Venezuela

ÔĽŅ
Venezuela
‚ÄĒVenezuelan, adj., n.
/ven'euh zway"leuh, -zwee"-/; Sp. /be'ne swe"lah/, n.
a republic in N South America. 22,396,407; 352,143 sq. mi. (912,050 sq. km). Cap.: Caracas.

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Venezuela

Introduction Venezuela
Background: Venezuela was one of the three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Ecuador). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically- elected governments have held sway since 1959. Current concerns include: an embattled president who is losing his once solid support among Venezuelans, a divided military, drug-related conflicts along the Colombian border, increasing internal drug consumption, overdependence on the petroleum industry with its price fluctuations, and irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the rain forest and indigenous peoples. Geography Venezuela -
Location: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, between Colombia and Guyana
Geographic coordinates: 8 00 N, 66 00 W
Map references: South America
Area: total: 912,050 sq km land: 882,050 sq km water: 30,000 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly more than twice the size of California
Land boundaries: total: 4,993 km border countries: Brazil 2,200 km, Colombia 2,050 km, Guyana 743 km
Coastline: 2,800 km
Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 15 NM territorial sea: 12 NM continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands
Terrain: Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m highest point: Pico Bolivar (La Columna) 5,007 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds
Land use: arable land: 2.99% permanent crops: 0.96% other: 96.04% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 540 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: subject to floods, rockslides, mudslides; periodic droughts Environment - current issues: sewage pollution of Lago de Valencia; oil and urban pollution of Lago de Maracaibo; deforestation; soil degradation; urban and industrial pollution, especially along the Caribbean coast; threat to the rainforest ecosystem from irresponsible mining operations Environment - international party to: Antarctic Treaty,
agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Marine Dumping
Geography - note: on major sea and air routes linking North and South America; Angel Falls in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall People Venezuela
Population: 24,287,670 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 31.6% (male 3,955,132; female 3,710,159) 15-64 years: 63.6% (male 7,756,362; female 7,695,738) 65 years and over: 4.8% (male 533,559; female 636,720) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.52% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 20.22 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 4.91 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: -0.11 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.84 male(s)/ female total population: 1.02 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 24.58 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.56 years female: 76.81 years (2002 est.) male: 70.53 years
Total fertility rate: 2.41 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.49% (1999 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 62,000 (1999 est.)
AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 2,000 (1999 est.)
Nationality: noun: Venezuelan(s) adjective: Venezuelan
Ethnic groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people
Religions: nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 91.1% male: 91.8% female: 90.3% (1995 est.) Government Venezuela
Country name: conventional long form: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela conventional short form: Venezuela local short form: Venezuela local long form: Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela
Government type: federal republic
Capital: Caracas Administrative divisions: 23 states (estados, singular - estado), 1 federal district* (distrito federal), and 1 federal dependency** (dependencia federal); Amazonas, Anzoategui, Apure, Aragua, Barinas, Bolivar, Carabobo, Cojedes, Delta Amacuro, Dependencias Federales**, Distrito Federal*, Falcon, Guarico, Lara, Merida, Miranda, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Portuguesa, Sucre, Tachira, Trujillo, Vargas, Yaracuy, Zulia note: the federal dependency consists of 11 federally controlled island groups with a total of 72 individual islands
Independence: 5 July 1811 (from Spain)
National holiday: Independence Day, 5 July (1811)
Constitution: 30 December 1999
Legal system: based on organic laws as of July 1999; open, adversarial court system; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Hugo CHAVEZ Frias (since 3 February 1999); Vice President Jose Vicente RANGEL (since 28 April 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Hugo CHAVEZ Frias (since 3 February 1999); Vice President Jose Vicente RANGEL (since 28 April 2002); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president election results: Hugo CHAVEZ Frias reelected president; percent of vote - 60% elections: president elected by popular vote for a six-year term; election last held 30 July 2000 (next to be held NA 2006)
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional (165 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; three seats reserved for the indigenous peoples of Venezuela) election results: percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - pro- government 108 (MVR 92, MAS 6, indigenous 3, other 7), opposition 57 (AD 33, COPEI 6, Justice First 5, other 13) elections: last held 30 July 2000 (next to be held NA 2005)
Judicial branch: Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribuna Suprema de Justicia (magistrates are elected by the National Assembly for a single 12- year term) Political parties and leaders: Democratic Action or AD [Claudio FERMIN]; Fifth Republic Movement or MVR [Garcia PONCE]; Homeland for All or PPT [Jose ALBORNIZ]; Justice First [Julio BORGES]; Movement Toward Socialism or MAS [Hector MUJICA]; National Convergence or Convergencia [Juan Jose CALDERA]; Radical Cause or La Causa R [Antonio HERRERA]; Social Christian Party or COPEI [Oswaldo ALVAREZ Paz]; Venezuela Project or PV [Henrique SALAS Romer] Political pressure groups and FEDECAMARAS, a conservative business
leaders: group; VECINOS groups; Venezuelan Confederation of Workers or CTV (labor organization dominated by the Democratic Action) International organization CAN, Caricom (observer), CCC, CDB,
participation: ECLAC, FAO, G-3, G-15, G-19, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, OPEC, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Designate Roy CHADERTON Matos chancery: 1099 30th Street NW, Washington, DC 20007 consulate(s) general: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and San Juan (Puerto Rico) FAX: [1] (202) 342-6820 telephone: [1] (202) 342-2214 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador Charles
US: SHAPIRO embassy: Calle F con Calle Suapure, Urbanizacion Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas 1080 mailing address: P. O. Box 62291, Caracas 1060-A; APO AA 34037 telephone: [58] (0212) 975-9234, 975-6411 FAX: [58] (0212) 975-8991
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 seven white five-pointed stars centered in the blue band Economy Venezuela -
Economy - overview: The petroleum sector dominates the economy, accounting for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and more than half of government operating revenues. Venezuelan officials estimate that GDP grew by 2.7% in 2001. A strong rebound in international oil prices fueled the recovery from the steep recession in 1999. Nevertheless, a weak nonoil sector and capital flight - and a temporary fall in oil prices - undercut the recovery. In early 2002, President CHAVEZ changed the exchange rate regime from a crawling peg to a free floating exchange rate, causing the bolivar to depreciate significantly.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $146.2 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.7% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $6,100 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 5% industry: 40% services: 55% (2001 est.) Population below poverty line: 67% (1997 est.) Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: 1.6%
percentage share: highest 10%: 37.6% (1997) Distribution of family income - Gini 48.8 (1997)
index: Inflation rate (consumer prices): 12.3% (2001)
Labor force: 9.9 million (1999) Labor force - by occupation: services 64%, industry 23%, agriculture 13% (1997 est.)
Unemployment rate: 14.1% (2001 est.)
Budget: revenues: $21.5 billion expenditures: $27 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (2000 est.)
Industries: petroleum, iron ore mining, construction materials, food processing, textiles, steel, aluminum, motor vehicle assembly Industrial production growth rate: NA% Electricity - production: 80.754 billion kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 22.87% hydro: 77.13% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 75.101 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, coffee; beef, pork, milk, eggs; fish
Exports: $29.5 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Exports - commodities: petroleum, bauxite and aluminum, steel, chemicals, agricultural products, basic manufactures
Exports - partners: US 60%, Brazil 5.5%, Colombia 3.5%, Italy 3.5%, Spain 3.4% (2000)
Imports: $18.4 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Imports - commodities: raw materials, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, construction materials
Imports - partners: US 35.8%, Colombia 6.8%, Brazil 4.5%, Germany 3.9%, Italy 3.9% (2000)
Debt - external: $34.5 billion (2000) Economic aid - recipient: $35 million with more assistance likely as a result of flooding (1999)
Currency: bolivar (VEB)
Currency code: VEB
Exchange rates: bolivares per US dollar - 761.225 (January 2002), 723.666 (2001), 679.960 (2000), 605.717 (1999), 547.556 (1998), 488.635 (1997)
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Venezuela Telephones - main lines in use: 2.6 million (however, 3,500,000 have been installed) (1998) Telephones - mobile cellular: 2 million (1998)
Telephone system: general assessment: modern and expanding domestic: domestic satellite system with 3 earth stations; recent substantial improvement in telephone service in rural areas; substantial increase in digitalization of exchanges and trunk lines; installation of a national interurban fiber-optic network capable of digital multimedia services international: 3 submarine coaxial cables; satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) and 1 PanAmSat; participating with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in the construction of an international fiber-optic network Radio broadcast stations: AM 201, FM NA (20 in Caracas), shortwave 11 (1998)
Radios: 10.75 million (1997) Television broadcast stations: 66 (plus 45 repeaters) (1997)
Televisions: 4.1 million (1997)
Internet country code: .ve Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 16 (2000)
Internet users: 950,000 (2001) Transportation Venezuela
Railways: total: 682 km standard gauge: 682 km 1.435-m gauge note: 248 km of the existing system are privately owned; passenger services are nonexistent; however, a National Railways Plan, intended to provide a significant railway system, has been initiated (2001)
Highways: total: 96,155 km paved: 32,308 km unpaved: 63,847 km (1997 est.)
Waterways: 7,100 km note: Rio Orinoco and Lago de Maracaibo accept oceangoing vessels
Pipelines: crude oil 6,370 km; petroleum products 480 km; natural gas 4,010 km
Ports and harbors: Amuay, Bajo Grande, El Tablazo, La Guaira, La Salina, Maracaibo, Matanzas, Palua, Puerto Cabello, Puerto la Cruz, Puerto Ordaz, Puerto Sucre, Punta Cardon
Merchant marine: total: 45 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 716,361 GRT/1,267,095 DWT note: includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Denmark 1, Greece 1, Italy 1, United Kingdom 1, United States 2 (2002 est.) ships by type: bulk 7, cargo 9, liquefied gas 3, passenger/cargo 1, petroleum tanker 14, roll on/roll off 10, short-sea passenger 1
Airports: 372 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 124 over 3,047 m: 5 2,438 to 3,047 m: 11 914 to 1,523 m: 59 under 914 m: 17 (2001) 1,524 to 2,437 m: 32 Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 248 1,524 to 2,437 m: 11 914 to 1,523 m: 97 under 914 m: 140 (2001)
Heliports: 1 (2001) Military Venezuela
Military branches: National Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales or FAN) includes Ground Forces or Army (Fuerzas Terrestres or Ejercito), Naval Forces (Fuerzas Navales or Armada - including marines and Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerzas Aereas or Aviacion), Armed Forces of Cooperation or National Guard (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperacion or Guardia Nacional) Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 6,647,718 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 4,786,849 (2002
service: est.) Military manpower - reaching males: 246,185 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $934 million (FY99)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 0.9% (FY99)
GDP: Transnational Issues Venezuela Disputes - international: claims all of Guyana west of the Essequibo (river); maritime boundary dispute with Colombia in the Gulf of Venezuela; several Caribbean states protest Venezuela's claim to Islas des Aves (Bird Islands), 565 km from Venezuelan mainland
Illicit drugs: small-scale illicit producer of opium and coca for the processing of opiates and coca derivatives; however, large quantities of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transit the country from Colombia bound for US and Europe; important money-laundering center; active eradication program primarily targeting opium; increasing signs of drug-related activities by Colombian insurgents on border

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officially Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Country, northern South America.

Area: 353,841 sq mi (916,445 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 25,093,000. Capital: Caracas. More than two-thirds of the people are mestizos (mixed European and Indian), followed by whites (about one-fifth), blacks (one-tenth), and Indians. Languages: Spanish (official), some 25 Indian languages. Religions: Roman Catholicism; some Protestantism. Currency: bol√≠var. Mountain ranges and plains dominate Venezuela's geography. In the west, a northeastern spur of the Andes Mountains rises to Bol√≠var Peak. The Llanos (plains) occupy one-third of the country's central region. The Orinoco River system drains almost the entire country and has an extensive and thickly wooded delta. The highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, is in Venezuela. Lakes include Maracaibo and Valencia. Principal mineral resources are petroleum and natural gas. Other mineral reserves include iron, bauxite, gold, and diamonds. Industries include steel, chemicals, textiles, and oil refining. Agricultural products, notably sugar, coffee, corn, bananas, and cacao, are important. Venezuela is a republic with a unicameral legislature; its head of state and government is the president. Venezuela has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for millennia. In 1498 Christopher Columbus sighted it; in 1499 the navigators Alonso de Ojeda, Amerigo Vespucci, and Juan de la Cosa traced the coast. A Spanish missionary established the first European settlement at Cumana —Ā 1520. In 1718 it was included in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and was made a captaincy general in 1731. Venezuelan Creoles led by Francisco de Miranda and Sim√≥n Bol√≠var spearheaded the South American independence movement, and, though Venezuela declared independence from Spain in 1811, it was not assured until 1821. Military dictators generally ruled the country from 1830 until the overthrow of Marcos P√©rez Jim√©nez in 1958. A new constitution adopted in 1961 marked the beginning of democracy. As a founding member of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), Venezuela enjoyed relative economic prosperity from oil production during the 1970s, but its economy has remained dependent on fluctuations in the world petroleum market. The government of Hugo Ch√°vez promulgated a new constitution in 1999, the year in which a devastating rainstorm killed thousands in and around Caracas. Despite an increase in oil prices in the early 21st century, the country experienced great political turmoil.

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‚Ė™ 2009

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2008 est.): 27,884,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

      On Nov. 30, 2008, Pres. Hugo Chávez asked Venezuela's official government political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), to call for a popular referendum that would amend the 1999 constitution to allow for the indefinite reelection of the president. Voters had narrowly rejected a similar proposal in a December 2007 constitutional referendum that would also have centralized power even further.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In the November 23 elections, opponents of Ch√°vez's socialist revolution retained the two governorships that they had won in 2004 and added three more. These five states encompassed 44% of Venezuela's population. Opposition candidates also won election as the mayors of Caracas, Maracaibo, and Petare (a zone in eastern Caracas dominated by shantytowns), which had traditionally supported the government. On the other hand, the PSUV won a substantial majority of the governorships, mayoralties, and state legislative seats at stake. Ch√°vez interpreted these results, mixed though they were, as strengthening his chances of winning approval for constitutional changes in a second referendum‚ÄĒif he acted quickly in order to blunt the ability of the opposition to take advantage of the gains that they had made in the regional and local elections.

      The decline in world oil prices during the second half of the year caused economic problems. Revenue tumbled as the price of Venezuelan crude fell almost 70% between July and December. Rainy-day funds totaling more than $40 billion enabled Chávez to avoid significant cutbacks in public spending. Nevertheless, the global credit crunch raised the spectre of default or the rescheduling of Venezuela's dollar-denominated debt. The economic growth rate slowed during the year to 6%, down from 8.4% in 2007. Inflation was projected to increase to 27% over the 2007 rate of 19%. Traditional vulnerabilities became a greater concern, since Venezuela was more dependent than ever before on oil sales, which contributed roughly one-half of central government revenue, 95% of export revenue, and 15% of GDP. Also of concern was the continuing lack of transparency in public accounts, which contributed to creditor and investor nervousness. In October the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that the central government's true fiscal position was worse than the official statistics suggested. This was due to the channeling of additional off-budget spending through the national development fund and the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela. These conditions increased the likelihood that the country's currency would come under pressure for significant devaluation, especially if high public spending continued without a significant rise in oil prices.

      In the international arena, Venezuela continued to strengthen relations with countries capable of challenging the United States. Chávez signed new bilateral agreements with Iran, Russia, and China. He also attempted to form an axis of militant socialist countries in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. government chided Venezuela over the increase in cocaine trafficking through its national territory and over the support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC) insurgency by some of Chávez's closest confidants. Venezuelan hostility was an important consideration in U.S. Pres. George W. Bush's decision to reestablish the U.S. Navy's Fourth Fleet (oriented in the Caribbean and Latin America). The U.S. government was especially concerned over Venezuela's purchase since 2005 of more than $4 billion in arms from Russia, including aircraft and attack submarines. Relations with Brazil grew more cordial in 2008 as Chávez and Pres. Luis Ignácio Lula da Silva signed a number of bilateral cooperation agreements on energy, education, and agriculture. Venezuela also joined Brazil and other South American countries in establishing the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which would integrate two existing customs unions, the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and the Andean Community. Membership in UNASUR fit well with Chávez's goal of crafting a multipolar world.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2008

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2007 est.): 26,024,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

¬†On Nov. 2, 2007, Venezuela's National Assembly approved modifications to the 1999 constitution that would increase the power of the national executive and central government. One measure created new rules for declaring states of emergency and permitted security forces to disregard legal protections and round up citizens. The revised constitution also would allow for the indefinite reelection of the president and end the central bank's autonomy. These changes conformed with suggestions to the National Assembly by the Commission for Constitutional Reform, which Pres. Hugo Ch√°vez appointed shortly after being sworn in on January 10 to a third term as president. Allies of President Ch√°vez controlled all 167 seats in the National Assembly, which overwhelmingly approved the reforms (160 lawmakers supported the changes, and 7 abstained). These changes were submitted to a national referendum on December 2, and though public opinion polls forecast that a majority of voters would vote to approve the reforms, the referendum was defeated by a narrow margin of 51‚Äď49%. The groups most opposed to the reforms included the Roman Catholic Church, the business community, professional associations, and leaders of the marginalized but vocal opposition political parties. In addition, many supporters of President Ch√°vez in the urban shantytowns abstained, fearing that the reforms would eliminate private property.

      During the second quarter of 2007, Venezuela's GDP grew 8.9% over the same period in 2006, when the country registered a 9.4% growth rate. GDP in 2007 was expected for the first time to reach $200 billion. The nonpetroleum sector grew at a rate of 10.8% in the second quarter of 2007, although the petroleum sector contracted by 3.9%.

