Belize is a small nation located in Central America bounded by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It is the only English-speaking country in Central America owing that to its rich colonial past. Formerly British Honduras, it changed its name to Belize in 1973 and gained independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981. It has a population of approximately 300,000 and is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities.
The country's landscape is diverse having about 150 square miles of tropical forest in southern Belize declared a forest and jaguar preserve in the 1980's known as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve, the world's only Jaguar Preserve. Within this nature preserve a rich cultural past emerges pre-dating colonial times with ancient Mayan Ruins and Temples rumoured to be the home of over a million ancient Mayas who mysteriously vanished before the first logwood and mahogany colonialists settled Belize. Head east and you will find the Caribbean Sea with the world's second largest barrier reef, designated a World Heritage Site known as the Belize Barrier-Reef Reserve System (consisting of 7 locations: Bacalar Chico national park and marine reserve; the Blue Hole; Half Moon Caye Natural Monument; South Water Caye Marine Reserve; Glovers Reef Marine Reserve; Laughing Bird Caye National Park; Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve), with crystal clear waters and a wealth of sea life beneath. Scattered along its coast are over a hundred small islands and atolls- the island of Ambergris Caye being the largest. Outside the barrier are three large atolls: Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef and Glover's Reef.
Belize has a booming international financial services sector. The early 1990's saw the passage and enactment of several pieces of legislation bolstering Belize's place in the world as a one-stop shop for offshore services. Some of these include: the International Business Companies (IBC) Act, the Trusts Act, and the Offshore Banking Act. Later in the decade saw the passage of the following: the International Financial Services Commission Act; the International Insurance Act; the Protected Cell Companies Act; the Mutual Funds Act; the Limited Liability Partnerships Act; the Retired Persons (Incentives) Act; and the International Business Companies (Amendment) Act. The International Foundations Act was added very recently to that list in 2010.
Belize has a written Constitution and a Bill of Rights. Its legal system is modeled off the Westminster Model and based on the English Common Law and supplemented by local Statute. The hierarchy of the courts start with the Magistrate's Court, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and final appeals are to the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago (Belize recently departed from having its final appellate court being Her Majesty's Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, England in 2010).
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