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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Facts

Area: 22,965 sq km (8,867 square miles)
Population: 312,698 ( Source: 2010 Census
Capital City: Belmopan (population: 13,351, 2010 Census)
People: Mestizos (Maya/Spanish) and Latinos 49-50%, Creole (Afro-Caribbean) 21%, Maya 10%, European, Indian and Chinese 9%, and Garifuna 5%.
Language(s): Officially English; however, around half the population claim Spanish as a first language and Creole is also widely spoken. There are a number of indigenous languages, such as Garifuna, Mopan and Ketchi Mayan.
Religion(s): Predominantly Christian; the Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination comprising around half the population, but there are also many Protestant and Evangelical churches. Small groups practice Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Bahai.
Currency: Belizean Dollar (BZ$). BZ$2 equates to US$1.
Major political parties: The People's United Party (PUP), United Democratic Party (UDP).
Government: 2-Chamber National Assembly. Senate of 13: 7 appointed by the Prime Minister, 3 by the Leader of the Opposition and 1 each by the National Trade Union Congress of Civil Society, the Belize Council of Churches and Belize Chamber of Commerce. The Lower House, the House of Representatives, has 31 (not including the Speaker) directly elected members serving a 5-year term. Elections will be held on 7 March 2012.
Head of State: HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor-General, Sir Colville Norbert Young Sr, KCMG.
Prime Minister: Hon Dean Oliver Barrow
Deputy Prime Minister: Hon Gaspar Vega
Foreign Minister: Hon Wilfred Elrington
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Belize is a member of the United Nations and WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the regional groupings of CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market), SICA (Central American Integration System), OAS (Organisation of American States), Commonwealth, ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific), NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), San Jose Group, Association of Caribbean States (ACS), CDB (Caribbean Development Bank), the World Bank Group, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and IDB (Inter-American Development Bank)

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HEALTH

Overall health conditions in Belize compare favourably with neighbouring Central American countries, although they remain poor. The government is the main provider of health services which include the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, a national referral hospital in Belize City, three regional and three district/community hospitals, approximately 40 health centres, 30 health posts and a mental health facility. A major reform of the health sector, including reorganisation of services, infrastructure development and financing is currently underway designed to improve the efficiency, equity and quality of health care services and to promote healthier lifestyles. Services provided by these facilities are complemented by national programmes for maternal and child health, environmental public health and water safety inspection, health promotion education and nutrition, dental health, communicable disease control and HIV/AIDS. The leading causes of death in Belize are heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and road traffic accidents.

HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed in Belize in 1986. Cases increased until 2008, when the number of new cases diagnosed began to decline slightly. UNAIDS estimates there is a 2.1% prevalence rate of HIV in Belize – the third highest in the Caribbean - and that there are approximately 3,600 people living with HIV/AIDS in Belize. In 2000, Belize established a National AIDS Commission to co-ordinate a national multi-sectoral strategy to respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS. Belize accepted the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to “further strengthen activities to prevent the spread of HIV and stigmatisation and discrimination against people living with HIV”.

See UK development Assistance section below for DFID Caribbean programmes for HIV/AIDS.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US $1.55 billion (2011 Economist Intelligence Unit est)
GDP per head: US$4.349 (2011-IMF est)
Annual growth: 2.5% (2011 IMF est)
Inflation: 3.1% (2011 EIU est)
Major industries: sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood, crude oil
Major trading partners: USA, UK, other EU, Mexico, Central America, CARICOM
Exchange rate: BZ$3 to £1 approx.

The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on agriculture, including agro-based industry (sugar refining and citrus processing), forestry and fishing.

