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Belize was once part of the Maya civilization; Cortes probably traversed the region on his way Hondura. The Spanish did not colonize the are. Buccaneers founded Belize City in the early 1600’s and were followed by British Jamaicans, who exploited its timber. Spain long contested British possession, but in 1859 Guatemala and Britain agreed on British Honduras’s boundaries. In 1940 Guatemala declared the agreement invalid. British Honduras was granted internal self-government in 1964, but full independence was delayed by Guatemala’s claim. Negotiations appeared to resolve that problem, though, and on September 21, 1981, British Honduras, as Belize, became the last British crown colony on the American mainland to achieve independence. However, the Guatemalan-British agreement did not hold, and not until 1988 did Guatemala give de facto recognition to Belize. A British force remained in Belize to guarantee its independence but nearly all were withdrawn before the end of 1994. In 1993 Manuel Esquivel, of the United Democratic Party, became Prime Minister.


Belize is approximately 22,960 square kilometers. The country is divided into two main physiographic regions. Maya Mountains and associated basins and plateaus dominate southern half of country. Second region comprises northern lowlands and is drained by numerous rivers and streams. Coastline is flat and swampy and marked by many lagoons.


In contrast to most Central America nations, elections in Belize are notable for their regularity, adherence to democratic principles, and an absence of violence. The Representation of the People Ordinance and the constitution regulate electoral procedures. The constitution establi...

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...of mixed ancestry, most of them descendant of immigrants. Mestizos (of mixed Maya Indian and European ancestry) are the largest ethnic group, accounting for more than two-fifths of the population. English-speaking people of largely African and African-European ancestry, who are called Creoles, account for nearly one-third of the population and predominate in the central coastal regions. Mestizos predominate in the more sparsely inhabited interior, along with the Maya, who account for one-ninth of the population. Several thousand Garifuna, formerly called Black Caribs who are descendants of the Carib Indians and Africans exiled from British colonies in the eastern Caribbean (Lesser Antilles) in the 18th century, live in communities on the south coast. People of European and East Indian ancestry are also present, as are smaller numbers of Chinese, Arabs, and others.

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