Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The political establishment was shaken by several high-profile cases of corruption and financial mismanagement during 2009, including the arrest of Belize City’s mayor and charges—later dismissed—against a former prime minister. Also in 2009, violent crime continued, and Prime Minister Dean Barrow failed to make progress on proposed constitutional amendments that would have, among other things, allowed for wiretapping, preventative detentions, and government seizure of lands containing mineral resources.
Belize has strengthened ties with Venezuela in recent years, joining its PetroCaribe program, which supplies the majority of the country’s oil imports on favorable terms, in 2006. Belize has also worked with Venezuela and Taiwan to develop its own nascent oil production. Meanwhile, a long-standing border dispute with Guatemala has continued. The two countries agreed in December 2008 to hold referendums on whether to submit the issue to the International Court of Justice, but there were no concrete plans for the votes at the end of 2009.
Belize is an electoral democracy. The head of state is the British monarch, represented by a governor-general. The 31-seat House of Representatives, the lower house of the bicameral National Assembly, is elected for five-year terms. The 12 members of the Senate are appointed to five-year terms, with six appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister, three on the advice of the opposition leader, and three on the advice of major civil society groups. There are no restrictions on the right to organize political parties, and the interests of Mestizo, Creole, Mayan, and Garifuna ethnic groups are represented in the National Assembly. The country’s major parties are the center-right UDP and the center-left PUP.
Violence against women and children remains a serious concern, as does the prevalence of child labor in agriculture. According to UNAIDS, as of September 2009 the adult HIV-prevalence rate had remained relatively unchanged at about 2.6 percent, compared to 2.4 percent in 2007. There were reports of discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS in recent years, despite the government’s efforts to educate the public about the illness.