Belize was originally part of the area of Mayan culture.
The Spanish explored the coast in 1531, but found the area,
largely made up of impenetrable jungle, unattractive.
British Crown Colony
From 1638 British pirates settled, and by using slaves
from Jamaica they began the export of Brazilian wood and
mahogany. The Spaniards tried several times to force the
British out. A treaty of 1783 set the boundaries for Belize
and stated that the British could legitimately exploit the
By the decolonization of Mexico and Guatemala in 1821,
both of these countries claimed Belize, which was still not
an official British colony. It was not until 1862 that the
crown colony of British Honduras was proclaimed.
Battle of Guatemala
Guatemala's demand for Belize and the British's desire to
maintain its last colony in the area led to an agreement
that the United Kingdom should build a road between B elize
city and Guatemala city. However, the British renounced
responsibility for this agreement in 1867. Guatemala
considered this breach of contract to be contrary to the
conditions for accepting British control over Belize. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Belize.
Guatemala has repeatedly reiterated its demand for road
development, and in 1936 proposed that the United Kingdom
relinquish the southernmost part, which would extend
Guatemala's continental shelf on the Atlantic coast where
oil deposits have been detected. Since 1945, Guatemala has
considered Belize as one of its provinces, and after 1954,
the Guatemalan army appeared constantly provocative along
In 1991, Belize gained recognition from Guatemala; prior
to this, Guatemala had resumed diplomatic relations with the
United Kingdom in 1986 and accepted Belize's membership in
the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990.
Nevertheless, Belize's claim was repeated by Guatemala as
late as 1994.
Self-government and independent
Belize gained internal autonomy in 1964 and the name
British Honduras was abolished in 1973. Veteran politician
George Price and his People's United Party (PUP) pursued a
social democratic policy 1964–84.
Belize gained independence on September 21, 1981, but
remained part of the British Commonwealth and defended by
the British Army. The center-liberal Manuel Esquivel and his
United Democratic Party (UDP) ruled Belize in the period
1984–89 and again from 1994 after a 1989–94 reign with
George Price as prime minister. PUP's social democratic
profile was not characteristic of Price's recent period.
Foreign investment in plantation and tourism has increased,
and Price has been an exponent of a liberal market economy.
Esquivel returned and formed a UDP government in the
period 1994-98. The PUP returned to power after major
electoral victories in 1998 and 2003, now with Said Musa as
prime minister, on a program to cut taxes and strengthen the
rights of the natives. Musa had held a number of cabinet
positions since the 1970s, and played a key role in the
Around the turn of the century, Belize was devastated by
hurricanes Keith and Iris. The economy
showed good signs of development, with the tourism industry
as the most important growth factor. But this has also
sharpened the growth/protection conflict, centered on
opposition to extensive hydropower development in one of
Central America's largest unspoilt jungle areas, with
deposits of a number of endangered animal species.
In 2002, Belize and Guatemala made great strides to end
their year-long border dispute, with the Organization of
American States (OAS) as the broker. However, the border
with Guatemala is still a matter of contention.