Sovereign: Queen Elizabeth II (1952)
Governor-General: Sir Colville Young (1993)
Prime Minister: Dean Barrow (2008)
Land area: 8,803 sq mi (22,800 sq km); total area: 8,867 sq mi (22,966 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 340,844 (growth rate: 1.9%); birth rate: 25.14/1000; infant mortality rate: 20.31/1000; life expectancy: 68.49
Capital (2011 est.): Belmopan, 14,000
Largest city: Belize City, 52,600
Monetary unit: Belize dollar
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.