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Belize is often advertised as a "diverse, peaceful, English-speaking democracy" with "the best diving in the world, dramatic Mayan ruins looming out of untouched jungle, and restaurants that serve fried chinchilla. But anthropologist Irma McClaurin points out there is another "ugly" Belize, marked by underdevelopment, with its reliance on imports from industrialized countries, inadequate technology and health care, and high unemployment. With a population of ,, Belize is the least populated nation in the Caribbean. Despite its size, however, the country's inhabitants represent a wide variety of ethnicities and cultures.
English is the official language but Creole, Spanish, Garifuna and Mayan languages are widely spoken throughout the country. The majority of Belize's population is Roman Catholic, but British influence has resulted in sizeable and varied groups of Protestants, including German Swiss Mennonites. The Mayan practice of Catholicism fuses shamanist-animist and Christian rituals. Belize formerly British Honduras gained independence from Great Britain on 21 September , but it has practiced self-government since Although the country retains its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and the Queen of England appoints the governor general, political allegiance to Great Britain is largely ceremonial.
The country boasts a history free of coups de etat and has remained relatively untouched by ethnic strife. Belize is governed by a cabinet with a powerful prime minister who has executive power. The country also has a bicameral legislature the National Assembly , and an independent judiciary. The People's United Party PUP , one of the two main political parties, won by an unprecedented margin twenty-six out of twenty -nine parliamentary seats in the country's August general elections. The new prime minister, Said Musa, won on the campaign promise to develop and implement an aggressive series of economic and political reforms deed to improve the economy, increase government ability and encourage local self-government.
As in the rest of the region, political loyalties are personalized and allegiances to either party are often family or friend-based. In reality, there are only slight ideological differences between the two parties. Both have included and appealed to all classes and sectors of society. Although the UDP is more outspokenly anti-Communist and supportive of the United States, both parties support the capitalist system with its reliance on private enterprise and foreign investment.
According to one commentator, PUP and UDP share the conviction that the role of the parties is to contain "conflict of class interest. Agroexports sugar, bananas, citrus fruit are the mainstay of the economy, contributing thirty percent of the Gross Domestic Product GDP. Fifty percent of the country's workforce works in agriculture and fishing, although just two percent of the arable land is used for agriculture. Possessing the second largest barrier reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the country's profits from tourism constitute twenty percent of the GDP and bring in the largest earnings of foreign exchange.
Roughly eighty percent of Belize's exports are traded under preferential agreements with industrialized countries. Caribbean nations are required to enter into any such agreement as a bloc, so several countries in the region have been liberalizing regional trade policies for the past year. Belize has taken steps to attract foreign investment while minimizing environmental exploitation, which it recognizes as crucial to continue attracting eco-tourists.
In the s, the government took a series of initiatives passing the National Park System Act and the Wildlife Protection Ordinance to provide legal protection for the environment and create new parks and reserves. According to Musa, the government discourages extractive and wasteful industries such as exporting timber, instead promoting the clothing, furniture, shrimp farming, boats and batteries industries. Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the Central American region in November , left Belize largely intact.
The country's Barrier Reef helped to break walls of water, and the storm circled almost completely around Belize, striking Honduras, southern Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Government officials estimate that just two percent of the nation's 90, square miles were damaged by the hurricane. The official unemployment rate stands at At twenty percent, women in rural areas have the highest unemployment figures.
Ironically, while urban unemployment rates keep getting worse, the agricultural sector experiences labor shortages. Prime Minister Musa has vowed to create 15, new jobs by Only eleven percent of the workforce is unionized in one of the country's eleven independent unions. With the exception of teachers, as well as the agricultural and the public sectors, unions are weak and strikes are uncommon.
Although workers may freely unions, they face numerous obstacles if they decide to do so. In many cases, workers' attempts to form trade unions are obstructed by employers. According to the report, employers in the banana industry, particularly in the Stann Creek area, represented by the Banana Growers Association, have blocked workers' attempts to form unions since the s.
Workers who are already members of unions or who try to them face harassment from the police. Although a worker may file a complaint with the Labor Department for redress, it is virtually impossible to prove that the termination was due to union activity. The government provides free universal health care to Belizeans and officially states that good public health is essential to improving socio-economic conditions.
Moreover, the quality of these services varies considerably. Although less serious in and gravity that in other Central American countries, human rights abuses do occur in Belize. The areas of concern include the lack of labor protection, police brutality, poor prison conditions, discrimination against immigrants and violations of women's human rights. Unlike human rights activists in other countries of the isthmus, the HRCB and other groups in Belize have broadened the concept of human rights to include demands for respect of basic economic.
The HRCB links crime and drug problems to younger people's lack of access to education and employment. The HRCB has also actively promoted children's rights. Although the Constitution contains provisions protecting freedom of speech and of the press, it also allows the government to make "reasonable provisions" in the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality or public health.
