Belize enjoys a stable government; suffrage is universal (but not compulsory) for everyone over the age of 18. The country has a parliamentary constitutional democracy and is directed by an elected prime minister. Belize is an independent commonwealth realm, and has a government structure that is based on Britain’s parliamentary system and a legal code fashioned after common law in England. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, and the current prime minister is Dean Barrow. There is a bicameral legislature known as the National Assembly that is made up of a house of representatives and a senate. The house of representatives is elected, while the senate is appointed.
There are two main political parties in Belize — the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP). A member of the PUP was prime minister prior to Dean Barrow, but in recent years the UDP has been gaining more traction in Belize. This is partly related to a handful of corruption scandals involving the PUP. The two parties are political adversaries, but thankfully political-based violence is uncommon in Belize.
Belize’s economy has traditionally revolved around trees and wood — mahogany, logwood, and chicle (a substance used in gum that comes from the chicle tree) were the main exports. In recent years, however, tourism has taken the forefront, with fisheries, shrimp farming, and agriculture also adding to the economy. Belize is very small, however, and most of its goods are imported. Current exports include bananas, lobster, sugar, citrus, and timber.
Belize’s economy struggles due to high labor and energy costs, as well as a “brain drain” of professionals to Europe and the U.S. The government has worked to attract foreign companies to Belize, many of which are involved in manufacturing.
Tourism is a huge economic driver in Belize. It’s responsible for nearly 1 in 7 jobs and accounts for some 22 percent of the country’s GDP. Around 250,000 overnight tourists visit Belize each year, with the vast majority coming from the United States. Tourism is, however, a contentious topic in Belize. It negatively impacts Belize’s fragile ecosystems and infrastructure, but also encourages the creation of national parks and nature reserves. It also brings massive amounts of money to the country. Tourism – and ecotourism in particular — has an important place here, but the balance hasn’t been mastered just yet.
Additionally, a heavy reliance on tourism also creates fragility in the economy — if tourists from foreign countries suffer economic setbacks, their ability to travel decreases, in turn, hurting Belize. Furthermore, nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line, making it almost inevitable that you will see poverty during your trip.