"I blossom in the shade"
Belize is a country located in Central America bordering the Atlantic and sharing borders with Mexico and Guatemala. It also includes 127 islands.
Former British colony known as British Honduras, the country changed its name at the time of its independence in 1981.
Belize is a member of the Commonwealth and the Queen of England represented by a Governor General is therefore the sovereign of the country which is however headed by the Prime Minister and his ministerial team.
Belize at a glance
Single constitutional monarchy, Commonwealth member
Administrative divisions: 6 districts
Population: more than 350 thousand inhabitants
Main Languages: English, Spanish, Kriol (Belizean Creole)
Main religion: Christianity
Current Monarch: Elizabeth II
Governor General: Sir Colville Young
Current Prime Minister: Dean Barrow
Currency: Belizean dollar (1 Belizean dollar = 100 cents)
Conversion into euro: 100 Belize dollars = 44.84 euros
Tourism: The vigilance is necessary due to small delinquency and the risks associated with insect bites (chikungunya and zika virus).
On the edge of the Caribbean Sea
Belize has a total area of 22,966 km² and is bordered on 386 kilometers by the Caribbean Sea which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal strip is formed of swamps and wooded areas, the relief then gradually rising to become low mountains. The highest peak in the country is the Doyle's Delight located in the Mayan Mountains, culminating at 1,124 meters above sea level. The Monts form a chain of low-lying mountains located in southern Belize and extending to Guatemala.
An important coral reef, the Cayes of Belize, extending offshore, is the main tourist attraction of the country and has fostered the development of San Pedro, the only city in the country's largest island, Ambergris Caye. The coral reef in Belize is the longest in the northern hemisphere (the largest on the world scale being Australia). It harbors no less than 500 species of fish and more than 60 different corals.
Belize enjoys a warm and humid tropical climate with a rainy season from May to November. The hurricanes and the floods are frequent during this period.
The Pre-Columbian era: the Mayan civilization
The first archaeological remains discovered in Belize date back to pre-Columbian times when the region was dominated by Mayan culture, one of the three main civilizations of Mesoamerica with the Aztecs and Tarasques.
At the present time, the origin of the Maya remains uncertain but is probably located in Mexico, in the Yucatán Peninsula.
The Mayan territories included southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. The Maya settled in the 5th millennium BC and built cities on the coast of the Caribbean and Pacific. A real structural organization of society appears gradually and states will emerge from the 1st millennium BC. The great Mayan cities such as Copan or Palenque were at their peak in the 9th century AD before experiencing rapid decline in the southern lowlands.
This decline has aroused many theories among the historians. The Civil war, the peasant uprising, the foreign invasions, the natural disaster, the severe epidemic, the climate change ... all the hypotheses issued and unconfirmed.
It is probable that there is not a single reason for this phenomenon but rather a bundle of negative conjunctures leading to the fall of a civilization that is advanced in many fields, including the astronomy, the writing and the art. Most of the Mayan cities were abandoned and their remains quickly swallowed up by the jungle, while the missionaries were quick to destroy the books made of fig tree bark in order to reduce to ashes all traces of Amerindian worship.
It was not until the 19th century that the ancient cities were rediscovered and only four of these valuable works were found. The historians look at these codex as well as the inscriptions engraved in the stone to decipher the glyphs.
Belize as well as a part of the Yucatán escape this collapse and remain flourishing until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The Lamanai site in northern Belize testifies to the persistence of the Mayan civilization until colonial times. In the 16th century, the Spanish monks tried to set up their church there but suffered the Mayan anger.
The arrival of Europeans
Although Christopher Columbus bordered the coast of Belize in 1502, it is likely that he did not land there and that it was not until 1508 that the first Europeans arrived in the region and 1638 for a first British colony that installs there.
The English settlers will retain control of Belize for over 150 years, resisting native attacks but also attempts to invade Spanish settlers in Yucatán and Guatemala.
