Basic Facts on Venezuela
Venezuela, named the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since 1999, is located on the northern coast of South America. The country comprises a continental mainland and numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea. It borders Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the west. Its Caribbean neighbors off the northern coast are Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba, Saint Vicent and the Grenadines and the Leeward Antilles. Falling within the tropics, Venezuela sits closer to the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere.
Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry, the environmental diversity of its territory, and its natural features. Home to a huge diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats, Venezuela is considered to be among the 17 most megadiverse countries in the world.
Venezuela is also among the most urban countries in Latin America. The majority of the population is concentrated in the north, especially in the largest metropolis, Caracas. Other major cities include Maracay, Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, and Ciudad Guayana.
Area: 912,050 square kilometers
Population: 26,023,528 (est. July 2007)
Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects
Religions: nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Government type: Federal republic, with five branches of government: executive, legislative, judiciary, electoral, and citizen.
Executive branch: President Hugo Chavez Frias (since February 3, 1999) Chief of state and head of government are held by the president elected by popular vote for a six-year term with a two consecutive term limit. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the president. On December 3rd, 2006, Hugo Chavez was reelected president with 62.9% of the vote against Manuel Rosales with 36.9%, (Next election December, 2012)
Legislative Branch: Unicameral National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional (167 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; three seats reserved for the indigenous peoples of Venezuela). Pro-government parties control all 167 seats of the Assembly (MVR 114, PODEMOS 15, PPT 11, indigenous 2, other 25) due to the opposition boycott of the 2005 legislative elections.
Judicial Branch: Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Suprema de Justicia. Magistrates are elected by the National assembly for a single 12-year term.
Electoral Branch: National Electoral Council or Consejo Electoral Nacional (CNE) administers all elections, including those held within civil society. Its five principal members are elected by the National Assembly for a seven-year term. The current president of the CNE is Tibisay Lucena.
Citizen Branch: This branch ensures that citizens and government officials follow the countries laws. It consists of the Attorney General (or Prosecutor General), the Comptroller General, and the Defender of the People (Human Rights Ombudsperson).
Major Political Parties:
Pro-government: Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR), PODEMOS, Patria Para Todos (PPT), Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV), plus 20 smaller parties that enjoy less than 1% support. currently there is a process underway to unified the pro-chavez parties into the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV - Partido Unido Socialista de Venezuela).
Opposition: Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), Primero Justicia, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Accion Democratica (AD), Partido Social Christiano (COPEI), Alianza Bravo Pueblo
Military Branches: National Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales or FAN): Ground Forces or Army (Fuerzas Terrestres or Ejercito), Naval Forces (Fuerzas Navales or Armada; includes Marines, Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerzas Aereas or Aviacion), Armed Forces of Cooperation or National Guard (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperacion or Guardia Nacional)
The petroleum sector dominates Venezuela’s mixed economy, accounting for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. The country’s main petroleum deposits are located around and beneath Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela. The oil sector operates through the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), whose subsidiaries include the distributor CITGO. Other major exports are bauxite and aluminum, steel, petrochemicals, and agricultural produce. Venezuela’s principal trading partners are the United States, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. Venezuela is, as of May 2007, undergoing a rapid nationalization program, in line with Chavez’s promise to turn the country into a socialist state.
Venezuela is also highly dependent on its agricultural sector. Sectors with major potential for export-led growth are production of both coffee and cocoa crops. At one time, Venezuela ranked close to Colombia in coffee production, but in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as petroleum temporarily turned Venezuela into the richest country in South America, coffee was relegated to the economic back burner. Today, Venezuela produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee. Venezuela’s cocoa industry has also decayed since the days of Spanish colonialism, when African slaves worked on cocoa estates.
Venezuela is one of the five founding members of the OPEC, which was the initiative of Venezuelan politician Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo. It was proposed in 1960 as a response to low domestic and international oil prices. In recent years the Chavez government has made efforts to unite OPEC countries and strengthen OPEC control over production.
