British Honduras north of the Sibun River but dropped the claim in a treaty with Britain in 1893. Since then, Mexico has stated that it would revive the claim only if Guatemala were successful in obtaining all or part of the nation. Still, Mexico was the first nation to recognize Belize as an independent country.

At the center of Guatemala's claim was the 1859 treaty between Britain and Guatemala. From Britain's viewpoint, this treaty merely settled the boundaries of an area already under British dominion. But Guatemala later developed the view that this agreement was a treaty of cession through which Guatemala would give up its territorial claims only under certain conditions, including the construction of a road from Guatemala to the Caribbean coast. Guatemala said it would repudiate the treaty in 1884 but never followed up on the threat. The dispute appeared to have been forgotten until the 1930s, when the government of General Jorge Ubico claimed that the treaty was invalid because the road had not been constructed. Britain argued that because neither the short- lived Central American Federation (1821-39) nor Guatemala had ever exercised any authority in the area or even protested the British presence in the nineteenth century, British Honduras was clearly under British sovereignty. In its constitution of 1945, however, Guatemala stated that British Honduras was the twenty-third department of Guatemala. Since 1954 a succession of military and right-wing governments in Guatemala frequently whipped up nationalist sentiment, generally to divert attention from domestic problems. Guatemala has also periodically massed troops on the border with the country in a threatening posture.

Negotiations between Britain and Guatemala began again in 1961, but the elected representatives of British Honduras had no voice in these talks. George Price refused an invitation from Guatemalan President Yd�goras Fuentes to make British Honduras an "associated state" of Guatemala. Price reiterated his goal of leading the colony to independence. In 1963 Guatemala broke off talks and ended diplomatic relations with Britain. In 1965 Britain and Guatemala agreed to have a United States lawyer, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, mediate the dispute. The lawyer's draft treaty proposed giving Guatemala so much control over the newly independent country, including internal security, defense, and external affairs, that Belize would have become more dependent on Guatemala than it was already on Britain. The United States supported the proposals. All parties in British Honduras, however, denounced the proposals, and Price seized the initiative by demanding independence from Britain with appropriate defense guarantees.

A series of meetings, begun in 1969, ended abruptly in 1972 when Britain announced it was sending an aircraft carrier and 8,000 troops to Belize to conduct amphibious exercises. Guatemala then massed troops on the border. Talks resumed between 1973 and 1975 but again broke off as tensions flared. At this point, the Belizean and British governments, frustrated at dealing with the military- dominated regimes in Guatemala, agreed on a new strategy that would take the case for self-determination to various international forums. The Belize government felt that by gaining international support, it could strengthen its position, weaken Guatemala's claims, and make it harder for Britain to make any concessions.

Belize argued that Guatemala frustrated the country's legitimate aspirations to independence and that Guatemala was pushing an irrelevant claim and disguising its own colonial ambitions by trying to present the dispute as an effort to recover territory lost to a colonial power. Between 1975 and 1981, Belizean leaders stated their case for self-determination at a meeting of the heads of Commonwealth of Nations governments in Jamaica, the conference of ministers of the Nonaligned Movement in Peru, and at meetings of the United Nations (UN). The support of the Nonaligned Movement proved crucial and assured success at the UN.

Latin American governments initially supported Guatemala. Cuba, however, was the first Latin country, in December 1975, to support Belize in a UN vote that affirmed Belize's right to self- determination, independence, and territorial integrity. The outgoing Mexican president, Luis Echeverr�a Alvarez, indicated that Mexico would appeal to the Security Council to prevent Guatemala's designs on Belize from threatening peace in the area. In 1976 President Omar Torrijos of Panama began campaigning for Belize's cause, and in 1979 the Sandinista government in Nicaragua declared unequivocal support for an independent Belize.

In each of the annual votes on this issue in the UN, the United States abstained, thereby giving the Guatemalan government some hope that it would retain United States backing. Finally, in November 1980, with Guatemala completely isolated, the UN passed a resolution that demanded the independence of Belize, with all its territory intact, before the next session of the UN in 1981. The UN called on Britain to continue defending the new nation of Belize. It also called on all member countries to offer their assistance.

A last attempt was made to reach an agreement with Guatemala prior to the independence of Belize. The Belizean representatives to the talks made no concessions, and a proposal, called the Heads of Agreement, was initialed on March 11, 1981. However, when ultraright political forces in Guatemala labeled the proposals as a sellout, the Guatemalan government refused to ratify the agreement and withdrew from the negotiations. Meanwhile, the opposition in Belize engaged in violent demonstrations against the Heads of Agreement. The demonstrations resulted in four deaths, many injuries, and damage to the property of PUP leaders and their families. A state of emergency was declared. However, the opposition could offer no real alternatives. With the prospect of independence celebrations in the offing, the opposition's morale fell. Independence came to Belize on September 21, 1981, without reaching an agreement with Guatemala.


Belize - The Society and Its Environment


BELIZE IS A CULTURAL ANOMALY in Central America, with a society oriented more to Britain, the English-speaking Caribbean countries, and North America, than to neighboring Spanish-speaking republics. During the 1980s, efforts to forge a common national identity among a small, multiethnic population challenged the colonial orientations of Belizean society. Regional conflicts, migration, and intensified relationships with the United States also posed challenges.

The deepening of social, economic, and political ties to the United States during the 1980s prompted critics in Belize and abroad to complain that the country merely exchanged one colonial master for another. In addition, emigration of Belizeans to the United States and of Central Americans to Belize further challenged Belizean society, which was already deeply divided by differences of ethnicity, race, and class.



Belize Boundaries, Area, and Relative Size

Belize is located on the Caribbean coast of northern Central America. It shares a border on the north with the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on the west with the Guatemalan department of Pet�n, and on the south with the Guatemalan department of Izabal. To the east in the Caribbean Sea, the second-longest barrier reef in the world flanks much of the 386 kilometers of predominantly marshy coastline. Small cay islands totaling about 690 square kilometers, dot the reef. The area of the country totals 22,960 square kilometers, an area slightly larger than El Salvador or Massachusetts. The abundance of lagoons along the coasts and in the northern interior reduces the actual land area to 21,400 square kilometers.

Belize is shaped like a rectangle that extends about 280 kilometers north-south and about 100 kilometers east-west, with a total land boundary length of 516 kilometers. The undulating courses of two rivers, the Hondo and the Sarstoon, define much of the course of the country's northern and southern boundaries. The western border follows no natural features and runs north-south through lowland forest and highland plateau.

<>Physical Features
<>Natural Resources


Belize - Geology


Belizean geology consists largely of varieties of limestone, with the notable exception of the Maya Mountains, a large intrusive block of granite and other Paleozoic sediments running northeast to southwest across the south-central part of the country. Several major faults rive these highlands, but much of Belize lies outside the tectonically active zone that underlies most of Central America. During the Cretaceous period, what is now the western part of the Maya Mountains stood above sea level, creating the oldest land surface in Central America, the Mountain Pine Ridge plateau.

The hilly regions surrounding the Maya Mountains are formed from Cretaceous limestone. These areas are characterized by a karst topography that is typified by numerous sinkholes, caverns, and underground streams. In contrast to the Mountain Pine Ridge, some of the soils in these regions are quite fertile and have been cultivated during at least the past 4,000 years.

Much of the northern half of Belize lies on the Yucat�n Platform, a tectonically stable region. Although mostly level, this part of the country also has occasional areas of hilly, karst terrain, such as the Yalbac Hills along the western border with Guatemala and the Manatee Hills between Belize City and Dangriga. Alluvial deposits of varying fertility cover the relatively flat landscapes of the coastal plains.


Belize - Physical Features


Topographical features divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 meters, with the highest point being Victoria Peak (1,120 meters) in the Cockscomb Mountains. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.

The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savannah and hardwood forest.

The interlocking networks of rivers, creeks, and lagoons have played a key role in the historical geography of Belize. The largest and most historically important river is the Belize, which drains more than one-quarter of the country as it winds along the northern edge of the Maya Mountains across the center of the country to the sea near Belize City. Also known as the Old River, the Belize River is navigable up to the Guatemalan border and served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century. Other historically important rivers include the Sibun, which drains the northeastern edge of the Maya Mountains, and the New River, which flows through the northern sugar-growing areas before emptying into Chetumal Bay. Both of these river valleys possess fertile alluvial soils and have supported considerable cultivation and human settlement.


Belize - Natural Resources


Although a number of economically important minerals exist in Belize, none has been found in quantities large enough to warrant their mining. These minerals include dolomite, barite (source of barium), bauxite (source of aluminum), cassite (source of tin), and gold. In 1990 limestone, used in roadbuilding, was the only mineral resource being exploited for either domestic or export use.

The similarity of Belizean geology to that of oil-producing areas of Mexico and Guatemala prompted oil companies, principally from the United States, to explore for petroleum at both offshore and on-land sites in the early 1980s. Initial results were promising, but the pace of exploration slowed later in the decade, and production operations never commenced. As a result, Belize remains almost totally dependent on imported petroleum for its energy needs. However, the country does possess considerable potential for hydroelectric and other renewable energy resources, such as solar and biomass. In the mid-1980s, one Belizean businessman even proposed the construction of a wood-burning power station for the production of electricity, but the idea foundered in the wake of ecological concerns and economic constraints.


Belize - Climate


Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean. Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24� C in January to 27� C in July. Temperatures are slightly higher inland, except for the southern highland plateaus, such as the Mountain Pine Ridge, where it is noticeably cooler year round. Overall, the seasons are marked more by differences in humidity and rainfall than in temperature.

Average rainfall varies considerably, ranging from 1,350 millimeters in the north and west to over 4,500 millimeters in the extreme south. Seasonal differences in rainfall are greatest in the northern and central regions of the country where, between January and April or May, fewer than 100 millimeters of rain fall per month. The dry season is shorter in the south, normally only lasting from February to April. A shorter, less rainy period, known locally as the "little dry," usually occurs in late July or August, after the initial onset of the rainy season.

Hurricanes have played key--and devastating--roles in Belizean history. In 1931 an unnamed hurricane destroyed over two-thirds of the buildings in Belize City and killed more than 1,000 people. In 1955 Hurricane Janet leveled the northern town of Corozal. Only six years later, Hurricane Hattie struck the central coastal area of the country, with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour and four-meter storm tides. The devastation of Belize City for the second time in thirty years prompted the relocation of the capital some eighty kilometers inland to the planned city of Belmopan. The most recent hurricane to devastate Belize was Hurricane Greta, which caused more than US$25 million in damages along the southern coast in 1978.


Belize - Population

Belize Size, Growth, and Distribution

Perhaps the most pronounced feature of the Belizean population, aside from its ethnic heterogeneity, is its small size. In 1980 the population was estimated at approximately 145,000. Slightly more than 50 percent of the people resided in eight urban areas, with more than 30 percent in Belize City. By 1990, the pattern of population distribution had changed, with 51.8 percent of the approximately 191,000 Belizeans living in rural areas. The growth in the rural population during the 1980s stemmed primarily from the influx of Central American immigrants who moved to Belize's countryside. Meanwhile, many urban Belizeans moved to the United States and elsewhere. Even with the increase in its overall population, Belize remained one of the least densely populated countries in the Americas, averaging 8.5 persons per square kilometer in 1991.

Belize is divided administratively into six districts: Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. In 1991, more than one in three Belizeans lived in Belize District (including Belize City), which had a population density five times greater than the least populated district, Toledo.

As in many other developing societies, the Belizean population was unevenly divided by age and gender. The ratio of males and females in the population varied considerably over the last century. In the 1980s, males outnumbered females in most age groups. Shifts in the gender ratio have generally been attributed to changing migration patterns. In the 1940s and 1950s the emigration stream was predominantly male, but recently, women emigrants outnumbered men.

Consistent with the demographic profile of most developing nations was the general youthfulness of the Belizean population. In 1990 some 46 percent of Belizeans were fourteen years of age or younger and some 58 percent were under the age of twenty. Regular declines in the death rate have steadily increased the proportion of the population sixty-five years of age and older, to 4.6 percent in 1980.

The average crude birthrate for Belize experienced slow but steady decline, from 44.1 per 1,000 population in 1963 to 35.0 per 1,000 in 1990. The average fertility rate also dropped from nearly 7 children per woman in the late 1960s to 5.4 in 1985. Coupled with declining death and infant mortality rates, the high birthrate between 1970 and 1980 indicated a potential population increase of more than 3.0 percent for the decade. However, the actual increase between 1970 and 1980 was only 1.9 percent, indicating a very high rate of emigration, perhaps involving as many as one in every eight Belizeans. During the 1980s, the rate of natural population increase was about 3.0 percent for the decade. The difference between projected and actual population increase for the period 1980-1990 was considerably less than in the 1970s, as the actual rate of increase was some 2.4 percent. The closer correspondence of these two figures reflected not so much a decline in emigration by Belizeans, as the scale and demographic impact of the immigration from the surrounding Central American republics.


Updated population figures for Belize.


Belize - Migration


Continuous migration has made it difficult to determine accurately the size and social composition of the Belizean population and to project future growth. Although small numbers of Belizeans have emigrated to Britain, Canada, and the West Indies, the principal destination of most Belizean emigrants has been the United States. Estimates of the Belizean population in the United States have varied between 30,000 and 100,000. The United States Embassy in Belize has estimated that in 1984, about 55,000 Belizeans were residing in the United States, with two of three living there illegally. Settling primarily in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans, most of these emigrants were either Creole or Garifuna. Their remittances, estimated at US$11 million in 1984, played an important role in the subsistence of many Belizean households, especially in Belize City and Dangriga. Later estimates were that as many as 65,000 Belizeans were living in the United States by mid-1988, with the majority ranging in age from twenty to thirty-four.

Estimates of the immigrant population in Belize also varied widely. According to the 1980 census, more than 10 percent of the population, or roughly 15,000 people, were born in other countries. One of two immigrants came from either Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, or El Salvador. By the late 1980s, these figures were considerably higher because immigration continued, albeit on a lesser scale, over the course of the decade. The percentages of immigrants who were from Mexico and Central America, the numbers of foreign-born refugees, and the numbers of Belizeans who had been born in other countries all increased. The number of Salvadoran refugees living in Belize was estimated at between 2,000 and 15,000 in the late 1980s, and recent studies claim that between 25,000 and 31,000 citizens of neighboring republics had entered the country since 1977.

The presence of these "aliens," as they were popularly known, was visible in Belize. As of 1991, Salvadoran and Guatemalan vendors lined the sidewalks of Belize City's main commercial street and were prominent in the marketplaces of Orange Walk, Dangriga, and especially the capital, Belmopan. Belizeans derisively dubbed a recently developed satellite shantytown in Belmopan as "Salvapan." Along the remote Hummingbird and Southern highways, the fields of the new migrants cut dramatic swaths in the previously uninhabited forest. This situation raised environmentalists' concerns about soil erosion. Although Central American immigrants have settled throughout the country, they have been most heavily concentrated in the rural areas of Cayo and Toledo districts.

The emigration of English-speaking Creoles and Garifuna to the United States and the immigration of Spanish-speaking Mestizos from Central America exacerbated ethnic tensions and challenged long-held assumptions regarding the character of Belizean culture, which has traditionally been oriented toward the English-speaking Caribbean. Although they comprised only 40 percent of the total population in 1980, Creoles long considered Belize "their" country--black, English-speaking, and Protestant. Moreover, Guatemala's persistent claim to Belize's territory caused many Belizeans, especially Creoles, to be antagonistic toward Hispanic culture. A key problem in the drive toward building the Belizean nation was the substitution of an ideology of cultural pluralism for undisputed Creole cultural dominance. Neither educational efforts nor political rhetoric has been completely successful in this regard. Indeed, by the early 1990s, many Belizeans were apprehensive of increasing ethnic tension.




Belize Ethnicity

The most salient characteristic of Belizean society in the late 1980s was ethnic diversity. Ethnicity in Belize was not reduced to race, but instead referred to the collective identities formed through a complex interplay of racial, linguistic, and religious factors, as well as a sense of shared history and custom.

The two largest ethnic groups together constituted almost three-quarters of the population. The 1980 census listed 39.7 percent of the population as Creole, a group usually defined as English speakers descended wholly or in part from African slaves imported to work in the colonial mahogany industry. The 1980 census combined the previously separate "black" and "coloured" segments of the population into a single group. Consequently, there was considerable physical diversity among people listed as Creole. A folk system of racial classification further hierarchically divided Creoles on the basis of such physical features as skin shade, facial features, and hair texture. Despite political independence, the colonial social bias toward "clear" or light skin and European features endured in contemporary Belizean society.

The second largest group, comprising one-third of the population, was identified as Mestizos, or persons of mixed Hispanic-Amerindian origin. In the local Creole vernacular, the Mestizos were known as "Spanish." The physical appearance of the Mestizos varied but not to the extent that it varied among Creoles. Most Belizean Mestizos were descended from refugees of the midnineteenth -century Caste War of Yucat�n. The majority of them settled in the northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk, where they initiated the cultivation of sugarcane in Belize.

Migration during the 1980s had a major impact on the demographic balance between the two largest ethnic groups. As of 1991, the government had not released figures on ethnic identity from the 1990 census, but census officials predicted that Mestizos would equal or outnumber Creoles.

The third largest ethnic population comprised three distinct groups: the Yucatecan, Mop�n, and Kekch� Maya. In 1980 one in ten Belizeans belonged to one of the three groups. Belizeans commonly referred to the Yucatecan and Mop�n peoples as Maya. Contrary to the statements of colonial historians, some of these Mayan peoples were indeed descendants of the inhabitants of pre-Columbian Belize. Most Kekch� and Mop�n, however, emigrated from Guatemala in the late nineteenth century.

The Garifuna, formerly known as the Black Carib, were Belize's fourth largest ethnic grouping, constituting 7 percent of the population in 1980. Descended from African slaves who intermarried with Amerindian inhabitants of the eastern Caribbean islands, the Garifuna were deported to the Gulf of Honduras by the British in the late eighteenth century. Some Garifuna migrated to the southern Belizean coast, where they established five major settlements. Initially fishermen and subsistence farmers, the Garifuna were gradually incorporated into wage labor in the mahogany industry as early as the 1820s, and later on in the banana and citrus plantations that developed in the Stann Creek Valley and elsewhere in the early twentieth century. Over the course of the twentieth century, an increasing number of Garifuna men became migrant workers, first along the Caribbean coast of Central America, and later in the United States.

Smaller ethnic groups--East Indians (whose forebears came from present-day India), Arabs, Chinese, and Euro-Americans, including a sizeable community of German-speaking Mennonites--made up the remaining 10 present of Belize's population. Of these groups, the East Indian population was the largest. They were largely descendants of nineteenth-century indentured laborers imported to work the sugar plantations of the Corozal and Toledo districts. By the late 1980s, they had intermarried extensively with other ethnic groups, and for the most part, they no longer possessed an identifiably East Indian culture. They lived in all of the country's six districts, but were concentrated in Toledo.

There was a second, and much smaller, East Indian community in Belize, composed of Hindi-speaking traders who immigrated to Belize from Bombay in the 1960s. Living primarily in Belize City and Orange Walk, they formed an aloof, close-knit community that, by the late 1980s, dominated Belize City retail trade and played a major role in currency exchange and speculation.

