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Republic of Venezuela

República de Venezuela

CAPITAL: Caracas

FLAG: The national flag consists of three equal horizontal bands of yellow (top), blue, and red with the coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow band and an arc of eight white five-pointed stars centered in the blue band.

ANTHEM: Himno Nacional, beginning "Gloria al bravo pueblo" ("Glory to the brave people").

MONETARY UNIT: The bolívar (b) is a paper currency of 100 céntimos. There are coins of 5, 25, and 50 céntimos and 1, 2, and 5 bolívars, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 bolívars. b1 = $0.00048 (or $1 = b2,090.75) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Declaration of Independence and Day of the Indian, 19 April; Labor Day, 1 May; Army Day and Anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo, 24 June; Independence Day, 5 July; Bolívar's Birthday, 24 July; Civil Servants Day, 4 September; Columbus Day, 12 October; Christmas, 25 December; New Year's Eve, 31 December. Movable holidays are Carnival (Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Numerous other bank holidays and local festivals are observed.

TIME: 8 am = noon GMT.


Venezuela, located on the northern coast of South America, covers an area of 912,050 sq km (352,144 sq mi), extending 1,487 km (924 mi) wnwese and 1,175 km (730 mi) nnessw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Venezuela is slightly more than twice the size of the state of California. It is bordered on the n by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, on the e by Guyana, on the s by Brazil, and on the w by Colombia, with a total land boundary of 4,993 km (3,103 mi) and a coastline of 2,800 km (1,740 mi). There are 72 offshore islands.

Venezuela claims more than 130,000 sq km (50,000 sq mi) of territory west of the Essequibo River in Guyana, an area which constitutes about three-fifths of Guyana. In 1985, UN mediation was requested by both countries but the matter has not been resolved. Conflicting maritime claims with Colombia in the Gulf of Venezuela remain unresolved as well, despite negotiations since 1970. Demarcation of the land boundary between the two nations began in February 1982.

Venezuela's capital city, Caracas, is located in the northern part of the country on the Caribbean Sea coast.


Venezuela has four principal geographical divisions. In the north emerges a low extension of the Andes chain; to the west lies the hot basin of Lake Maracaibo; to the southeast spread the great plains (llanos) and forests; and south of the Orinoco River lie the unoccupied and largely unexplored Guiana Highlands, accounting for about half the country's total area. The Orinoco at about 2,574 km (1,600 mi) long drains four-fifths of Venezuela. There are more than 1,000 other rivers. About 90% of the nation's population is concentrated between the northeastern plateau of the Andes, on which is located the capital, Caracas, and another Andean extension to the west along the Venezuela-Colombia border, covering approximately one-fourth of the total national area.

Outstanding geographical features include Angel Falls (979 m or 3,212 ft high) in the Guiana Highlands of southeastern Venezuela, the highest waterfall in the world; the navigable Lake Maracaibo in the west, which is about 80 km (50 mi) wide and 210 km (130 mi) long and is accessible to ocean shipping; and Pico Bolívar in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida, the highest peak in Venezuela (5,007 m/16,427 ft).

There are a number of fault lines running through the north central region of the country. The major fault is the San Sebastian, which serves as the border between the South American and Caribbean Tectonic Plates along the northern coast of the country; frequent earthquakes and landslides occur along this region.


Although Venezuela lies entirely within the torrid zone, generally there are four climatic regions, based mainly on altitude: tropical, up to 760 m (2,500 ft) in elevation; subtropical, from 7601,830 m (2,5006,000 ft); temperate, from 1,8302,740 m (6,0009,000 ft); and cold, above 2,740 m (9,000 ft). In the tropical region, including the cities of Maracaibo and Ciudad Bolívar, mean annual temperatures range from 24° to 35°c (75° to 95°f). In the subtropical region, where Caracas is situated, the means range from 10° to 25°c (50° to 77°f). In January, in Caracas, the average minimum and maximum temperatures are 15°c (59°f) and 26°c (79°f), respectively; the range in July is 1726°c (6379°f). During the wet season (May to October), the llanos and forest areas are swampy, green, and lush. Upon the advent of the dry season, the same areas become dry, brown, and parched. There is perpetual snow on several peaks of the Cordillera de Mérida.


The natural vegetation of the tropical zone varies from the rain forest regions of the lower Maracaibo Basin to the grasslands of the llanos. In the areas of insufficient rainfall are found xerophytic plants, as well as mimosa. The subtropical zone, tierra templada, was originally almost covered by a luxuriant forest, but it is now the nation's principal agricultural region. In the temperate region, only a small portion of the total land area, wild vegetation is sparse and scrubby. In the páramo region, from about 2,7404,880 m (9,00016,000 ft) in elevation, vegetation becomes even thinner and barely affords an existence for the few sheep and cattle raised by the local Amerindian population. Above 3,050 m (10,000 ft), the only vegetation seen is the espeletia, similar to the century plant, which grows to a height of about 1.82.1 m (67 ft).

The wild animals of Venezuela are abundant because of their relative isolation from human disturbance. The forests are populated with tapirs, sloths, anteaters, and a variety of monkeys. In the mountains are puma, margay, vampire bats, and deer. Semiwild horses, donkeys, and cattle are found in the plains. The forests are rich in tropical birds such as the cacique, crested coquette, heron, umbrella bird, manakin, cock-of-the-rock, parrot, macaw, and aigrette. Aquatic fowl include the pelican, heron, flamingo, and a muscovy duck weighing up to 9.1 kg (20 lb). More than 32 species of eagles are found in Venezuela. There are numerous reptiles, including the rattlesnake, coral snake, bushmaster, anaconda, and boa. Crocodiles are found in the lowland rivers. Fish, shellfish, tortoises, and sand tortoises are also plentiful.

As of 2002, there were at least 323 species of mammals, 547 species of birds, and over 21,000 species of plants throughout the country.


Pressing environmental problemsurbanization, the unrestricted use of pesticides, the pollution of waterways with untreated industrial wastes, increasing air pollution and gasoline consumption by automobiles, and the uncontrolled exploitation of soil and forest resourcesled the government in 1976 to establish the Ministry of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. The basic legislative instrument is the Organic Law of the Environment; other laws govern the protection of soils, forests, and water supplies, regulate public sanitation, and seek to prevent the contamination of waterways by oil. Incentives are offered to industry to avoid environmental damage.

Air pollution results from the activity of power plants and from industrial and vehicle exhaust emissions. In 2000, the total of carbon dioxide emissions was at 157.7 million metric tons. Water pollution is caused by contaminants from the oil industry, mining activity, and industrial chemicals. The nation's cities also produce about 3.6 million tons of solid waste per year. Venezuela has 722 cu km of renewable water resources with 46% of the annual withdrawal is used for farming activity and 10% for industrial purposes. As of 2002, 85% of urban dwellers and 70% of the rural population had access to improved water sources.

Between 199095, deforestation occurred at an average annual rate of 1.1%. Measures designed to prevent forest depletion include suspension of logging permits and a large-scale afforestation program. In 2000, about 56% of the total land area was forested and deforestation had slowed to an annual rate of about 0.4%. In 2003, over 60% of the total land area was protected, including five Ramsar wetland sites and one natural UNESCO World Heritage Site (Canaima National Park). In the Andes area, Venezuela loses up to 300 tons of soil per hectare due to land erosion by rivers.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 26 types of mammals, 25 species of birds, 13 types of reptiles, 68 species of amphibians, 19 species of fish, 1 species of invertebrate, and 67 species of plants were threatened. Endangered species in Venezuela included the tundra peregrine falcon, red siskin, giant otter, five species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, and South American river), and three species of crocodile (spectacled caiman, American, and Orinoco).


The population of Venezuela in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 26,749,000, which placed it at number 42 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 31% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 101 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.8%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 35,406,000.

The overall population density was 29 per sq km (76 per sq mi), but in the relatively populous northwest, the density was more than twice the national average. Nevertheless, Venezuela remained one of the least densely populated countries in the Western Hemisphere. The Amazon River area (nearly 20% of the total) averages only about 0.8 population per sq km (0.3 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 87% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.90%. The capital city, Caracas, had a population of 3,226,000 in that year. Other large cities and their estimated populations include Valencia, 2,330,000; Maracaibo, 2,182,000; Maracay, 1,138,000; and Barquisimeto, 1,009,000.


For a time, Venezuela encouraged large-scale immigration in the hope that the newcomers would help increase the nation's food production. Although the yearly totals of foreigners entering Venezuela were high, a large portion of these immigrants remained only briefly. In the decades immediately before and after World War II, nearly 500,000 Europeansmostly from Italy, Spain, and Portugalcame to Venezuela. By 1990, however, only 5.7% of the resident population was of foreign birth. In 1989 there were 18,893 immigrants and 9,643 emigrants. An estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants, most of them Colombians, were living in Venezuela in 1985. Internal migration in the 1980s was chiefly from the federal district to adjoining areas and eastward from the state of Zulia, in the far northwest. During the period 199097, 1,630 persons were given refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Venezuela. As of 1999, government sources reported at least 1,500,000 Colombians in Venezuela, of whom only 500,000 were legal residents. In June 1999 alone, some 3,500 Colombians entered the country following a paramilitary offensive in the Colombian area of La Gabarra. The total number of migrants was 1,006,000 in 2000, including the small number of remaining refugees. In 2004, there were 244 refugees in Venezuela, 3,904 asylum seekers, and 26,350, originally from Colombia, who were of concern to UNHCR.

The net migration movement in 2005 was estimated as zero per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The original inhabitants of Venezuela were Amerindians, predominantly Caribs and Arawaks. The majority (about 68%) of the present population is mestizo (mixed race). Approximately 21% are European, primarily Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German. Blacks account for an estimated 810%, and Amerindians for about 2%. The Amerindians represent approximately 27 different groups. Arab peoples are also represented in the overall populace.


The official language is Spanish. It is fairly standardized throughout the country among the educated population, but there are marked regional variations. Numerous indigenous dialects are also spoken.


According to government estimates, about 70% of the population are Roman Catholic. Protestants constitute 29% of the population and the remaining 1% profess other religions or are atheists. Of the other religions, there are small but influential Muslim and Jewish communities. Caracas, the capital city, has a large mosque. Maria Lionza is a religious movement that blends Christian, African, and indigenous beliefs.

Venezuelans are constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion provided that a faith is not contrary to public order or good custom. The state signed a concordat with the Vatican in 1964, which serves as the basis for government financial support of the Roman Catholic Church. While all registered religious groups can apply for government funds, the Catholic Church has been guaranteed a fixed amount from a limited government budget. Despite such financial support, government officials have often been politically at odds with local Catholic Church authorities.


The most important mode of domestic cargo and passenger transport is shipping over the country's more than 16,000 km (9,900 mi) of navigable inland waterways, of which 7,100 km (4,410 mi) are navigable to oceangoing vessels. A large percentage of Venezuelan tonnage is carried by ships of the government-owned Venezuelan Navigation Co. In 2005, the merchant fleet had 56 vessels of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 740,919 GRT. Shallow-draught ships are able to reach Colombian river ports in the wet season. Shallow-draught river steamers are the principal means of transportation from the eastern llanos to Puerto Ordaz, which, thanks to constant dredging, is also reached by deep-draught oceangoing vessels. Dredging operations also are maintained in Lake Maracaibo to allow the entry of oceangoing tankers. The government has invested substantially in the port of La Guaira, hoping to make it one of the most modern in the Caribbean area. Puerto Cabello handles the most cargo, and Maracaibo is the main port for oil shipments.

Highway and railroad construction is both costly and dangerous because of the rough mountainous terrain in the areas of dense population. Nevertheless, the government has undertaken massive highway construction projects throughout the country. Major ventures include the completion of the Caracas-La Guaira Autopista, which links the capital with its airport at Maiquetía and its seaport at La Guaira, and a section of the Pan-American Highway connecting Carora with the Colombian border. The General Rafael Urdañeta Bridge crosses the narrow neck of water connecting Lake Maracaibo with the Gulf of Venezuela and provides a direct surface link between Maracaibo and the east. By 2002, Venezuela had 96,155 km (59,751 mi) of highway, of which 32,308 km (20,076 mi) were paved. In 2003 there were 1,480,000 passenger cars and 1,157,138 commercial vehicles in Venezuela.

Venezuela's two railroads carry mostly freight. Rail transportation is concentrated in the northern states of Lara, Miranda, Carabobo, Aragua, and Yaracuy, with branches connecting the principal seaports with the important cities of the central highlands. As of 2004, the country's railway system totaled 682 km (424 mi), all of it standard gauge. The first 7.2-km (4.5-mi) section of a government-financed metro line in Caracas was opened in 1983.

Cities and towns of the remote regions are linked principally by air transportation. In 2004, there were an estimated 369 airports. As of 2005 a total of 128 had paved runways, and there was also one heliport. Venezuela has three main airlines, the government-owned Aerovías Venezolanas S.A. (AVENSA), Línea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV), and Venezolana Internacional de Aviación, S.A. (VIASA); VIASA, an overseas service, is jointly run by AVENSA and LAV. A new airline, Aeronaves del Centro, began domestic flights in 1980. The government expanded Simón Bolívar International Airport at Maiquetía, near Caracas, to accommodate heavy jet traffic. In 2003, about 3.824 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


As many as 400,000 Amerindians were living in the land now known as Venezuela when Christopher Columbus landed at the mouth of the Orinoco in August 1498, on his third voyage of discovery. The nation received its name, meaning "Little Venice," from Alonso de Ojeda, who sailed into the Gulf of Venezuela in August 1499 and was reminded of the Italian city by the native huts built on stilts over the water.

