Belize Political Reviews

Belize is the only Central American country with history as a British colony and with English as the official language. An unresolved border dispute with Guatemala that has been going on since the end of the 19th century has still not found its solution.

After internal self-government from 1964, Belize became independent in 1981. Belize’s parliament is built on a British pattern and politics is dominated by two parties: the center-oriented People’s United Party (PUP) and the more right-wing United Democratic Party (UDP). The UDP was long regarded as the eternal opposition party, but has since 2008 held a majority in parliament and consequently also the government. Dean Barrow became the country’s first black prime minister in 2008 and has been in power ever since. The next national election is in March 2016.

Belize is a transit country for drug trafficking between South America and the United States and, as a result, has a major problem with violent crime. UN figures show that Belize has an extremely high murder rate and in 2013 the country was the sixth most violent in the world. On average, around 40 deaths per 100,000 population have been recorded in recent years. The majority of killings occur in Belize City, where gang crime is a continuing problem.

Primary education in Belize is compulsory for anyone between the ages of 6 and 14. Parents who do not ensure that children regularly attend school can be fined. Although primary school is basically free, spending on uniforms and school supplies, for example, carries a huge burden on many poor families. This means that a large proportion of children and young people do not complete primary school. A report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) published in 2013 points to the major challenges in the education sector in Belize and the fact that more young people today are out of the school system than within. This naturally leads to many having problems entering the job market.

According to Countryaah, Belize is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. However, ties to Britain have waned somewhat since independence in 1981, while ties to the United States have been strengthened. A number of Belizeans live and work in North American cities. Belize is culturally and historically linked to as much to the Caribbean as Central America and is a member of CARICOM (Caribbean Community). Since 1991, the country has also been a member of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Conflict with Guatemala

The Spaniards explored the coast of what is today Belize as early as 1531, but found the area, which largely consisted of impenetrable jungle, unattractive. From 1638 British pirates settled, and by using slaves from Jamaica they began exporting woods like mahogany. In 1783 the boundaries of Belize were set and a treaty stated that the British could legitimately exploit the area financially. In 1821, both Mexico and Guatemala claimed Belize, which was still not an official British colony. Mexico has subsequently waived its claim. In 1859, the United Kingdom and Guatemala signed a treaty that gave Britain dominion over the area. In return, the British were to build a road between Belize and Guatemala. However, this promise was never fulfilled, which led Guatemala to subsequently consider the treaty to be invalid.

First, in 1991, Guatemala recognized Belize as an independent state, but followed up with a demand for negotiations to finally determine the border between the two countries. The Belizean authorities believe the demand for border adjustments is unacceptable and negotiations have been held several times between the two countries. The negotiations have not proceeded, but in December 2008 an agreement was reached to resolve the protracted conflict to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on the condition that the people of both countries give their support to this through referendums. Referendums were scheduled to be conducted at the same time in both countries on October 6, 2013, but are now postponed indefinitely.

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