The smallest ethnic groups--Arabs and Chinese--were also exclusively urban, mercantile populations. Known variously as Turks, Syrians, and Lebanese, many Belizean Arabs were actually Palestinian. Immigrating to Belize in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they figured prominently as merchants in the Belize and Cayo districts.

A significant number of Chinese were imported as contract laborers in the nineteenth century, but virtually all Chinese people living in Belize today came to the country in the twentieth century. Most resided in Belize City, but at least a few Chinese families lived in every major town. Some were merchants but most worked in the restaurant and lottery industries. In the late 1980s, the Chinese population increased dramatically with immigration from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Belize's small, German-speaking Mennonite population emigrated from Mexico between 1958 and 1962. Numbering more than 5,000, the Mennonites founded numerous settlements in the Orange Walk, Cayo, and Toledo districts. The government granted them complete autonomy over their communities. Nevertheless, they have been slowly integrated into the life of the nation, particularly into the economy. The more progressive Mennonites of Spanish Lookout (Cayo District) and Blue Creek (Orange Walk District) became important suppliers of poultry, eggs, dairy products, and furniture. Still, they remained exempt from military service and were not allowed to vote.

Aside from the Mennonites, the majority of Belize's small white population were British and United States expatriates. Unlike some other Caribbean societies, Belize never supported a large European settler community during the colonial period. Since independence, a large, transient population of United States and British volunteers and international aid personnel has augmented the local European population. In 1986 the United States Peace Corps alone had more than 200 volunteers, the corps's highest volunteer-to- population ratio in the world. By 1991, however, the number of Peace Corps volunteers had dropped to less than 100.

The distribution of officially recognized ethnic groups was highly skewed by region, and each district had its own characteristic cultural orientation. Creoles made up three-quarters of the population of Belize City and the surrounding area but no more than one-third of the population in the other five districts. Mestizos constituted two-thirds of the people in the northern sugar-producing districts of Orange Walk and Corozal, one-half the population of the predominantly agricultural Cayo district, but only about one-tenth of the population in Belize, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Garifuna lived mostly along the coasts of the two southernmost districts of Stann Creek and Toledo; they made up fewer than 3 percent of the population in any of the other four districts. The majority of the country's diverse Mayan population resided mainly in the interior of Toledo (where they constituted some 57 percent of the district's people) and the rural areas of Stann Creek, Orange Walk, and Corozal.

<>Cultural Pluralism and Ethnic Diversity


Belize - Language


English was the only official language in Belize, but other languages were commonplace. The 1980 census revealed that slightly more than one-half the population spoke English as their first language, and approximately one-third spoke Spanish. In the Corozal and Orange Walk districts, Spanish was the first language of 75 percent of the population, and fewer than 20 percent spoke English by preference. Smaller numbers spoke Mayan dialects, Garifuna, and Low German. The census also estimated that some 62 percent of all Belizeans were bilingual or trilingual. As many as 80 percent of the population were able to speak some English.

The census, however, failed to differentiate between standard English and the local vernacular, Belizean Creole. Some of the people considered to be English speakers could speak only Belizean Creole or "Broad Creole," while others spoke standard English as well. Language competency was largely related to social stratification. English speakers of higher socioeconomic status and education could switch with relative ease between standard English and Belizean Creole. The English-speaking urban and rural poor possessed more limited degrees of competency in standard English.

Linguistic diversity among the English-speaking population reflected and perpetuated social inequality. In Belizean schools, for example, standard English was the sole language of instruction. Studies have shown that students who came to school lacking proficiency in standard English suffered significant problems in comprehension and were often classified by teachers as slow, or problem learners.


Belize - Religion


Observers frequently note that Belizeans are a particularly religious people, with almost all the population declaring a specific religious preference in 1980. Indeed, religious institutions were a ubiquitous presence in Belize, especially in the school system, which the Roman Catholic Church and the state managed together. Belize was no longer the intense battleground between competing missionary denominations that it had been in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, numerous foreign missionaries, mostly evangelical Protestants from the United States, worked in the country in the 1980s.

Of the country's nine major religious groups, the Roman Catholics were the largest, with more than three in five Belizeans claiming to be followers. Anglicans and Methodists comprised the two largest Protestant denominations, although they were steadily losing ground to fundamentalist and evangelical sects, such as the Pentecostalists and Seventh-Day Adventists.

Religion was strongly--but not exclusively--associated with ethnicity and region. Catholicism unified most Mestizos, Maya, and Garifuna. Most Creoles were either Anglican or Methodist, but a significant number converted to Roman Catholicism, mainly because of proselytization in Roman Catholic schools. Roman Catholics made up at least 70 percent of the population of all districts, but in Belize City and environs, they made up only 43 percent of the population. In the last two decades, however, evangelical Protestant groups have been particularly successful in making inroads among Creoles, Mestizos, and Maya in Corozal, Orange Walk, and Cayo districts.

A wide range of smaller denominations also flourished in Belize. These groups included Mormons, fundamentalist Protestants, Hindus, and Bahais. Among the Creoles and the Garifuna, there were also small, but socially significant, Black Muslim and Rastafarian communities.

Official census categories, however, oversimplified religious identity in Belize. Some syncretic beliefs and practices could not be easily categorized. Many Garifuna, for example, while nominally Catholic, continued to uphold their traditional beliefs and practices, such as the dugu ritual, through which they honored their ancestors and perpetuated their distinctive cultural identity. The Catholicism of many Maya was similarly inflected with aspects of their own cultural traditions. Among Creoles, the belief in obeah, or witchcraft, endured, particularly among the older generations of the urban and rural poor.


Belize - Cultural Pluralism and Ethnic Diversity


Belize might appear to be the archetypical postcolonial "plural society," a mosaic of discrete cultural groups with their own value systems and institutional forms, joined together only by the forces of the marketplace and coercive authority. Indeed, a number of scholars have described Belize as split between two cultural complexes--one English-speaking, and Creole, and the other Spanishspeaking , and Mestizo. Belizean social and cultural diversity was, however, much more complex than this bipolar model suggests. Language and religion cut across ethnic and racial categories. Moreover, race was a complex and elusive concept. For example, both Creoles and Garifuna shared an African heritage, but they were culturally different and had a long-standing enmity toward each other.

Ethnic boundaries in Belize were also notoriously fuzzy. Intermarriage between members of different groups has historically been widespread. Identification of people of mixed ancestry varied considerably; one recent survey of secondary-school students found eight different permutations of Creole identity alone. This variability was not limited to Creoles. Some urban, Europeanlooking Spanish-speakers identified themselves as Maya; many Mestizos no longer spoke Spanish in the home or had become evangelical Protestants.

Not all individuals of multiple ancestries felt comfortable identifying with a particular ethnic group; in the words of one Belizean youth, many Belizeans were "all mix up." A small, but significant number of people eschewed potentially divisive ethnic categories and referred to themselves simply as "Belizeans." Ethnicity competed with other identities, such as those based on status, occupation, and political affiliation, for primacy in social interaction. Belizean society was as divided by class differences as it was by race, language, religion and ethnicity.




Belizean society in the early 1990s was marked by enduring differences in the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige. However, because of the small size of Belize's population and the intimate scale of social relations, the social distance between the rich and the poor, while significant, was nowhere as vast as in other Caribbean and Central American societies, such as Jamaica and El Salvador. Indeed, Belize lacked the violent class and racial conflict that has figured so prominently in the social life of its Central American neighbors.

Still, a decade after independence, political and economic power remained vested in the hands of a relatively small local elite, most of whom were either white, light-skinned Creole, or Mestizo. The sizable middle group, however, was composed of peoples of different ethnic backgrounds. This middle group did not constitute a unified social class, but rather a number of middleand working-class groups, loosely oriented around shared dispositions toward education, cultural respectability, and possibilities for upward social mobility. These beliefs, and the social practices they engendered, helped distinguish the middle group from the grass roots majority of the Belizean people.

<>The Upper Sector
<>The Middle Sector
<>The Lower Sector
<>Social Dynamics




In the late 1980s, the elite was a small, socially distinct group whose base of social power lay not in landownership, but in its control of the institutions that mediated relations between Belize and the outside world. The principal economic interests of the elite included commercial and financial enterprises, retail trade, local manufacturing, the state apparatus, and, to a much lesser extent, export agriculture. Foreign firms dominated Belize's agricultural export industry, which was the largest sector of the economy in the 1980s. Foreigners, mostly United States citizens, held 90 percent of the Belize's privately owned land, including most of the nation's prime agricultural areas and tourist facilities.

The Belizean elite consisted of people of different status, prestige, and ethnicity. At the top of the power hierarchy were local whites and light-skinned descendants of the nineteenthcentury Creole elite. The next group consisted of Creole and Mestizo commercial and professional families whose ancestors first came to political and economic prominence during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Next in status were some of the Lebanese and Palestinian merchant families who immigrated to Belize in the early twentieth century.

The more recently arrived Chinese and Indian families comprised another elite group, distinguished from the remaining upper sector by length of residence in the country and by cultural differences. Groups within the elite socialized primarily among themselves.

Shared economic interests and business dealings bonded the different segments of the elite. Other cultural factors also played a role. Intermarriage bound several of the elite families together, although usually without transgressing ethnic or religious boundaries. Religion also served as a partial unifying force; a number of the oldest and most prominent Creole families shared the Catholicism of the Mestizo commercial elite.

Because Belize City was the center of the nation's commercial life, the majority of elite families lived or maintained a residence there, although some prominent families were based in the district towns. In Belize City, elite families lived in the same ocean-front neighborhoods, belonged to the same social clubs, and enjoyed a similar lifestyle centered around the extravagant conspicuous consumption of imported goods.

Education also served to unify the upper sector of society. A generation ago, religious affiliation largely determined which schools children attended. With the decline of the Anglican and Methodist school systems, most elite children, regardless of faith, attended two of Belize's premier Catholic institutions, which provided secondary and postsecondary education. Even after the expansion of secondary and postsecondary schooling in the districts, many of the elite district families continued to send their offspring to Belize City for higher education.

Despite the establishment of a local institution of higher education in 1985, most elite youth attended universities abroad. Their choice of institutions reflected the changing dominant metropolitan cultural orientation of Belizean society. British universities attracted many of the college-bound members of the Belizean elite in the colonial period, but by 1990 the majority pursued their higher education in the United States or, to a lesser extent, in the West Indies.




The middle sector of Belizean society was considerably larger, more diverse, and less cohesive than the elite. People in this group lacked the jobs, social status, or economic assets that were typical of the elite, but they were still better off than the rest of society. Some families were "poor relations" of the elite class; others had acquired wealth and prestige over a few generations through higher education or economic success. This large group encompassed the traditional middle class as well as elements of the working classes: not only small businessmen, professionals, teachers, and mid-level civil servants, but also other government workers, smallholders, skilled manual workers, and commercial employees.

The middle sector was stratified according to wealth, level of education, and the status difference between manual and nonmanual occupations. Still, a shared belief system that emphasized cultural respectability, upward social mobility, and the importance of education unified this group. Even more than middle-class families, some working-class families often made great sacrifices to ensure that their children received the best and most extensive education possible.

The middle sector of Belizean society in the 1980s was largely the product of the massive expansion of educational opportunities and the corresponding growth of the "modern" sector of the economy between 1950 and 1980. But as an increasing number of Belizeans earned degrees from education institutions and as the local job market became saturated, families in this group became more concerned in the 1970s and 1980s with maintaining their social position than with upward social mobility. Faced with limited economic prospects in Belize, large numbers migrated to the United States.

The middle sector was culturally diverse and included members of all Belizean ethnic groups, although not in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Relatively few Mayan or Kekch� families, for example, belonged to either the middle or upper working classes. Historical correlations between occupation and ethnic identity endured in the 1980s despite social changes. Middle-sector Creoles were most likely to work in the professions, especially law and accounting, the civil service, and the skilled trades. Considerable numbers of Mestizos were employed by the government, as well as in small business and farming. Garifuna were particularly well established in the teaching profession.

Ethnic and religious sentiments divided the middle sector to a certain extent. The nationalist movement of the 1950s drew most of its leaders from the Catholic-educated Creole and Mestizo middle class. The Protestant-educated Creole middle class, however, opposed the movement's anti-British, multicultural ethos and the projection of a Central American destiny for Belize. Still, political affiliation defied narrow ethnic or racial lines.

British and North American ideas, particularly those of the United States, largely shaped the beliefs and practices of the middle sector. These influences stemmed not only from the formal education system, but also from the popular culture of North America conveyed through cinema, magazines, radio, television, and migration. These cultural ideas were as much African-American as Anglo-American. Beginning with the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, middle- and working-class Creole youth increasingly adopted an Afrocentric cultural consciousness that distinguished them both from their elders and other ethnic groups in Belizean society.




This sector comprised the bulk of the Belizean population and was popularly known as the grass roots or roots class. It, too, was stratified by occupation and ethnicity. The lower sector consisted of unskilled or semiskilled urban workers, subsistence farmers, agricultural laborers, and the unemployed. These people shared, in addition to poverty and generally poor living conditions, severely limited access to land, higher education, or any other opportunity to change their marginal status. Possibilities for mobility were a main dividing line between the middle and lower sectors of Belizean society.

The ethnic composition of the lower sector varied by region. Most of the country's urban poor lived in predominantly Creole Belize City. With a population four times the size of the next largest urban area, Belize City was home to over half of all unemployed Belizeans in 1980. Many of the employed were engaged in ketch an kill jobs, temporary unskilled manual labor. No more than two-thirds of the employed population in 1980 had fulltime work.

Educational opportunities beyond the primary level were scarce for most poor urban families. Many children dropped out of school before completing their primary education. Children who finished school often lacked the grades or financial resources to attend secondary school. Because the government generally awarded scholarships according to academic performance rather than financial need, most poor Belizean families continued to lack access to education beyond the primary level.

In further contrast to the upper and middle sectors, many lower-sector households in Belize City were headed by single parents, usually women. Female workers generally received lower incomes than their male counterparts, and women experienced an unemployment rate 250 percent higher than men. In numerous cases, migration of both parents resulted in children being raised by siblings, older relatives, or friends of the family. Some of the more privileged members of Belizean society perceived that increases in juvenile delinquency, crime, and drug use among Belizean urban youth were directly attributable to breakdowns in family structure.

As with the population in general, a large percentage of the urban poor were young. Nationwide, over 40 percent of out-of-school youths aged fifteen to twenty-four lacked work, and youth unemployment rates in Belize City were even higher. Many unemployed youths in Belize City congregated on street corners or met in storefronts known as "bases." These young people were known as baseboys and basegirls. More privileged members of Belizean society tended to categorize baseboys and basegirls as criminals and delinquents, although the only thing many were guilty of was lacking opportunities for education and meaningful work.

Still, the lack of educational and employment prospects for the rural and urban poor in the 1980s did lead to dramatic increases in crime, especially in the drug trade. By the middle of the decade, Belize had become the fourth largest exporter (after Mexico, Colombia, and Jamaica) of marijuana to the United States. By 1987 crack cocaine and gangs had established a foothold among the youthful population of Belize City. By 1991, both gang membership and gang warfare had escalated dramatically, moving off the street corners of the poorer neighborhoods into the schools and major public spaces of Belize City. Gangs, drugs, and violence were the dominant realities with which nearly all Belizean urban youth, especially the poor, had to deal.

Extremely limited access to education and well-paying jobs characterized conditions for the poor in the district towns of Belize. But many people perceived the conditions in these towns as less severe than in Belize City. One exception was Orange Walk, which was known as Rambo Town, owing to the intensity of drugrelated violence there in the mid-1980s.

The most limited opportunities for education and economic advancement were found in rural areas. Rural primary schools had much higher rates of absenteeism and attrition than urban schools and all but three secondary schools were located in Belize City or the major district towns. Furthermore, the demands of agricultural work often prevented many children from attending school.

The rural poor were mostly Mayan and Mestizo subsistence farmers and agricultural laborers, although some Creole and Garifuna families were also included in this category. At the very bottom of both the rural and urban social hierarchies, however, were the Central American aliens who were employed in the lowest paid, least desirable occupations, such as unskilled labor in the sugar, citrus, banana, and marijuana industries.


Belize - Social Dynamics


Belize has adopted wholeheartedly, and with much popular support, the rhetoric and practices of the ideologies of development and consumerism, twin hallmarks of a modernizing society. Far-reaching changes have occurred in Belizean society over the last thirty years. The growth of educational opportunities and government employment has facilitated the emergence of a sizable middle-class with expanding horizons of consumption. The meaning of education has also changed. Once revered as a scarce privilege guaranteeing social advancement, education is now perceived as a birthright and an essential tool for entering the job market.

Education, migration, and shifts in economic activity have enhanced the power and influence of previously marginal social groups and regions, particularly the Mestizos who inhabited the northern districts. Intermarriage and political mobilization have helped at times to cut across ethnic boundaries and create a nascent sense of national identity. Satellite television, <>tourism, and emigration have strengthened an already close connection with North America, while immigration has anchored Belize more firmly within Central America and its culture.

But not all of the changes have been positive. Many Belizeans of more than thirty years of age noted the breakdown of traditional notions of authority, respect, and propriety and the obsessive fascination of Belizean youth with North American material culture. Other blamed mass emigration for the dissolution of the Belizean family and a subsequent rise in juvenile delinquency and crime.

Ethnic tensions still regularly intruded into many areas of social interaction and indeed showed signs of intensifying. Possibilities for social mobility existed, but only for some individuals. The school system produced continuously growing numbers of graduates for whom jobs did not exist while it simultaneously excluded growing numbers of the poor from educational opportunity. Emigration to metropolitan countries often siphoned off people with the highest qualifications and the most ambitions, while immigration from neighboring republics promised to reshape the cultural orientation and, quite literally, the complexion of Belizean society.

As Belize entered the 1990s, it faced a number of serious challenges, some of which were common to all postcolonial societies and some of which were the product of the country's unique history and geography. Like other developing societies, Belize faced the challenge of meeting the expanding needs and desires of a rapidly growing population at a time when the country possessed limited natural, financial, and human resources.




Belize's strategy for social development in the 1980s focused on increasing investments in formal education. On the surface, the achievements have been impressive; opportunities for all levels of schooling have greatly increased in the last thirty years. The number of schools grew, enrollment rates rose, and a record number of students graduated in 1990.

These statistics, however, provided only a partial picture. As in many other areas of the Caribbean, enrollments have lagged behind population growth since at least the early 1980s. Large numbers of the urban and rural poor continued to lack access to schooling or dropped out before completing their primary education. But even with high rates of attrition at the primary and secondary levels, the number of graduates exceeded the number of jobs, contributing to "credential inflation," underemployment, and emigration.

Most important, despite three decades of efforts to "decolonize" education, foreign influences in the structure and content of Belizean schooling remained significant during the 1980s. As in the colonial period, a joint partnership of church and state managed the school system, although the terms, nature, and balance of power within this partnership shifted significantly toward the national government, beginning in the 1960s. The Belizean state, however, continued to lack total control over all levels and aspects of schooling. Belize relied heavily on foreign institutions for maintenance and expansion of formal education. These institutions provided financing, staffing, curriculum, planning, and higher education.