The first Europeans to settle Venezuela were Germans. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted the Welsers, a German banking firm, the right to colonize and develop Venezuela in exchange for the cancellation of a debt. Lasting a little less than 20 years, the administration of the Welsers was characterized by extensive exploration and organization of the territory but also by brutality toward the native population. In 1546, the grant was rescinded, and Venezuela was returned to the Spanish crown.

Under the Spanish, Eastern Venezuela was governed under the audiencia (region under a royal court) of Santo Domingo, and the western and southern regions became a captaincy-general under the viceroyalty of Peru. Settlement of the colony was hampered by constant wars with the Amerindians, which did not stop until after a smallpox epidemic in 1580. Meanwhile, the province was carved into encomiendas (hereditary grants), which were given to the conquistadores as rewards. By the end of the century, however, the encomienda system was abandoned, and existing grants were declared illegal. The cabildos, or town councils, won more authority, and a national consciousness began to develop. In 1717, the western and southern provinces were incorporated into the viceroyalty of New Granada, and in 1783, the area of present-day Venezuela became a captaincy-general of Caracas.

The war for independence against Spain began in 1810. Francisco de Miranda ("El Precursor"), a military adventurer, was named leader of the Congress of Cabildos, which declared the independence of Venezuela on 5 July 1811. Royalist factions rallied to overthrow the new republic, which was weakened when an earthquake destroyed revolutionary strongholds and left royalist centers virtually untouched. Miranda was captured and sent to die in a dungeon in Cádiz, but Simón Bolívar, a native of Caracas who had served under Miranda, was able to flee to Colombia. He then led an army across the Andes into Venezuela, declaring "War to the death and no quarter to Spaniards." In August 1812, he entered Caracas and assumed the title of Liberator ("El Libertador"). He was defeated and forced to flee to Jamaica, as the royalists again took control of the capital.

In December 1816, Bolívar, after landing in eastern Venezuela, established his headquarters in Angostura, now Ciudad Bolívar. He was aided by Gen. José Antonio Páez. The Congress of Angostura convened in October 1818 and in February 1819 elected Bolívar president of the Venezuelan republic. In the spring, he crossed the Andes, and in July, he entered Tunja, Colombia, with about 3,000 men and, after defeating the Spaniards at Boyacá, entered Bogotá. Under Bolívar's leadership, Gran Colombia (Greater Colombia) was formed from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, with Bolívar as its president and military autocrat. The end of the Venezuelan war of independence came with Bolívar's victory at Carabobo in June 1821.

In 1830, Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia. A period of civil wars lasted from 1846 to 1870, when the caudillo Antonio Guzmán Blanco assumed power, attracted foreign investment and modernized the country. Guzmán was overthrown in 1888, and a few years later, Joaquín Crespo, a former puppet president of Guzmán, seized power. The next dictator, Cipriano Castro (18991908), was a colorful, if controversial, figure. A drunkard and a libertine, Castro also put Venezuela deeply into debt. When Castro refused to repay its outstanding loans, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy sent gunboats to blockade the Venezuelan coast. After mediation by the United States and a decision favorable to the European creditors by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Venezuela met its obligations by 1907. The next year, Castro sought medical care in Paris, leaving Venezuela in the hands of Juan Vicente Gómez. Gómez (190835) promptly seized power and ruled as dictator until his death. Although uneducated and practically illiterate, Gómez had a mind for business and proved a capable administrator. During his dictatorship, agriculture was developed and oil was discovered, making Venezuela the largest exporter of oil and thus one of the richest countries in Latin America. Oil concessions attracted US, British, and Dutch companies, initiating an era of oil wealth that continues today.

After the death of Gómez, Venezuela began to move toward democracy. During two military governments, opposition parties were permitted, allowing the Democratic Action (Acción DemocráticaAD) to organize. In 1945, the military scheduled an election, but many feared a fraudulent outcome. The AD deposed the military, and a junta named AD leader Rómulo Betancourt provisional president. Betancourt set elections for 1947, and conducted the first free election for president in Venezuelan history. The AD candidate Rómulo Gallegos, a distinguished novelist, was elected overwhelmingly, but within eight months, the military intervened in November 1948. A bloodless army coup backed by the armed forces and the United States replaced Gallegos with a military junta that ruled for four years. In December 1952, during the scheduled presidential election Marcos Pérez Jiménez seized power and became an absolute dictator. Venezuela took its last steps toward full democracy after January 1958, when a popular revolt with military backing drove Pérez Jiménez from power. An interim government consisting of a military junta held elections in December 1958, and leftist Romulo Betancourt was chosen president.

The Betancourt government (195964) instituted modest programs for fiscal and agrarian reform, school construction, the elimination of illiteracy, and diversification of the economy. However, a depression beginning in 1960 trammeled these efforts and aggravated dissatisfaction with the regime. Betancourt was challenged by political instability coming from several fronts. The military, looking for a chance to return to power, engaged in several attempts to overthrow the government. Betancourt also opposed Fidel Castro, and allied with the United States against him. Castroites in Venezuela responded with a guerrilla campaign under the FALN (Armed Forces for National Liberation). Betancourt charged the Castro government with attempting to subvert his government by supporting the FALN. In February 1964, the OAS formally charged Cuba with an act of aggression against Venezuela as a result of the discovery of an arms shipment to guerrillas in November 1963.

The AD was reelected in December 1964, when Raúl Leoni won the presidency over five other candidates. In 1966, supporters of Pérez Jiménez staged an unsuccessful military uprising. In the same year, in a drive against continued Castro-supported terrorism, President Leoni suspended constitutional guarantees and empowered the police to make arrests without warrants, to hold suspects without bail for an indefinite period, and to enter the quarters of suspected terrorists without judicial permission.

In 1968, Venezuela passed another test of democracy by transferring power peacefully from AD to the opposition Social Christian Party. The victor, Rafael Caldera Rodríguez, governed along the same lines as his AD predecessors, maintained a set of social programs and benefited from increasing oil revenues. At this point, Venezuela's future seemed assured, and public expenditures increased. The AD returned in 1973 with the victory of Carlos Andrés Pérez. By 1976, Pérez had brought about complete nationalization of the oil and iron industries. In the December 1978 elections, Luis Herrera Campíns, leader of the Social Christian Party, won the presidency.

The next year, Venezuela received its first rude awakening, when the oil market dropped, thus threatening the foundations of the Venezuelan economic and political systems. There was soon a financial crisis as Venezuela struggled to make payments on its overextended debt. The crisis culminated in the devaluation of the national currency, the bolívar, which dropped to one-third of its previous value against the dollar. Venezuelan consumers responded angrily, and the early 1980s were years of unrest. In the elections of December 1983, the AD returned to power behind presidential candidate Jaime Lusinchi.

Lusinchi's tenure was marred by scandal and trouble in the midst of the world petroleum crisis. While the economy floundered through the 1980s, the government maintained public confidence by stressing a "social pact" with guarantees of housing, education, and public health. Some progress was made in boosting non-oil exports, particularly in agriculture and mining, and the government promoted import substitution, particularly in food and manufacturing.

The 1988 elections brought back Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had been elected president 15 years earlier. Pérez immediately imposed austerity measures, removing government subsidies on a number of consumer goods, including gasoline. Prices rose and Caracas was rocked by rioting on a scale not seen since the uprising of 1958. The military was called in to quell the disturbances, but when the trouble finally died down, thousands had been killed or injured. The situation continued to deteriorate, and in 1992 Venezuela was shocked by two military coup attempts. The leader of the coup was an obscure and young military leader named Hugo Rafael Chávez Friaz. Venezuelans could not have guessed that Chávez, within a short few years, would be leading the nation.

Pérez seemed unmoved by the coup attempts, and his administration continued business as usual. A major scandal, with allegations of embezzlement and theft in office, brought him down. Pérez was suspended from office and later sentenced to 28 months in prison, and Ramón José Velásquez was named interim president until the regularly scheduled elections in December 1993.

In that election, Venezuelans chose Rafael Caldera, who ran under a coalition of four parties. The election of Caldera, who had been president during the brighter years of 196873, was an example of the level of impasse in the Venezuelan system. Unable to produce new leadership, former presidents were being returned to office. Even though Venezuela remained one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America, instability was rapidly increasing. The Venezuelan economy fell into a recession in 1993, which continued to worsen over the next four years. In order to enforce emergency economic measures, President Caldera suspended a number of civil rights in 199495.

The Venezuelan middle class plunged into poverty as inflation soared to 103% by 1995. Doctors, university professors, and national telephone company workers all went on strike during 1997, and several other groups threatened to strike as well. Within this fragile political atmosphere, Chávez reappeared on the political scene. Backed by the new party, Movement for the Fifth Republic, Chávez quickly established himself as a major contender in the 1998 presidential election. A charismatic populist, Chávez appealed to the nation's poor. The traditional parties that had ruled the country for some 40 years had impoverished the nation and pillaged its resources, he said, and promised to end the avarice and poverty. In December 1998, he won 57% of the votes to become president.

During his inauguration speech in February 1999, Chávez unveiled his intentions to dramatically change the political and social fabric of the nation. He promised a "peaceful democratic revolution." To some Venezuelans and international observers, Chávez's leftist rhetoric was alarming. Some saw a caudillo in the making, a man who reminded them too much of Cuba's Fidel Castro. But Castro, a close friend, said he and Chávez did not share the same political ideology, even though Chávez had become a vocal opponent of free-market economics. Chávez called for a new constitution, and in April, voters approved a 131-member National Constitutional Assembly (ANC) to rewrite the document. Backers of Chávez won 121 of the 131 seats in July elections. In December, 46% of the country's 11 million eligible voters went to the polls to decide the fate of the proposed constitution. Approved by 71% of those who voted, the new document, the country's 26th constitution, came into effect on 30 December 1999.

The new constitution eliminated the Senate and replaced it with a unicameral National Assembly. It gave the nation a new name to honor Bolívar: Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela). It consolidated power in the executive branch, extended the presidential term from four to six years, and eliminated a restriction that prevented the president from serving two consecutive terms. It banned the privatization of social security, health care, the oil industry, and other key state-owned enterprises. In January 2000, the ANC concluded its work and selected a 21-member National Commission to help rule the country until elections for the new National Assembly were held on 30 July 2000. Nearly all national, regional, and local offices were up for grabs in the July "mega-elections," including the presidential office. Chávez easily won with 59.5% of the vote, securing the presidential post for 6 more years. Chávez's political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, captured 76 of the 165 seats of the unicameral assembly. But Chávez has enjoyed the support of other allied parties that give him control of the 108 seats in the legislature.

Chávez has remained a controversial figure. After pursuing land and oil reforms in 2001, he worked to strengthen his political power to the point of appointing a new board of directors to the state monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela. Trade unions and Fede-camaras business association declared a general strike to support Petroleos de Venezuela dissidents. The discontent with the economic and political situation led this group of business opposition leaders to back a military coup in April 2002; which caused a further distancing between the United States and Venezuela, the latter accusing the former of supporting the coup. The coup replaced Chávez with the head of the Chamber of Commerce, dissolved the National Assembly, Supreme Court and the constitution, but the interim government collapsed and two days later Chávez returned to office.

By the end of the year, the opposition's strikes crippled the oil industry. Organizers demanded the resignation of Chávez by creating a nine-week fuel stoppage, which caused fuel shortages and a precipitous economic decline; the economy shrunk 9% in 2003. Under the new constitution, which allows for a referendum to take place to remove the president before his accorded term in office, the opposition delivered three million signatures demanding that the referendum be held. The electoral body rejected the petition saying it failed to meet technical requirements, but, in the midst of social unrest, the opposition made the petition again by the end of the year. Finally, the referendum was held in August 2004 and president Chávez won, solidifying his confidence, which he demonstrated with sweeping economic changes.

In January 2005 President Chávez signed a decree on land reform that aimed to eliminate Venezuela's large states. Suspected organizers of the 2002 coup and oil industry shutdown such as Carlos Ortega were jailed, sentenced for 16 years for civil rebellion, treason, inciting illegal acts and possession of false documents. Chávez further demanded foreign oil companies in Venezuela to enter a state backed venture, a partnership with the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela. Furthermore, Chávez sought to diversify the sale of oil to other countries in the continent as well as to China.

Internationally Chávez has had as many critics as success stories. In June 2005 in the Summit of Caribbean Nations, Petrocaribe was launched. This agreement provides crude and refined products to the signing countries, giving them a two year grace period to pay for the shipments at a preferential 2% interest rate. If the market price exceeds certain levels Venezuela would finance a percentage of the cost over 25 years at 1% interest. Also, a part of the cost could be repaid in kind such as with rice, bananas or sugar. Similarly, Venezuela bought 4% of the first Ecuadorian bonds issued since the country's 1999 default, and agreed to buy $2.4 billion of Argentine debt in 2006 to help it become independent of its IMF loans. Venezuela was also in the process of becoming a full voting member of MERCOSUR, strengthening the possibility for a united Latin American front, Chávez's outspoken desire. He even suggested the creation of an alternative to the IMF, called the Bank of the South, for countries to be able to borrow money and free themselves from policies mandated by Washington. Chávez's confrontational style against the United States became even more blatant with the beginning of a pilot program at the end of 2005 to deliver discounted heating oil to nonprofit housing in poor areas of New York and Boston.