GDP purchasing power parity: US$186.3 billion (2006 est.); 3.7% agriculture, 41% industry, 55.3% services
GDP real growth rate: 10.3% (2006 est.)
GDP per capita: $7,200 (2006 est.)
Industries: petroleum, construction materials, food processing, textiles, iron ore mining, steel, aluminum, motor vehicle assembly
Agriculture products: corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, coffee, beef, pork, milk, eggs, fish
Petroleum: production - 3.081 million bbl/day (2005 est.), exports - 2.1 million bbl/day (2004) total reserves - 75.27 billion bbl (2006 est.)
Natural Gas: production – 27.2 billion cu m (2004 est.), total proven reserves – 4.276 trillion cu m (2005 est.)
Currency: Bolivar, Bs. (VEB)
Poverty rate: 33.9% of households, as of June 2006
Inflation Rate: 19.4% (June 2007)
Source: CIA World Fact Book
Human habitation of Venezuela is estimated to have commenced at least 15,000 years ago, from which period leaf-shaped flake tools, together with chopping and plano-convex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela. In the 16th century, when the Spanish colonization of Venezuela began, indigenous peoples such as the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Caribs, were systematically killed. Indian caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were ultimately subdued; Tamanaco himself, by order of Caracas' founder Diego de Losada, was also put to death.
Venezuela was first colonized by Europeans in 1522, when it hosted the Spanish Empire's first permanent South American settlement in what is now Cumaná. Originally part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, most of Venezuela eventually became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada; portions of eastern Venezuela were incorporated into New Andalusia. After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela—under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal involved in the French Revolution—declared independence on 5 July 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. However, a devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic. A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on 7 August 1813, lasted several months before being crushed as well.
Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, known as El Libertador ("The Liberator") and aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla's victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo on 24 July 1823 helped seal Venezuelan independence. New Granada's congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia. Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador, and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a new Republic of Venezuela; Páez became its first president.
Much of Venezuela's nineteenth century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule. During the first half of the 20th century, caudillos (military strongmen) continued to dominate, though they generally allowed for social reforms and promoted economic growth. Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935 and the demise of caudillismo (authoritarian rule), pro-democracy movements eventually forced the military to withdraw from direct involvement in national politics in 1958. Since that year, Venezuela has had a series of democratically elected governments. The discovery of massive oil deposits, totaling some 400 million barrels, during World War I prompted an economic boom that lasted into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela's per capita GDP was Latin America's highest, and globalization and heavy immigration from Southern Europe and poorer Latin American countries markedly diversified Venezuelan society.
The collapse of oil prices in the 1980s, and the huge public spending and accumulation of internal and external debts by the government and private sector during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s, crippled the Venezuelan economy. As the government devalued the currency in order to face its mounting local and external financial obligations, Venezuelans' real standard of living fell dramatically. Neo-liberal reforms introduced by President Carlos Andrés Perez in February 1989 led to massive rioting and a subsequent crack-down by the military and the police, which came to be known as the Caracazo. It is estimated that state security forces ended up killing between 300 and 3,000 Venezuelans following the riots, between February 27 and March 5 of 1989. A number of failed economic policies and increasing corruption in government and society at large led to rising poverty and crime and worsening social indicators and increasing political instability, resulting in three major coup attempts, two in 1992 and another in 2002. In the February 1992 coup, Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper, attempted to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez as anger grew against the President's economic austerity measures. Chavez was unsuccessful and landed up in jail. In November of that year, another unsuccessful coup attempt occurred, organized by other revolutionary groups in the Venezuelan Armed Forces and those that remained from Chavez’s previous attempt. By 2002, the tables had turned, and Hugo Chávez, democratically elected president in 1998, was temporarily ousted from power by his opponents. The Chávez was elected as a reaction against the established political parties and the corruption and inequalities their policies created. Since coming to power, Chavez has attracted some controversy through his reforms of the Constitution, the implementation of his "Bolivarian Revolution," and his assumption of powers to rule by decree.
Source: Wikipedia - Venezuela