The growth and transformation of Belizean education took place in a number of phases, each related to important changes within the political and economic history of the country. During the initial phase, between 1816 and 1892, the church-state partnership became institutionalized. Religious initiative and control, extremely limited state intervention, and vigorous competition of religious denominations for the allegiance of the inhabitants characterized this phase.

The intensification of denominational rivalry, the benign neglect of the colonial state, and the growing influence of United States Jesuit missionaries in education characterized the second phase lasted from 1893 to 1934. In 1934 the director of education in Jamaica made a thorough investigation of British Honduras's education system. Various reforms were proposed to increase spending on the school system and improve the standard of education. Implementation of many of these reforms began in the late 1930s.

During the next phase, from the late 1940s and early 1950s, the educational and social activities of the Jesuits influenced the rise of an anti-British, anticolonial nationalist movement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jesuits led efforts to redress the elitist, urban-centered biases of postprimary education that perpetuated not only social inequality, but also the historical dominance of Belize City over its primarily rural hinterland. By the late 1950s, the Jesuits had emerged as the dominant influence at almost every level of formal education.

With the advent of a large degree of self-rule in 1964, the government began to assert its control over schooling. Formal control over education policy and planning passed from British-born clerics and colonial administrators to British-trained Belizeans. Actual education practice, however, changed very little; the religious denominations continued to determine the direction and pace of educational expansion. United States influence within Belizean schools intensified, not only through the adoption of certain Jesuit practices for systemwide use, but also through the arrival of Peace Corps and other United States volunteer teachers and agencies such as CARE and the Michigan Partners.

As the demand for education outstripped the capacities of the churches--even the Jesuits--to provide it, interdenominational cooperation grew and the state assumed a more central role. By the 1970s, the Belizean government had assumed the leading role in establishing new schools, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels. The government conceived of education as an essential tool in the peaceful struggle for independence. But the expansion of educational opportunities outstripped the state's resources, leading to an intensified reliance on external aid. Since 1981, the United States has provided the bulk of this aid. This situation caused many Belizeans to fear the rise of a new form of imperialist control over the country.

Nowhere were fears of recolonization more realized than in higher education. In 1979 the ruling People's United Party (PUP) government established the Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology (Belcast) with the intention of breaking Belize's dependence on the outside world for university education. The PUP envisioned Belcast as a government-run institution, with no participation from the church. Funding was secured from the European Economic Community for the construction of a campus in Belmopan.

The campus was never built because the PUP was swept out of office in a landslide victory for the rival United Democratic Party (UDP) in December 1984. The UDP revoked the Belcast ordinance and invited Ferris State College of Big Rapids, Michigan to establish and manage a new institution, the University College of Belize (UCB). Control over the UCB program rested not with Belizeans, but with the administration of Ferris State College. The birth of UCB embodied Belizean nationalists' worst fears: the country lost sovereignty over an institution that symbolized Belize's first major effort to break from the country's colonial past in the education sector. The intense controversy arose again in 1991 when it was discovered that Ferris State College had failed to obtain proper accreditation for the UCB program, thus placing into question the value of the degrees UCB had granted since 1987. Following this controversy, the new PUP government revoked its agreement with Ferris State and assumed full control over the institution.

<>School System
<>Patterns of Access and Performance


Belize - EDUCATION - School System


The Belizean school system was a loose aggregate of education subsystems. The system was based on British education and was broken into three levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Belizean children began their eight years of primary education with two years of "infant" classes, followed by six "standards." Secondary education was divided into four "forms." Sixth form was a two-year postsecondary course, originally intended to prepare students for the Cambridge Advanced or "A-Level" examinations. Since the early 1970s, sixth-form institutions have also bestowed Associate of Arts degrees sanctioned by the United States Association of Junior Colleges.

Other postsecondary institutions included Belize Teachers' College, the Belize School of Nursing, and the Belize College of Agriculture, in addition to UCB. Belize contributes to and participates in the multinational University of the West Indies. The University of the West Indies also maintained a small extramural department in Belize City.

Management of the system varied according to level. In the latter half of the 1980s, religious denominations controlled the majority of primary schools, but the government or private, community-based boards of governors administered more than 50 percent of the secondary institutions. The preponderance of government institutions at the secondary level was a relatively new development; as recently as 1980, the majority of secondary schools were under religious management. Still, denominational representatives retained considerable influence on the managing boards of private, ostensibly nondenominational, institutions.

Secondary schools also differed according to curriculum and cultural orientation. Most private and denominational schools emphasized academic and commercial studies, although some also offered technical-vocational programs. In contrast, the government directly managed nine schools, all of which offered a curriculum oriented to technical-vocational subjects.

In terms of cultural orientation, educational practices, rituals, and valuative criteria spread to Belize's schools from Jesuit institutions in the United States. Jesuit influence even affected such traditional bastions of British pedagogy as the Anglican and Methodist secondary schools and the government-run Belize Technical College. Nearly thirty years of Peace Corps and other United States volunteer teachers have also influenced Belizean educational culture. Technical-vocational education programs by the United States Agency for International Development promise to erode further British pedagogical legacies.


Belize - EDUCATION - Patterns of Access and Performance


Studies conducted by the Belizean government and outside observers in the late 1980s indicated that between one-quarter and one-third of students enrolled in primary education left school before they reached fourteen, the minimum age at which a student could legally drop out. Dropout rates and absenteeism were higher in rural areas, largely because of the seasonal demand for agricultural labor and the perception that schooling beyond the basic level offered no increased opportunities.

In both rural and urban areas, students who dropped out of primary school (or, indeed, failed to attend) generally belonged to the poorest and least-empowered segments of Belizean society: the children of subsistence farmers, agricultural laborers, illegal aliens, and the inhabitants of the urban slums. Without primary school credentials, these individuals faced the continued prospect of lifelong underemployment or unemployment.

Selectivity in the education system intensified at the secondary level. No more than 60 percent of the students who graduated from primary school, or less than 40 percent of all children in that age-group, made the transition to secondary institutions. Again, the percentage of students entering secondary schools was even lower in rural areas, where less than one-third of eligible youth pursued education beyond the primary level as of the early 1980s. Although the construction of new schools in the districts had helped to alleviate this problem, the majority of rural youth still lacked a secondary education.

Primary education was both free and compulsory; secondary schooling was neither. The combined burden of financial and academic requirements excluded not only the poorest, but also the offspring of many working-class parents and even some middle-class families. Government programs and private scholarships failed adequately to address the financial barrier to educational opportunity. Exclusion from secondary schooling had serious consequences for the lives of these youth. A generation ago, a primary education was sufficient for many skilled and semiskilled jobs in the public and private sectors. But by the late 1980s, the value of these credentials had plummeted.

Secondary school credentials, in the form of diplomas and passing grades on exams, have become the minimum criteria for most types of skilled employment. These credentials, too, decreased in value as increasing numbers of students received them. Education in Belize, as elsewhere in the world, was largely synonymous with the earning of credentials.

Attrition, as well as access, was a more serious problem in secondary education than in primary education. Nationwide, only about one-half of the students who entered secondary school completed the course. During the early 1980s, the attrition rate reached higher than 70 percent in a number of city and district schools. The causes of attrition, or wastage, as it was known among administrators, varied but were largely related to socioeconomic factors, such as lack of money, discipline problems, or teenage pregnancy.

Fewer than 15 percent of secondary school graduates made the transition to sixth form. Most graduates of the secondary schools came from only a handful of institutions. Two new secondary institutions opened in the late 1980s, but the number of prospective applicants for the sixth form far exceeded available places. Observers believed that the gap would only grow as secondary schools continued to produce increasing numbers of graduates hungry for more educational credentials.

A university education was a rare opportunity for Belizean youth in the 1980s. Scholarships to foreign universities were extremely limited, although many Belizeans have benefitted from scholarships to Cuban universities. The full costs of university study abroad were beyond the means of all but elite families. Even after the opening of UCB, Belizean students overwhelmingly preferred the prospects of studying at universities in the United States to studying in Belize or at British, West Indian, Canadian, or Latin American institutions. Since 1983, the availability of scholarships to United States universities has increased considerably. Many of these scholarships were the result of United States government programs, such as the Central American Peace Scholarships (CAPS).




Differences in quality of life reflected and shaped patterns of social inequality in Belize. Access to food, housing, health care, and other necessary or desired goods and services varied most markedly between rural and urban areas, as well as by socioeconomic status. In 1984 the average salary of an employee was Bz$6,000. Almost two-thirds of the working population earned between Bz$3,000 and Bz$9,000, while 20 percent earned less than Bz$3,000.

Despite these differences in wealth, virtually all Belizeans shared a penchant for foreign consumer products. In the 1980s, most Belizeans' aspirations for a high standard of living stemmed not only from the long period of colonial rule, but also from tales of emigrants to the United States and television images of the good life there.


Belize - Food and Diet


Despite an abundance of cultivable land, Belize depended on imports of food. Government figures indicated that the average household spent at least 29 percent of its budget on imported food during the 1980s. Urban and upper-income groups averaged higher percentages. Food imports included not only items such as dairy products, canned meats, and vegetables, but also staples such as rice and red kidney beans, which were also produced locally. Diet varied by culture as well as class, with Maya and rural Mestizos preferring large amounts of corn. Garifuna consumed large quantities of fish. The national dish, however, consisted of rice and beans.

Available statistics indicated that at least 40 percent of infants nationwide suffered from at least moderate malnutrition and that 61 percent of children under three years of age suffered some form of malnutrition. Because the government based this conclusion only on surveys of sick persons who visited health clinics, the actual incidence of malnutrition and anemia was probably higher, particularly among the most marginal and impoverished sectors of the population. Poor sanitation in rural areas also contributed to high incidence of intestinal parasites, especially among children.

Nutrition and health were major targets of foreign assistance from sources including the United States Peace Corps, the Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE), Project Hope, Project Concern, and a variety of international agencies, such as the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). At least twelve other organizations, including Canadian and a number of European governments, contributed to health and nutrition programs during the 1980s. The Belize Ministry of Health and other local governmental agencies played a supporting role to these programs.


Belize - Health and Welfare


The overall health of Belizeans during the 1980s improved markedly from the colonial period. By 1989 life expectancy at birth had risen to sixty-seven years for males and seventy-two years for females. The death rate dropped from 11.5 per 1,000 in the 1950s to 4.9 per 1,000 in 1980, while the published infant mortality rate declined from 93 per 1,000 in the 1950s to 24.8 per 1,000 in 1986. However, actual infant mortality was probably higher because people living in remote rural areas rarely reported infant deaths. Even so, the infant mortality rate for the largely rural Toledo district was more than double the national rate.

The underreporting of infant deaths in rural areas led the World Health Organization to classify Belize's morbidity and mortality statistics as unreliable. Outside of Belize City, facilities for testing for cases of malaria and dengue fever were inadequate, so the incidence of these illnesses has probably been underestimated. The incidence of other diseases, such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), was also believed to be higher than reported.

Despite a massive Anopheles mosquito-eradication campaign in the 1970s, malaria remained Belize's top health problem in the 1980s. After increasing by an annual rate of 30 percent between 1980 and 1983, the number of new cases has since slowed. A more resistant Plasmodium facilparum organism (instead of the usual Plasmodium vivax variety) caused many of the new cases of the disease. Malaria affected all areas of the country, except for Belize City and the cays, which lacked the Anopheles mosquito.

Dengue fever, another disease transmitted by mosquitoes, experienced a resurgence in the 1980s; the disease was thought to have been eradicated in the 1950s. Gastroenteritis and other intestinal diseases also continued to pose major health problems for Belizeans, especially for the rural poor. Although the Latin American cholera outbreak had not troubled Belize by the summer of 1991, health officials expressed fear that it was only a matter of time before the disease reached the country.

As elsewhere in the world, AIDS poses a serious and growing challenge to the Belizean health care system. Until 1990, Belize lacked facilities to test for the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By August of 1990, ninety-four Belizeans had tested positive for HIV (up from an estimated three in 1986), and twenty-four persons had died of AIDS. Although every district of the country was affected, half of the people testing positive for HIV lived in Belize City.

Rivers, streams, and creeks provide 70 percent of Belizean domestic water needs. Although the threat from industrial pollution was still limited in 1990, the lack of effective sewage systems in most communities, along with the use of these same water sources for laundry and bathing, posed significant health risks. Pesticide and fertilizer run-off in agricultural areas also posed potential problems.

Belmopan, a planned capital, was the only Belizean community to be served fully by a municipal sewer system in 1991. After more than ten years of financial and technical support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), a sewer system for Belize City was completed in the 1980s. However, as recently as 1991, most city households were still not connected to the system.

Government health policy emphasized primary health care, particularly for people most in need, such as children, pregnant women, and the poor. However, health care services were unevenly distributed between rural and urban areas, and many people in need lacked regular access. The government directed most of its health budget in the 1980s toward operating the eight hospitals located in the capital and district towns. Many of these hospitals were old, overcrowded, and in need of equipment and supplies. A new hospital, to be built with European funds, was planned for Belize City. Twenty-nine health centers served the remainder of the population, although less than 50 percent of the facilities were fully staffed. But even the fully staffed centers lacked a complete range of health care services. Only one facility specialized in caring for the disabled, and one in caring for the mentally ill. Both facilities were located in Belize District.

A lack of personnel hindered the development of the Belizean health care system. Fewer than 100 physicians worked in the country in the late 1980s. The country had a school of nursing and a program for medical technicians but lacked a school of medicine. Many Belizeans who went overseas to study medicine never returned home to practice. Indeed, during the 1980s, two of every three government doctors and virtually all of the dentists were foreign citizens.

Legislation protecting the health of Belizean citizens, particularly in the workplace, was weak and poorly enforced. Belize did, however, have a social security system, designed with the help of the United Nations International Labour Organisation. In addition to providing pensions for retired and injured workers, the system also provided short-term benefits for sickness and maternity leave.


Belize - The Economy


THE MAIN INFLUENCES on the economy of Belize have been the country's small size and its long history as a colony. As occurred elsewhere in the Caribbean, over the centuries the colony's administrators precariously based its economy on a succession of single raw commodities--logwood in the 1600s and 1700s, mahogany in the 1800s, and then sugar in the mid-1900s. During the 1980s, the dangers of a single-crop economy became brutal realities for the many Caribbean countries that had grown heavily dependent on sugar exports. Sugar prices collapsed, and protectionist trade practices by industrialized countries exacerbated the producers' problem. Belize's experience was no exception. However, the commodity crisis of the 1980s led to economic reform in Belize aimed at diversification and taking the economy definitively beyond the colonial period.

Small economies, such as Belize's, tend to be less diverse and more dependent on exports than larger economies, a situation that makes them volatile and highly vulnerable to outside forces. A small work force and limited capital, dependence on foreign markets and investment funds, and high overhead costs are all factors that have hindered Belize's economic growth. Despite these problems, the economy has steadily improved since independence was achieved in 1981. The British legacy of stable representative government, respect for education, a relatively even distribution of income, and a comparatively high standard of living has attracted increasing amounts of foreign investment. In 1991 the economy was more diverse than ever, the export sector was strong, a growing <> tourism industry promised increased revenues, and the government had avoided dangerous levels of foreign debt. The outlook for Belize's economy for the remainder of the 1990s seemed bright.



Belize The Colonial Economy

British Honduras officially became a British colony in 1862, after more than two centuries of vague status. Early Spanish settlers based the colonial economy entirely on the export of logwood. British buccaneers first settled in the early 1600s. Giving up their practice of capturing Spanish cargo ships laden with logwood, the erstwhile pirates began to cut the timber themselves. Logwood, a source of black dye, was in great demand in Europe at the time. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, dyes derived from logwood had been largely replaced by synthetic dyes. The decline of the logwood industry during the 1760s and the 1770s was accompanied by fruitless efforts to compensate for lost value by increasing the rate of production and hence the rate of exports. Once they realized the inevitability of failure, the settlers began exploiting other forest products, mainly chicle and mahogany. The latter wood became the mainstay of the economy for most of the next two centuries.

Although the logging of mahogany greatly enriched the colonial economy, particularly during the 1800s, it also seriously disrupted the indigenous Mayan culture. As the British pushed into the interior of the country, there were numerous violent confrontations with the Maya.

In the absence of a forestry policy, the country's mahogany reserves gradually ran low. This depletion, among other factors, led to the decline of the industry in the 1950s. By 1991 forestry accounted for less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, and mahogany trees were so rare in Belize that one of them, in the center of Belize City, was labeled as if it were a museum piece.

Sugar succeeded logwood and mahogany as the third main staple of the colonial economy. The Maya had cultivated sugar since the mid-1800s, but the modern history of British Honduran sugar production did not begin until 1937, when a small factory was opened at Pembroke Hall (later known as Libertad) in northern Belize.

In 1964 the small mill at Libertad was bought by the large British sugar conglomerate of Tate and Lyle. This event accompanied the beginning of nearly twenty years of great profit. Foreign investment, boosted production and productivity, and record prices fueled the growth of the sugar agro-industry. Sugar production increased from 17,000 tons in 1959 to 40,000 tons in 1963, to 70,170 tons in 1973, and to 114,000 tons in 1983. Production decreased rapidly thereafter to 81,700 tons in 1988 and underwent a mild recovery in 1990, when it reached 100,000 tons. The result of drought, smut diseases, froghopper (spittlebug) infestation, occasional labor shortages, and fluctuating demands and prices, the swings in sugar production created severe dislocations in the Belizean economy.

Belize's status as a former British colony has provided benefits that have translated directly or indirectly into economic advantages. As in many of its former colonies, Britain left behind a well-established two-party political system based on the British model. Belize's democratic tradition made postcolonial stability more likely and appealed to many foreign investors.

The British also left behind a network of education institutions that formed the basis for the country's 93-percent nominal literacy rate and high level of enrollment in secondary schools. As the 1990s began, most of the schools at the primary level were church-administered. Education was compulsory until age fourteen. Health care, too, was better than what was available most in other Central American countries. Belize had a higher daily calorie intake per capita, longer life expectancy, and higher literacy rates than El Salvador, Honduras, or Nicaragua, with quality-of-life statistics comparable to those of Costa Rica, Central America's most prosperous state, or the Bahamas, whose gross national product per capita was seven times larger. Another regionally distinctive feature of Belize was its relatively even distribution of income. All these factors have contributed significantly to social stability and economic productivity.


Belize - The Small Economy


Belize is roughly the same size as New Hampshire. Its population was about 191,000 in 1990. Some 25 percent of the population lived in Belize City and the surrounding area. Almost 25 percent lived in incorporated towns, among them the nation's capital, Belmopan, which had a population of about 4,000. The remaining half of the population was rural. Most rural residents lived in large villages in the north. Except for several towns, the central and southern parts of the country were sparsely inhabited. Among the 185 countries and territories of the World Bank World Atlas, only fifteen countries had smaller GNPs than that of Belize.

