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(vĕnəzwā`lə, Span. vānāswā`lä), officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, republic (2015 est. pop. 29,275,000), 352,143 sq mi (912,050 sq km), N South America. Venezuela has a coastline 1,750 mi (2,816 km) long on the Caribbean Sea in the north. It is bordered on the south by Brazil, on the west and southwest by Colombia, and on the east by Guyana. Dependencies include MargaritaMargarita
, island, 444 sq mi (1,150 sq km), in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. With many smaller islands it constitutes the Venezuelan state of Nueva Esparta (1990 pop. 263,748).
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 Island, Tortuga Island, and many smaller island groups in the Caribbean. The capital and largest city is CaracasCaracas
, city (1990 pop. 1,824,892), Federal Dist., N Venezuela, the capital and largest city of the country, near the Caribbean Sea. Its port is La Guaira. With an elevation of c.
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Land and People

Geographically Venezuela is a land of vivid contrasts, with four major divisions: the Venezuelan highlands, the coastal lowlands, the basin of the Orinoco River, and the Guiana Highlands. An almost inaccessible and largely unexplored wilderness south of the Orinoco, the Guiana Highlands occupy more than half of the national territory and are noted for scenic wonders such as Angel FallsAngel Falls,
waterfall, Sp. Salto Ángel, 3,212 ft (979 m) high, SE Venezuela, in the Guiana Highlands. Springing from Auyán-Tepuí Mesa, it is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world.
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. Iron ore, gold, diamonds, and other minerals are found near Ciudad BolívarCiudad Bolívar
, city (1990 pop. 225,340), capital of Bolívar state, E Venezuela, an inland port on the Orinoco River. It is the commercial center of the eastern llanos, the Orinoco basin, and the Guiana Highlands.
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 and Ciudad Guayana. The dense forests of the region yield rubber, tropical hardwoods, and other forest products. The boundary with Brazil is mostly mountainous; its rain forests are home to thousands of indigenous inhabitants. The Orinoco, one of the great rivers of South America, has its source in this region. The Orinoco basin is a great pastoral area. North of the Orinoco and about the Apure River and its tributaries are the llanos, the vast, hot Orinoco plains, where there is a great cattle industry.

Oil is found north of the Orinoco in Anzoátequi and Guárico states, but it is thick and was not easily extracted and refined. Prior to the 1990s the most vital oil region economically was an area in the coastal plains, the lowlands around Lake Maracaibo. There, since 1918, foreign and, later, Venezuelan interests have developed astonishingly rich oil fields. The coastal lowlands are exceedingly hot, but coastal ranges rise abruptly from the Caribbean to cool altitudes of 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,830–2,130 m). These ranges soon become a region of hills, intermontane basins, and plateaus known as the Venezuelan highlands and are a spur of the Andes. Further to the southwest, close to BarquisimetoBarquisimeto
, city (1990 pop. 625,450), capital of Lara state, NW Venezuela, on the Pan-American Highway. Surrounded by good grazing country, the city is a commercial center that ships cattle, coffee, cacao, sugar, and sisal.
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, the mountains rise to their greatest height at Pico Bolívar (16,427 ft/5,007 m) in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida.

Densely populated, the highland region is the political and commercial hub of the nation. Coffee, the keystone of the economy before the oil boom, comes from the slopes and cocoa from the lower foothills. ValenciaValencia
, city (1990 pop. 903,621), capital of Carabobo state, N Venezuela. It is Venezuela's fourth largest city and one of its major industrial centers. Products include motor vehicles, chemicals, textiles, cattle feed, and consumer goods.
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 and MaracayMaracay
, city (1990 pop. 354,196), capital of Aragua state, N Venezuela, at the eastern end of Lake Valencia. It is a commercial, agricultural, and industrial city. Its products include sugar, rubber, paper, and cloth. Maracay was modernized in the early 20th cent.
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 are, next to Caracas, the chief cities of the mountain basins. Economically dominant in the 19th cent., they are still major urban centers, despite some loss of power because of the oil boom along the coast. Cattle from the llanos are fattened on the rich valley grasses near Lake Valencia. Field crops are intensively cultivated in the vicinity.

The politically and economically dominant landowning class is mainly of Spanish descent. About 65% of the population is mestizo, 20% white, 10% black, and 2% indigenous. Spanish is the official language. There is no established church, but nearly all Venezuelans are nominally Roman Catholic. There are 20 universities in the country.


About 13% of Venezuelans are engaged in farming. The chief crops are corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, and coffee. There is also extensive livestock raising and fishing. Venezuela's mountains long impeded the nation's economic development because of the communications problems they presented. The country has developed a fine highway system, but goods are still carried primarily by ship. Venezuela has petroleum reserves that are by some estimates the second largest in the world, and oil has accounted for about 90% of the export income, 50% of government earnings, and 30% of the gross domestic product. A lack of investment and other issues led to a two-thirds drop in petroleum production in the 21st cent., which contributed to the country's accelerating economic problems in the mid-2010s. Venezuela is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. Other exports are bauxite, aluminum, steel, chemicals, iron ore, coffee, cocoa, rice, and cotton. Gold also is exported but the mining is largely controlled by organized crime, the military, and Colombian guerrillas. Imports include raw materials, machinery, transportation equipment, and construction materials. The main trading partners are the United States, Colombia, and Brazil. A large amount of oil is exported to the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba for refining. MaracaiboMaracaibo
, city (1990 pop. 1,249,670), capital of Zulia state, NW Venezuela, at the outlet of Lake Maracaibo. It is Venezuela's second largest city, a commercial and industrial center, and the oil capital of South America.
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, Puerto CabelloPuerto Cabello
, city (1990 pop. 128,825), N Venezuela, a port on the Caribbean Sea. An important Venezuelan port, it ships meat, coffee, cacao, dyewoods, and copper ores. Near the city is one of Venezuela's most modern oil and chemical plants.
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, La GuairaLa Guaira
, city (1990 pop. 23,831), capital of Vargas state, N Venezuela, on the Caribbean Sea NW of Caracas. It is the principal international port of Venezuela; cacao, coffee, and tobacco are the chief exports. La Guaira is also a seaside resort. Founded in the 16th cent.
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, and CumanáCumaná
, city (1990 pop. 212,432), capital of Sucre state, NE Venezuela, on the Manzanares River near its mouth on the Gulf of Cariaco, an inlet on the Caribbean Sea. Exports include coffee, tobacco, cacao, sugar, fruit, and beans.
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 are the important ports.

The government has used oil revenues to stimulate manufacturing industries. Food processing, automobile assembly, and the manufacture of construction materials, textiles, steel, and aluminum have become well established. Heavy-metalworks have been built on the Orinoco near Ciudad Guayana. Venezuela also uses its rivers to great advantage as sources of hydroelectric power. Despite government reform programs, Venezuela's wealth remains in the hands of a small minority. A disproportionately high percentage of the population lives in poverty; after the end of the oil boom in the early 1980s, the percentage of poor Venezuelans increased dramatically, from 28% to 68% in 2003. Many cities have squalid shanty towns, and in the countryside many people are still tenant farmers.

Under Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, the government has held down the price of staples with price controls (since 2003; other items were added in 2011), and has increased state control over and participation in the economy generally. The government has also emphasized the use of microloans to develop small businesses and the formation of cooperatives in an attempt to improve the lives of poorer Venezuelans, has seized factories, farmland, and other assets it has determined to be "unproductive," and has forced multinational oil companies to cede a controlling stake in their Venezuelan ventures to the government. Beginning in late 2005, price pressures on wholesalers and other middlemen due to inflation and price controls led to shortages of many staples in retail stores. In Aug., 2008, the government raised prices significantly on many staples and ended price controls on others in an attempt to end food shortages. Meanwhile, oil production has decreased as the government has diverted money from the development and maintenance of the oil industry in order to fund social programs.


Venezuela is governed under the constitution of 1999 as amended. The president, who is both the head of state and the head of government, is popularly elected for a six-year term and is not subject to term limits. Members of the 167-seat unicameral National Assembly are elected for five-year terms. Administratively, Venezuela consists of 23 states, a federal district, of which Caracas is a part, and a federal dependency, which includes 11 island groups.


Early History and the Colonial Era

The Arawaks and the Caribs were the earliest inhabitants of Venezuela, along with certain nomadic hunting and fishing tribes. Columbus discovered the mouths of the Orinoco in 1498. In 1499 the Venezuelan coast was explored by Alonso de OjedaOjeda, Alonso de
, c.1466–1515?, Spanish conquistador. He joined Columbus on his second voyage and in 1499—at first accompanied by Vespucci—explored the northeastern coast of South America. In 1508 he was made governor of territories of N South America.
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 and Amerigo VespucciVespucci, Amerigo
, 1454–1512, Italian navigator in whose honor America was named, b. Florence. He entered the commercial service of the Medici and in 1492 moved to Seville.
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. The latter, coming upon an island off the Paraguaná peninsula (probably Aruba), nicknamed it Venezuela (little Venice) because of native villages built above the water on stilts; the name held and was soon applied to the mainland. Spanish settlements were established on the coast at Cumaná (1520) and Santa Ana de CoroSanta Ana de Coro
or Coro
, city (1990 pop. 124,506), capital of Falcón state, NW Venezuela, 7 mi (11.3 km) from the Caribbean Sea, and at the base of the Paraguaná peninsula.
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The major task of the conquest was accomplished by German adventurers—Ambrosio de Alfinger, George de Speyer and especially Nikolaus FedermannFedermann, Nikolaus
, 1501–42, German adventurer in Venezuela and Colombia. In the service of the Welser brothers, Augsburg bankers to whom Charles V had granted rights in Venezuela, Federmann first landed at Santa Ana de Coro in 1530.
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—in the service of the Welsers, German bankers who had obtained rights in Venezuela from Emperor Charles V. During part of the colonial period the area was an adjunct of New GranadaNew Granada
, former Spanish colony, N South America. It included at its greatest extent present Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. Between 1499 and 1510 a host of conquerors explored the Caribbean coast of Panama and South America.
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. Cocoa cultivation was the mainstay of the colonial economy. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the coastline was attacked by English buccaneers, and in the 18th cent. there was a brisk smuggling trade with the British islands of the West Indies.

Independence and Civil Strife

In 1795 there was an uprising against Spanish control, but it was only after Napoleon had taken control of Spain that a real revolution began (1810) in Venezuela, under Francisco de MirandaMiranda, Francisco de
, 1750–1816, Venezuelan revolutionist and adventurer. A hero of the struggle for independence from Spain, he is sometimes called the Precursor to distinguish him from Simón Bolívar, who completed the task of liberation.
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. In 1811 complete independence was declared, but the revolution soon encountered difficulties. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed cities held by the patriots and helped to forward the cause of the royalists. Later, however, Simón BolívarBolívar, Simón
, 1783–1830, South American revolutionary who led independence wars in the present nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
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 (born in Venezuela) and his lieutenants, working from Colombia, were able to liberate Venezuela despite setbacks administered by the royalist commander, Pablo MorilloMorillo, Pablo
, 1778–1837, Spanish general. Sent in 1815 to put down the revolution in New Granada, he captured Cartagena, quelled (1816) the insurrection in Bogotá, and then marched into present-day Venezuela. His military occupations were ruthless and bloody.
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. The victory of Carabobo (1821) secured independence from Spain.

Venezuela and other territories became part of the federal republic of Greater Colombia. Almost from the beginning, however, Venezuela was restive. José Antonio PáezPáez, José Antonio
, 1790–1873, Venezuelan revolutionist, president, and caudillo. He boldly led (1810–19) a band of llaneros [plainsmen] in skillful guerrilla warfare against the Spanish, aided Simón Bolívar at the battle of
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, who had conquered the last Spanish garrison at Puerto Cabello in 1823, favored independence. He was a caudillo with a strong following among the hardy cattlemen, the llaneros. In 1830 the separatists gained the upper hand, and Venezuela became an independent state. Páez was the leading figure. Although conservative and liberal parties appeared, the actual control of Venezuela was held mainly by caudillos from the landholding class. After Páez, José Tadeo MonagasMonagas, José Tadeo
, 1784–1868, Venezuelan political leader. He fought under Bolívar in the revolt against Spain. Chosen by José Antonio Páez as president in 1847, he set up a compromise administration.
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 and his brother entrenched (1846) themselves in power, but not before a bitter struggle was waged to prevent the refractory Páez from keeping a large measure of political control.

