U.S. Department of State Background Note
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The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites--notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich--reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.
Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the "Colony of British Honduras" until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.
Currently, the Belize Government is controlled by the People's United Party (PUP), which was elected to a second consecutive term in office on March 5, 2003. The PUP won 22 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) won the other seven seats. However, the PUP lost one seat in Parliament during a by-election held after the death of a minister in October 2003, but still maintains a comfortable majority. Dean Barrow is the leader of the opposition. The PUP has governed Belize from 1998 to the present; the UDP from 1993-98; the PUP from 1989-1993; and the UDP from 1984-89. Before 1984, the PUP had dominated the electoral scene for more than 30 years and was the party in power when Belize became independent in 1981.
The government continues to implement an economic adjustment program, with the aim of (1) increasing revenues, (2) decreasing public sector expenditures, (3) narrowing the fiscal deficit to 1% of GDP, (4) improving the balance of payments, and (5) increasing the country’s foreign reserves. Belize’s outstanding public debt at the end of 2006 was U.S. $1.10 billion, an amount that is equivalent to approximately 100% of GDP. However, on January 31, 2007 the Government of Belize officially announced that the holders of Belize’s public external commercial indebtedness have agreed to exchange their existing claims against the country for new bonds to be issued by Belize maturing in 2029. Belize traditionally maintains a deep interest in the environment and sustainable development. A lack of government resources seriously hampers these goals. On other fronts, the government is working to improve its law enforcement capabilities. A longstanding territorial dispute with Guatemala continues, although cooperation between the two countries has increased in recent years across a wide spectrum of common interests, including trade and environment. Seeing itself as a bridge, Belize is actively involved with the Caribbean nations of CARICOM, and also has taken steps to work more closely with its Central American neighbors as a member of SICA (Central American Integration System).
Principal Government Officials
Ambassador to the United States--Nestor Mendez, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i.
Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332-6888) and a consulate in Los Angeles. Belize travel information office in New York City: 800-624-0686.
A major constraint on the economic development of Belize continues to be the scarcity of infrastructure investments. As part of its financial austerity measures started in late 2004, the government froze expenditures on several capital projects. Although electricity, telephone, and water utilities are all relatively good, Belize has the most expensive electricity in the region. Large tracts of land, which would be suitable for development, are inaccessible due to lack of roads. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Ports in Belize City, Dangriga, and Big Creek handle regularly scheduled shipping from the United States and the United Kingdom, although draft is limited to a maximum of 10 feet in Belize City and 15 feet in southern ports. American Airlines, Continental Airlines, U.S. Air, Delta Airlines, and TACA provide international air service to gateways in Dallas, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, and San Salvador.
Belize continues to rely heavily on foreign trade, with the United States as its number-one trading partner. Imports in 2005 totaled $518.83 million, while total exports were only $212.83 million. In 2005, the United States provided 39% of all Belizean imports and accounted for 52.2% of Belize's total exports. Other major trading partners include the United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) member states.
Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through CARICOM. However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is small compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) program, which forms part of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act--signed into law by President Clinton on May 8, 2000--a comprehensive U.S. Government program designed to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. European Union (EU) and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries. However, these two markets face considerable World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.
Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in Imperial Spain's claim to all "New World" territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Nineteenth-century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty over the area.
Negotiations have been underway for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) "Heads of Agreement" was not implemented due to continued contentions. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established.
Eventually, on November 8, 2000, the two parties agreed to respect an "adjacency zone" extending one kilometer east and west from the border. Around this time, the Government of Guatemala insisted that the territorial claim was a legal one and that the only possibility for a resolution was to submit the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, the Government of Belize felt that taking the case to the ICJ or to arbitration represented an unnecessary expense of time and money. So the Belizean Government proposed an alternate process, one under the auspices of the OAS.
Since then, despite efforts by the OAS to jumpstart the process, movement has been limited to confidence-building measures between the parties. Both countries now seem receptive to referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice for a binding decision.
In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. For instance, Belize has joined the other Central American countries in signing the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA (CONCAUSA) agreement on regional sustainable development, and on January 1, 2007 assumed the presidency of SICA (Central American Integration System) for a 6-month period. Belize is a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973. It became a member of the OAS in 1990.
Robert J. Dieter
The U.S. Embassy is located in the City of Belmopan on Floral Park Street. The mailing address is P.O. Box 497, Belmopan, Cayo District, Belize, Central America: tel: 011-501- 822-4011 from the United States or 822-4011 locally; fax: 011-501-822-4012 Main number; 822-4053 Administrative Office; 822-4050 Consular Section. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site address: http://belize.usembassy.gov/.
Other useful contacts
U.S. Department of Commerce
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007