At the same time, English, Dutch and French filibusters settled on the Turtle Island when England forbade piracy. They plunder Spanish ships cruising the Caribbean Sea but also organize expeditions against the Spanish ports of the continent forcing the settlers to sink into the land.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Spaniards tried unsuccessfully to hunt the British colonists of Belize in order to recover the production of precious wood. Many pirates had renounced the flibust and had settled along the Belize River to exploit forests nearby. An agreement between Spain and England allows British farmers and their families to use the resources of the region, which makes the Spanish settlers of Yucatan react. The alliance of the British settlers of Jamaica and Belize with the natives, however, allowed the country to expand gradually until 1813. In 1862, the colony was incorporated into the British possessions under the name of British Honduras.
Becoming independent, Mexico, who wishes to exercise its sovereignty over Belize, agrees however to refrain from hindering their production or commercial activities. In its turn independent, Guatemala recognizes the state as dominion of the British crown. This recognition was to be compensated by access to the sea for the Guatemalans but the agreement was never respected by the Belizeans, which still causes tensions between the two countries.
The territory of Belize that we know today was officially demarcated in 1893 after the cession of an area of Yucatan populated by Indians by Mexico.
On several occasions, Guatemala claims total or partial annexation of the territory, but Belize declared itself independent in 1981 while remaining a member of the Commonwealth.
Belize is a parliamentary democratic member of the Commonwealth. Elizabeth II, Queen of England, is the head of state and is represented by a governor general of Belizean nationality.
The executive power is entrusted to the government formed by the Prime Minister (currently Dean Barrow, leader of the United Democratic Party, a center-right party).
The legislative power is entrusted to the National Assembly comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The judicial power is provided by the Supreme and Appeal Courts. The appeals may be made to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
An economy based on tourism
The tourism is currently the main source of income for Belize. The sugar cane exports, the banana production and the exploitation of oil fields discovered in 2005 offer some stability to the country's economy. On the other hand, the forestry, which has long been the main activity in the region, accounts for only 1% of GDP.
Belize also benefits from the financial benefits provided by offshore companies that benefit from the International Business Companies Act. The registration of a company in Belize is fast (two business days), anonymous and almost without constraint. In addition, it is exempt from tax on profits.
Similarly, Belize benefits from the granting of flags of convenience to the merchant navy.
A mixed country
The total population of Belize is estimated at just over 350,000 inhabitants and is growing steadily with a fertility rate of nearly 3 children per woman. The population is relatively young and only 4% of Belizeans are over 65 years.
The Belizeans are of diverse origins and if half of them descend from the Mayas or European settlers, there are also 25% descendants of black slaves and Creoles. The interbreeding tends to become widespread over generations.
While English remains the official language of Belize in administrations and schools, it is spoken daily by only 6% of the population. However, over 60% of Belizeans know English well enough to hold a conversation.
Kriol (Creole) is often regarded as the mother tongue, while more than 50% of the population is also speak in Spanish. Maya mopan has also been transmitted orally but is in marked decline. Less than 1% of the population still speaks it today, mainly in the Toledo district in the south of the country.
Nearly 60% of Belizeans are Catholic and 34% of them are Protestant. The particularity of Belize: the pacifist and puritanical ethnic-religious minority of the Mennonites, Europeans generally blond living in community and mingling with the population only for the sale of their products. Their clothes and lifestyle are reminiscent of the Amish, who are more tolerant as they use cars and electrical appliances even if they seem to have come from another century.
As in all former colonies, the cooking is a clever mix of European and local flavors. Belizean cuisine is influenced by England, the Caribbean and Mexico. Meat and fish are accompanied by rice and beans.
Three drinks are essential in Belize, the fruit juices, the seaweed-based sea weed and the egg nog cocktail, a surprising mix of rum, milk, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.
Due to tensions at the border of Belize and Guatemala and the increasing number of gang attacks, the foreigners visiting the country are urged to be caution. Although the recorded incidents are hardly ever involving tourists, it is recommended to avoid walking in the off-center Belize City, carrying valuables, going out at night. Hiking and diving should preferably be accompanied by official guides.
The cyclone season, from June to November, should also be avoided whenever possible.
The tourism in Belize is growing rapidly. Many travelers enjoy the many sporting activities offered, the scuba diving to discover the coral reef, the water trekking and the rafting.
The history lovers are seduced by ancient Mayan cities including Lamanai, a site occupied throughout the Mayan civilization at the mouth of the New River. It is possible to get to the ruins of Lamanai by boat from Orange Walk Town.
Cuello was also an important Mayan cultural center.