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Belize

Belize is a small nation in Central America, on the Caribbean Sea bordering
Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south. Honduras lies
75 km away at the two nations' closest point across the Gulf of Honduras to
the east. In the Spanish language Belize is usually called Belice. Belize
was formerly known as British Honduras and the current name is derived from
Belize City and the Belize River. Belize City is the country's only city, as
well as the principal port and its former capital.

                                         National motto: "Sub Umbra Floreo"
                                         (Latin: Under the Shade I Flourish)
History
                                         Official language  English
                                         Capital            Belmopan
The Mayan civilisation spread over       Queen              Elizabeth II
Belize between 1500 BC and 300 AD and
flourished until about 1200 AD. The      Governor-General   Sir Colville Young
first Europeans arrived in the area in
the early 16th century and settlement    Prime minister     Said Musa
began with shipwrecked English seamen in Area               Ranked 146th
1638. This period also was marked by     - Total           22,966 km2
piracy, indiscriminate logging, and      - % water         0.7%
sporadic conflict with Amerindian tribes Population         Ranked 171st
and the neighbouring Spanish.            - Total (2003 E)  266,440
                                         - Density         12/km2
Belize grew into a more official colony
of the United Kingdom during the late                       From the United
18th, early 19th century under the name  Independence       Kingdom
of British Honduras, which became a      - Date            September 21,
crown colony in 1862. Self-governing                        1981
since January 1964 and renamed Belize in
June 1973, George Price led the country  Currency           Belizean dollar (BZD)
to full independence in September 1981   Time zone          UTC -6
after delays caused by territorial
disputes with neighbouring Guatemala,    National anthem    Land of the
which did not formally recognise the                        Free
country until 1991.                      Internet TLD       .BZ
                                         Calling Code       501
Politics

Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of
Nations. The British monarch is head of state and is represented in the
country by a governor general who must be a Belizean. The primary executive
organ of government is the cabinet, led by a prime minister who is head of
government. Cabinet ministers are members of the majority political party in
parliament and usually hold elected seats within it concurrently with their
cabinet positions.

The bicameral Belizean parliament is the National Assembly, which consists
of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The 29 members of the House are
popularly elected to a maximum 5-year term. Of the Senate's eight members,
five are elected by the prime minister, two by the leader of the opposition,
and one by the governor general on the advice of the Belize Advisory
Council. The Senate is headed by a president, who is a nonvoting member
appointed by the governing party.

Districts

Belize consists of 6 districts:

   * Belize District
   * Cayo District
   * Corozal District
   * Orange Walk District
   * Stann Creek District
   * Toledo District

Geography

The north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains, in
places heavily forested. In the south is found the low mountain range of the
Maya Mountains, of which the highest point in Belize is Victoria Peak at
1,160 m. Belize is located in between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers, with
the Belize River flowing down in the centre of the country. All along the
Caribbean coast are found coral reefs or cays.

The local climate is tropical and generally very hot and humid. The rainy
season lasts from May to November and frequent natural hazards include
hurricanes and flooding.

Economy

The small, essentially private enterprise economy is based primarily on
agriculture, agro-based industry, and merchandising, with tourism and
construction assuming greater importance. Sugar, the chief crop, accounts
for nearly half of exports, while the banana industry is the country's
largest employer.

The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in
September 1998, led to GDP growth of 6.4% in 1999 and 10.5% in 2000. Growth
decelerated in 2001 to 3% due to the global slowdown and severe hurricane
damage to agriculture, fishing, and tourism. Major concerns continue to be
the rapidly expanding trade deficit and foreign debt. A key short-term
objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors.

Demographics

Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. About half the population is of
mixed Mayan and European descent (Mestizo); 25% are of African and
Afro-European (Creole) ancestry; about 10% are Mayan; and about 6% are
Afro-Amerindian (Garifuna). The remainder includes European, Indian,
Chinese, and Middle Eastern and North American groups.

Language

English is the official language. Most Belizeans other than recent arrivals
from neighboring countries have at least a working knowledge of English.
English or Creole English predominates along the coast, and in the center
and south of the country. In the west and north, the Spanish language is
more widely spoken. Spanish is the native tongue of about 50% of the people
and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. The various Maya groups
still speak Maya languages, and an English Creole dialect, similar to the
Creole dialects of the English-speaking Caribbean Islands, is spoken by
most. Some communities in southern Belize mostly speak Garifuna.

Religion

About 50% of the population is Roman Catholic; the Anglican Church and other
Protestant Christian groups account for most of the remainder. About 5%
belong to the German-/Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonite community.
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