Belize is situated on the Caribbean Sea, south of Mexico and east and north of Guatemala in Central America. In area, it is about the size of New Hampshire. Most of the country is heavily forested with various hardwoods. Mangrove swamps and cays along the coast give way to hills and mountains in the interior. The highest point is Victoria Peak, 3,681 ft (1,122 m).
Parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth.
The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 B.C. and A.D. 300 and flourished until about 1200. Several major archaeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was begun by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period was also marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements. Both Spain and Britain lay claim to the land until Britain defeated the Spanish in the battle of St. George's Cay (1798). It became a colony of Great Britain in 1840, known as British Honduras, and a Crown colony in 1862. Full internal self-government was granted in Jan. 1964. In 1973, the country changed its name to Belize.
Belize became independent on Sept. 21, 1981. But Guatemala, which had made claims on the territory since the 1800s, refused to recognize it. British troops remained in the country to defend it. Although the dispute between Guatemala and Great Britain remained unresolved, Guatemala recognized Belize's sovereignty in Sept. 1991. Guatemala, however, still claims more than half of Belize’s territory.
Prime Minister Said Musa was reelected to a second term in 2003. Musa promised to improve conditions to the largely underdeveloped, southern part of Belize.
New Prime Minister Elected Amid Unrest
Tax increases in 2005 led to unrest and anger with the People's United Party government. This led to a shift in the next election. In the 2008 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party won 57% of the vote (25 of 31 seats) and the People's United Party 41% (6 seats). Turnout was 74.5%. Dean Barrow was sworn in as prime minister on February 8. On February 11 he announced his cabinet, which included himself as finance minister, Wilfred Elrington as foreign minister, and Carlos Perdomo as minister of national security.
Controversial Telecom Battle Comes to a Head
Shortly after assuming office, Dean Barrow exposed his predecessor's government, saying that former Prime Minister Musa had a secret agreement with Belize Telecommunications, which later became Telemedia. That agreement included limiting competitors and making up for any company losses. Once in office, Barrow tried to rework the tax clauses with Telemedia. When Telemedia refused to compromise, Barrow got the courts to order the company to make tax payments. Telemedia responded by getting parliament to nationalized the in 2009. On June 24, 2011, Belize's Court of Appeal ruled that the Telemedia nationalization was unconstitutional, which ended the company's telecommunicating dominance in the country.
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