The Monagas brothers were overthrown in 1858, and civil war among caudillos became chronic. A brief liberal regime under Juan Falcón created the decentralized United States of Venezuela in 1864. From 1870 to 1888, Guzmán BlancoGuzmán Blanco, Antonio
, 1829–99, president of Venezuela, a caudillo who dominated the nation from 1870 to 1888. Son of the founder of the Liberal party, Guzmán Blanco was a magnetic and energetic figure with considerable diplomatic and administrative ability.
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 dominated Venezuela. He improved education, communications, and finances, crushed the church, and enriched himself. He was overthrown in 1888, but dictatorship was resumed four years later under Joaquín CrespoCrespo, Joaquín
, 1841?–1898, president of Venezuela (1884–86, 1894–98). He served his first term under the dominance of Antonio Guzmán Blanco. In 1892 he led a revolt and established a military dictatorship.
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. During Crespo's regime began the Venezuela Boundary DisputeVenezuela Boundary Dispute,
diplomatic controversy, notable for the tension caused between Great Britain and the United States during much of the 19th cent. Of long standing, the dispute concerned the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana (now Guyana); the Venezuelan
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 with Great Britain over the border with British Guiana (now Guyana). Cipriano CastroCastro, Cipriano
, 1858?–1924, president of Venezuela (1901–8). In 1899 he usurped the government, overthrowing Andrade. Called the Lion of the Andes by his followers, he was a stern and arbitrary caudillo, who nevertheless improved the country's economy.
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, a new dictator, came to power in 1899. The financial corruption and incompetence of his administration helped to bring on a new international incident, that of the Venezuela ClaimsVenezuela Claims.
In 1902, due to civil strife and to gross mismanagement during the administration of Cipriano Castro, Venezuelan finances were chaotic. Great Britain, Germany, and Italy were determined to seek redress for unpaid loans and sent a joint naval expedition to the
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The year 1908 marked the beginning of the rule of one of the longest-lasting of all Latin American dictators, Juan Vicente GómezGómez, Juan Vicente
, 1857–1935, caudillo of Venezuela (1908–35). Of indigenous and white parentage, Gómez was born on a ranch in the Western Andes and grew up a nearly illiterate cattle herder.
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, who stayed in power until his death in 1935. His regime was one of total and absolute tyranny, although he did force the state (with the help of foreign oil concessions) into national solvency and material prosperity. His death was followed by popular celebration. Eleazar López Contreras became president (1935–41) and increased Venezuela's share of the oil companies' profits; under his legally elected successor, Isaías Medina Angarita, Venezuela sympathized with the Allies and finally entered World War II on the Allied side in 1945.

Late-20th-Century Venezuela

Later in 1945 a military junta committed to democracy and social reform gained control of the government, which was then headed by Rómulo BetancourtBetancourt, Rómulo
, 1908–81, Venezuelan political leader, president of Venezuela (1945–48, 1959–64). Following a stormy career as a leader of radical student groups, he founded (1935) the Oganización Venezolana,
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 of the Democratic Action party. A new constitution promulgated in 1947 provided, for the first time in Venezuelan history, for the election of a president by direct popular vote. The first president elected under the new constitution was the eminent novelist Rómulo GallegosGallegos, Rómulo
, 1884–1969, Venezuelan novelist and statesman. Gallegos lived in Spain in voluntary exile from the Venezuelan dictatorship from 1931 until 1935. He returned to his country and was appointed minister of education, being elected president in 1948.
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. His administration, however, was short-lived.

A military coup in Nov., 1948, overthrew the Gallegos government, and a repressive military dictatorship was established. By 1952, Col. Marcos Pérez Jiménez had become dictator, and he made wide use of police state techniques. A popular revolt, supported by liberal units of the armed forces, broke out early in 1958; Pérez Jiménez fled. Elections held that year restored democratic rule to Venezuela. Rómulo Betancourt adopted a moderate program of gradual economic reform and maintained friendly relations with the United States despite the association of U.S. interests with Pérez Jiménez. A new constitution (1961) was adopted.

The country, long out of debt because of the oil revenues, reached a peak of prosperity, but the new administration was nevertheless gravely challenged. Left-wing groups, particularly the Communists, bitterly opposed the administration, and their activities, combined with the restiveness of the poorer classes and the dissidence of leftist elements in the military, led to numerous uprisings. Extreme right-wing elements also plotted against the Betancourt regime. Betancourt was succeeded in 1964 by Raúl Leoni. In 1968 the Social Christian party came to power when Rafael Caldera Rodríguez won a close presidential election. The boundary dispute with Guyana flared up again in the 1960s, with Venezuela laying claim to some 60% of Guyana's territory.

The 1973 presidential election was won by Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez of the Democratic Action party. That same year Venezuela joined the Andean Group (later the Andean Community), an economic association of Latin American nations. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized its foreign-owned oil and iron companies. Luis Herrera CampínsHerrera Campíns, Luis
, 1925–2007, Venezuelan politician and president (1979–84). A lawyer and journalist, he was a founder of the moderate Social Christian (COPEI) party.
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 replaced Pérez in 1978. A decrease in world oil prices during the early 1980s shocked the Venezuelan economy and massively increased Venezuela's foreign debt.

Democratic Action candidate Jaime Lusinchi defeated Campíns in 1983. He renegotiated the national debt and introduced austerity budgets and cuts in social services, but inflation and unemployment continued to plague the country. Pérez was returned to office in 1989 amid demonstrations and riots sparked by deteriorating social conditions. In 1992 Pérez survived two attempted military coups, but the following year he was removed from office on corruption charges; he was later convicted and sentenced to jail for misuse of a secret security fund. In 1994 Rafael Caldera Rodríguez again became president, this time under the banner of the National Convergence party. He unveiled austerity measures in 1996 and privatized some state-run companies.

The Chávez Era

Venezuela's economy sagged and its budget deficit grew as oil prices fell again in the late 1990s. Relations with Colombia, long strained over control of offshore oil reserves and the illegal movement of many Colombians into Venezuela to work, deteriorated in the 1990s as Venezuela claimed that Colombian guerrillas were trafficking drugs and arms across the border. In 1999, Hugo Chávez FríasChávez Frías, Hugo Rafael
, 1954–2013, Venezuelan political leader, president of Venezuela (1999–2013). Raised in poverty, he was educated at the Military Academy of Venezuela (grad. 1975).
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, a former army colonel who had participated in a failed coup attempt against Pérez, became president after running as an independent. He called for a halt to privatization of state assets and approved a law enabling him to rule by decree in economic matters for six months. He also cut Venezuela's oil production to force up prices, and pushed for other OPEC members to do the same.

A referendum in Apr., 1999, called for a national constituent assembly to draft a new constitution; the assembly was elected in July and convened a month later. The assembly and Chávez engaged in a contest for power with the congress and judiciary; the assembly declared a national emergency and stripped the congress of its powers. A constitution establishing a strong president with a six-year term in office and the ability to run for immediate reelection and a unicameral National Assembly was approved in referendum in December; the new constitution also reduced civilian control of the military and increased the government's control of the economy. In the same month Venezuela experienced its worst natural disaster of the century, as torrential rains caused huge, devastating mudslides along the Caribbean coast; perhaps as many as 5,000 people were killed.

The disaster slowed plans for new elections, but the congress was replaced with a 21-member interim council. In July, 2000, Chávez won election to the presidency under the new constitution; his coalition, the Political Pole, won 99 of the 165 seats in the assembly, short of the two-thirds majority needed to rule without constraints. Chávez won approval from the assembly to legislate by decree, and won passage of a Dec., 2000, referendum that ousted Venezuela's labor leaders, a move denounced by the International Labor Organization. Chávez also revived the dormant boundary dispute with Guyana, declaring that a satellite-launching facility being built by an American company in the territory claimed by Venezuela was a cover for a U.S. military presence.

In 2001, Chávez became somewhat more unpopular with the increasingly polarized Venezuelan people, although he still retained significant support among the lower classes. His attempts to assert control over the state oil company led to strikes and demonstrations in early 2002, and in April he was briefly ousted in a coup attempt. Latin American nations refused, however, to recognize a self-proclaimed interim government under business executive Pedro Carmona Estanga, and poorer Venezuelans mounted counter-demonstrations in his support. Chávez was restored to office and called for reconciliation; a subsequent cabinet shakeup gave his government a less ideological cast.

The ongoing political turmoil, which led to a prolonged, polarizing antigovernment strike in the vital oil industry (Dec., 2002–Feb., 2003), sent the country into recession and reduced oil exports. Although Chávez outlasted his striking opponents, the crisis further eroded public support for his government. An agreement between the two sides, negotiated by the Organization of American States in May, 2003, called for an end to violence and a referendum on Chávez's presidency later in the year. An opposition petition calling for a referendum on Chávez was rejected in September, however, because of procedural errors.

A new petition for a recall referendum was presented in December, but so many of the signatures were rejected by the electoral commission that the petition was unsuccessful. Negotiations ultimately led to a compromise in which the opposition was allowed three days in May, 2004, to reaffirm disputed signatures, and the petition was validated. Also in May, a number of civilians and military officers were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Chávez. In the referendum, held in August, 58% voted to retain Chávez, and despite opposition denunciations of the result, foreign observers strongly endorsed it. Several opposition leaders were later charged (July, 2005) with conspiring to undermine Venezuela's government because their organization, Súmate, which played a major role in the petition drive, had received U.S. funds that were alleged to have been used to fund the referendum effort.

In Jan., 2005, the president signed a decree establishing a national land commission that would begin the process of breaking up the country's large estates and redistributing the land. During the same month relations with Colombia were tense after a Colombian rebel in Venezuela was kidnapped (Dec., 2004) by bounty hunters and turned over to Colombia authorities, but the dispute was resolved by the time both nations' presidents met in Caracas in February. National assembly elections in Dec., 2005, resulted in a sweep for parties supporting the president, but only a quarter of the electorate voted. Most opposition candidates withdrew from the contest before the vote in protest against what they said were biases and flaws in the electoral process, ceding complete control of the legislature to Chávez.

Chávez used Venezuela's increased oil revenues to fund social programs, to create a large military reserve and expanded militia, and to establish programs designed to reduce the effects of high energy prices on Caribbean nations. Chávez also publicly accused the United States of planning an invasion to overthrow him, while U.S. officials accused him of supporting antidemocratic forces in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador. His public support, in 2006, for one candidate in the Peruvian presidential race and criticisms of the ultimate winner, Alan GarcíaGarcía Pérez, Alan Gabriel Ludwig,
1949–2019, Peruvian political leader, president of Peru (1985–90, 2006–11). A lawyer and member of APRA, García was a charismatic speaker who rose rapidly in Peruvian politics.
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, led Peru to recall its ambassador. Venezuela was admitted to full membership in MercosurMercosur
or Mercosul,
officially the Common Market of the South, Latin American trade organization established in 1991 to increase economic cooperation among the countries of E South America.
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 in mid-2006 (ratifed in 2012); at the same time it withdrew from the Andean Community, whose members included Peru and Colombia.

Chávez was handily reelected in Dec., 2006, benefiting from an economic boom due to high petroleum prices and from the social programs he had instituted for the poor, but the strong win masked the continuing polarization of Venezuelan society along class lines, with the poorer classes overwhelmingly favoring the president. At the same time, however, inflation was increasing, and it continued to grow thoughout 2007 and 2008. Proclaiming "socialism or death" at his inauguration (Jan., 2007), Chávez moved to nationalize all energy and power companies and the country's largest telecommunications firm. He also moved to consolidate some two dozen parties supporting him into a unified socialist party, which was only partially successful, and secured the right to rule by decree for 18 months. Chávez subsequently won passage of constitutional amendments that would have ended presidential term limits, increased the length of the president's term, and enhanced the president's powers generally, but the changes failed (Dec., 2007) to win the voters' approval.