Sugar is the main crop, while the banana industry is the country's largest employer. Citrus production declined in 2009, due to the effects of flooding. Tourism is now the largest foreign currency earner. Protecting the natural and historical environment will be critical to the sustainability of Belize’s tourism industry. Overnight visitors declined in 2009 for the second consecutive year, whilst cruise ship passenger numbers increased by 18.1%. Statistics for 2009 are incomplete, but to September 2009, sugar was the second largest export earner, bringing in US$44.51 million. This is followed by petroleum ($40.95 million), citrus ($36.05 million), bananas ($25.89 million), marine products ($14.98 million), and papayas ($8.51 million). Oil production has remained static at around 4000 barrels per day, but increased prices in 2011 helped balance Belize’s books. Prices are expected to fall in 2012-13, but will still boost export revenue. However its lack of refining capacity will mean a balancing import bill. There is ongoing further exploration, but a strong environmental lobby will inhibit wide scale activity.

Successive governments’ expansionary monetary and fiscal policies since 1998 led to steady growth averaging around 4% from 1999 to 2007, although growth slipped to 2.1% in 2008 and declined by over 1% in 2009 as a result of the global slowdown, natural disasters, and a drop in the price of oil. But expectations are for growth of around 2.5% in 2011 and 2012. Major concerns continue to be the sizeable trade deficit and sizable foreign debt. The EIU estimates that total public debt will be around 83% of GDP by the end of 2013, inhibiting public expenditure growth. The IMF has called for a fiscal consolidation strategy to get this debt down. The Prime Minister has indicated that he will pursue a policy of government intervention.

In July 2006 the government announced that they would not be able to meet debt payments to external creditors and sought to reschedule the country’s external debt of nearly US$1 billion. The negotiation of a new “Superbond” was successfully completed in February 2007, extending the life of the debt by 22 years to 2029 and with easier payment terms in the earlier years. But it is likely that Belize will struggle to pay this. The Prime Minster said in February 2012 that he will wish to renegotiate this bond, resulting in a downgrading of Belize’s credit rating by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s.

A key short-term objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors. However, this has been hit by an upsurge in violent crime –especially murders - which has seen Belize have a murder rate 2nd only to Jamaica in the Caribbean. Reacting to this has become the number one priority of the government

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HISTORY

300-600 - Belize forms part of the Mayan Empire.
1638 – First record of British settlement in Belize.
1670 – Treaty of Madrid. Spain acknowledges Britain's title to Jamaica and other de facto possessions 'in the West Indies, or any part of America'.
1763 – Treaty of Paris. Spain concedes to Britain the right to cut logwood in the Bay of Honduras but retains claim of sovereignty over Belize.
1786 - Convention of London. Spain extends the area of Britain's logwood concession and Britain gives up her claim to the Mosquito Coast (in what is now Nicaragua).
1798 - Battle of St George's Caye. Decisive naval victory by British settlers against Spain. This was the last time Spain attempted to gain control of Belize.
1859 – Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty concluded and ratified. Guatemala agrees to existing boundary with British Honduras as Belize was then called.
1862 – The settlement was given colonial status as British Honduras, with a Lieutenant-Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.
1871 – The Crown Colony System of Government was introduced.
1884 - The link with Jamaica was broken and the title of Lieutenant Governor was changed, with a Governor being appointed.
1919 - Beginning of the black independence movement.
1940 – Guatemala declares 1859 Treaty to be invalid.
1954 – George Price elected First Minister of British Honduras.
1964 – Belize became an internally self-governing British colony.
1960s-1970s – numerous attempts were made to resolve the territorial dispute with Guatemala through negotiations.
1973 – British Honduras reverted to the name of Belize.
1975 onwards - successive UN Resolutions endorsed Belize's right to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity.
1981 – On 11 March, Britain, Guatemala and Belize released a Heads of Government Agreement aimed at bringing about a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
1981 - On 21 September, Belize became an independent member of the Commonwealth recognising HM Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State.
1984 - The United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Manuel Esquivel, defeated the People's United Party (PUP) in elections in December.
1991 – Guatemala recognises the right of the Belizean people to self-determination.
1998 – The PUP achieves a landslide victory at the August general election, taking 26 out of 29 seats in the National Assembly.
2003 – PUP wins a second term, taking 22 of 29 seats in the National Assembly in the March general election.
2008 - The UDP win 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly.. Dean Barrow becomes the first Black Prime Minister of Belize
2008 – Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala sign the Special Ministerial Agreement as a first step to referring the border dispute to the ICJ

