Belize (pronounced /bɛˈliːz/) (formerly British Honduras), is a country in Central America. Belize has a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Although Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Belize is bordered by Mexico to its north, by Guatemala to its south and west, and by the Caribbean Sea to the east.
With 8,867 square miles (22,960 km²) of land and 320,000 people (2008 est.), the population density of Belize is the lowest in the Central American region, and it also has one of the lowest population densities in the world. However, the country’s population growth rate, 2.21% (2008 est.), is the highest in the region and one of the highest in the western hemisphere. Belize’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity “hotspot.”
Belize is culturally unique among Central American nations. It is the only nation in Central America with a British colonial heritage, although as a part of the Western Caribbean Zone, it shares this heritage with the Caribbean portions of other Central American countries. Despite this, Belize considers itself to be a Central American nation affiliated with both the Caribbean and Latin America.
The area was inhabited by the Maya (c. 300 BCE – 900 CE); the ruins of their ceremonial centres, including Caracol and Xunantunich, can still be seen. The Spanish claimed sovereignty from the 16th century but never tried to settle Belize, though they regarded the British who did as interlopers. British loggers arrived in the mid-17th century; Spanish opposition was finally overcome in 1798. When settlers began to penetrate the interior, they met with Indian resistance. In 1871 British Honduras became a crown colony, but an unfulfilled provision of an 1859 British-Guatemalan treaty led Guatemala to claim the territory, a situation still unresolved. Belize became independent on September 21, 1981. Although Guatemala officially recognized the territory’s independence in 1991, a British force, stationed there to ensure the new country’s security, was not withdrawn until 1994.
The Belizean culture is made up of influences and people from Kriol, Maya, Garinagu (also known as Garifuna), Mestizo (a mixture of Spanish and Native Americans), Mennonites who are of German descent, with a blend of many other cultures from Chinese to Lebanese. It is a unique blend that emerged through the country’s long and occasionally violent history.
Courtesy is important to most Belizeans. It is not uncommon for Belizeans to greet each other on the street even if they have never seen each other before, or for acquaintances to spend minutes at a time chatting, oblivious to what is happening around them. Another aspect of the culture is the idea of the mystical healing and Obeah. However, there is still talk of evil shaman practices like putting “Obeah” on certain houses.
Although only a small fraction of the land is cultivated, agriculture provides about 75% of Belize’s exports, the chief of which are fish products, citrus, sugar, and bananas. Clothing and timber are also important products and export items, and there is some petroleum, which began being exported in 2006. Tourism is the main source of foreign exchange. Machinery, manufactured goods, fuel, chemicals, and food are imported. The United States, Great Britain, and Mexico are the main trading partners.