Hundreds of ruins and ceremonial centers show that for thousands of years Belize was populated by the Maya Civilization that reached its peak known as the Classic Period between A.D. 250 and 900. At its height, the Maya of Belize and Central America formed one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. Eventually the civilization declined leaving behind large groups whose offspring still exist in Belize.

By the time the Spanish arrived, in the early 16th century, the numbers of Mayans had declined, and many of the remainder were sent to Guatemala or died of introduced diseases.

The Spanish then moved north to Mexico, and British pirates (who had lost their occupation when Britain and Spain made peace in 1670) moved in to cut logwood for export to Europe. In time, the settlers expanded inland to cut mahogany and cedar, and African slaves were brought over from Jamaica. Attempts by the Spanish to dislodge the Baymen (as the woodcutters were called) failed, but the settlers asked England for help.

Mayan Ruins located in Belize
The Honduras Almanack for 1826, the first officially authorized historical effort in Belize, states that the Settlement is no older than 1650, when it was used as a refuge from the Spaniards. In the 1829 Almanack, however, the first British Settlement was stated to have been made by shipwrecked sailors in 1638.

In the 1827 Almanack the credit for discovering the mouth of the River Belize and making it his place of retreat is given to Captain Peter Wallace, a Lieutenant amongst the Buccaneers from whose name ‘Belize’ is said to be derived. But another theory is that the word Belize comes from the Maya word “balix” which means muddy waters.

The History of Modern Belize shows that settlers governed themselves under a system of basic democracy formally called the Public Meeting. A set of regulations referred to as Burnaby’s Code was formalized in 1765 and this, with some modification, continued until 1840 when an Executive Council was created.

In 1853 the Public Meeting was replaced by a Legislative Assembly (partly elected, and controlled by landowners), with the British Superintendent, an office created in 1786 at the settlers’ request, as Chairman. When the settlement became a colony in 1871 the Superintendent was replaced by a Lieutenant Governor under the Governor of Jamaica.

In 1935, the principle of voting was reintroduced, with elections for five of the 12 seats on the legislative council, although with a very limited franchise (1,000 out of the population of 50,000). The number of elected members increased under a new constitution in 1954, when the council changed its name to legislative assembly and extended the franchise to universal adult suffrage. By now the movement for independence was under way; it had gained momentum in 1949 when the British Honduras dollar was devalued.
Independence was delayed by the claim to the whole of its territory by neighbouring Guatemala and in 1975 and 1977 British troops and aircraft were used to protect Belize from the threat of invasion. The UN passed several resolutions asserting Belize’s right to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. By the late 1970s, although the claim was unresolved, constitutional talks on independence were successful, and the UK agreed to provide a defence guarantee, notably by patrolling the border with Guatemala.
After 20 years in power, George Price and the PUP lost the 1984 elections to the United Democratic Party (UDP) led by Manuel Esquivel; returned to government in 1989; and were ousted again in 1993 by UDP in coalition with the National Alliance for Belizean Rights, a new party which was formed after five members left the UDP in 1992 following disagreements over the negotiations with Guatemala.