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The history of Belize dates back thousands of years to the ancient Maya civilization. Believed to have inhabited this area between 1500 BC and AD 200, the Maya people thrived here until AD 1200. The country is home to many archeological sites (Cahal Pech, Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaatun, Altun Ha, Xunantunich and others) that are an amazing reflection of their lives of long ago.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain tried to maintain its monopoly on its New World colonies, but Northern European leaders were attracted to the area for its trading and settlement potential. English buccaneers started using the coastline to attack against Spanish ships, and according to legend, one of these buccaneers (Peter Wallace, called “Ballis” by the Spanish) settled near and gave his name to the Belize River in 1683.
The next 150 years saw establishment of more and more English settlements. Great Britain sent its first official representative to the area in the late 18th century and in 1840, the country was named the Colony of British Honduras. It became a crown colony in 1862. The official name of the territory was changed to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.
The current government of Belize is a parliamentary democracy and part of the commonwealth of England. The government consists of three parts. The first part is the executive branch, which consists of the queen of England, the head of state; her representative, called the governor general, as well as the prime minister and his cabinet. The second branch, the National Assembly, consists of 31 members in the House of Representative and 12 members in the Senate. Finally, the independent judiciary branch includes local magistrates, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.