      The annual accumulated inflation by November 2007 was 19%, one of the higher rates among less-developed economies. Investment banks believed that inflation for the entire year would settle at 16%, more than exceeding the government's goal of 12%. On November 1 the collection of the new tax on financial transactions (known as ITF) took effect. This measure was the core of the government's plan to close the financial gap resulting from its decision to cut value-added tax. Corporations had to pay the Integrated National Customs and Tax Administration Service 1.5% on movements in their bank accounts. Additionally, ITF would be levied on self-employed professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

       Petroleum remained central to Venezuela's economy. Over the past decade reserves of sweet crude had declined, and heavy-oil projects in the Orinoco Basin had become more important. In May President Chávez unilaterally modified the contracts under which foreign companies exploited four heavy-oil projects. Two companies that had developed these projects, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, refused to accept the terms that the government offered and were nationalized. Four other companies with significant investments in the heavy-oil projects (Chevron, BP, Total, and Statoil) agreed to remain as minority partners in joint ventures controlled by PDVSA ( Petróleos de Venezuela), the state company. In October the National Assembly approved joint-venture contracts between PDVSA and Chevron, BP, Total, and Statoil.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Relations between Caracas and Washington remained frosty. The administration of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush was frustrated over the increasing volume of cocaine trafficked through Venezuela. In Moscow President Ch√°vez proclaimed, ‚ÄúEither we break U.S. imperialism or U.S. imperialism will definitely break the world.‚ÄĚ Relations with Brazil were outwardly cordial, but below the surface a potentially huge conflict persisted over the issue of Bolivian natural gas. In 2006 Bolivian Pres. Evo Morales had nationalized the gas reservoirs, and the Bolivian armed forces had taken control of facilities belonging to Petrobras (the Brazilian oil giant). According to agreements signed by Bolivia and Venezuela, Caracas would intervene in any conflict between Bolivia and another country.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2007

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2006 est.): 27,216,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuelans elected Hugo Ch√°vez to a second consecutive six-year presidential term on Dec. 3, 2006. Ch√°vez received 63% of the balloting, with the largest number of votes coming from his Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). Four other organizations supporting him also won votes: ‚ÄúWe Are Able‚ÄĚ (610,000), the Fatherland over All (461,000), the Venezuelan Communist Party (284,000), and the People's Electoral Movement (75,000). The opposition, united behind Zulia Gov. Manuel Rosales, received only 37% of the vote.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†President Ch√°vez cast the 2006 presidential election as a key juncture on the Venezuelan path to ‚ÄúTwenty-first Century Socialism.‚ÄĚ Throughout the campaign he promised that if victorious he would change the country's political institutions in 2007. The day after his reelection, Ch√°vez stated that the assorted groups that supported his presidential candidacy should dissolve themselves and integrate into the single revolutionary party that he was creating. He also informed his countrymen of his intention to call for a referendum that would empower a Constituent Assembly to draft a new socialist constitution to replace the Constitution of 1999. This announcement led Rosales to appoint a commission to orient the upcoming constitutional debate along social democratic lines. Specifically, high priority was to be given to guaranteeing minority rights, safeguarding private property, and protecting political pluralism. Some disagreement did exist within the Bolivarian Movement over the operational characteristics of 21st-century socialism; many in the opposition, however, feared that Venezuela's political and economic system was on the cusp of a transformation into Cuban-style communism.

      Venezuela's economy grew from an annual rate of 9.2% between the second quarters of 2005 and 2006 to 10.2% in the third quarter of 2006, but it was expected to close in 2006 only at the level of per capita GDP that existed in 1998. Of even greater concern, the UN Human Development Report of 2006 estimated that Venezuela's per capita income of $6,043 fell far short of the $8,255 recorded in 1977. Furthermore, the UN report found that 8.3% of Venezuela's population lived in extreme poverty, subsisting on one dollar a day.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Increased income from petroleum provided additional resources for the Venezuelan government ‚Äúmissions‚ÄĚ that focused on alleviating poverty and building support for the government. In the third quarter the price of a barrel of Maracaibo crude approached an all-time high of $70 a barrel before stabilizing at just under $60. This facilitated a positive trade balance that was 37% higher than in 2005. It also allowed Venezuelan foreign reserves to surpass $30 billion. Proven domestic reserves of liquid petroleum stood at 86.7 billion bbl and, with the inclusion of viscous oil reserves from the Orinoco Tar Sands, approached 260 billion bbl. The International Energy Agency, OPEC, and the United States Energy Information Administration estimated that Venezuelan oil production stabilized at 2.5 million bbl a day. This decrease reflected the impact of poor maintenance on a large number of producing wells. In 2006 PDVSA, Venezuela's state petroleum company, intensified negotiations with the state oil companies of Iran, Russia, China, and Brazil to provide the technical expertise and capital that would raise Venezuela's production capacity to 6.8 million bbl per day.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†President Ch√°vez intensified his campaign during 2006 to create a confederation of South American states that would serve as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere. He boasted of having pumped $16 billion of oil profits into three dozen countries, mostly in Latin America, since taking power in 1999. On April 29 Ch√°vez joined Bolivian Pres. Evo Morales (Morales, Evo ) (see Biographies) and Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro for a tripartite summit in Havana. At this gathering Bolivia joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The stated purpose of ALBA was to advance ‚Äúthe process of integration,‚ÄĚ including ‚Äúthe exchange of goods and services which best correspond to the social and economic necessities of its members.‚ÄĚ On more than one occasion, however, Ch√°vez referred to ALBA as an organization focused on reducing U.S. influence in Latin America. Within two days of his reelection as president, Ch√°vez journeyed to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, where he urged leaders to strengthen the South American Common Market ( Mercosur). On December 8, while attending the South American continental summit in Cochabamba, Bol., Ch√°vez again voiced opposition to U.S. plans for a free-trade zone in the Americas.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2006

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2005 est.): 26,749,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

      Pres. Hugo Chávez (Chavez, Hugo ) (see Biographies) continued reshaping Venezuela in 2005. He increased his political control, weakened his critics in the private sector, and widened the breach with the United States. Elections held on August 7 for municipal and neighbourhood councils resulted in a doubling of the proportion of seats that Chávez supporters held to 80%. A November survey of public opinion by the Venezuelan polling firm Datanálisis indicated that political parties loyal to the government would capture an overwhelming majority of seats in the National Assembly elections scheduled for December 4. This prospect, coupled with distrust of the electoral system, led the opposition political parties to withdraw from the field of electoral competition. Thus, President Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement and its allies claimed all of the 167 seats in the National Assembly.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Ch√°vez's clean sweep of the parliamentary elections marked the culmination of a year during which the opposition had steadily weakened. The National Assembly had passed legislation in 2004 that required all media outlets to prove the truth of the political information that they broadcast, and the implementation of this legislation reduced criticism of the government dramatically. The military promotion list, published in July 2005, allowed the president to promote officers loyal to him. The government-authorized 50‚Äď60% pay raise to the armed forces gave noncommissioned officers a salary level that exceeded that of most university-educated professionals. In addition, funding for opposition political parties dried up as potential backers concluded that supporting the opposition carried unacceptable risks.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela's economy grew at an annual rate of roughly 8% during the first 10 months of 2005. This was less than half the rate achieved in 2004; however, most growth in the previous year restored activity lost in the political and economic turmoil of 2002. High oil prices in 2005 provided Venezuela with an estimated $36 billion in revenue‚ÄĒtriple the amount that the government received in 1998, the last full year of Rafael Caldera's presidency. Oil revenue accounted for 80% of Venezuelan exports. The country's proven oil reserves stood at 78 billion bbl, although estimated production for 2005 was 2.1 million bbl per day, 20% below the production level recorded in 2002.

      National income experienced a modest rise. The consumer price index rose 12.3% in the first 10 months of the year, which was a slight decline from the rate experienced in 2004. Nevertheless, 53% of Venezuelan households remained in poverty. Still, many residents of the urban slums began to receive free health care from the 13,000 Cuban doctors sent to Venezuela in a barter arrangement that saw an average 98,000 bbl of petroleum per day delivered to Cuba. An estimated 46% of Venezuelans also received subsidized food from government supermarkets. Many products sold in these supermarkets came from expropriated agricultural estates.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Ch√°vez government continued to deliver services to the poor through the ‚Äúmissions‚ÄĚ program managed directly out of the president's office and aimed at increasing basic literacy, access to primary education, and cultural opportunities. One special mission, Barrio Adentro, provided housing and public services to slum neighbourhoods. Funding for these programs bypassed established bureaucratic channels and came directly from the state petroleum company, PDVSA (Petr√≥leos de Venezuela).

      Chávez used wealth from increased petroleum revenue to exert Venezuelan influence throughout the Caribbean Basin and South America. (See Special Report.) On several occasions he claimed that U.S. Pres. George W. Bush was plotting to assassinate him and invade Venezuela to seize its oil, charges that the U.S. government denied. The Chávez government also orchestrated opposition to President Bush's Free Trade for the Americas project, which he claimed would enslave Latin American workers. In this effort he received support from Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, each of which preferred strengthening Mercosur (the Southern Cone Common Market) before creating a hemispheric trading bloc. On December 9 Venezuela gained admission to Mercosur as a full voting member.

      Venezuela maintained cordial relations with its South American neighbours, although the kidnapping of a Colombian dissident in Caracas raised tensions for a time between Caracas and Bogotá. The dissident, Luis Rodrigo Granada, oversaw diplomatic efforts for Colombia's rebel FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). His abduction was reportedly carried out by Colombian intelligence agents, and Chávez voiced anger over this violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. Notwithstanding this incident, Venezuela cooperated with its neighbours on a broad range of issues of mutual interest, ranging from developing the Amazon to creating a television network geared to the interests of South Americans. Finally, Venezuela extended the preferential oil-trade deal that it had negotiated in the 1970s with selected Caribbean Basin countries to include a total of 13. A newly created petroleum company, PetroCaribe, was intended to challenge U.S. domination of energy in the subregion.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2005

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2004 est.): 26,170,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

      The regional and municipal elections held on Oct. 31, 2004, gave Pres. Hugo Chávez Frías unprecedented control over Venezuela. His Fifth Republic Movement and its allies captured 20 of the 22 governorships, as well as the office of mayor in metropolitan Caracas. Pro-government political parties won control of 270 municipalities (80% of the total). The total vote for all candidates fielded by Democratic Action (AD), the major opposition party, was slightly more than one-fourth of that received by government-backed candidates. The AD elected a governor only in the small island state of Nueva Esparta. In the aftermath of this resounding victory, Vice Pres. José Vicente Rangel announced that the government would accelerate the leftist social experiment known as the Bolivarian Revolution, which was launched following the presidential election of Dec. 6, 1998.

      The government's victory in the October regional and municipal elections flowed from the opposition's failure to oust President Chávez in the recall referendum on August 15; of those voting in the referendum, 59% supported Chávez and 41% opted to remove him. This result, coming after a protracted campaign to oust Chávez, shocked his opponents. Public-opinion polls in the first quarter of 2004 indicated that voters favoured removing the president from office. The government, however, delayed the referendum for eight months, and Chávez spent petroleum income to fund social programs that changed attitudes toward his rule. The government's victory discredited and embittered the opposition. Some asserted that Chávez had manipulated voting in the referendum and the regional elections, even though international observers declared the results valid. Some opponents went so far as to state publicly that regaining power by democratic means was impossible, which moved the political situation into uncharted waters.

      By early November Venezuela's economy appeared on track to grow at an annual rate of 12%. This increase followed two consecutive years in which the economy had contracted, by 9.3% (2003) and by 9% (2002). The turnabout resulted from the government's drawing down of foreign exchange to invest in social programs as well as from increased revenue from petroleum sales (prices for Venezuelan crude oils had surged to more than $40 a barrel, almost double the amount during 2002). At $40 a barrel, additional production (roughly 500,000 bbl a day) of viscous petroleum from the Orinoco tar belt became profitable. Correspondingly, the Chávez government increased the tax on foreign companies operating in the tar belt from 1% to 16.6% of the value of their production.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Continuity as well as change characterized Venezuelan foreign policy. President Ch√°vez continued his support for Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro, supplying petroleum to Cuba at cut-rate prices. Ch√°vez remained determined to reduce U.S. economic influence in South America; he opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas initiative and committed Venezuela to associate membership in the Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur). Nevertheless, Ch√°vez's hostility was muted toward the U.S. after George W. Bush's administration accepted Ch√°vez's victory in the August 15 referendum. Following President Bush's reelection in November, Ch√°vez opined that he hoped for better relations with the Bush administration in its second term. On November 9 Ch√°vez traveled to Cartagena, where he met with Colombian Pres. √Ālvaro Uribe. Directly addressing concerns that Venezuela was sympathetic toward Colombia's guerrillas, Ch√°vez stated his support for Uribe's pacification efforts. The two presidents agreed to cooperate on matters of mutual interest, such as tightening security along their 2,200-km (1,400-mi) border, cracking down on drug trafficking, and coordinating energy policy.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2004

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2003 est.): 25,699,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

      The general strike in Venezuela that began on Dec. 2, 2002, continued into early February 2003. Hundreds of thousands of middle- and working-class opponents of the government paraded through eastern Caracas day after day demanding the resignation of Pres. Hugo Chávez Frías. In the city's western zone, counterdemonstrators composed largely of the urban underclass marched in support of Chávez. While the two camps exchanged gunshots, there were few casualties, owing largely to the professionalism of the police and the National Guard. Similar demonstrations and counterdemonstrations occurred in Maracaíbo (the second largest city) and in Puerto La Cruz (a city in northeastern Venezuela), but the interior cities generally remained calm. The failure by government opponents to mount their demonstrations outside the capital was critical to the government's survival.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Normalcy began to return in the second week of February, but the opposition continued to demand that Ch√°vez step down. The president, however, was adamant that he would remain in office unless the opposition could obtain the number of signatures required‚ÄĒ20% of voters‚ÄĒfor forcing a recall election. From March through December politics in Venezuela revolved around determining the conditions under which valid signatures could be obtained.

      The 1999 constitution states that an elected official can be removed by means of a recall election. In such an election those seeking to remove the official must obtain the same number of votes (plus one) as the number of votes that the official had received in the election that placed him in office (unless even more voters said no). There were no rules or regulations governing the collection of valid signatures to initiate recall elections until they were issued by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on September 25. The CNE gave opponents a relatively short period, from late November to early December, during which they could seek the 2.4 million signatures required for forcing the recall election.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The recall-signature-gathering event occurred in two phases. During the first, November 21‚Äď24, government supporters collected signatures that would authorize a recall election to replace 30 opposition deputies in the National Assembly. A week later, the opposition solicited signatures for the same purpose against 30 government deputies and President Ch√°vez. International observers from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center confirmed that the signature-solicitation process in both instances was free and transparent. The government and the opposition claimed that they received sufficient signatures to justify a recall election. The CNE hoped to finish its review of the signatures by mid-January 2004.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The general strike and the recall efforts destabilized the economy as well as the polity. Venezuela's GDP contracted 29% in the first quarter of 2003, and even in the wake of normalization in the second and third quarters, economic contraction remained an abysmal 19%. Inflation for the same period topped 20%, the highest rate in Latin America. It was acknowledged that the general strike had cost the government $7 billion in lost revenue. Extreme poverty remained at about the same level that it had been during the administration of Rafael Caldera (1994‚Äď99), roughly 40%; and 70% of all Venezuelan households had incomes below the poverty line. The likely consequences of this dismal state of affairs for the government were disastrous. Therefore, in the fourth quarter Ch√°vez increased fiscal expenditures, most of which went directly into salaries rather than into repairing or expanding the public infrastructure, which was deteriorating at an alarming rate.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Ch√°vez government continued to strengthen relations with Third World countries viewed as supportive of a multipolar world. At the Canc√ļn, Mex., economic summit in September, V√≠ctor √Ālvarez, Venezuela's chief trade negotiator, attacked the globalization agenda of the World Trade Organization. Relations with the U.S. government remained frosty, a reflection of Ch√°vez's suspicion that Washington had encouraged the coup of April 11‚Äď13, 2002, that briefly removed him from power. Nevertheless, Venezuela continued to supply the U.S. with 1.5 million bbl of petroleum daily. Caracas even offered to increase production to 6 million bbl per day if the U.S. would provide Venezuela loan guarantees of $8 billion annually for five years. The administration of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush refused, having viewed the offer as a ploy to take advantage of uncertainties in the global petroleum market following the Iraq war.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2003

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2002 est.): 25,093,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Loyalist military officers restored Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Ch√°vez Fr√≠as to the presidency on the morning of April 14, 2002, just 48 hours after he had been removed from office. The overthrow followed a massive protest march by Ch√°vez's opponents that ended in the death of at least 17 demonstrators. The protest was organized by the National Business Federation, the National Labour Federation, and the Democratic Coordinating Committee‚ÄĒa mixture of political party leaders and middle-class groups from civil society. The demonstrators had hoped to convince Ch√°vez that his high-handed efforts to implement leftist policies had destroyed his government's legitimacy and that he should resign.

      Accusations that the president had authorized supporters to fire on the demonstrators emboldened the armed forces, whose high command had long opposed Chávez. The military installed businessman Pedro Carmona Estanga as interim president. Instead of seeking approval for his government from the National Assembly and Supreme Court, as anticipated, Carmona dissolved both institutions, suspended civil liberties, and annulled recently passed land-reform legislation. This unleashed a clash between right-wing and moderate opponents of Chávez. Concurrently, the senior military fell to squabbling among themselves over how to distribute positions within the interim government. These divisions encouraged supporters of the ousted president. Violence escalated during the afternoon of April 13, and middle-level military officers, the core of Chávez's support, rallied. By midnight the coup had collapsed.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The role of the U.S. government in the events of April 11‚Äď14 remained murky. Opponents of the Ch√°vez government met with the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Otto Reich, in the weeks prior to the coup. On February 5, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern that Ch√°vez did not understand ‚Äúwhat a democratic system was all about.‚ÄĚ Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet made similar remarks on February 6. The cumulative impact of these signals from Washington was to convince opponents of Ch√°vez that the administration of Pres. George W. Bush would not oppose his ouster. After the coup failed, however, the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, distanced the administration from the coup plotters.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†At the beginning of 2002, Venezuela remained the sixth largest oil producer in the world, but overall the economic news was bad. As of the end of September, the petroleum sector had experienced a 16.7% contraction, largely as a result of adhering to reductions in the OPEC production quota. Also, gross domestic product declined by 9.9% in the second quarter, and as of September the national currency‚ÄĒthe bol√≠var‚ÄĒhad lost 46% of its value against the dollar. Inflation picked up and was expected to reach 30% by the end of the year. Nevertheless, the bol√≠var remained overvalued, and as a result, businesses that could not compete with cheap imports were wiped out. Venezuela's ranking by the World Economic Forum fell to 68th (from 62nd in 2001), and a third-quarter report by the central bank stated that it did not expect growth in 2003.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†As of mid-November the conflict between opponents and supporters of President Ch√°vez remained at an impasse. A general strike by the opposition paralyzed much of the country on October 21, and several days later disgruntled military officers called for the overthrow of the government. On November 4 the opposition delivered two million signatures demanding a referendum (deemed unconstitutional by the government) on whether President Ch√°vez should remain in office. A defiant Ch√°vez took control of the Caracas Metropolitan Police Force on November 16. This force had been controlled by Alfredo Pe√Īa, the metropolitan mayor, who was a vocal critic of the president. Protests against federal intervention were met with riot troops and tear gas. This confrontation undermined negotiations sponsored by the Organization of American States, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Carter Center‚ÄĒinstitutions that were seeking to craft a peaceful solution to the crisis. It also gave credence to a warning by former presidential candidate Eduardo Fern√°ndez: ‚ÄúIt is starting to look much like what led to the Spanish Civil War.‚Ķ We are tempting the devil.‚ÄĚ The crisis deepened in December when opposition forces (labour unions, business federations, and a coordinating committee of democratic political parties) declared a general strike for the purpose of forcing Ch√°vez to resign or call early elections. When the strike spread to the petroleum sector, oil production was drastically curtailed, and Ch√°vez threatened to impose a state of emergency.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2002

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2001 est.): 24,632,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

      The municipal and parish councilmen that Venezuelans elected on Dec. 3, 2000, assumed office in January 2001. This act completed Pres. Hugo Chávez Frías's demolition of the post-1958 system of the political parties that had governed Venezuela over four decades. Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement and its ally, the Movement to Socialism, as well as other political parties opposed to the previously dominant Democrat Action (AD) party and Social Christians, had captured 72% of all municipal and parish council seats. On October 25, however, the pro-Chávez parties suffered a stinging rebuke when their candidates ran for leadership positions in the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers. The defeat was so overwhelming (unofficial tallies gave the pro-Chávez slates less than 10% of the total vote) that the National Electoral Council had not released the results as of mid-November. The victorious forces were the same groups that for more than four decades had been part of the AD and the Social Christians. Their victory did not signal the return to favour of these organizations, however. Rather, it indicated that organized labour had emerged as an autonomous political force in Venezuela, one whose support future governments could not take for granted.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Ch√°vez saw his plans to remake Venezuela in the image of his leftist ideology derailed on several other fronts. First, in May he introduced legislation into the National Assembly that would have increased the national government's control over education, private as well as public. Proposals that required the imposition of government overseers with powers to dismiss administrators and teachers evoked intense opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and associations of middle-class parents whose children attended public schools. Ch√°vez and the governing political party backed away from what threatened to become an ugly and possibly violent confrontation. In addition, they declined to press the influential association of taxi drivers when the drivers resisted attempts to regulate them and to integrate them into the ruling political party. Finally, the Ch√°vez government even had difficulty in controlling the capital city of Caracas. The 1999 constitution provided for the election of a ‚Äúhigh mayor‚ÄĚ to replace the appointed Federal District governor, traditionally the highest local executive authority in Caracas. The first elected high mayor of Caracas was Alfredo Pe√Īa, once Ch√°vez's chief of staff. Pe√Īa broke with the president, successfully resisted his efforts to control the capital city police forces, and even suggested that it would be necessary to remove the president in a revocatory referendum (provided for in the constitution). On December 10 the business group Fedec√°maras and the one-million-strong Confederation of Venezuelan Workers staged a nationwide strike to protest new economic laws‚ÄĒinvolving the agriculture, fishing, and oil industries‚ÄĒthat they believed would ‚Äúlead the country to economic disaster.‚ÄĚ Thwarted at every turn, Ch√°vez seemed unable to use his personal popularity to make the changes that he proclaimed as central to his so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

      Venezuela's central bank reported that the economic recovery that had begun in the second quarter of 2000 slowed in the third quarter of 2001. The communications sector failed to sustain earlier rates of growth, and the financial sector did not recover from the contraction that it experienced in 1999 and 2000. On November 1 the central bank reported that inflation was running at roughly 10% for the year, down slightly from 2000. Private consumption, which had fallen by 15% between May 1999 and May 2000, grew by 5% during the first half of 2001. Total public-sector debt stood at 31% of the country's gross domestic product, up from 29% for 2000.

