With a palm-fringed Caribbean coast, the snow-capped peaks and rocky foothills of the Andes, pristine jungle in the Orinoco Delta, and an intriguing mix of people and nature on the high Llanos plain, Venezuela’s diversity and relative lack of foreign visitors make it an unusual but rewarding destination. Expert help in planning a trip to this huge, stimulating country is absolutely vital, and our specialists know the country from top to bottom.

Venezuela, named the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since 1999, is located on the northern coast of South America. The country comprises a continental mainland and numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea. It borders Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the west. Its Caribbean neighbors off the northern coast are Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Leeward Antilles. Falling within the tropics, Venezuela sits closer to the Equator, in the Northern Hemisphere.

Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry, the environmental diversity of its territory, and its natural features. Home to a huge diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats, Venezuela is considered to be among the 17 most megadiverse countries in the world.

Venezuela is also among the most urban countries in Latin America. The majority of the population is concentrated in the north, especially in the largest metropolis, Caracas. Other major cities include Maracay, Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, and Ciudad Guayana.

Executive branch: President Hugo Chavez Frias (since February 3, 1999) Chief of state and head of government are held by the president elected by popular vote for a six-year term with a two consecutive term limit. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the president. On December 3rd, 2006, Hugo Chavez was reelected president with 62.9% of the vote against Manuel Rosales with 36.9%, (Next election December, 2012)

Legislative Branch: Unicameral National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional (165 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; three seats reserved for the indigenous peoples of Venezuela).

Judicial Branch: Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Suprema de Justicia. Magistrates are elected by the National assembly for a single 12-year term.

Electoral Branch: National Electoral Council or Consejo Electoral Nacional (CNE) administers all elections, including those held within civil society. Its five principal members are elected by the National Assembly for a seven-year term. The current president of the CNE is Tibisay Lucena.

Citizen Branch: This branch ensures that citizens and government officials follow the countries laws. It consists of the Attorney General (or Prosecutor General), the Comptroller General, and the Defender of the People (Human Rights Ombudsperson).

Major Political Parties:
There are currently two major blocs of political parties in Venezuela: the incumbent leftist bloc United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), its major allies Fatherland for All (PPT) and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), and the opposition bloc grouped into the electoral coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática. This includes A New Era (UNT) together with allied parties Project Venezuela, Justice First, Movement for Socialism (MAS) and others. Hugo Chávez, the central figure of the Venezuelan political landscape since his election to the Presidency in 1998 as a political outsider, died in office in early 2013, and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro (initially as interim President, before narrowly winning the Venezuelan presidential election, 2013).

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Military Branches: National Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales or FAN): Ground Forces or Army (Fuerzas Terrestres or Ejercito), Naval Forces (Fuerzas Navales or Armada; includes Marines, Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerzas Aereas or Aviacion), Armed Forces of Cooperation or National Guard (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperacion or Guardia Nacional)


The Central Bank of Venezuela is responsible for developing monetary policy for the Venezuelan bolívar which is used as currency. The currency is primarily printed on paper and distributed throughout the country. The President of the Central Bank of Venezuela is presently Eudomar Tovar, who also serves as the country`s representative in the International Monetary Fund. According to the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Venezuela has the weakest property rights in the world, scoring only 5.0 on a scale of 100; expropriation without compensation is not uncommon. Venezuela has a mixed economy dominated by the petroleum sector, which accounts for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. Per capita GDP for 2009 was US$13,000, ranking 85th in the world.[31] Venezuela has the least expensive petrol in the world because the consumer price of petrol is heavily subsidized.

More than 60% of Venezuela`s international reserves is in gold, eight times more than the average for the region. Most of Venezuela`s gold held abroad is located in London. On November 25, 2011, the first of US$11 billion of repatriated gold bullion arrived in Caracas; Chávez called the repatriation of gold a "sovereign" step that will help protect the country`s foreign reserves from the turmoil in the U.S. and Europe.[80] However government policies quickly spent down this returned gold and in 2013 the government was forced to add the dollar reserves of state owned companies to those of the national bank in order to reassure the international bond market.[81]

Manufacturing contributed 17% of GDP in 2006. Venezuela manufactures and exports heavy industry products such as steel, aluminium and cement, with production concentrated around Ciudad Guayana, near the Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world and the provider of about three-quarters of Venezuela`s electricity. Other notable manufacturing includes electronics and automobiles, as well as beverages, and foodstuffs. Agriculture in Venezuela accounts for approximately 3% of GDP, 10% of the labor force, and at least a quarter of Venezuela`s land area. Venezuela exports rice, corn, fish, tropical fruit, coffee, beef, and pork. The country is not self-sufficient in most areas of agriculture. In 2012, total food consumption was over 26 million metric tonnes, a 94.8% increase from 2003.[82]

Since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century, Venezuela has been one of the world`s leading exporters of oil, and it is a founding member of OPEC. Previously an underdeveloped exporter of agricultural commodities such as coffee and cocoa, oil quickly came to dominate exports and government revenues. The 1980s oil glut led to an external debt crisis and a long-running economic crisis, which saw inflation peak at 100% in 1996 and poverty rates rise to 66% in 1995[8] as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak.[9] The 1990s also saw Venezuela experience a major banking crisis in 1994. The recovery of oil prices after 2001 boosted the Venezuelan economy and facilitated social spending. In 2003 the government of Hugo Chávez implemented currency controls after capital flight lead to a devaluation of the currency. This lead to the development of a parallel market of dollars in the subsequent years with the official exchange rate less than a sixth of black market value. The fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis saw a renewed economic downturn.

