HISTORY - The area that is now Belize was largely uninhabited marshland before Europeans began settling in the Wertern Hemisphere Discovered by Spain in 1515, it had no permanent colony until British seaman were shipwrecked there early in the 17th Century. For many years it served as a refuge for pirates operating in the Caribbean. Settlers were also plagued by Spaniards asserting their claim to the territory. It became a British Crown goes back to colonial times and its 1944 constitution incorporates Belize into the nation.
PEOPLE AND GEOGRAPHY - The estimated population of 130,000 works out to about 14 persons for each of its 8,866 square miles, in lowest population desnity in Central America. Slightly larger than Massachussets. Belize has a hot and humid climate. Because of frequent hurricanes, the capital was transferred in 1970 from coastal Belize City to the new twon of Belmopan 50 miles inland.
ECONOMY - A once-flourishing trade in hardwood timber has declined with the depletion of the forests. Sugar and citrus have become the chief export items with tourism growing as a foreign exchange earner. Large oil deposits are believed to lie off the coast.
GOVERNMENT - A colonial governor representing the queen controls foreign affairs, defense internal security and the civil service. Internal policies are carried out by a cabinet headed by a prime minister. It has a bicameral legislature with the lower House elected by universal suffrage and a Senate whose members are appointed.