Venezuela -- Geography --
Official name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Official currency: bolivar
Official language: spanish
Religions: Catholics 96%, protestants 2%, others 2%
Area: 912,050 sq. km.
Government type: federal republic
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands
Geographic coordinates: 8 00 N, 66 00 W
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds
Terrain: Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast
Venezuela -- History --
The first aboriginals are believed to have reached what is today Venezuela 1500 years ago - and the three main Indian influences are the Caribs from the Orinoco basin (credited with the invention of the hammock), the Arawaks from the Amazon and the Otomaks.
These nomadic peoples relied on hunting for their livelihood because of the difficulties involved with agriculture.
The coastal area where Columbus landed in 1498, on his third voyage to the Americas was then inhabited by tribes of Carib and Arawak Indians, whose houses thatched with palm fronds and built on stilts over the water were vaguely reminiscent of Venice - and so the name Venezuela, or 'little Venice'.
The first of the conquistadors was Diego de Ordaz, who landed in 1531, but neither he nor subsequent expeditions managed at first to establish permanent settlements because of the fierce resistance put up by the Indians, whose last uprising (led by chief Chiparapa) was put down in 1652.
The capital, Caracas was founded in 1567. The main method of conquest thereafter was through missionary zeal.
Venezuela was Spain's most successful agricultural colony, first with cacao and then, towards the end of the 18th century, coffee.
The battles for Independence were fought between 1749 and 1830, during which Simon Bolivar became a national hero and built his dream of Gran Colombia (from what is today Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, northern Peru and Venezuela),
only to have it broken again in 1830, when General Paez declared Venezuela a republic.
Further growth was slow until 1914, when oil was discovered near Maracaibo.
This transformed the economy, and today Venezuela is the third largest producer in OPEC.
After a string of dictators, democracy was established in 1958 and has continued to the present day with elections every five years.
Venezuela -- Economy --
Venezuela remains highly dependent on oil revenues, which account for roughly 90% of export earnings, more than 50% of the federal budget revenues, and around 30% of GDP.
Venezuela’s most advanced industries are petroleum, construction materials, food processing, textiles; iron ore mining, steel, aluminum; motor vehicle assembly.
A nationwide strike between December 2002 and February 2003 had far-reaching economic consequences - real GDP declined by around 9% in 2002 and 8% in 2003 - but economic output since then has recovered strongly.
Fueled by high oil prices, record government spending helped to boost GDP in 2006 by about 9% and in 2007 by about 8%. This spending, combined with recent minimum wage hikes and improved access to domestic credit, has created a consumption boom but has come at the cost of higher inflation-roughly 20 percent in 2007. Imports also have jumped significantly.
Embolden by his December 2006 reelection, President Hugo Chavez in 2007 nationalized firms in the petroleum, communications, and electricity sectors, which reduced foreign influence in the economy. Although voters in December 2007 rejected Chavez’s proposed constitutional changes, Chavez still has significant control of the economy and has indicated he intends to continue to consolidate and centralize authority over the economy by implementing "21st Century Socialism."
Venezuela -- Culture --
Venezuelan culture is a mixture of three main cultures: European (Italian and Spanish), African and Indigenous.
The Indigenous influence is found mostly in the typical food of the country (like arepas), in the vocabulary and in many place names.
The capital of Caracas is named after the tribe of indigenous people that lived in the valley where the city now stands.
Examples of the Spanish and Italian influence is easily found in the religion, language, architecture, music, food and other aspects of Venezuelan culture.
Slaves brought to work in colonial Venezuela from Africa also made significant contributions to the country's culture, particularly in music, as well as food, religion and language.
Venezuela was also enriched by other European cultures during the 19th century, especially the French.
Adding to the already complex cultural landscape, the fact that baseball (competing with soccer) is the country's national sport demonstrates that the country's culture has been particularly influenced by The U.S.A.
Early 20th Century Venezuelan literature includes Teresa de la Parra, who wrote Las memorias de Mama Blanca (1929), a somewhat nostalgic look back at an idyllic youthful existence on a rural hacienda.
Romulo Gallegos is probably Venezuela's most famous and influential author. Gallegos wrote Dona Barbara (also 1929), an allegory of the distinction between barbarism and civilization.
Roman Chalbaud is undoubtedly the country's most important twentieth-century film director, with commercial and critical successes such as El pez que fuma (a satirical national allegory set in a brothel), though Venezuela has been more successful in exporting its popular media (particularly telenovelas) than in establishing a fully-fledged film industry.
Venezuela -- Political system, law and government --
Politics of Venezuela takes place in a framework of a federal republic, whereby the President of Venezuela is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system.
Executive power is exercised by the President. Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly.
The Constitution designates three additional branches of the federal government--the judicial, citizen, and electoral branches.
The president is elected by a plurality vote with direct and universal suffrage.
The term of office is six years, and a president may be re-elected to two consecutive terms. The president appoints the vice president.
He decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes appointments to it with the involvement of the National Assembly.
Legislation can be initiated by the executive branch, the legislative branch (either a committee of the National Assembly or three members of the latter), the judicial branch, the citizen branch (ombudsman, public prosecutor, and controller general) or a public petition signed by no fewer than 0.1% of registered voters.
The president can ask the National Assembly to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple majority of the Assembly can override these objections.
The formerly bicameral Venezuelan legislature was transformed by the 1999 constitution into a Unicameral National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional. The National Assembly has 167 seats overall, and members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms, and may be re-elected for a maximum of two additional terms.
These legislative agents are elected by a combination of party list and single member constituencies.
Three Assembly seats are by law reserved for the indigenous peoples of Venezuela.
The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, which may meet either in specialized chambers (of which there are six) or in plenary session.
The justices are appointed by the National Assembly and serve 12-year terms.
The largest political parties and leaders are as follows:
A New Time or UNT (Manuel Rosales); Christian Democrats or COPEI (Cesar Perez Vivas); Communist Party of Venezuela or PCV (Jeronimo Carrera); Democratic Action or AD (Henry Ramos Allup); Fatherland for All or PPT (Jose Albornoz); Justice First (Julio Borges); Movement Toward Socialism or MAS (Hector Mujica); United Socialist Party of Venezuela or PSUV (Hugo Chavez); Venezuela Project or PV (Henrique Salas Romer); We Can or PODEMOS (Ismael Garcia)