With social programs such as the Bolivarian Missions, Venezuela made progress in social development in 2000s, particularly in areas such as health, education, and poverty. Many of the social policies pursued by Chávez and his administration were jumpstarted by the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals that Venezuela and 188 other nations agreed to in September 2000.[83] It is expected that Venezuela will meet all eight goals by the 2015 deadline.

GDP purchasing power parity: US$402.1 (2012 est)

GDP real growth rate: 2.6% (2Q 2013 est.)

GDP per capita: $13,200 (2012 est)

Industries: petroleum, construction materials, food processing, iron ore mining, steel, aluminum; motor vehicle assembly, real estate, tourism and ecotourism

Agriculture products: corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, coffee, beef, pork, milk, eggs, fish

Petroleum: production – 2,300,000 barrels a day (370,000 m3), proven conventional reserves – 79.7 billion barrels (1.267×1010 m3)

Natural Gas: production – 176 trillion cubic feet (5,000 km3) (2010 est), total proven reserves – 4,838 billion cubic meters (bcm) (2007 est)

Currency: Bolivar Fuerte, BsF. (VEF)

Poverty rate: 28% (2008 est.)

Inflation Rate: 29.1% (2010 est)


Human habitation of Venezuela is estimated to have commenced at least 15,000 years ago, from which period leaf-shaped flake tools, together with chopping and plano-convex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela. In the 16th century, when the Spanish colonization of Venezuela began, indigenous peoples such as the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Caribs, were systematically killed. Indian caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were ultimately subdued; Tamanaco himself, by order of Caracas` founder Diego de Losada, was also put to death.

Venezuela was first colonized by Europeans in 1522, when it hosted the Spanish Empire`s first permanent South American settlement in what is now Cumaná. Originally part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, most of Venezuela eventually became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada; portions of eastern Venezuela were incorporated into New Andalusia. After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela—under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal involved in the French Revolution—declared independence on 5 July 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. However, a devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic.[11] A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on 7 August 1813, lasted several months before being crushed as well.

Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, known as El Libertador ("The Liberator") and aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla`s victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo on 24 July 1823 helped seal Venezuelan independence. New Granada`s congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia. Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador, and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a new Republic of Venezuela; Páez became its first president.

Much of Venezuela`s nineteenth century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule.[12] During the first half of the 20th century, caudillos (military strongmen) continued to dominate, though they generally allowed for social reforms and promoted economic growth. Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935 and the demise of caudillismo (authoritarian rule), pro-democracy movements eventually forced the military to withdraw from direct involvement in national politics in 1958. Since that year, Venezuela has had a series of democratically elected governments. The discovery of massive oil deposits, totaling some 400 million barrels, during World War I prompted an economic boom that lasted into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela`s per capita GDP was Latin America`s highest, and globalization and heavy immigration from Southern Europe and poorer Latin American countries markedly diversified Venezuelan society.

The collapse of oil prices in the 1980s, and the huge public spending and accumulation of internal and external debts by the government and private sector during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s, crippled the Venezuelan economy. As the government devalued the currency in order to face its mounting local and external financial obligations, Venezuelans` real standard of living fell dramatically. Neo-liberal reforms introduced by President Carlos Andrés Perez in February 1989 led to massive rioting and a subsequent crack-down by the military and the police, which came to be known as the Caracazo. It is estimated that state security forces ended up killing between 300 and 3,000 Venezuelans following the riots, between February 27 and March 5 of 1989. A number of failed economic policies and increasing corruption in government and society at large led to rising poverty and crime and worsening social indicators and increasing political instability, resulting in three major coup attempts, two in 1992 and another in 2002. In the February 1992 coup, Hugo Chavez, a former paratrooper, attempted to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez as anger grew against the President`s economic austerity measures. Chavez was unsuccessful and landed up in jail. In November of that year, another unsuccessful coup attempt occurred, organized by other revolutionary groups in the Venezuelan Armed Forces and those that remained from Chavez’s previous attempt.

Hugo Chávez was pardoned in March 1994 by president Rafael Caldera, with a clean slate and his political rights reinstated. A collapse in confidence in the existing parties saw Chávez elected President in 1998, and the subsequent launch of a "Bolivarian Revolution", beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela.

In April 2002, Chávez was briefly ousted from power in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d`état attempt following popular demonstrations by his opposers, but he was returned to power after two days as a result of popular demonstrations by his supporters and actions by the military.

Chávez also remained in power after an all-out national strike that lasted more than two months from December 2002 to February 2003, including a strike/lockout in the state oil company PDVSA. The strike produced severe economic dislocation, with the country`s GDP falling 27% during the first four months of 2003, and costing the oil industry $13.3bn.Capital flight before and during the strike led to the reimposition of currency controls (which had been abolished in 1989), managed by the CADIVI agency. In the subsequent decade the government was forced into several currency devaluations. These devaluations have done little to improve the situation of the Venezuelan people who rely on imported products or locally produced products that depend on imported inputs while dollar denominated oil sales account for the vast majority of Venezuela`s exports.

Chávez survived several further political tests, including an August 2004 recall referendum. He was elected for another term in December 2006 and re-elected for a third term in October 2012. However, he was never sworn in for his third period, due to medical complications. Chávez died on 5 March 2013 after a nearly-two-year fight with cancer.The presidential election that took place on Sunday, 14 April 2013, was the first since Chávez took office in 1999 in which his name did not appear on the ballot.

Nicolás Maduro is the president of Venezuela since 14 April 2013, after winning the second presidential election after Chávez`s death, with 50,61% of the votes against the opposition`s candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski who had 49,12% of the votes. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (the government opposition cartel) contested his appointment as a violation of the constitution. However, the Supreme Court of Venezuela (TSJ) rules that under Venezuela`s Constitution, Nicolás Maduro is the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and was invested as such by the Venezuelan Congress (Asamblea Nacional).



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