Belize is an independent country on the Caribbean coast of Central America, comprising 95% mainland and 5% cayes, with a total land area of 22,700 km2. It is bordered by Mexico on the North, Guatemala on the west and south, and the Caribbean Sea on the east. Belize is home to the longest healthy barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and lies in the subtropical geographic belt. It obtained its independence from Britain in 1981 and has a parliamentary democracy based on the British Westminster system, with a Governor General who represents the British monarch as head of state, a Prime Minister, and a Cabinet. It is the only English-speaking country in Central America.
The population of Belize (311,500) is the smallest in Central America, and is ethnically and culturally diverse, with a majority of Mestizos (48.7%) and Creoles (24.9%); populations of indigenous Maya (10.6%) and Garinagu (6.1%); and other minorities, including Mennonites, East Indians, and Chinese. Belize has an open economy based primarily on agriculture and services, with agricultural exports being dominated by sugar, citrus, banana and marine products. In the last ten years, tourism has become a major income earner for the country with cruise tourism accounting for almost half of the visitors to Belize.
There has been an increase in inward remittances as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) over the period 2000–2006, and one of the great expectations for the economy comes from the discovery of oil in 2006. As a member of both the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Central American Integration System (SICA), Belize is in a unique position to take advantage of initiatives in both regions in pursuit of its national development goals and to foster collaboration and cooperation between them.
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