7 min read

#18 Belize

Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate!! A quick programming note: Lazo Letter is taking off for the holidays. I'll be back after the first week of January. I hope you all have a great one! xx Cristina

This week is about Belize.

Welcome to the 195 series, where I take you on a mini-tour of every country (and maybe some places that want to be countries). Each week I'll feature a new location. Some you may have heard of, while others may be new to you. The point is to learn and nurture our curiosity about the wider world. Maybe you'll find a new artist or musician you like, too.

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Country Info:

Population: Roughly 405,000.

Current government: Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth. John Antonio Briceño has been Prime Minister since 2020. He's also the leader of the People's United Party, a center-left Christian democratic party.

Briceño is only the fifth person to serve as prime minister since the country's independence from the United Kingdom in 1981.

According to the organization Freedom House:

Belize is a democracy that has experienced regular rotations of power through competitive elections. Civil liberties are mostly respected. Government corruption is a concern, as is the high rate of violent crime. Authorities have been slow to address persistent problems of police brutality and human trafficking within the country’s borders.

This 2008 article in the journal Americas Barometer Insights claims that Belize is different from other Central American countries because of the history of colonization:

Belize is a mystery to many social scientists. While squarely located geographically in Central America, most experts on Central America do not consider it to be part of the traditional region (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). There are many good reasons for this. Whereas the traditional five-country Central American countries were all colonies of Spain, Belize was a British colony up until its formal independence in 1981 and remains a member of the Commonwealth. Politically, unlike all of the other countries in the region, who are led by a president, Belize is led by a prime minister. While Spanish predominates as the national language in Central America, English predominates in Belize, and while historically most Central Americans have been Catholics, only small minorities of Belizeans are Catholics.

Languages spoken: English is the official language of Belize, but most people also speak a creole language. The indigenous Maya speak Yucatec, Mopán, and Kekchí/Qʼeqchi. You can hear that last one in this video:

Religion: Most Belizeans are Roman Catholic. But Belize also has a larger Protestant population than any other Central American country due to British influence.

Standout artist: Check out this site for lots of good artists from Belize. They have jewelry, paintings, pretty much everything.  My personal favorite is Walter Castillo.

Standout film: Yochi, a short about a mute Mayan boy who guards a nest of endangered yellow-headed parrots.

A surprising thing: The U.S. Senate recently confirmed former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan as the U.S. ambassador to Belize. She has been involved in Democratic party activism and has a master’s degree from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Story of the week: This story is a month old but interesting nonetheless. According to TeleSur, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with the Prime Minister of Belize in late November and signed agreements to deepen cooperation between the two countries.  

What I'm writing:

I covered Ukrainian President Zelensky's visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where he was greeted with overwhelming support by lawmakers from both U.S. political parties. This story is unlocked and free to read. Republicans and Democrats clambered to shake the Ukrainian president’s hand, and the applause and cheers lasted for several minutes. Several lawmakers unfurled a large Ukrainian flag or shouted, “Glory to Ukraine.”

• I wrote about the messy Iranian diaspora groups lobbying Capitol Hill. This story is unlocked and free to read.

What I'm reading:

• Russian forces have systematically targeted influential Ukrainians to neutralize resistance through detention, torture, and executions, an Associated Press investigation found. Russian troops hunted Ukrainians by name, using lists prepared with the help of their intelligence services. The strategy appears to violate the laws of war.

• Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was recently exchanged in a prisoner swap with U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, visited the illegally occupied city of Luhansk last weekend. Meduza has the report.

• Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko, the New York Times reports. Putin and Lukashenko spoke about the need for the two countries to withstand Western economic pressure and maintain close military ties.

• Ukraine is increasing the defense of its border with Belarus over fears that Russia may be preparing a fresh attack, the BBC reports.

• The White House has warned that North Korea had delivered supplies to the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary force with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reports.

• Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili says he fears for his life in detention in Tbilisi, while medical reports seen by Politico Europe reveal traces of mercury and arsenic in his hair and nails and lacerations “throughout his body.” The European Parliament passed a resolution last week seeking his release.

• The Senate gave final passage to an amendment giving the U.S. government the authority to sell assets seized from Russian oligarchs to pay for rebuilding Ukraine, the New York Times reports.

•After ten months of calling it a “special military operation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin called the situation in Ukraine a “war.” “Our goal is not to spin this flywheel of a military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin said during a televised news conference. The Washington Post has the report.

• Romania’s Schengen accession would strengthen Europe, argues Marcel Ciolacu, the president of Romania's Social Democratic Party. Taking aim at Austria, which objected to Romania and Bulgaria joining Schengen over fears it could accelerate illegal migration, Ciolacu wrote an opinion piece for Politico Europe arguing that the "rash and ill-defined decision to deny Romania access to the Schengen area weakens not only our region but Europe as a whole."

• Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte offered an official apology on behalf of the Dutch government for two centuries of Dutch slave trading, the Washington Post reports.

• Mexico said it had granted asylum to the family of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, the Wall Street Journal reports. At the same time, Peru’s Foreign Ministry declared Mexico’s ambassador to Peru persona non grata and accused Mexico of meddling in its domestic affairs.

• Fijian opposition parties reached a deal to form a new coalition government, ending Prime minister Frank Bainimarama’s nearly 16-year premiership, the BBC reports.

• Fiji mobilized its military to maintain “security and stability” after last week's election delivered a hung parliament, the Guardian reports.

• Israel deported a Palestinian lawyer and activist – Salah Hammouri– to France, claiming he has ties to a banned militant group, the Associated Press reports.

• Israel’s longest-service Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced he has successfully formed a coalition government, the New York Times reports. Once finalized and ratified by Parliament, the coalition deal will return Netanyahu to office just 18 months after he left.

• Netanyahu gave an interview with the high-profile rightwing, sexist Jordan Peterson. Netanyahu, set to form a government with ultra-Orthodox parties, said that the community’s high birthrate, low employment, and reliance on state welfare created a burden that contributed to an economic crisis in Israel. The Times of Israel has a write-up.

• Since Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s elections, the former Prime Minister has struck deals with anti-Arab racists, homophobes, and politicians convicted of crimes, the Financial Times points out.  "As a result, he is on the cusp of returning to power after 18 months in opposition and presiding over the most extreme, rightwing government in the Jewish state’s history."

• The leader of Tunisia’s opposition alliance called for President Kais Saied to step down due to low voter turnout in parliamentary elections, the Wall Street Journal reports. Only 8.8% of eligible voters participated in the election, suggesting that many Tunisians have given up hope for real democracy. Most opposition parties chose to boycott the election.

• The Diplomat has a very cool story on the Khasis: A Matrilineal Society in India’s Northeast, one of the world's last matriarchal societies.

• The Senate Finance Committee opened an inquiry into links between car manufacturers, including Tesla and General Motors, and forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• United Nations experts found evidence proving that Rwanda has engaged in military operations in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, France 24 reports.

• The Taliban arrested five women who took part in a protest in the Afghan capital against the ban on women attending universities, the BBC reports.

What the State Department says:

You can write to me for any reason at: c.maza@protonmail.com.