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Why Belize isn’t a third world country

Why Belize isn’t a third world country by Sharon Hiebing

Ever since contemplating moving to Belize, and then once doing so in 2010, I have often heard it referred to as a Third World country. Just to clarify, I’m not one of those history buffs, or excessively political types, so I only had a notion of what Third World meant.

But it just seemed to me after living here for almost a year that the term is a misnomer. So I looked up the definition of Third World  on Wikipedia, and this is what it said:

“The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World), or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions.”

Ok, so since I do know enough to know that the Cold War has been over for many, many years, I wondered why this term persisted. I then discovered that this term, when used today, generally denotes countries that have not “advanced” to the same levels as OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, and which are thus in the process of “developing.” Hence, here’s the definition of a Developing Country (also from Wikipedia) :

“Developing country” is a term generally used to describe a nation with a low level of material well- being. Since no single definition of the term developing country is recognized internationally, the levels of development may vary widely within so-called developing countries. Some developing countries have high average standards of living.”

Ah, now it’s starting to make more sense. As it turns out, according to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Report, April 2010, Belize is on the list of Emerging and Developing Countries.

Given all these facts, I think it’s high time we stopped referring to Belize as a Third World country. I’m not entirely convinced it should be called a Developing Country either. I guess I could settle for it being called an Emerging Country.

Here are the reasons why I think Belize should not be called a Third World Country:

  • Cable TV with American, Chinese, Mexican, and Indian TV stations
  • High-speed, wireless internet
  • Sophisticated cell phone technology, including texting and surfing the web
  • Electricity
  • Indoor plumbing
  • Air conditioning
  • Readily available Potable water
  • Modern vehicles
  • Traffic lights
  • International airport
  • Health care and medicine readily accessible
  • Sophisticated transportation system (planes, boats, buses, and automobiles)
  • Wide spread school system
  • Literacy rate of 76.5%, 2.3% infant mortality rate (23.07/1,000 live births), and life expectancy rate of 68.2 years
  • Democratic government, with two main factions
  • Self-sustaining nation
  • Active import and export nation

You may disagree with me, and that’s fine since a good debate never hurt anyone, but I know from this point going forward whenever I hear someone using that term to describe Belize, I will explain to them why I’d ask them to reconsider.

Sharon Hiebing is an American Expat living in San Ignacio Town, Belize. She is the founder of Wealth Ships’ and offers Expat Relocation Consulting Services via email, phone and one-to-one at affordable rates. She also owns the only property management company in Western Belize, Red Roof Property Management. She has written two ebooks, writes a weekly blog, and posts tidbits daily about her life and work on Facebook. She’d love it if you came and got to know her.

17 comments

  1. An intelligent and thought provoking article and thankfully not accompanied by a photo of a sheep limb. Not mentioning names. However some caveats are in order. The internet reliability fluctuates, electricity is the most expensive in Central America and has flawed infrastructure. Imports far exceed exports and therefore self sustaining requires clarification. There are modern (expensive) vehicles but most Belizeans drive 15 year old Mazdas or Isuzus. Public transportation is old USA school buses not comparable to Mexican super buses. Schooling is North America substandard (my wife taught there in the villages) and that is why well off Belizeans send their kids north. Health care is very good in the private sector. There are no traffic lights in Corozal making driving a test of the integrity of your nervous sysytem. Most village residents still rely on wells and outhouses. Belize has aways to go.

  2. Hey, Al! Allow me to respond. My internet is extremely reliable – have never lost connection in the one year I’ve been here (maybe in the time since you lived here it’s improved). My electrical bill in a 2 bedroom home is routinely $68 bze (34 usd); my electrical bill in the States was $260 usd. If the electrical infrastructure is flawed, it doesn’t seem to affect me. Most of us drive older vehicles because of the heavy duties imposed on new vehichles, and because that’s what most of us can afford. Buses are only one of the modes of transportation. There are sophisticated boats and airplanes in the country as well. Schooling has a ways to go, agreed, in terms of standards, but nonetheless, all children attend and at least have access to some level of schooling, something most other “third world” countries cannot claim.

    In any case, yes, Belize absolutely has tons of room for improvement, but that wasn’t the focus of the blog; rather, I was trying to point out that it seems incorrect to continue calling it something it clearly is not. Thanks for your feedback – I know I can always count on you for a healthy debate! Sharon

  3. Excellent article. The term ‘emerging country’ is meaningful and descriptive and implies a continual state of improvement. Comparisons with other countries are not required.

  4. Thanks, AJ, for reading. Your point is spot on! I appreciate it. you taking time to comment

    Sharon Hiebing
    Relocate Without Rose-Colored Glasses

  5. Great post and wonderful points made. I always felt funny calling it ‘third world’ as that put in my mind a picture of Somalia or something to that extent.
    From now on ‘Emerging Country’ will be how I refer to Belize, with confidence!!

