Structure of Belizean Society - the Upper Sector
In the late 1980s, the elite was a small, socially distinct group whose base of social power lay not in landownership, but in its control of the institutions that mediated relations between Belize and the outside world. The principal economic interests of the elite included commercial and financial enterprises, retail trade, local manufacturing, the state apparatus, and, to a much lesser extent, export agriculture. Foreign firms dominated Belize's agricultural export industry, which was the largest sector of the economy in the 1980s. Foreigners, mostly United States citizens, held 90 percent of the Belize's privately owned land, including most of the nation's prime agricultural areas and tourist facilities.
The Belizean elite consisted of people of different status, prestige, and ethnicity. At the top of the power hierarchy were local whites and light-skinned descendants of the nineteenthcentury Creole elite. The next group consisted of Creole and Mestizo commercial and professional families whose ancestors first came to political and economic prominence during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Next in status were some of the Lebanese and Palestinian merchant families who immigrated to Belize in the early twentieth century.
The more recently arrived Chinese and Indian families comprised another elite group, distinguished from the remaining upper sector by length of residence in the country and by cultural differences. Groups within the elite socialized primarily among themselves.
Shared economic interests and business dealings bonded the different segments of the elite. Other cultural factors also played a role. Intermarriage bound several of the elite families together, although usually without transgressing ethnic or religious boundaries. Religion also served as a partial unifying force; a number of the oldest and most prominent Creole families shared the Catholicism of the Mestizo commercial elite.
Because Belize City was the center of the nation's commercial life, the majority of elite families lived or maintained a residence there, although some prominent families were based in the district towns. In Belize City, elite families lived in the same ocean-front neighborhoods, belonged to the same social clubs, and enjoyed a similar lifestyle centered around the extravagant conspicuous consumption of imported goods.
Education also served to unify the upper sector of society. A generation ago, religious affiliation largely determined which schools children attended. With the decline of the Anglican and Methodist school systems, most elite children, regardless of faith, attended two of Belize's premier Catholic institutions, which provided secondary and postsecondary education. Even after the expansion of secondary and postsecondary schooling in the districts, many of the elite district families continued to send their offspring to Belize City for higher education.
Despite the establishment of a local institution of higher education in 1985, most elite youth attended universities abroad. Their choice of institutions reflected the changing dominant metropolitan cultural orientation of Belizean society. British universities attracted many of the college-bound members of the Belizean elite in the colonial period, but by 1990 the majority pursued their higher education in the United States or, to a lesser extent, in the West Indies.
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