These provisions include prohibiting citizens from questioning the validity of public officials' financial disclosure statements. The government recently privatized the state-owned Broadcasting Corporation of Belize. The government indicated that the sale would save approximately 2.
Although a wide variety of interests and opinions are generally represented in the press usually without government interference , there are some exceptions. In , the Minister of Broadcasting threatened to discontinue the of one radio station, on the pretext that the station violated the public morality provision of the Constitution.
Some media reports indicate that the threat was politically motivated, because the owner of the station was a member of an opposition party. As a result of civil wars, repression and economic difficulties in some Latin American countries, Belize has received over 40, immigrants and refugees in the past twenty years, mainly from El Salvador and Guatemala. Despite traditions of ethnic diversity, intermarriages and cultural tolerance, the country's "melting-pot" ideals have increasingly become more theoretical than real. Hispanic migrants are a particular source of tension in Belize.
Twenty years ago Hispanics were considered a negligible minority, but they recently replaced Creoles as the country's largest ethnic group. According to one Salvadoran farmer, "There is a lot of racism here. We have to work for ourselves, because the Belizeans don't like us and they don't give us work. Immigrants have been subjected to ill-treatment by the police, mass deportations, alleged torture and employment discrimination. In contrast, nonrefugee residents are required to live in the country for just only years before becoming eligible to apply.
At the same time, since World War II, native Belizeans primarily Creoles have been emigrating to the United States in search of better employment and education opportunities. During the s women constituted the majority of Northbound emigrants. According to Shoman, the government-sponsored National Women's Commission "does not have any clout. Given police inefficiency in assembling evidence, it is common for prisoners to await trial for several months. While they wait, they sleep on cardboard sheets on cement floors, with open windows, no toilets and no medical care.
Although these conditions affect both male and female prisoners, the HRCB report emphasises that female prisoners find themselves in a particularly difficult situation. Since no educational or training programs are offered, they often remain locked and idle for most of their prison stay. The government's report to CEDAW acknowledges that although women constitute over half of secondary school students and achieve higher scores on standardized tests and have higher graduation rates than male students, they remain seriously underrepresented in skilled and professional positions.
The government's report states that "the government has not considered the potential need for affirmative action provisions" for women. Sources emphasized the importance of equal opportunities for women in employment for their advancement in society.
As one activist, Jewel Patton-Quallo, put it: " the bottom line is economics. Women not being independent so that they can stand on their own is a big problem. Anthropologist Irma McClaurin, who conducted extensive research in Belize for her book Women in Belize, reported that women's value in Belize comes primarily from their roles as wives and mothers.
Their ased role in society is "reproduction and social reproduction," and they are judged based on how they fulfil these roles. The government report acknowledges that the "pattern of unequal relations between women and men is consistently found throughout the country.
Lisa Shoman said that any classes sponsored and organized for women are to teach them cooking, sewing and other traditionally female tasks. The British military presence along the border with Guatemala, growth of the tourist industry, mass labor migration and increasing unemployment rates have led to the development and expansion of the prostitution industry in Belize. There is no legislation that specifically prohibits prostitution or the exploitation of prostitutes. According to one recent report, one or more "dance hall owners" have recruited women from neighboring countries by promising them jobs as dancers, waitresses or housekeeping.
When they arrive in the country, often illegally, the employer takes their passports, forces them to engage in prostitution and holds their wages. Despite police investigations, no arrests have been made. There is no legislation specifically prohibiting trafficking or the exploitation of prostitutes. Very few Belizean women hold decision-making positions in the government, although women's representation in political leadership positions is increasing slightly.
Between there were only three women in the government as he of departments. In , six out of twelve magistrates were women. As of November , women held four seats in the thirty-eight-member parliament Political parties do not encourage women's participation and do little to support their advancement in party ranks. As members of political parties, women are relegated to roles of organizers, vote-getters and food providers.
Kathy Esquivel, founder of the National Women's Commission, told anthropologist Irma McClaurin that the notion of women as subordinates is deeply embedded in the culture, and it often prevents women from trying to become successfully involved in the political arena. According to Esquivel, women also face resistance when trying to follow their own style in politics.
When their style is compared to the dominant male style, which is highly individualistic and adversarial, women are often viewed as ineffective. Unlike in the past, when women's groups were linked to the church and did charitable work, the s saw increased organizing around women's issues. Women who have not been able to pursue their interests through mainstream political parties and the government have formed non-governmental organizations focusing on various areas of special concern.
Belize Against Violence WAV worked to raise awareness of rape and battering and sponsored a series of legislative measures relating to violence against women. Research conducted by Belizean NGOs indicates that teenage pregnancy s for a large of high school dropouts. The government's report states that majority of secondary schools expel pregnant students, and it is not uncommon for women to be prevented from continuing their education. Despite this acknowledgement, the government has not taken any decisive measures to stop this practice, and there is no support system to enable women to their education following childbirth, such as childcare and financial support.Need Belize sex women
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Hide and secrete: Women's sexual magic in Belize