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Brief History of Belize
The history of Belize can be divided in four major periods. Following is a very brief synopsis of these periods.
Archaeologists estimate that at their peak, 1 to 2 million Mayans lived within the borders of present day Belize. Mighty Maya cities such as Caracol, Xunantunich and Lamanai dotted the landscape, with small agricultural communities farming the land between. The Maya civilization is divided into the Pre-Classic (1000 BC to AD 300), the Classic (AD 300 to 900) when the civilization reached its height of development, and the Post-Classic (AD 1000 to 1500) when the civilization fell apart and disappeared.
No one knows for certain what caused the disappearance of the Maya. Perhaps it was war, loss of faith, famine, or a series of natural disasters. TOP
Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America in 1502, and named the Bay of Honduras which borders the southern part of the barrier reef.
The first settlers in Belize were English Puritans, setting up trading posts along the coast of Belize. Various bands of ship-wrecked sailors, buccaneers, and pirates established permanent bases in Belize, harassing the Spanish galleons carrying gold, silver, and hardwoods from Central America to Europe. It wasn't long before logging became the dominant occupation.
This band of rugged individuals took to calling themselves "Baymen" after the Bay of Honduras. Spain continually attempted to expel these British buccaneers from then Spanish territory, but finally signed treaties in 1763 and 1786 allowing the British to continue to harvest timber in exchange for protection against pirates preying on the Spanish galleons.
During the 1840's, Great Britain declared Belize to be the colony of British Honduras. Development of Belize became more organized and multiethnic through a series of cultural changes. The European settlers began to marry freed slaves forming the Creole majority that still is dominant in the population. Mexican citizens began cultivating small farms in Northern Belize.
In Southern Belize, the Kekchi and Mopan Maya sought refuge in the hills of the Maya Mountains. A small band of Confederate Civil War veterans settled in what is now Punta Gorda. And from the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Garifuna people migrated and settled along the coast of Belize. TOP
Early 20th Century to present
By the early 1900's, Belize had grown to nearly 40,000 inhabitants. But a destructive 1931 hurricane destroyed Belize City and by the 1930's, the economy was so poor that the residents began to call for independence. By 1954 voting rights were extended to all adults, and by 1961, England agreed to begin the process of setting Belize free.
In 1973, the colony's name was changed from British Honduras to Belize and on September 21, 1981, Belize's Independence was declared.
Government Structure and Issues
Belize was granted independence from the British in 1981. During the first three years of independence, the country was lead by the People's United Party, with George Price being the first Prime Minister. Following the first general election in 1984, the People's United Party was replaced by Manuel Esquivel and the United Democratic Party. The People's United Party (PUP) then took seats again in 1989, only to be defeated by the United Democratic Party (UDP) on June 30, 1993,---after the they had called elections eighteen months early. August 27th, 1998 saw the installment of Belize's third Prime Minister when the PUP, under the new leadership of Said Musa, was returned to power by the Belizean people.
On March 5th, 2003 the P.U.P under the leadership of Said Musa made history becoming the first government to serve two consecutive terms. TOP
Belize's form of government is modeled like that of the Westminster system. The governor general, prime minister, and cabinet are the executive branch of the government. The legislative branch comprised of a twenty-nine member elected House of Representatives and an eight-member appointed Senate. Six members of the Senate are appointed by the ruling Party, three by the Opposition and three by the Governor General. The President of the Senate is nominated by the ruling party but must be elected by the other members. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor General and is the leader of the ruling party and the Cabinet. The judicial system consists of a supreme court and magistrate court; each district has a magistrate court, with the exception of Belize City which has four. Each of the nine towns, including San Pedro and Benque Viejo del Carmen, has a locally elected seven member town board, except Belize City which has a nine member city council.
Two Party System
Belize, since 1961, has had a two party political system, which is not constitutionally mandated. Actually, any number of Belizean adults can run as candidates for the 28 electoral divisions. Belize has no laws controlling the formation or activities of political parties. A person can say a political party exists and if the candidates of that party are successful, they therefore gain seats in government.
Political parties avoid class conflicts by representing all classes. But usually when parties are not in power they identify with the poorer class of society. On the most part, political parties do not strive on dues from members but from large donations given by business and most of which are not to the public's knowledge. TOP
During the period of self government (1964 - 1981), Britain kept control over the management of Belize's foreign affairs, allowing the People's United Party to participate in the foreign policies initiatives.
Belize has been very discreet and inflexible about the position of its foreign policy. Belize had to keep very close ties with British-troops as well as with the United States for-trade and aid. Due to the use of foreign policy as a tool for supporting trade and investment, the direction of foreign policy making in Belize was not different from most of the other nations in the 1990's.
Belize's foreign policy has been greatly determined by its political, military, and economic links with Britain and the United States, as well as its geographical ties with Central America and the Caribbean.
Belize in the Region
Belize, with its rights for self determination, joined Caricom, although becoming a member brought only limited economic benefits. For Belize it helped to further its drive for independence.
One reason why Belize played no direct part in the Central American peace process was because of its traditional isolation from Central American politics. Since the late 1980's, however Belize has been recognized as a genuine Central American nation by its isthmus neighbors.
Belize and Mexico enjoy a good relationship. In Belize, unlike other Central American countries, there is a positive recognition of Mexico and Mexican society. Belize has also established closer relations with Venezuela, who has tried to obtain support from Belize for its full membership in Caricom. TOP