Chávez created a genuine fear of left wing governments in the region; however, his programs (free health care, subsidized food, and land reform) have been buoyed by windfall incomes from oil. Chávez himself has embittered relations with Chile, Mexico, and Colombia. But amidst the criticism, Chávez said he would run for another six-year term in the December 2006 elections.

The national flag, originally adopted in 1930, was modified in 2006. The new flag still features a tricolor of yellow, blue, and red horizontal stripes. An eighth star, honoring the province Guyana, was added to the arc of white stars on the blue stripe. The national coat of arms, also modified to include a bow and arrow, a machete, and the white horse running to the left (instead of turning its head to the right), appears on the hoist side of the yellow band.


Of the 26 Venezuelan constitutions since its independence in 1811, the constitution of 1961 had been the longest in force until President Chávez called for a new constitution, approved by referendum and adopted in late 1999. One of the largest constitutional documents in Latin America, the charter calls for five branches of government; the legislative branch (a unicameral National Assembly), the judiciary, the electoral branch, the citizen's branch (to represent and defend the citizen's in their dealings with the State) and a strengthened and recallable presidency. The constitution also allows the state to play a greater role in the economy, reducing the autonomy of the Central Bank.

A novelty in Venezuela's constitution is a provision for midterm presidential plebiscites. If enough support exists, a plebiscite can be held three years after a presidential election. If the sitting president loses the plebiscite, she or he must resign from office. Other novel provisions regarding accountability instruments are also included in the constitution, but the social and political crises that emerged in 2001 prevented many constitutional features from being fully implemented.

The president is elected by direct popular vote for a six-year term and the president can seek consecutive terms. In the previous constitution, a president could not run for reelection until 10 years after the completion of a term, but immediate reelection is now allowed. The president must be a native citizen, at least 30 years of age, and a "layman." Presidential duties include the selection and removal of cabinet ministers and all other administrative officers and employees of the national government, as well as the appointment of state governors. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, directs foreign affairs, and may make and ratify international treaties, conventions, and agreements. In the former document, there was no vice president, but the new constitution created the vice presidential office.


Before the formation of the existing political parties, political conflict in Venezuela was confined to the traditionally Latin American centralist-federalist debate, with few actual differences between governments. Since the late 1950s, however, a stable party system evolved. Each political group had its own ballot with its own distinctive color and symbol, so that illiteracy was not a barrier to political participation. Constitutional provisions barring the military from political involvement further ensured the stability of the party system and the continuity of elected civilian leadership. Chávez came into office promising to dismantle the party system that dominated Venezuelan politics for more than four decades, however all parties were allowed to compete for national, regional, and municipal posts in the 2000 elections. The main problem remained the constant battle of the opposition against Chávez, even pulling out of the congressional poll and thus giving a sure majority of parliamentary seats to Chávez's supporters.

Since 1958, the dominant force in Venezuelan politics was the Democratic Action Party (Acción DemocráticaAD). It grew out of the socialist movement, which unified under the National Democratic Party (PDN). That party splintered, with a Moscow-oriented group forming the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the nationalist and democratic-socialist faction creating the AD.

The left has been fragmented throughout modern Venezuelan politics. After the split between AD and the PCV, the advent of Fidel Castro in Cuba caused further fragmentation. A group of AD members left the party to form the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda RevolucionariaMIR). The Armed Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación NacionalFALN) took to the field and attempted a guerrilla uprising. The PCV remained loyal to Moscow and at times battled the FALN openly. All of these movements were denounced by the AD, and in 1962 the MIR and PCV were barred from political activity. The FALN, which never bothered with legal political action, was subdued, and with it, hopes of a Castroite takeover died. One development from the left has been the emergence of the Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al SocialismoMAS), which took 10% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies in 1988. MAS is an attempt to rejuvenate the left by a faction of the old PCV.

The right has been characterized by small parties without much chance of electoral success alone. Some have been able to form coalitions with larger parties to achieve some success within the system. One such party, the Democratic Republican Union (Unión Republicana DemocráticaURD), has been a governing partner with the AD during the Leoni government (196368). The Committee for Free Elections (Comité de Organización Política Electoral IndependienteCOPEI), also known as the Social Christian Party (Partido Social-Cristiano), is a Christian Democratic party, with the center-right implications of that movement. It has succeeded as an opposition party to the AD, occasionally taking advantage of splits in the AD's governing coalition or within the AD itself.

In 1947, the AD won the first free elections ever held in Venezuela. The PCV also fielded a candidate, as did COPEI. These three parties were outlawed during the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez, and carried on their activities clandestinely. In December 1958, after Pérez Jiménez had been driven from power, free elections were held. The presidential victor, Rómulo Betancourt, formed a coalition government of the AD, COPEI, and URD.

The AD and COPEI reached several agreements over the years to cooperate with each other and to exclude the more leftist parties from the Venezuelan system. After the COPEI victory in 1968, Venezuela became a more competitive two-party system, with AD and COPEI competing for power. Agreements between AD and COPEI in 1970 and 1973 called for cooperation in appointive posts, so the competition has been controlled. AD and COPEI have dominated the system since, although the 1994 election of Caldera as the candidate of a four-party coalition, the National Convergence (Convergencia), suggested a movement away from the two-party arrangement.

Since 1998, Chávez, who came to power backed by the leftist Patriotic Pole, a coalition of parties that includes the Communist Party of Venezuela, has dramatically changed the power structure in the country. Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement is the largest party in Venezuela but is a highly personalist party. The two traditional parties, AD and COPEI, have not recovered from the 1998 election and despite having a few seats in parliament, have been unsuccessful in mounting an organized democratic opposition against Chávez. In the 2005 National Assembly elections the Fifth Republic Movement won 114 seats, PODEMOS, 15; PPT, 11; indigenous, 2; and other, 25. The next elections were to be held in 2010.


Venezuela is divided into 23 states, the Federal District, and 72 offshore islands grouped under a federal dependency.

State government has been traditionally weak, with the state governor being the agent of the federal government directed to enforce national laws and decrees, as well as state legislation. Governors (including the governor of the Federal District) are appointed by the president and may be removed by him. According to the constitution, the states are autonomous and are guaranteed the right to regulate their own affairs and they are given all powers not reserved to the nation or the municipalities. In reality, these powers are very few, since control of elections, education, health, agriculture, and labor are all delegated to the national government. The state legislatures are unicameral.

Municipalities are autonomous in the election of their officials, in all matters within their competence, and in action regarding the collection, creation, and expenditure of their revenues. City councils vary from 5 to 22 members according to population size. The council is popularly elected and, in turn, selects the mayor. According to the constitution, elections for state and municipal offices may not be held more often than once every two years or less often than once every five years.


In August 1999, the National Constitutional Assembly (ANC) declared a judicial emergency to reform the highly discredited judiciary. The ANC immediately dismissed 16 judges. By the end of the year, 200 judges had been fired, mostly for corruption.

While the judicial system was independent, it was corrupt and inefficient. Most crimes in Venezuela went unpunished and citizens often have taken the law into their own hands. In the prisons, more than 70% of inmates have never been formally charged with a crime and they languish behind bars for years before their cases are heard. Prisons have been criticized for inhumane conditions.

The ANC approved the new Organic Code of Criminal Procedures in 1999, replacing the inquisitorial system with an open court system. For the first time, trials were open to the public, with oral proceedings and verdicts by juries or panels of judges. The new system introduced presumption of innocence and prevented police from arbitrarily detaining persons for more than eight days without charges. Judges no longer act as investigators. Now they are arbiters of law, presiding over court sessions where prosecutors and defense attorneys argue cases in open court. Police investigators now work under the supervision of prosecutors. While judicial reforms were applauded by human rights organizations, it was uncertain how they would affect the judicial system in the long run. Intensive training will be required for judges, attorneys, and police.

The Supreme Court of Justice remains the nation's highest tribunal and court of final appeal. The prosecutor general provides opinions to the courts, and investigates the violations of constitutional rights of prisoners and the criminal conduct of public employees. The Ministry of Justice oversees the lower court system, and selects and trains judges. The lower courts are made up of district and municipal courts, and trial and appeal courts that hear civil and criminal cases.


Venezuela in 2005, had was 82,300 active personnel in its armed forces, in addition to 23,000 members of the Fuerzas Armados de Cooperacion, an internal security force. The Army had 34,000 regulars, including 6 infantry divisions and 12 specialized brigades. Equipment included 81 main battle tanks and 116 light tanks. The Navy had an estimated 18,300 members, including an estimated 7,800 Marines, 1,000 Coast Guard members, and 500 naval aviation personnel. Major naval units included two tactical submarines and six frigates. The Air Force had 7,000 personnel, 125 combat capable aircraft, including 38 fighters and 16 fighter ground attack aircraft, and 25 support and 49 utility helicopters. The defense budget in 2004 (the latest year for which data was available) totaled $953 million.


Venezuela is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 15 November 1945; it participates in ECLAC and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as UNCTAD, UNHCR, UNESCO, the World Bank, ILO, IAEA, and the WHO. Venezuela is a member of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), the Caribbean Development Bank, the South American Community of Nations (CSN), G-3, G-15, G-19, G-24, G-77, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the Latin American Economic System (LAES), the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), OPEC, OAS, the Río Group, and the WTO. The nation is an associate in Mercosur.

Venezuela is part of the Nonaligned Movement, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In environmental cooperation, Venezuela is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


During the colonial era and until the development of petroleum resources, the export of coffee and cocoa and the raising of cattle and goats provided the main supports for the economy. However, agriculture now accounts for only about 5% of the GDP. For over 40 years the economy has been completely dominated by the petroleum industry; in the mid-1980s, oil exports accounted for 90% of all export value, and in 2002 petroleum accounted for over one-third of the GDP, three-fourths of export revenues and half of government revenues. The Venezuelan economy is therefore greatly influenced by petroleum market conditions and Venezuela through its membership in OPEC has exercised influence on the rest of the world. The Venezuelan oil minister is reputed to be one of the principle architects of the first oil shock in 1973, and in 1999, Venezuela's decision to cut production to halt the continuing slide in oil prices led the way to their recovery in 2000 and after. The second most important mineral product is iron, and Venezuela's mineral wealth is augmented by frequent discoveries of additional reserves. Industrial development is fostered by government policy.

The average annual GDP growth during 197080 was 5%, with a peak of 7.2% during 197477, the years following the first oil shock and OPEC's quadrupling of oil prices. In the late 1970s, the economy began to stagnate as inflation ate up the real value of the oil price increases. Venezuela's GDP growth rate declined from 3.2% in 1978 to zero in 1979, with a negative rate of 1.5% recorded in 1980. In 1980 oil prices reached all-time highs, but the speculation was that they would continue to rise. Instead, recession and reduced demand in the main industrial markets brought oil prices sharply down, eventually collapsing in 1986 to levels prevailing, in real terms, before the first oil shock. Venezuela and many other Third World countries were left holding large amounts of high-interest short-term obligations with no way to earn the money in the stagnating world economy to pay them off. Venezuela's state-owned enterprises had accumulated short-term loans in the petro-dollar market when high inflation had reduced real interests to near zero. The Reagan administration's tight money stance wrung inflation out of the system, and by 1982 soft markets for oil, iron ore, and aluminum were aggravating Venezuela's financial problems; GDP declined during 198385. During 198090, average annual GDP growth was only 1.1%.

After severe adjustments experienced during 1989 and 1990, the main economic indicators improved considerably in 1991 and 1992. Real GDP growth rose to 10.4% and 7.3%, respectively. Growth was led by expansion of the petroleum sector due mainly to the Persian Gulf War. Growth was also a result of the liberalization of the economy, including a privatization program initiated in 1990 and the restructuring of the public sector enterprises. However, growth slowed down and real GDP contracted by 1.0% in 1993. In April 1996, President Caldera announced a shift towards a more free market orientation coupled with fiscal austerity to revitalize the economy. The government devalued the currency, eliminated exchange controls, and raised domestic gasoline prices 369862%. From 198898, real GDP growth averaged 2.5%. Inflation remained stubbornly high; between 1990 and 1996, consumer prices rose by an average of about 50% per year. The inflation rate was at 30% in 1998. A recession during 1998 due to low oil prices triggered a steep rise in the cost of living and halted economic growth. GDP contracted 6.1% in 1999 as inflation rose to 20%, triggering the government's decision to restrict oil production to bring prices up from near-record lows. With the recovery of oil prices in 2000, the economy grew 3.2% in 2000, and inflation fell to 13.2%. In the context of the global economic slowdown of 2001, however, real growth declined to 2.1% as inflation fell to a relatively low 12%.

