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Farm settlements had existed for 1000 years before Mayans migrated to Belize in 1500 BC, dominating until 900 AD. The Spanish arrived in the 16th century but chose not to settle. British settlers then arrived in the 17th century. Repelling Spain, they established a logwood-trading colony using slaves.
In the 19th century the UK demanded the settlers end all slavery although former slaves continued to work in timber cutting. In 1836 the UK claimed administration rights and in 1862 it was declared a Crown Colony and named British Honduras.
Belize was reliant on the mahogany trade until 1930 when demand for timber declined. Economic conditions improved in World War 2 with Belizean men joining the armed forces but worsened after the war.
The country demanded independence. It was granted self-government in 1964 and in 1973 renamed Belize. However, full Independence was not achieved until 1981, slowed by a Guatemalan claim to sovereignty. Guatemala finally recognised it in 1991 although border disputes continue. Belize has a small, enterprise economy. Sugar and bananas are key crops.
Belize flanks the Caribbean Sea where the second-longest barrier reef in the world runs along its marshy coastline with many lagoons.
Two rivers, the Hondo and the Sarstoon, define the northern and southern boundaries respectively whilst the western border runs north-south through lowland forest and highland plateau. The north consists of flat, swampy coastal plains, in places heavily forested. The south contains the Maya Mountains, the highest point being Doyle's Delight at 1,124m.
The country began producing oil from the Spanish Lookout and Never Delay fields in 2005 that lie on the eastern edge of the Peten basin very close to the Guatemalan border. The fields lie due east of Guatemala’s largest oil field, the Xan field, and northwest of Belmopan, Belize’s capital. Production flows from two Cretaceous zones, the Yalbac and Hill Bank formations, and both are believed to have equivalents in the producing Coban formation in Guatemala.
However, since these discoveries there has been scant further success and the limited size of the productive area suggests to Globalshift that there is little chance for significant oil production increases in the future. No gas is produced or consumed in Belize.
There is no offshore production in the country and only a few wells have been drilled. Offshore drilling is now banned on the reef and offshore discoveries are not forecast by Globalshift in the country in the long term.
Map and National Flag
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Land area (sq kms)
Oil prod (000s b/d)
Gas prod (bcm/yr)
Oil cons (000s b/d)
Gas cons (bcm/yr)
Belize is a parliamentary monarchy based on the British system. Thec head of state is the UK monarch represented by the Governor-General.
Executive authority is exercised by the cabinet, which advises the Governor-General and is led by the Prime Minister who is head of government. The bicameral National Assembly of Belize is composed of a 31-member elected House of Representatives and a 12-member appointed Senate.
The Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology and Public Utilities (MESTPU) is responsible for oil resources. The Geology and Petroleum Department of this Ministry oversees the petroleum industry and supervises and monitors operations.
Belize Natural Energy (BNE) is a local private company and the only oil producer in the country.
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