Highways: total: 2,710 km , paved: 500 km , unpaved: gravel 1,600 km; improved earth 300 km; unimproved earth 310 km
Inland waterways: 825 km river network used by shallow draft craft; seasonally navigable
intercity: microwave radio relay
international: 1 INTELSAT (Atlantic Ocean) earth station
Manpower availability: males age 15-49 50,499; males fit for military service 30,040; males reach military age (18) annually 2,285 (1995 est.) - $11 million, 2.2% of GDP (FY93/94)
Defense expenditures: exchange rate conversion
The Belize Defense Force (BDF), established in January 1973, consists of a light infantry force of regulars and reservists along with small air and maritime wings. The BDF, currently under the command of Brigadier General Alan Usher, assumed total defense responsibility from departing British Forces Belize (BFB) on January 1, 1994. The United Kingdom continues to maintain the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUP) to assist in the administration of the Belize Jungle School. The BDF receives military assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Belize maintains an embassy in the United States at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.: 202-332-9636; fax: 202-332- 6888).
Economic growth in Belize is constrained by a lack of infrastructure. Electric service is expensive and unavailable in some rural areas. No roads exist to large tracts of potentially arable land and timber. Some roads, including sections of major highways, are subject to damage or closure during the rainy season. Inadequate roads and ports limit external marketing, although expansion of port handling facilities has been undertaken in Belize City, and a new deep water port has been completed in Big Creek to complement facilities in Belize City and Commerce Bight. Barges and lighters are used for sugar, bananas, and other shipments.
The government recognizes the need to develop the country and has budgeted $92 million in fiscal years 1994-95 for capital expenditure. Much of the government's operating expenses are derived from customs duties and taxes, but most of the capital expenses are met through foreign assistance. The Government of Belize, U.S. assistance projects, and other donors are working to improve the country's infrastructure.
USAID, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom have projects to upgrade the quality of the Belizean road system. Steel and concrete bridges are being constructed to ensure year round passage to remote portions of the country. Rural electrification is moving forward, with the construction of a multi-million dollar hydroelectric project by an American firm, and urban electric power is becoming more dependable.
Under aid agreements with the United Kingdom and the Caribbean Development Bank, a new international airport terminal has been built and the runway lengthened. A new water and sewer system has been completed in Belize City with the help of the Canadian International Development Agency, and the construction of a new 100 bed hospital for Belize City is currently underway with EU assistance.
Belize's economic performance is highly susceptible to external market changes. Although outstanding growth has been achieved in recent years, the successes are vulnerable to world commodity price fluctuations and the continuation of trade preferences.
Belize consistently has had a substantial trade deficit, reaching $141 million in 1993. The deficit is financed primarily by foreign aid, foreign investment, and remittances from Belizean's working in the United States. Imports in 1993 totaled $284 million, while exports were only $143 million. In 1992, the United States accounted for 58% of Belize's imports and 51% of exports. Belize is the highest per capita importer of U.S. consumer ready food products of any Central American country. Other major trading partners are the European Union (14.7% of imports, of which the United Kingdom accounts for 8%), and Mexico (8.8% of imports).
Belize aims to stimulate the growth of commercial agriculture through the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). However, Belizean trade with the rest of the Caribbean is limited compared to that with the United States and Europe. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), a U.S. Government program to stimulate investment in Caribbean nations by providing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Caribbean products. Significant U.S. private investments in citrus and shrimp farms have been made in Belize under CBI. U.S. trade preferences allowing for duty-free re-import of finished apparel cut from U.S. textiles have significantly expanded the apparel industry. EU and U.K. preferences also have been vital for the expansion and prosperity of the sugar and banana industries.
Belize's principal external concern has been the dispute involving the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory. This dispute originated in imperial Spain's claim to all "New World" territories west of the line established in the Treaty of Tordesillas. Nineteenth century efforts to resolve the problems led to later differences over interpretation and implementation of an 1859 treaty intended to establish the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, then named British Honduras. Guatemala contends that the 1859 treaty is void because the British failed to comply with all its economic assistance clauses. Neither Spain nor Guatemala ever exercised effective sovereignty or control over the area.
Negotiations proceeded for many years, including one period in the 1960s in which the U.S. Government sought unsuccessfully to mediate. A 1981 trilateral (Belize, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom) "Heads of Agreement" was not implemented due to disagreements. Thus, Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, with the territorial dispute unresolved. Significant negotiations between Belize and Guatemala, with the United Kingdom as an observer, resumed in 1988. Guatemala recognized Belize's independence in 1991, and diplomatic relations were established. The Guatemalan claim remains unresolved, however.
In order to strengthen its potential for economic and political development, Belize has sought to build closer ties with the Spanish- speaking countries of Central America to complement its historical ties to the English-speaking Caribbean states. Belize already was a member of CARICOM, which was founded in 1973; in 1990, the country became a member of the Organization of American States (OAS).
As a member of CARICOM, Belize strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute personnel to the Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994, and to the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH).
The United States and Belize traditionally have had close and cordial relations since they were established in the 1930s. The United States is Belize's principal trading partner and major source of investment funds and is also home to the largest Belizean community outside Belize. An estimated 35,000 Belizean's live in the United States. Because Belize's economic growth and accompanying democratic political stability are important U.S. objectives in an often troubled region, Belize benefits from the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Through its active USAID program, the United States is now the largest provider of economic assistance to Belize. The Peace Corps has 43 volunteers in the country. American investment and tourism are growing rapidly. Excellent air and shipping links to the United States facilitate trade and travel.
The U.S. embassy is located in Belize City at the corner of Gabourel Lane and Hutson Street. The mailing address is P.O. Box 286, Belize City, Belize, Central America; tel.: 011-501-2-77161 from the U.S., or 77161 locally; fax to embassy: 011-501-2-30802/35321 (24- hour coverage).
As a result of an assessment conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in May 1993, the FAA has found the government of Belize civil aviation authority not to be in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Belizean air carrier operations. Operations to the U.S. by Belizean air carriers are not permitted unless they arrange to have their flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international aviation safety standards. The Department of Defense does not permit U.S. military personnel to use carriers from Belize for official business except in extenuating circumstances. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at tel. 1-(800)-322-7873.
Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks. It is not uncommon to encounter pedestrians, horses, bicycles or motorized vehicles traveling or stopped on highways and roads. Service stations are available on the two main highways connecting Belize City with Mexico and Guatemala at distant but reasonable intervals. There are few service stations other than on these highways or in large towns. There are no emergency road services, and there are few public telephones, even on the major highways. It is not recommended that travelers drive after dark, given the condition of the roads, the lack of services and the absence of street lighting. It is recommended for safety reasons that travelers not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles have apparently broken down.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Belize City and obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize. (Click to View Belize Embassies, Ambasadors, & Consulates) This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated December 11, 1995, to provide updated information on country description, crime, aviation oversight and traffic safety and road conditions.