Recent History

Belize (formerly British Honduras) is the only Commonwealth country in Central America. As a British Dependent Territory, Belize enjoyed internal self-government, with some responsibility for external affairs from 1964 until full independence in 1981. Over 300 years of history shared with Britain bequeathed her the English language, a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, as well many other state institutions similar to the UK's own.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with Neighbours

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

Since 2000, Belize and Guatemala have held a series of meetings under the auspices of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in an attempt to resolve the territorial dispute through peaceful negotiation. In November 2000, the two countries signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) which provided a framework for managing disagreements and preventing incidents in the Adjacency Zone (a buffer zone extending 1km east and west of the border line).

In September 2005 Belize and Guatemala signed a Framework for Negotiation and Confidence Building Measures agreement. Both sides, with OAS facilitation, would meet every 45 days and look to resolve the issues subject to dispute whilst the Confidence Building Measures aimed to reduce tension, particularly in the Adjacency Zone. In November 2007 the Secretary General of the OAS determined that it was not possible to agree on any of the issues and recommended that the dispute be submitted to international arbitration. In December 2008, under the auspices of the OAS, the Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala signed a Special Agreement publicly setting out their intention to take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The determining factor would be the approval of the citizens of both countries, indicated by national referenda. The Special Agreement also sets out the rules of engagement for the case and the question to be asked at the referenda The UK supports this route as a means to find a long-term and sustainable resolution to the issue.

FCO Minister’s comments on signing of the Special Agreement (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/newsroom/latest-news/?view=PressR&id=10540920)

Relations with the International Community

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

Relations with the UK

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

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

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Department for International Development/Ministry of Defence have jointly funded a number of projects aimed at reducing the potential for conflict along the Belize/Guatemala border. The UK has spent over £3.5m since 2003 and will continue to work with the Organisation of American States (OAS) to ensure that our projects complement the OAS process aimed at facilitating a peaceful border settlement between Belize and Guatemala.

Belize has been identified as a small-scale narcotic drugs producer and as being involved in both the illegal drugs trade (trans-shipment and local consumption) and money-laundering. The Belize government is working with international partners – mainly the USA - to combat these issues. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that Belize is becoming an increasingly popular transhipment point for producers, with its numerous small islands some distance from the mainland. The DEA has a major programme of interception and interdiction training and has funded the founding of a Belize National Coastguard to address the issues of the islands. The US is likely to maintain and enhance its presence in Belize for the foreseeable future. Money laundering has become a major concern and both the UK and US have taken steps to raise awareness of this issue in Belize with law-enforcement and judicial bodies.

Recent Inbound Visits

July 2008: Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington visits UK for UK Caribbean Forum
November 2005: Said Musa, then Prime Minister, as part of the Caribbean Heads of Government delegation meeting the British Prime Minister.

Recent Outbound Visits

April 2008: Meg Munn, then FCO Minister for Latin America

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GEOGRAPHY

Belize is located on the Caribbean coast of northern Central America. It shares a border to the north with the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, to the west with the Guatemalan department of Petén, and to the south with the Guatemalan department of Izabal. It is about the size of Wales. With 8,867 square miles (22,960 km²) of land and about 320,000 people, the population density of Belize is one of the lowest in the world. Much of the country is unpopulated forest area. It has a well-preserved environment and the world's second longest barrier reef - and longest coral reef in the western hemisphere - (184 miles long) running along the offshore islands (or Cayes).