In 2002, however, politics overtook the economy. Populist President Hugo Chávez had been elected in 1998, with a term to run to 2006, a prospect seemingly all but intolerable to the opposition which saw in his "Bolivarian democratic revolution" ruination for the economy. Though the present constitution provides for a referendum on the continuance of the president in office midway through his term, that is, in August 2003, this also appeared too long to wait, particularly since it was quite likely Chávez would win such a referendum. In January 2002 and in December 2002 strikes were called against the government with the intention of forcing Chávez's resignation. From 1214 April 2002, in fact, Chávez was briefly ousted with apparent close cooperation from the Bush administration, but then returned to power on a wave of popular and military support. After his return, however, no more oil was delivered to Cuba, allegedly for lack of payment, under a 2000 agreement that allowed Cuba to buy 53,000 barrels a day with 15 years to pay at low interest rates. Chávez had been accused of giving the nation's oil wealth away. A new wave of strikes began in December 2002 demanding an early referendum. The strike by oil workers lasted longest, over two months, costing the economy an estimated $6 billion. By March 2003, oil production had returned to normal levels. The interruptions in production in 2002 contributed to an estimated 8.9% decline in GDP in 2002, with an increase in inflation to 15.5%. Further contraction is expected in 2003. Negotiations between the government and the opposition have been assisted by a "Group of Friends" that includes the OAS, the Carter Center, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Portugal, and Spain.

The economy expanded by 17.9% in 2004, up from -7.7% in 2003. This was more the result of the market returning to normal output levels, rather than a miraculous boom. In 2005, the GDP growth rate was estimated at 6.5%, which is closer to what Venezuela would grow by in a "normal" year. In addition to higher oil prices, the economy was also aided by an increase in consumption. The inflation rate, although on a downward trend (it decreased from 21.7% in 2004, to 17.0% in 2005), continued to be a problem for the economy. Unemployment, in the same year, was estimated at 12.3%.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Venezuela's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $161.7 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $6,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 8.3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 15.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 4.6% of GDP, industry 48.2%, and services 47.2%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $21 million or about $1 per capita. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $82 million or about $3 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.1% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Venezuela totaled $5.79 billion or about $2,252 per capita based on a GDP of $83.4 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 0.1%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 30% of household consumption was spent on food, 17% on fuel, 16% on health care, and 13% on education. It was estimated that in 1998 about 47% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Venezuela's labor force in 2005 was estimated at 12.31 million. As of 2003, the distribution of employment among major economic sectors was as follows: services 69.1%; industry 19.8%; agriculture 10.7%; and undefined occupations 0.4%. The unemployment rate was estimated at 12.3% in of 2005.

The Venezuelan labor movement, for all practical purposes, had its inception in 1928 with the formation of the Syndicalist Labor Federation of Venezuela. The movement, stunted by the Gómez dictatorship, grew rapidly after his death. After the election of Betancourt, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de VenezuelaCTV), which had been founded between 1945 and 1948 but outlawed by Pérez Jiménez, was reconstituted. Another major labor federation, the National Movement of Workers for Liberation (Movimiento Nacional de Trabajadores para la LiberaciónMONTRAL), was formed in 1974. CTV has remained Venezuela's major labor confederation. The comprehensive labor code enacted in 1990 provides all public sector and private sector employees (except members of the armed forces) the right to form and join unions. Strikes are permitted but may not be called before a conciliation attempt is made. Voluntary arbitration is encouraged, but arbitration may be ordered by the Ministry of Labor; awards are binding on all parties for a period of not less than six months. If no agreement is reached, a strike may be called 120 hours after the government labor inspector has been notified. Approximately 10% of the labor force was unionized as of 2002.

The labor code sets the maximum workweek at 44 hours. Labor laws include provisions for an eight-hour day and a paid vacation of at least 15 workdays a year. In 2002 the monthly minimum wage was $220 in the private sector for urban workers and $198 for rural workers. Minimum wage workers in the private sector received mandatory food and transport bonuses. Until the age of 16, minors may work only with restrictions as to hours and working conditions. The labor ministry effectively enforces these provisions in the formal economic sector but more than one million children were believed to be working in the informal economy in 2002.


In 2003, agriculture accounted for 4% of the GDP, engaging 8% of the economically active population. Venezuela continued to rely heavily on food and agricultural imports. Despite abundant resources favorable to agricultural production, 70% of cereals, and nearly all oilseeds consumed in Venezuela are imported.

Venezuela does not have the rich soil of many other Latin American countries. In 2003, 3,400,000 hectares (8,401,000 acres), or 3.9% of the total land area, were used for temporary or permanent crops. The most highly developed agricultural region is the basin of Lake Valencia, west of Caracas and inland from Puerto Cabello. The principal crop of this area is coffee. Before oil came to dominate the economy, coffee accounted for 4060% of all income from exports.

The main field crops are sugarcane, rice, corn, and sorghum, and the chief fruits are bananas, plantains, oranges, coconuts, and mangoes. The most important agricultural items for industrial use are cotton, tobacco, and sisal. Two varieties of tobacco grow in Venezuela, black and Virginia blond; the latter is used for the most part to make certain popular brands of US cigarettes under license. Sisal is grown and widely used to make cordage and bags for sacking grains and coffee. Thin strings of the fiber are also employed in hammocks, household bags, doormats, hats, and sandals. Agricultural production in 2004 (in tons) included sugarcane, 9,832,000; bananas, 1,549,600; corn, 2,068,000; rice, 989,000; sorghum, 612,000; plantains, 428,500; oranges, 384,200; potatoes, 336,900; cotton, 7,800; tobacco, 6,000; sisal, 5,600; and tomatoes, 183,700.

Under an agrarian reform law of 1960, three kinds of land are subject to expropriation by the government: uncultivated lands; lands worked indirectly through renters, sharecroppers, and other intermediaries; and lands suitable for cultivation that are being devoted to livestock raising. Compensation is paid for expropriated lands. Between 1960 and 1980, 8,467,000 hectares (20,922,295 acres) of land were distributed to 155,200 farming families who had never previously owned property. However, the land reform was adversely affected by mass migration of rural people to the cities.


Since colonial days, cattle raising has been the dominant livestock industry in Venezuela. Chiefly criollos, or Spanish longhorns, the cattle are raised on the unfenced ranges of the llanos. Crossbreeding with shorthorns has been going on since the last half of the 19th century and with zebu since 1915. The government has made considerable progress in eradicating tick and other infestations and hoof and mouth disease. It buys breeding stock from the United States, and finances programs to improve cattle production, processing, and distribution. The government also offers a subsidy for pasteurized milk, thereby helping to expand and improve the dairy industry.

Venezuela's livestock population in 2005 included 16,300,000 head of cattle, 13,200,000 goats, 3,100,000 hogs, 530,000 sheep, 500,000 horses, 440,000 burros, and 72,000 mules. Beef production increased from 147,000 tons in 1963 to 405,000 tons in 2005. In 2005, pork production was 118,000 tons; goat meat, 5,400 tons; mutton, 2,100 tons; and poultry, 686,000 tons. One of the few areas in which Venezuela is self-sufficient is beef, which is largely grass fed. Although significant amounts of pork and poultry are produced, they rely on imported feeds and other imported inputs. Fluid milk production reached 1,268,000 tons in 2005. Around 50% of the total fluid milk production is processed into cheese, 36% into powdered milk, 12% into pasteurized milk, and 2% into other dairy products. Venezuela relies on imports for 50% of its milk consumption.


With its 2,816 km (1,750 mi) of open coast, Venezuela has vast fishing potential. Fish and fish products currently play a relatively minor role in Venezuela's international trade, but fish are extremely important domestically. Venezuela has the highest per capita fish consumption in Latin America, about three times that of the United States. The principal fishing areas are La Guaira, the Paraguaná peninsula, and the Cariaco-Margarita-Carúpano area. The total catch in 2003 was 540,161 tons, up from 284,235 tons in 1986.

The fish-canning industry, begun in the 1940s, has had difficulty finding a market, since there has long been a preference for imported canned fish of higher quality. In recent years, however, exports to the United States, the Netherlands Antilles, and other countries have increased. Tariff protection and improvements in quality have helped the industry.


Forests covered about 56.1% of the land area in 2000. Partly because of the inaccessibility of forest areas, Venezuela's high-quality wood is very much underdeveloped. It is also misused by small farmers, who clear land for farming by burning trees without replacing them. The greatest concentration of forests lies south of the Orinoco, but the areas currently utilized are in the states of Portuguesa and Barinas. Cedar and mahogany are the principal trees cut; rubber, dividivi, mangrove bark, tonka beans, oil-bearing palm nuts, and medicinal plants are also produced. Roundwood output was 5.082 million cu m (179 billion cu ft) in 2004, with 75% used as fuel wood. Sawn wood production was 504,000 cu m (17,600,000 cu ft) that year. Virtually all sectors of the forest products industry rely on domestic output to meet domestic demand.


Venezuela is a leading producer of direct-reduced iron, and ranked among the top ten in the production of bauxite, alumina, and primary aluminum. In Latin America, Venezuela ranked second in iron ore and aluminum, behind Brazil, third in bauxite, alumina, and phosphate rock, and fourth in cement and steel. Other principal commodities were diamonds, ferroalloys, and gold. The top industry in 2003 was petroleum, which contributed 25% of Venezuela's gross domestic product (GDP). Iron ore mining, construction materials, steel and aluminum manufacturing were among the country's leading industries in that same year. The top export commodity in 2003 was petroleum, which accounted for $22.2 billion out of total exports valued at $27.7 billion. Other important exports were bauxite, aluminum, steel, and chemicals.

Output of iron ore and concentrate (gross weight), from the Cerro San Isidro (Los Barrancos) and Las Pailas (Bolívar) deposits, was 17.954 million metric tons in 2003. Direct-reduced iron output was 6.645 million metric tons in 2003. Iron ore production peaked in 1974, at 26.4 million tons, and bottomed out in 1983, at 9.4 million tons. In 198791, production averaged 19.34 million tons per year, ranking Venezuela tenth in the world. Iron mining was developed mainly by the Orinoco Mining Co., a subsidiary of US Steel, and by Iron Mines of Venezuela, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. The industry was nationalized in 1975, and was controlled by the state enterprise C.V.G. Ferrominera Orinoco C.A. Bauxite production, from Los Pijiguajos mine (Bolívar), was 5.446 million metric tons in 2003. The mine's capacity was 6 million tons per year, and deposits of high-grade bauxite totaled 300 million tons. Alumina output was 1.882 million metric tons in 2003.

Gold mine output (metal content) in 2003 was 8,190 kg, down from 9,465 kg in 2002. Gold, the first metal found in Venezuela, reached its production peak in 1890, and was exported until 1950.

Gem diamond output was 11,080 carats in 2003, down from 45,707 carats in 2002. In that same year, industrial diamond output totaled 23,710 carats, down from 61,060 carats in 2002. The main diamond producing areas were: Aza karon, Guaniamo, Icabaru, Santa Elena and San Salvador de Gray. Production of hydraulic cement was 7 million metric tons in 2003, unchanged from 2002. Other minerals extracted were nickel, clays (including kaolin), feldspar, gypsum, lime, nitrogen, phosphate rock, salt (a government monopoly), sand and gravel, silica sand, stone (dolomite, granite, and limestone), and sulfur. Construction of the Minera Loma de Níquel, C.A., open-pit mine and ferronickel plant (on the boundary of Aragua and Miranda) was completed in 2000; it produced 2,472 tons of contained nickel the rest of the year, and was expected to produce 17,500 tons per year of contained nickel in ferronickel for 30 years, from reserves of 42.4 million tons (1.48% nickel). A total of 3,520,000 metric tons of amphibolite was produced in 2003, down from 18,610,000 metric tons in 2002. Minerals known to exist but not exploited were manganese (with deposits of several million tons), mercury, magnesite, cobalt, mica, cyanite, and radioactive materials.

The mining law of 1999, replacing that of 1945, established the rules for all mines and minerals (except hydrocarbons and some industrial minerals not found in government lands). The country's mineral resources belonged to the nation, and mining was permitted only through direct participation of government, concessions, and production authorization to the small mining sector, mining cooperatives, and artisanal miners. The private sector participated in the production of nonfuel minerals. However, government companies controlled a great portion of the production of bauxite, alumina, aluminum, diamond, gold, and iron ore.


Venezuela has some of the world's largest reserves of natural gas and oil and is one of the main suppliers of oil to the United States. The country is also a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

As of 1 January 2005, Venezuela had proven oil reserves estimated at 77.2 billion barrels, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. However, that estimate does not include the country's significant deposits of extra heavy and bitumen oil, which could total as much as 270 billion barrels. In 2004, Venezuela's oil production averaged an estimated 2,855,700 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 88%. Domestic consumption in 2004 was estimated at 544,100 barrels per day. Oil exports, according to Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA) averaged 2.03 million barrels per day, in 2003. Of that amount, according to the PdVSA and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 68% was sent to the United States (US). In 2004, exports of refined and crude oil averaged 1.53 million barrels per day to the United States, which accounted for 11.8% of all oil imports by the United States.

Venezuela, as of 1 January 2005, had proven reserves of natural gas estimated at 151 trillion cu ft, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. In 2003, the production and domestic consumption of natural gas in Venezuela each totaled an estimated 1,048.9 billion cu ft. According to Venezuela's government agency responsible for regulating the country's natural gas sector, Enagas, more than 70% of the nation's output of natural gas was consumed by its petroleum industry, which re-injects the gas to aid in the extraction of crude oil.