      The Chávez government's handling of foreign policy created two important problems for Venezuela. First, insurgency continued to simmer in neighbouring Colombia, and Chávez's ambiguous position toward the rebel cause raised tensions with Bogotá and Washington. The U.S. government was especially unhappy with Venezuela's unwillingness to allow overflights by military aircraft attempting to track drug-smuggling guerrillas. Second, after U.S. Pres. George W. Bush initiated the bombing of Afghanistan in October, relations between Venezuela and the U.S. deteriorated further when Chávez equated civilian casualties from the bombing with the deaths caused by terrorists on September 11. As well as isolating the Chávez government within the Western Hemisphere, this position hardened opposition by the government's domestic critics.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2001

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(2000 est.): 24,170,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In the July 30, 2000, presidential elections, Hugo Ch√°vez Fr√≠as defeated Lieut. Col. Francisco Arias C√°rdenas, once his closest collaborator, by a popular vote margin of 59% to 38%. The election results confirmed Ch√°vez's appeal to the urban poor and the downwardly mobile middle class. The president's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) and its ally, the Movement to Socialism (MAS), captured 99 of the 163 seats in Venezuela's unicameral National Assembly. Though the total number of seats won was insufficient to allow an amending of the constitution, the margin of victory allowed Ch√°vez's supporters to pass a law that enabled him to legislate unilaterally on a broad range of political and economic matters. The MVR and MAS also captured 14 of the 23 governorships, while the Democratic Action (AD) party and Social Christians‚ÄĒthe parties that had dominated Venezuela between 1958 and 1998‚ÄĒall but disappeared.

      Soon after his inauguration to a six-year term, Chávez, in a gesture with huge symbolic implications, instructed his supporters in the National Assembly to authorize the interment of Gen. Isaias Medina Angarita's remains in the Panteón Nacional, the final resting place of Venezuela's most revered heroes. The then-dominant AD's 1945 overthrow of Medina, whose government was considered a military dictatorship, had long been presented as a critical landmark in the modernization and democratization of Venezuela. This resuscitation of Medina's image was another tactic to further discredit the AD. In another move to signal his new course, Chávez journeyed to the Middle East, where he urged OPEC's Arab members to unite with Venezuela against Western pressures to increase petroleum production and to lower the international price of crude oil. At the September summit of Latin American countries in Brasília, Braz., he voiced opposition to the U.S. government's initiative to help Colombia's military defeat that country's narcotic-trafficking guerrilla insurgents.

      In late October Chávez played host to Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro during a five-day visit. The two toured the country, and Chávez repeatedly praised the domestic social policies of the Cuban Revolution and Castro's efforts to prevent superpower domination over Latin America. Chávez also announced that he had made a pact with Cuba similar to the Pact of San José, a 1980 agreement in which Venezuela agreed to sell petroleum at a deep discount to several Central American states.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The dramatic rise in oil prices that began in mid-1999 underpinned President Ch√°vez's adoption of populist policies at home and advocacy in the international arena of less-developed nations' interests. During the first half of 2000, the average price for a Venezuelan ‚Äúbasket‚ÄĚ of crude and refined petroleum products increased by 58.2%, and the price of a barrel of Maracaibo crude approached $26 in mid-September, when OPEC authorized an increase in production quotas. The country's share of world oil reserves stood at 7%.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Following a deep 1999 recession, Venezuela began an economic recovery in the second quarter of 2000. Inflation ran about 14%, a reduction of 6% from the 1999 rate. In October improved economic conditions led Fedepetrol‚ÄĒthe powerful petroleum workers union‚ÄĒto demand and receive significant wage increases, following the threat of a production shutdown. The showdown between Ch√°vez and the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers was taken to the polls in December. A referendum empowering Ch√°vez to suspend all union leaders and schedule elections for their replacement was passed, though more than three-fourths of voters abstained.

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 2000

Area:
916,445 sq km (353,841 sq mi)
Population
(1999 est.): 23,707,000
Capital:
Caracas
Head of state and government:
President Hugo Chávez Frías

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Political turbulence rocked Venezuela during 1999. Hugo Ch√°vez Fr√≠as's (see Biographies (Chavez, Hugo )) decisive victory in the December 1998 presidential elections ended 40 years of domination by political parties and politicians who had overthrown the dictatorship of Col. Marcos P√©rez Jim√©nez (1951‚Äď58) and established one of Latin America's most stable and long-lived democracies. That system began to decay in the 1980s, and falling oil prices, political corruption, and administrative mismanagement accelerated the decline. By 1999, 80% of Venezuela's population lived below the poverty line. The economy's nonpetroleum sectors were in shambles, and the quality of social services had reverted to levels not seen since the 1950s. At his February 1999 inauguration, President Ch√°vez promised to replace the existing ‚Äúmoribund‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúunjust‚ÄĚ order with a new and responsive democracy.

      Chávez rapidly organized an April 25 referendum, in which 85% of the voters authorized elections to select delegates to a Constituent Assembly, whose charge was to draft a new constitution. In the July 25 elections, Chávez supporters won 121 of the 131 seats in the Constituent Assembly. Its draft constitution was circulated during November, and on December 15 approval by 72% of voters in a national referendum made it the law of the land. This document, modeled on the constitution of France's Fifth Republic, increased presidential power by extending the term of office to six years and by allowing for the immediate reelection of the president to one additional term. In other words, should Chávez win the presidential elections scheduled for June 2000, he could remain president until 2012.

      The new constitution also strengthened the president's hand in dealing with the legislative branch, the state governors, and the mayors, especially in matters of public finance. In addition, it replaced the existing bicameral congress with a unicameral national assembly, reformed the judiciary, granted a broad spectrum of economic and social rights to all citizens, and established legal mechanisms to protect Venezuela's indigenous culture. (See Special Report: South America's Indigenous Peoples .) Finally, the constitution centralized the military command structure and increased the armed forces' role in policy implementation.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela's traditional elites, despite being blamed by the popular classes for the national decline, retained substantial influence. Between July 1998 and December 1999, they expressed their lack of confidence in Ch√°vez by transferring more than $4 billion out of the country. Already-tense relations between entrepreneurs and the president became more so during the campaign leading up to the December 15 referendum. Business organizations publicly urged voters to reject the new constitution, and the president responded by labeling his private-sector opponents ‚Äúdegenerates,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúrancid oligarchs,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúsquealing pigs.‚ÄĚ

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela's status as a major petroleum producer provided an important financial cushion that mitigated the negative economic consequences of political turmoil. At the beginning of 1999, state planners had assumed that the average market price for a ‚Äúbasket‚ÄĚ of Venezuela's crude oils would hover around $9 a barrel, but as of mid-December that price exceeded $23, and the state was thus provided with an unanticipated $4 billion in revenue. The economy, nevertheless, was expected to contract by almost 7%, and inflation was running at an annual rate of 20%. A further setback came when flash floods and mud slides swamped Venezuela's Caribbean coast in mid-December, claiming 20,000‚Äď50,000 lives and causing widespread destruction. (See Disasters.)

David J. Myers

‚Ė™ 1999

      Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 23,242,000

      Capital: Caracas

      Head of state and government: President Rafael Caldera

      After a period of recovery in 1997, the economy of Venezuela contracted during most of 1998. Gross domestic product grew by 5.1% in 1997, but it was expected to decline by 2.5% by the end of 1998. One of the main reasons for the economy's troubles was the drop in international oil prices. As part of an agreement with Saudi Arabia and Mexico to curb oil production, Venezuela cut its output by 200,000 bbl per day, which resulted in a projected $600 million decline in revenue for the year. Venezuela's 1998 budget, 40% of which was accounted for by oil, was originally based on a crude-oil price of $15.50 per barrel, but by late 1998 the price had fallen to less than $12 per barrel.

      Another major area of the economy adversely affected by oil prices was the currency, which depreciated by 1.5% per month before stabilizing in October. Devaluation was a subject of great controversy throughout the year. In August Coordination and Planning Minister Teodoro Petkoff accused the banks of being involved in a financial conspiracy. Disip, the secret police, was instructed to investigate an alleged forged statement in a news agency wire saying that the government was about to decree a 17-20% devaluation of currency. The rumours proved false, however.

      Pressure on the government to devalue the currency came from the risk-rating agency Moody's, which lowered the country's rating by one notch in 1998. The government immediately prepared a package aimed at reducing the $1,560,000,000 of debt-servicing obligations without borrowing from abroad. This would include $325 million in proceeds from privatizing Sidor, the state-owned steel company; $194 million from the sale of shares in the Corporación Andina de Fomento; increased contributions from Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company; and the reprogramming of future debt-servicing obligations, which averaged $4 billion-$5 billion per year.

      The financial crisis set the scene for the legislative elections on November 8. The most popular candidate in the opinion polls was Hugo Chávez of the Patriotic Pole coalition. Chávez, a retired lieutenant colonel, was well known as the leader of an abortive military uprising in 1992. He backpedaled on his earlier nationalist and populist stance and promised "Tony Blair-style Third Way policies," which would include privatization measures. To improve his image with wealthy Venezuelans, he swapped casual clothes for a suit and necktie, and in October he invited bankers and investors to a conference to hear his ideas on reforming the constitution by means of a referendum.

      This approach paid off for Chávez. In the November election his left-wing coalition won 34% of the seats in the legislature. The centre-left Democratic Action Party won 22%, and the conservative Social Christian Party won 11%.

      In the election for president in December Chávez won decisively over businessman Henrique Salas Romer. The margin of victory, 56.5%-39.5%, was the largest in a Venezuelan presidential election in 40 years. Approximately 65% of the eligible voters went to the polls, a high figure for Venezuela. Chávez became the first president in 40 years who was not a member of one of the country's dominant political parties.

ALAN MURPHY

‚Ė™ 1998

      Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 22,777,000

      Capital: Caracas

      Head of state and government: President Rafael Caldera

      In February and March large-scale strikes by physicians, university professors, and government employees, combined with rumours of a military coup and worries about the health of Pres. Rafael Caldera, created an atmosphere of uncertainty. The government managed to diffuse labour unrest but only by acceding to demands for large pay increases for government workers. Caldera's annual state of the union address ended talk of his imminent demise.

      Divisions between and within the political parties effectively brought the legislature to a halt during the first quarter of the year, leaving little time to discuss the government's reform program Agenda Venezuela. Among the proposed reforms were privatization of the aluminum, steel, and electricity industries; reform of the judicial system; and the reorganization of public finances. Legislative support for such politically sensitive issues grew less and less likely as the year wore on and as the competing parties began their campaigns for the next election, to be held in December 1998. The main political party, Democratic Action (AD), put up resistance to the proposed reforms. AD and the Social Christian Party (COPEI), the other main party, rejected the government's proposal to hold a special session in July to discuss the contract for privatization of the government-owned steel company, Sidor.

      Because all government reforms required approval by the legislature, and Caldera's party, National Convergence, controlled fewer than 10% of the seats, the president needed support from elsewhere. However, his party's most consistent supporter, the Movement to Socialism (MAS), split into two factions, and the support of COPEI could not be guaranteed. The only remaining alternative, AD, seemed certain to demand major concessions to the government's liberal economic policies in exchange for its support. In addition to MAS, the other main left-wing party, the Radical Cause, also split in two. This left both parties as secondary players in the legislature and ended their pact with COPEI as the "Triple Alliance."

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†At the end of May, the mayor of Chacao, Irene S√°ez, applied to register her party‚ÄĒ Integration, Representation, New Hope (IRENE)‚ÄĒon a national level. Despite attacks from rivals, she remained the main presidential contender, with 33% of the voters' support, according to a midyear poll. As an independent, S√°ez avoided contact with the traditional political parties but drew support from within all of them. COPEI remained divided over whether to back S√°ez.

      In June a new labour law was passed to reform the complex and outmoded severance pay system. This was designed to stimulate employment and productivity by reducing the cost to employers of hiring and firing workers. The trade union confederation was criticized for making too many concessions in the labour law negotiations but regained credibility with its members by calling a one-day general strike in July to protest the 27% increase in gasoline (petrol) prices and the private sector's failure to increase salaries, which they claimed were part of the deal that had included government-worker pay increases. This strike followed hard on the heels of a walkout by 3,000 Caracas subway workers.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Prospects for the country's ailing economy looked brighter in 1997, with growth for the year at 5.1%‚ÄĒa faster-than-expected recovery. The oil sector was responsible for much of the expansion, gaining 8.8%. Economic recovery was also helped by the huge government-worker pay increases of about 70%, which boosted private consumption. Growth in bank lending also helped, as did a real appreciation of the bol√≠var, which fueled rapid import growth. On the downside the large pay increases to government workers caused the government's 1997 inflation target of 25% to rise, and by July the inflation rate was 40.5%.

ALAN MURPHY

‚Ė™ 1997

      A republic of northern South America, Venezuela lies on the Caribbean Sea. Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 22,311,000. Cap.: Caracas. Monetary unit: bolívar, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 460 bolivares to U.S. $1 (268.75 bolivares = £1 sterling). President in 1996, Rafael Caldera.

      In an address to the nation on April 15, 1996, Pres. Rafael Caldera announced a political U-turn for Venezuela, marking a decisive break with the interventionist policies he and his Cabinet had been following since he took office in January 1994. The initial phase of Venezuela's return to free-market policies was completed with a $1.4 billion standby loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), formally agreed to on July 12. An IMF team planned to visit the country every quarter to monitor progress. After their August visit they pledged to disburse the second part of the standby loan in October, which would amount to $225 million, the first installment of $500 million having been released in July.

      Having implemented price and interest-rate controls and a fivefold increase in gasoline prices within one week (April 16-22), the government then faced more difficult challenges. The exchange rate set by the Brady Board Market rose to more than 500 bolivares to the dollar in the week before controls were lifted. As domestic interest rates increased following the removal of banking interest-rate limits, investors brought currency back into the country. This resulted in an appreciation of the exchange rate, which stabilized at 460-470 bolivares to the dollar. The exchange rate was allowed to float, with minimal official intervention.

      The government was studying plans to increase transportation prices. It planned to maintain its subsidy to the poor and students for two years while the bus fleet was being converted to natural gas, a cheaper fuel than gasoline. The new higher fares caused protests, which rekindled memories of the bloody riots of 1989 in response to increased fares. In early June six buses were firebombed in Caracas, and four people were killed. The government blamed subversive groups intent on destabilizing the country. A delay in wage bonuses promised in April and planned streamlining of the public-sector workforce resulted in a one-day strike on August 2. Unions threatened to strike unless the government addressed the 13,000 potential job losses after privatization of the aluminium, steel, and ferrosilicon industries.

      Congress held extra sessions in late July to push through legislation before the August recess, approving the sale of 49% of the government's share in the national telecommunications utility. The legislature also passed two bills to stimulate Venezuelan capital markets. The first created an electronic settlement and clearance system to accelerate stock market transactions. The second strengthened the regulation of mutual and other investment funds, providing minimum capital requirement for investment funds (at least 20,000 tax units, or 54 million bolivares). The government hoped that these laws would also provide the framework for the introduction of private pension funds.

      The oil sector was buoyant. In the first four months of 1996, production of crude oil, condensate, and liquid petroleum gas by the state oil company averaged 3,076,000 bbl per day, 7.1% higher than in 1995. With average prices for Venezuelan oil 12.9% above the 1995 levels, export earnings increased strongly.

      Relations between Venezuela and Colombia continued to be tense following allegations by a Colombian National Security adviser that Venezuelan officials were trafficking arms to Colombian drug traders and guerrillas. A meeting between foreign ministers in August ended with a joint commitment to search for solutions to the problems of border security.

      (ALAN MURPHY)

‚Ė™ 1996

      A republic of northern South America, Venezuela lies on the Caribbean Sea. Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 21,844,000. Cap.: Caracas. Monetary unit: bolívar, with (Oct. 6, 1995) an official (fixed) rate of 170 bolivares to U.S. $1 (268.75 bolivares = £ 1 sterling). President in 1995 Rafael Caldera.