After a Colombian raid (Mar., 2008) against rebels based in Ecuador there were several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and Chávez's government. Though Venezuela denied that, Chávez, who had succeeded in winning the release of several hostages held by the rebels, expressed public sympathy for the Colombian rebel leader killed in the raid. (The head of the Organization of American States said the following month that no government had presented it with evidence of ties between Venezuela and any terrorist group.) From mid-2009 relations with Colombia were again strained by Colombian accusations of Venezuela support for Colombian rebels, prompted in part by the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden; Venezuela alleged that Colombia's allowing U.S. forces to use Colombian bases against drug traffickers was a belligerent move by the United States. In Nov., 2009, Chávez ordered 15,000 troops to the Colombian border; the following month he accused the United States of violating Venezuelan airspace from the Netherlands Antilles, where U.S. antidrug operations are based.

In Apr., 2008, Chávez ordered the nationalization of the cement industry and of Venezuela's largest steelmaker; additional companies and industries, perhaps most notably financial institutions, were nationalized into 2010. As his right to rule by decree expired at the end of July, 2008, Chávez signed a number of decrees that mirrored many of the constitutional amendments that voters had rejected at the end of 2007, and in Jan., 2009, he secured legislative passage of a constitutional amendment that would end term limits for all elected officials. A referendum approved the amendment in Feb., 2009.

Meanwhile, in Nov., 2008, Chávez's allies again won a majority of the posts in local and regional elections, but the opposition increased the number of posts it held and won the Caracas mayorlty. Subsequent government moves stripped significant powers from posts that opposition candidates won, further concentrating power in central government hands, and the government launched corruption investigations or other cases against a number of leading opposition figures and critics. By late 2009, drought and increasing energy demands had led to such low water levels behind the Guri DamGuri Dam,
24,364 ft (7,426 m) long and 531 ft (162 m) high, on the Caroní River, Bolívar state, SW Venezuela. Built in phases between 1963 and 1986, the dam consists of a central concrete gravity dam with earthen embankment dams on both sides.
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 that industrial cutbacks and other rationing measures, including rolling blackouts in 2010, were instituted. In Feb., 2010, the government declared an electricity emergency and imposed stricter rationing.

The National Assembly elections in September were won by Chávez's party, but the opposition, which did not boycott the elections, made significant gains, winning 47% of the vote and nearly 40% of the seats and denying the ruling party a constitutionally significant two-thirds majority. In Dec., 2010, there was significant flooding in states along the central and W Caribbean coast, and flood recovery and reconstruction was the pretext for Chávez's seeking legislation to rule by decree. Decried by his critics as an attempt to circumvent the incoming National Assembly, the law gave him decree powers for 18 months in many areas, such as banking and defense, not related to reconstruction. In Mar., 2011, the government adopted rules authorizing the military to arm the nation's militias, a progovernment force made up of militant Chávez supporters; they had previously not been issued firearms.

Chávez was again reelected in Oct., 2012, after having been treated for cancer and declaring himself fully recovered; his margin of victory was much less than in 2006. Subsequently, however, the president was again treated for cancer. This time, complications kept him in a Cuban hospital and led to the postponing of his Jan., 2013, inauguration. In Dec., 2012, Chávez's party made gains in the governors elections. Chávez died in Mar., 2013, after returning to Venezuela; Nicolás Maduro MorosMaduro Moros, Nicolás
, 1962–, Venezuelan trade union and political leader. He was trained as a union organizer in Cuba, and later became a leader in an unofficial transit union while working as a bus driver.
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, his vice president, became interim president.

In the April presidential election Maduro was elected, but he only narrowly defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who had lost to Chávez in 2012 by more than 10%. Capriles called for a recount, but a more limited audit was conducted. There was some postelection violence, and Maduro accused Capriles of attempting a coup. In June, 2013, the Venezuela government said it had foiled a Colombian-based attempt to assassinate Maduro. Maduro had previously accused former Colombian president Uribe of plotting to kill him, and his subsequent tenure was marked by recurring charges of assassination plots by various opponents.

A couple significant power blackouts affected Venezuela's electrical grid in late 2013. The government blamed the blackouts on sabotage, and in October expelled several U.S. diplomats it accused of being involved in one blackout, but no concrete evidence of sabotage was presented by the government. Maduro received the power to rule by decree for 12 months in November, which he said was necessary to fight corruption and regulate the economy; inflation rate meanwhile increased to above 50% in 2013 despite government price controls and remained high during 2014, when the country entered a recession. The country also suffered economically from the 2014 oil price collapse, and its economic troubles continued into 2015.

Antigovernment demonstrations surged beginning in Feb., 2014, after students protested alleged police indifference to an attempted sexual assault; weeks of protests were marked by clashes with security forces and attacks by armed militants loyal to government. A number of opposition leaders, mainly from more hardline groups, were arrested in February and March, and three air force generals were arrested in March on charges of plotting an uprising. Denunciations of opposition plots against the president and arrests and charges against political opponents continued into 2015. Maduro also faced criticism beginning in 2014 from prominent leftists who had been supporters of Chávez.

After the United States imposed sanctions against Venezuelan officials for alleged human-rights violations in early 2015, Maduro sought and was given the power to govern by decree during 2015. He subsequently revived the boundary dispute with Guyana, over oil exploration offshore of Guyanaese territory. A Venezuelan crackdown against Colombian migrants and smugglers in Aug.–Sept., 2015, led thousands to flee to Colombia and created tense relations between the two nations. The opposition won the National Assembly elections of Dec., 2015, in a landslide, narrowly winning a two-thirds majority, but a handful of its victories were subsequently challenged in court by the ruling party. The Maduro government subsequently packed the supreme court with sympathetic judges and limited the National Assembly's powers over the central bank; the court subsequently aligned itself with Maduro in disputes with the National Assembly.

In Jan., 2016, Maduro declared an economic emergency, allowing him to rule by edict for two months; it was extended in March and again in May, when he also declared a "state of exception," greatly increasing his powers. None of the decrees were approved by the assembly, but they were nonetheless allowed by the court. The opposition continued with its attempts to recall the president as economic conditions in the country further deteriorated, leading to widespread food shortages and looting of food markets. There were also electricity shortfalls for several months in the first half of 2016, linked (as in 2009) to issues with the Guri Dam. Maduro used the electoral council to delay a recall referendum, first postponing a possible vote until 2017 and then suspending the recall drive and delaying state governor elections. The supreme court overturned laws passed by the National Assembly and allowed Maduro to rule without legislative approval, as the opposition meanwhile mounted several mass protests against Maduro.

In Dec., 2016, the country was suspended from Mercosur for failing to align its national laws with the organization's key trade and human rights rules and accords; the suspension became indefinite in Aug., 2017. By Dec., 2016, Venezuela was experiencing hyperinflation and in Jan., 2017, it introduced large-denomination banknotes. An attempted withdrawal in the previous month of the then-largest denomination banknote had sparked protests and riots. In Mar., 2017, the supreme court declared that the National Assembly was in contempt and that it would legislate instead. Widespread national and international criticism forced Maduro and the court to reverse parts of the antidemocratic ruling, but both the president and the court continued to work together to rule without the opposition-controlled legislature. The move also sparked recurring demonstrations that continued for weeks.

In May, Maduro called for a constitutional assembly, to be elected by social organizations and municipal governments more supportive of the ruling party than the population; the new body was seen as a way of invalidating the freely elected National Assembly. The July election for the constitutional assembly was boycotted by the opposition, but the government claimed victory and a 40% turnout; the voting system company said turnout figures had been tampered with. The new assembly dismissed (August) the Socialist attorney general, who had become a vocal critic of Maduro and said she would investigate the July election results. It also claimed sole power to pass laws. The election of the new assembly also led to crippling new financial sanctions on the government by the United States.

In the Oct., 2017, gubernatorial elections, Maduro's party secured the vast majority of the posts despite his unpopularity; the opposition claimed fraud, and there was evidence of some unfairness in the voting process, but abstention by opposition voters also was a factor. In May, 2018, Maduro won reelection in a contest largely boycotted by the opposition, which denounced it as rigged. In Aug., 2018, Maduro was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. The country's hyperinflation led to the introduction of a new, revalued currency, an increase in the minimum wage, and a cut in fuel subsidies, beginning in August.

When Maduro took office in Jan., 2019, the National Assembly declared his government illegitimate, and then recognized Juan GuaidóGuaidó, Juan
(Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez), 1983–, Venezuelan political leader. An industrial engineer by training, he helped establish the Popular Will party in 2009 and was a protégé of party leader Leopoldo López.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the president of the National Assembly, as interim president. Many American and European nations recognized Guaidó as the country's leader, and a number of them imposed new sanctions on Maduro's government; the United States in particular increased the severity of its sanctions as time progressed. Those moves and large demonstrations in favor of Guaidó failed to dislodge Maduro, who retained the support of Russia and China. In March two electrical blackouts left large areas of the country without power for days at a time; a massive blackout also occurred in July.

In Jan., 2020, Maduro allies sought to elect a new National Assembly speaker, Luis Parra, a former Guaidó ally, by preventing most legislators from entering the assembly building; Guaidó was reelected by the majority in another location. Maduro and other high-ranking government officials were charged with narcoterrorism and other crimes by the United States in Mar., 2020. The United Nations estimates that some 4.6 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 due primarily to economic conditions (the economy having contracted more than 60% since 2013); most went to Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

An attempt to kidnap Maduro in May, 2020, was foiled by Venezuelan security forces; organized by a U.S. veteran, it had originally been planned in conjunction with two of Guaidó's advisers, who later withdrew. In June and July, the supreme court ordered the takeover of several major opposition parties including Guaidó's. Those moves and the reorganization of the national election council were denounced as designed to frustrate opposition candidates in the 2020 National Assembly elections.


See I. Rouse and J. M. Cruxent, Venezuelan Archaeology (1963); G. Morón, A History of Venezuela (tr. 1964); W. J. Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, 1935–1959 (1972); J. D. Martz and D. J. Meyers, ed., Venezuela: The Democratic Experience (1986); J. de Oviedo y Baños, The Conquest and Settlement of Venezuela (1988); T. E. Batalla, ed., Reform of the Venezuelan Fiscal System (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Republic of Venezuela (República de Venezuela).

Venezuela is a state in the north of South America. Bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea (coastline, over 2,400 km long) and the Atlantic Ocean (490 km). Borders on Colombia on the west and southwest, Brazil on the south and southeast, and Guyana on the east. Area, 912,000 sq km. Population, 10 million (1969, estimate). Capital is Caracas. Administratively divided into the federal (capital) district, 20 states, two territories, and federal possessions—72 islands in the Caribbean Sea (see Table 1).

Table 1. Administrative divisions of Venezuela
Federal districts, states, territories,AreaPopulationAdministrative
federal possessions(sq km)(1969)center
Federal (capital) District (Distrito Federal)...............
Apure...............76,500169,400San Fernando de Apure
Bolívar...............238,000326,300Ciudad Bolívar
Cojedes...............14,80096,000San Carlos
Guárico...............65,000333,800San Juan de los Morros
Miranda...............7,900675,900Los Teques
Nueva Esparta...............1,20096,400La Asunción
Táchira...............11,100510,500San Cristóbal
Yaracuy...............7,100205,300San Felipe
Amazonas...............175,80012,700Puerto Ayacucho
Delta Amacuro...............40,20034,200Tucupita
Federal possessions (dependencias federales)...............2,1001,000 

Venezuela is a federal republic. The present constitution was adopted on Jan. 23, 1961. The head of state and government is the president, who is elected by the people for a term of five years. The president has extensive powers, including the right to appoint and replace ministers, to direct the Congress, and, with the consent of the Council of Ministers, to declare a state of emergency, with the abolition of constitutional guarantees; he is also commander in chief of the armed forces.