Small developing economies have certain characteristics that restrict their ability to achieve balanced, sustained economic growth. These constraints include limited supplies of land, labor, and domestic capital; high dependence on foreign capital; limited domestic markets; high unit costs of production for domestic markets; limited bargaining power; relatively high wages driven by preferential trade agreements; and high overhead costs of government services and administration. As a result of these constraints, economic growth in small countries is tied closely to the rate of export growth. Moreover, the open, export-oriented economies of small states tend to be less diverse than those of larger countries. The scarcity of labor and capital demands careful targeting of investments. Finally, limited domestic markets mean less potential for import-substitution industrialization. Hence, the economies of small countries are disproportionately exposed to external shocks that increase import costs or depress export prices for their primary commodities.

The general limitations placed on small economies characterize the situation in Belize, with one exception: Belize is endowed with abundant arable land. Its population density of 8.5 persons per square kilometer in 1991 was one of the lowest in the world. Indeed, Belize depends on immigrant labor to sustain agricultural production, in part because many Belizeans are reluctant to work for the low wages offered in the agricultural sector.


Belize - Economic History


Culturally and economically Belize is more closely linked to the Caribbean than to its Central American neighbors. However, Belize's participation in Caribbean economic integration has not come about easily.

During the 1950s, British Honduras rejected repeated attempts by Britain to incorporate the colony into the proposed West Indies Federation. There were several reasons behind this resistance. One was the fear of being locked into a Caribbean arrangement at the expense of ties with the rest of Central America. Moreover, because wages in British Honduras were higher than in most other British Caribbean territories, the British Hondurans feared that participation in the West Indies Federation might trigger an influx of immigrants from other member states. Indeed, Britain was planning on such on influx.

In 1968, British Honduras began to see the merits of integration with the British Caribbean when the country's ongoing territorial dispute with Guatemala led to rejection of its application to join the Central American Common Market. In 1971 British Honduras joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta), which in 1973 became the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C).

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, British grants were necessary to keep British Honduras economically viable. However, economic ties with Britain gradually were replaced by a growing trade relationship with the United States. This economic link to the United States was seriously weakened by the devaluation of the British pound sterling in September 1949. Respecting the wishes of the middle class, labor, and the colonial legislature, the governor at first refused to devalue the British Honduras dollar and instead kept it at par with the United States dollar. However, three months later, bowing to pressure from Britain and powerful economic interests in British Honduras, the governor overrode the Legislative Council and devalued the colony's currency (see The Genesis of Modern Politics, 1931-54. Imports from the United States then decreased sharply, and imports from Britain rose until they amounted to 35 percent of the total during 1952-54, exceeding the country's imports from the United States. Living costs increased dramatically as a result of the devaluation, and the colony was thrown into turmoil. Anti-British sentiment was widespread and fueled resistance to the British-sponsored West Indies Federation. Imports from the United States did not recover until the late 1950s.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the colony's economy grew rapidly, thanks in large part to the extraordinary success of the sugar sector. During the 1970s, sugar accounted for almost 70 percent of all export revenues. As a result of this high level of dependency, the Belizean economy, although prosperous, entered the 1980s insufficiently diversified and highly susceptible to external shocks.


Belize - Economic Growth during 1980-85


In 1980 the average world price of raw sugar had been US$0.13 per kilogram. By 1984, that price had fallen to US$0.02. As sugar prices collapsed, Belize's terms of trade deteriorated, and from 1980 to 1985 GDP grew an average of only 1.2 percent per year. The crisis was compounded in 1982 when, for the first time since 1974, the United States government implemented a sugar quota system. The result was a reduction in total sugar exports from about 5 million tons in 1980-81 to about 1 million tons by 1987.

Also contributing to the worsening of Belize's balance of payments was the sudden collapse of the country's reexport business. As a reexporter, Belize imports goods and then resells them in neighboring countries (primarily Mexico), or merely transports them, collecting fees for port and road facilities. The arrangement is attractive because of Belize's relatively low shipping costs. However, Mexico's economic payment crisis of 1982, which reduced Mexican imports, put a dent in Belize's foreignexchange earnings as well. Reexports had amounted to 37 percent of export earnings in 1981 but fell to 16 percent in 1983, contributing to a 35-percent drop in total export earnings during that period.

The economic crisis of the early 1980s brought with it escalating trade deficits. In 1981 Belize's net international reserves had stood at US$1.1 million. By the end of 1984, the country had a trade deficit of US$13.6 million.

The economic crisis was a factor in the defeat of the People's United Party government in 1984; it also led to implementation of a standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund in December of that year. The IMF agreement marked the beginning of the country's adjustment process. The agreement provided access to 7.1 million units of special drawing rights over a sixteen-month period and called for a reduction of the publicsector deficit and a tightening of the country's credit policy by means of higher reserve requirements and higher interest rates. Credit had expanded at an annual rate of 15 percent from 1981 to 1984 because of escalating government debt.

A small open economy is dependent on developments in external markets and generally experiences few domestically generated inflationary pressures. Belize's currency, the Belizean dollar, had been pegged to the United States dollar at a rate of US$1=Bz$2 since 1976. Belize's rate of inflation, therefore, was likewise pegged to that of its major trading partner. Between 1980 and 1983, consumer prices increased by 25 percent in Belize. During the same period, they went up 21 percent in the United States. This modest inflation contrasted sharply with the hyperinflation that pushed prices up by more than 1,000 percent per year in many other countries in the region. Yet, the 4-percent difference between United States and Belizean inflation during those years resulted in a real effective exchange-rate appreciation and, consequently, a worsening of Belize's relative position in the export sector. This trend was later reversed when the Belizean inflation rate fell slightly below that of the United States.


Belize - Economic Growth after 1985


After 1986 the Belizean economy improved dramatically, in part because of the adjustment program implemented by the government. These adjustments cut public expenditures and created incentives for diversification of the economy. The country's foreign-exchange receipts from banana and citrus exports multiplied, and <> tourism became a major contributor to growth. Internal reform coincided with the recovery of the world economy, in particular the revival of the sugar market. Between 1986 and 1990, the Belizean economy grew at an average annual rate of more than 10 percent.

Inflation remained low from 1986 to 1990, averaging 2.8 percent and allowing for an effective depreciation of the Belizean dollar relative to the United States dollar. The positive effect of low inflation on Belize's exports was enhanced by the depreciation of the United States dollar during the second half of the 1980s. The more favorable exchange rate enjoyed by the Belizean dollar was central to the vigorous growth the country experienced during the period.

In 1991 estimates showed growth slowing to an annual rate of less than 5 percent. This deceleration was the result of significant shortfalls in banana production following an outbreak of black sigatoka disease and a reduction in citrus production resulting from bad weather. As in most of the Caribbean, tourism was also affected by the recession in the United States and Britain.


Belize - Economy - Peripheral Factors


Two small but significant factors must be mentioned in any discussion of Belize's economy: the role of British troops and the illegal drug trade. At independence, Belize and Britain agreed that the latter would maintain a garrison of 2,000 soldiers in Belize to deter possible aggression by Guatemala. As of 1991, Guatemala had established diplomatic relations with Belize but continued to claim an undefined part of its territory. The economic impact of the British garrison, than numbering about 1,500 troops, was substantial in the early 1990s. Because of their relatively high incomes and the support services they required, the troops have had a significant impact on the level of employment and the Belizean economy in general. Some analysts have estimated that the British garrison directly or indirectly generated about 15 percent of Belize's GDP.

The drug trade was not factored into the country's GDP statistics, and the impact of this illegal activity on the economy was difficult to measure. Belize played three roles in the drug trade in the early 1990s; the country served as a marijuana producer, as a transshipment route for other drugs, and as a moneylaundering center. In the early 1980s, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency placed Belize on its list of leading marijuana producers. Aerial spraying of pesticides was begun in 1984, but was ended that same year because of Belizean concerns about the safety of spraying on legal crops and on the population. The United States government estimated that annual marijuana production in Belize subsequently rose from 35 tons to 850 tons, with an approximate street value of US$120 million. Spraying was resumed in 1985 with different chemicals, and marijuana production declined substantially thereafter.

Belize remained an important transshipment site for drugs other than marijuana in the early 1990s. For instance, in September 1990 Mexican federal judicial police seized approximately 457 kilograms of cocaine, which they suspected had been smuggled into Mexico through the border area between Belize's Hondo River and Santa Teresa, Mexico. The shipment apparently was destined for the United States.

Finally, concerns existed that Belize served as a center for money-laundering. The Central Bank of Belize had the authority to trace large transactions, as well as all foreign-currency transactions. However, the nation's investment law allowed offshore banking in Belize and specifically exempted such activity from the regulatory oversight of the Central Bank.



Belize Economic Diversification

The narrow base of the national economy was recognized as a problem by the Belizean government after the sluggish growth of the early 1980s. In response, the government started a comprehensive program during the second half of the decade focused primarily on eliminating export biases and creating a favorable environment for investment, both foreign and domestic, especially in the nontraditional export sector. The creation of a favorable environment for investment meant eliminating internal and external imbalances and upgrading infrastructures. This process was facilitated by external incentives such as the United States Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI--see Appendix D). The private sector reacted positively to these changes, and economic growth took off.

The Belizean economy was still insufficiently diversified at the beginning of the 1990s, but major changes in the composition of GDP and exports had provided a basis for sustained growth. The two major changes in the GDP took place in agriculture and <>tourism. Agriculture declined from a 20 percent share of GDP in 1980 to a 15 percent share in 1990, whereas tourism expenditures increased from a 4 percent share to a 9 percent share.

The percentage share of each crop within the agricultural sector gave further evidence of how the composition of GDP was changing. Sugar-export receipts had lost half their share of exports by 1990, whereas tourism had tripled its portion, to the point where it nearly equaled receipts from sugar exports. Citrus products also had made remarkable progress, almost doubling their share of exports by 1990. The share of GDP provided by bananas increased, although less steadily.


Belize - Balance of Payments


Balance of payments figures also improved in the mid-1980s. From 1980 to 1984, Belize incurred a balance of payments deficit. Effects of the government austerity plan coupled with a rise in exports produced a balance of payments surplus from 1985-90. Between 1988 and 1990, the deficit between exports and imports of goods and services widened again. However, this time the gap was caused by large increases in private-investment expenditures. At the same time, the public sector was accruing surpluses so the overall balance of payment still showed a surplus.


Belize - Investments


The heavy investment in Belize from 1988 to 1990 funded both private-sector and public-sector activity. Public-sector capital investments that were domestically financed, for example, increased from US$3.4 million in 1986-87 to a planned US$38.8 million in 1991-92. Although the domestically funded portion of capital expenditures was budgeted to decrease in 1992, an expected increase in funding from external sources was projected to cause a net gain in new capital expenditures.

Private-sector investment increased from approximately US$17.7 million in 1985 to US$63.7 in 1989 then declined in 1990. Helping make a high level of private-sector investment possible was the increased availability of domestic credit. Analysts estimate that net domestic credit extended to the private sector increased 15.3 percent in 1989, and 17.8 percent in 1990.

The improved health and apparent stability of the Belizean economy also encouraged a surge in foreign direct investment. In 1984 Belize had suffered an outflow of foreign direct investment in equity capital of US$7 million. During the period 1988-90, annual foreign direct investments averaged US$17 million. Contributing to this development was the government's decision to eliminate export biases through various legislative measures. The 1990 Fiscal Incentives Act provided tax holidays and duty exemptions for investments that would benefit the economy. The 1990 Income Tax Act granted tax relief to nontraditional exporters. The legislature in 1990 also approved the Export- Processing Zones Act, which exempted eligible firms from requirements concerning import licenses, quotas, import and export taxes, export licenses, price controls, and other regulatory mechanisms. The first export-processing zones (EPZs) were scheduled to become established in 1993. The concept required designation or development of a physical facility (the zone) similar to an industrial park. As part of the effort to provide a more favorable environment for investment, Prime Minister George Cadle Price also introduced legislation that would lower corporate taxes from 45 percent to 35 percent in fiscal year 1992.


Belize - Fiscal Performance


The consolidation of government finances was a crucial factor in the economic growth of the late 1980s. The first step was the reduction of total expenditures. Between 1981 and 1985, total government expenditures had stood at 34 percent of GDP. Between 1986 and 1990, this proportion was reduced to 31 percent. More significant, however, was the decline of current expenditures as a portion of GDP, from 25 percent to 21 percent. This decline indicated that cuts in government spending were not being made at the expense of development expenditures. Development expenditures as a percentage of GDP actually increased from 7.4 percent between 1981 and 1985 to 8.7 percent between 1986 and 1990.

Statistics for the period 1986-90 also showed an increase in government revenues over 1981-85. These revenues, which had amounted to 24 percent of GDP over the 1981-85 period, increased to 30 percent of GDP in 1986-90. Some of this increase was accounted for by the sale of government assets, which increased capital revenues. The remainder came mainly from higher tax revenues, which rose from 21 percent to 24 percent of GDP.

Lower current expenditures and increased current revenues permitted the Belizean government to experience several years of high surpluses on its current account. In 1990 this surplus on the government's current account was 11 percent. This fiscal consolidation reduced government competition with the private sector in the domestic credit market. Consequently, increased lending to the private sector accelerated growth without increasing the money supply and therefore without threatening currency stability.


Belize - External Debt


Improvements in the current and capital accounts facilitated an increase in the country's international reserves from US$5 million in 1984 to US$130 million in 1990. Belize's total external debt more than doubled from US$62.9 million in 1980 to US$158 million in 1990. Despite its relatively low debt burden, Belize formally requested consideration by the United States government for debt reduction and payment of interest into a local environmental fund under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.

Belize has been quite successful in attracting foreign aid. In 1983, two years after the nation became independent, the United States Agency for International Development opened an office in Belize. Between 1983 and 1989, Belize received US$94 million in development assistance. On a per capita basis, in 1991 Belize ranked among the top recipients of United States aid, a position that underscored the close relationship between the two countries. Britain remained Belize's other major benefactor. In 1991 Belize sought membership in the Inter-American Development Bank to assure the continued flow of concessional loans.


Belize - LABOR


In 1946 the Belizean labor force numbered approximately 20,100 economically active individuals. This pool expanded to 27,000 in 1960, to 33,000 in 1970, and to 46,000 in 1980. By 1990 the active labor force had increased to more than 60,000. Most startling was the increase in female participation. Although women made up only 18 percent of the labor force in 1960, they accounted for one-third in 1991, when 44.5 percent of working-age women were actually economically active, as opposed to only 20.6 percent in 1960. The reason for this relatively high level of female participation was most likely the acute shortage of labor in a country where some 50 percent of the population was aged fifteen and under and also that young women typically are employed in the new low-wage sectors, such as the garment assembly industry.

The labor shortage was eased by the employment of large numbers of migrant workers from Central America. However, relatively high wage rates have been necessary to attract these workers, which, in turn, make Belize a high-cost producer by developing countries' standards. The influx of large numbers of immigrants per year, which has changed the ethnic composition of the population, has also been a source of social tension.

Although Belize has experienced labor shortages, it has also reported relatively high levels of unemployment--around 15 percent in the early 1990s. However, these figures were less a manifestation of job shortages than an indication of labor immobility. Also, many Belizeans chose to be unemployed, because they received remittance payments from family abroad. For instance, between 30,000 and 100,000 Belizeans were estimated to reside in the United States.

The members of five major unions accounted for about 15 percent of the labor force. In 1991 more than 1,000 teachers belonged to the Belize National Teachers' Union; the Public Service Union consisted of about the same number of public workers. The largest union outside the public sector was the Christian Workers' Union, with more than 2,000 members. The General Workers' Union was broadbased and affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The Democratic Independent Union counted more than 1,200 members in 1991. The National Trades Union Congress of Belize served as an umbrella group for all unions. None of the unions was associated with a political party.




Small, open economies depend heavily on preferential trade agreements. Belize's economy benefited from a range of such agreements: the United States sugar quota; the Lom� Convention of the European Economic Community (EEC--in particular, the Sugar Protocol and the Banana Protocol); the CBI; United States Tariff Schedule 807 program; the Multi-fibre Arrangement; and the EAI.

Preferential trade agreements demonstrate the complexity of international trade relations and their effect on economic progress, especially in developing countries. Preferential trade agreements also provide a reminder that trade liberalization is a double-edged sword for all trade participants, developed and developing alike. For example, there were distinct advantages in the existing quota systems for the Belizean sugar industry in the early 1990s. Quotas guaranteed that Belizean sugar would have access to markets in the EEC and the United States at prices far above world market levels. At the same time, it was also clear that a quota system was a unilateral act, that it limited market access, and that quotas could be changed or eliminated by foreign powers at their will.

Belize was a member of Caricom and benefited from preferential market access to the markets of other member countries. However, Caricom's success at integration was mixed. Between 1984 and 1986, Belize's trade with Caricom members decreased sharply as a result of currency devaluations and a renewal of trade barriers by some member countries. In 1988 Caricom approved a common internal tariff, which was to reinvigorate intraregional trade. However, there were some exceptions to the common internal tariff. Caricom's much-delayed common external tariff was adopted by Belize at the end of 1991. This common tariff changed Belize's duty rates but produced no effect on the budget. High duties on foodstuffs were dropped, and duties on machinery were reduced.

Belizean trade patterns were heavily affected by the country's participation in various bilateral and multilateral trade arrangements. The United States and Britain remained the principal destinations of Belizean exports throughout the 1980s. In the second half of the 1980s, the two accounted for more than 80 percent of total exports in every year. Their respective shares fluctuated from year to year, but their combined total remained practically unchanged. Exports to Caricom countries, which had peaked in 1983 at 14.5 percent of total Belizean exports, plunged to 1.9 percent in 1986, but recovered in 1990 to roughly half their 1983 level.



Belize Sugar

As the 1990s began, sugar was still the Belizean economy's single largest export earner. Sugar production involved a unique hybrid of agricultural and industrial activity. Sugarcane cultivation, on one hand, and the mechanicalchemical transformation of cane into sugar, on the other hand, made for this peculiarity. Both processes needed to be coordinated because of the perishability of the crop.

In Belize small farms in the north produce the bulk of the sugarcane. In the early 1990s, the coordination of the agricultural aspects of sugar production and the organization of cane delivery were the responsibilities of the Cane Farmers' Association. The industrial segment of the sugar-production process was controlled by Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSIL). Overall coordination of the industry was exercised by the Belize Sugar Board.

Until 1985 Belize had two sugar mills: the Libertad factory in the Corozal District, opened in 1937, and the factory at Tower Hill near Orange Walk Town, opened in 1967. In July 1985, the Libertad factory was closed. By early 1989, Libertad had been reopened and leased to the Jamaican petroleum company Petrojam. Petrojam was to use Libertad for the production of molasses, which was then to be refined in Jamaica into ethanol. Ethanol had duty-free access to the United States market under the CBI arrangement.

The Belizean sugar industry, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, experienced large production and export swings. In 1981 an estimated 30 percent of farmland, formerly used for growing sugarcane, had been abandoned. Yet, at the end of the 1980s, the United States increased its quota for Belize at the expense of Guyana, which was not reaching its allotment, and in early 1990, BSIL reported its largest-ever bulk shipment (17,300 tons of raw sugar) to Canada.

