Belize has more in common with the Caribbean island-states than with its Central American neighbours.
This is reflected in its major languages English and Creole and in its mainly Anglo-Caribbean architecture and its relatively peaceful political culture.
It also has peoples and cultures found elsewhere in the Americas - Spanish-speaking Mestizos who are of mixed Maya Indian and European ancestry Creoles who speak a Creole dialect of English and who are often of African and African-European extraction and Garifuna who are the descendants of Carib Indians and Africans.
CHAMPION OF GARIFUNA
Andy Palacio who died in 2008 spearheaded a revival of Central America's Garifuna culture
Nonetheless the ethnic make-up is changing and the use of Spanish is on the rise boosted by an amnesty for many immigrants from neighbouring Guatemala Honduras and Nicaragua. Belize formerly known as British Honduras was the UK's last colony on the American mainland. Its independence was delayed until 1981 by long-running tension with neighbouring Guatemala which claims a large portion of its territory.
Guatemala recognised Belize's independence in 1991 but the neighbours have yet to settle their border dispute which is rooted in colonial times.
Belize has always had strong ties with Britain and the United States but has recently also forged closer links with Latin American countries such as Mexico and Venezuela.
In common with many Caribbean economies the service sector has overtaken agriculture fishing and forestry.
Tourism is a major source of foreign currency. Belize's attractions include wildlife Mayan ruins and one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. More than 200 islands nestle inside the reef.
Cruise ship arrivals have seen a massive increase in recent years. But tourism has its price; among the challenges facing Belize is the threat to the habitats of its mammals and birds.
Also Belize has a problem with violent crime much of it drug-related and the trafficking of narcotics to the US. In 2006 the US state department included Belize in a list of countries which it said were not doing enough to tackle human trafficking.
- Full name: Belize
- Population: 307000 (UN 2009)
- Capital: Belmopan
- Area: 22965 sq km (8867 sq miles)
- Major languages: English (official) Spanish Mayan Garifuna (Carib) Creole
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 74 years (men) 78 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Belizean dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Sugar bananas citrus fruits oil clothing fish products molasses wood
- GNI per capita: US$3820 (World Bank 2008)
- Internet domain: .bz
- International dialling code: +501
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II represented by a governor
Prime minister: Dean Barrow
Dean Barrow's United Democratic Party (UDP) won the general election in February 2008. He unseated the People's United Party (PUP) government of Said Musa which had been in power for 10 years.
The PUP was the driving force behind independence and won 10 of the 12 elections since Belize first elected a legislative assembly under British rule in 1954. In the last years of Mr Musa's government the PUP had been rocked by allegations of corruption.
Mr Barrow promised a campaign against graft increased spending on infrastructure and the establishment of an elected Senate in place of the current appointed upper house.
Mr Barrow is Belize's first black prime minister. A leading lawyer he was elected to parliament in 1984 and served in senior positions in UDP governments until the PUP won a landslide in 1998. He then led the party in opposition until its victory at the polls in 2008. He also serves as minister of finance.
Belize has no daily newspapers; some of the privately-owned weeklies are subsidised by political parties.
State-run radio was privatised in 1998 and listeners now rely on a range of private commercial stations most of them networked across the country.
Private television stations are on the air and cable TV is available in the towns.
The constitution guarantees media freedom but provides exceptions in the interest of national security public order and morality.
- Amandala - weekly
- The Belize Times - weekly mouthpiece of People's United Party
- The Reporter - weekly
- The San Pedro Sun - community weekly published on island of Ambergris Caye
- The Guardian - United Democratic Party-affiliated
- Love FM - commercial music and news
- Estereo Amor - private Spanish-language
- Krem FM - private commercial
- More FM - private music station targeted at younger listeners
- Wave Radio - affiliated to United Democratic Party
Positive Vibes FM - affiliated to People's United Party
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