  6. Sharon: Not wanting to get into semantics but the IMF differentiates developed from developing. Using their criteria such as per capita income, exports, and industrialization then Belize is wanting. The former is around 6K US, exports are citrus and sugar, and the economy is agrarian largely. Tourism is not a listed criteria but Belize has for 2009 4x less visitation than Costa Rica. Unless they get crime under control it won’t improve.
    All that which you listed would appeal to an expat retiree because in my 4.5 years there ( mostly village life) internet, cable, plumbing, a/c, airport etc were an unattainable luxury to the locals. And those that had cars were ancient and jury rigged. I also recall on more than one occasion supplying some people with water to drink. This reminded me of time I spent in Morocco some time ago. A comparison with other countries is an essential ingredient to a formula for betterment of living conditions.

  7. Sharon: I just realized in my socialist ridden brain that you are in the business of relocating ex pats. As such I need to state that based on what you listed and congruent with recent AARP findings that lists Belize in the top 10 (Corozal not San Pedro) that your list is an accurate representation of the retiree outlook. But for Belizeans it is a different story.

  8. Sharon, when I think of third world, where I’ve spent quite a bit of time, I think of; ‘squaty-potties’ (which some people don’t even bother to use … they just pee anywhere), few public restrooms (and they are UGH) donkeys being the main mode of transportation, no electricity or running water, a LOT of street children addicted to glue, gypseys waiting to jump you or try and con you (even use their kids) and the list goes on ……….
    I liked you article and tell ya if I agree once I get there. LOL! VERY well-written with solid documentation.

  9. Paula, I know you’ve lived and traveled quite a bit, so thank you for your unique perspective. That’s kind of what I always imagined third world to be too, before I knew better.

    I’m sure you’ll love our lovely Belize and find it much more sophisticated than anything you describe above. Thanks for commenting and the compliment!

    Sharon Hiebing
    Relocate Without Rose-Colored Glasses

  10. Now you don’t want to give away the title of 3rd world country. Think about it…
    I have traveled mostly to 3rd world counties and BZ is not the same. One County I use to go to a lot is Ethiopia. It is ranked 10th in Terms of their Gross National Income. I would be in REALLy romote places and people would have cell phones and wireless internet but there would be no running water and most people use donkeys but I could always get ride in a car… a nice bed, meal, internet, indoor plumbing at the hotel and pretty much anything I could get in the US but much cheaper.
    Things have changed. I think using the word emerging country is better.
    BUT what do you want Belize to emerge too??? not the US I hope.. that would ruin it.
    The beauty in Belize is that it is NOT the US.

  11. I took an International Development Studies course at University and my Professor used the term Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) instead of Third World Country. He said we don’t live in three worlds we live in ONE WORLD.

    Some think oil discovery might be the answer to push Belize forward? Well, that is a whole other topic right there and one for debate.

  12. Hi Sharon: You wanted debate yes? Well there is a big one now on the Belize Forums about crime and effect on tourism /relocation. Some tragic sex assault incident on a gringo lady. Not good. I know a lot of these folks (on the forum) get fired up but it is relevant to your interests. Plus some dude says he is safe but he is on Ambergris. That is not a good example of Belize safety albeit true. After all if I invaded Laurie’s house to steal her pool inflatables and roast lamb I would need to wait for the Thunderbolt to make a”quick” getaway:)

  13. On our first trip to San Pedro in May 2010, we walked into the Belize Bank to cash some Traveler’s checks, and CNN was playing on the flat screen. I remember being shocked — this is not what I expected of a “third-world country”. However, I know there are many parts of town that look very much like what I imagined a third-world country to be, not to mention once you get off of Ambergris Caye. Belize definitely has both extremes of the old and the new and wealth and poverty, and all that goes with those designations.

  14. Al if you tried to steal our pool inflatables and roast lamb you would get a roundhouse kick to the @ass and thrown in the pool. I might offer to share some lamb with you after but you would likely just complain and tell me it wasn’t cooked right :)

  15. Mary, I’m not saying I want Belize to “emerge,” just that it is a more appropriate term to use than third world. However, I do think Belize has room for improvement, as I stated above, particularly in its health care and education sector.

    In terms of crime, Al, let’s be real. Crime exists everywhere. Even after the Natalie Holloway disappearance in Aruba, and all the violence in Mexico, people still visit and move there (Mexico’s expat numbers are incredible-you live there, don’t you?).

    I think what happened to that woman is awful, but certainly not something isolated to Belize. Having said that, Belize should have as a priority methods for keeping their country safe – for their citzens, residents, and tourists.

    It’s nice to see everyone’s views on this subject – I knew it may be controversial, but still wanted to share my perspective regardless of contrary opinions.

    Sharon Hiebing
    Relocate Without Rose-Colored Glasses!

  16. There is truth in what you are saying. Except I don’t think Belize can afford the luxury of bad press. There isn’t a day that passes on any of the many papers (Amandala etc) someone hasn’t been robbed,shot or carnal knowledged. Furthermore real crime in Belize is waking up one morning with a craving for a sausage , egg and cheese biscuit and realizing that you must cross the border, check out with Belize,in with Mexico and zip on over to the mall. Thats why Mexico has enormous ex pat numbers.I don’t know how Laurie copes:)

  17. Al I think I deserve danger pay for coping with you :) We get great sausages from running w and sausage factory totally ,makes up for missing the egg and cheese biscuit, also big gringo burgers beat big macs hands down no contest.

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