<>Other Crops


Belize - AGRICULTURE - Citrus


Citrus production, mainly oranges and grapefruit, occurs predominantly in Belize's Stann Creek District. The citrus trade began in the 1920s, but became significant only in the 1980s, when Belizean-produced citrus concentrate became exempt from United States tariff duties under the terms of the CBI. Exports of fresh citrus fruit to the United States were restricted because of infestation of the Mediterranean fruit fly. Citrus, much like sugar, underwent sharp price and production fluctuations, although overall export receipts from citrus concentrate markedly increased during the 1980s because of high prices.

In the early 1990s, citrus production was controlled by two processing companies. Founded by a Jamaican family, the Citrus Company of Belize had been controlled since 1984 by the Trinidad Citrus Association. Belize Food Products, the second processor, was owned by Nestl�, the Swiss multinational, until it was sold to a local consortium in 1990. Both processing plants were located near Dangriga on the Caribbean coast.

The future of citrus was uncertain. In 1990 only half of planted citrus hectarage was in production. There were indications that production could double within five years. There were worries, however, about the effect of competition from Mexico or Brazil through preferential access allowed to them via the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement or the EAI.


Belize - AGRICULTURE - Bananas


Commercial cultivation of bananas began in the late nineteenth century, when United States and British investors first established plantations. Although the banana trade between British Honduras and New Orleans at first seemed promising, commerce was wiped out in the 1920s by an outbreak of the Panama disease. Another attempt to cultivate bananas was begun by the British during the 1960s, but the plantations were destroyed by hurricanes in 1975 and 1978. The subsequent takeover of banana cultivation by the Banana Control Board, a public enterprise, had the effect of further inhibiting production.

By mid-1985, the Banana Control Board had accumulated debts of US$9 million. The government reacted to the plight of the board by selling the 880 hectares under cultivation to the private sector. Five years later, banana production had almost tripled, and the cultivated area had increased to more than 2,400 hectares. The Banana Control Board was reorganized and retained the responsibility for marketing and research. In 1991 responsibility for the board was passed to the Banana Growers' Association.

Britain was the almost exclusive importer of Belizean bananas. Marketing of exports was handled by Fyffes International, a British subsidiary of the United States company, United Fruit. The special provisions of the Lom� Convention's Banana Protocol allowed Britain to guarantee artificially high prices for bananas to the beneficiaries of the protocol. These prices were above prices in the United States and Germany. The purpose of this special provision was to protect the central export crop of some of the islands of the Lesser Antilles, members of the Commonwealth of Nations, from ruinous competition from low-cost producers in Latin America.

The preferential access to EEC markets provided by the Lom� Convention was under advisement in 1991 by the EEC in connection with its single-European-market program. It appeared that Belize would be better prepared for a drop in prices than would the islands of the Lesser Antilles, as Belizean producers received far lower prices through the protocol than did their Caribbean neighbors.

New port facilities at Big Creek in southern Stann Creek District were expected to increase banana exports. Until 1990 Belizean bananas had had to go through Puerto Cort�s, Honduras, which added to overhead. Fyffes then financed the construction of Big Creek, Belize's only deep-water port. This port was designed to serve as the main shipment point for Belizean bananas.

Between 1989 and 1991, banana production was hampered by cold weather and black sigatoka disease, but production was expected to double in 1992 because of the new port, better disease control, and improved drainage and irrigation systems. The susceptibility of bananas to disease and possible changes in Belize's preferential access to the British market were factors that could limit growth in this sector, however.


Belize - AGRICULTURE - Other Crops


Crops other than sugar, citrus, and bananas played a very minor role in the Belizean economy in the early 1990s. Cultivation of nontraditional export crops were encouraged by the CBI as a way of lessening dependence on sugar and banana exports. Trade incentives were offered for nontraditional products, such as tropical fruits or winter fruits and vegetables. This strategy was only moderately successful, however.

Examples of failed attempts at agricultural diversification included AID's sponsorship of the Belize Agri-Business Company, whose purpose was to decrease the dependency of northern farmers on sugarcane by replacing it with cucumbers, okra, and bell peppers for winter export to the United States. The effort failed because of the farmers' reluctance to change and because of poor marketing. In 1987 the failure of Caribe Farm Industries, the most prominent nontraditional agricultural exporter in the country producing a variety of vegetables, added to the growing frustration with the diversification efforts. Difficulties were also experienced with tropical fruits. The Danish-owned Tropical Produce Company (TPC) had a 570-hectare mango farm in the Monkey River area of the Toledo District. Its produce was grown for the United States market, as well as for European importers, with whom TPC held a ten-year contract. But shipments were erratic because of Mediterranean fruit fly quarantines. For instance, from 1987 to 1990, there were no mango exports from the TPC farm to the United States.

Most production of import-substitution crops resulted from the efforts of two groups, the Maya and the Mennonites. Small farmers, primarily of Mayan descent, grew corn and beans in sparsely populated areas for their own consumption. The immigrant Mennonite community bought 40,000 hectares of forested land along the Hondo River in 1959, constructed a road to Orange Walk, and soon created a thriving business based on dairy products, vegetables, beans, and poultry. Yet, overall production swung widely over the years, closely following price subsidies. The Belize Marketing Board, which supervised production of import-substitution crops, was scheduled to function exclusively as a price stabilization agency by the end of 1992.




Four fishing cooperatives--Caribe�a, the Northern, the National, and Placencia--dominated the fishing industry, which began to flourish in the 1960s. In 1990 fishing accounted for about 2 percent of GDP; 30 percent of the sector's output was for domestic consumption and the remainder was exported. The primary catches were lobster, shrimp, conch, red snapper, and other fin fish. Overfishing and out-of-season fishing were problems. Shrimp farming, begun with little initial success in the late 1970s, has recently contributed to a boost in shrimp exports (up 43 percent in 1989).

Forestry lost its role as the biggest sector of the Belizean economy decades ago. Its contribution to GDP averaged 2.3 percent during 1980-90. Production rose from 1987 to 1990 because of a high domestic demand for construction materials. Exports consisted primarily of sawn cedar wood. In 1990 volume dropped by 40 percent.



Belize Mining and Energy

Belize has negligible known mineral deposits, although hopes persisted that large reserves of oil would be found. Extensive drilling, which began in 1981, primarily in the Corozal Basin, has been unsuccessful. Some of the nation's oil has been supplied at concessionary terms because Belize was a signatory in 1988 to the San Jos� Pact with Mexico and Venezuela. This treaty obligated Mexico and Venezuela to offer concessionary credit for at least 20- 25 percent of the purchase price of their oil exports to Central American beneficiaries. In August 1991, Venezuela and Mexico increased the oil supplies offered under this agreement.

In the early 1990s, Belize had a limited capacity to generate electricity. Several small diesel generators, mostly powered by oil imported from Mexico, had a total capacity of 34.7 megawatts. In 1990 these plants produced 90 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Mexico agreed in 1990 to supply electricity to the Belize Electricity Board, but electricity remained costly and in short supply.



Belize - Manufacturing


The manufacturing sector has been dominated by agro-industries such as sugar-milling, citrus-processing, and processing of domestic foodstuffs. Belize also had a significant garment industry in the early 1990s. Nonagricultural industries that produced import substitutes were highly protected. Their output was limited by the size of the domestic market.

The garment industry was the only export-producing nonagricultural industry of note. As with the country's other major products, its level of exports fluctuated throughout the 1980s. In 1980 the garment industry was Belize's second largest industry. By 1990 the industry had dropped to fourth behind sugar, <>tourism, and citrus.

Garment manufacturing in Belize was an offshore industry using imported United States cloth. The finished product was then reexported, with the product exempt from United States duties for all but the portion of value added in Belize, per United States Tariff Schedule 807. Belize's garment exports have also benefited from the Multi-fibre Arrangement, which placed a United States import quota on garments from major exporters. Belize was not subject to the United States quota because of its relatively small share of United States imports.


Belize - Construction


Beginning in 1985, the construction industry began to grow faster than other sectors of the economy. Growth was especially strong after 1988, when investments in <> tourism and in the public sector accelerated. The industry continued to benefit from major infrastructural projects, such as the renovation of the Hummingbird Highway (the road linking Belmopan and the coast), the construction of numerous schools and urban housing, and a 24-megawatt hydroelectric project. In 1990 construction accounted for almost 10 percent of GDP.


Belize - TOURISM


Belize offers some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as more than 175 sandy cay islands, various archeological sites, about 240 varieties of wild orchids, and about 500 species of birds. Naturally, Belize would appear to be a prime objective for United States tourists. However, a lack of infrastructure has kept the tourism industry relatively underdeveloped.

Apart from making infrastructural improvements such as enlargement of Belize International Airport in 1989 and offering fiscal incentives, the public sector has done little to promote tourism. The unhappy experience of the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) in the early 1950s may have contributed to the government's hesitancy. In 1953 the CDC opened the Fort George Hotel, realizing that the lack of hotel accommodations in the colony had been an obstacle to investment. The costs of this project were excessive, however, and the architectural difficulties were overwhelming because of the swampy ground on which the hotel was built. The hotel's operations proved to be difficult as well. As a result, CDC's capital in the project had to be written off.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the tourism sector developed into the second most important source of foreign exchange for the Belizean economy. In 1980 tourism receipts had been about a tenth of sugar-export receipts. By 1990 the two sectors were almost equal in size. In 1991 hotel receipts were estimated to have grown by an additional 15 percent. Tourist arrivals almost tripled between 1985 and 1990. In 1990 the Fort George Hotel joined the Radisson chain and doubled its capacity to seventy-six rooms. In 1991 the Ramada Royal Reef Hotel opened with a capacity of 120 rooms. The total number of rooms had increased from 1,176 in 1980 to 2,763 in 1990.

The Belizean Ministry of Tourism has encouraged controlled development of tourism without endangering the country's ecological balance. Although tourism had great potential for growth, the sector was still constrained by poor infrastructure, unsophisticated services, and a shortage of qualified labor.

<"http://accommodations-travelnow.com/latin-america/belize/">Belize Accommodations


Belize - Government and Politics


BELIZE'S CONSTITUTIONAL and political institutions have roots in the country's origins as a settlement of British subjects, who carried with them the rights and immunities they had enjoyed in the mother country. British common law included the tradition of recognizing the executive power of the crown in settlements overseas, but the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras (renamed British Honduras in 1862 and Belize in 1973) enjoyed its own legislative competence. In 1871, however, it surrendered its legacy of self-governance and abolished its elected legislature in order to obtain greater economic and political security as a crown colony.

The colony soon regretted the loss of self-rule and thus began a long campaign to regain an elected legislature that led to internal self-rule in 1964 and culminated in the colony's independence in 1981. From 1950 on, the People's United Party (PUP) spearheaded this campaign under the leadership of George Cadle Price. Price and the PUP have largely defined the nationalist agenda in Belize, and the PUP has won all but one national election in Belize since 1954. Although internal self-rule was achieved in 1964, full independence was delayed because of territorial claims against Belize by Guatemala. These claims were still unresolved in 1991, but British defense guarantees paved the way for Belizean independence on September 21, 1981.

According to its constitution, Belize is a constitutional monarchy, whose titular sovereign, the British monarch, is represented in Belize by a governor general. Actual political power, however, resides in elected representatives in the National Assembly and the cabinet headed by the prime minister. Belize has a political system dominated by two parties, the PUP and the United Democratic Party (UDP). The constitution establishes an independent judiciary and guarantees fundamental human, civil, and political rights.




Belize Constitutional and Political Structures Prior to Independence

Constitutional and political development in Belize prior independence in 1981 can be divided into seven stages. The British settlement enjoyed its own legislature, called the Public Meeting, while the crown held executive authority and thus the right to appoint governors. Social, political, and economic factors, however, led British Honduras to surrender its elected legislature, then called the Legislative Assembly, and the legacy of selfgovernance in order to obtain greater security and economic stability as a crown colony in 1871. The arrangement did not grant the crown, however, the right to revoke or amend the colony's constitution, a right which the monarch held in some colonies. The Parliament of Britain continued to exercise its power to amend British Honduras's constitution in conjunction with relevant legislative bodies in the colony. The rise of trade unions in the 1930s and 1940s and the emergence of a mass political party in the 1950s led to the establishment of institutions that would chart British Honduras's steady course toward internal self-rule and independence.

<>The Public Meeting and the Superintendent, pre-1854
<>Elected Legislative Assembly, 1854-70
<>Crown Colony, 1871-1935
<>The Return to Elected Government, 1936-53
<>Constitution of 1954 and Extension of Suffrage, 1954-60
<>The 1960 Constitution
<>Internal Self-Rule, 1964-81
<>Constitution of 1981
Preparation of the Independence Constitution
<>Structure of the Constitution of 1981
<>Procedure for Amending the Constitution


Belize - The Public Meeting and the Superintendent, pre-1854


The ambiguous status of British loggers who settled in Spanish territory hindered the early development of government institutions in the area. Informal meetings to address common security concerns, however, evolved into a rudimentary form of administration, the Public Meeting. Participation in the Public Meetings depended on race, wealth, and length of residency. In 1765 Rear Admiral Sir William Burnaby, commander in chief of Jamaica, compiled the settlement's common law in the Ancient Usages and Customs of the Settlement, or, "Burnaby's Code." Burnaby also recommended to the British government that a superintendent be appointed to oversee the settlement. Opposition from the settlers prevented the office of superintendent from being permanently established until 1796. The changing political, economic, and social climate of Central America and the Caribbean, including the emancipation of slaves throughout the British empire in the 1830s, contributed to a desire to regularize the status of the settlement. As early as 1840, British law displaced Burnaby's Code as the settlement's basic law, and in 1854, a Public Meeting and the British Parliament adopted a new constitution, which created institutions more like those of other British possessions. The Public Meeting thus ceased to operate.


Belize - Elected Legislative Assembly, 1854-70


The new constitution replaced the Public Meeting with a Legislative Assembly with eighteen elected members. In addition, the superintendent appointed three subordinate colonial officials who served in the assembly as ex officio, or "official," members. The elected members had to be British-born or naturalized subjects and own property worth �400 sterling. The superintendent, who was appointed by the British government, chaired the assembly and could dissolve it at will. In 1862, when the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras was officially declared a British colony known as British Honduras, a lieutenant governor subordinate to the governor of Jamaica replaced the superintendent. Later, a governor replaced the lieutenant governor. At the end of the decade, however, the Legislative Assembly petitioned for status as a crown colony, hoping that the crown would thereby shoulder more of the costs of defense. In order to accommodate such status, the Legislative Assembly voted in 1870 to replace itself with an appointed Legislative Council.


Belize - Crown Colony, 1871-1935


The governor and his appointed council governed British Honduras after it was declared a crown colony in 1871. The exact composition of the council varied over the years, but its membership until 1936 was always restricted to official members, who held key appointive positions in the colonial administration, and unofficial members, who were appointed by the governor. In drafting a new constitution, the old Legislative Assembly withheld a power from the new governor. Unlike the governors of other crown colonies, the governor of British Honduras lacked reserve powers, the right to enact laws in emergency situations without the consent of the Legislative Council. But in 1932, the Legislative Council agreed to grant reserve powers to the British Honduran governor in exchange for urgently needed British financial assistance in the wake of a devastating hurricane the previous year.


Belize - The Return to Elected Government, 1936-53


Resenting the pressure that had been brought to bear upon them to grant reserve powers, the unofficial members of the Legislative Council successfully lobbied for the inclusion of elected members, as had been offered when the council agreed to grant the governor reserve powers. In 1936 five of the seven unofficial posts of the twelve-member council became elected ones. In 1939 the council expanded to thirteen, the new member being an elected one. The mix of official and appointed members was shuffled several times before the council was replaced in 1954.

The institution of elections for council members, however, did not bring mass political participation. Property requirements for voters and candidates effectively excluded nonwhite people from government. And until 1945, women could not vote before the age of thirty, while men could vote when they turned twenty-one. In the 1936 election, only 1,035 voters--1.8 percent of the population-- cast ballots. Even as late at 1948, only 2.8 percent of the population voted. After World War II, the cause of self-rule in British Honduras benefited from the growing pressure for selfgovernment and decolonization throughout the British Empire. The labor movement and the PUP, which was founded in 1950, called for greater political participation. In 1947 the Legislative Council appointed a commission of enquiry to make recommendations for constitutional reforms. The commission issued its report in 1952 and recommended moving slowly ahead with reforms, paving the way for an opening of the political system to greater popular participation.


Belize - Constitution of 1954 and Extension of Suffrage, 1954-60


The constitution of 1954 extended suffrage to all literate British subjects over the age of twenty-one. The new constitution also replaced the Legislative Council with a Legislative Assembly that had nine elected, three official, and three appointed members and established an Executive Council chaired by the governor. The nine members of the council were drawn from the Legislative Assembly and included the three official members, two of the appointed members, and four of the elected members chosen by the assembly. The governor was required to abide by the advice of the Executive Council but he still held reserve powers and controlled the introduction of financial measures into the legislature. In 1955 a quasi-ministerial government was established when three of the elected members of the Executive Council were given responsibility for overseeing three government ministries.


Belize - The 1960 Constitution


In 1959 British Honduras undertook another constitutional review, headed by Sir Hillary Blood. Blood's report served as the basis for a constitutional conference in London in 1960 and for reforms that took effect in March 1961. As a result of the review, the composition of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council changed. In the twenty-five-member assembly, eighteen members were now to be elected from single-member districts, five were to be appointed by the governor (three of these after consultation with the majority and minority party leaders), and two were to be official members. Assembly members served a term of four years.

The eight-member Executive Council included the assembly's majority-party leader, whom the governor appointed as first minister. Two council members were to be official members, and five unofficial members were to be elected by the assembly. Five ministerial posts, including that of first minister, carried portfolios.


Belize - Internal Self-Rule, 1964-81


Because the political parties contesting the March 1961 elections had declared their intent to seek full independence, another constitutional conference was held in London in 1963. The conference led to the establishment of full internal selfgovernment under a constitution that took force on January 1, 1964.

The changes introduced by this constitution significantly reduced the powers of the governor, transformed the Executive Council into a cabinet headed by a premier, and established a bicameral National Assembly, composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House of Representatives had eighteen members, all of whom were elected. The Senate had eight members, all appointed by the governor after consultation with majority and minority party leaders and other "suitable persons." The Senate's powers were limited to ratifying bills passed by the House or delaying, for up to six months, bills with which it disagreed (but for only one month on financial bills). General elections had to be held at least every five years on a date determined by the prime minister. The governor was still appointed by the crown but was now bound by the recommendations of the cabinet in executive matters. The leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives was to be appointed premier by the governor. Members of both the House and the Senate were eligible for appointment to the cabinet.

The constitution of 1964 established internal self-rule, and Britain had conceded the readiness of the colony for independence as early as 1961. But Guatemalan territorial claims against Belize delayed full independence until 1981.