      The year 1995 began as 1994 had ended; following the collapse of a major financial group, Grupo Latino Americano, in December, January saw the failure of three more banks, leading to state intervention in Banco Italo-Venezolano, Banco Profesional, and Banco Principal. Two other banks, Banco Unión and Banco Federal, almost collapsed at the same time but were rescued by private bailout packages. By the end of August, 18 of the 41 private banks that had existed at the beginning of 1994 had been taken over by the government, and an estimated 70% of commercial bank deposits were under government control.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In early February, Finance Minister Julio Sosa Rodr√≠guez resigned, and Pres. Rafael Caldera appointed Luis Ra√ļl Matos Az√≥car as his replacement. Although a recent political opponent of Caldera, Az√≥car supported the president in the face of growing Cabinet divisions over economic policy. Not only did the president win support for the retention of government controls, but he also won greater-than-normal powers from Congress with three new bills. The new exchange regime bill imposed severe penalties for breaking exchange controls; the consumer protection law established price controls and state intervention in the affairs of private business; and the finance emergency law allowed direct control of the banking system. These laws also allowed Caldera to restore the constitutional rights that had been suspended at the end of June 1994 in an attempt to prevent capital flight and seize assets from fugitive bankers.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Although inflation figures for the first seven months of 1995 were an improvement on the previous year‚ÄĒ25.5% compared with 37.6%‚ÄĒinflationary pressure remained high owing to price controls. The government's target of 40% annual inflation looked increasingly unrealistic, and by September the annual figure had been set at 57%. An anti-inflation pact agreed to between government, unions, and the main employers confederation fell apart when it became apparent that the government's revised budget proposals would prove inadequate to reduce the growing deficit. Ocepre, the government's budget office, forecast a 1995 deficit of $5.4 billion, or 6.9% of gross domestic product (GDP), but only $3.8 billion was allocated for debt servicing in the 1995 budget plan. Some efforts were made to cut government expenditure, namely, by not increasing public-sector wages in line with inflation. Two weeks before unions were asked to accept a pay freeze, however, Congress voted itself a 46% pay increase, which only encouraged unions to demand a doubling of the minimum wage.

      Labour tensions grew steadily throughout the year. A strike by air traffic controllers was ended by military intervention, and court employees paralyzed the entire judicial system for weeks during an industrial action that ended in August. Social unrest grew, and disturbances became a frequent occurrence in all major cities as a consequence of rising food prices and shortages of basic goods. On September 10 the government risked further public disquiet when it raised gasoline prices. The average cost more than doubled but was still below production cost of 10.5 bolívares per litre (26 cents per gallon).

      Revenue from the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), fell sharply as a percentage of GDP despite stronger-than-expected world oil prices and output volumes. This was due to the fact that most of PDVSA's income was in U.S. dollars and the bolívar had appreciated in real terms because of the fixed exchange rate.

      The government's efforts to attract foreign investments through privatization continued to prove unsuccessful. Then, in July, Venezuela allowed foreign equity and investment in oil exploration and production for the first time since the nationalization of the petroleum industry in 1976. Congress approved a model profit-sharing contract under which PDVSA would be able to call for international tenders on exploring and developing 10 areas containing light and medium crude reserves. This agreement would allow the establishment of joint ventures with private companies to develop and produce from these areas.

      The December 3 elections reflected the unpopularity of the Caldera government, with 13 of the 22 governorships and half the mayoralties at stake going to the opposition party, Democratic Action. The government responded by devaluing the bolívar by 41%, from 170 to the dollar to 290. Finance Minister Azócar said he hoped this action would help Venezuela secure $3 billion in financial support from the International Monetary Fund. (ALAN MURPHY)

‚Ė™ 1995

      A republic of northern South America, Venezuela lies on the Caribbean Sea. Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 21,177,000. Cap.: Caracas. Monetary unit: bolívar, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a fixed rate of 170 bolivares to U.S. $1 (270.38 bolivares = £1 sterling). Presidents in 1994, Ramón José Velásquez (interim) and, from February 2, Rafael Caldera.

      Pres. Rafael Caldera's first months in office were beset by serious economic problems. Even before he took office, in February 1994, the outlines of difficulties ahead were apparent, first with the imposition by the previous president, Ramón José Velásquez, of price controls on basic items and then with the collapse of Venezuela's second largest commercial bank, Banco Latino. A crisis in the financial community followed when many depositors made substantial withdrawals. By June it was apparent that government financial assistance was being misused; one finance house and seven banks were closed before the government took effective control of the entire system by decree. Eight additional institutions were given temporary assistance in August. At the root of the financial problems was the central bank's policy of high interest rates, which had caused the banks to suffer from a shortage of liquidity. In order to reduce borrowing costs, and thus help cut inflation, the government lowered interest rates. This forced the resignation of the central bank president, Ruth de Krivoy, who maintained that high interest rates prevented capital flight and that government intervention compromised the bank's independence.

      Unfortunately for Caldera, the efforts to solve the economic crisis postponed the plans that had won him the 1993 elections. His aim was to improve employment and living standards, but by midyear some austerity measures had to be introduced. Of chief concern was a rapid decline in the value of the bolívar against the dollar. From a rate of 106 bolivares to $1 at the end of 1993, it fell to 155 to $1 by the end of May. By June 23 the bolívar had fallen to 200 to the dollar. All foreign exchange trading was then suspended, to be partially restored in mid-July, when a new fixed exchange rate of 170 bolivares = $1 was set. Exports and imports were severely disrupted, threatening the chances for economic recovery.

      To ease the budget deficit, new taxes on luxuries, wholesale trading, and debt transactions at banks were announced in April, along with a higher ceiling on income taxes for corporations and individuals. In September an economic recovery program for 1995 proposed a further increase in taxes and the raising of gasoline prices in order to convert the budget deficit from an estimated 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1994 to a surplus in 1995 (not including the huge drain on finances to support the banking sector). GDP was forecast to grow by 0.5% in 1995, compared with a 3.3% decline in 1994, while the rate of inflation would be cut from 65% in 1994 to 25%.

      In February Caldera assumed emergency powers in order to abolish the value-added tax. Congressional opposition was short-lived, and the administration was granted a month to draw up new tax measures. In June Caldera suspended constitutional guarantees concerning the seizure of assets and the possession and trading of property; he also imposed restrictions on foreign travel. In the face of strikes and demonstrations, the right to free assembly and immunity from arbitrary arrest were also suspended. The congress voted to restore all these rights on July 21, but Caldera reimposed them the next day to prevent capital flight and speculation in essential goods. He also offered to hold a national referendum on his actions, which the congress declined. On the other hand, the president's action did not inspire confidence in those foreign investors who would have preferred to enter a less controlled market. In this regard the failure to obtain a single offer to buy the Aeropostal airline prompted a Cabinet reshuffle, with a new head of the privatization program.

      In March Caldera released from prison Hugo Chávez Frías, who had led the military rebellion against former president Carlos Andrés Pérez in February 1992. Chávez expressed his support for Caldera without actually joining his coalition. Both shared the opinion that economic deprivation was behind political unrest, but it was open to question how long Chávez and his military supporters would refrain from intervention should the austerity that Caldera was forced to impose continue for a prolonged period. In May, Pérez, who had been removed from office in 1993, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of embezzlement and misuse of public funds in 1989. Formal hearings into the case began in November. (BEN BOX)

‚Ė™ 1994

      A republic of northern South America, Venezuela lies on the Caribbean Sea. Area: 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 20,609,000. Cap.: Caracas. Monetary unit: bolívar, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a free rate of 97.39 bolívares to U.S. $1 (147.54 bolívares = £ 1 sterling). Presidents in 1992, Carlos Andrés Pérez to May 21, Octavio Lepage (acting) from May 21, and, from June 5, Ramón José Velásquez (interim).

      Having survived two unsuccessful coup attempts in 1992, Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez was forced to leave office in May 1993. The Supreme Court ruled that there was sufficient evidence for Pérez to be tried for corruption, and following months of political disquiet, he was suspended. The charges involved the embezzlement of $17.2 million worth of secret government funds intended for security and defense but allegedly used by Pérez and two former Cabinet ministers to buy dollars at the preferential exchange rate. The dollars were then sold on the free market and the resulting $10 million profit used for political campaigning. While Pérez denied the accusations, it was his own policies of freeing the judiciary from political ties, proposing greater independence for the central bank (which provided foreign exchange receipts as evidence), and encouraging political debate that contributed to his impeachment. Similarly under investigation for corruption was Pérez' predecessor, Jaime Lusinchi, but on different charges.

      To replace Pérez, the chairman of the Senate, Octavio Lepage, was sworn in as acting president, but he held office for only two weeks, as Congress, at the beginning of June, voted Sen. Ramón José Velásquez interim president until February 1994. Velásquez was permitted to appoint a Cabinet without influence from any political party in order to tackle the many social and economic problems facing Venezuela and to ensure the holding of presidential, congressional, and state assembly elections on December 5.

      The first half of the year was marred by demonstrations and riots surrounding both Pérez' impeachment and the rerunning of gubernatorial elections in the states of Sucre and Barinas. In each case the ruling Democratic Action (AD) Party had refused to concede defeat in December 1992 polls, but it suffered heavy defeats in the rescheduled March elections. There were also strikes and unrest over economic policy, which was causing hardship for many sectors of society.

      Velásquez's task was not eased by a series of bombings in Caracas, beginning in July, that were aimed at destabilizing the country. One attack was specifically blamed on people trying to manipulate the stock market. Also blamed were drug racketeers, who targeted judges. In a subsequent development, Velásquez himself was implicated in a conspiracy to free a prominent narcotics trafficker, but his involvement was categorically disproved.

      Political uncertainty prevailed up to the eve of the elections. Rumours of possible coup attempts surfaced throughout the year, the latest at the beginning of December. Concern was such that the U.S. sent its assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, Alexander Watson, to Caracas to underline the dangers of Venezuela's failing to maintain democracy. The elections proceeded, however, and were won by former president Rafael Caldera, who stood as an independent leading a broad coalition called National Convergence (CN). His main rivals, out of 17 candidates, were Claudio Fermín of Pérez' AD Party, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz of the Social Christian Party (COPEI), and Andrés Velásquez of the left-leaning Radical Cause. Caldera, who had been president from 1969 to 1974, was the founder of COPEI in the 1940s, but he broke from the party before the 1993 campaign. Seventeen small parties, including left-wing groups of which Caldera was formerly a fierce opponent, made up the CN. Just as Caldera's success disrupted the AD/COPEI domination of Venezuelan politics of more than four decades, so congressional elections appeared to have ended the two-party division of seats. Given Caldera's narrow majority, a Congress comprising many different parties would require him to make alliances to govern effectively.

      High on Caldera's agenda was modification of the free-market reforms instituted by Pérez. In fact, all of the main contenders adopted firm positions for or against the economic adjustment and austerity measures. Although Caldera demanded changes in the policies, he stressed to the private sector and foreign investors that he did not oppose the free market itself or privatization. However, the privatization program, which interim president Velásquez favoured, was suspended in November until after the new president's inauguration in 1994. Velásquez continued many of Pérez' unpopular policies but also obtained special powers to pass by decree several economic measures that Congress had previously been unable to ratify. These included tackling the deficit, opening up banking to foreign involvement within wider financial reform, tax reform to raise revenues, the introduction of a sales tax and a tax on the assets of private companies, and assistance to the agricultural sector.

      Political unrest did not deter foreign investment in the oil and gas industry, notably the approval of the multibillion-dollar Cristóbal Colón liquefied natural gas project, or in mining. The Canadian company Placer Dome discovered the largest gold deposit yet found in Bolívar state, Venezuela's traditional gold-mining area. Generally, however, overseas investors were wary of committing themselves to Venezuela at this time.

      Growth in gross domestic product showed a real deficit of over 2% in January-June compared with the first half of 1992. For the year as a whole, forecasts ranged from 1 to 4% growth, compared with an initial prediction of 5% and with 7.3% growth in 1992. The imposition of a 10% value-added tax in October was expected to contribute to a rise in inflation to some 40% for the year. Weak international oil prices were a principal cause of the deficit, but they did not threaten the strength of international reserves, which were bolstered by high interest rates. Nevertheless, high interest rates and continuing low oil prices would restrict Caldera's plans for curtailing austerity, at the same time cutting government spending.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Despite the fiscal deficit, President Vel√°squez' government sought funds to compensate the thousands of Caraque√Īos who lost their homes or were injured when Tropical Storm Bret hit the capital in August. The majority were slum dwellers, among the poorest of society. In another major disaster, at least 51 people died at the end of September when a gas pipe exploded beside one of the capital's highways. (BEN BOX)

* * *

Introduction
Venezuela, flag of   country located at the northern end of South America. It occupies a roughly triangular area that is larger than the combined areas of France and Germany. Venezuela is bounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the southwest and west. The national capital, Caracas, is Venezuela's primary centre of industry, commerce, education, and tourism.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela administers a number of Caribbean islands and archipelagos, among which are Margarita Island, La Blanquilla, La Tortuga, Los Roques, and Los Monjes. Since the early 19th century Venezuela has claimed jurisdiction over Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River totaling some 53,000 square miles (137,000 square km)‚ÄĒnearly two-thirds of the land area of Guyana. Venezuela also has had a long dispute with Colombia over the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Venezuela and around the archipelago of Los Monjes.

      A physiographically diverse country, Venezuela incorporates the northern Andean mountain chains and interior highlands, the main portions of the Orinoco River basin with its expansive Llanos (plains), Lake Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Lake), which is the largest lake in South America, and the spectacular Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall. The republic's development pattern has been unique among Latin American countries in terms of the speed, sequence, and timing of economic and demographic growth. In the 20th century Venezuela was transformed from a relatively poor agrarian society to a rapidly urbanizing one, a condition made possible by exploiting huge petroleum reserves. These changes, however, have been accompanied by imbalances among the country's regions and socioeconomic groups, and Venezuela's cities have swelled because of a massive and largely uncontrolled migration from rural areas, as well as mass immigration, much of it illegal, from Colombia and other neighbours.

      Venezuela, like many Latin American countries, has a high percentage of urban poverty, a massive foreign debt, and widespread governmental patronage and corruption. Venezuela's social and political ills have been compounded by natural disasters such as the floods that devastated sections of Caracas, La Guaira, and other coastal areas in late 1999. On the other hand, the republic since 1958 has been more democratic and politically stable than most other Latin American nations, and its economic prospects remain strong, particularly in regard to the petroleum industry.

The land
  The Venezuelan landscape includes towering mountains, tropical jungles, broad river plains, and arid coastal plains, all of which provide a diversity of natural habitats and a range of challenges to social integration and economic development.

Relief
       Venezuela's topography can be divided into three broad elevational divisions: the lowland plains, which rise from sea level to about 1,650 feet (500 metres), the mountains, which reach elevations of some 16,400 feet (5,000 metres), and the interior forested uplands, with scattered peaks above 6,550 feet (2,000 metres). Within these broad divisions, seven physiographic regions can be distinguished: the islands and coastal plains, including the Orinoco delta; the Lake Maracaibo Lowlands; the Mérida and Perijá ranges of the Andes Mountains; the coastal mountain system (with its Coastal and Interior ranges); the northwestern valleys and hill ranges, also called the Segovia Highlands; the Llanos; and the Guiana Highlands.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The islands and coastal plains are located in the north. They include the Caribbean ‚ÄúIslands to the Leeward,‚ÄĚ such as Margarita and La Tortuga, and several peninsulas, including the head-shaped Paraguan√° (Paraguan√° Peninsula) in the northwest and, in the northeast, Araya and Paria, the latter a finger of land pointing at Trinidad. The coastal plains extend from the Colombian border and the Gulf of Venezuela eastward to the foothills of the coastal mountains, which are broken in the east by the Unare River basin. Farther east is the Orinoco (Orinoco River) delta, which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean through a number of distributaries (ca√Īos); an early gateway to the settlement of the interior, it is a low, dank, and swampy area heavily dissected by streams.

      The two branches of the Andes (Andes Mountains) that traverse northwestern Venezuela, including the country's highest peaks, are northeastward extensions of the Colombian Andes' Cordillera Oriental. The western branch, known as the Perijá Mountains (Perijá, Mountains of) (Sierra de Perijá, or Serranía de los Motilones), runs along the border with Colombia, whereas the eastern branch, the Cordillera de Mérida, extends from the border to Lara state and divides the Lake Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Lake) basin from that of the Orinoco River. Physiographically, the Segovia Highlands, northwest of Barquisimeto, and the coastal ranges may also be considered parts of the Andes chain. The highest point in the Venezuelan Andes is La Columna (Bolívar Peak), which rises to 16,427 feet (5,007 metres) in the Cordillera de Mérida. Between the high Andean ranges are Lake Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Lake) and its associated lowlands; this basin is one of the main oil-producing regions of the country.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The coastal mountain system, in effect two parallel ranges‚ÄĒthe Coastal Range and the Interior Range‚ÄĒcontains Venezuela's greatest concentration of population, although it covers only a tiny fraction of the national territory. In the intermontane valleys are the major cities of Caracas, Valencia, and Maracay, and all but the steepest slopes are populated. Naiguat√° Peak, at 9,072 feet (2,765 metres), is the highest point in the coastal system.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The valleys and hill ranges of the northwest lie east of Lake Maracaibo and form, in part, a transitional upland zone between the Coastal and Andean mountains. Elevations there range from 1,600 to 5,500 feet (490 to 1,680 metres). Within this region is the only desert in Venezuela‚ÄĒthe sand dunes around the city of Coro.

      Along the course of the Orinoco River lie the Llanos, a relatively level region of savannas and tropical rainforests, where the land undulates only between low mesalike interfluves and shallow, meandering, braided river courses. Cattle raising and oil exploration predominate in this sparsely populated region, which experiences river flooding in summer and drought in winter. From the Andean foothills to the Orinoco delta, the Llanos extend for some 800 miles (1,300 km), varying in width from about 100 miles (160 km) in the east to 300 miles (500 km) in the west.

 From the Orinoco through the southernmost (Amazonas) territory bordering Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana are the vast Guiana Highlands, or Guayana, largely an upland surface of rounded hills and narrow valleys formed from ancient crystalline rocks. Occupying more than two-fifths of the country's land area, it is the most remote and least explored part of Venezuela. Along the southern border with Brazil are groups of massive plateaus and steep-sided mesas, known as tepuis (tepuyes), capped with erosion-resistant sandstone and covered with intermingled savanna and semideciduous forest. Among the larger tepuis in the southeast are Camón, Chimanta, and the famous Mount Roraima, which rises to 9,094 feet (2,772 metres) along the Guyanese border. Like the lowland savannas of the Llanos, the tepuis experience extreme rainy and dry seasons.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Along the southeastern Guiana Highlands, in the region called La Gran Sabana, are Angel Falls (Parecup√° Mer√ļ), the highest waterfall in the world, measuring 3,212 feet (979 metres) from the cliffs of the massive Auy√°n tepui (Auyantepui) to the valley floor below. Other major waterfalls in the region are Tor√≥n, Karuay, and Yuri. The highlands are sparsely settled but have tremendous resources; they abound in deposits of iron ore, gold, and diamonds, and they possess considerable hydroelectric potential, as well as hardwood forest resources. The Venezuelan military has long been concerned with the highlands because of the long-standing territorial dispute with Guyana, as well as illegal crossings of people, cattle, and narcotics over the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

Drainage
      The Venezuelan drainage network consists almost entirely of two watersheds, the largest emptying into the Atlantic Ocean and the other into the Caribbean Sea.