The supreme legislative organ is the bicameral parliament (Congress), which consists of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. The parliament is elected by the people for a five-year term. Two senators are elected from each state and from the federal district by direct vote; the deputies of the chamber are chosen on a representative basis established by law. All citizens 18 years of age and over have the right to vote. The states have governors and elective unicameral parliaments—the legislative assemblies. In the cities the people elect municipalities.

The judicial system is made up of the Supreme Court (members of which are elected for five years by the houses of Congress) and appellate and district courts. A supreme court is also elected in each state. The attorney general is elected by Congress.


In the extreme northwest of the country the coast of the Caribbean Sea is low-lying and abrasive-accumulative; in the north and northeast it is predominantly craggy; to the west of Barcelona it is lagoonal; there are many islands along the shore. The coast of the Atlantic Ocean is formed by the delta of the Orinoco River.

Terrain. The three main regions that can be distinguished in the country’s terrain are the chains of the Andes in the northwest and north, the plains of the Orinoco in the center, and the Guiana Highlands in the southeast. The northeastern ranges of the Andes are located in the northwest of Venezuela—the Sierra de Perijá (elevations to 3,540 m) and the Cordillera de Mérida (Mt. Bolívar, 5,007 m). The latter is deeply dissected by longitudinal ravines and has alpine forms in its central section. The ranges frame the deep tectonic basin of the Maracaibo lowland and Lake Maracaibo, which is joined by a channel to the Gulf of Venezuela; in the northeast the basin is adjoined by the Segovia Highlands (400-800 m), with ridges up to 1,990 m. Two chains of the Caribbean Andes (elevations to 2,765 m) stretch out in the northeast, divided from Lake Valencia by a longitudinal depression. In the west the Orinoco Plains (Llanos Orinoco) consist of a flat alluvial basin with elevations of 40-150 m (the Low Llanos) and in the east, a raised plain of elevations up to 350 m (the High Llanos), with the broad delta of the Orinoco. The Guiana Highlands include an elevated (300-400 m), denuded plain with residual ridges and insular mountains in the north, block mountains of up to 2,400 m in the west, sandstone mesa massifs and ranges in the south (Auyán-Tepuí, 2,953 m; Roraima 2,772 m; and others), and the low-lying depression of the upper reaches of the Orinoco in the southwest.


Geological structure and minerals. Several structural geological provinces can be distinguished in Venezuela, including the Guiana shield, the Venezuelan marginal depression, the Cordillera de Mérida, and the Sierra de Perijá and Caribbean Andes ranges. South of the Orinoco River, within the Guiana shield, there are outcroppings of Archean paragneisses and orthogneisses, ferrous quartzites, and greenstone formations, disconformably overlapped by obliquely laminated Proterozoic sandstones (the Roraima series). North of the Orinoco, Precambrian rocks are overlapped with Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic deposits on the platform cover. In this area gneisses crop out only in the El Baúl anticline; molasse formations of the Venezuelan marginal depression (Paleocene and Oligocene) are dispersed to its north. The ranges are built up of intensively dislocated argillites and sandstones of the Lower Paleozoic, volcanogenic records of the Carboniferous-Triassic, and sandstones and limestones of the Cretaceous, irrupted with Late Paleozoic and Paleogenic granites. The Maracaibo and Barinas-Apure basins are filled with slightly dislocated marine sandstones and shales of the Cretaceous and the continental and marine carboniferous formations of the Cenozoic. The Caribbean Andes are separated in the south from the Guiana shield by the Venezuelan marginal depression, and in the west from the Cordillera de Mérida by the great Bocono break.

The country’s main mineral wealth lies in oil and gas, which are drilled in the marginal depression and in the Maracaibo Basin. According to published estimates, the actual resources of oil in Venezuela at the end of 1969 amounted to about 2.4 billion tons (potential resources are hypothetically estimated at 10-14 billion tons). Prospected resources of natural gas amount to 778 billion cu m (1968). Sedimentary basins with oil-and-gas bearing characteristics occupy about one-half of the territory of Venezuela. The vast so-called bituminous belt on the lower course of the Orinoco, the zone of the Gulf of Venezuela, and the territory south of Lake Maracaibo are particularly promising with respect to petroleum. There are large deposits of iron ore in Precambrian formations. There are deposits of manganic ores, diamonds, gold, nickel, and tungsten.


Climate The climate of virtually all of Venezuela is sub-equatorial hot, with rainy summers and dry winters; in the southwest it is equatorial and permanently humid. Average monthly temperatures range between 25° and 29° C; precipitation varies from 280 mm in the northwest and 750-1,200 mm in the center to 2,000 mm in the southeast and 2,000-3,000 mm on the northern slopes of the Cordillera de Mérida.

Rivers and lakes Venezuela’s river system, which belongs for the most part to the basin of the Orinoco River, is very dense; the rivers are characterized by an extremely uneven rate of flow (summer high waters). The upper reaches of the Orinoco and its right tributaries (the Ventuari, Caura, Caroní, and others) are full of rapids and form many large waterfalls (including Angel Falls, the highest in the world, with a drop of 1,054 m); the left tributaries in the Low Llanos (Arauca, Apure, and others) are gently sloping, and many are navigable. The rivers of the High Llanos and the rivers that flow into the Caribbean Sea are short and not navigable.

Soils and flora Red laterite (ferrolitic and ferrite) soils predominate; in the south and the southeast there are podzolized laterites and in the north of the Low Llanos and the south of the Maracaibo lowland, meadow-forest and swamp soils. Deciduous (during drought) and deciduous-evergreen forests are prevalent over much of the Andes slopes and Guiana highlands; in the most humid regions—the south and southeast and on the northern windward slopes of the Cordillera de Mérida—there are permanently humid evergreen forests (tropical forest and mountain tropical forest) with valuable species of trees; at high altitudes there are cryophilic meadows of paramos. Forests occupy more than half of the territory. Savanna is characteristic of the Llanos; in the south of the Low Llanos there are high-grass savannas with palms; in the eastern section, as well as the adjacent regions of the Guiana highlands and in the northern part of the Maracaibo lowland there are dry savannas with xerophilous shrubs and thin forests. Around the Gulf of Venezuela there are xerophilous-succulent (cactus) thin forests; along the low-lying shores there are mangrove thickets.

Fauna Venezuela is extremely rich in fauna. The platyrrhine monkey, small deer, sloth, anteater, armadillo, tapir, peccary, opossum, jaguar, and other representatives of the Brazilian subregion of the Neotropical Region inhabit Venezuela. There are many reptiles and insects. The most typical birds are the boat-billed heron, the sun-grebe, the jacana, the trumpeter, the harpy eagle, toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds. Caymans and electric eels inhabit the rivers.

Natural regions The following natural regions can be distinguished: the wooded fault-block Mérida and Perijá ranges; the low-lying, predominantly swamped and reforested Maracaibo Basin; the thin-forested Segovia Highlands; the Caribbean mountain chains, which are covered by mixed forests; the savanna-covered Llanos Orinoco (Low and High); the swamped delta of the Orinoco; and the Guiana Highlands (plains with scrub savanna in the north, sandstone and block-fault massifs among mixed forests in the center, and the basin of the upper reaches of the Orinoco with tropical forests in the south).


The Venezuelans (about 8.7 million, 1968 estimate) are the main people of Venezuela. The relatively unassimilated regions of the south of Venezuela are inhabited by seminomadic Indian tribes of the Caribbean language family and tribes of isolated language groups. The Warrau tribe lives in the east, in the delta of the Orinoco; the Chibcha, Carib, and Arawak tribes live in the west, on the border with Colombia. The Indians who have retained their tribal life amount to several tens of thousands. Since World War II considerable immigration to Venezuela has taken place. The immigrants from Spain (about 180,000), Italy (over 120,000), and Portugal (about 45,000) live primarily in the cities and industrial regions; immigrants from Colombia (about 110,000) live near the Venezuela-Colombia border (estimate from early 1960’s). The state language is Spanish. Catholicism is the dominant religion. The Gregorian calendar is official.

Venezuela is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the rate of population growth (3.5 percent per year over the period 1963-69). According to census data the population of Venezuela was as follows: 2,480,000 in 1920; 3,364,000 in 1936; 5,034,000 in 1950; 7,524,000 in 1961; and 9,686,000 in 1968 (estimate). Women make up 50 percent of the population (1968). Of the population 46 percent is under the age of 15. The economically active population is 2.9 million (1966), 29.7 percent of whom are employed in agriculture, 1.7 percent in the extractive industry, 25.4 percent in the manufacturing industry, and 43.2 percent in service-related industries. About 80 percent of the population is concentrated in the mountain and coastal states (Zulia, Lara, Aragua, Miranda, and others) and in the federal district—about one-fourth of the territory of the country. A total of only 3 percent of the population lives south of the Orinoco River—nearly one-half of the area of Venezuela.

About 70 percent of the peasants (primarily in the Andes) live in settlements with more than 100 people; small villages are typical of the Llanos. The urban population grew from 15 percent in 1926 to 75 percent in 1969. The large cities have been growing particularly rapidly; the population of cities with over 100,000 people has increased from 5.5 percent of the total in 1920 to 39 percent in 1969; among them the capital and its suburbs (Greater Caracas) increased from 4.5 percent to 20.6 percent.

The largest cities (over 100,000 inhabitants, 1969 estimate) are Caracas (2,064,000 with the suburbs outside the federal district), Maracaibo (625,000), Barquisimeto (280,100), Valencia (217,400), Maracay (185,700), San Cristóbal (149,100), Cabimas (141,300), Santo Tomé de Guyana (127,700), and Ciudad Bolívar (103,700).


To the end of the 15th century The territory of Venezuela was settled from earliest times by Indian tribes belonging to the Arawak, Cario, and several other language families. The tribes were at various stages of a primitive communal system; their primary occupations were hunting, fishing, and primitive farming.

The colonial period (late 15th-early 19th centuries) The coast of Venezuela was discovered by C. Columbus in 1498. In 1499 the Spanish expedition of A. de Ojeda, which was exploring the coast, reached the Gulf of Maracaibo. Finding the Indians’ dwellings that were built on piles in the water, the Spaniards called the country Venezuela (little Venice). Spanish conquistadors began the colonization of Venezuela at the start of the 16th century. Numerous sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco plantations were established. Livestock raising was developed substantially. In the second half of the 16th century the Spanish colonialists founded a number of cities and religious missions. The bulk of the labor force in colonial Venezuela was made up of Negro slaves imported from Africa and the Indians, who were weighed down by the encomienda, labor conscription, the poll-tax, and other forms of feudal exploitation. The development of the country’s productive forces was retarded by the colonialists’ prohibition against the production of many industrial goods and the cultivation of many agricultural crops and by the strict regulation of production, the presence of trade monopolies, and other limitations. From the 16th century, Venezuela was subject to the colonial administration of Santo Domingo; it then became part of the viceroyalty of New Granada and in 1777 became a captaincy general. The dissatisfaction of the population of Venezuela with the policies of the Spanish government that hindered the socioeconomic, political, and cultural development of the country was a stimulus to the growth of the liberation movement. An anti-Spanish uprising led by J. F. de León erupted in 1749, and there was an uprising of Negroes in Coro in 1795. A conspiracy developed in La Guaira and Caracas in 1797. In 1806 the Venezuelan patriot F. Miranda attempted (unsuccessfully) to liberate Venezuela.

The war for independence and the formation of a national state (1810-30) The popular uprising of Apr. 19, 1810, in Caracas was the start of the war for independence from Spain. The regime of the Spanish captain general was overthrown and a revolutionary junta established. In July 1811, Venezuela was proclaimed an independent republic. However, the constitution of the first Venezuelan republic did not provide for reforms in the interests of the broad strata of the Indian and Negro populations, and this kept it from obtaining sufficiently active support from the masses in the struggle against the Spanish troops. Thus, the army of F. Miranda suffered a number of defeats and surrendered in July 1812. Spanish rule was reestablished in Venezuela. In May 1813 patriots led by S. Bolívar renewed the struggle for Venezuela’s independence. The revolutionary army occupied Caracas in August 1813 and the second Venezuelan republic was subsequently established. However, in December 1814 it, too, was overthrown by Spanish troops. During 1817-18, Venezuelan patriots headed by Bolívar managed to liberate a substantial amount of territory in the basin of the Orinoco River. Their successes were facilitated by Bolívar’s decrees abolishing slavery and apportioning land to the participants in the liberation struggle. On Feb. 15, 1819, the National Congress, which was convened in Angostura, again proclaimed the independence of Venezuela. In December 1819 it adopted a resolution on the creation of the republic of Gran Colombia, which included Venezuela and New Granada. The destruction of the main Spanish forces on Venezuelan territory was completed at the battle of Carabobo in June 1821, and the last remnants of the Spanish forces were eliminated in 1823. In 1830, Venezuela was separated from Gran Colombia and formed an independent republic.