Belize - Constitution of 1981


Preparation of the Independence Constitution

In the general election of November 1979, the PUP ran on a platform endorsing independence. PUP's opponent, the UDP, favored delaying independence until the territorial dispute with Guatemala was resolved. Although the PUP won only 52 percent of the vote, it carried thirteen of the eighteen seats in the House of Representatives and thus received a mandate for the preparation of an independence constitution. On January 31, 1981, the government issued the White Paper on the Proposed Terms for the Independence of Belize. The National Assembly appointed a joint select committee to consider the proposed terms and solicit input from all organizations in the country. The committee reported widespread support for a monarchical form of government based on the British parliamentary system but also suggested a number of amendments to the proposal. The House of Representatives adopted the committee's report on March 27, 1981.

The Belize Constitutional Conference was then held at Marlborough House, London, between April 6 and April 14, 1981. Although invited to participate, the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives and other representatives of the UDP declined to attend. Participating in the meeting at Marlborough House were only the Belizean delegation, headed by C.L.B. Rogers, deputy premier of Belize, and the British delegation headed by Nicholas Ridley, secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, along with their respective experts. The report issued by the Belize Constitutional Conference set out the structure and content for the independence constitution.

The British Parliament legislated for the final steps leading to Belizean independence in the Belize Act 1981, which received royal assent on July 28, 1981. The act granted Queen Elizabeth II the power to provide Belize an independence constitution and to set a date for Belizean independence by an Order in Council. The act also recognized Belize's self-governing status with provisions for its right to amend the so-called Constitution Order. The queen issued the order on July 31. In Belize the National Assembly passed the new constitution, the governor gave his assent on September 20, 1981, and Belize became independent the following day.


Belize - Structure of the Constitution of 1981


The constitution of 1981 contains twelve chapters and 142 sections. The first five chapters, which cover the sovereignty and territory of Belize, fundamental rights, citizenship, the powers of the governor general, and the executive, were essentially new. Chapters six through ten, which deal with the legislature, the judiciary, the civil service, finances, and miscellaneous details relating primarily to national symbols and government procedures, are based upon the constitution of 1963. Chapters eleven and twelve deal with the transition to independence and the date of the document's commencement.


Belize - Procedure for Amending the Constitution


Chapter Six gives the National Assembly the power to amend the constitution, with some sections and articles subject to a more stringent procedure than others. The more stringent procedure applies to changing any of the fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated in Chapter Two; any change in the form of the National Assembly; the establishment of election districts and the conduct of elections; any change relating to the judiciary; and provisions relating to the granting of pardons and commutations, the Belize Advisory Council, the director of public prosecutions, the auditor general, and the public service. Schedule Two and Section Sixtynine , which detail the amendment process, are also subject to the more stringent procedures. To present a bill amending any of the above provisions to the governor general for assent, at least ninety days must pass between the introduction of the bill into the House of Representatives and the start of House proceedings on the second reading (or floor debate) of the bill, and the bill must receive not less than a three-quarter majority vote of all the members of the House of Representatives upon final reading, or passage, of the bill. Bills to amend other sections of the constitution require a vote of not less than a two-thirds majority of all the members of the House for passage upon final reading. Laws amending the constitution were adopted in 1984, 1985, and 1988. These constitutional amendments mainly revised sections defining citizenship and detailing procedures for the appointment and removal of certain government officials and for dividing the country into election districts for the House of Representatives.




Belize is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government based on the British model. The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the titular head of state and is represented in Belize by a governor general, a position held since independence by Minita Gordon. The governor general has a largely ceremonial role and is expected to be politically neutral. The constitution gives real political power to those who are responsible to the democratically elected House of Representatives, principally the cabinet and the prime minister. The constitution divides the government into three branches--the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Additionally, the civil, or "public," service is overseen by an independent Public Service Commission.


According to the constitution, executive authority is vested in the British monarch. The governor general and other subordinate officers, however, exercise executive authority on the monarch's behalf. The governor general must be a citizen of Belize and he or she serves at the pleasure of the queen, not subject to a fixed term of office. The governor general is appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister. The constitution sharply limits the executive authority of the governor general by stating that the governor general "shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet" except in cases in which the constitution or law states otherwise. On some matters, the governor general must consult with other government officials or authorities, but is not bound to act in accordance with their advice.

When appointing a prime minister, the governor general is to appoint "a member of the House of Representatives who is the leader of the political party which commands the support of the majority of the members of that House." If no party has a majority, the governor general is directed to appoint that member "who appears to him likely to command the support of the majority of the members," someone able to assemble a viable coalition government. The constitution empowers the governor general to remove the prime minister from office if a resolution of no confidence is passed by the House of Representatives and the prime minister fails within seven days to resign or advise the governor general to dissolve the National Assembly. If, for example, a party loses its majority in the House through the defection of its members to the opposition party during the life of a National Assembly, the governor general can inform the prime minister that he or she no longer commands a majority in the House, and the governor general is free to appoint a new prime minister.

The cabinet is composed of the prime minister and all other ministers of government. Except for the prime minister and the minister of finance, who must be members of the House of Representatives, cabinet members may come from either the House or the Senate. Neither the speaker of the House nor the president of the Senate, however, may be appointed to the cabinet. The governor general formally appoints the ministers and assigns them their portfolios within the cabinet, but must do so in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. The National Assembly has the power to create ministerial positions not specifically enumerated in the constitution or to delegate this power to the governor general acting on the advice of the prime minister.

The constitution guarantees the executive supremacy of the prime minister and the cabinet. It states that: The Cabinet shall be the principal executive instrument of policy with general direction and control of the Government and shall be collectively responsible to the National Assembly for any advice given to the Governor General by or under the general authority of the Cabinet and for all things done by or under the authority of any Minister in the execution of his office.

The governor general appoints as leader of the opposition a member of the House who commands the majority support of the opposition members, except in cases where there are no members of the House of Representatives who do not support the government. The leader of the opposition has the right to be consulted by the prime minister or to give binding advice to the governor general in the matter of some appointive government offices.

The Belize Advisory Council is an executive organ that serves as an independent body assisting the governor general. Its primary function is to give binding advice regarding the granting of pardons, commutations, stays of execution, and the removal of justices of appeal who are considered unable to carry out their duties or who have misbehaved in office. The council must have at least seven members including a chairman. The governor general appoints council members in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, who must consult with the leader of the opposition for all appointments and secure his or her concurrence in at least two of the appointments. The chairman must hold, have held, or be qualified to hold the office of judge of a superior court of record. In addition, at least two members must hold, or have held, high office within the government, and at least one must be a member of a recognized profession in Belize.


Belize's National Assembly is a bicameral legislature composed of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. Chapter Six of the constitution charges the National Assembly with making "laws for the peace, order and good government of Belize." Following national elections, the National Assembly has a life of five years, unless the governor general dissolves it sooner. It must hold at least one session a year. In the event of war, the life of the National Assembly may be extended for one year at a time for up to two years. The governor general almost always exercises his power to dissolve the National Assembly in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, who generally seeks to dissolve the National Assembly at a time when he perceives the ruling party as likely to receive a new mandate from the electorate. Under certain circumstances, however, the governor general may act on his or her own judgment. The governor general may, for example, refuse to dissolve the National Assembly if he or she does not believe dissolution to be in the best interest of the country. A general election must be held within three months after the National Assembly has been dissolved, and senators are to be appointed as soon as practical after the election.

Qualifications for representatives and senators are similar. To be eligible for either chamber, a person must be a citizen of Belize, be at least eighteen years old, and have resided in Belize for at least one year immediately prior to his or her nomination (to the House) or appointment (to the Senate). Members of the armed forces or the police force are barred from serving in either chamber. People holding government office or appointment are barred from membership in the House of Representatives; they are barred from membership in the Senate only if the position is connected with the conduct of elections or compilation of the electoral register. People who are party to any contract with the government or the public service must declare publicly the nature of their contract before the election in order to qualify for election to the House. Potential appointees to the Senate must make such a disclosure to the governor general before their appointment. Sitting members of the National Assembly are also barred from holding government contracts unless the House (or the governor general in the case of senators) waives the ban.

The members of the House of Representatives and the Senate elect their presiding officers, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate respectively. Each chamber may choose one of its own members who is not a government minister, or it may choose some other Belizean citizen who is not a member of either the House or the Senate. A speaker elected from outside the House has no vote within the House of Representatives, but such a president of the Senate does. Both the speaker and the president must be at least thirty years old.

According to the constitution as amended in 1988, the country is to have no fewer than twenty-eight electoral districts, or divisions, each with a nearly equal number of eligible voters and the right to elect one House member. The constitution charges the Elections and Boundaries Commission with making recommendations to the National Assembly when it believes additional electoral divisions are needed. The National Assembly may then enact laws establishing the new divisions. When the constitution took effect in 1981, it mandated that the House would have eighteen elected members; the current number of electoral divisions, and hence elected representatives, was set at twenty-eight in October 1984. Not counting the presiding officer, a quorum of at least seven members is necessary for a sitting of the House of Representatives.

The Senate has eight members (nine, if the Senate elects its presiding officer from outside its membership) who are appointed by the governor general according to the following provisions: five are appointed in accordance with the advice of the prime minister; two with the advice of the leader of the opposition; and one with the advice of the Belize Advisory Council. Not counting the presiding officer, a quorum of three senators is necessary for a sitting of the Senate.

The House of Representatives or the Senate may introduce bills, except ones involving money. Passing a bill requires a simple majority among members who are present and voting. A bill that has been passed by both houses is presented to the governor general, who assents to the bill and publishes the measure in the official Government Gazette as law. The governor general's assent is purely pro forma, since he or she acts in accordance with the advice of the cabinet.

The Senate can normally be expected to pass a measure adopted by the House, since a majority of its members are appointed on the advice of the prime minister. Should the Senate, however, reject a measure or amend it in a manner unacceptable to the House, the House still has the power to enact the bill, as long as the Senate received the House's bill at least one month before the end of the session. To enact the bill, the House must pass the measure again at least six months later and in the next session of the National Assembly and send it to the Senate at least one month before the end of the session. Even if the bill is again rejected by the Senate, it still can be presented to the governor general for assent.

Bills involving money are handled under a more restricted procedure and with less opportunity for the Senate to delay them. Only the House of Representatives may introduced these bills. Laws related to taxes may be introduced by the House only with the recommendation or consent of the cabinet. Moreover, if the Senate fails to pass a finance bill without amendments within one month of receiving it from the House, and if the Senate received it at least one month before the end of the session, the bill is presented to the governor general for his or her assent despite the lack of Senate approval.

Laws that are introduced as a result of cabinet decisions are virtually guaranteed passage because the cabinet represents the majority party in the House. Moreover, PUP governments have commonly given all or nearly all PUP House members a cabinet position. The PUP cabinets have consequently constituted a majority of the House membership. Under these circumstances, once the cabinet has agreed on a course of action, debate on the floor of the House is largely irrelevant, since the constitutionally mandated collective responsibility of the cabinet obliges its members to support cabinet decisions on the floor or resign from the cabinet. In contrast, when the UDP won twenty-one seats in the twenty-eight-member House elected in 1984, Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel governed until 1989 with only an eleven-member cabinet, leaving ten other UDP members to be "backbenchers." Political analysts saw this introduction of the backbencher system (an element of the British parliamentary model), as strengthening the House as an institution vis-�-vis the cabinet.


In the Belizean legal system, the judiciary is an independent branch of government. Among the basic legal protections afforded by the constitution to criminal defendants are a presumption of innocence until proven guilty; the rights to be informed of the nature and particulars of the charges, to defend oneself before an independent and impartial court within a reasonable amount of time, and to have the hearings and trial conducted in public; and guarantees against self-incrimination and double jeopardy. In more serious criminal cases, the defendant also has a right to a trial by jury.

Each of the six districts has a Summary Jurisdiction Court, which hears criminal cases, and a District Court, which hears civil cases. Both types of court of first instance are referred to as magistrates' courts because their presiding official is a magistrate. These courts have jurisdiction in less serious civil and criminal cases, but must refer to the Supreme Court more serious criminal cases, as well as any substantive legal questions. Magistrates' courts may impose fines and prison sentences of up to six months. Finding suitable magistrates has proven difficult, even though magistrates need not be trained lawyers. Vacancies have contributed to a backlog of cases and many prolonged acting appointments, a situation which, critics charge, has opened the courts to political manipulation. Law students returning to Belize for summer vacation or retired civil servants often fill the vacancies.

The Supreme Court has unlimited original jurisdiction in both civil and criminal proceedings. In addition to the more serious criminal and civil cases, the Supreme Court hears appeals from the magistrates' courts. The governor general appoints the head of the Supreme Court, the chief justice, "in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition." The governor general appoints the other justices, called puisne judges (of which there were two in 1989), "in accordance with the advice of the judicial and legal services section of the Public Service Commission and with the concurrence of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition." Justices may serve until they reach sixty-two, the normal, mandatory retirement age, which may be extended up to the age of seventy. Justices may only be removed for failing to perform their duties or for misbehavior.

The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the Supreme Court. A president heads the Court of Appeal. The governor general appoints the president and the two other justices serving on the court "in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition." The constitution sets no fixed term of office for these justices but provides that their terms of office be fixed in their instruments of appointment.

In cases involving the interpretation of the constitution, both criminal and civil cases may be appealed by right beyond the Court of Appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The Court of Appeal may also grant permission for such appeals in cases having general or public importance. The crown may grant permission for an appeal of any decision--criminal or civil--of the Court of Appeal.

Public Service

The independent Public Services Commission oversees the public service, which includes the Belize Defence Force (BDF). The Commission consists of a chairman and eighteen other members, including nine ex officio members ranging from the chief justice to the commissioner of police. The governor general appoints the chairman and unofficial members "acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition." Members of the National Assembly and holders of any public office (except ex officio members) may not be appointed to the commission until being out of office for at least two years. The normal term of office is three years, but the instrument of appointment may specify a shorter period, which must be at least two years. The Public Service Commission has the power to appoint people to public service positions and to discipline employees. The Public Services Commission also has responsibility for setting the code of conduct, fixing salaries, and generally managing the public service.

Under the British model of parliamentary government, public service employees are expected to execute the policies of the cabinet ministers who head the various executive ministries regardless of the ministers' political affiliations. In turn, public service employees are to be insulated from overt political pressure.

Local Government

The country is divided into six political districts, or subdivisions: Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, and Toledo. No administrative institutions exist at the district level, however, and there is no regional government between the national government and the municipal and village councils.

Laws enacted by the National Assembly govern the municipal councils, which have limited authority to enact local laws. The primary role of the councils is to oversee sanitation, streets, sewers, parks, and other amenities, and to control markets and slaughterhouses, building codes, and land use. Their revenues come from property and other taxes set by the national government, as well as from grants from the national government. The largest of the eight municipal councils is the one for Belize City, which has a nine-member city council. The other seven municipal governments are the seven-member town boards in Benque Viejo del Carmen, Corozal, Dangriga, Orange Walk, Punta Gorda, San Ignacio, and San Pedro (on Ambergris Cay, off Corozal). Each municipal council elects a mayor from among its members, and elections for the municipal councils are held every three years. The PUP and UDP dominate the municipal elections, and candidates, often recruited on short notice, are highly dependent on their party. The use of at-large elections frequently results in one party winning all of the seats on a council, and this situation tends to make the local elections a popular referendum on the performance of the party in power at the national level. Aliens who have resided for three or more years in a given municipality may register to vote in the municipal elections.

Village councils are a more informal kind of local government. They are not created by law and thus are not vested with any legal powers or functions. Nevertheless, most villages have councils, which operate as community organizations promoting village development and educational, sporting, and civic activities. The village councils have seven members and are chosen every two years in elections overseen by the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development. These elections commonly take place in public meetings, often without voter registration lists or secret ballot. Their informality does not prevent the village councils from becoming politicized, however, and they are often a base of support for or opposition to the local representative in the House of Representatives.

A third form of local government, the alcalde (mayor) system, exists in a few Kekch� and Mop�n Indian villages. Derived from the Spanish system of local government imposed on the Maya, the alcalde system is the only government institution in Belize that is not Anglo-Saxon in origin. Laws enacted in 1854 and 1884 gave the system a legal foundation. Since then, however, the system has declined, largely as the result of a delimitation and regularization of its authority in 1952, the growth of the cash economy, and the diminished importance of subsistence farming and communal labor. Coordination of communal labor had been a key function of the alcalde. Annual elections are held to select a first alcalde, a second alcalde, a secretary, and a village policeman. The alcalde has the right to judge disputes over land and crop damage. In minor cases, the alcalde has the authority to try and punish offenders. Decision making in the village is generally by consensus after village elders direct open discussion. Women do not participate in these public meetings.

In addition to these forms of local government, Belize grants certain exemptions and rights to three Mennonite communities that immigrated to Belize in the late 1950s and early 1960s. An agreement, or Privilegium (signed in December 1957 between the government and each community), spells out the exemptions, rights, and responsibilities of the Mennonite communities. Under the Privilegium, the Mennonite communities have the right to run their own churches and schools using the Low German language, and their members are exempt from military service, any social security or compulsory insurance system, and the swearing of oaths. In return, the Privilegium commits the Mennonites to invest in the country, be self-supporting, produce food for both the local and export markets, conduct themselves as good citizens, and pay all normal duties and taxes established by law. The Mennonite communities tax themselves in order to make lump-sum property tax payments to the government and to finance schools, and public works, and other internal operations. The communities legally register their land in the name of the community and restrict individual ownership of community land to members in good standing with the Mennonite Church. Other Mennonites also live in Belize with no special arrangements with the government.



Belize Electoral Procedures

In contrast to most Central American nations, elections in Belize are notable for their regularity, adherence to democratic principles, and an absence of violence. The Representation of the People Ordinance and the constitution regulate electoral procedures. The constitution established an independent Elections and Boundaries Commission and charged it with the registration of voters, the conduct of elections, establishment of election districts, and all other related matters. The five members of the commission serve five-year terms of office. The governor general appoints all five members in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, who consults with the leader of the opposition before nominating the members. National Assembly members and others who hold public office are barred from appointment.

The constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen over the age of eighteen who meets the provisions of the Representation of the People Ordinance. Voting is not compulsory. Employers are required to give their employees time to vote and to pay them for the time they are away at the polls. Polls are open from 7:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on election day, but anyone in line by 6:00 P.M. may vote, no matter how long it may take. The sale of liquor is barred while the polls are open. Certain forms of political campaigning, including television advertisements, political speeches, and the distribution of political buttons, posters, banners, or flags are also prohibited. Canvassing of voters is permitted, except within a 100-meter zone around each polling station. Within this zone, voters may not be disturbed, voter-to-voter conversation is barred, and only election officials may answer questions. The constitution mandates that "votes be cast in a secret ballot."

The Elections and Boundaries Commission maintains a registry of voters and publishes this list for public inspection at its offices and at polling stations. For the September 1989 general election, there were 82,556 registered voters, a 28 percent increase over registration levels for the previous general election in 1984. Of the registered voters in 1989, 72 percent actually voted, a slight decrease from 1984, when 75 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Municipal elections attract a lower turnout. For example, less than 48 percent of the electorate cast ballots in the Belize City municipal elections in 1989.

