Historical Setting of Belize
Source: U.S. Library of Congress

TWO THEMES DOMINATE the history of Belize: the outward struggle to establish and maintain an English-speaking nation in an area dominated by Hispanic peoples and culture, and the inward interaction between groups of different races and cultural backgrounds. Understanding contemporary social relations and the politics of Belize depends on understanding these diverse groups and their interpretations of past events.

The first English settlers arrived in the early 1600s in present-day Belize (known as the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras prior to 1862 and British Honduras from 1862-1973). Their arrival marked the beginning of a conflict with neighboring Spanish settlers that lasted for centuries. For the first 200 years, this conflict was part of the larger rivalry between Britain and Spain. In the early 1800s, after most of the Spanish colonies in the New World became independent, the conflict in Belize evolved into a Guatemalan territorial claim on the area that continued into the 1990s.

Like many nations that have recently emerged from colonialism, Belize has a population that is fragmented into many racial and cultural groups. The two largest groups are the Creoles, English-speaking or Creole-speaking blacks and people of mixed African and European heritage, and the Mestizos, Spanish-speaking people of mixed Mayan and Spanish European. Two other significant groups are the Garifuna, a group of African and Carib ancestry originally from the Lesser Antilles, and the Maya, descendants of the original inhabitants of Belize.

These groups all have different interpretations of key events in Belize's history. The subjugation of the indigenous people, the rivalry between Spain and Britain, slavery and the process of emancipation, the legacy of colonization, and the position of Belize in the modern world have all been subject to reinterpretation and debate. Despite the gradual emergence of a national identity, the differences among ethnic groups and their divergent outlooks on the present and the past play an important role in Belize today.

Live and let live