Venezuela's recoverable coal reserves were estimated at 528 million tons in 2003. Most of the country's coal is bituminous. In 2003, coal production totaled an estimated 7.8 million short tons, of which most was exported. In 2003, domestic coal consumption was estimated at 0.1 million short tons.

Venezuela, as of January 2003, had an installed electric power generating capacity estimated at 21.3 GW. Of that total, 62% came was hydroelectric, with the remainder made up of conventional fossil fuel plants. Total electrical output in 2003 was estimated at 87.4 billion kWh, of which consumption that year totaled an estimated 81.3 billion kWh. Venezuela's electric power sector however, continues to face power failures and disruptions. In the first seven months of 2005, the country suffered 46 major power disruptions, an increase of 70% from the same period in 2004, according to the Oficina de Operacion de Sistema Interconectados (OPSIS), the government agency responsible for regulating the country's electric system. Lowered hydropower output due to below average rainfall was one immediate reason. In addition, electricity theft/illegal hookups accounts for an estimated 25% of Venezuela's total demand.


Since the economy was largely dependent on oil (in 2003 it accounted for approximately 80% of exports and nearly 50% of fiscal revenues), Venezuela neglected other domestic industries for decades in favor of importing goods to satisfy Venezuelan consumer needs. The government has recently encouraged industrial diversification and development through protective tariffs and tax exemptions for reinvestment. Industrial output grew by 1.6% on average during the 1980s and by 3.8% annually during the 1990s. Manufacturing industries grew by an average of 4.3% annually during the 1980s and 1.7% per year between 1988 and 1998. In 1998, manufacturing accounted for an estimated 15% of GDP. Industry as a whole accounted for 40% of GDP in 2001.

Although much of Venezuela's petroleum is exported in crude form, petroleum refining is a major industry. Venezuela's five refineries had a total capacity of 1,282,000 barrels per day in 2002, and reserves were estimated at 74 billion barrels. The country is the world's fifth-largest producer of oil. A two-month general strike in 200203 severely affected oil production, but it began to recover in March 2003. The steel industry operates at about 48% of capacity. The Venezuelan metal engineering industry produces auto body parts, valves, boilers, piping, wire mesh, and many other cast products. By 1983, Venezuela had the largest aluminum-smelting capacity in Latin America, with a total of 400,000 tons a year. Bauxite is processed in plants owned by the three state companiesBauxalum, Venalum, and Alcasa. Other industries include shipbuilding, automobile assembly, and fertilizer manufacture. Venezuela produced 13,170 automobiles in 2001, down 38% from the 21,190 units produced in 2000.

The government is involved in a massive decentralization project to relocate industries in the peripheral cities and the interior. Valencia, the capital of Carabobo State, is a major new industrial center. A second major industrial development scheme has made Ciudad Guayana the hub of a vast industrial area with a 160-km (100-mi) radius. Puerto Ordaz was founded on the basis of the Cerro Bolívar iron ore deposits. West of Puerto Ordaz are the Matanzas steel mill, with a yearly capacity of 750,000 tons, and the Bauxalum bauxite-processing installation.

Venezuela has large and underexploited reserves of natural gas. In 2003, oil and natural gas production, water, whiskey, and the chemicals sector showed potential for growth. Further political unrest could undermine those sectors and the rest of the Venezuelan economy, however.

The industrial production growth rate in 2005 was 3.4%, lower than the overall GDP growth rate and an indicator that industry was not an economic growth engine. In 2005, industry accounted for 48.2% of the GDP and it employed less than 25% of the labor force. Services were the second-largest sector, with a 47.2% share of the economy, while agriculture came in last with only a 4.6% share.


The National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (founded in 1967) and the State Ministry for Science and Technology direct and coordinate research activities. Among the principal research institutes, academies, and learned societies are the National Academy of Medicine (1904), the Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (1917), and the Venezuelan Association for the Advancement of Science (1950). Major research institutes include the Institute of Experimental Medicine (1940), the Venezuelan Scientific Research Institute (1959), and the Center for Investigation of Petroleum Technology (1979). All of these societies and institutes are located in Caracas. Venezuela has 20 universities and colleges that offer courses in basic and applied sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 26% of college and university enrollments. In 2002, research and development (R&D) expenditures amounted $518.300 million, or 0.38% of GDP. Of that amount, government provided the largest portion at 60.6%, followed by the business sector at 20.9% and higher education 18.5%. In that same year, there were 222 scientists and engineers per million people, that were engaged in R&D. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $94 million, or 3% of all manufactured exports.


The three primary distribution centers for import trade are the Caracas area, the Maracaibo area, and an area that centers on Ciudad Bolívar and serves the vast inland llanos region and the Guiana Highlands. Located in Caracas are the main offices of the national and foreign banks, many of the important industries, and the largest commercial houses. Wholesale importers and distributors in Caracas cover the entire country by means of branch offices, stores, and traveling salespeople.

The most common and widespread form of retail selling used to be door-to-door, but the number of large shopping centers and supermarkets has risen in past years. Supermarkets handle over half of all retail food sales, with the rest mostly from bodegas (delicatessens) and abastos (small family-operated shops). There are also numerous farmers' markets throughout Caracas and the rest of Venezuela. Franchising has grown steadily throughout the past few years.

Stores are usually open from 9 am to 12:30 pm and from 3 to 7 pm, Monday through Saturday. Normal banking hours are from 8:30 to 11:30 am and from 2 to 4:30 pm on weekdays only. Business office hours are usually from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Factories generally operate from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday.


Since 1950, Venezuelan foreign trade has gone through a number of bust and boom phases linked with oil prices. The first, between 1950 and 1957, was marked by the maturation of the new oil industry and high demand. The second, from the late 1950s through the 1960s, was characterized by a decline in world petroleum prices and a general drop in investment; during this period, exports of iron ore became increasingly important. The third phase, beginning in the early 1970s, featured a fivefold rise in petroleum prices and a staggering increase in the value of Venezuela's petroleum exports, despite declining output. The 1986 plunge in world oil prices was followed by a sustained period of growth in the sector, that lost momentum in 1998.

Crude petroleum (59%) and refined petroleum products (27%) are the main commodity exports of Venezuela, with refined petroleum products accounting for 4.5% of the world's total exports. Other exports include iron and steel (2.7%) and aluminum (2.5%).

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 24,974.3 8,357.7 16,616.6
United States 11,074.9 2,754.0 8,320.9
Netherlands Antilles 4,140.9 22.4 4,118.5
Netherlands 2,058.9 83.7 1,975.2
Areas nes 1,756.1 1,756.1
Colombia 650.8 713.0 -62.2
Cuba 642.0 642.0
United Kingdom 396.6 235.0 161.6
Trinidad and Tobago 384.3 24.5 359.8
Mexico 376.4 416.3 -39.9
Canada 294.7 219.7 75.0
() data not available or not significant.

In 2005, exports reached $52.7 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $24.7 billion (FOB). In 2004, the bulk of exports went to the United States (55.6%), the Netherlands Antilles (4.7%), and the Dominican Republic (2.8%). Imports were dominated by non-oil goods, and mainly came from the United States (28.8%), Colombia (9.9%), Brazil (7%), and Mexico (4.1%).


Venezuela has enjoyed an enviable balance-of-payments position for many years. Although the country was forced to import goods to satisfy the demand for many industrial, construction, and household items, its income from exports has more than equaled its expenditures for imports. Venezuela experienced foreign exchange problems throughout the 1990s, largely because of the fluctuation of world oil prices. Venezuela's balance of payments position deteriorated from its strong performance in 1991. In 1992, the merchandise trade surplus fell to $1.6 billion, a drop of 66% from 1991, primarily due to the economic recovery program and a decline in exports. The current account balance rose from -3.7% of GDP in 1993 to an estimated 11.5% in 1996, but fell by 2.8% in 1998.

As of 2003, private consumption as a share of GDP had risen, and the shares of gross fixed investment and exports of goods and services fell. Venezuela's dependence upon oil exports continued to make it vulnerable to the vagaries of the international economy.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Venezuela's exports was $29.5 billion while imports totaled $18.4 billion resulting in a trade surplus of $11.1 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Venezuela had exports of goods totaling $26.7 billion and imports totaling $17.4 billion. The services credit totaled $1.28 billion and debit $4.61 billion.

Current Account 11,524.0
   Balance on goods 16,520.0
     Imports -10,341.0
     Exports 26,861.0
   Balance on services -2,616.0
   Balance on income -2,387.0
   Current transfers 7.0
Capital Account
Financial Account -5,124.0
   Direct investment abroad -1,182.0
   Direct investment in Venezuela 2,520.0
   Portfolio investment assets -573.0
   Portfolio investment liabilities -775.0
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets -3,756.0
   Other investment liabilities -1,358.0
Net Errors and Omissions -946.0
Reserves and Related Items -5,454.0
() data not available or not significant.

Exports of goods and services reached $22.8 billion in 2004, up from $20.5 billion in 2003. Imports increased from $10.3 billion in 2003, to $17.2 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently positive in both years, deteriorating however from $10.1 billion in 2003, to $5.6 billion in 2004. The current account balance followed a similar path, decreasing from $6.5 billion in 2003, to $2.9 billion in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) decreased to $15 billion in 2005, covering more than ten months of imports.


The Central Bank of Venezuela (Banco Central de Venezuela-BCV, founded in 1939) is the fiscal agent of the government, responsible for fixing the rediscount rates, holding the country's gold and foreign exchange reserves, making collections and payments on behalf of the Treasury, and buying foreign exchange acquired from the oil companies and from exporters and reselling it to the government or to commercial banks. It also cooperates with government departments and other institutions in the work of special commissions, and is the sole note-issuing agency.

The state banking system consists of the Central Bank, the Industrial Bank of Venezuela, the Workers' Bank, seven regional and development banks controlled by the Venezuelan Development Corp., and the Agricultural Bank. In the private sector there are commercial banks, investment banks, mortgage banks, and savings and loan associations. The country's first mortgage bank, the Mortgage Bank of Urban Credit, initiated operations in Caracas in 1958.

The government has traditionally played a key role in the financial system, not so much because of budget financing needs (which until recently were modest by Latin American standards) but because of its involvement in medium- and long-term credit institutions which were set up to meet deficiencies in the system of financial intermediation, and also to channel the high oil revenues into productive sectors. The commercial banking system is, however, almost entirely privately owned. In 2002 there were 38 commercial banks, 16 mortgage banks providing long-term loans for construction, land acquisition, or real estate development, and 29 financiers.

Until 1972, Caracas was the only city in Latin America with two stock exchanges: the Commercial Exchange of Caracas (founded in 1947, although informal trading in stocks has taken place in Caracas since 1805), controlled by the Caracas Chamber of Commerce, and the Commercial Exchange of Miranda State (founded in July 1958). The two exchanges were merged under the terms of the 1972 Capital Markets Law, which regulates the trading of securities and the activities of brokerage houses. There is also an exchange in Valencia. The National Securities Commission, established in 1973, oversees public securities transactions. Not all the securities of Venezuelan corporations are listed on the exchanges, and new securities are constantly added.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $12.8 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $22.9 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 13.33%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 37%.

Venezuela's stock market was among the best performing in the world in 1996 because of restored confidence in economic policy and currency stability, but the Latin American financial crisis of the mid-90s put a damper on its success. The index of the Caracas stock exchange closed the year at 6,690.06, a 135% increase in dollar terms from the low base at the start of the year. In 2001, the index closed at 6,570.3, a drop of 3.7 % from 2000, although in 1998 it had dropped well below 5,000. The total market capitalization, at $6.2 billion in 2001, had decreased by 24% from 2000, due to continued problems in the financial sector. As of 2004, a total of 59 companies were listed on the Caracas Stock Exchange, which had a market capitalization of $6.117 billion. In that same year, the Indioce de Capitalizacion rose 34.9% from the previous year to 29,952.2.


All insurance companies operating in Venezuela are under the direction of the Ministry of Development. The insurance industry is an important source of investment capital. It is regulated by the Superintendent of Insurance. Third-party automobile liability and workers' compensation, which is covered under the Social Security scheme, are considered compulsory in Venezuela. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $2.158 billion, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $2.093 billion. For that same year, the top nonlife insurer was Caracas de Liberty Mutual, which had gross written nonlife premiums of $203 million, while the leading life insurer, Mapfre had gross written life insurance premiums of $117.1 million.


Petroleum provided about 67% of total revenues in 1992, while personal and corporate income taxes represented only 29% of total current revenues that year. Although revenues increased greatly

Revenue and Grants 32,252.9 100.0%
   Tax revenue 15,482.0 48.0%
   Social contributions 796.8 2.5%
   Other revenue 15,974.1 49.5%
Expenditures 37,786 100.0%
   General public services 18,008.4 47.7%
   Defense 1,665.8 4.4%
   Public order and safety 1,120.6 3.0%
   Economic affairs 1,892.3 5.0%
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities 1,307.8 3.5%
   Health 2,852.9 7.6%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 583.4 1.5%
   Education 6,993.6 18.5%
   Social protection 3,361.3 8.9%
() data not available or not significant.

in the 1980s, expenditures grew at an even faster rate, mainly because of heavy spending to combat the nation's pressing social and industrial problems. Falling oil prices in the mid-1980s caused a severe deterioration in the deficit. In 200203 a brief national oil strike triggered an economic depression. By 200405 oil prices had recovered, with petroleum revenues accounting for about half of the government budget in 2005.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Venezuela's central government took in revenues of approximately $39.6 billion and had expenditures of $41.2 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$1.6 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 32% of GDP. Total external debt was $39.79 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in billions of bolivares were 32,252.9 and expenditures were 37,786. The value of revenues in millions of US dollars was $20 and expenditures $24, based on a official exchange rate for 2003 of 1,606.962 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 47.7%; defense, 4.4%; public order and safety, 3.0%; economic affairs, 5.0%; housing and community amenities, 3.5%; health, 7.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.5%; education, 18.5%; and social protection, 8.9%.