The right forefinger of voters is marked with indelible ink to help prevent multiple voting. No provision is made for absentee voting, although certain people (for example, members of the BDF, police officers on duty outside their voting district, and persons employed in essential services), may vote by proxy.

Candidates for the House of Representatives are elected from single-member districts. The candidate with the largest number of votes wins the election; in the event of a tie, a new election is held in that district within three months. This type of electoral system usually strengthens the hand of the winning party in relation to its strength at the polls because a party winning narrow victories in a number of districts may obtain a larger majority in the House of Representatives than its share of the popular vote. In 1979, for example, the PUP and the UDP split the vote 52 percent to 47 percent, but the PUP carried thirteen of the eighteen House seats. Similarly, in the 1984 election, the vote was split 53.3 percent to 43.3 percent between the UDP and the PUP, but the UDP won twenty-one of the twenty-eight House seats.

<>Electoral Process since Independence
<>Political Parties
People's United Party
<>United Democratic Party
<>Other Parties
<>Interest Groups
Organized Labor
<>Business Community
<>Churches and Religious Institutions
<>Consciousness-Raising Organizations
<>Mass Communications


Belize - Electoral Process since Independence


Transitional provisions of the 1981 constitution permitted members of the preindependence National Assembly to continue in office until new elections were set. In 1984 Prime Minister George Price called for elections. The PUP under the leadership of George Price held thirteen of the twenty-one seats in the House of Representatives in the years immediately before and after independence. The PUP was beginning to show signs of weakness, however, after having dominated national politics for thirty years. This weakness was evident as early as 1974, when the UDP polled 49 percent of the vote (but won only six of eighteen seats). In 1977, the PUP failed to capture a single seat on the Belize City Council. It was not until the general election on December 14, 1984, that the PUP suffered its first defeat at the national level. The UDP under Manuel Esquivel won twenty-one of the twenty-eight seats in the newly enlarged House of Representatives. The PUP won only seven seats, and one PUP member defected and late created the Belize Popular Party in 1985. The UDP confirmed its strength when it dominated the municipal elections in March 1985 and won control of five of the eight municipal councils.

A ten-year effort to harness opposition to the PUP culminated in the UDP's victory in the 1984 general election. The UDP campaign focused on economic issues because the PUP had a poor economic record for the 1981-84 period. The UDP stressed its conservative, free-enterprise, and pro-United States approach, but of equal importance, but of equal importance in the PUP's defeat was simply the country's readiness for a change. George Price had risen to national prominence in the 1950s, and the PUP had been the ruling party ever since 1964, when internal self-rule was instituted. Price tried to hold the middle ground while the PUP split into left and right camps. Meanwhile, the track record of the UDP at the local level made it a credible alternative to the PUP. Moreover, the leadership of Manuel Esquivel probably enhanced the appeal of the UDP. Esquivel, like George Price, is both Mestizo and Creole in origin and was thus able to bridge the main ethnic division in the country.

Buoyed by the country's strong economic growth in 1989, Prime Minister Esquivel in July of that year called an election for September 4, several months sooner than necessary. The PUP, however, won the election by a small margin, carrying 50.3 percent of the vote and capturing fifteen seats in the House of Representatives. The UDP won 48.4 percent of vote and thirteen seats. PUP's fifteen-to-thirteen seat majority grew to sixteen-to- twelve when a UDP member switched parties in December 1989.

Two issues, the economy and Belizean citizenship, dominated the election. The UDP had overseen an International Monetary Fund economic stabilization plan inherited from the previous PUP government and stressed the country's economic progress. The PUP, however, focused on the high unemployment rate, the large trade deficit, and large national debt. It also attacked the government's policy of selling Belizean citizenship to Hong Kong Chinese and accused the UDP of excessive reliance on foreign investment to the detriment of Belizeans. The PUP stated its preference for a mixed economic model under Belizean national control and effectively used the slogan "Belizeans First." The PUP also accused the UDP of political repression and harassment through the control and censorship of the media and the creation of the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS).

Other factors beyond the issues, however, help to explain the UDP's defeat. Having assumed responsibility for governing the country, the UDP neglected its party organization and was plagued by internal divisions before and after the election. The party's newspaper acknowledged that the bitterness of the nominating convention had hurt the UDP. And after the PUP won every seat on the Belize City Council in municipal elections in December 1989, the paper charged that prominent UDP figures had failed to campaign for the party. Meanwhile, the PUP entered the election as a unified, centrist party, which shed its right and left wings.

Personality is an important factor in Belizean politics, and personal vilification is a standard campaign strategy. Many people perceived Esquivel and other UDP ministers as arrogant and snobbish. In contrast, Price was considered a populist, whose personal religiosity and moral austerity always won him--and indirectly the PUP--support from the religious vote.

Despite the diversity of Belizean society, ethnic and religious differences rarely entered overtly into national politics. Parties based on ethnic identity never formed, and no single ethnic group dominated the PUP or the UDP. Nevertheless, ethnic political tension focused on the balance of power between Creoles and others, especially the Mestizos. The Creole middle class of Belize City adopted British culture, language and religion. This group, the bulwark of British colonialism in Belize, gave Belize City an antiCentral American outlook. Other parts of the country, however, tended to share an ethnic and religious identity with the peoples of Central America. Recent Central American immigration has threatened the balance between Creole and non-Creole, and the UDP attempted to tap resentment toward the refugees in the 1984 election. Although the influx of refugees slowed in the late 1980s, Central American refugees may have accounted for as much as 17 percent of the population in 1989. Most were peasants who were readily absorbed into the agricultural sector, but these Spanishspeaking immigrants may be carrying the seeds of future political tensions by contributing to changes in the ethnic makeup of the country.

George Price and the PUP have long championed Belize's Central American identity. In the late 1950s, Price opposed Belize's inclusion in a proposed West Indies Federation that would have united Belize with the English-speaking Caribbean islands. Joining the federation would have raised the specter of immigration from the islands, which are populated mostly by Creoles and Protestants. This long-standing support for strong ties with Central America undoubtedly contributed to the PUP's strong performance among Spanish-speaking voters in the western and southern parts of the country in the 1989 election. But the PUP by no means had a monopoly on Mestizo voters. Moreover, the PUP's failure to include more Creoles in its top leadership might hurt the party in the future. In fact, the PUP cabinet that was appointed after the 1989 election included only one member that most Belizeans would identify as a Creole. Opponents have charged Price with attempting to "latinize" the country and with selling Belize short in negotiations with Guatemala.

Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, the number of ethnic associations and councils grew. These associations were dedicated to promoting cultural pride and cohesion, self-reliance, and community participation and action. Although generally seen in a positive light, they were criticized by some observers, who expressed the fear that the revival of ethnic consciousness after several decades of integration was likely to lead Belize into escalating ethnic conflict.


Belize - Political Parties


Belize has a functioning two-party political system revolving around the PUP and the UDP. Dissident members of these parties periodically struck out on their own and founded new parties, but they have usually foundered after a few years. In early 1991, no parties besides the PUP and the UDP were active.

People's United Party

Almost since its founding in 1950, the People's United Party (PUP) has been the dominant force in Belizean politics. With the exception of the 1984 election, the PUP has won every national election between 1954 and 1989. The party grew out of a circle of alumni from Saint John's College, a Jesuit-run secondary school. Roman Catholic social-justice theory, derived from such sources as the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum and the work of the French neo-Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain, had a strong influence on these alumni. The group included many men who later became important political figures, such as George Price, Herbert Fuller, and Philip Goldson. The group won municipal elections in Belize City in the 1940s by addressing national issues and criticizing the colonial regime. Members were then poised to exploit the popular discontent that resulted from the unilateral decision of the governor to devalue the currency in late 1949. The group founded the People's Committee in response to the devaluation, and in September 1950 the People's Committee was reconstituted as the PUP.

The party tapped the organizational strength of the labor movement by piggybacking onto the General Workers' Union (GWU), which had established branches throughout the country during the 1940s. The PUP quickly surpassed the GWU in importance, largely because the overlapping leadership of the GWU and the PUP subordinated the interests of the union to those of the party. The PUP swept the 1954 election, the first one to be held after the introduction of full literate adult suffrage, easily defeating the National Party, a rival sponsored by the colonial government.

The PUP's success, however, set the stage for a split in 1956 over the questions of how far the party should cooperate with the colonial regime and whether to endorse the British initiative for a West Indies Federation. Members favoring cooperation constituted a majority of the PUP's Central Party Council and the party's representatives in the legislature. George Price, however, had the support of the rank and file for his intransigent approach. Following the resignation of the dissident leaders, Price enjoyed undisputed control of the PUP.

Price has been a preeminent politician over the years for several reasons. First, he has been recognized as the ablest and most charismatic politician among the PUP founders and he has been seen as the spokesmen for the anticolonial movement. Second, the party's split in 1956 saw the departure of the PUP's other top leaders, enabling Price to begin building a political machine in which local leaders were personally loyal to him. Third, when the PUP assumed control of the internal government in 1964, the locus of power shifted from the party to the cabinet, which Price was able to choose. Internal party mechanisms and structures began to atrophy, and party conventions served mainly to ratify decisions already made by a small group that Price headed.

The concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a small circle of leaders headed by Price helped the PUP organize across ethnic, class, and rural-urban lines under a common banner of anticolonial nationalism. But by discouraging broad participation in setting party policy, the power arrangement also hindered the rise of younger leaders.

Young members of the PUP's left wing, including Said Musa, V.H. Courtenay, and Assad Shoman, pushed through a new party constitution in 1975 designed to encourage greater participation by the rank and file and to counter declining popular support for the party. The party's older leadership, however, resisted the reformed constitution and effectively blocked its implementation. Observers of Belizean polities have often cited an aging leadership lacking fresh ideas and out of contact with the people, especially with younger voters, as a reason for the PUP's defeat in 1984.

The relatively small leadership circle, however, failed to prevent the rise of factions within the PUP. Although Price has always held a centrist position, the PUP has often been torn by strife between its left and right wings because of conflicting personalities and agendas within the leadership. Observers have also cited party disunity as a factor in the 1984 defeat. In the wake of that defeat, leaders from both the right and left wings abandoned or were expelled from the party. The PUP thus entered the 1989 election more ideologically unified than it had been for many years.

The centrist ideology of the PUP seems to reflect the personal outlook of George Price, who has consistently called the orientation of the party "Christian Democratic," endorsed "wise capitalism," and rejected both "atheistic communism" and "unbridled capitalism."

The primary thrust and ideological appeal of the PUP, however, remained its nationalism and anticolonialism. In the 1989 election, for example, the PUP accused the UDP of having pandered to foreign speculators whose investments did little to help Belizeans. The 1989 PUP platform called for restricting the sale of Belizean property to foreigners, halting the sale of Belizean passports, reducing the role of United States Agency for International Development (AID) in the country, and nationalizing the University College of Belize, which the UDP government had developed under an agreement with Michigan's Ferris State College. Party documents commit the PUP to "economic democracy," and the party's leaders have endorsed a "mixed economic model with Belizean national control." Still, the PUP has sought investment by foreign firms, including ones from the United States, and the party's differences with the UDP on these matters were often based more on style and rhetoric than on substance.


Belize - United Democratic Party


The colonial establishment responded to the political challenge of the PUP by founding the National Party (NP) in 1951. But despite official encouragement, the NP enjoyed little popular support. ExPUP members, headed by Philip Goldson, founded the Honduran Independence Party (HIP) after the 1956 split in the PUP. After their defeat by the PUP in elections in 1957, the NP and the HIP parties merged in 1958 to form the National Independence Party (NIP). In 1961 Goldson became party leader but was unable to mount an effective challenge to the PUP. An unsuccessful leadership challenge to Goldson in 1969 led to the formation of the People's Development Movement (PDM), headed by Dean Lindo. Lindo did not try to organize the PDM on a national basis. But in 1969, he formed a coalition with the NIP and ran in a snap election. Suffering a near total defeat, both parties became largely inactive. Probusiness forces within the NIP organized the Liberal Party, probably to strengthen their voice in the anticipated negotiations for a new party. In September 1973, the NIP, the PDM, and the Liberal Party merged to form the United Democratic Party.

With the formation of the UDP in 1973, the outlook for people who opposed the PUP began to brighten. The UDP won 31.8 percent of the vote in 1974 and 46.8 percent in 1979. The PUP, however, still held majorities in the House of Representatives. In the 1979 election, the UDP had expected to receive a boost from the recent enfranchisement of eighteen-year olds but the party was hurt by its call to delay independence for at least another ten years during an election that became a referendum on independence. Moreover, the party still had to overcome the divisions among its constituencies. Lindo, who had become party leader after the 1974 election, was defeated in his district in 1979. Theodore Aranda, a Garifuna succeeded Lindo as party leader. After charges and countercharges of racism and incompetence, Aranda resigned from the UDP in 1982 and later formed a Christian Democratic Party (CDP) that merged with the PUP in 1988. Changes in the UDP's constitution enabled Manuel Esquivel, a UDP senator, to be elected the new party leader. Esquivel, who came to the UDP via the Liberal Party, led the party to victory in 1984.

Beyond the weakness of the PUP in 1984, several factors contributed to the UDP's victory. First, Esquivel went beyond simply opposing the PUP and presented a self-assured image for the UDP. Personal initiative and his platform, which emphasized change, played well in the face of the country's poor economic performance in the early 1980s. Second, victories in local elections had made the UDP a more credible party; the UDP had swept Belize City municipal elections in 1983 (Esquivel was a former mayor of Belize City). Finally, Esquivel's mixed Creole and Mestizo heritage probably helped the party make inroads among Mestizo voters. Earlier party leaders, such as Philip Goldson, had long been associated with opposition to what they considered Price's latinization of Belize.

Esquivel was also able to counter PUP criticism of the UDP's economic policy. He noted that the UPD was merely implementing an economic policy initiated by the PUP in agreement with the IMF. Esquivel pointed out that many issues criticized by PUP--the increased presence of AID advisers and Peace Corps volunteers, the construction of radio towers by Voice of America, and the sale of Belizean citizenship--all began in the previous PUP government. The UDP distinguished itself from the PUP by highlighting its economic expertise and willingness to implement painful, but necessary reforms.

Factionalism and disarray emerged in the UDP after its defeat in the September 1989 general election and after postelection recriminations and increased public attention to the private business affairs of many UDP figures. Nevertheless, the party retained its strong political base as the only viable opposition to the PUP. In February 1990, the UDP Executive Council confirmed Esquivel as party leader and Dean Barrow as deputy party leader.


Belize - Other Political Parties


Factionalism within the PUP and the UDP sometimes led to the establishment of new parties. But the track record of these parties was poor. In 1985, for example, expelled right-wing members of the PUP founded the Belizean Popular Party, which received less than 1 percent of the vote in the 1986 Belize City Council elections. By 1988 the party was apparently defunct. Theodore Aranda founded the CDP following his resignation from the UDP in 1982, but his constituency did not follow him. The CDP won neither of the two seats that it contested in the 1984 general election. The CDP merged with the PUP in 1988, and Aranda was elected to the House in 1989 as a member of the PUP. Cyril Davis, a former UDP senator, resigned from the UDP after the 1989 election with the intention of forming a labor party but he ended up joining the PUP.


Belize - Interest Groups


Organized Labor

Although organized labor was instrumental in the rise of the PUP, its political importance has diminished significantly since the 1950s. In early 1991, organized labor was fragmented, weak, and politically unimportant. In the late 1980s, total union membership was estimated at about 6,000. Membership was divided among some eighteen trade unions. The country's six major trade unions made up the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), which was affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICTFU), the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (Organizaci�n Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores--ORIT), and the Caribbean Congress of Labor. These organizations were philosophically and financially tied to labor organizations in the United States. The formal ties that once existed with political parties disappeared, and the PUP and the UDP effectively absorbed or neutralized the political voice of the unions once affiliated with them.

The modern labor movement in Belize began in the 1934, when Antonio Soberanis G�mez founded the Labourers and Unemployed Association (LUA). Vestiges of the repressive labor laws inherited from the nineteenth-century colonial era were not abolished until 1959, but changes in 1941 and 1943 enabled the British Honduras Workers and Tradesmen's Union (founded by Soberanis in 1939), to register legally as a trade union in 1943. Shortly thereafter, the union changed its name to the General Workers' Union (GWU). Because the GWU's strikes and organizing activities targeted the agricultural and forestry sectors, especially the Belize Estate and Produce Company, its organizational structure in rural areas made it a particularly desirable partner for the PUP in the anticolonial struggle of the 1950s.

Membership in the GWU grew from 350 in 1943 to over 3,000 in the late 1940s and peaked in 1955 at about 12,000. In 1956 membership fell to 700. The union's explosive growth and then rapid decline must be seen in light of its role in the anticolonial movement and the loss of that role to the PUP.

Cooperation in the late 1940s between the GWU and the People's Committee, the forerunner of the PUP, eventually led to the PUP's control of the union through interlocking leadership. While the PUP drew on the GWU's organizational structure, it abandoned the GWU's socialist ideology in order to attract support from all segments of Belizean society. Having lost its distinct political voice, the GWU ceased playing a key role in the anticolonial movement after the PUP's 1956 internal split, which left the union in the hands of dissident party members. Price's associates founded a rival labor movement, the Christian Workers' Union, hastening the decline of the GWU and lending support to the PUP. The PUP by then had established its own organization throughout the country and no longer needed to rely on outside organizational support.

With its role in the anticolonial movement usurped by the PUP, the labor movement was dormant as a political force during the 1960s and 1970s. The labor movement instead focused its energies on collective bargaining and job-related issues. In the late 1970s, however, a new generation of union activists attempted to reestablish labor's independent political voice through the United General Workers Union (UGWU). This union was formed by the amalgamation of the Belize General Development Workers' Union and the Southern Christian Union in 1979.

Most of the Belizean press, the leadership of both the PUP and UDP, and organized labor, (including the Corozal branch of the UGWU, whose leadership had strong ties to the PUP, and the influential Public Service Union, which had close ties to the UDP), were hostile to the UGWU. The hostility stemmed not only from UGWU's efforts to encroach on what the politicians and their union supporters thought to be their turf, but also from the ideological orientation of the union. Some critics accused the UGWU of being communist because of the union's ties to trade union federations affiliated with the Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions, its sending of members to study in Cuba and the Soviet Union, its open support for revolutionary movements in Central America, and because of the ideological stance of Gombay, a magazine edited by UGWU leaders.

The UGWU (and its rivals) grew rapidly in the late 1970s as it organized banana, citrus, and sugar workers, as well as employees of the Belize Electricity Board and the Development Finance Corporation. Nevertheless, the union's failure to support strikes of other unions severely crippled the UGWU and removed it from the national political scene. These strikes were called to oppose the Heads of Agreement in 1981 and the formation that same year by the Corozal branch of the UGWU of a new union, which overwhelmingly defeated the UGWU in an election to choose a bargaining agent for the sugar workers.


