Venezuela (/ˌvɛnəˈzweɪlə/ VEN-ə-ZWALE-ə, Spanish pronunciation: [be.neˈswela]), officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Spanish: República Bolivariana de Venezuela [reˈpu.βlika βoliβaˈɾjana ðe βeneˈswela]), is a country on the northern coast of South America. Venezuela's territory covers around 916,445 square kilometres (353,841 sq mi) with an estimated population of 29,105,632. Venezuela is considered a state with extremely high biodiversity, with habitats ranging from the Andes mountains in the west to the Amazon Basin rainforest in the south, via extensive llanos plains and Caribbean coast in the center and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.
Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 despite resistance from indigenous peoples. It became one of the first Spanish American colonies to declare independence (in 1811), but did not securely establish independence until 1821 (as a department of the federal republic of Gran Colombia, gaining full independence in 1830). During the 19th century Venezuela suffered political turmoil and dictatorship, and it was dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) well into the 20th century. The country has intermittently had democratic governments between 1945 and the present day; like most countries of Latin America, it has suffered some coups and military dictatorships. Economic shocks in the 1980s and 1990s led to a political crisis causing hundreds of deaths in the Caracazo riots of 1989, two attempted coups in 1992, and the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for embezzlement of public funds in 1993. A collapse in confidence in the existing parties saw the 1998 election of former career officer Hugo Chávez, and the launch of the Bolivarian Revolution, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela.
Venezuela is a federal presidential republic consisting of 23 states, the Capital District (covering Caracas), and Federal Dependencies (covering Venezuela's offshore islands). Venezuela claims all Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River; this 159,500 square kilometres (61,583 sq mi) tract was dubbed Guayana Esequiba or the Zona en Reclamación (the "zone being reclaimed").
Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America; the vast majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, especially in the capital, Caracas, which is also the largest city. Since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century, Venezuela has been one of the world's leading exporters of oil and has the largest oil reserves. 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 as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak. The recovery of oil prices after 2001 boosted the Venezuelan economy and facilitated social spending, although the fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis saw a renewed economic downturn. However, as of late 2010 Venezuela's economy returned to growth.
In 1499, an expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda visited the Venezuelan coast. The stilt houses in the area of Lake Maracaibo reminded the navigator Amerigo Vespucci of the city of Venice, so he named the region "Veneziola". The name acquired its current spelling as a result of Spanish influence, where the suffix -uela is used as a diminutive term (e.g., plaza / plazuela, cazo / cazuela); thus, the term's original sense would have been that of a "little Venice". The German term for the area, "Klein-Venedig", also means little Venice (lit. "small Venice").
Nonetheless, although the Vespucci story remains the most popular and accepted version of the origin of the country's name, a different reason for the name comes up in the account of Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of the Vespucci and Ojeda crew. In his work Summa de Geografía, he states that they found an indigenous population who called themselves the "Veneciuela," which suggests that the name "Venezuela" may have evolved from the native word.
Human habitation of Venezuela could have commenced at least 15,000 years ago from which period leaf-shaped 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. Late Pleistocene hunting artifacts, including spear tips, have been found at a similar series of sites in northwestern Venezuela known as "El Jobo"; according to radiocarbon dating, these date from 13,000 to 7,000 BC.
It is not known how many people lived in Venezuela before the Spanish Conquest; it may have been around a million people, and in addition to today's indigenous peoples included groups such as the Carib, Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche and Timoto-cuicas. The number was reduced after the Conquest, mainly through the spread of new diseases from Europe. There were two main north-south axes of pre-Columbian population, producing maize in the west and manioc in the east. Large parts of the llanos plains were cultivated through a combination of slash and burn and permanent settled agriculture.
In 1498, during his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus sailed near the Orinoco Delta and then landed in the Gulf of Paria. Amazed, Columbus expressed in his moving letter to Isabella and Ferdinand that he had reached the heaven on Earth (paradise), and confused by the unusual saltiness of the water, he wrote:
Great signs are these of the Terrestrial Paradise, for the site conforms to the opinion of the holy and wise theologians whom I have mentioned. And likewise, the [other] signs conform very well, for I have never read or heard of such a large quantity of fresh water being inside and in such close proximity to salt water; the very mild temperateness also corroborates this; and if the water of which I speak does not proceed from Paradise then it is an even greater marvel, because I do not believe such a large and deep river has ever been known to exist in this world.
