Belize PM says debt deal reached with creditors

Belize has reached a deal in principle with creditors to restructure about half of its unpaid debt after "long and arduous" talks, allowing the country to avoid default, officials said Friday.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow told a press conference that he would release details about the restructuring of the $544 million bond in the coming days.

"The agreement is comprehensive and it is sustainable," Barrow said.

In August, the tiny Central American country of just 330,000 inhabitants missed a $23 million bond payment.

In September, it made an $11.7 million interest payment, only about half of what it owed but enough to avoid full-blown default.

The government here had proposed rescheduling debt payments over 50 years at a lowered rate of two percent, a position analysts qualified as extreme.

Mark Espat, leader of Belize's negotiating team on the debt restructuring, explained that details of the deal could not be made public until they were explained to all of Belize's creditors.

Belize -- a low-lying, English-speaking nation on Central America's Caribbean coast -- is famous for diving, fishing, hiking and ecotourism.

Its foreign debt of $1.1 billion is a drop in the bucket by world standards, but a serious challenge for a country already hit hard by poverty and weak economic growth.

The sluggish global economy has taken a toll in Belize, where 25 percent of the economy is linked to tourism. Growth is at two percent.

Belize, which aid organizations say has a poverty rate of about 40 percent, became independent from Britain in 1981.

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