Almost all forms of taxation are the responsibility of the federal government; it apportions federal tax revenue to the states, which, in turn, allocate a portion to the municipalities. Cities may levy taxes on such items as water and other municipal services and the exploitation of community lands.

As of 2005, corporate income was progressively taxed with a top rate of 34%. There are three brackets15%, 22% and 34%, except for that derived from the petroleum industry, which is taxed at 50%. Royalties derived from mining and their transfer are subject to a 60% rate. There are also municipal business taxes ranging from 0.510% depending on location and business activity involved. Capital gains are considered as part of corporate income. Dividends for oil companies are taxed at 50% and for mining companies at 60%. Dividends from other companies are taxed at 34%. There are also corporate registration fees and a 1% business assets tax.

The basic personal income tax schedule is progressive with a top tax rate of 34% for resident individuals. Nonresident persons are taxed at a flat rate of 34%. On payments due to nonresidents, technical aid is taxed at 10.2%, technical services at 17% and professional services at 30.6%. Salaries, premiums, and other sources of income for nonresidents are taxed at 34%. There are also inheritance and gift taxes, and a real estate tax.

A value-added tax (VAT) became effective in 1993 and as of 1 September 2005, has been levied at a standard rate of 14%, with a lower rate of 8%. The standard rate applies to most transactions, but those involving the sale of animal feed, domestic air passenger transport, meat, animals and professional services provided to the government are taxed at the lower rate. Services provided by banks, leasing companies, basic foodstuffs, farming machinery, ships, health and educational services, and the sale of bonds and shares are exempt. Luxury goods, including high value jewelry and vehicles are subject to an additional 10% charge. There are also entertainment and advertising taxes (in the Federal District), and minor excise taxes on liquor, tobacco, cigarettes, and petroleum products.


Venezuela's customs duties are based on the Andean Pact's common external tariff (CET). Generally, there are four rates: 5%, 10%, 15%, or 20%, which are levied ad valorem, and are based on the products' CIF (cost, insurance, freight) value and on its gross weight, including the packaging. The average tariff rate is 10% except for automobiles, which carry a duty of 35%. Transit duties are required on certain goods, including hides, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. The government may also increase duties on items coming in from certain countries; in addition, it may establish import quotas or subject imports to licensing to protect domestic industry. Imports are also subject to Venezuela VAT. A 10% VAT is also applied to certain products including vehicles that hold less than nine people and which have a customs value or factory price of more than us$44,000, certain motorcycles, coin or token operated game machines, and recreational or sport aircraft.

Venezuela has three free trade zones: the Isla de Margarita, the Paraguaná Peninsula Industrial Zone, and the Port of La Guaira.

After several years of negotiations, the Group of Three (Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela) signed a free trade agreement in Cartagena. The agreement went into effect at the beginning of 1995 and commits the countries to lifting most trade restrictions by 2007. In 1995, Venezuela also implemented the Andean Pact with Colombia and Ecuador that established common external tariffs. Venezuela also has a preferential agreement with the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM), which started tariff reductions in 1998. Venezuela also has a free trade accord with the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR).


Before the 1970s, over 97% of the total foreign investment in Venezuela was made by firms representing the United States and the United Kingdom. In 1972, total foreign investment in Venezuela was $5.5 billion, of which 85% was in oil. Of the total, 68% came from US sources, 9% from the Netherlands, and 7% from the United Kingdom. Until the mid-1970s, Venezuela imposed few restrictions on foreign investment. Beginning in 1974, however, new foreign investors were required to obtain advance authorization from the Superintendency of Foreign Investment (Superintendencia de Inversiones ExtranjerasSIEX). After the nationalization of petroleum companies on 1 January 1976, the total foreign investment in Venezuela declined sharply; by the end of 1984, registered US direct investment was $1.7 billion, or approximately 55% of all foreign holdings in Venezuela.

The economic reforms started in 1989 stripped away many barriers to trade and investment. The government has been opening up production activities of the petroleum sector to foreign participation on a contract basis. In 1995, Venezuela's oil sector was opened to limited foreign participation in exploration and production, and political support has grown for a limited privatization of PdVSA, the state-owned oil company. Foreigners may now buy shares in national or mixed companies, but repatriation of dividends and their reinvestment of profits is restricted. Beginning in 2000, a 34% tax on dividends was levied on foreign companies that had not sufficiently reinvested in the country.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow totaled approximately $4.5 billion in 1998, down from over $5.5 billion in 1997. The fall in oil prices helped reduce FDI inflow further to $3.3 billion in 1999, and their recovery (led by a Venezuelan decision to cut production) helped FDI increase to $4.46 billion in 2000. However, with increasing political uncertainty in Venezuela and external economic slowdown, FDI inflow fell to $3.4 billion in 2001 and collapsed to $1.2 billion in 2002.

In 2000, official figures show the United States as the biggest source of FDI, with 14.6%, followed closely by the Netherlands, with 14.2%. However, US-based investment was also probably involved in flows from a number of offshore sites, such as the Bermudas (11.4% of inflow and the third-largest source in 2000) and the Cayman Islands (5.9%). Spain (10.3%), Colombia (8.8%), Japan (8.6%), and Switzerland (7.3%) were also significant sources. Total FDI stock as of 2000 was $12.2 billion, of which the United States accounted for 34%; the Cayman Islands, 15.7%; the Netherlands, 7.9%; and Spain, 6%.

The US, as the largest investor in Venezuela, is estimated to have held a total FDI stock of $10.8 billion, in 2003. In 2004, the total stock of investment was pegged at $21 billion. A significant source of new investments was considered to be Chinawith a large chunk of its capital flows being directed through the Cayman Islands.


The Venezuelan economy has been directed by government policy since the 1970s. The iron and petroleum industries were nationalized in 197475, and the electrical generating industry was also a state enterprise. The government operated the salt and match industries; set the prices of pharmaceuticals, petroleum products, milk, meat, and other consumer goods and services; and controlled rents. The terms of Andean Pact membership also obligated the government to keep a tight rein on foreign trade and foreign investment.

Development policy from the 1950s through the late 1970s stressed import substitution, industrialization, and foreign investment. A new policy, inaugurated in 1979 and formulated in detail in the sixth national development plan (198185), was intended to eliminate price controls and reduce protectionism. The government also sought to reduce Venezuela's dependence on oil by industrial diversification, to pay more attention to agriculture, and to devote greater resources to social development, particularly housing, education, public services, and health. The economic crisis of the early 1980s led to a partial abandonment of the new policy. An economic adjustment program aimed at decreasing inflation, limiting imports, and cutting government spending was announced in 1983, and further austerity measures were imposed in 1984. In late 1986, the Lusinchi government announced a three-year plan to stimulate the economy through government spending.

Venezuela's economic reform program, initiated in 1989, focused on transforming the country from a traditionally statedominated, oil-driven economy, toward a more market-oriented, diversified, and export-oriented economy. However, the financial crisis persisted and the administration assumed direct control over the banking system. Much of the liquidity created by the support for the financial sector was soaked up by the Central Bank. The government confirmed its commitment to selling off state enterprises. The bolívar was in free-fall before the government announced exchanged controls.

In 1996, the Caldera administration adopted an economic stabilization program with the backing of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The fundamental goal of the plan was to reduce inflation by maintaining a surplus in consolidated public sector finances. The program also encouraged real growth in the non-oil economy. Deficit reduction through fiscal policy was also defined as a goal. The government increased general sales taxes, improved tax administration, and increased fuel prices. The program also called for the elimination of price controls on most goods and services.

The 19992000 economic plan called for reduced inflation, increased privatization, and higher taxes on foreign operations in Venezuela. An increase of the public budget was supposed to reduce inflation, as in the 1996 plan, but the traditional overspending of the government (one report claimed $24,000 per month for pension plans in the state-run oil company) might undermine this plan. The dividends tax on foreign investment in Venezuela offsets any privatization plans by reducing the flow of capital from other countries. The country remains dependent upon oil revenues.

In April 2002, Hugo Chávez was temporarily ousted from power as president by the military; he returned to office two days later. Popular demonstrations against his presidency mounted throughout 2002 and into 2003. Beginning in December 2002, the opposition led a general strike in an attempt to force Chávez to resign. The strike shut down the oil industry for two months, but by mid-2003, oil output was almost back to normal. Nevertheless, the economy contracted by 29% in the first quarter of 2003, largely due to the effects of the strike, and it was forecast to decline by 12% over the course of the year. In February 2003, Chávez imposed foreign-exchange controls, and the country became short of dollars. Political opponents claimed the move was taken to curtail the private sector, and some say it continued the country's deindustrialization (six out of ten of the manufacturing businesses in existence when Chávez took power in 1998 had shut down by 2003). Inflation in the first five months of 2003 stood at 13.8%, and it was forecast to increase.

The recovery of the economy in 2004 and 2005 is expected to put the country back on a consistent growth pattern in the coming years. The economic expansion will be fueled by public-sector consumption and higher investment levels. By 2007, GDP growth rates will likely taper off, due to an uncertain policy environment and due to withdrawal of fiscal stimuli.


The social security system was originally implemented in 1940, and was revised and amended by law in 1966, 1991, and 2001. The system covers medical care, maternity benefits, incapacity and invalidity, retirement and survivors' pensions, burial costs, and a marriage grant. These programs exclude temporary and casual workers; self-employed; and domestic workers. The employer is assessed about 5% on average of each employee's salary, with the worker paying about 2%. Old age pensions are provided at age 60 for men and age 55 for women, with early retirement permitted for those in arduous occupations. Medical coverage is financed by an additional contribution of about 2% from employees and about 3.5% by employers. Unemployment benefits are paid for a period of 26 weeks. Maternity coverage is for 67% of earnings for up to six months.

Domestic abuse and violence against women has been aggravated by the nation's economic difficulties. Police are hesitant to intervene in domestic situations, and rape remains difficult to prove under current law. Consequently, domestic violence and rape are not often reported. In 2004, women made up approximately half of university students in Venezuela, and often pursue professions traditionally dominated by men. The constitution provides for sexual equality but women are still underrepresented in political and economic life. Women are protected by legislation that prohibits discrimination in pay or working conditions, but these are not always observed in practice. The National Institute for Women provides assistance in the economic advancement for women.

Approximately 25 indigenous ethnic groups exist in Venezuela. They have limited decision-making power on issues that directly affect their land. Few have been granted legal title to their lands. The human rights situation is poor, with reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and the abuse of detainees. Human rights organizations operate openly. Prison conditions are extremely harsh.


Despite strenuous government efforts in the field of public health, Venezuela lacks a sufficient number of physicians for its booming population. As of 2004, there were an estimated 193 physicians, 64 nurses, and 52 dentists per 100,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.2% of GDP.

Commonly reported diseases included malaria and tuberculosis. Leading causes of death were: communicable diseases, neoplasms, injuries, and diseases of the circulatory system. Venezuela is virtually free of typhoid and yellow fever. To maintain this status, the Department of Health and Social Welfare continues its drainage and mosquito control programs. It also builds aqueducts and sewers in towns of fewer than 5,000 persons. Approximately 84% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 74% had adequate sanitation.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 20.2 and 4.1 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate, 50.2 per 1,000 live births in 1971, fell to 22.20 in 2005. In the same year life expectancy rose to an average of 74.31 years. About 13% of children under five years old were considered malnourished. Venezuela currently fortifies maize flour with iron and vitamin A. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were tuberculosis, 98%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 60%; polio, 76%; and measles, 68%.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.70 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 110,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 4,100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


In 1928, the Workers' Bank was founded as a public housing agency of the federal government. Between 1959 and mid-1966, 23,881 low-cost units (houses and apartments) were constructed by the Workers' Bank throughout the country. By spending 75% of housing funds in rural areas and 25% in the cities, reversing the earlier ratio, the government hoped to cut down the exodus of peasants to Caracas and to maintain the nation's essential agricultural labor force. By 1969, the government had built 104,598 cheap and comfortable homes for lower-income groups, 57,675 in cities and 46,923 in rural areas.

Construction of low-cost housing units during the early 1970s proceeded at a rate of about 100,000 a year. During 197781, the public sector built 167,325 housing units, and the private sector 71,922. In 1981, the government introduced new low-interest housing loans, but that policy did not prevent a housing slump that persisted from 1982 through 1986 as a result of the general recession; housing units built by the public sector in 1986 totaled 91,666. The total number of housing units in the mid-1990s exceeded three million.

At the 2001 census, there were 6,242,621 housing units nationwide; about 83.5% were occupied. About 67% of all dwellings were detached single family homes. The average household had 4.4 members. Nearly 97% of all households had access to electricity, 90.7% had access to potable water, and 68% had access to appropriate sanitation systems.