Venezuela after the creation of the independent state (1830’s-early 20th century) With the establishment of independence, power was in the hands of the large landowners, who sought to preserve completely their position and the feudal methods of exploiting the peasantry. Although the governments of presidents J. A. Páez (1830-35, 1838-43), the brothers J. T. and J. G. Monagas (1846-58), and others expressed the interests of the landlords, they simultaneously implemented certain measures to provide for the capitalist development of the country, including the abolition of slavery (1854), the elimination of restrictions on trade, the establishment of the National Bank (1841), and the liquidation of a tobacco monopoly. The development of plantation farming involving the use of wage labor increased in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Foreign trade grew substantially, particularly the export of coffee (which was introduced in the 18th century), as well as tobacco and hides.

Two parties, which had begun to take shape as early as the colonial period, emerged into the political arena of Venezuela—the conservatives, who expressed the interests of the landowning oligarchy and the Catholic clergy, and the liberals, who essentially represented the interests of the commercial bourgeoisie and the owners of plantations tied to the foreign market. The struggle between the parties became particularly intensified in the 1860’s and took the form of a civil war known as the Federal War. The masses of the people participated actively in the war on the side of the liberals. The domestic political struggle concluded in 1870 with the establishment of the dictatorship of Guzman Blanco, the representative of the liberals. Guzman Blanco’s government devoted much attention to municipal and railroad construction, while simultaneously encouraging the penetration of foreign capital, which increased particularly after the discovery of oil deposits in Venezuela in the 1870’s. The government signed loan agreements with European and North American companies, granting them advantageous concessions. The English seized the firmest position; in 1880 their investments in Venezuela amounted to £1.1 million. The penetration of foreign capital continued to increase with the accession to power of the conservatives in 1888.

Implementing their policy of expansion with respect to Venezuela, Great Britain, Germany, and Italy blockaded the country’s ports in 1902-03. The USA intervened in the conflict. At the start of the 20th century, the American monopolies increased their penetration of Venezuela, attempting to drive out English capital. At the end of 1908 a revolution was carried out with the aid of the imperialists of the USA; in 1909, J. V. Gómez, who expressed the interests of the landlords, big bourgeoisie, and foreign capital, came to power. The reactionary dictatorship of Gómez was marked by harsh terror with respect to the toiling people and violence against all progressive forces.

Venezuela since 1918 After World War I (1914-18), during which Venezuela maintained neutrality, the position of American imperialism was strengthened in the country, particularly in the oil industry. The industrial extraction and export of oil began in 1916, with the discovery of oil deposits in the Maracaibo Lagoon. By 1929 the investments of the USA in the oil industry amounted to $226 million. The law promulgated by Gómez in 1922, which allowed foreigners the same right as Venezuelans in obtaining concessions and which established low duties on the export of oil promoted the rapid growth of foreign capital investment. The high output of the oil wells, the proximity of the main oil region to the coast, and the convenience of oil transportation to the USA were conducive to the development of the petroleum output. The rapid growth of the oil industry led to the formation of a factory proletariat. Despite the terror employed by the government and entrepreneurs, the workers rose up in the struggle for their rights. The first trade-union organizations developed underground. The ideas of Marxism-Leninism spread among advanced workers and members of the intelligentsia. The world economic crisis that began in 1929 affected Venezuela. The oil output decreased, and this produced unemployment. The political situation became aggravated. Members of the liberal bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and students worked actively against the Gómez dictatorship. The Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) was established underground in 1931. The regime was liberalized somewhat after the death of the dictator Gómez in 1935; trade unions were allowed to operate, and a more liberal constitution was adopted in 1936.

During World War II (1939-45), Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan (December 1941), and in February 1945 it declared war on Germany and Japan. Favorable conditions for the development of national industry and the strengthening of the position of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie were created as a result of the weakening of the foreign imperialists’ control over Venezuela’s domestic market and the war-induced difficulties in supplying the country from the outside. Various branches of light industry developed, including food, textiles, printing, and furniture. The development of capitalism in agriculture was bound up with the gradual transformation of latifundia into capitalist farms; in this process, some peasants were turned into hired agricultural laborers, while others remained in a state of semifeudal dependence. Under the pressure of progressive forces the government of I. Medina Angarita (1941-45), which expressed the interests of the national bourgeoisie and some of the landlords, was forced to promulgate a law in 1943 that restricted somewhat the sway of foreign oil monopolies (in particular, obligating them to process at least 10 percent of the drilled oil in Venezuela) and promoted the rapid growth of oil production.

The upsurge in the democratic movement that began in Latin America during World War II was conducive to the development of the national liberation movement in Venezuela. In March 1945 the government of Venezuela established diplomatic relations with the USSR. Shortly thereafter, the PCV was legalized. In October 1945 a group of young officers associated with the party Democratic Action (AD, founded in 1941) carried out a revolution. A provisional government headed by R. Betancourt, the leader of the party, came to power. In 1947 the writer R. Gallegos, a prominent figure in the AD, became president. That same year a new constitution—the most democratic in the country’s history—was adopted in Venezuela. The Gallegos government slightly increased taxes on the income of foreign oil companies and outlined the implementation of several other progressive measures. These, however, were not carried out because of the disunity of the democratic forces and the anticommunist feelings of a portion of the leadership of the ruling party. Under these conditions a reactionary military clique supported by the American oil monopolies overthrew the government in November 1948. A military junta headed by the former minister of defense, C. Delgado Chalbaud, came to power. Democratic liberties were abolished, the National Congress dissolved, the progressive constitution of 1947 annulled, and opposition parties declared outside the law. In June 1952 the junta provoked a break in diplomatic relations with the USSR. In December 1952 one of the leaders of the coup, Pérez Jiménez (in power 1952-58), took over as president; in fact, he had headed the government since the murder of Delgado Chalbaud in 1950. The new government increased the terror and mass repression still further. Venezuela’s political and economic dependence on American imperialism increased greatly. In 1954, Pérez Jiménez actively supported the USA’s actions against the democratic government of Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala. The total direct capital investments of the USA increased by a factor of 2.5 over a seven-year period; in 1956-57 the petroleum trusts of the USA received 1 million hectares of new and very rich oil deposits as a concession. By 1958 the USA accounted for 67.3 percent of the total foreign investment.

The overthrow of the Rojas Pinilla dictatorship in Colombia in May 1957 had an enormous influence on the upsurge of the liberation movement in Venezuela. In July 1957 the underground Patriotic Junta was established on the initiative of the Communist Party. The Patriotic Junta played an important role in the struggle against the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship. It included representatives of the PCV, AD, Republican Democratic Union (founded in 1946), and the Social Christian Party (COPEI, founded in 1946). Throughout the country the Patriotic Junta distributed leaflets calling for a general political strike. In January 1958 the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez fell as a result of the general strike, which grew into an armed uprising supported by individual units of the army and navy. Pérez Jiménez himself left the country. A government junta headed by Rear Admiral W. Larrazábal came to power. Following the overthrow of the dictatorship, democratic liberties were restored, political parties were legalized, amnesty for political prisoners was declared, and the secret police was abolished. By the end of 1958, Venezuela had over 500 trade unions of industrial and office workers and about 600 peasant leagues and trade-union organizations in the countryside. The AD was victorious in the presidential and parliamentary elections of December 1958, setting forth a program for the consolidation of national independence and the implementation of social reforms. Its leader, Betancourt, became president. Having come to power in February 1959, the Betancourt government under pressure from the popular masses proclaimed an agrarian reform law at the start of 1960. Shortly thereafter, depending on domestic reactionary forces and the American monopolies, the Betancourt government adopted a law lowering the wages of industrial and office workers; it curtailed public works, thereby increasing unemployment, and in fact substituted for agrarian reform a policy of colonizing lands that were of little use. The government responded to the protests of workers, peasants, the unemployed, and students with terror and executions. Armed struggles began in many large cities and rural areas; the major role in their organization was played by the PCV. On the initiative of the PCV, a movement for the allotment of land began in the countryside. In a number of cases the demands of the peasants were met. The Communist Party supported the implementation of an independent foreign policy, the reestablishment of trade and diplomatic relations with the socialist countries, and support for revolutionary Cuba. The Betancourt government was opposed by a part of the army, and a partisan movement developed. The Communist Party was banned in May 1962; many of its leaders were thrown into prison. Betancourt’s policies weakened the influence of the AD and brought about splits (in 1960 and 1962); left-wing and democratic elements left the party. Although R. Leoni, the candidate of the AD, was elected president in 1963, he received only 32.7 percent of the votes. Leoni essentially continued the policies of his predecessor. Under the pretext of struggling against the partisans, terror against the democratic forces did not let up. American capital penetrated the main branches of the state sector, the establishment of which had begun in the 1950’s. The antipopular policies of Leoni provoked a new split in the ruling party. At the end of 1967 a substantial part of the leadership and the rank-and-file members left and formed a new party, the People’s Electoral Movement (MEP). On the eve of the presidential elections of 1968, the Leoni government alleviated the terror slightly, released many political prisoners, and allowed a number of exiled political figures to return to the country. In the elections of December 1968 the leader of the Social Christian Party, R. Caldera was elected president for the period 1969-74. He promised (in the course of the campaign) to respect the democratic rights of the people and not to grant new concessions to the foreign oil monopolies. Upon coming to power (March 1969), the Caldera government released from prison former Communist parliamentarians and many political prisoners; it decreed the legalization of the Communist Party. At the same time it suppressed student actions in Caracas, Valencia, Mérida, and other cities. In December 1970 a law was adopted obligating foreign oil monopolies to pay Venezuela at least 60 percent of their income from the exploitation of the country’s oil deposits. In the area of foreign policy, the Caldera government supported cooperation with the socialist countries; in April 1970 it reestablished diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.


Gonionskii, S. A. Ocherki noveishei istorii stran Latinskoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1964.
Demushkina, E. V. Venesuela posle 2-i mirovoi voiny: 1945-58. Moscow, 1969. (Bibliography, pages 226-34.)
Brito Figueroa, F. Venesuela XX veka. Moscow, 1969. [Translated from Spanish.]
Machado, E. Neft’ v Venesuele. Moscow, 1960.
Gil Fortoul, J. “Historia constitucional de Venezuela.” Caracas, 1954. (Obras completas, vols. 1-3.)
Machado, E. Las primeras agresiones del imperialismo contra Venezuela. Caracas, 1958.
Mijares, A. La evolución politica de Venezuela: 1810-1960. Buenos Aires [1967].
Arellano Moreno, A. Guia de historia de Venezuela: 1492-1945. Caracas-Madrid, 1955.
Reforma agraria en Venezuela. [Caracas], 1964.


Political parties The Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano, COPEI) was formed in 1946 from the party of National Action, which was established in 1937. It expresses the interests of the big commercial-banking bourgeoisie, landlords, and the Catholic Church; it is also influential among segments of the toiling strata of the population (peasants, the urban petite bourgeoisie, and industrial workers). Democratic Action (AD, Acción Democrática) was founded in 1941. It is a petit-bourgeois party with a reformist orientation; its leadership is associated with the oligarchy and foreign monopolies. Its membership includes the urban petite bourgeoisie, the peasantry, and a portion of the working class. The People’s Electoral Movement (Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo) was established in 1967 by a group that separated itself from the AD. It includes primarily the urban middle strata, students, and some workers. The Republican Democratic Union (Unión Republicana Democrática) was established in 1946. It is a petit-bourgeois party with democratic traditions, and its membership comes primarily from the urban middle strata. The National Democratic Front (Frente Nacional Democrático) was established in 1964 and expresses the interests of business circles and the agrarian bourgeoisie. The Democratic Popular Force (Fuerza Democrática Popular) was founded in 1962. Its membership comes from urban petit-bourgeois strata. The Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria) was established in 1960 out of the left wing of the AD. It enjoys influence among a portion of the intelligentsia and the students. The Venezuelan Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Venezolano) was established in 1945 by a small group of the reactionary intelligentsia that collaborated with Pérez Jiménez. The Communist Party of Venezuela (Partido Comunista de Venezuela) was established in 1931.

