Venezuela – Quick facts
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is situated on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia, Guyana and Brazil, and it has islands and islets off its coastline in the Caribbean Sea. The capital is Caracas.
Home to many indigenous peoples, Venezuela was colonised in 1522, but declared independence from Spain in 1811, when it became part of Gran Colombia. In 1830 it seceded and became a sovereign state, but the nineteenth century was characterised by political turmoil, coups and military dictatorships. Since the late 1950s, Venezuela returned to a series of democratic governments and was enjoying an economic boom, fuelled by the discovery of massive oil deposits, which lasted until the 1980s, when serious economic crises began. Political corruption, chaos and social unrest led to lack of confidence in the existing politics. Hugo Chavez, self-styled “champion of the poor”, became president in 1999, was ousted and returned to office until his death in 2013. Since then, widespread political and social protests have continued and stability has not returned. Venezuela is a federal presidential republic, divided into 23 states.
Until the discovery of oil deposits in the early twentieth-century, Venezuela was an agricultural economy. Since then, it has been reliant upon and driven by the petroleum industry, which accounts for 80% of exports. Fluctuations in oil prices have demonstrably affected Venezuela’s economy since the 1980s. Coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold are mined heavily. The aluminium, steel and cement industries are important to Venezuela, but it has failed to truly capitalise upon its resources. Agriculture accounts for a tiny sector of the economy - beef, rice and coffee are some of its exports. However, it is by no means self-sufficient and imports around two-thirds of its food needs. As a spectacularly beautiful country, Venezuela’s tourism industry is important. Over 90% of the population lives in and around the sprawling northern cities, especially Caracas. It is one of the most heavily urbanised countries in South America, and poverty, fuelled by economic crises and corruption, is rife. In this century the issues associated with poverty have caused deteriorating human rights problems and massive emigration.
Venezuela has a varied cultural heritage, influenced by indigenous Andean, Spanish, Caribbean and African tradition all of which are evident in visual arts, music and literature. Baseball is the national sport.
On the world stage, Venezuela is a member of the United Nations, the Organisation of South American Nations and OPEC.