Public education from kindergarten through university is free, and education is compulsory for children ages 5 through 17. This includes one year of preschool, followed by nine years of elementary school. Children then undergo two to three years of secondary school, which comes in two stages: the first is designed to provide a general education in the sciences and the humanities; the second prepares students for the university and offers specialization in philosophy and literature, physical science and mathematics, or biological science. Technical and vocational schools provide secondary instruction in industry and commerce, the trades, nursing, and social welfare. The academic year runs from September to July.

In 2001, about 51% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 91% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 59% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 89.7% of all students complete their primary education. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 14.3% of primary school enrollment and 25% of secondary enrollment.

There are 14 universities, both national and private, including the University of Venezuela (founded in 1725), Los Andes University (1785), Simón Bolívar University (1970), and the Open University (1977). Leading private institutions were the Andrés Bello Catholic University (1953), Santa María University (1953), and the Metropolitan University of Caracas (1970). Over 47 institutes of higher learning, colleges, and polytechnic institutes exist where students pursue at least 180 different fields or professions. In 2003, it was estimated that about 40% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 93%.

Approximately 20% of the national budget is assigned to education. As of 1995, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5% of GDP.


Venezuela's largest library is the National Library, which was founded in 1883 and has over two million volumes. Both the National Library and National Archives are in Caracas, as are many of the largest libraries in the country. Other libraries include the Library of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (500,000 volumes), the National Academy of History (100,000), the Central University of Venezuela (280,000), Los Andes University in Mérida (500,000), the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas (116,000), and public libraries and reading rooms in most state capitals.

Bolívar Museum, founded in 1911, has about 1,500 exhibits dealing with the life of Simon Bolívar and his fellow patriots in the independence movement. The National Pantheon, located in the restored Church of the Holy Trinity (dating from 1744), contains the ashes of Bolívar and the remains of other national heroes. The Birthplace of Bolívar (Bolívar's house) is also a national museum. The Fine Arts Museum, founded in 1938, contains paintings and sculpture by Venezuelan and foreign artists. The Natural Science Museum contains about 30,000 scientific exhibits. Other notable institutions include the Phelps Ornithological Collection, containing exhibits of thousands of Venezuelan birds, the Museum of Colonial Art, and the National Gallery of Art. All these museums are located in Caracas, as are the Fine Arts Museum of Caracas, the Museum of Folklore, and the Pedagogical Museum of Art History. In Ciudad Bolívar are the Talavera Museum, with pre-Columbian and colonial exhibits, and the Jesus Soto Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1971; in Maracaibo are the Natural Science Museum and Urdañeta Museum of Military History; and in Trujillo is the Cristóbal Mendoza Museum.


Venezuela is covered by a network of telephone, telegraph, and radiotelephone services and is also served by international cable and radiotelephone systems. In 1991, the government sold 40% of the state-owned CANTV to a consortium led by GTE. In 2003, there were an estimated 111 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 273 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

In 2004, there were 344 commercial radio stations and over 150 FM and AM community radio stations, as well as 31 television channels. In 2003, there were an estimated 192 radios and 186 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 32.4 of every 1,000 people were cable subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 60.9 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 60 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 114 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

In 2004, there were 15 national newspapers, 77 regional newspapers, and 89 magazines and weekly journals. Leading daily Venezuelan newspapers published in Caracas, with their 2004 circulations, are: Ultimas Noticias, 200,000; El Universal, 120,000; El Nacional, 100,000 (down from 200,000 in 2002); and Diario 2001, 100,000. Panorama, published in Maracaibo, had a 2004 circulation rate of 120,000. El Carabobeno in Valencia had a 2004 circulation of 97,000.

Though the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, there have been reports of government approved harassment and violence against media owners and reporters.


Organization membership for the vast majority of Venezuelans is confined to labor unions and professional societies. Industrial, commercial, and agricultural management associationsincluding the National Association of Merchants and Industrialists, the Industrial Chamber of Caracas, the National Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers, and the National Association of Metallurgical Industries and Miningare represented nationally by the Federation of Chambers, which is influential in shaping foreign and domestic trade policy. There are also professional associations representing a wide variety of occupations.

Educational and research organizations include the Academy of Mathematics, Physical, and Natural Sciences; the National Academy of Medicine, and the multinational Latin American Academy of Sciences. The Center for OPEC Studies, which focuses on cultural and socioeconomic issues uniting the OPEC member countries, is located in Caracas.

The Scout Association of Venezuela is one of the most active national youth organizations. Others include the Communist Youth of Venezuela, Junior Chamber, Youth for the New Alternative, Revolutionary Youth Copeyana, Youth for Democratic Action, and YMCA/YWCA.

There are national chapters of the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity.


Since the early 1970s, Venezuela has sought foreign investors for the construction, rehabilitation, and management of top-ranking hotels. As Venezuela's economic restructuring progresses, the tourism sector is expected to undergo privatization. Tourist attractions include Angel Falls, the many remembrances of Bolívar, numerous beach resorts, and the duty-free shopping and superb water sports facilities of the Isla de Margarita.

The most popular sports are baseball, football (soccer), bullfighting, cockfighting, horse racing, and water-related activities. Cultural life in the national capital offers, among other attractions, the Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas. A valid passport is required for all visitors. Travelers from many countries, including the United States, are required to file a tourist card instead of a visa. All other nationals must have a visa.

In 2003, there were about 337,000 foreign visitors. Tourism receipts totaled $368 million. That year there were 82,366 hotel rooms with 180,556 beds.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Caracas at $267 per day.


No participant in the drama of Venezuelan history is as well known, both nationally and internationally, as the great Liberator of the South American revolution, Simón Bolívar (17831830). Renowned for his military genius and his ability to lead and to inspire, Bolívar also wrote brilliantly and prophetically on government and international politics. Among the greatest Venezuelan literary figures was Andrés Bello (17811864), outstanding in journalism, history, law, literary criticism, philology, and philosophy. Francisco de Miranda (17501816) is credited with bringing the first printing press to Venezuela and publishing the first newspaper, La Gaceta de Caracas; he was also an adventurer who, for a three-month period in 1812, held dictatorial powers in Venezuela. For most of the period since independence was achieved, a series of dictators held power, including Antonio Guzmán Blanco (182999), Cipriano Castro (1858?1924), Juan Vicente Gómez (1857?1935), and Marcos Pérez Jiménez (19142001). Rómulo Betancourt (190881) was a leading political leader in the decades after World War II. President Hugo Chávez (b.1954) is the leader of the socialist "Bolivarian Revolution."

Simón Rodríguez (17711854), called the "American Rousseau," was the leading liberal scholar of the prerevolutionary period. Other writers of note were Rafael María Baralt (181060) and Juan Vicente González (181166), known as the father of Venezuelan national literature. Fermín Toro (180774) introduced the Indianist movement into Venezuelan romantic poetry. José Antonio Calcaño (182797) was referred to as "the Nightingale" for the flowing beauty of his verse. A noted poet and educator was Cecilio Acosta (183181), who was also Venezuela's first corresponding member of the Spanish Royal Academy and the author of the Venezuelan penal code. Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde (184692) is considered Venezuela's greatest romantic novelist of the 19th century. The outstanding writers of the later 19th century were Manuel Díaz Rodríguez (18681927) and Manuel Fombona Palacio (18571903). The most famous contemporary writer, Rómulo Gallegos (18841969), gained world renown almost overnight with the publication of his Doña Bárbara in 1929. Other prominent contemporary writers include the poet, novelist, and playwright Mariano Picón Salas (190165); the novelist Ramón Díaz Sánchez (190368); the economist, historian, and novelist Arturo Uslar-Pietri (19062001); and the poet Juan Liscano (19152001).

Father Pedro Palacios y Sojo (fl.18th cent.) founded the Chacao Conservatory. Among his students were José Cayetano Carreño (17741836), José Angel Lamas (17751814), and Juan José Landaeta (17801812). Teresa Carreño (18531917) won world fame as a concert pianist. Leading contemporary composers are Vicente Emilio Sojo (18871974), Juan Bautista Plaza (18981965), Juan Lecuna (18981954), and María Luisa Escobar (19031987).

The first painter of note in Venezuela was Juan Llovera (17851840). His son Pedro Llovera (fl.19th cent.) became the teacher of the first generation of 19th-century Venezuelan painters. Important Venezuelan painters of the 19th century were Martín Tovar y Tovar (18281902) and Arturo Michelena (186398). The bestknown 20th-century painter was Tito Salas (18871974).

The outstanding pioneer of Venezuelan science was José María Vargas (17861854). The first university courses in mathematics and physics were introduced by Vargas's contemporary Juan Manuel Cajigal (180256). Modern scientists include Gaspar Marcano (18501910), famous for his investigations of blood; Luis Razetti (18621932), biologist and physician; and Arnoldo Gabaldón (b.1909), director of an antimalaria campaign from 1945 to 1948.


The 72 small, sparsely inhabited Caribbean islands, organized in 11 island groups off the Venezuelan coast are federal dependencies, with a total area of 120 sq km (46 sq mi). The chief economic activity in the region is fishing and pearl diving.

Venezuela has two territories, Delta Amacuro and Amazonas. Delta Amacuro, with an area of 40,200 sq km (15,521 sq mi), is located in the northeastern corner of Venezuela, bordering Guyana, and had an estimated population of 93,000 as of the mid-1990s. The capital city of Tucupita is situated on Caño Mánamo, one of the principal channels of the Orinoco Delta. It is a commercial center for the petroleum-producing area to the west and is also a loading port for cocoa exports. The remote Amazonas territory, located in the southern corner of Venezuela and bordered by Colombia and Brazil, is larger in area, with 175,750 sq km (67,857 sq mi). Its population was estimated at 80,000 in the mid-1990s, and its capital, Puerto Ayacucho, is scarcely more than a trading post.


Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Corrales, Javier. Presidents without Parties: The Politics of Economic Reform in Argentina and Venezuela in the 1990s. University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Dinneen, Mark. Culture and Customs of Venezuela. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Eaton, Kent. Politicians and Economic Reform in New Democracies: Argentina and the Philippines in the 1990s. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

Gott, Richard. Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. New York: Verso, 2005.

Goumbri, Olivia Burlingame (ed.). The Venezuela Reader: The Building of a People's Democracy. Washington, D.C.: EPICA, 2005.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Herman, Marc. Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003.

McCoy, Jennifer L. and David J. Myers (eds.). The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Rudolph, Donna K., and G. A. Rudolph. Historical Dictionary of Venezuela. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1996.

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Major Cities:
Caracas, Maracaibo

Other Cities:
Barquisimeto, Ciudad Bolívar, Colonia Tovar, Cumaná, Maracay, Mérida, San Cristóbal, Valencia


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated September 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Venezuela is important to the U.S. Venezuelans have practiced democracy successfully since 1958, and their success is an example for others in Latin America. Moreover, Venezuela is a principal trading partner for the U.S., ranking among the top 20 markets for U.S. exports. It traditionally has been a reliable supplier of petroleum products to the U.S. and currently is the second largest exporter to the U.S. of oil and its derivatives.

Caracas is at times a challenging place to live. It is crowded, noisy, and jostling, and it is often difficult to get services performed that are routine at home. But it can be exciting, and close at hand are oases of beauty and tranquility that make the city livable: the rugged wilderness of the Avila mountain range ranging up to 6,000 feet over the city, the jewellike Los Chorros park, and the Parque del Este where early risers jog among hundreds of tropical birds. And, when long weekends or vacations permit, there is a varied universe of natural beauty ranging from the desert of Falcon State, to the spectacular high Andes; from the mesa country of the east with the world's highest waterfall, to the still largely unexplored Amazon jungle. Venezuela has over 1,300 varieties of birds and extraordinary flora, including magnificent orchids and frailejons.

Venezuela's varied beauty, strategic location, and natural resources, as well as its varied social structure, combine to make a tour here challenging and interesting.



Caracas occupies a garden-like valley rimmed by the majestic Avila Mountain that forms a rugged barrier between the valley and the Caribbean. It is the political, cultural, and economic center of the nation.

Its architecture is a mixture of colonial and mainly modern styles. In the older western part of the city, some of the old world Spanish colonial charm has been retained. To the east are the newer areas, characterized by skyscrapers and freeways with modern, comfortable residential areas dotting the valley floor and spreading up the mountain sides.

In contrast with the modernity of much of Caracas and the genteel charm of the historical sections are the "ranchitos" or shack settlements built by the poor immigrants from the interior regions and immigrants from neighboring countries.

Justifiably, the Caraquenos refer to Caracas as "The City of Eternal Spring." Caracas has a mean average temperature of 71 degrees F. Daytime temperatures range from 60 degrees to 80 degrees during the dry season to a maximum of 80 degrees to 90 degrees during the hot parts of the summer rainy season. Nights are cool and pleasant year round. Winter temperatures have even dropped to the low 50s. A consistent east-west wind blows almost every day, keeping the atmosphere of the valley clear. There is no daylight savings time in Caracas, therefore it becomes dark every night at about 7 pm.

The eastern part of the city has many familiar American features: major arteries ablaze with neon signs advertising U.S. products, supermarkets, some department stores, air-conditioned theaters showing American films, and even soda fountains and drive-in restaurants. Late-model American cars literally congest the streets and nearly every home displays a TV antenna to receive one of the Spanish-language TV stations.