Trade unions and other social organizations The Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation (CTV) was founded in 1959. It belongs to the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The Central Union of Venezuelan Workers (CUTV) was established in 1963 from an amalgamation of the progressive trade unions that broke with the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation. It belongs to the Permanent Congress of Latin American Trade Unions and the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Committee of Autonomous Trade Unions of Venezuela was established in 1964 and includes Catholic trade unions. It belongs to the Latin American Federation of Christian Trade Unions. The Peasants’ Federation of Venezuela was established in 1959 as a unified center for the toiling peasantry. It belongs to the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation. The Organization of Communist Youth was founded in 1947. It operates under the leadership of the Communist Party.


General state of the economy Venezuela is a developing country with a clearly defined single-commodity economic specialization. Since 1928, Venezuela has been second in the capitalist world in terms of oil production (about 11 percent, second to the USA). As the production of oil increased substantially in the other countries of the world, Venezuela’s share of the world exports of oil fell from 55 percent in 1938 to 22 percent in 1966-68. Oil and oil products provide about two-thirds of the income of Venezuela’s budget.

Foreign capital plays a large role in the economy of Venezuela; it accounts for 17 percent of all capital investment. In 1968 the direct investment of the USA amounted to $2.7 billion (70 percent of the total foreign direct capital investment), including $2 billion in the oil industry. The role of the state sector is basically restricted to the control of hydroelectric energy, ferrous metallurgy, and certain branches of the chemical industry. The single-commodity specialization and dependence on foreign monopolies results in instability of economic development. On the average, the gross product increased by 8 percent over the period 1950-58, whereas over the years 1963-67 the increase averaged 4.8 percent. Venezuela exports about two-fifths of its gross product. Extractive industry provides about 26.1 percent of the gross product (1966); manufacturing industry, 14.6 percent; and agriculture, 7.3 percent. Chronic unemployment is associated with the inadequate development of the manufacturing industry and agriculture.

Industry The oil industry is Venezuela’s main branch. (It employs over 30,000 people.) The importance of the manufacturing industry is increasing. Some rather large enterprises have been established in branches new to Venezuela (ferrous metallurgy, petroleum chemistry, and others); along with these large enterprises, there are numerous small cottage and semicottage industries. Enterprises using imported raw materials are located in the ports (La Guaira, Puerto Cabello, and elsewhere). There is construction in progress on new industrial enterprises in the Valencia-Maracay and Maracaibo-Barquisimeto areas.

EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRY. The Maracaibo region provides about 77 percent of the output of oil. The major deposits of oil are located along the eastern coast of Lake Maracaibo, where there is underwater drilling. The output of the western shore of Lake Maracaibo is also growing, particularly in the La Paz deposits. After World War II the output of oil increased in the east, that is, in the Llanos (the states of Anzoátegui and Monagas); this region’s share now amounts to about 19 percent. Drilling on a relatively small scale is carried on in the foothills of the Andes. Almost all the oil fields belong to foreign companies. The largest of them—Creole Petroleum Corporation (USA, Rockefeller group)—accounts for more than 40 percent of the output; the Anglo-Dutch Shell de Venezuela accounts for 25 percent (these two companies control the oil economy of the Maracaibo region); and the Mene Grande Oil Company (USA and Anglo-Dutch companies) contributes 11 percent. The Venezuelean State Oil Corporation drills only 0.4 percent of the oil. In 1968 (according to UN data) the market production of natural gas (including casing-head gas) amounted to 7.8 billion eu m (4.6 billion eu m in 1960; in addition, an estimated 20 billion eu m is pumped in to maintain pressure in the oil strata, and 18 billion eu m is lost). The oil and gas go by pipeline to the processing site. Since the beginning of the 1950’s, US companies have developed the mining of high-grade iron ore on a large scale in the El Pao and Cerro Bolívar deposits in the east, to the south of the Orinoco River.

POWER. The established capacity of electric power plants is 2.5 million kilowatts (1967). About 83 percent of the electric power is produced in steam power plants. Only 0.5 percent of the hydroelectric power resources are utilized. A hydroelectric power plant system is being constructed (1971) on the Caroni River, and the first section of the large Guri hydroelectric power plant has been built (1968; ultimate projected capacity, 6 million kilowatts). General-utility plants provide about two-thirds of the electric power.

MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY. In 1965 oil refining accounted for 7.8 percent of the gross national product; chemicals, 9.4 percent; metallurgy and metalworking, 8.7 percent; and food and light industry, 47.8. About one-third of all the oil drilled is refined. The total capacity of direct oil-distilling enterprises is 67 million tons a year. Plants are located at export ports; the largest are in Amuay (Creole, capacity 26 million tons) and Punta Cardón (Shell, 15 million tons) on the

Table 2. Production of main industrial products
Oil (in millions of tons)...............2878149189
Fuel oil(in millions of tons)...............
Electric energy(in billions of kiowatt-hours)...............0.110.614.710.8
Iron ore(in millions of tons)...............0.219.515.5
Automobile tires...............100,000753,0001,244,0002
1General-utility electric power stations 21967

Península de Paraguaná and in Puerto la Cruz (8 million tons). The state owns the oil refinery in Morón (near Puerto Cabello). An oil refinery (capacity, 7 million tons) is under construction (1971) in El Tablazo, on the western shore of Lake Maracaibo. Black oil accounts for 60 percent of the oil products produced and diesel fuel, 16 percent. A total of 94 percent of the produce of the oil industry of Venezuela is exported, primarily in the form of crude oil for refining, to the USA, the neighboring islands of Aruba and Curaçao (Dutch West Indies), Canada, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Western Europe.

The development of heavy industry has proceeded since the early 1960’s. Large chemical and petrochemical complexes (the production of fertilizers, plastics, and so on) are being built in Morón, as well as in El Tablazo. In Santo Tomé de Guyana, at the confluence of the Caroni and Orinoco, the first section of a metallurgical plant with a capacity of 0.6 million tons of steel and rolled metal has been built. There are cement plants around the major centers. Metalworking, including automobile assembly (in 1967, 42,200 cars and 11,300 trucks were assembled), is carried on, primarily in Caracas. Enterprises of the traditional branches—foods, textiles, and leather and shoes—are located in Caracas, Valencia, Maracay, Maracaibo, as well as in the cities of Puerto Cabello, Maturin, San Fernando de Apure, and others. (See Table 2 for the production of the main industrial products.)

Agriculture Less than 2 percent of the land area is cultivated; pasture and meadow occupies 18 percent and other land, about 80 percent. There are 26.2 million hectares (ha) in about 320,000 farms (1961), including 1.7 million ha of cultivated land and 16.7 million ha of pasture. There is a marked predominance of small farms; slash-and-burn farming persists. About three-fourths of the agricultural land belongs to owners of farms larger than 1,000 ha. The bulk of commodity production comes from farms of the capitalist type (usually smaller than 1,000 ha); state credit is utilized extensively. Almost all the tractors (14,200 in 1964) are concentrated on the large farms.

Table 3. Area and harvest of main agricultural crops
CropArea(in hectares)Yield(in tons)
Cacao ...............70,00070,00018,00021,000224,9003
Coffee ...............322,000340,000292,00044,00054,20062,200
Sugarcane ...............18,00061,00061,0001,064,000
Rice (unrefined) ...............36,00069,000115,00041,000103,000245,000
Corn ...............310,000483,000657,000303,000540,000736,000
Beans (yield of dried beans) ...............82,00068,000115,00047,00035,00046,000
Potatoes ...............11,00016,00017,00028,000121,000143,000
Agave ...............10,00011,00012,0004,00085,00014,000
Bananas ...............47,00040,00049,000756,000742,000949,000
1Yearly average 21962-63 31968-69 4Production of unrefined sugar

The government has been buying up the land of the latifundia owners since 1960. Peasants are granted plots, 60 percent of which are allocated from state lands and 40 percent from lands owned by landlords. By 1968, 162,000 peasant families had received about 4.5 million ha. New agricultural settlements have been established in sparsely settled regions. The main agricultural region lies in the mountains of the northwest and north; in the Llanos farming is developed only in the extreme north and west and in some places along the rivers.

Farming provides over one-half of the value of agricultural produce. Plantations of perennial tropical crops are situated mainly on the northern shore and in the foothill zone. The Puerto Cabello region is the main area for the production of cacao. Coffee plantations are located in the Andes (at elevations up to 1,500 m) and sugar plantations, in the foothills of the Andes (on alluvial soils).

A large irrigation system (for rice and cotton) utilizing the Guárico River is being set up in the Llanos (south of Caracas). Food crops for local consumption—corn, yucca, cassava, legumes, and vegetables—are cultivated in agricultural regions everywhere, potatoes primarily in the mountainous Andes regions, and rice in the basin of the upper course of the Apure River. The karstic coastal sections are occupied by plantations of coarse-fibered agave (for the production of sisal hemp). Bananas play an important role in the feeding of the population (large plantations along the Yaracuy River). (See Table 3 for the area and yield of the main agricultural crops.)

LIVESTOCK RAISING. During 1967-68 the livestock population numbered 6.9 million cattle (3.5 million of which were cows), 1.2 million goats, 2 million swine, 400,000 horses, and 500,000 asses. The Llanos accounts for three-fifths of the population of cattle and three-fourths of the pasture area; here cattle raising is extensive with a low zootechnical level. Cattle are driven for fattening to pastures in the Lake Valencia region; from there they go to the slaughterhouses of the main cities. There are large dairy farms around Caracas, Valencia, and Maracaibo. The milk production (700,000 tons a year) supplies half of the population’s consumption.

FISHING. Fishing is prevalent on the northern coast of Venezuela and on Lake Maracaibo. Between 1937 and 1968 the catch increased by a factor of ten, reaching 126,000 tons. The main fishing ports are Cumaná, Porlamar, and Puerto la Cruz.

FOREST INDUSTRIES. Forest industries, including the gathering of natural rubber, resin, the barks of the mangrove trees, and balsam copaiba, are not highly developed.

Transportation Motor transport accounts for 86 percent of the value of freight hauling (excluding oil). In 1968 there were 482,000 automobiles and 197,100 trucks. There are 40,000 km of highways (in 1966, of which 23,000 km have hard surfaces); the network is fairly dense in the main regions of population concentration. Main highways link Caracas with the port of La Guaira and the cities of Valencia and Maracay. Transport by pipeline is developed; the total length of oil pipelines is 6,400 km; of gas pipelines, 2,300 km; and of pipelines for other products, 400 km. There are about 800 km of railroads (1966), by which a total of 250,000 tons of freight a year are transported.

About 200 million tons of freight are exported through the ports, primarily on foreign vessels. The main ports for the export of oil are Maracaibo, Amuay, Punta Cardón, and Puerto la Cruz; for iron ore, San Félix and Puerto Ordaz on the Orinoco. Three-fifths of the imports pass through La Guaira. The merchant fleet numbers 33 ships (1967) with a total load capacity of 266,000 gross registered tons; 13 of the ships are tankers (201,000 registered tons gross weight). Airlines link all the regions of Venezuela. The international airports are at Maiquetía (near Caracas), Maracaibo, Maturín, and Ciudad Bolívar.

