The Nation of Belize lies on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, a former Central American colony of both Spain and Britain. Today Belize is an independent nation, having gained political independence from Britain in 1981. Yet, like many of its neighbours in Central America and the Caribbean, Belize has remained dependent on the countries of the northfor its economic stability and viability. As the nation of Belize struggles to take its rightful place in the community of nations, it finds itself at a crossroads in its history. This crossroads can be seen both in terms of its own identity–as a people; and in terms of its vision for the future. Belize with its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual make-up, is seeking an identity that will be truly reflective of the component groups. The first recorded European settlement to take place in Belize occurred in 1683 by the crew and passengers of a ship-wrecked British ship. These early settlers, soon took up pirating and became known as buccaneers. They lived in rough camps along the coast from which they roamed the Caribbean raiding Spanish treasure fleets in the mid-seventeenth century.
In 1667 ‘buccaneering’ was outlawed. An increasing number of the buccaneers (now referred to as Baymen) then turned to logwood cutting as this was fast becoming a lucrative commodity. However, there were frequent conflicts between the Baymen and their Spanish neighbours over the right to settle and cut logwood in the region. The Spanish attacked the settlement many times forcing the settles to leave. The spanish, however, never settled in Belize and the Baymen returned and expanded their settlements and trade. The most significant encounter between the Spanish and the Baymen occurred on the tenth of September, 1798, when the Spanish attacked the settlement once again. The Baymen, this time with the help of their African slaves, an armed sloop and three companies of a West Indian Regiment, were able to defeat the Spanish in what has become known as the “Battle of St George’s Caye” (where it took place). The Spanish retreated and the Baymen gained control of the settlement.
The early settlers governed themselves under a system of primitive democracy called the Public Meeting–a public forum to discuss, debate and decide on the affairs of the settlement. It was originally made up of all British-born, permanent, white inhabitants. The system later came to consist of a paid Superintendent appointed by the British Government, and a bench of seven magistrates elected annually to act in both a judicial and executive capacity. A Legislative Assembly replaced the Public Meeting in 185, with the Superintendent as chairman. By 1861 an Executive Council was added and the post of Superintendent became that of Lieutenant-Governor. In 1862 the settlment of Belize was declared a colony with the name British Honduras. In 1871 British Honduras received Crown colony status and the Legislative Assembly was replaced by a Legislative Council. The colony remained under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Jamaica until administrative ties were severed in 1884.
Today Belize is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model, with a multi-party system. Elections are held every five years to choose the Legislative Assembly. The Head of State is Queen Elizabeth II, represented in Belize by the Governor General. The Prime Minister is the head of the government.
English is the official language and the predominant medium of instruction in the schools. Almost everyone speaks the English dialect ‘creole’. Spanish is also widely spoken and is taught in the primary and secondary schools as a second language. The Garifuna and Maya have their own native languages as well.