by Jacob Leendert Plaisier
Belize is a small, democratic country situated on the eastern coast of Central America, with a population of 209,000 (mid-year estimate 1994) and a land area of 22,700 sq. kms (8,867 sq. miles). In the north Belize is bordered by Mexico and in the south and west by Guatemala.
In the Central American context, Belize has a unique position as the only English speaking former colony of Great Britain. Historical connections – cultural, economic and political – have been largely with the Anglophone Caribbean and there can be no doubt that Belize is part of the Caribbean ‘socio-cultural area’ (Bolland 1991, p. 78).
The population of Belize is extremely diverse and racial/ethnic proportions have changed almost constantly during the last two centuries. During the 1980s, differential birth rates, immigration and emigration have again caused a major shift in the ethnic composition of the population. Whereas the 1980 census showed the Creole population (of primarily black African descent) to be the largest ethnic group (40%), the new 1991 census revealed a growth of the Mestizo population (of Spanish/Indian descent), which now constitutes 44% of the population. The Creoles are now the second largest ethnic group (30%).
This ethnic change was caused partly by the influx of 15,500 to 22,500 immigrants (in the period l 980-1991), mostly Mestizos, from neighboring Central American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador and to a lesser extent Honduras and Nicaragua), many of them fleeing political and economic crises and conflicts in their countries of origin. The flow of refugees/immigrants has diminished considerably during the beginning of the 1990s, due to the improvement of the situation in these countries.
At the same time, emigration from Belize has also been significant. Estimates of the number of Belizeans who, since World War Il, have moved to the United States of America (which is the main recipient of Belizean emigrants) vary between 50,000 and 80,000. Most of them are Creole or Garifuna (black Caribs, descendants of Carib Indians and escaped African slaves).
Other ethnic groups besides the Mestizos (43.6o/o) and the Creoles (29.8%) are, according to the 1991 census, the Mayan Indians (11.1 %), Garifuna (6.6%), East Indians (3.5%) and Mennonites” (3.lo/o). Small groups of Chinese and Arabs are also present.
“International migration movements can quickly and permanently reshape the economic, political and socio-cultural features of already difficult problems of development in the periphery [developing countries]. In few regions of the periphery do we observe this migration related process of change more than in Central America and the Caribbean, and nowhere in the region is it in fuller progress than in the Central American and Caribbean microstate of Belize.” (Vernon 1988, p. i).
“The study of immigration usually focuses on the immigrants themselves and not on their impact on the host society.” (Palacio 1993, p. 11 – on Belize).
The above two observations speak for themselves. The relative magnitude of immigration and emigration in this small, democratic and culturally pluralistic Caribbean country, and the ethnic transformation it caused, made Belize, from my point of view, interesting to look at.
Given constraints of time (3 ½ months) and resources, it was originally (before departure to Belize) decided to focus on government policy and party politics towards the Central American immigrants during the last 15 years. The fact that the two political parties have alternatively been in power during this period made this combination an interesting one. It was hoped that an assessment could be made on the role of immigration and ethnicity in national politics, Upon arriving in Belize it became increasingly clear that on the basis of literature and interviews held, the questions on (arguments for) policy, politics and immigration could be answered rather soon, and that the questions on the (potential) politicization of ethnicity would be rather difficult to measure within a short term period.
It was decided to widen the focus to the situation and impact of immigrants within the broader socio-cultural, economic and political context, so that ultimately a general understanding could be obtained (and provided) of the impact of Central American immigrants on the host society in Belize. The availability of studies and statistical data in Belize, and the lack of comprehensive studies on the subject, made this a viable decision. This objective of study could be translated in .a problem statement:
“What is the impact of Central American immigrants in Belize?”
It resulted in the following questions:
And for the wider focus:
This study provides answers to these questions in the form of an analysis of statistical data, studies and interviews. Hopefully, it can serve as a framework for further research and analysis. The second chapter with definitions and numbers is necessary to know what we are dealing with and in what magnitude. The subjects of politics and policy will be dealt with in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 discusses the impact on the social and cultural situation and Chapter 5 deals with the economy. The final Chapter 6 contains conclusions.
How to Cite:
Plaisier, J. L. (1996). The impact of Central American immigrants in Belize. University of Armsterdam.
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