Belize’s capital city of Belmopan has experienced a history unlike the capital cities of other countries in Latin America. It has only existed for about fifty years and was deliberately created in response to a disaster. It continues its growth today.
Some Fast Facts
- Belmopan has a population of around 16,451. This makes it the smallest Central American capital by population.
- Founded in 1970, it is one of the newest capital cities anywhere in the world.
- Belmopan is located in Belize’s Cayo District.
- Its nickname is “The Garden City.”
- The National Assembly Building was designed to resemble a Maya temple.
Belmopan’s story began in 1961, when Hurricane Hattie struck Belize. The Category 5 hurricane decimated Belize City, destroying approximately 75% of the buildings in the city. Belize City was especially vulnerable because it is situated in a low-lying area along the coast. People had little time to prepare and although recovery efforts soon got underway, they were slow. The area remained without power for months, and schools remained closed.
In response to this tragedy, a movement was formed to establish a new capital city farther inland. Because Belize was British Honduras at the time and part of the British Empire, Belize’s Premier George Price had to lead a delegation to London to present the plan to build a new capital and petition for funds.
In a push to secure a financial commitment from the British government, Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and Colonies Anthony Greenwood was invited to come to Belize, which he accepted. During his visit, a monument dedicated to the new capital was erected on October 9, 1965, which was viewed as a commitment.
The site chosen for Belmopan is about 51 miles west of Belize City. The city’s name is a combination of two rivers: the Belize River, which is the longest river in the country, and the Mopan River, a river in the area.
The corporation Reconstruction and Development Corporation (or RECONDEV) was assigned to oversee the construction, development, and administration of Belmopan. It answered to the national government until the city was formally incorporated in 2000.
Construction began in 1967 and the first phase was completed in 1970. At that time, most of Belize’s government offices moved. For most of the city’s history, its inhabitants have mainly been government workers. Significant areas were set aside for industrial and business development as well.
Establishing A New Capital
In March 2000, elections were held to transfer authority from RECONDEV to a mayor and the Belmopan City Council, consisting of six members. To this day, these offices oversee the continued development and management of the city.
Other countries were initially hesitant to relocate their embassies and consulates to Belmopan because they weren’t certain the city could be firmly established as a functioning capital. The British High Commission established itself in Belmopan between 1981 and 1984 once Belize achieved independence. It was only in 2005 that the United States began construction on an embassy in Belmopan, which was completed in 2006.
Other countries with embassies or consulates in Belmopan:
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica
- The Dominican Republic
The majority of foreign embassies and consulates in Belize are still in Belize City, with four embassies and 29 consulates.
The Belmopan of today is a fast-growing, modern city that wants to maintain the feeling of country life. It continues to achieve greater recognition as Belize’s capital by the international community.
Belmopan is a unique capital city in that it does not have a long history. The city was only established recently, and it took time for it to be internationally recognized as Belize’s capital. Nonetheless, it is now thriving and has a shining future ahead.