External economic relations Oil accounts for 72 percent of the export (1966, in terms of value); fuel oil and other oil products, 22 percent; and iron ore, 5 percent; coffee, cacao, diamonds, cement, and bananas are also exported. Among imports, equipment and transportation devices (46 percent) and chemicals and foodstuffs (10-11 percent each) predominate. The USA accounts for 31 percent of Venezuela’s exports (in terms of value); the Dutch West Indies, 21 percent (the islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and others); Canada, 8 percent; Great Britain, 7 percent; Puerto Rico, 5 percent; and Trinidad and Tobago, 4 percent. The USA supplies 51 percent of the country’s imports; the Federal Republic of Germany, 10 percent; and Great Britain, Canada, and Japan, 5 percent each. The monetary unit is the bolívar, 4.5 of which equals US $1 (October 1970). In accordance with the decision of the International Monetary Fund, as of January 1966 the bolívar is recognized as a medium of payment for international accounts.

Internal differences The western region (which includes the states of Zulia and Falcon) occupies 9.6 percent of the area of Venezuela, and 17 percent of the population is concentrated here (1969). It is the main oil region, with its center in Maracaibo. In the west there is dairy livestock raising and plantations of perennial crops. South of Lake Maracaibo there is tropical farming and livestock raising. The central region (the federal district and the states of Aragua, Carabobo, and Miranda) makes up 2.2 percent of the area of the country and has 35 percent of its population. It provides four-fifths of what is produced by the manufacturing industry (excluding oil refining), with the federal district accounting for 55 percent. Three-fourths of the population of the region lives in cities. There is the beginning of the formation of city-systems, such as Caracas-La Guaira and Valencia-Maracay-Puerto Cabello. The central Andean region (the states of Lara and Yaracuy) occupies 2.9 percent of the area of Venezuela and has 8 percent of its population. There are sugarcane and agave plantations. Its center is the city Barquisimeto. The southern Andean region (the states Mérida, Táchira, and Trujillo) occupies 3.3 percent of the country’s area and has 12 percent of its population. It is Venezuela’s main agricultural zone, and 12 percent of the land is cultivated (coffee, yucca, cereals, and potatoes). The western Llanos region (the states of Apure, Barinas, Cojedes, and Portuguesa) occupies 15.5 percent of the country’s area and has 8 percent of its population. There is extensive livestock raising. The foothills have been brought under cultivation. The central Llanos region (the state of Guárico) occupies 7.3 percent of the country’s area and has 3 percent of its population. There is extensive livestock raising-and irrigated farming (rice and cotton). The eastern Llanos region (the states of Anzoátegui and Monagas and the territory of Delta Amacuro) occupies 12.1 percent of the area and has 8 percent of the population. Oil is drilled in the central portion; there is refining in Puerto la Cruz. There is extensive livestock raising. The coast near Barcelona has plantation farming of tropical crops. The eastern Caribbean region (the states of Nueva Esparta and Sucre) includes 1.4 percent of the total area and 6 percent of the population. It is a backward agrarian region; there is fishing off the coast. Guyana (Venezuelan Guiana, including the state of Bolívar and the territory of Amazonas) has 45 percent of the area and 3 percent of the population. Within a radius of 200 km of the confluence of the Caroní and Orinoco there are very rich sources of iron ore and nonferrous metals, wood, hydroelectric energy, and oil deposits. In the Santo Tomé de Guyana urban complex (the cities of Matanzas, Puerto Ordaz, San Félix, and a number of others) the largest energy and industrial complex in Latin America is being established; it includes ferrous metallurgy, aluminum production, paper and pulp, and chemical industry. The construction of the complex is being directed by a state corporation.


Venesuela. Ekonomika, politika, kul’tura. Collection of articles. Moscow, 1967.
Brito Figueroa, F. Venesuela XX veka.Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Spanish.)
Marrero, L., and L. Artiles. Venezuela y sus recursos.Caracas, 1964.


The armed forces of Venezuela consist of ground forces, an air force, and a navy. They are headed by the president and the Supreme Council of National Defense under him. General control of the army is exercised by the minister of national defense through the commanders of the branches of the armed forces. The army is built up to its prescribed strength on the basis of an obligatory military service law and through the recruitment of volunteers; the period of active military service is two years and the draft age is 18. The armed forces total about 34,000 men (1969); in addition, there is a national guard with over 3,000 men. Ground forces (about 19,000 men) consist of infantry, chasseur, paratroop, and tank battalions. Weapons are of American manufacture—primarily obsolete models. The air force (about 9,000 men) has over 100 combat aircraft and about 180 auxiliary planes of foreign manufacture. Obsolete planes are being replaced by more highly perfected models. The navy (about 6,000 men, of whom 2,500 are marines) has about 50 ships, including three destroyers, one submarine, and six patrol boats.

Medicine and public health In 1968 the birth rate per 1,000 of population was 39.5; the general mortality rate 6.6; and infant mortality, on the basis of incomplete data, 44.3 per 1,000 live births. The average life span is 60 years. The main causes of death (per 100,000 of population in 1964) include gastroenteritis (122) and heart disease (122). Gastrointestinal diseases afflict 45 percent of the rural population. Helminthiases are prevalent (in 1963 trichuriasis afflicted 73 percent of the population; ascariasis, 60 percent; and ancylostomiasis, 62 percent). Twelve percent of the population of the states of Monagas, Carabobo, and Aragua are afflicted with onchocerciasis. Tetanus is widespread.

The mountain-coastal (northern) and plain-swamp (southern) medicogeographic regions can be distinguished. In the mountain-coastal region, where the bulk of the population is concentrated, tuberculosis (morbidity is 104.6 per 10,000 of population), helminthiases (necatoriasis, ascariasis, schistosomiasis, trichuriasis, and so on), amebiasis, mange, syphilis, venereal lymphogranulomatosis, and visceral leishmaniasis are prevalent. Dengue is recorded in the states of Sucre, Nueva Esparta, and Anzoátegui. The annual morbidity of leprosy is 16.8 per 10,000 of population. In Caracas, Maracaibo, and several other states, cryptococcosis and candidiasis are recorded; in the states of Lara, Falcón, Zulia, and Aragua, chromoblastomycosis and coccidioidomycosis. Venezuelan encephalomyelitis is encountered in the states of Carabobo, Mérida, Miranda, Trujillo, and elsewhere. Endemic goiter has been discovered among 68.1 percent of the population of mountainous and certain other regions. There are focuses of jungle yellow fever in the tropical forests of Táchira and in the region of Lake Maracaibo.

The region of plains and swamps is characterized by malaria, yellow fever, and mycoses. Mass investigation has uncovered the pathogenic agent of Chagas’ disease among 20 percent of the rural population. Onchocerciasis and wucheriasis are prevalent in the central and eastern states. In areas where there is much precipitation (below 500 m above sea level) maduromycosis and sporotrichosis and focuses of dermal leishmaniasis, bacterial dysentery, amebiasis, and helminthiasis caused by nematodes are encountered.

Along with free medical assistance and state medical institutions, there are privately practicing physicians (25 percent). In 1968 in Venezuela there were 326 hospitals with 31,200 beds (that is, 3.1 beds per 1,000 of population), 87.6 percent of which belonged to the state. Outpatient medical aid is provided by 1,490 medical institutions. In 1968 there were 8,600 doctors working in Venezuela (that is, one doctor for every 1,120 people). About 77 percent of the registered nurses worked in state medical institutions. Doctors are trained in medical departments at six universities; in 1964, 364 physicians were graduated from them. Expenditures for public health in 1965 made up 15.9 percent of the total state budget.


Veterinary services Infectious diseases are foremost in animal pathology, including foot-and-mouth disease, anthrax, and swine fever; the number of focuses of Newcastle’s disease of fowl is growing (about 85,000 cases in 1967). Over the period 1959-67 about 8,000 cases of rabies of agricultural animals were recorded (13.2 percent of all the cases registered in the world); the pathogenic agents are carried, for the most part, by bats. Brucellosis of cattle and animal tuberculosis are prevalent. Infectious encephalomyelitis, infectious anemia of horses, vesicular stomatitis, and parasitic diseases are also registered. Stinging insects and ticks inflict considerable damage on livestock. Venezuela has a veterinary service (400 specialists in 1970); a veterinary scientific research institute is in operation, and measures are being carried out in the fight against animal diseases. The journal of veterinary science Revista Veterinaria Venezolana has been published since 1955.


The contemporary system of public education in Venezuela is based on the Temporary Statute on Education adopted in May 1949. Elementary education is free and compulsory; however, many children do not attend school because of the difficult financial situation of their families and also because the population in rural areas is widely scattered. According to the data for 1961, 30 percent of the population was illiterate. In 1956 a system of preschool education for children from four to six years of age was introduced. (In 1967 there were 33,800 children in kindergartens.) The term of studies of elementary schools is six years (two cycles—four and two years). Completion of primary school enables the student to enter the five-year secondary school (liceo), which consists of two levels (three and two years). Students in the second level choose one of two orientations—the humanities or natural science. Vocational training is provided both upon completion of the first four-year cycle of elementary school (the program lasts from three to six years, depending on the specialization) and on completion of the first level of secondary school (the program lasts four years). Teachers for primary schools are trained by four-year pedagogical schools after a complete primary school education; teachers for secondary schools are trained in four-year pedagogical institutes, which accept students upon completion of the secondary school program or pedagogical school. During the 1967-68 academic year there were 1,550,000 students in primary schools, 230,300 students in secondary schools, 108,500 students in the vocational training system, over 11,000 students in pedagogical schools, and 3,500 students in pedagogical institutes. Only students who have finished the complete secondary school and have received the bachillerato can enter the university. In the 1967-68 academic year there were over 58,000 students in the universities, the largest of which are Central University (founded in 1725) and the Catholic University of Andrés Bello in Caracas, Los Andes University in Mérida (1785), and the universities of Valencia (1852) and Maracaibo (1946).

The largest libraries are the National Library in Caracas (founded in 1833; 400,000 volumes) and the Central University Library (1850; over 58,000 volumes). The main museums include the National Pantheon, the Bolívar Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural Sciences (all in Caracas), and the Museum of the Colonial Era in El Tocuyo.

Scientific work in Venezuela is conducted at the Central University and other universities. The Venezuelan Academy of Language was established in 1882; the National Academy of History in 1888; the National Medical Academy in 1904; and the Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and the Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 1917.

A number of scientific centers developed after World War II. In 1950 the Venezuelan Association for the Promotion of the Development of Science was established, and in 1960 the Institute for Economic and Social Research was founded. The department of natural sciences (divisions of biology, physics, mathematics, and chemistry) was formed as an independent unit of Central University in 1958; the scientific research institute of chemistry is attached to it. Also in 1958 the Institute of History—a major center for the study of history—was established under the auspices of Central University. The museum of biology that had existed under the auspices of Central University since 1949 was turned into the Institute of Tropical Biology in 1965. The Institute for Scientific Research was established in 1958 for the purpose of working out theoretical questions and solving practical problems in the areas of the natural sciences and medicine; work is carried on in biology, medicine, physics, mathematics, and chemistry sections. The institute is connected with the International Atomic Energy Agency and collaborates with the national atomic energy commissions of the USA, France, and Canada, as well as universities of the USA. The country also has other scientific societies and scientific research centers and institutes.


The appearance of the first periodical press in Venezuela dates to 1898. The largest newspapers and journals being published in Caracas in 1970 were El Nacional (since 1943; circulation 105,000; represents the interests of the national commercial-industrial bourgeoisie); El Universal (since 1909; circulation 85,000; newspaper of bourgeois business circles); La Religión (since 1890; circulation 14,000; organ of the Catholic Church); Ultimas Noticias (since 1941; circulation 85,000; conservative newspaper); El Mundo (since 1958; circulation 110,000; large bourgeois newspaper); The Daily Journal (since 1945; circulation 12,000; English-language newspaper intended for the Americans and British living in Venezuela); La Tribuna Popular (since 1948; organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Venezuela); dine Elite (since 1925; circulation 65,000; illustrated information and advertisement magazine with a conservative orientation). Panorama is published in Maracaibo (since 1914; circulation 78,000; bourgeois newspaper tied to the oil monopolies).