His certainty of having attained Paradise made him name this region Land of Grace, a phrase that has become the country's nickname.
Spain's colonization of mainland Venezuela started in 1522, establishing its first permanent South American settlement in the present-day city of Cumaná. In the 16th century Venezuela was contracted as a concession by the King of Spain to the German Welser banking family (Klein-Venedig, 1528–1546). Native caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro (c. 1530–1568) and Tamanaco (died 1573) attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but the newcomers ultimately subdued them; Tamanaco was put to death by order of Caracas' founder Diego de Losada.
In the 16th century, during the Spanish colonization, indigenous peoples such as many of the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Caribs converted to Roman Catholicism. Some of the resisting tribes or leaders are commemorated in place names, including Caracas, Chacao, and Los Teques. The early colonial settlements focused on the northern coast, but in the mid-18th century the Spanish pushed further inland along the Orinoco River. Here the Ye'kuana (then known as the Makiritare) organized serious resistance in 1775 and 1776.
Spain's eastern Venezuelan settlements were incorporated into New Andalusia Province. Administered by the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo from the early 16th century, most of Venezuela became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in the early 18th century, and was then reorganized as an autonomous Captaincy General starting in 1776. The town of Caracas, founded in the central coastal region in 1567, was well-placed to become a key location, being near the coastal port of La Guaira whilst itself being located in a valley in a mountain range, providing defensive strength against pirates and a more fertile and healthy climate.
After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela—under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal who had fought in the American Revolution and the French Revolution—declared independence on 5 July 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. However, a devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic. A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on 7 August 1813, lasted several months before being crushed as well.
Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla and Rafael Urdaneta'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 newly independent Venezuela; Páez became the first president of the new republic. Between one-quarter and one-third of Venezuela's population was lost during these two decades of warfare (including perhaps one-half of the white population), which by 1830 was estimated at about 800,000.
The colors of the Venezuelan flag are yellow, blue and red, in that order: the yellow stands for land wealth, the blue for the sea that separates Venezuela from Spain, and the red for the blood shed by the heroes of independence.
Slavery in Venezuela was abolished in 1854. Much of Venezuela's 19th century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule, including the Independence leader José Antonio Páez, who gained the presidency three times and served a total of eleven years between 1830 and 1863. This culminated in the Federal War (1859–1863), a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died, in a country with a population of not much more than a million people. In the latter half of the century Antonio Guzmán Blanco, another caudillo, served a total of thirteen years between 1870 and 1887, with three other presidents interspersed.
In 1895 a longstanding dispute with Great Britain about the territory of Guayana Esequiba, which Britain claimed as part of British Guiana and Venezuela saw as Venezuelan territory, erupted into the Venezuela Crisis of 1895. The dispute became a diplomatic crisis when Venezuela's lobbyist William L. Scruggs sought to argue that British behavior over the issue violated the United States' Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and used his influence in Washington, D.C. to pursue the matter. Then US President Grover Cleveland adopted a broad interpretation of the Doctrine that did not just simply forbid new European colonies but declared an American interest in any matter within the hemisphere. Britain ultimately accepted arbitration, but in negotiations over its terms was able to persuade the US on much of the details. A tribunal convened in Paris in 1898 to decide the issue, and in 1899 awarded the bulk of the disputed territory to British Guiana.
In 1899 Cipriano Castro, assisted by his friend Juan Vicente Gómez, seized power in Caracas, marching an army from his base in the Andean state of Táchira. Castro defaulted on Venezuela's considerable foreign debts, and declined to pay compensation to foreigners caught up in Venezuela's civil wars. This led to the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, in which Britain, Germany and Italy imposed a naval blockade of several months, before international arbitration at the new Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague was agreed. In 1908 another dispute broke out with the Netherlands, which was resolved when Castro left for medical treatment in Germany and was promptly overthrown by Juan Vicente Gómez.
The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I would prove pivotal for Venezuela, and soon transformed the basis of its economy, from a heavy dependence on agricultural exports. It prompted an economic boom that would last into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela's per capita gross domestic product was Latin America's highest. Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its