 The Orinoco River and its main tributary, the Caroní (Caroní River), carry approximately four-fifths of the country's surface runoff and occupy a basin of some 366,000 square miles (948,000 square km). The Orinoco's source is in the southern Guiana Highlands; it first flows northwestward, then north, and finally eastward to its delta, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean across some 275 miles (440 km) of coastline. In the Orinoco's middle course, where it flows eastward through the wide Llanos, it is joined by tributaries from the Llanos interior, such as the Apure and Meta, and by other tributaries originating in the Guiana Highlands to the south, such as the Caroní. One unusual configuration occurs near the river's source, where, because of the almost level gradient, the Orinoco channel divides: one branch discharges southwest into the Casiquiare River, which joins the Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, whereas the other branch continues its northward flow through Venezuela.

      The intermontane basins and valleys of the Andes and coastal mountains are drained mainly by other tributaries of the Orinoco. The Caracas valley is an exception, however; there the Tuy River runs eastward to the Caribbean. Landlocked Lake Valencia (Valencia, Lake) is Venezuela's only example of interior drainage.

      Lake Maracaibo is the most extensive lake in South America, covering an area of 5,130 square miles (13,280 square km) in northwestern Venezuela. It is approximately 75 miles (120 km) wide from east to west and 100 miles (160 km) long from north to south, excluding a channel 25 miles (40 km) long that connects the northern end of the lake to the Gulf of Venezuela, an inlet of the Caribbean; because of this connection to the sea and the resulting brackish water in the northern part of the lake, Maracaibo is sometimes described as a gulf or lagoon. Its southern waters are fresh, however. Maracaibo is fed by some 10 large rivers, including the Catatumbo, Chama, Escalante, and Santa Ana, as well as by dozens of small rivers and streams. Thousands of oil derricks and pumps jut from a vast area of the lake's surface. (See Researcher's Note: Lake Titicaca versus Lake Maracaibo.)

Soils
      Relatively infertile, reddish latosols are common in Venezuela's Llanos and in the Guiana Highlands. Abundant moisture leaches some soils of all but the most insoluble minerals, including iron and aluminum sesquioxides, which are collectively known as laterite. The country's most fertile soils are formed by such well-drained, transported material as river alluvium or recent volcanic deposits. Alluvial soils are found in the southern Maracaibo Lowlands, along the fringes of the Llanos, and in broad valley bottoms in the northern mountains. The Orinoco delta and adjacent plains are also rich in alluvium, although poor drainage in these low areas impedes agricultural development and discourages settlement. Volcanic soils cover the slopes of many of the northern mountains, but these fertile soils are often severely eroded because of deforestation associated with logging and the practice of shifting agriculture.

Climate
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela lies well within the tropics, and the country's temperatures are relatively uniform with little seasonal variation. Elevation, however, produces significant local differences in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation. More than nine-tenths of Venezuela has a mean annual temperature above 75 ¬įF (24 ¬įC). The average mean temperature for Caracas, lying in a high valley, is about 72 ¬įF (22 ¬įC), whereas the nearby port of La Guaira averages some 81 ¬įF (27 ¬įC). M√©rida, at more than 4,900 feet (1,500 metres), averages 66 ¬įF (19 ¬įC), while low-lying Maracaibo, at sea level, averages 82 ¬įF (28 ¬įC). A considerable part of the mountain region has temperate conditions, but the cold (arctic) zone of higher elevations is much smaller than in other Andean countries. Diurnal temperature ranges are more pronounced than month-to-month variations, a characteristic trait of the tropics.

      Venezuela's climatic year is divided into two seasons: the wet season, which lasts from May to October and even continues sporadically through November; and the dry season, which begins in December and continues until the end of March. Regional variations in precipitation are marked, however. Only the northeastern coastal areas receive appreciable rainfall in the summer. The northwestern coast is more arid, with some places receiving less than 20 inches (500 mm) of precipitation annually. La Guaira, for example, receives an average of only 11 inches (280 mm). Rain shadow areas behind coastal and upland ranges are also quite dry, while their corresponding windward slopes are generally well watered. Inland the Llanos and the southern interior of the country generally receive sufficient rainfall to support tropical savanna, lush tropical rainforest (selva), and cropland and pastures. Seasonal cycles of flood and drought are common in the Llanos region, and tropical conditions occasionally bring heavy downpours to other areas, such as the northern coast, which experienced deadly floods and mud slides in December 1999.

Plant and animal life
      Most of Venezuela's vegetation is tropical and evergreen or semideciduous. Forests cover some two-fifths of the land, and savanna grasses cover about half. Variations in elevation and rainfall create differences in vegetation. True tropical species generally do not flourish above 1,500 feet (460 metres), although the selva intermingles with tall savanna grasslands in transitional zones in the interior; mangrove swamps are found in the Orinoco delta. The selva gives way to semitropical vegetation that reaches up to about 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) and characteristically includes tree ferns and epiphytes such as orchids. Higher up the Andean slopes, fern forests give way to mountain vegetation, culminating above 9,800 feet (3,000 metres) in páramo vegetation, which has few trees but a variety of small alpine shrubs and lichens. The southern Maracaibo basin is covered by dense tropical rainforest, but closer to the Caribbean the basin is characterized by xerophytic scrub woodland and grasses; this type of plant life formerly covered the entire northwestern region, but since the mid-20th century much of that land has been cleared, denuded, and overcultivated. Except in the remoter interior areas, indigenous and introduced species coexist on the forested slopes and around the settled lowland plains and valleys.

      Venezuela's wildlife exhibits considerable variety. Seven species of the cat family inhabit the forested interior, including jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundis, pumas, and margays. Several types of monkeys also live in forested territories, among them howler and spider monkeys, long-tailed capuchins, and nocturnal douroucoulis. Other forest animals include bears, peccaries, deer, opossums, wild dogs, agoutis, and skunks. Among the more unusual species are tapir, which are large, cloven-hoofed quadrupeds with prominent snouts. Herbivorous manatees are aquatic mammals that survive in the coastal estuaries.

      A wide range of reptiles inhabit the remoter rivers, coastal lagoons, and swamps, including caimans, alligators, lizards, and several species of turtles. Many types of snakes, too, are found in the forested interior, including such venomous species as coral snakes, striped rattlesnakes, and bushmasters and such nonvenomous varieties as boa constrictors and anacondas.

      Birds, both migratory and nonmigratory, are plentiful and diverse. The coastal swamps are the tropical venue for migratory cranes, herons, storks, and ducks. There are vast ibis colonies in the Orinoco mangrove delta, and bellbirds are prevalent in the Orinoco basin's forests. Birds of prey are found throughout the country.

      Pelagic and coral reef fish are plentiful off the Caribbean coast and along the delta of the Orinoco River, and the deltaic channels foster mollusks and shrimps. Swarming freshwater species in the interior rivers include electric eels and piranhas. A wide array of catfishes are caught for food.

 Venezuela has numerous national parks and other protected areas. Canaima National Park (1962), encompassing some 11,600 square miles (30,000 square km) in La Gran Sabana of southeastern Venezuela, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994; the park's numerous rivers and tepuis support a wide range of plant and animal life. Parks within the Llanos region include Aguaro-Guariquito (1974) and Cinaruco y Capanaparo (1988), each of which has an area greater than 2,250 square miles (5,800 square km). Los Roques archipelago, famous for its bird and marine species, was made a national park in 1972. El Avila National Park (1958) is popular among hikers and campers from the Caracas area; including Naiguatá Peak and other formations in the Coastal Range, the park supports a variety of wildlife at elevations ranging from about 400 to more than 9,000 feet (120 to 2,750 metres).

Settlement patterns
      Sprawling metropolitan centres, densely populated mountain valleys, aboriginal log houses along riverbanks, and open, sparsely settled plains are among the diverse developmental patterns in Venezuela, and the nation's network of towns and cities reflects a hierarchy of social and economic ties.

Regional disparities
      Agricultural development stimulated the settlement and unification of Venezuela during the Spanish colonial period, when towns grew up as centres for markets and transportation. Short-lived gold rushes in the mountainous interior also prompted boomtowns to develop. Rural populations were, however, always small and dispersed because of the limited amount of arable and pasture land. Insect-borne diseases severely hindered European settlement in the Orinoco region and in other low-lying river basins. As a result, population densities were greater in the mountain valleys, where the climate and threat of disease were moderated by elevation. Andean towns prospered and grew on the profits of exported hides, cacao, and indigo.

      During the first century of independence, the nation consolidated its system of coastal ports and the hinterland administrative cities, and Caracas grew dominant as the hub of power, authority, and national wealth. The rural sector stagnated, while the northern urban network served as a conduit for the export of bulky raw materials and the import of manufactured goods and foodstuffs. Modern technologies, including the telegraph and telephone, tramways, and railroads, were selectively adopted in Caracas and La Guaira. Populations grew slowly in both rural and urban sectors, in part because of the prevalence of endemic diseases and the occurrence of natural disasters, but also because the sluggish economy attracted few immigrants.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†A major urbanized corridor formed in the northern highlands of Venezuela during the period 1920‚Äď40. The oil boom in the Maracaibo Lowlands during the 1930s and '40s attracted some population from the Andean highlands, while elsewhere migrants concentrated in such flourishing agricultural and commercial centres as Barquisimeto, San Crist√≥bal, and Barcelona. Greater Caracas, however, was the primary focus of urban migration and of foreign immigration, both legal and illegal. The pace of urbanization between 1940 and 1970 was the most rapid in Latin America. In the early oil-producing years of the 1940s, this phenomenon caused mass rural depopulation in some regions. Some sparsely settled areas such as the southern interior grew rapidly after the eradication of many diseases, but most rural communities in the densely settled highlands suffered sharp population declines. These latter regions became marginally productive agricultural zones, their stagnating communities offering few if any opportunities to the rural youth, who chose the apparent prosperity of city life over the hardships of rural life. Paramount among these hardships were the persistent inequalities of land ownership‚ÄĒlarge estates (latifundios) were owned by a wealthy few who underutilized their lands, while small farms (minifundios) were overcultivated yet barely sufficed for a family's basic needs.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The urban population doubled during the period 1940‚Äď49 and continued to grow rapidly in the 1950s. The government responded by spending vast sums on public housing, although only a fraction of the demand for urban shelter could be met. The majority of the poor typically created ramshackle quarters in hillside ranchos (shantytowns). These burgeoning illegal settlements were initially viewed with alarm by the upper and middle classes, but the ranchos have become accepted, if not promoted, as an inevitable consequence of rapid urban growth. Many ranchos have acquired more permanent housing structures, and services, neighbourhood facilities, and political representation have improved; however, others continue to suffer from high population densities, low-quality housing, deficient services, crime, and malnutrition and disease. In addition, rancho communities on steep hillsides are especially vulnerable to natural disasters; the floods and accompanying mudslides that swept through Venezuelan coastal settlements in 1999 killed a disproportionately large number of rancho dwellers.

 Although Venezuela's overall population density is about average for Latin America, it has one of the region's more metropolitan societies. More than nine-tenths of its population is classified as urban, with about one-third concentrated around the four largest cities (all of which are located in the north and northwest). About one-seventh of the population lives in Greater Caracas. The second largest city is Maracaibo, followed by Valencia and Barquisimeto. Ciudad Guayana is in the eastern interior and is the largest industrial centre on the Orinoco.

      The spatial arrangement of population and production in Venezuela has changed profoundly since the 1950s. During that decade modern road building began, and the main Andean axis of population was extended from San Cristóbal and Caracas to Lake Maracaibo in the west and through Valencia to the lower Orinoco River valley in the east. The Caracas-Valencia corridor's centrality was further entrenched by the building of express highways (autopistas) from Caracas to La Guaira and Maracay. Paved highways also linked this northern axis to other coastal regions and to the interior.

      In the 1960s Venezuela embarked on an ambitious program to promote economic diversification and decentralization outside the Caracas-Valencia core region. The government created a unique heavy industrial complex and residential centre, known as an urban growth pole, on the southern bank of the Orinoco River at its confluence with the Caroní. That complex, centred on Ciudad Guayana, included steel and aluminum mills in proximity to mining sites. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans subsequently moved to the city, but few of them came from Caracas. The area is now linked via pipeline to oil and natural gas refineries on the coast. National parks, forest reserves, and ecotourism have also been promoted in the region.

      Progress has been made in creating a national electric power grid, and bridges and tunnels have been built to improve contact between regions. Domestic airports have also helped to open up the interior and improve trade, but in spite of these efforts, the vastness and complexity of the Venezuelan landscape have caused regional imbalances to persist.

The people
      This section discusses migration, ethnic groups, population growth, and the languages and religions of Venezuela. For treatment of the lifestyles and artistic achievements of the Venezuelan people, see Cultural life (Venezuela).

Immigration and ethnic composition
       Venezuela is a country of immigrants. About two-thirds of the population is mestizo (of mixed European and Indian ancestry) or mulatto-mestizo (African, European, and Indian); about one-fifth of Venezuelans are of European lineage, and one-tenth have mainly African ancestry. The native Indian (South American Indian) population is statistically small.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Prior to 1948 Venezuela had never openly encouraged non-Hispanic immigration, except for selective influxes of merchants, sailors, and entrepreneurs from neighbouring West Indian islands. As the petroleum industry grew, however, the government attempted to attract a wider range of people. During a 10-year period of open immigration (1948‚Äď58), Venezuela recruited agricultural and skilled workers from Spain, Italy, and Portugal; at the same time migration from Colombia to Venezuela also increased. Approximately one million immigrants entered the country during that time, although many of them eventually returned home. After 1958 the government tightened immigration controls to favour foreigners with high-level skills, yet during the 1960s Colombian labourers continued to move into the rural sector as replacements for Venezuelans who were leaving farms for the cities.

      The government again shifted immigration policies in response to the mid-1970s petroleum boom, because there was a large demand for semiskilled and skilled labour in all sectors of the economy. At the same time, professional and technical workers and their families were leaving Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay because of political instability and persecution there, and many of them relocated to Venezuela. After 1976 the government again tightened its controls on immigration from other South American countries, instead favouring professionals from the United States, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Throughout that period of relative prosperity and economic expansion, the volume of illegal immigration (mainly unskilled workers and their families) matched that of legal entry. Most illegal immigrants came from Colombia, with smaller numbers arriving from Brazil and other neighbouring countries. Prior to the extended economic downturn of the 1980s, as many as 1.5 million undocumented Colombians resided in Venezuela, and more than a decade later hundreds of thousands remained. The influx of foreigners generated xenophobic sentiments in the late 1980s.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Ethnic groups are commonly identified with particular regions. Venezuelans of largely European and mestizo ancestry are concentrated in the major cities of the north. Peoples of African ancestry and mulatto-mestizo groups predominate along the Caribbean coast. Many mestizos from the highlands are physically distinct from those of the lowlands because of the different levels of intermarriage between Hispanic and Indian populations in the two regions. The Indian minorities survive mainly in the sparsely inhabited interior‚ÄĒthree-fifths live in Zulia state (primarily in the forests near Lake Maracaibo), one-seventh inhabit Amazonas state in the far south, and smaller numbers live in such remote areas as the Guiana Highlands and the Orinoco delta region in the east. According to government estimates, there are some 38 distinct Indian peoples within Venezuelan territory. The Goajiro (Wayuu) are the largest indigenous group, followed by the Warao (Warrau).

Demographic trends
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela's 20th-century population growth was among the most rapid in Latin America, averaging nearly 3 percent annually during the period 1970‚Äď95. This increase was prompted by high birth rates, declines in mortality rates, and successive waves of immigration. The population growth rate has declined significantly, however, since the early 1990s. After World War II Venezuela's mortality rate began to drop as advances in medicine and technology combated malaria, yellow fever, and other ailments; in addition, hygiene and diet were improved, and housing conditions were upgraded. While birth rates remained at high levels, mortality rates, which had been as high as 30 per thousand before 1920, dropped below 10 per thousand by the 1960s. Since that time the mortality rate has stabilized, and demographic changes have been mostly influenced by immigration rates and by reductions in fertility levels, which nevertheless have remained relatively high. About three-fifths of the population is under 30 years of age. Life expectancy rates have also been rising, a trend contributing to rapid population growth.

Languages
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Indian groups speak more than 25 different languages, most of which belong to three linguistic families‚ÄĒCariban, Arawak, and Chibcha. Spanish is the national language of the majority. Local idioms, colloquial phrases, and simplified verb usage distinguish Venezuelan Spanish from other Latin American and Iberian variants. In Caracas and other major commercial centres, English is often favoured in business communications, and private schools in Caracas encourage bilingualism. The presence of English-speaking professionals in the oil centres and in the major cities has made English the country's most popular second language.

Religion
 Freedom of religion in Venezuela is guaranteed by the constitution, although the vast majority of the people are at least nominally adherents of Roman Catholicism. Religious tolerance is generally observed. Various Protestant sects form the largest minority group, and there are small groups of Jews and Muslims. Some Indian peoples continue to practice their traditional religions, but many have converted to Catholicism, especially those in settlements clustered around riverside mission stations. The Roman Catholic church is officially apolitical, but many priests and bishops have become involved in political events, some by espousing liberation theology and agitating for socioeconomic reforms, and others by reacting against liberal or radical government policies.

The economy
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Venezuelan economy is based primarily on the production and exploitation of petroleum. From the late 1940s to 1970 the country was the world's largest petroleum exporter; it remains one of the principal exporters of oil to the United States. Venezuela's economy has relied on earnings from the petroleum sector to modernize and diversify other economic sectors; thus ‚Äúsembrando el petr√≥leo‚ÄĚ (‚Äúsowing the oil‚ÄĚ) has been a national slogan since the 1940s. The development of rich deposits of iron ore, nickel, coal, and bauxite (the ore of aluminum), as well as of hydroelectric power, have further expanded the economy.

      During the 1960s Venezuelan governments stressed import-substitution policies, using protective tariffs to limit imports of manufactured goods and subsidies to promote the growth of domestic manufacturing. As a result, export-oriented enterprises expanded. In the mid-1970s the government nationalized Venezuelan iron ore, oil, and gas industries, and it then used earnings from fossil fuel exports to fund major infrastructure improvements and other public works. By the end of the 20th century, Venezuelan industries had diversified, and the country had developed additional natural resources.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Nevertheless, Venezuela's ‚Äúsowing the oil‚ÄĚ was considerably slowed because of fluctuations in international petroleum prices and global economic recessions in the 1980s and '90s, as well as domestic problems such as inflation, inefficient management, corruption, and a lack of skilled personnel. The economy was pressured by a massive foreign debt, high unemployment, rapid population growth, and illegal immigration; however, early in the 21st century the economy recovered enough that by 2007 the country had paid off its foreign debt. Pres. Hugo Ch√°vez, first elected in 1998, forged a socialist economic and political agenda that included a program of increasing nationalization, which was introduced after his landslide victory in the 2006 election. Determined to reduce U.S. economic influence in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America, he also drew upon the country's oil wealth to grant generous loans to its neighbours.

