Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Living Free By the Sea

Magnet # 347: Belize Fish

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Mary

We've reached another Independence Day, and this time, it's the Central American nation of Belize that's celebrating. Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Belize Act of 1981, which granted the nation its independence. It had been a long time coming, and the people of the land were so thankful for their freedom that their national anthem became "Land of the Free." It's evidence of just how much importance finally attaining independence from Europe and its Central American neighbors meant to the small, coastal nation.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Maya Indians controlled what is now Belize for thousands of years. By the 1520's, Spaniards had reached the area and claimed it, adding it to their Captaincy General of Guatemala. However, they did little in establishing their control over the land. It wasn't until 1638 that the first known European settlement was established there by a group of shipwrecked Englishmen. Over the next 150 years, the British population continued to grow in the area with the Spanish nearby, despite the natives' objections. By 1840, the area had been incorporated to form the Colony of British Honduras. Just over two decades later, it became a crown colony. And even when the British finally decided in 1961 to grant British Honduras its independence, the fight wasn't over. Guatemala had considered the area as belonging to it for some time, and had even threatened to use force to take it back. Unfortunately, when the two nations met to discuss what would be done with British Honduras, no officials from the actual territory were included in the talks. An offer was made to turn the area into an associated state of Guatemala, but the people there held onto their goal of independence. Diplomatic talk eventually broke down, but in 1964, British Honduras was made into a self-governing territory. Britain still provided its defense and controlled its foreign affairs and internal security, but the people there knew more freedom than ever before. In June of 1973, British Honduras was finally renamed Belize in preparation for its independence. For the rest of the decade, it worked on receiving support from Cuba, Mexico, Panama, and Nicaragua, but an agreement was still impossible to reach with Guatemala. Nonetheless, in September of 1981, Belize at last attained their freedom from the British, after well over three centuries of occupation. However, even now, they have yet to resolve their issues with Guatemala.

Tourism is a critical part of Belize's economy, providing over a quarter of all the jobs there, and it's easy to see why so many tourists find the nation appealing. Many come into the area on cruise ships. On the shore, they can engage in activities such as fishing, boating, scuba diving, and snorkeling. In fact, Belize is home to the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest series of coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere and the nation's top tourist attraction. Further inland, visitors can tour the ruins of ancient Mayan Indian sites and the jungles that surround them. And they can also get a feel for what lies beneath the surface, if they're interested. Belize boasts Central America's largest cave system, and some even contain remnants of Mayan culture. In a previous post, I mentioned the "Cave of the Crystal Maiden," where human sacrifices were performed and one young victim's remains have fused with the cave floor, giving them a crystal sheen. It sounds like a pretty interesting, if a little creepy, spot to visit. With all of these great options to tour, Belize continues to draw visitors in, helping ensure the future of this young nation that waited so long for its freedom.

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