The beginning of radio broadcasting dates back to 1930. In 1970 there were 108 radio stations broadcasting in Spanish, the largest of which were Radio Nacional (government station), Radio Caracas, Radio Rumbos, and Radio Continente. There is separate programming in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Galician. The first television broadcasting station was founded in 1952; there are now six television broadcasting stations.


The poetic folk creations of the Indians of Venezuela prior to the Spanish conquest have not survived. During the period of Spanish colonial dominion, most of the poets of Venezuela followed the traditions of Gongorism. The few works in which the life of the country was depicted include History of the Conquest and Settlement of the Province of Venezuela (1723) by J. de Oviedo y Baños (1659-1738) and The Spectacle of Caracas and Venezuela (published 1926) by B. J. Terrero (1735-1802). The ideas of the Enlightenment penetrated Venezuela at the end of the 18th century and were reflected in the works of the satirist V. Salías, the dramatist J. D. Díaz, the poet J. A. Montenegro, and others; during the era of the war for independence they found expression in the publicism of F. Miranda (1750-1816) and S. Bolívar (1783-1830), as well as in the works of the poets of a classicism and Enlightenment orientation A. Bello (1781-1865) and R. M. Baralta (1810-60) and prose writers F. Toro (1807-65) and J. V. González (1811-66). The national color and quest for new poetic means that characterized their work foreshadowed romantic literature, which was dominant up to the end of the 1880’s. National patriotic themes were developed by representatives of romanticism, including the poets A. Lozano (1821-66) and D. R. Hernández (1829-93), the author of legends from the lives of the ancient Indians J. R. Yepes (1822-81), the lyric poet J. A. Maitín (1804-74), the satirists R. Arvelo (1814-78) and J. V. Camacho (1829-72), and the novelist J. Calcaño (1840-1918). Features of religious mysticism and the striving toward self-isolation from the surrounding world appear in the works of the late romantics J. Gutiérrez Coll (1835-1901), J. A. Pérez Bonalde (1846-93), and others. These tendencies grew still stronger in the works of the decadent poets M. Sánchez Pesquera (1851-1920), C. Borges (1875-1932), and others.

There are features of naturalist aesthetics in the first realistic novels by M. V. Romero Garcia (1865-1917), J. Gil Fortoul (1862-1943), M. E. Pardo (1865-1905), and G. Picón Febres (1860-1918). Realistic poetry was represented by the patriotic poems of F. Lazo Martí (1864-1909), the satirist A. Romanase, and others. Characteristic of many modernists was the striving toward the creation of a nationally distinctive literature. This tendency found expression in the works of the representatives of “Creole realism,” including the prose writers M. Díaz Rodriguez (1871-1927), L. M. Urbaneja Alchepohl (1874-1937), J. R. Pocaterra (1888-1955), P. E. Colle (1872-1947), the poets U. Pérez (1871-1926), A. Arvelo Larriva (1883-1934), and A. Mata (1870-1931). Overcoming the decadent tendencies, they moved to national and social themes, preparing the way for the flourishing of realistic prose in the 20th century. Marked by their social criticism orientation are the novels of R. Blanco Fombona (1874-1944), including Iron Man (1907) and Gold Man (1915; Russian translation, 1932).

During the harsh dictatorial conditions of the 1920’s and 1930’s, when many writers were thrown into prison, social protest ripened in the literature of Venezuela, and the critical realism orientation was strengthened. R. Gallegos (1884-1969), the outstanding representative of this orientation, wrote novels, including Doña Bárbara (1929; Russian translation, 1959) and Canaima (1935; Russian translation, 1959), in which he provided a critique of the social contradictions of Venezuela; his works acquired world renown.

Various currents of avant-gardism and “left” art (surrealism, among others) became widespread in the poetry of these years. They centered on the journal Viernes, which was published by the prose writer A. Uslar Pietri (born 1906). The poets A. M. Queremel (1900-39), V. Gerbasi (born 1913), P. Rojas Guardia (born 1909), and A. Eloy Blanco (1897-1955), who later turned to civic social poetry, became affiliated with the journal.

However, tendencies toward social criticism predominated. The novels and stories of M. Otero Silva (born 1908; Fever, 1939; Russian translation, 1964), G. Meneses (born 1911), and E. Mujica (born 1927) tell not only of the tragic conditions of life of the toiling people of Venezuela but also of the struggle against reaction. Many of the poems of the poets L. Velázquez, C. A. León (born 1914; awarded the Gold Medal of Peace in 1952), A. Lameda (born 1920), P. Laya (born 1921), P. Duno (born 1933), and others are devoted to these themes. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s, progressive writers reflected the struggle of the masses of the people against the dominance of the American monopolies and reactionary dictatorships in the collections of poems by E. Subero (While It Is Still Night, 1963) and E. Colombani (Today I Rise Up and Speak, 1963), the collection of stories by G. L. Carrera (Word of Protest, 1962; Russian translation, 1965), and the novel by J. V. Abreu (It Was Called N. B., 1965; Russian translation, 1968).


Khudozhestvennaia literatura Latinskoi Ameriki v russkoi pechati: 1765-1959: Bibliografía.[Compiled by L. A. Shur.] Moscow, 1960. Pages 102-110, 267-68.
Shur, L. A. Khudozhestvennaia literatura Latins koi Ameriki v russkoi pechati: 1960-64: Bibliografía.Moscow, 1966. Pages 59-64.
VenesueVskie rasskazy.[Introductory article by I. Vinnichenko.] Moscow, 1962.
Pietri, A. U. Letras y hombres de Venezuela.Mexico City, 1948.
Picón Salas, M. Formación y proceso de la literatura venezolana.Caracas, 1940.
Díaz Seijas, P. Historia y antología de la literatura venezolana, vols. 1-2. Madrid-Caracas, 1953-54.
Medina, J. R. Cincuenta años de literatura venezolana (1918-68). [Caracas, 1969.]
Bibliografia de la novela venezolana.[Caracas, 1963.]


The ancient art of the Indians of Venezuela is represented by rock paintings, stone blocks with drawings of jaguars, crocodiles, symbols of the sun and moon, and ceramics with engraving, painting, and relief depictions of humans or animals. To this day Indians build huts with roofs of palm leaves and make ceramic vessels and wicker articles from grass and feathers.

During the 16th through 18th centuries cities were constructed (primarily with a rectangular network of streets), brick and stone houses (usually with inner courtyards enclosed on three sides by porticoes and opening into a garden on the fourth side, with wooden balconies and window lattices) and triple nave churches with wooden ceilings were built; painting was limited to church painting. With the formation of the republic (1830) and especially toward the end of the 19th century, construction increased (public buildings, multiunit houses in the neoclassical or neogothic style). In the middle of the 20th century, modern architecture (C. R. Villanueva, G. Bermúdez, J. M. Galia) developed rapidly (primarily in Caracas). It was marked by the scale of large representative ensembles, comprehensive construction of new sections, innovation in architectural forms and reinforced-concrete constructions, and developed synthesis of the arts.

A local school of portrait painting (J. Lovera) took shape in the early 19th century. During the second half of the century, historical painting (M. Tovar y Tovar, A. Michelena) and sculpture (M. González, E. Palacios y Cavello) with patriotic content developed. C. Rojas painted genre pictures, masterfully conveying the play of light and air. Realism found expression in the Venezuelan art of the 20th century in the historical paintings of T. Salas, the landscapes of F. Brandt, R. Monasterios, and A. Reverón, and the graphic art of P. A. González; stylized national folk images were created by the painter H. Poleo and the sculptor F. Narvaes; modernist currents have been developing.


Rotival, M. “Urbanisme au Venezuela” Architecture d’-aujourd’hui,no. 33, December, 1950; no. 1, January, 1951.
Nucete-Sardi, J. Notas sobre la pintura y la escultura en Venezuela.Caracas, 1940.

Spanish domination retarded the development of the national theater in Venezuela. Theatrical performances were occasionally arranged in Caracas from the 16th century; among others, autos, interludes and entremeses were staged, theatrical troupes were organized. Only in 1853 was a play by the first Venezuelan author staged in Maracaibo—the comedy Unscrupulous, Miser, and Idler by M. M. Fernández. In the 19th century prominent Venezuelan writers turned to dramaturgy, including the exponents of enlightened classicism A. Bello, F. Toro, and J. V. González and the romanticists J. A. Maitin, J. Calcaño, and E. Martín de la Guardia. During the first half of the 20th century, theatrical life in Venezuela became activated somewhat in conjunction with the emergence of the sainete, a genre of musical comedy; of the work of the playwrights L. A. Michelena, V. M. Rivas, and later, A. Eloy Blanco, J. Padrón, and A. Certad; and of the activity of the Society of Friends of the Theater (organized in 1942). Several theatrical schools opened in the 1950’s, including the National School of Stage Art (1954). Small theater troupes organized for the performance of single shows operate in Caracas. The theaters of the capital include Teatro Municipal, Teatro Nacional, Poliedro, Aténeo, and the Theater of Comedy. There are also theaters in Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Mérida, and other cities. The plays of I. Gramcko, R. Pineda, S. Rengifo, V. Franco, R. Chalbaud, I. Chocron, and others are staged. The theatrical figures of Venezuela include A. de Paz y Mateos, C. Ortiz, A. López, N. Curiel, J. Torres, C. U. Samorano, M. García, C. Palma, and C. Márquez. The Festival of Venezuelan Theater has been held since 1959.

National film-making arose in Venezuela at the beginning of the 1930’s. For the most part, documentary and newsreel films were produced. During World War II, American films amounted to 80-90 percent of the films shown. Bolívar Films operated in Caracas from 1948 to 1954; its activity was important for the formation of national cinematography. The themes of several films were connected with the struggle against the regime of Pérez Jiménez (president of the country from 1952 to 1958) and with events from the life of S. Bolívar, the national hero of the 19th century. The documentary film Araya (1959, directed by M. Benaserraf) became internationally famous. Most films now are entertaining and commercial in nature. On the average, two to three full-length films are produced a year; newsreels, documentaries, and advertisement films are made regularly. The production and distribution firms Productora Avila Films, Christian van der Re, and Cinematográfica Orbe are active. S. Henríquez, U. Petersen, M. Lara, R. Chalbaud, A. Rojas, E. Fernani, and E. Montejo are among the major figures of the Venezuelan film industry.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Bolivarian Republic ofVenezuela Capital city: Caracas Internet country code: .ve Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of yellow

(top), blue, and red with the coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow band and an arc of eight white five-pointed stars centered in the blue band

National anthem: “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo”

National flower: Orchid

National tree: Araguaney

National bird: Turpial

Geographical description: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, between Colombia and Guyana

Total area: 352,143 sq. mi. (912,050 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands

Nationality: noun: Venezuelan(s); adjective: Venezuelan

Population: 26,023,528 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous Amerindian

Languages spoken: Spanish (official), numerous indige­nous dialects

Religions: nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%

Legal Holidays:

Battle of Carabobo DayJun 24
Christmas DayDec 25
Day of Indigenous ResistanceOct 12
Declaration of Independence DayApr 19
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Labor DayMay 1
Maundy ThursdayApr 21, 2011; Apr 5, 2012; Mar 28, 2013; Apr 17, 2014; Apr 2, 2015; Mar 24, 2016; Apr 13, 2017; Mar 29, 2018; Apr 18, 2019; Apr 9, 2020; Apr 1, 2021; Apr 14, 2022; Apr 6, 2023
National DayJul 5
New Year's DayJan 1
Simón Bolivar's BirthdayJul 24
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


1. a republic in South America, on the Caribbean: colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century; independence from Spain declared in 1811 and won in 1819 after a war led by Sim?n Bol?var. It contains Lake Maracaibo and the northernmost chains of the Andes in the northwest, the Orinoco basin in the central part, and the Guiana Highlands in the south. Exports: petroleum, iron ore, and coffee. Official language: Spanish. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: bol?var. Capital: Caracas. Pop.: 26 170 000 (2004 est.). Area: 912 050 sq. km (352 142 sq. miles)
2. Gulf of. an inlet of the Caribbean in NW Venezuela: continues south as Lake Maracaibo
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005