Resources
Minerals
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela's most economically significant natural resources are petroleum and natural gas, the mining of which accounts for about one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP) but less than 1 percent of the workforce. Coal is also important, and there are largely unexploited deposits of iron ore, bauxite, and other minerals. Some of the largest proven petroleum reserves in the world exist in the Orinoco delta and offshore, as well as in the eastern Llanos, in Guarico, Anzoategui, and Monagas states, in the Lake Maracaibo Lowlands (mainly Zulia state), and in the western Llanos, particularly in the states of Barinas and Apure. Before the government nationalized the industry, multinational firms accounted for more than four-fifths of production. Refining was primarily accomplished offshore in Aruba, Cura√ßao, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. After nationalization a state-owned company, Petr√≥leos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), assumed responsibility for production, but PDVSA still depended heavily on foreign oil companies to refine, transport, and market the oil and natural gas and to provide technical assistance. The government, faced with economic difficulties, adopted reforms in the late 1980s and '90s that included reopening the petroleum sector to foreign investment, notably to further explore and develop heavy crude oil deposits in the Orinoco basin, to upgrade refineries, and to streamline production through joint ventures. In a reversal of this trend, the oil industry became the focus of Ch√°vez's nationalization efforts in 2006, and in 2007 he completed the takeover of the sector by seizing operational control of the last privately run oil operation in the country‚ÄĒthe Orinoco basin oil projects‚ÄĒfrom foreign-owned companies. Some of the heavy oil from the Orinoco basin is used to create bitumen-rich orimulsion, a boiler fuel that burns less cleanly than many other fuel sources.

      Venezuela also has abundant natural gas deposits, again among the world's largest proven reserves, and PDVSA has formed joint ventures for its exploration and production. In addition, a PDVSA subsidiary, Carbozulia, has developed major coal reserves in the Guasaré River basin.

      Modern iron (iron processing)-ore mining in Venezuela began in the mid-20th century in the region surrounding present-day Ciudad Guayana, based on deposits at Cerro Bolívar (Bolívar, Cerro) and El Pao. In 1975 the U.S.-owned mining operations were nationalized, and the government-owned Venezuelan Guayana Corporation assumed control. Production of iron ore has grown substantially since the mid-1980s.

      In the mid-1970s large deposits of bauxite were discovered in the Guiana Highlands, much of it high-grade ore suitable for alumina smelting in the Ciudad Guayana complex. Other important nonferrous minerals include gold and diamonds in the Guiana Highlands, coal northwest of Lake Maracaibo, salt deposits in the Araya Peninsula, and scattered deposits of industrial-grade limestone. There are also economically important quantities of nickel, phosphates, copper, zinc, lead, titanium, and manganese, and surveys indicate the existence of substantial deposits of uranium and thorium.

 Hydroelectricity (hydroelectric power) is the source of about half the country's electric power. The most important generating centre is the Guri Dam on the Caroní River, which supplies Ciudad Guayana and its nearby mining complexes. The Santo Domingo River and other shorter Andean rivers are additional power resources. Thermal generators fired by oil, gas, or coal account for the remainder of electrical generation. More than nine-tenths of Venezuelans have access to electricity in their homes, making the country one of the better-provisioned in this regard in Latin America. The national electrical grid requires costly repairs and upgrades, however, and power outages are frequent.

Agriculture, fishing, and forestry
      Prior to the 1950s and the initiation of large-scale oil exports, agriculture, fishing, and forestry were central to the Venezuelan economy, producing more than half the GDP. As the petrochemical industry rapidly expanded in the 1970s and '80s, however, the proportion of the labour force in agriculture dropped from one-fifth to about one-tenth. Since the 1990s the government has supported the agricultural sector with subsidies and low-interest loans, but the overall contribution of agriculture, fishing, and forestry to the GDP has further decreased.

      Venezuela's main cash crop is coffee, and its staple food crops are corn (maize) and rice. Most of the cropland is in the northern mountains or in their foothills. Extensive cattle grazing is practiced in the Llanos and, in a more limited way, in the Maracaibo Lowlands. South of the Orinoco, the interior forests are farmed by shifting cultivation and in small, cleared riverine plots. Less than one-fourth of the national territory is used for grazing or crop production.

 Agricultural landholdings in Venezuela include expansive latifundios and small, subsistence-based minifundios. Most farms can be organized broadly into three basic types. First are fincas comercializados (commercial crop farms), which usually cover more than 50 acres (20 hectares), employ wage labourers, have some farm machinery, and use fertilizers and pesticides. These modernized farms have benefited from government provisions of credit. In addition, they have had easy access to both local and export markets. The fincas produce sugarcane, cotton, and rice, often as plantation crops. The second type of holding is the conuco (family farm), which is typically leased by the farmer; it is usually small in size and includes a mixture of food crops such as corn and beans for local consumption and commercial crops such as coffee and cacao. The third type are the fincas granderas (large pastoral farms), which often encompass more than 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares). These are commonly found in the Llanos, where unenclosed land is used for grazing cattle on the low-quality grasses. The cattle are herded and traded in yearly meetings called rodeos (roundups).

      Relics of the colonial encomienda system, which supported a type of feudal landholding, led to an uneven distribution of land that allowed some 2 percent of the owners to control roughly 80 percent of the land. Most rural workers could not own enough land to support their families. The government launched land reform programs in the late 1950s and early '60s in an attempt to correct this imbalance, including distributing land to families, increasing the use of grazing lands (especially in the western Llanos), creating irrigation and drainage projects, and continuing government subsidies of agricultural production. However, the results have been mixed; Venezuela now imports more than half of the food it consumes.

      Historically, Venezuelans have not eaten great amounts of fish (commercial fishing), and they have only partly exploited inland and ocean fishing grounds. In the 1970s a government-sponsored enterprise attempted to develop the fishing industry and to increase the demand for fish, especially among lower-income groups, and there was a minor fishing boom in the 1980s. Venezuela was the world's fourth largest producer of tuna during the early 1990s. Anchovies have become another major catch.

      Although forests cover more than one-third of Venezuela's land, forestry is poorly developed, mainly because the richest forestlands are so remote. Strict government conservation regulations and domestic environmental activism have further limited deforestation, which has been less serious in Venezuela than in other Latin American countries despite an increase in land exploitation. The timber industry was modernized in the 1980s, and foreign companies began to participate in joint ventures.

Industry
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Until the 1950s Venezuela had little industrial capacity apart from food processing and petroleum extraction. Huge oil revenues, combined with low tariffs, permitted an array of items to be imported. Manufacturing has been transformed since that time, especially following the government's increased efforts to diversify the economy in the 1960s. Among the factors contributing to the industrial base are an abundant supply of fossil fuels and hydroelectric power, a variety of raw materials, considerable available capital; and a relatively high purchasing power per capita. The consumer-goods and metalworking industries were established with the help of protective tariffs and import quotas. With the 1973‚Äď74 rise in world oil prices, revenues expanded, and the government directed its investment strategy toward large-scale resource-based projects such as iron and steel manufacturing, aluminum smelting, and the production of transport equipment and petrochemicals. Industrial growth slowed, however, when oil prices declined several years later.

      Manufacturing now accounts for one-sixth of the GDP and about one-sixth of the workforce. Venezuela's industries fall into three groups. The first and most important consists of oil (petroleum) storage, transportation, and refinery operations, as well as associated petrochemical plants. The oldest and most developed petrochemical region is in the northwest. A refining centre at the western end of Paraguaná Peninsula on the Gulf of Venezuela handles more than two-thirds of domestic oil refining. Pipelines supply the Paraguaná centre with oil and natural gas from Zulia state, notably from El Tablazo, on Lake Maracaibo. Morón, near Puerto Cabello, supports another major petrochemical complex. Smaller centres exist inland. The newest petrochemical region includes storage facilities and pipelines for heavy crude oil in the eastern Orinoco River basin and delta, as well as refining and port operations on the coast. Venezuela exports vast amounts of crude oil to PDVSA-owned refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States, particularly to sites in Louisiana and Texas, and on the nearby island of Curaçao, which is part of the Netherlands Antilles.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†A second industrial group produces consumer goods, mainly for domestic use. It is concentrated in the Valencia-Maracay-Caracas area and to a lesser degree at Barquisimeto. Import-substitution items were the focus of this industry from the 1950s to the '80s, including textiles, leather, paper, tires, tobacco, light engineering products, radios, television sets, washing machines, and automobiles. The free-trade agreement with the Andean Community (which Venezuela joined in 1973), economic reforms, and some efforts at privatization helped to increase manufacturing output during the 1990s. However, local industries have remained vulnerable to fluctuations in domestic demand and to competition from goods imported illegally‚ÄĒthat is, without payment of import duties.

      A third group comprises the complex of heavy industries at Ciudad Guayana in the Orinoco-Caroní (Caroní River) region and a large integrated iron and steel works at Matanzas, near Puerto Ordaz, that serves domestic needs and the export market. Production of iron, steel, aluminum, and hydroelectric power has grown in this region since the 1980s.

Services
      The service sector accounts for about half of GDP and provides more than half of employment; finance and trade each produce about one-sixth of GDP. Tourism is a growing component of Venezuela's economy and is focused on the country's cultural sites, beaches, and natural wonders, such as the tepuis of the Guiana Highlands and the world-famous Angel Falls. Since the late 20th century, however, Venezuelan travelers have spent considerably more money abroad than has been collected from tourism within Venezuela.

      Since 1958 the government has played a key role in the operation of Venezuela's financial system, largely through its management of the Central Bank of Venezuela, which sets interest rates, regulates the money supply, issues currency (the bolívar fuerte), and grants loans to commercial banks. Other state banks include the Industrial Bank of Venezuela, the Workers' Bank of Venezuela, and various regional banks. There are several privately owned commercial and investment banks, as well as insurance companies. Most of these institutions, as well as the national stock exchange, are based in Caracas.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Venezuela was a leader in founding the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) (OPEC), and it signed the agreement in 1960 that led to the creation of the organization. When OPEC raised oil prices more than 400 percent in 1973‚Äď74, the country received windfall profits, and its oil income rose dramatically until the early 1980s. The huge oil revenues vastly increased Venezuelan influence in Latin America, and the country negotiated favourable trade agreements to supply its neighbours with oil and natural gas. Venezuela has also helped to finance international cartels in such other commodities as bananas and coffee.

      Venezuela experienced severe economic problems following the Latin American debt crisis of 1982 and the collapse of world oil prices in 1986. Among its pressing concerns were a foreign-exchange crisis, the loss of international reserves, slowed economic growth, and rising inflation. In response to these issues, Venezuela in 1989 signed agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that were designed to stabilize the economy. The balance of payments and other factors subsequently improved, and the state again increased its expenditures. However, many of the country's financial problems returned during the 1990s, brought on by fluctuating oil prices, political instability, a banking crisis in 1994, and mismanagement and overborrowing from the Central Bank. The government subsequently sold off many financial institutions, and by the end of the 1990s foreign investors controlled more than half of Venezuela's banks.

      The government was forced to institute additional stabilization measures, including the Agenda Venezuela plan (1996) that removed some financial controls and privatized several industries. These measures were only partially successful: state expenditures remained high, and oil price fluctuations continued to have dramatic effects on the economy. Venezuela had the highest rate of inflation in Latin America at the beginning of the 21st century; in an attempt to control it and to simplify financial transactions, the country introduced a new currency, the bolívar fuerte, in 2008. On the other hand, in the early 2000s the economy had rebounded enough for Venezuela to have paid off its loans to the IMF and World Bank. Moreover, determined to assert its economic independence, the country withdrew from both organizations in 2007.

      The main feature of Venezuela's external trade continues to be oil, which represents more than three-fourths of export earnings. Venezuela has maintained a positive trade balance. The United States is Venezuela's primary trading partner; other trading partners include Colombia, Brazil, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands Antilles. Venezuela is a member of Mercosur, formerly known as the Latin American Integration Association, though it withdrew from the Andean Community in 2006.

Transportation
      The country's transportation system is well developed, especially in the densely populated northern and northwestern regions. Domestic travel depends largely on roads, while freight and bulk transport is largely served by coastal shipping routes, inland waterways, and oil and natural gas pipelines. Air services provide access to regions without other means of communication.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The country maintains approximately 22,400 miles (36,000 km) of paved roads. There are three major trunk roads‚ÄĒa section of the Pan-American Highway that runs southwestward from Caracas through Valencia and Barquisimeto to San Crist√≥bal and then into Colombia; the northwestern highway, which runs from Valencia to Coro and on to Lake Maracaibo; and the Llanos Highway, which extends eastward from Caracas to Barcelona, Cuman√°, and beyond. A branch also runs from Barcelona across the Llanos to Ciudad Bol√≠var. Bus routes connect most Venezuelan towns and cities. Highways can be dangerous, particularly in the evening: drivers rarely use headlights, and unlighted repairwork, livestock on the road, and other hazards are common.

      Railways, both for passenger and freight transport, are relatively unimportant. One public line runs northeastward from Barquisimeto to Puerto Cabello on the coast and on to Caracas. Private railways serve the iron and steel industry, connecting mines in the Guiana Highlands region to Ciudad Guayana.

      Almost all the country's foreign commerce is carried by sea. The most important ports are Maracaibo (a major shipment centre for crude oil), Puerto Cabello, and La Guaira (the port of Caracas). Many small ports serve fishing fleets or coastal trade. Inland waterways are utilized principally around Lake Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Lake) and on the Orinoco River. A dredged channel between the Gulf of Venezuela and Lake Maracaibo allows oceangoing vessels to dock at the ports of Maracaibo, Bobures, and La Salina. A dredged channel through the Orinoco (Orinoco River) delta permits vessels to sail upriver to Ciudad Guayana.

      Transoceanic and intercontinental air routes use Venezuelan international airports as a stopover. Simón Bolívar Airport, located at Maiquetía 10 miles (16 km) by road from Caracas, is the busiest, servicing international and domestic flights.

Administration and social conditions

Government
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Venezuelan constitution of 1999 prescribes a government based on republican, democratic, and federalist principles. Citizens age 21 and older are eligible to vote. All males have had this right since 1872, but universal suffrage was not instituted until 1946. The government is divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. During the period 1961‚Äď99, the constitution prescribed a government led by a directly elected president, who served a single five-year term, as well as a popularly elected bicameral legislature and a multitiered judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court. As economic difficulties mounted during the 1980s and '90s, so, too, did criticism of political corruption. In 1999 Hugo Ch√°vez Fr√≠as, the newly installed president, pushed for radical reforms, and a constituent assembly was soon elected to draft a new constitution; it was adopted by referendum in December of that year. The constitution was modeled on that of the Fifth French Republic. It fundamentally changed the executive and legislative branches by granting heightened powers to the president and reorganizing the legislature into a unicameral assembly; it also reformed the judiciary system, promised to expand personal liberties, formally acknowledged the rights of indigenous peoples, and changed the country's name from Republic of Venezuela to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

      Executive power is vested in the president, who serves a six-year term and is eligible for reelection to a second consecutive term. As is typical among Latin American nations, the president wields a greater amount of power than either the judicial or legislative branches of government. In addition to acting as the head of state, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The president appoints an executive vice president and a Council of State, the members of which act as advisers and ministers.

      The unicameral National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) consists of 165 members (deputies) who are popularly elected through a combination of proportional and direct representation, including three deputies elected by the nation's indigenous peoples. Deputies are eligible to serve a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. The National Assembly creates laws, authorizes national expenditures, approves treaties, designates foreign ambassadors, and serves numerous other functions. Under certain circumstances the president may dissolve the assembly.

      Civil and human rights are protected by an independent judiciary that is organized nationally, with no autonomous state courts. At the highest court level is the Supreme Court of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia), which adjudicates civil, criminal, and political cases. Its members are nominated by a civil commission and appointed to 12-year terms by the National Assembly. Venezuelans generally enjoy a high degree of individual liberty, but protests have grown over the lack of equal civil and human rights protection for the nation's Indian population.

      Presidential and legislative elections are contested by several political parties, whose existence is guaranteed by the constitution; two major parties dominated Venezuelan politics until 1993: Democratic Action (Acción Democrática) and the Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano; COPEI). In the 1998 presidential elections, these parties virtually collapsed and the main presidential contenders represented new political movements.

      The country is divided into 23 states and the federal district, which includes Caracas. Each state is headed by a directly elected governor and has a legislative assembly. The assemblies are unicameral bodies composed of representatives from each of the state's districts. The federal district is administered by a mayor, and the day-to-day administration of local affairs elsewhere in the country is the responsibility of municipal councils and directly elected mayors.

Education
      Basic education is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15. Secondary education, which lasts for 2 years, is also free but not required. More than nine-tenths of Venezuelans age 15 and older are literate. The vast majority of Venezuelan children are enrolled in school, but nearly half the adults have no secondary education and a large number have no formal schooling. Most middle- and upper-class parents send their children to private elementary and secondary schools.

      The number of institutions of higher education expanded rapidly in the latter part of the 20th century. Higher education is provided by private and public institutions, and approximately one-fourth of secondary school graduates attend them. Caracas is an educational centre with several notable universities, including the Central University of Venezuela (founded in 1721) and the National Open University (1977). Among the more prominent state schools are the University of Zulia (1946), the University of Carabobo (1852), and the University of the Andes (1810) in Mérida.

      Modernization and urbanization in the 20th century brought considerable improvement in the educational system; however, the economic difficulties of the 1980s and '90s and government mismanagement damaged the system. Although Venezuela greatly increased education spending in the latter part of the 20th century, nearly half the money allocated was spent on universities, while primary and secondary schools suffered from poorly trained teachers and high student dropout rates. In addition, students received on average only half the mandated days of instruction because of vacation days and time lost to strikes. In an attempt to remedy these problems, the government began to restructure the educational system in the late 1990s.

Health and welfare
      The government greatly expanded health and welfare services during the 1970s, again particularly in the cities. Both public (free) and private medical assistance is available. The Ministry of Health is responsible for organizing and staffing the public hospitals and rural medical centres; it has dealt with numerous budgetary and management problems, including strikes by doctors and poorly maintained hospitals. The Venezuelan Institute of Social Security offers medical and welfare assistance to urban workers and employees. It, too, has experienced difficulties, including large deficits. In the area of housing, the metropolitan authorities have been unable to meet the needs of the urban poor. The problems of the ranchos persist, as public housing schemes meet mainly the needs of middle-income groups and poorer urbanites are left largely on their own to find employment and housing.

