On this day in history, September 21, 1981, Belize gained its independence from the UK but has retained its historical link with the United Kingdom through membership in the Commonwealth. Belize is often thought of as a Caribbean country in Central Americabecause it has a history similar to that of English-speaking Caribbean nations. Indeed, Belize’s institutions and official language reflect its history as a British colony. However, its culture is more typical of that of other Central American countries.

Belize’s small population is ethnically diverse and includes a large proportion of immigrants. Since the 1970s, migration has shifted Belize’s ethnic composition from a predominantly Creole (mixed African and British descent) population to one in which mestizos (in Belize, people of mixed Mayan and Spanish ancestry) make up half of the total inhabitants.

Belize has one of the most stable and democratic political systems in Central America. After its original capital, Belize City, was ravaged by a hurricane in 1961, a new capital, Belmopan, was built inland, about 50 miles (80 km) west of Belize City, which remains the country’s commercial and cultural centre as well as its most populous city. The name Belize is traditionally believed to have been derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the last name of Peter Wallace, a Scottish buccaneer who may have begun a settlement at the mouth of the Belize River about 1638. It is also possible that the name evolved from the Mayan word belix (“muddy water”) or belikin (“land facing the sea”).

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