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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

11 - The Rise, Decline and Fall of the Belizean Economy before Independence

Summary

This chapter concludes Part II with a case study of Belize. The country is in many ways unique in the Caribbean and not just because it is located on the mainland of Central America. The settlers who arrived in the seventeenth century may have considered themselves British, but they had to run their own affairs for approximately 200 years before the country became a colony. This makes Belize very different from other imperial dependencies in the Caribbean. In addition, until the second half of the twentieth century, the basis of the economy was forestry rather than agriculture. Finally, in the first decades there were few slaves, so the labour was provided largely by the settlers themselves.

The British government acknowledged Spanish sovereignty over Belize until nearly two decades after the collapse of Spanish authority in Central America and Mexico. The settlement was therefore under constant threat until Spain ceded minimal usufruct rights under the Treaty of Paris in 1763. These rights were extended by Anglo-Spanish treaties in 1783 and 1786, but the territorial threat did not disappear. Because Belize was not sovereign British territory, however, the settlers were not subject to the British Navigation Acts and were able to continue trading with the United States after its independence. Furthermore, they were not subject to the import duties and export taxes that the British applied to the trade of their Caribbean colonies.

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