Cultural life

Daily life
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†As Venezuelans moved from the countryside to the cities, they developed a modern urban lifestyle; large middle-class neighbourhoods developed alongside burgeoning poor ranchos. Many middle- and upper-class Venezuelans acquired wealth from oil in the 1950s‚Äď70s, which enabled them to travel easily, especially to the United States, and to own cars and houses. The economic downturn since the 1980s has interrupted that easy lifestyle, however, and poverty has grown.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In Venezuela the admixture of African, European, and Indian cultural traditions is often called criollo (Creole), although that term in most Latin American contexts denotes people of European ancestry. Venezuelans boast criollo foods, dances, and, especially, music. National foods include arepa (a cornmeal bread) and hallaca (sweet cornmeal dough cooked in banana leaves). Other typical foods include passion fruit and tamarinds, teque√Īos (cheese pastries), pabell√≥n (a stew of beef, rice, and black beans served over fried plantains), and pulpo (octopus) cooked in citrus juice. During the pre-Lenten Carnival more elaborate dishes are served, such as paella and talcari de chivo (‚Äúkid stew‚ÄĚ). Locally produced beer and rum are popular, as is coffee served in many different styles, each with its own name reflecting the amount of milk added to the coffee.

      Although North American music is popular and widespread in Venezuela, the Caribbean salsa and merengue forms are also commonly heard. The national Venezuelan folk dance and musical style is the joropa, but each region of the country has its own distinctive musical expression. (See also Native American arts: Northern South America (Native American dance).)

The arts
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Since the 1920s the government has promoted artistic expression as a way to maintain cultural autonomy in the face of foreign influences. As greater freedom for writing and publishing was granted, a flourishing national literature emerged. R√≥mulo Gallegos (Gallegos, R√≥mulo), who became Venezuela's best-known writer, was part of this nationalistic wave, gaining international recognition for his novel Do√Īa B√°rbara (1929). Such painters as Armando Rever√≥n and Manuel Cabr√© also expressed nationalistic fervour. The architect Carlos Ra√ļl Villanueva won international acclaim for his design of the Central University in Caracas, which featured asymmetrically arranged buildings complemented by freestanding murals and sculpture.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The state-supported Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra is highly popular, and its repertoire also reflects a spirit of nationalism. Also of great pride is the Sim√≥n Bol√≠var Youth Orchestra in Caracas, which boasts some of the country's best young musicians. Some of these musicians are recruited from a comprehensive orchestral training and music education program known in Venezuela as El Sistema (‚ÄúThe System‚ÄĚ). The program, which was created in the 1970s, offers hundreds of thousands of children from underprivileged and at-risk communities the opportunity to play in youth orchestras throughout the country, and each state in Venezuela has at least one professional youth orchestra.

Cultural institutions
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Most of Venezuela's major cultural institutions are located in Caracas. The Museum of Fine Arts (founded in 1938) houses a large collection of paintings and sculptures by both Venezuelan and foreign artists. Other museums include the Museum of Colonial Art, housed in an 18th-century mansion, and the Science Museum Foundation (founded in 1875 as the National Museum), which contains exhibits on archaeology, anthropology, and other disciplines. Among the noteworthy museums outside Caracas are a museum of pre-Columbian artifacts in Ciudad Bol√≠var and the Museum of Military History in Maracaibo. The most important book collections are at the National Library (1883) in Caracas, which holds more than two million volumes, including many rare books. The modern Teresa Carre√Īo Theatre provides a forum for international and national music and dance performances.

Sports and recreation
 Venezuela continues to struggle against foreign influences to retain such traditional pastimes as the toros coleados, a form of bullfighting in which the bull is thrown by its tail. Nonetheless, there have been widescale adoptions of such North American pastimes as baseball, now a national sport along with association football (soccer). Venezuelan baseball players regularly compete abroad, and many of them have been recruited by Major League teams in North America. Among the wealthier adventure-seekers, rafters and kayakers are drawn to the white-water tributaries of the Orinoco River, and climbers frequent the various mountain ranges and tepuis. The Cordillera de Mérida is the site of a well-developed ski resort.

      Carnival is the major holiday in Venezuela, particularly in Caracas. On those days business comes to a halt, as games, races, and street celebrations prevail. Other important holidays are the New Year and, in rural areas, the feast days of local saints.

Press and broadcasting
      Caracas is the national press centre, and its newspapers are widely available throughout the interior. Leading newspapers include El Universal, El Nacional, Últimas Noticias, and Panorama. The majority of newspapers, including the two leading dailies, are independent and generally operate with little government interference. However, many television stations and newspapers are owned by large family conglomerates. Television broadcasting is available to more than four-fifths of Venezuelans. Telenovelas (soap operas) are the most popular genre, followed by variety programs. Venezuela imports some programming from North America, Europe, and other Latin American countries, but it produces several programs domestically. Throughout the country are more than 200 radio stations, most of which are privately owned.

      Under the Chávez-controlled government, media-content laws were enacted and suppression became common. Many broadcasting licenses were cancelled or revoked, and international organizations complained about the lack of freedom of the press in Venezuela.

Jennifer L. McCoy Heather D. Heckel

History
      The following discussion focuses on Venezuelan history from the time of European settlement. For a treatment of the country in its regional context, see Latin America, history of.

      The earliest inhabitants of Venezuela were food-gathering Indians (South American Indian) who arrived in the Upper Paleolithic Period. Arawak and Carib Indians were prominent among the groups that arrived later. Nomadic hunting and fishing groups roamed the Lake Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Lake) basin, the Llanos, and the coast. The most technologically advanced Venezuelan Indians lived in farming communities in the Andes.

The colonial era
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Christopher Columbus (Columbus, Christopher) arrived in what is now Venezuela in 1498, during his third voyage to the New World. European explorers named the region Venezuela (‚ÄúLittle Venice‚ÄĚ) after observing local Indian houses on stilts over water. During the first quarter-century of contact, the Europeans limited themselves to slave (slavery) hunting and pearl fishing on the northeastern coast; the first permanent Spanish settlement, Cuman√°, was not made until 1523. In the second quarter of the 16th century, the centre of activity shifted to the northwestern coast, where the Welser (Welser Family) banking house of Augsburg, Germany, purchased exploration and colonization (colonialism, Western) rights. The Germans failed to find precious metals and to occupy the area permanently, however, and Spain repossessed the zone in 1546. Legends of El Dorado (Eldorado) (‚ÄúThe Golden One‚ÄĚ) drove explorers into the Venezuelan interior, perhaps including the Spanish adventurer and renegade Lope de Aguirre (Aguirre, Lope de), who is said to have attacked several villages there. The Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh (Raleigh, Sir Walter) sailed up the Orinoco River in search of the fabled city of gold reportedly ruled by El Dorado. Raleigh described his adventure in The Discoverie of Guiana (1596).

      In the latter half of the 16th century, Spanish agriculturalists began to colonize the region by using encomiendas (encomienda) (semifeudal grants of land and Indian labourers). Caracas was founded in 1567, and by 1600 more than 20 settlements dotted the Venezuelan Andes and the Caribbean coast. During the 17th and 18th centuries, various Roman Catholic missionary orders gradually took over the Llanos and Maracaibo regions.

      The colonial economy was based on agriculture and stock raising. Corn (maize), beans, and beef were the domestic food staples; sugar, cacao, tobacco, and hides were the principal exports. Spain's European rivals (initially the French and English, followed by the Dutch) succeeded in taking over most of Venezuela's commerce until the early 18th century, when Spain established a monopoly trading company. The interests of the latter, however, proved contrary to those of Venezuelan producers, who forced dissolution of the company during the 1780s.

      Venezuelan society during the colonial era was headed by agents of the Spanish crown. Royal bureaucrats monopolized the top governing posts, and Spanish clergymen dominated the high church offices. However, Creoles (Creole) (white descendents of Europeans born in the Americas) owned the land and other forms of wealth, and they used their power to hold the nonwhite races in bondage: mestizos (mestizo) (persons of mixed European and Indian ancestry) and mulattoes (of European and African ancestry) were generally without property, social status, or political influence; Indians performed forced labour on interior farms or were segregated on marginal lands; and black Africans were slaves on the coastal plantations. In theory, Venezuela was governed by the Spanish crown through the Audiencia of Santo Domingo in the 16th and 17th centuries and through the Viceroyalty of New Granada (New Granada, Viceroyalty of) (at Bogotá) from its incorporation in 1717. In practice, however, the Venezuelans exercised some regional autonomy during the colonial era.

The independence movement
      A group of Venezuelan Creoles boldly proclaimed their country an independent republic in 1797. Although their effort failed, it forewarned of the revolutionary movements that were soon to inflame Latin America.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In 1806 Francisco de Miranda (Miranda, Francisco de)‚ÄĒwho had earlier fought under George Washington against the British, served as a general in the French Revolution, and fought with the French against Prussia and Russia‚ÄĒtried unsuccessfully to land on the Venezuelan coast with a group of mercenaries whom he had recruited in New York City. Revolutionary leaders recalled him to Gran Colombia four years later to take charge of a ruling junta, which drafted a constitution and established an independent nation. In the ensuing war with royalist forces, however, Miranda signed an armistice with Spain. Other revolutionary leaders viewed this action with contempt, and Miranda was subsequently turned over to the Spaniards, who sent him first to Puerto Rico and later to Spain, where he died in prison in 1816.

 Early in 1813 the revolutionary junta appointed Simón Bolívar (Bolívar, Simón) commander of the Venezuelan forces. Bolívar, a wealthy Creole landowner born in Caracas in 1783, had many reverses in his war against the Spanish. His forces were opposed by large royalist armies including a cavalry unit of llaneros (cowboys of the Llanos frontier), who were under the command of José Tomás Boves. In 1815 the Spanish general Pablo Morillo landed with an expeditionary force that spearheaded the reconquest of much of New Granada. Morillo administered the region in a heavy-handed fashion, however, and many of the Creole elites who had initially supported him soon conspired for his defeat. Llaneros and blacks also deserted the royalist cause and joined Bolívar, whose army was further augmented by a legion of British and Irish mercenaries; the new republican government of Haiti also sent aid. The Republic of Gran Colombia, with its capital at Bogotá, was proclaimed on December 17, 1819, with Bolívar as president. On June 24, 1821, Bolívar's troops, reinforced by llanero cavalry under General José Antonio Páez (Páez, José Antonio), defeated the main royalist army at the Battle of Carabobo (Carabobo, Battle of). The last of the royalist forces surrendered at Puerto Cabello on October 9, 1823. The following year Bolívar's army marched south to liberate Peru, and in 1825 it freed Upper Peru (Bolivia) from Spanish rule. Venezuelans suffered greater casualties and endured more privations during the wars than did any other Latin American national group, because of the ferocity of battles on their own soil and the large number of Venezuelan troops who carried the struggle to other regions.

      Regional rivalries broke out in Gran Colombia while Bolívar was off leading the final campaigns, and his prestige was not enough to hold the country together after his return. Venezuela broke away in 1829, and Ecuador soon after. Bolívar died in Santa Marta, Colombia, in 1830, penniless and disillusioned.

The caudillos (1830‚Äď1935)
      After the destruction of the colonial system, Venezuela passed through an era of government-by-force that lasted more than a century, until the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935. Backed by their personal armies, a series of warlordlike caudillos (leaders) assumed power, which they exercised for their personal benefit rather than for that of the nation.

P√°ez and the Conservatives
¬†The first of the military dictators was General Jos√© Antonio P√°ez (P√°ez, Jos√© Antonio), who gave the country better government than it would see again for nearly a century. Bol√≠var had left P√°ez in charge of the armed forces of Venezuela, and he soon took full control of the country. He led the separation movement from Gran Colombia in 1829 and in 1830 convoked a constitutional convention for Venezuela. P√°ez dominated Venezuelan politics until 1848, both as president (1831‚Äď35 and 1839‚Äď43) and as a major political player. He subdued ambitious provincial caudillos and ruled in cooperation with the large landholders and leading merchants of the Conservative Party. The constitution that they enacted in 1830 reflected their social and political philosophy‚ÄĒa centralist state, property qualifications for voting, the death penalty for political crimes, guarantees for the freedom of trade and commerce, and the continuation of slavery. The church lost its tax immunity and its educational monopoly, and the army was shorn of its autonomy; thus, state supremacy was achieved. The government then began to reconstruct the war-torn economy by putting finances in order, establishing firm lines of foreign credit, and amortizing the national debt. It also constructed new roads to promote domestic commerce and facilitate coffee and cacao exports.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In contrast to the troubled times that preceded and followed it, the 1830‚Äď48 period of Conservative Party domination was an era of political stability, economic progress, and responsible administration. An opposition movement began to develop in 1840, however, when Antonio Leocadio Guzm√°n, the leading spokesman for dissident merchants and professional men, founded the Liberal Party. Guzm√°n's new liberal newspaper, El Venezolano, demanded abolition of slavery, extension of voting rights, and protection for the debtor classes. During the 1840s the demand for Venezuela's agricultural commodities declined on the world market; this produced economic difficulties, which in turn contributed to the increasing opposition to the Conservative oligarchy.

The Monagas and the civil wars
      The growing political crisis was brought to a head in 1848 by General José Tadeo Monagas. Although elected president as a Conservative in 1846, he soon gravitated toward the Liberals. He intimidated the Conservative congress and appointed Liberal Party ministers. When Páez rebelled in 1848, Monagas defeated him and forced him into exile.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The decade 1848‚Äď58 was one of dictatorial rule by Jos√© Tadeo Monagas and his brother, General Jos√© Gregorio Monagas, who alternated as president during the period. The Liberal Party passed laws that abolished slavery, extended suffrage, outlawed capital punishment, and limited interest rates, but the laws were not implemented. Integrity in government waned, heavy deficit financing ruined the nation's credit, and the economy began to stagnate and decay. In 1857 the Monagas brothers attempted to impose a new constitution extending the presidential term from four to six years and removing all restrictions on reelection. The Liberal leaders thereupon joined the Conservative opposition, and in March 1858 they brought the Monagas dynasty to an end. This first successful rebellion in Venezuela's national history set off five years of revolutionary turmoil between the Liberals and Conservatives. The issues in these so-called Federalist Wars were, on the Liberal side, federalism, democracy, and social reform and, on the Conservative side, centralism and preservation of the political and social status quo. The conflicts were extremely bloody, and control of the central government changed hands several times. General P√°ez returned in 1861 to restore Conservative hegemony for two years, but in 1863 final victory went to the Liberals, led by the generals Juan Falc√≥n and Antonio Guzm√°n Blanco (Guzm√°n Blanco, Antonio).

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†A new constitution was enacted in 1864 to incorporate the federalist principles of the victors. Local freedoms quickly disappeared, however, at the hands of provincial caudillos. As president in 1864‚Äď68, Falc√≥n appeared content to allow subordinates, many of them irresponsible, to rule at both the state and national levels. Liberal mismanagement and increasing political chaos provided an opportunity for the Conservatives, now led by Jos√© Tadeo Monagas, to return to power in 1868. But civil war followed. General Guzm√°n Blanco rallied the Liberals to his cause, overthrew the Conservatives, and assumed power in 1870.

The reigns of Guzm√°n Blanco and Crespo
      Guzmán Blanco's triumphal entry into Caracas in April 1870 halted the political chaos and economic stagnation that had plagued the nation since 1858. The new president took to the field himself and subjugated the country in less than two years; he thereupon launched a broad program of reform and development. A new constitution in 1872 proclaimed representative government, suffrage for all males, and direct election of the president. Economic reforms, such as restoration of the nation's credit by means of new bond issues and generous concessions to foreign investors, gave further evidence of Guzmán Blanco's apparent devotion to Liberal Party principles. He established a nationwide system of public primary education and promoted state support for secondary and higher education. In addition, he abolished ecclesiastical privileges, cut off state subsidies to the Roman Catholic church, proclaimed religious liberty, legalized civil marriage, and also confiscated church properties, exiled the archbishop, and closed the convents.

      Guzmán Blanco was the popular choice for president in the 1873 election. He departed for Europe in 1877, leaving a puppet successor in charge, but when the opposition rebelled, he returned to crush it and resumed the presidency in 1878. The following year he returned to Europe, leaving General Joaquín Crespo in charge. Guzmán Blanco came back again in 1886 to serve a final two years in the face of growing popular opposition to his policies.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Guzm√°n Blanco's regime had both positive and negative results for the nation. His admirers point to his political and military genius and to his administrative, economic, educational, and religious reforms. His detractors emphasize his tyrannical ruling methods, financial chicanery, monumental vanity, superficial educational reforms, and unwarranted attacks on the church. For four years after the end of his regime, Venezuela floundered in new political chaos as various civilian political groups tried unsuccessfully to establish responsible representative government. In October 1892 Crespo seized power. His six-year rule was troubled by continued political turmoil, growing economic difficulties, and the nation's first serious diplomatic problem‚ÄĒa dispute with Great Britain over the boundary between eastern Venezuela and western British Guiana (Guyana). This virtually uninhabited wilderness territory, in which gold was discovered in 1877, had been the object of alternating claims and counterclaims between Venezuela and Great Britain for more than half a century. Great Britain repeatedly refused Venezuela's requests to refer the matter to arbitration, and in 1887 Venezuela suspended diplomatic relations. President Crespo appealed to the United States, and in 1895 U.S. president Grover Cleveland pressured Britain to arbitrate. An international tribunal handed down a decision in 1899 that failed to satisfy Venezuela's demands.

The Andinos
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The course of Venezuelan history changed markedly at the turn of the 20th century. In 1899 General Cipriano Castro (Castro, Cipriano), a caudillo from the Andean state of T√°chira, descended on Caracas with his provincial army and seized the presidency. As a result, five successive military strongmen from T√°chira, known as Andinos, controlled the nation for the next 59 years, except for an interlude in 1945‚Äď48. Castro ruled from 1899 to 1909. His regime was characterized by administrative tyranny, financial irresponsibility, almost constant domestic revolt, and frequent foreign intervention. The most serious internal uprising occurred in eastern Venezuela in 1902‚Äď03. This and subsequent revolts of the early 20th century were put down by General Juan Vicente G√≥mez (G√≥mez, Juan Vicente). Castro's cavalier treatment of foreign businessmen and diplomats was topped by his refusal to reimburse foreigners for properties that were damaged in domestic insurrections; consequently, Venezuelans suffered a British-German-Italian blockade of their coast in 1902‚Äď03 and a Dutch attack upon their navy in 1908. Ill health forced Castro to go to Europe for medical attention in 1908, whereupon G√≥mez usurped the presidential powers and did not relinquish them until his death 27 years later.

      Gómez was an effective, if ruthless, dictator. By manipulating elections, abolishing all organized political activity, and monopolizing appointive powers, he established a completely subservient legislative and judicial structure. He muzzled the press and stifled the opposition with an elaborate spy service and used arbitrary arrests, exiles, long imprisonments, and assassinations to ensure his control. Efficient police and army organizations maintained his power through unrestricted use of force.

      Political order attracted foreign petroleum investors, however, and Dutch and British petroleum companies were awarded generous contracts to enter Venezuela just before World War I; immediately after the war Standard Oil from the United States arrived to compete with the British and Dutch. By 1928 Venezuela had become the world's leading exporter of oil and was second only to the United States in oil production. The oil industry brought the nation such benefits as high-paying jobs, subsidies to agriculture, expanded government revenues, and increased trade. The government oversaw construction of road networks, railroads, and port facilities. It also paid off the entire foreign debt and drastically reduced the large domestic debt. Yet the oil prosperity was unevenly distributed; most Venezuelans continued to live in poverty, and their health, housing, and education needs were ignored by the state. Meanwhile, Gómez and the top bureaucrats and army officers enriched themselves. The dictator became the nation's wealthiest citizen, retaining power until his death, from natural causes, in 1935.

