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Country Focus: Intercultural Nuances of Doing Business With Belize, Part 1

Belize is one of the most unique countries in Central America straying from the cultural norms of her neighbors. Belize, actually has British pirate (arrgh) and African (slaves brought to develop the timber-cutting industry) foundations. It is the youngest independent nation in Central America, achieving its independence from Great Britain in 1964, and abandoning the colonial name British Honduras in favor of its current name: Belize. English, not Spanish, is the official language of Belize, and while there is no official religion, the national prayer has Christian references. Another unique characteristic of Belize is that it is one of the most peaceful countries in Central America. Though its relationship with Guatemala has been strained, it has not suffered a single coup, major uprising, or guerilla war, which have plagued much of Latin America. “The British of Central America” is really an accurate description, given the political system and membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. Belize is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with the Queen (of England) as the monarch and chief of state, represented by the governor general, a native of Belize and the prime minister the head of government. Once political parties gain power, they tend to be relatively cooperative with outside business people and investors. The primary industries for business in Belize include tourism, agriculture, forestry, and recently, banking.

Isolated behind a barrier reef, Belize has been ignored, for the most part, by outside forces allowing unique cultures to develop. Caribbean influence is predominant among the business class and along the coast. Creoles formed the backbone for Belizean urban society for decades. However, while the coast and urban areas are very much Caribbean influenced, towards the interior, a majority of inhabitants are Spanish speaking Mexican and Guatemalan. Society itself is male dominated, and women still play traditional roles, though the situation is changing. Women can inherit businesses, but women are infrequently seen in executive roles, and are especially rare in government. However as business grows and women attend university this is changing.

Belize is not necessarily a collectivist society, nor is it an individualist one either, it is rather in between the two paradigms. Social roles maybe strict, however class distinctions are more fluid and hierarchy does not have the same importance as in Belize’s neighbors. Outsiders can be easily and quickly involved in the group, when there is a reason for them to be. So though there may be some cultural stigmas towards women, these are changing, and since hierarchy is not as important, there is more access to all sectors and levels of business. Relationships are also highly important in this society; rules may be respected, but the priority is in honoring social responsibility toward one another.

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