Population: 353,858 (2016)
Life expectancy: 68.7 years (2016)
Infant mortality: 19.3 per 1,000 (2016)
GDP per capita (PPP): US $ 8,200 (2016)
Religion: Catholicism 62.9 %, Protestantism 31.5%, other 12.2%
Official languages: English
Currency unit: Belizean dollar
Export items: Sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, clothing, fish products, syrups, wood and crude oil.
Regional connections: Member of PetroCaribe, Caricom, CELAC and OAS
Although Belize has the second highest income per capita in Central America, such an average number hides huge differences between rich and poor. Figures from 2013 shows that 41 percent of Belize’s population lives below the poverty line and that unemployment is 15.5 percent. The government’s expansionary monetary and fiscal policy, initiated in September 1998, led to average GDP growth of nearly 4 percent in 1999 to 2007. However, growth fell to 0 percent in 2009, due to the general economic downturn, natural disasters and a temporary fall. in the oil price. It grew somewhat again to 2.5 percent in 2013, but the period of weak economic growth and a large public debt burden eventually led to major problems. In January 2013, the government announced that it had reached an agreement with creditors to restructure its large debt of $ 544 million.
According to Countryaah.com, the country’s main revenue comes from tourism, followed by exports of marine products, citrus, sugar and bananas. The largest trading partners are the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany and Mexico. Belize has partly served as a tax haven for foreign companies and, for many years, changing governments have pursued a liberal licensing policy towards foreign companies. Public debt is high and in 2013 the country was one of the 13 most debt-burdened in the world.
Oil was found in Belize in 2006, but the oil business is contentious and so far has not contributed much to the Treasury. The battle over oil production is not least due to the fact that it often takes place in vulnerable nature reserves. Belize has the world’s second largest continuous coral reef off its coast, the Barrier Reef. Oil activity in this area can potentially cause enormous damage to plant and animal life. Environmental organizations and other civil society representatives have been strongly committed to exploring for offshore oil, which in 2013 led the Supreme Court to cancel all contracts awarded for this type of oil drilling.
Indigenous territories and way of life are threatened
The inhabitants of this small country bordering Guatemala and Mexico have very different cultural backgrounds. Although English is the official language, many of the country’s inhabitants also speak other languages, such as Spanish, Creole, Garifuna, Qekchi and Mopan. The country’s indigenous people are direct descendants of the native natives of the Yucatan Peninsula. There are currently three Mayan groups in Belize: yucatec, mopane, and q’eqchi.
The Yucatec population came to Belize in the middle of the last century as refugees from war in Mexico. They now live primarily in the cities of Corozal, Orange Walk and San Ignacio.
The folk group mopan moved to Belize in the 1880s from the Petén region of Guatemala to escape taxation and forced labor. There are Mopan settlements in SanAntonio in southern Belize, and there are also some in the Cayo district.
The Q’eqchi population came to Belize in the 1870s to escape the slavery of German coffee growers in Guatemala. They settled in the lowlands along rivers and established about 30 small isolated villages throughout the Toledo district south of the country. Because of its isolation, Q’eqchi has remained the country’s poorest and most neglected minority.
The various Mayan groups that live in Belize today feed mainly as farmers. Especially the mopan and q’eqchi populations of southern Belize have maintained their cultural identity, as well as collective and usage-based rights to the land they cultivate. These rights have been disputed and there have been several legal processes in recent years, among which the authorities have contested the status of these peoples groups as indigenous people. Many experience constant interference in their rural areas, among other things as a result of large-scale logging and petroleum activities, which in turn threatens their traditional territories and way of life.