Venezuela since 1935
Technocrats and party politics
      Eleazar López Conteras, who had been war minister under Gómez, succeeded him and served as president until 1941. López restored civil liberties, sanctioned political activity, and permitted labour to organize during 1936; but he restored the dictatorship in 1937, when the opposition became too threatening. In 1938 he inaugurated a three-year development plan that included construction of public schools and hospitals and support for agriculture and private industry.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Isaias Medina Angarita, a fellow T√°chira general, was president in 1941‚Äď45. He continued L√≥pez's development program and also restored political liberties. Petroleum revenues declined sharply in 1941‚Äď42 because of a World War II transportation squeeze, and President Medina used a 1943 oil law to raise the nation's share of profits from the petroleum industry. As the transportation shortage eased, his government granted new concessions and stimulated a petroleum boom.

      In October 1945, at the height of the wartime prosperity, a coalition of military officers and civilian political leaders conspired to overthrow the Medina administration. This revolution marked the first assumption of power in Venezuela by a political party ( Democratic Action) that had the support of a majority of the people. Party leader Rómulo Betancourt (Betancourt, Rómulo) headed a civilian-military junta that ruled the nation for 28 months. In July 1947 the nation adopted a new constitution that reflected the labour-leftist philosophy of the party, and in December the novelist Rómulo Gallegos (Gallegos, Rómulo) was elected to the presidency.

      Democratic Action promptly launched a program of reform: it drafted a tax decree to assure the nation of at least half the profits of the petroleum industry; in addition, it encouraged labour unions to organize and bargain for their rights, and it supported health, housing, education, and agricultural and industrial development. These reforms provoked strong opposition from conservative forces that culminated in a November 1948 military coup. The new ruling junta was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Delgado Chalbaud and Major Marcos Pérez Jiménez (Pérez Jiménez, Marcos); two years later the former was assassinated, and the latter took power.

      Thus, from 1951 to 1957 the nation was again controlled by a Táchira military dictator. Pérez Jiménez outlawed political activity, crushed the labour movement, closed down the universities, and muzzled the press. Democratic Action's nationwide reform programs were abandoned in favour of modernizing Caracas and enriching the dictator and his army associates. Finally, popular opposition grew so great that the navy and air force joined to overthrow Pérez Jiménez in January 1958. A civilian-military junta ran the country for one year, after which Rómulo Betancourt was elected president.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The second Betancourt administration (1959‚Äď64) was considerably more moderate than the first. This time Democratic Action, in contrast to its earlier exclusivism, cooperated with the next largest faction, the middle-of-the-road Christian Democrats (Social Christian Party), and set up a coalition government. This government launched programs designed to modernize agriculture, develop domestic industry, improve the nation's health, and eliminate illiteracy. In 1960 it passed an agrarian reform law, and in 1962 it inaugurated a national steel industry.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Despite broad developmental progress, the Betancourt administration was troubled by political unrest and economic crisis. A guerrilla insurgency emerged in the early 1960s, stimulated by followers who believed Betancourt had abandoned his goals of social justice and change. To complicate matters, a sharp economic depression occurred in 1960‚Äď63. In foreign affairs Venezuela severed diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic in 1960 (after Dominican agents attempted to assassinate Betancourt) and broke relations with Cuba in 1961 (following repeated Cuban attempts to aid the Venezuelan communists). It became a founding member of OPEC in 1960‚Äď61.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The 1963 presidential elections, held in an atmosphere of great political tension, were narrowly won by the Democratic Action candidate Ra√ļl Leoni. The Christian Democrats thereupon withdrew from the governing coalition, but they were replaced by the labour-leftist Democratic Republican Union. The oil and iron ore industries began to boom once more, and a new petrochemical industry was launched. Although prosperity had returned, growing popular dissatisfaction strengthened the opposition Christian Democrats, whose presidential candidate, Rafael Caldera Rodr√≠guez, won the 1968 elections.

      Caldera's inauguration in 1969 marked the first time in Venezuela's history that an incumbent government peacefully surrendered power to an opposition electoral victor. The programs of the Christian Democrats were similar to those of Democratic Action. Caldera improved relations with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the Latin American military dictatorships. In the early 1970s Venezuela established majority ownership of foreign banks, took control of the natural gas industry, and declared a moratorium on the granting of oil concessions.

Economic boom and bust
      President Carlos Andrés Pérez (Pérez, Carlos Andrés), the Democratic Action victor in the 1973 elections, nationalized the iron ore industry in 1975 and the petroleum industry the next year. Following the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, Venezuela, as a founding member of OPEC, more than tripled the price of its oil. The resulting windfall triggered a wave of spending that attracted tens of thousands of South American immigrants, increased imports of food and luxury items, produced growing waste and corruption, and created a privileged economic elite, but did little to alleviate poverty. The economic boom did not last, however. An international recession and oil glut beginning in the late 1970s slashed world oil prices and plunged the country into economic stagnation. This condition, continuing into the late 1980s, was reflected in a downward trend in the gross domestic product and a steady increase in inflation; exports declined, and unemployment became a major concern. The accompanying loss of confidence in the economy caused an enormous increase in capital flight, as investors rapidly divested themselves of Venezuelan securities and shifted their capital to foreign markets. That problem and the government's inability to repay foreign debt reached crisis proportions during the administrations of the Christian Democrat Luis Herrera Campins, elected in 1978, and Democratic Action's Jaime Lusinchi, elected in 1983. Herrera Campins devalued the currency for the first time in two decades. Lusinchi adopted limited austerity measures trying to slow capital flight and began to reschedule foreign debt.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The Lusinchi government's economic policies did little more than soften the impact of external forces. By 1988 another drastic decline in world oil prices had cut government income in half, and payment of the foreign debt‚ÄĒwhich Lusinchi had continued as scheduled‚ÄĒbecame increasingly difficult. In December of that year the electorate returned former president Carlos Andr√©s P√©rez to office. The nation's most popular politician and a leader of hemispheric democracy, P√©rez pledged himself to develop a regionwide plan to deal with the foreign debt. Domestically, he sought to stimulate new growth within existing economic constraints. His succession of Lusinchi marked the first time in 25 years that the governing party had retained the presidency in an election. President P√©rez's popularity was short-lived, however, as riots broke out across the country in reaction to a rise in bus fares, which was part of a package of austerity measures that P√©rez had announced in early 1989. Massive looting took place, and troops killed hundreds of people while attempting to put down the disturbances.

      The next two years were filled with protests, labour strikes, and an increasingly heated political debate as Pérez attempted to reduce tariffs and decrease government intervention in the economy. In 1992 a small group of junior army officers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías (Chávez, Hugo), attempted a coup against President Pérez, and later that same year air force officers staged a second coup attempt. Pérez survived these two incidents but subsequently was charged with misappropriating public funds; he was forced to leave office early, in mid-1993.

      Following two brief interim presidencies, national elections were held in late 1993. Former President Rafael Caldera came back to office, this time running as an independent after breaking from the Social Christian party. The banking system was in crisis as Caldera took power in 1994, and his administration experimented with a series of populist economic plans before turning to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Caldera also released from prison the coup leader Hugo Chávez before his trial had ended, thus making Chávez eligible to run for public office.

      By the 1998 elections more than half the Venezuelan populace was below the poverty line, while annual inflation exceeded 30 percent and oil prices were in steep decline. The voters rejected the traditional political parties of Democratic Action and COPEI and elected Chávez as president. At the same time, his coalition became the largest voting bloc in the legislature. Chávez's political platform promised to rid the country of corruption, help the poor, and reduce the power of elites. He pledged to write a new constitution and remake Venezuelan democracy. In mid-1999 Venezuelans elected a constituent assembly dominated by pro-Chávez delegates, and voters soon approved a new constitution by referendum.

      In December 1999 Venezuelans suffered one of the deadliest events in their national history. A severe rainstorm brought on mud slides and flash floods that ravaged communities along the mountainous northern coast, including sections of the Caracas metropolitan area. Hundreds of thousands of structures were damaged or destroyed, and estimates of the dead ranged from a few thousand to tens of thousands. Following the cataclysm, the nation focused its efforts on reconstruction projects and emergency aid, including resettling thousands of homeless families.

 Throughout his first term, Chávez's plans to reform policies in keeping with his leftist ideology faltered. Although Chávez enjoyed the support of the working class for his spending on education, food coupons, and social services, other Venezuelans opposed his programs, and in 2001 the implementation of his economic reforms prompted massive protests and strikes.

      In April 2002 a coup briefly ousted him from office, but within two days, after protests from his supporters and threats of rebellion by troops loyal to him, he was reinstated. In late 2002 Chávez's opponents organized a general strike to force his resignation or early elections. The economy was severely damaged by the closure of shops and factories and especially by the strike in the oil sector. Nevertheless, Chávez was able to withstand the pressure, and in February 2003, after strike organizers decided to scale back their efforts, businesses reopened. The following year the opposition collected the more than 2.4 million signatures required to force a referendum on Chávez's continued rule, but in August 2004 the president survived the recall effort, garnering the support of nearly three-fifths of voters. During this period, Chávez spent petroleum income to fund social programs. He continued his support for Cuban Pres. Fidel Castro (Castro, Fidel), supplying petroleum to Cuba and other developing nations at cut-rate prices. Chávez remained determined to reduce U.S. economic influence in South America and promoted Mercosur, a South American regional economic organization.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†In 2006 Ch√°vez was elected to a six-year presidential term. Following that landslide victory, he initiated a program of nationalization that included the takeover of the petroleum sector, which was completed in 2007 when Venezuela assumed operational control of the oil industry in the Orinoco basin‚ÄĒthe world's single largest known oil deposit‚ÄĒfrom foreign-owned companies. (Ch√°vez announced his intention to secure at least 60 percent ownership of the operations for his country.) Also that year Venezuela created its own time zone, setting its clocks back half an hour. At the end of 2007, however, Venezuelan voters rejected a controversial constitutional referendum that included an amendment which would have allowed Ch√°vez to run for reelection indefinitely. The referendum, which failed by a slim margin (51 to 49 percent), marked the first significant defeat at the polls for Ch√°vez, whose left-of-centre ideology kept Venezuela in the focus of international politics through his prominent opposition to the United States. Ch√°vez was not dissuaded by the referendum results, and in 2008 he nationalized Venezuela's telecommunications, electricity, steel, and cement companies.

Edwin Lieuwen John D. Martz Jennifer L. McCoy Heather D. Heckel Ed.

Additional Reading

Geography
General introductions are provided by Richard A. Haggerty (ed.), Venezuela: A Country Study, 4th ed. (1993); and James Ferguson, Venezuela: A Guide to the People, Politics, and Culture (1994). The country's geography is discussed in David Robinson and Alan Gilbert, ‚ÄúColombia and Venezuela,‚ÄĚ chapter 5 in Harold Blakemore and Clifford T. Smith (eds.), Latin America‚ÄĒGeographical Perspectives, 2nd ed. (1983), pp. 187‚Äď240; and Pablo Vila (Pau Vila), Geograf√≠a de Venezuela, 2nd ed., vol. 1, El territorio nacional y su ambiente f√≠sico (1969), which also includes information on culture. Alfredo Armas Alfonso et al., Maravillosa Venezuela, ed. by Edgar Bustamente (1982), portrays the splendour and diversity of regional landscapes. Geographic, economic, and historical themes are presented by Venezuela, Direcci√≥n de Cartograf√≠a Nacional, Atlas de Venezuela, 2nd ed. (1979). Studies of the population include Jes√ļs A. Aguilera, La poblaci√≥n de Venezuela: din√°mica hist√≥rica, socioecon√≥mica, y geogr√°fica, 2nd ed. (1980); and Angelina Pollak-Eltz, ‚ÄúThe Family in Venezuela,‚ÄĚ in Man Singh Das and Clinton J. Jesser (eds.), The Family in Latin America (1980), pp. 12‚Äď45. A fascinating treatment of the culture and thought of the Warao (Warrau) Indians is found in Johannes Wilbert, Mystic Endowment: Religious Ethnography of the Warao Indians, (1993); while the rituals of the Wakuenai Indians are discussed in Jonathan D. Hill, Keepers of the Sacred Chants (1993).Economic development issues are addressed in The Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Profile Venezuela (annual); Mois√©s Naim, Paper Tigers and Minotaurs: The Politics of Venezuela's Economic Reforms (1993); Joseph Tulchin and Gary Bland (eds.), Venezuela in the Wake of Radical Reform (1993); and Loring Allen, Venezuelan Economic Development: A Politico-Economic Analysis (1977). An economic study and proposals to improve the competitiveness of Venezuela's economy in the 1990s are presented in Michael Enright, Antonio Franc√©s, and Edith Scott Saavedra, Venezuela: The Challenge of Competitiveness (1996).Regional disparities and urban and regional planning strategies are discussed by John Friedmann, Regional Development Policy: A Case Study of Venezuela (1966); and Lloyd Rodwin et al., Planning Urban Growth and Regional Development: The Experience of the Guayana Program of Venezuela (1969). Conservation and sustainable development issues are examined in Marta Miranda et al., All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Balancing Conservation and Development in Venezuela's Frontier Forests (1998).Recent political developments, particularly the stresses on the democratic state, are analyzed in Damarys Canache and Michael R. Kul√≠sheck (eds.), Reinventing Legitimacy: Democracy and Political Change in Venezuela (1998); Jennifer McCoy et al. (eds.), Venezuelan Democracy Under Stress (1995); Louis W. Goodman et al. (eds.), Lessons of the Venezuelan Experience (1995); and Richard S. Hillman, Democracy for the Privileged: Crisis and Transition in Venezuela (1994).A systematic history of Venezuelan politics and economy since 1958 is found in John D. Martz and David J. Myers (eds.), Venezuela: The Democratic Experience, rev. ed. (1986); and also in Daniel C. Hellinger, Venezuela: Tarnished Democracy (1991). Also of interest is John A. Peeler, Latin American Democracies: Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela (1985). Studies of political parties include Michael Coppedge, Strong Parties and Lame Ducks: Presidential Partyarchy and Factionalism in Venezuela (1994); John D. Martz, Acci√≥n Democr√°tica: Evolution of a Modern Political Party in Venezuela (1966), a sympathetic history and analysis of the period 1941‚Äď64; and Donald L. Herman, Christian Democracy in Venezuela (1980). For the political left, see Steve Ellner, Venezuela's Movimiento al Socialismo: From Guerrilla Defeat to Innovative Politics (1988). Enrique A. Baloyra and John D. Martz, Political Attitudes in Venezuela: Societal Cleavages and Political Opinion (1979), examines democratic public opinion. Daniel H. Levine, Religion and Politics in Latin America: The Catholic Church in Venezuela and Colombia (1981), analyzes historical and contemporary relations.The impact of the oil economy on Venezuelan politics and society is analyzed in Terry Lynn Karl, The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States (1997); Fernando Coronil, The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela (1997); Juan Carlos Bou√©, Venezuela: The Political Economy of Oil (1993); and Jorge Salazar-Carrillo and Robert D. Cruz, Oil and Development in Venezuela During the Twentieth Century (1994). Various aspects of the Venezuelan oil industry are treated in Edwin Lieuwen, Petroleum in Venezuela: A History (1954, reprinted 1980); Franklin Tugwell, The Politics of Oil in Venezuela (1975); James F. Petras, Morris Morley, and Steven Smith, The Nationalization of Venezuelan Oil (1977); R√≥mulo Betancourt, Venezuela: Oil and Politics (1979; trans. from Spanish 2nd ed., 1967), a review by a former president; Gustavo Coronel, The Nationalization of the Venezuelan Oil Industry: From Technocratic Success to Political Failure (1983); and David Eugene Blank, Venezuela: Politics in a Petroleum Republic (1984).Venezuela's art and music are discussed in Alfredo Boulton et al., Arte de Venezuela (1977); and Luis Felipe Ram√≥n y Rivera, La m√ļsica popular de Venezuela (1976). Max H. Brandt, ‚ÄúVenezuela,‚ÄĚ in Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy (eds.), The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 2 (1998), pp. 523‚Äď545, surveys musical traditions within the cultural context.

History
Overviews of Venezuela's history are found in Edwin Lieuwen, Venezuela, 2nd ed. (1965, reprinted 1985); J.M. Siso Mart√≠nez, Historia de Venezuela, 8th ed. (1968); J.L. Salcedo-Bastardo, Historia fundamental de Venezuela, 11th ed. (1996); John V. Lombardi, Venezuela: The Search for Order, the Dream of Progress (1982); and Judith Ewell, Venezuela: A Century of Change (1984). A recommended bibliography is John V. Lombardi, Germ√°n Carrera Damas, and Roberta E. Adams, Venezuelan History: A Comprehensive Working Bibliography (1977).The evolution of U.S.-Venezuelan relations is examined in Judith Ewell, Venezuela and the United States: From Monroe's Hemisphere to Petroleum's Empire (1996). Donna Keyse Rudolph and G.A. Rudolph, Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 2nd ed., rev., enlarged, and updated (1996), provides succinct information on major events and persons. Interviews with Venezuela's ‚Äúfather of democracy‚ÄĚ are found in Robert J. Alexander, Venezuela's Voice for Democracy: Conversations and Correspondence with R√≥mulo Betancourt (1990). Jos√© De Oviedo y Ba√Īos, The Conquest and Settlement of Venezuela (1987; originally published in Spanish, 1723), details events from the time of Columbus to 1600. Francisco Gonz√°lez Guin√°n, Historia contempor√°nea de Venezuela, 15 vol. (1909‚Äď25, reissued 1954), contains an encyclopedic treatment of the 19th century.Specific events and periods are analyzed in Steve Ellner, Organized Labor in Venezuela, 1958‚Äď1991: Behavior and Concerns in a Democratic Setting (1993); Benjam√≠n A. Frankel, Venezuela y los Estados Unidos, 1810‚Äď1888 (1977), a fine account of 19th-century diplomatic relations; Robert L. Gilmore, Caudillism and Militarism in Venezuela, 1810‚Äď1910 (1964), on the evolution from military personalism to military professionalism; Mariano Pic√≥n-Salas et al., Venezuela independiente, 1810‚Äď1960 (1962), which includes essays on the evolution of society, culture, the economy, and the political system; Winfield J. Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, 1935‚Äď1959 (1972), an account of the 20th-century role of the military; and Jacqueline Anne Braveboy-Wagner, The Venezuela-Guyana Border Dispute: Britain's Colonial Legacy in Latin America (1984), which elaborates the arguments in the dispute. The impact of coffee on one state is analyzed in Doug Yarrington, A Coffee Frontier: Land, Society, and Politics in Duaca, Venezuela, 1830‚Äď1936 (1997).Jennifer L. McCoy Heather D. Heckel

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Universalium. 2010.

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