Belize - Business Community


The PUP and the UDP depended on the business community for financial support during elections. At one time, the PUP could count on the support of small businessmen, whose interests were negatively affected by the policies of the colonial government. Similarly, big business usually supported the groups that opposed the PUP. By the 1980s, however, this breakdown in support by the business community was no longer generally true. In the election of 1984, for example, the UDP's strong support for free enterprise drew support from small and large business interests. Differences between the economic policies of the two parties were small enough that members of the business community were likely to back whichever party they perceived as the likely winner of any given election. Sometimes, however, they hedged their bets by contributing to both parties.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry was the leading voice of the business community in Belize and was widely perceived as holding an influential voice in government. It officially endorsed neither political party and sought a good working relationship with the government of the day. It actively lobbied the government and monitored legislation on a variety of issues, such as mercantile policy, economic development, and policies on education and drugs. In its constitution, the chamber states that its objectives include fostering economic growth through the free-enterprise system, strengthening the public-private partnership, and enhancing the investment climate for Belizean and foreign investors. Members of the chamber included supporters of both the PUP and the UDP.


Belize - Churches and Religious Institutions


The interaction of churches and religious organizations with the government and political system was informal, but nonetheless powerful. The schools were a key element in this influence. Churchrun schools had been the norm in Belize since the early colonial era, and both major political parties continued to endorse the church-state partnership in education. This partnership placed most primary and secondary schools under church control. Thus, the various Christian churches and denominations in Belize did not generally adopt a high political profile, but their schools served as a key adjunct to religious services and their gatherings as a locus for church influence. The most prominent example of such influence was the role that the Jesuit-run secondary school, Saint John's College, played in preparing the leaders of the nationalist movement in the 1940s. Religious influence, especially traditional Roman Catholic social thought, continued to affect Belizean political life in 1991.

Some also attribute the PUP's early anti-British and pro-United States outlook and its predisposition toward the Roman Catholic countries of Central America, rather than toward the predominantly Protestant English-speaking islands of the West Indies to the influence of the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church. Whereas the mainline Protestant churches, such as the Anglican and Methodist churches, were institutionally tied to Britain and the English-speaking West Indies, the Roman Catholic Church in Belize was once a vicariate of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Jesuits from the United States staffed key positions in the Belizean church. Foreign influence in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and schools in Belize had been much criticized. In recent decades, however, Belizeans have increasingly come to occupy leadership positions. By 1990 the top leadership of the country's Roman Catholic Church was Belizean, and a Belizean Jesuit was president of Saint John's College.

No political party or movement in Belize organized itself on the basis of religious affiliation, but Roman Catholics historically were considered to lean more toward the PUP. Protestants, allegedly being more pro-British, leaned more toward the PUP's opposition. Nonetheless, the top leadership of the UDP included many Roman Catholics, including Philip Goldson and Manuel Esquivel. Indeed, the UDP's 1984 victory would not have been possible without strong support from the country's Roman Catholic population.

The existence of a "Roman Catholic vote" in Belize is open to question. Still, politicians avoided taking positions that overtly contradicted Roman Catholic teachings because they feared a reaction from both the hierarchy and the laity. Thus, the presumption of the religious community's opposition to abortion kept the issue of legalizing abortion out of the political debate even through the Roman Catholic Church never sponsored an antiabortion campaign. Furthermore, no politician called for fundamental changes in the church-state partnership in education, which enjoyed strong support across the religious spectrum.

Liberal political movements, such as liberation theology, had not taken root in Belize, and the Roman Catholic Church avoided the split between the so-called "traditional" and "popular" churches that divided Roman Catholics in other Central American countries. Moreover, politicians probably overestimated the ability of the Roman Catholic Church to respond as a monolithic institution, and their perception of so-called "Roman Catholic" positions often lacked an awareness of current Roman Catholic thought and practice. The generally conservative outlook of the Belizean Protestant churches, which shared the traditional Roman Catholic position on many moral and social issues, perhaps reinforced politicians' consciousness of religious interests.

Since the 1970s, missionary activities by evangelical and fundamentalist denominations and sects, including the Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, have been changing the religious composition of Belizean society. Although these groups, unlike the mainline Protestant churches, generally had strong ties to mother organizations in the United States and were often considered to be politically conservative, their political impact was negligible at the national level. At the local level, however, the proliferation of denominations and sects, many of which were hostile to one another and to the Roman Catholic Church, could be undermining the sense of common identity within communities. The alcalde system of village government, for example, has been disrupted in some Kekch� villages, when the village's Protestant members (who were opposed to the close ties of the traditional leadership with the Roman Catholic Church) refused to participate in elections or abide by village court decisions.


Belize - Consciousness-Raising Organizations


Nongovernmental organizations focusing on charitable and service activities and private enterprise projects have been active for many years in Belize. These groups include Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE), Project Hope, and Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA). But a different type of nongovernmental organization became increasingly common in the 1980s. These organizations had no formal ties to political parties but they exercised political influence through their efforts to raise the political consciousness or to develop a group identity among their constituencies. These organizations included ethnicbased associations, such as the Toledo Maya Cultural Council, the National Garifuna Council, and the Isaiah Morter Harambe Association; women's groups, such as the Belize Organization for Women and Development (BOWAND), Women Against Violence (WAV), and the Belize Rural Women's Association (BRWA); and other groups, such as the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR), whose mission encompassed social and economic analysis, popular education and training, advocacy campaigns to promote social and economic justice, and research, seminars, and publications about Belize. Many of these organizations depended on grants from foreign government development agencies and nongovernment organizations to supplement locally raised funds. The long-term viability of these organizations remained unclear because these grants were often provided only as short-term "seed money."


Belize - Mass Communications


The Belizean constitution guarantees freedom of thought and expression. Nevertheless, the constitution permits the enactment of laws to make "reasonable provision" for limiting freedom of expression in the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, health, and protection of reputations, rights, and freedoms of other persons. Despite the constitution's guarantees, there have been a number of controversies over access to broadcast media for political campaigns and over charges that the former UDP government used the libel laws to intimidate the PUP.

No daily newspapers were published in Belize. Several weeklies were published but most of these were closely linked to political parties. As of early 1991, Amandala was the newspaper with the largest circulation: about 8,500. The paper's editorial line reflected the involvement of its owner and editor, Evan X. Hyde, in the Creole and black consciousness movement in Belize. The Belize Times, controlled by George Price, functioned as the official organ of the PUP. Published since 1956, the newspaper had a circulation of about 7,000 as of early 1991. The official UDP newspaper was the People's Pulse. Owned outright by the UDP, it began publication in 1988 and had a circulation of 5,000 by early 1991. The pro-business Reporter, with a circulation of 5,000 in early 1991, was once an organ of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry but was later bought by a group of businessmen and became an independent publication. The government published a weekly, the Government Gazette. Other publications included Belize Today, published monthly by the Belize Information Service; the Chamber Update, published monthly by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry; monthly newspapers published by the Anglican and the Roman Catholic churches; the quarterly National Newsmagazine; and Spearhead, a quarterly published by SPEAR.

A second, and older, pro-UPD paper, Beacon, suspended publication following the UDP's defeat in September 1989. Beacon, which had a circulation of 4,200 in 1989, was not controlled directly by the UDP, but by Dean Lindo, a minister in the Esquivel government. A PUP-affiliated paper, Disweek, ceased publication after the PUP's 1984 electoral defeat. The fate of Disweek and Beacon points to the dependence of Belizean newspapers on revenue from government-linked advertising. Opposition papers, therefore, could not count on this type of advertising revenue.


Belize - Relations with the United States


Belize had close and cordial relations with the United States, which was a leading trading partner and principal source of foreign investment and economic assistance. As early as the 1940s, leaders of the anticolonial movement sought close ties with the United States, not only to pressure and embarrass Britain, but also to try to eliminate the colonial government's pro-British trade and economic policies, which were detrimental to many Belizeans.

Since independence, Price and the PUP have charted a foreign policy that proclaimed Belize's nonalignment and affirmed the country's special relationship with the United States. The PUP's favorable attitude toward the United States (when nationalist opinion elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean has often been strongly anti-United States and sometimes pro-Cuban) probably reflects the country's colonial experience, which cast Britain, rather than the United States, as the main obstacle to national sovereignty. Additionally, the influential role of Christian Democratic thought on the early nationalist leaders, especially Price, undoubtedly helped steer Belizean political dialogue away from the Marxist influences that have helped shape anti-United States feelings elsewhere in Latin America. The PUP and the UDP were in broad agreement on the country's relationship with the United States, so the PUP's defeat in 1984 did not upset ties between the United States and Belize. On the contrary, the business-oriented UDP was highly favorable to the ideological outlook of the United States in the 1980s, and the Esquivel government was eager to implement free-market policies to attract United States investment.

United States foreign policy objectives in Belize included the promotion of economic development and political stability under democratic institutions, the promotion of United States commercial interests, the suppression of narcotics trafficking, and the continuation of the marijuana eradication program. While recognizing Britain as Belize's primary supplier of military aid, the United States sought cooperative military relations with Belize and the development of an apolitical professional military capable of performing defense and counternarcotics functions. AID's plans for the 1991-95 period focused on the agricultural and <> tourism sectors and were aimed at helping Belize achieve sustainable private-sector-led growth.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, United States foreign assistance to Belize totaled between US$9.3 million and US$10.7 million a year, a sharp decline from 1985, when it totaled US$25.7 million. Development Assistance and Peace Corps programs accounted for the bulk of the aid. In 1990 Development Assistance totaled US$6.5 million and Peace Corps programs totaled US$2.5 million. Belize received no food aid from the United States in the 1980s or early 1990s. Although Belize received a total of US$32.0 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) from 1983 through 1987, it received no funds from this program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Belize was a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), under which the United States permits duty-free access to United States markets for imports from most Caribbean Basin countries.

Military aid made up only a small percentage of United States assistance to Belize. From 1982 through 1990, Belize received over US$3 million in military assistance from the United States. In 1990, military aid totaled about US$615,000.

The PUP and the UDP governments both welcomed assistance from the United States, but this assistance was sometimes the subject of criticism. In the mid-1980s, for example, the presence of Peace Corps volunteers in government offices, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and secondary schools raised concerns that jobs were being taken away from Belizeans. People also complained that the volunteers interfered unduly in internal government affairs. In response to this criticism, the Peace Corps reduced the number of volunteers in Belize from more than 200 to less than 100 by early 1991. The role of AID consultants in preparing government development plans under the UDP government and the strings attached to aid from the United States have also been subjects of criticism. Belizean officials echoed this criticism because they did not believe that the restrictions (regarding trade and economic liberalizations) on the aid took into account local conditions. Although the Belizean government and business community felt positively about the CBI, they were concerned that the tradeliberalization component of President George Bush's Enterprise for the Americas Initiative and negotiations for a North American free-trade zone with Mexico might make it impossible for the small countries of the Caribbean to compete with countries such as Mexico and Brazil in the absence of special provisions to preserve existing preferential trade arrangements.

<>Latin American and Caribbean Countries


Belize - Relations with Guatemala


Guatemala's long-standing territorial claim against Belize delayed normalization of relations between the two countries until September 1991. Guatemala claimed it inherited Spanish sovereignty over the British settlement following Guatemala's independence from Spain, and Spanish sovereignty over the territory had been recognized by Britain in the Convention of London signed in 1786. Britain rejected Guatemala's claim, however, because Guatemala had never effectively occupied present-day Belize's territory. Britain's own occupation of the area and its 1859 treaty with Guatemala, which set boundaries for what soon became British Honduras, paved the way for a British assertion of full sovereignty over the colony in 1862.

The 1859 treaty, however, included a provision for Britain to assist in the construction of a road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast. Guatemala has consistently claimed that this provision was a condition for ceding the territory to Britain. Guatemala claims the treaty was never fulfilled because the road was never built, so the country nullified the cession of territory. Britain, which had offered financial contributions toward the road construction at various times, rejected Guatemala's interpretation of the treaty. Britain believed that Guatemala was not in a position to cede the territory because it never possessed sovereignty over British Honduras. Between 1945 and 1985, Guatemalan constitutions claimed British Honduras as part of its national territory. A provision in the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) reflected Latin American support for Guatemala's claim. The provision effectively barred membership to an independent Belize without a resolution of Guatemala's claim. Latin American support was also reflected in a provision in the treaty that established the Central American Common Market calling for the integration of Belize into Guatemala.

Subsequent negotiations, including United States mediation in 1965, produced recommendations viewed as highly favorable to Guatemala but failed to produce a settlement acceptable to all parties. At various points in the 1960s and 1970s, Guatemala threatened to invade if British Honduras became independent without resolution of its claim. The British military presence in British Honduras forestalled any invasion. To win Guatemalan acceptance of Belizean independence, however, Britain opposed in the 1970s any postindependence security guarantees to Belize and apparently favored ceding a small strip of territory between the Moho and Sarstoon rivers in southern Belize. Territorial concessions were highly unpopular among Belizeans.

With full independence blocked by inability to reach agreement with Guatemala and by the unwillingness of Britain to make security guarantees, Belize launched a foreign relations campaign in the mid-1970s to win the support of the world community. Building on support within the Nonaligned Movement, Belize gradually won broad support in the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). The Latin American community began to shift its support from Guatemala to Belize. Cuba consistently supportly Belize's right to selfdetermination , Panama and Mexico voiced support for Belize in 1976 and 1977, respectively, and they were joined by Nicaragua in 1979. The United States, however, abstained from voting on Belizean independence resolutions introduced annually in the General Assembly. Then in 1980, with Guatemala refusing to vote and seven countries abstaining, 139 countries, including the United States, voted for a UN resolution calling for Belizean independence with territorial integrity by the end of 1981. The OAS subsequently endorsed this resolution.

Given the international support for this timetable, Belize, Britain, and Guatemala again sought a negotiated settlement. On March 11, 1981, the three parties signed an agreement known as the Heads of Agreements. The agreement laid out sixteen subjects, or heads, that were to be agreed to in a formal treaty at a later date. Popular reaction to the Heads of Agreement was overwhelmingly negative in Belize, and rioting ensued to protest what were perceived to be "unwarranted and dangerous" concessions to Guatemala. Furthermore, Guatemala rejected details of the settlement process and withdrew from the negotiations. The British decision to make security guarantees to Belize, however, enabled Belizean independence to go forward.

Subsequent negotiations with Guatemala in the early 1980s were unsuccessful. In 1985, however, Guatemala promulgated a new constitution that did not include the earlier claims to Belize. Rather, the new constitution treats the Belize question in its transitory provisions, giving the executive the power to take measures to resolve the territorial dispute in accordance with the national interests, but requiring any definitive agreement to be submitted to a popular referendum. The article in the provisions also calls for the government of Guatemala to "promote social, economic, and cultural relations with the population of Belize." After on-and-off negotiations in the late 1980s, including the appointment of a permanent joint commission in 1988, substantial progress was made in 1990, following a meeting between Prime Minister George Price and President Vinicio Cerezo Guatemala. In October 1990, Belize's minister of foreign affairs, Said Musa, stated that the preliminary talks on the drafting of a treaty (that would be submitted to popular referenda in both countries) had moved beyond territorial claims to questions of economic cooperation.

On August 14, 1991, Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano El�as acknowledged that Belize was recognized internationally, recognized the right of the Belizean people to self-determination, and stated his willingness to settle the dispute, all without dropping Guatemala's territorial claim. On August 16, 1991, Said Musa introduced a bill to extend Belize's maritime territorial limits to twelve nautical miles, in accord with current international law. The bill stipulated, however, that an exception would be made in the south allowing Guatemala access to international waters from its Caribbean coast in the same way that Mexico has access from its port of Chetumal. Minister Musa has said that the concession to Guatemala was made as a sign of good faith to promote settlement of Guatemala's territorial claim. In a further sign of improving affairs, Guatemala and Belize established full diplomatic relations in September 1991.


Belize - Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries


Maintaining the international support for its independence that Belize won in the 1970s and 1980s remained a main element of the country's foreign policy. Participation in the various regional organizations was seen as both a means toward an end and an objective of this policy. Although George Price and the PUP successfully campaigned against British Honduran participation in the proposed West Indies Federation in the late 1950s, Belize saw itself as a bridge between the English-speaking Caribbean and Central America. The nation had been a member since 1971 of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta), which later became the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C). Increasingly active on the political level within that organization, Belize supported an outward-looking strategy for the Caricom countries that would ensure international competitiveness, closer economic cooperation between Caricom and other Caribbean countries, and a common Caricom effort to preserve its limited preferential market access in the face of the growing importance of major trade and economic blocs in Europe and North America.

In November 1989, the OAS--with Guatemalan support--granted Belize permanent observer status and approved full membership for the country in January 1991. This event capped a long effort to overcome obstacles to membership in various regional organizations that had been erected by Guatemala in past years. The OAS charter had effectively barred membership to Belize and Guyana until their territorial disputes with OAS member countries were peacefully resolved. In 1985, however, OAS members signed modified the charter so that the bar to membership requests from Belize or Guyana expired on December 10, 1990. In February 1991, the Central American heads of government invited Belize to attend their December 1991 summit, the first such invitation received by the country.

During the 1980s, Belize remained on the fringes of the diplomatic initiatives and United States-coordinated military activities in Central America. This situation was due both to Guatemala's presumed opposition to Belize's participation and its fear of being drawn into the regional conflicts of Central America (by 1989, these conflicts had pushed some 30,000 refugees into Belize). Belize has steadfastly supported peaceful resolution of the region's disputes, political pluralism, and noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations. In the late 1980s, Belize stressed its support for the right of both Nicaragua and Panama, which were then under diplomatic, economic, and military pressure from the United States, to choose their own leaders and political systems.

Belize enjoyed warm relations with Mexico, its neighbor to the north. As early as 1958, Mexico stated its desire for a resolution of Belize's territorial problems that would respect the freedom and independence of the Belizean people. Mexico also provided critical support in favor of Belizean independence and territorial integrity in 1977. Although Mexico claimed parts of Belize during the nineteenth century, it signed treaties with both Britain and Guatemala in the course of that century to set the border definitively between Mexico and Belize. As part of its agreement with Britain, Mexico was guaranteed in perpetuity transit rights through Belizean waters connecting the Mexican port of Chetumal with the open seas.


Belize - Relations with Britain


Britain maintained approximately 1,500 troops in Belize to guarantee Belizean independence in the face of the Guatemalan territorial claims. The presence of the troops represented an exception to the long-standing British policy of not making military commitments to former colonies. Although the prospects for an agreement with Guatemala looked good in 1991, Minister of Foreign Affairs Said Musa emphasized that the presence of the British troops and an agreement with Guatemala were two separate issues. British officials have stated that the troops would remain even if an agreement were reached. Reasons cited for a continued British military presence in Belize included training the Belize Defence Force, providing British troops with an opportunity to train in a tropical environment, deterring leftist guerrillas from using Belize as a conduit for arms, and balancing the United States military presence in the region with a British presence. Britain spent an estimated US$18 million more per year to maintain its garrison troops in Belize rather than in Britain.

Britain provided Belize with military assistance in the form of training and equipment. Britain also provided interest-free loans totaling US$13.5 million under its multilateral capital aid program for the 1989-94 period. It also provided grants totaling US$1.4 million a year in the early 1990s through the technical cooperation program.


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CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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