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

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

In the year to November 2009, UK exports to Belize totalled £5.5m and UK imports from Belize for the same period was £51.4m. [Source: Statistical Institute of Belize]. Key exports include food and beverages, machinery and transport equipment and chemicals. Imports from Belize are chiefly vegetables, bananas and sugar. Major UK investors in Belize are Fyffes and Booker Tate. All of Belize’s organic cacao production is bought for Green and Black’s chocolate.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: Belize (http://www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk/ukti/belize)

UK Development Assistance

The DFID Caribbean strategy 2008-13 is based on supporting regional integration and stimulating economic growth. This is implemented through two teams, one focused on supporting economic growth and competitiveness and another addressing the risks to growth (including security, climate change, reducing the risks of natural disasters and HIV). Whilst DFID’s programme has moved away from large numbers of individual bilateral projects to an approach focused on strengthening regional institutions, there are a number of programmes for which Belize may access resources:

-- DFID has provided £10m to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to implement a Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration Trust Fund (CARTFund) programme, which will support both governments and non-official institutions in implementing EPA related activities.

-- DFID has also provided a further £10m to the IDB to implement the COMPETE Caribbean programme, which will support regional governments in developing and implementing policies and reforms aimed at improving the investment climate and assist businesses in developing new market access. Additional funding from the IDB and the Canadian government will increase the total available financing to over $30m

HIV/AIDS Support

DFID Caribbean has supported gender mainstreaming in the Belize National AIDS Programme through the delivery of gender sensitisation training for front-line workers in the health and education sectors in 2009. This training was delivered through a DFID-funded UNIFEM Project delivered in partnership with the National AIDS Commission in Belize entitled Mainstreaming Gender Analysis in HIV/AIDS Programming in the Caribbean.

DFID has also established a Regional Stigma and Development Unit through its Stigma Unit Project, which is currently working in Belize (along with other CARICOM territories) to develop national programmes to tackle HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination.

EU Assistance

The EU gives aid to Belize through the Cotonou Agreement which replaced the Lome Convention in 2003. Belize has been allocated €11.8 million from the European Development Fund for 2008-2013, focussing largely on rural development. During this period Belize will also receive €48.2 million from the EU to help improve the efficiency of sugar cane production, processing and diversification of the industry. There is also a major EU programme to help Belize modernise its banana production industry.

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POLITICS

Two political parties dominate politics: the centre centre-right United Democratic Party (UDP) and the centre-left People's United Party (PUP). However, there are few obvious ideological differences.

In the first post-independence elections in 1984, the UDP, led by Manuel Esquivel, defeated the PUP, which under George Price had dominated national politics for nearly 30 years. Price was returned to power at the 1989 elections, but lost again in 1993 to the UDP. At the 1998 general election the PUP, led by Said Musa, achieved a landslide victory. The PUP was re-elected in 2003 winning 22 of the 31 seats - the first time a government had been re-elected since independence. However, following a number of scandals and allegations of corruption and mismanagement by the PUP, the UDP under Dean Barrow won the 2008 elections in a landslide by 25 seats to six.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Belize has ratified the following international human rights treaties:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Belize is also a Party to the American Convention on Human Rights and has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in San José. From 1 June 2010 Belize ceased referring cases to the Privy Council as a court of final appeal, and instead refers them to the Caribbean Court of Justice – only the third country to accept that body.

In May 2009, Belize’s human rights record was reviewed under the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Following this, the Government of Belize adopted 36 recommendations designed to strengthen human rights in the country. These included providing human rights training to law enforcement officials, judicial officers and all State officials with regard to the protection of vulnerable groups, in particular women, children, indigenous peoples and persons of minority sexual orientation or gender identity; introducing human rights education for all government officials and departments and ensuring that a human rights-based approach is mainstreamed across government policy.

The report of the working group for Belize’s review, and other related documents can be viewed here (http://www.upr-info.org/-Belize-.html) on the UPR website. ze Universal Period Review - Belize (http://www.upr-info.org/IMG/pdf/Recommendations_to_Belize_2009.pdf) contains the full list of recommendations and Belize’s response.

UK Support for Human Rights

The UK has supported a campaign to promote women's human rights in Belize and helped to set up the National Aids Commission in Belize, which HRH The Princess Royal opened in April 2001. While Belize has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1985, we continue to lobby for abolition. We have also supported the creation of a Human Rights Commission in Belize. The UK actively participated in the Universal Periodic Review in May 2009.

Past Human Rights Abuses

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

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Last Updated: February 2012

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