What's New in Belize

Belize's Own Politics of Change

Like the United States, Belize held national elections in 2012, and, also like the United States, Belize re-elected its first black leader in history. Dean Barrow, a lawyer by profession, educated in Jamaica and Miami, became prime minister in general elections in 2008. His party, the United Democratic Party (or UDP), swept into office then with about 57% of the popular vote. In its first years in office, the UDP generally took a low-key approach to governing. It followed a reform-oriented agenda in an effort to mitigate charges of high-level corruption levied against the former government. Seeking greater diversity in government, the UDP tapped Mayans and Mennonites for high office, in addition to the traditional core of Creole and Mestizo politicians. However, as the years since the 2008 election passed, Belize’s UDP government has faced growing challenges and increasing popular discontent. The 2012 election against the People’s United Party, the main opposition party, was much closer. Rising prices and a slow economy (when the United States sneezes, Belize catches a bad cold) cost Prime Minister Barrow some popularity, as has increasing crime, especially in Belize City. The government has become mired in new charges of corruption. Despite this, in late 2015 PM Barrow was reelected again, for his third, and, he says, his final term.

Old Tensions Flare

In 2016, old tensions between Guatemala and Belize resurfaced, with occasional firefights between Guatemalan and Belize forces in the far south and west of the country. Observers, however, expect the flag-waving to give way to more rational discussions.

Tourism Rebounds

The tourism industry in Belize, the largest sector of the economy with revenues of more than BZ$700 million, was buffeted in 2008–2010 by the global financial and economic crisis. Belize tourism has since rebounded, with record revenue. Overnight, visitor arrivals reached 341,000 in 2015, a record, and cruise ship passengers totaled almost 1 million. New air service to Belize by Southwest, Copa from Panama, and Canada's WestJet, and expanded service by American and United have helped. A new US$50 million cruise port on an island off Placencia, while controversial and opposed by many Belizeans, is expected to boost cruise tourism in southern Belize beginning in 2017.

Bright Spots

The Placencia Peninsula continues to pick up momentum as Belize's next major visitor and vacation-home destination. Peninsula development got a boost from the paving of the main road to Placencia from the Southern Highway. The road to nearby Hopkins also was paved, creating a tourism boomlet in that Garifuna Village. In the Deep South, a new paved road from the Southern Highway to the Guatemala border near Jalacte Village has been completed, and the only question now is when a new border crossing will open—will it be in 2017 or 2018?

Tourism and real estate development also continue on Ambergris Caye, Belize's leading visitor destination. About a dozen new restaurants have recently opened on the island, boosting San Pedro's reputation as the dining capital of Belize. New hotel projects also are under way on Ambergris Caye and on nearby islands, including Blackadore Caye where Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is planning a luxury private island resort, and on Caye Chapel, where plans are afoot for a new luxury golf resort. For visitors to Belize, the increase in hotel rooms could spell good news, as hotel managers scramble to discount rates to keep their slice of the tourism pie.

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