The American appearance, however, is superficial. Caracas is a distinctively Latin city. The dominant culture is Spanish with the vitality and zest of a Caribbean orientation to the world. The combination is not Venezuelan, but Caraqueno. Caracas has the amenities of a large, cosmopolitan city. It boasts a number of excellent restaurants, a good selection of movies, and a variety of theatrical and musical productions. The city has many nightclubs and discotheques, a concert and symphony series, several museums, a thriving art market, a zoo, and an ultramodern racetrack.


Generally, Caracas offers a broad range of quality food products though you may have to search for certain imported items. Recent government-imposed restrictions will probably lessen the availability of many imported items. Shopping is done at the large, American-style supermarkets that abound, at convenient corner stores (abastos), and at the farmers' markets (mercado libre).

Supermarkets are generally well stocked, but some items are unavailable for months at a time. Cleanliness in supermarkets is not up to U.S. standards. Due to uncertainty about the effects of import prohibitions, it is not clear whether speciality shops will continue to carry unusual imported items.

Many Americans find the "mercado libre" both fun and economical. Arrive early to get the best quality fresh fruits and vegetables.

There is a wide variety of locally grown vegetables that are quite good, though not consistently up to U.S. standards. Some Americans take advantage of the excellent quality of fresh fruits and vegetables sold by vendors from trucks. Some deliver. Bananas, papaya (locally called lechosa), coconuts, pineapples, mangoes, melons, and citrus fruits are abundant. Local peaches and apricots are disappointing. Fresh-squeezed fruit juices, sold everywhere, are excellent and cheap.

Bread, meat, and fish are available in supermarkets. Bakery goods are generally excellent. Many Americans prefer to buy these items at the bakeries, at the butcher, and at the fish shops that dot the residential areas. Some deliver. Good quality beef is available. Venezuelan beef is range-fed and not normally aged. It is less tasty and less fatty than the U.S. corn-fed animal. Pork is excellent and reasonably priced. Local lamb is sometimes available. Veal is almost never available. Seafood is always obtainable and of good quality, with prices less than those in the Washington area. Shrimp, which is relatively inexpensive, and red snapper (pargo) are especially popular. Cold-cuts and sausage are varied and plentiful.

Fresh pasteurized and homogenized milk is available throughout the year.

Canned foods are expensive compared to fresh foods available on the local market. Most stores carry a variety of canned food imported from the U.S. or made locally under license. Neither the selection nor the quality of baby foods is comparable to what is available in the U.S. Infant formula is available, although all brands are not in stock at the same time.

Local cheeses are acceptable, but sometimes lack flavor and may be more salty than in the U.S. A few imported European cheeses are available, in particular Gouda and Edam from Holland. Good quality eggs are plentiful.

Venezuelan ice cream is excellent. It is available in the usual flavors plus some tropical fruit flavors not found in the U.S.

Paper products are available but some are of inferior quality. Imported paper towels, toilet tissue, Kleenex, etc. are available in the commissary.

Frozen vegetables, fruits and fruit juices are sometimes available, but variety is limited and in some cases products may have been thawed and refrozen.

Some American fast food chains, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza and Baskin & Robbins, have locations in Caracas.

There is a MAKRO Superstore in Caracas that is similar to the PACE Warehouse stores in the U.S. Membership is required. There are American products as well as Venezuelan products and many items are sold in bulk.


General: Caracas' climate can be quite warm from April through September, and pleasant and cooler in December and January. Therefore, you will need a summer-weight wardrobe the year round although spring-weight clothes can be worn December through February. Bring a good umbrella for the rainy season. Raincoats are seldom seen here as they are usually too hot to wear. Sunglasses are necessary. Sportswear and beachwear suitable for the U.S. are fine for the clubs and beaches.

There is a wide selection of formal clothing for women in Caracas. Larger men's and women's sizes are not normally available. Good casual clothing is expensive and hard to find. Shoes are of good quality and reasonably priced.

Men: Summer-weight suits are more comfortable in Caracas' warm climate, therefore highly recommended. The quality of dry-cleaning is good and reasonably priced.

Sport shirts, guayaberas, and slacks are worn for informal occasions everywhere in Venezuela. Shorts are seldom seen on the streets except for joggers, cyclists, and other sports enthusiasts.

Dark suits will suffice for almost all occasions in the evening. Business and professional men rarely wear hats in Caracas.

Women: Women should bring what they would wear in late spring or summer in Washington or New York. Normal daytime wear is cotton, linen and other light fabrics. Blue jeans are popular for casual wear. You will need dressier cotton dresses and skirts and blouses for luncheons and coffees. Women dress up for evening occasions and follow the latest European and U.S. fashions. Cocktail dresses or nice evening dresses are normally worn to cocktail parties and dinners. Evening pants are permissible. Silk, satin, sheer knits and jerseys are popular fabrics. Fur stoles are seldom seen but a light sweater, shawl, or dressy jacket is useful for the cooler evenings. Hats are not currently being worn.

Beautiful and expensive fabrics are available. Women's shoes are stylish and of good quality with prices comparable to similar quality shoes in the U.S. Large size women's shoes (over size 9) or extra wide women's shoes are virtually impossible to find in Caracas.

Children: Durable summer wear is the best clothing for children in Caracas. Blue jeans are very popular among all ages. Bring light sweaters for cool evenings and mornings. Heavy pajamas or sleepers with feet are needed for infants in winter (December-February).

Venezuelan law requires that all school children wear uniforms.

Some American-style shoes are made and sold in Caracas. They are somewhat wider than standard American shoes. The quality of children's shoes varies.

For teenagers, one dressy outfit for occasional parties or school functions may be required. Jeans are universal wear for day-to-day activities. T-shirts are very popular.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Popular American brand name, but locally produced toiletries, cosmetics, and household supplies can be found in Caracas. Drugs and medicines are price controlled and can often be bought at prices below those in the U.S., many without prescriptions.

Basic Services: Tailoring, dry-cleaning, laundry, shoe repair, radio and TV repair, electrical work, plumbing, fumigation, and auto repair are available and generally adequate. Standards of workmanship and cost vary considerably. Good hairdressers and barbers are available at prices substantially lower than in major cities in the U.S.

Keep in mind that it is the custom here for stores to be closed anywhere between 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm in the afternoon, and to close in the evening at about 7:00 pm, even in the malls. Note: many establishments in Caracas close during the Christmas holidays from about December 15 to January 15.

Religious Activities

There are several major English-speaking church communities in Caracas: St. Thomas More, a Roman Catholic parish, is served by an Italian priest. The United Christian Church, an interdenominational Protestant Church; the Bethel Baptist Church; and the El Salvador Lutheran Church all have American ministers. St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral (Anglican-Episcopal) has a British bishop. There is also the First Church of Christ Scientist and the Centro Evangelico Pentecostal. They all have services in addition to religious instructions and Sunday school or Bible studies for the children on Sunday mornings. The Mormon community has several wards throughout the city. The Jewish (orthodox and conservative) congregations have several synagogues: Jabad-Lubavitch Yeshiva Gedola of Venezuela, or Shalom Synagogue and Union Israelita de Caracas. Services are conducted in Spanish and Hebrew. There is also an outstanding and beautiful mosque that has been completed recently that is the tallest in South America.

These congregations offer a variety of social activities that provide good opportunities to meet others from the international community. Church announcements are printed in the English-language newspaper.


Dependent Education. Good schools are available in Venezuela. Most American children attend one of two schools: Campo Alegre (Campo) which ranges from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 and Colegio Internacional de Caracas (CIC) which also ranges from kindergarten through grade 12. Documentation required for enrollment is a school transcript, transfers, grade cards, or school records. Entrance placement examinations are always given to assure correct placement. A certificate of medical examination and immunization record is also required. It is best obtained before arrival, but can be obtained in Venezuela.

Both schools are private. They require a registration fee, tuition payments, and transportation fees.

By Venezuelan decree, uniforms are required at all schools in all grades.

The school year extends from late August through early June. The program of instruction closely parallels the American system. Both schools use a contained classroom system at the elementary level and departmentalized classes in middle and secondary school. Students or graduates from these schools are qualified to enroll in public or private schools and colleges and universities in the U.S. since they both are accredited by the U.S. Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. Instruction is in English. A majority of teachers are recruited from the U.S. and are U.S. certified. The Venezuelan Ministry of Education requires that all students receive some instruction in Spanish and certain civics and history courses. Library, science labs, and computer facilities are all considered more than adequate when compared with U.S. averages.

Each of these schools has a full-time administrative staff that operates under the direction of an annually elected Board of Directors. The schools also sponsor Parent-Teacher-Student Associations (PTA) and provide ample opportunities for formal consultation and informal exchanges between parents and teachers. A full-time nurse is on duty at both schools.

Both schools offer honors, advanced placement and International Baccalaureate courses for talented students, as well as physical education programs, although varsity sports are not emphasized as they are in most U.S. schools. Varsity teams offer basketball, soccer, volleyball and softball. They have limited schedules, but an advantage is that a higher percentage of students have an opportunity to participate in sports than in large U.S. schools. CIC has athletic facilities that include a full-sized football field, a tennis court and swimming activities. Campo has a gymnasium, outdoor courts and a playing field used for softball and soccer.

There are some extracurricular activities and periodic evening social activities for the older children. Bus transportation is available to both schools from most neighborhoods where Americans live. The consensus here is that both schools offer a solid education. Most children tend to have to work harder than in U.S. schools, unless they were in a specialized, accelerated program in the U.S. Special resources for children with learning disabilities are available at the schools, but are limited.

Campo Alegre is situated in a residential area of Las Mercedes and has an excellent but crowded physical plant including a gymnasium, many science labs, Macintosh computer labs and a cafeteria. It is centrally located and access is easy. Enrollment is currently just over 1000 with 52 nationalities represented. Class sizes range from 13-22. The well-qualified and dedicated staff has written Essential Agreements in all curricular areas to enhance and reinforce the basic educational beliefs on which the school's philosophy is written.

Campo's programs are driven by 23 student outcomes and based on a belief that an international school setting is an enriching and positive factor in the education of children who will live and work in a global society. The school's curriculum includes Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate at the secondary level. Computer studies begin in kindergarten and continue through high school. There is an excellent physical education program that engages students in gymnastics, dance, ball skills and track and field.

Campo's physical education department recently hosted the first Caribbean Volleyball Tournament with participants from Costa Rica, Bolivia, Dominican Republic and other schools in the Caribbean area. A school psychologist directs a program of intervention for students needing special help, both educationally and socially. Counselors at all levels are available for students and parents. Parents are kept well informed through regular reporting, conferences, a weekly newsletter (Campo News), and a program of parent forums on key instructional progress and issues (Parents Ask and Family Nights).

A comprehensive "English as a Second Language" program is well articulated with the other curriculum within the school. All elementary students have one period each day of Spanish. Spanish and French are offered at the secondary levels. A new middle school offers a program specifically designed to meet the needs of students from 12-14 years of age. Over 95 percent of the graduating classes enroll in college and the school offers a full range of placement and achievement tests (PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP). The school has a 650-seat auditorium with stage and orchestra pit that is well used by the Drama Program provided for Campo students and staff alike.

Campo is also a center for many English-speaking community functions. Art, music and cultural events are available for all students. Campo also has a chapter of the Junior and Senior Honor Society. Escuela Campo Alegre participates in the Merit Scholar program and the annual International Schools Model United Nations Assembly in The Hague, Holland. Cub and Boy Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts are popular as after school activities. A school-sponsored Activities Program offers a wide range of activities from a weekend adventure program at the secondary school to an elementary cooking class. The school is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of South American Schools and the European Council of International Schools.

Colegio Internacional de Caracas has a large campus on a hilltop commanding a sweeping view of the valley with ample space for sports activities, as well as special events for students and their parents. On campus a canteen serves full lunches or snacks, and supplies food and drink for special get-togethers. Present enrollment of CIC is about 550, in grades nursery through 12, the largest single group being North American. The balance of the students are from around 40 other countries. Students enjoy relatively small classes and a high degree of individual instruction.

Clubs and after school activities are available for all students varying with student interest and adult supervisor availability. Art, music, drama, cultural development and global awareness are stressed in the elementary school and supported with classroom instruction at almost every level. CIC has a chapter of the Junior and Senior National Honor Society and presently offers a program for gifted and talented students at the elementary level. This program will be extended in 1994-95 or earlier, although the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs already present challenging opportunities for the able students in the secondary school. The school also provides Resource Center services for children with mild learning disabilities, mild emotional handicaps, and attention deficit disorders. Tutoring services are also available at the Center through the Boost Program. The school participates in the National Merit Scholar program, the Close Up educational visit to Washington, and sponsors the yearly South American Model United Nations Conference attended by more than 200 students. CIC students also participate in the Model United Nations Assembly in The Hague, Holland. Over 95 percent of the graduating classes enroll in college, and the school offers a comprehensive guidance and counseling program, including the services of a psychologist. Achievement, college entrance and placements tests such as Metropolitan Achievement Tests, PSAT, SAT, and ACT are offered on campus, as are Advanced Placement courses and the full International Baccalaureate Program.

Advanced programs are offered in English, French, Spanish, Italian, History, Math, and Science. Two modern media centers support the learning needs of the faculty and students. A laboratory and classroom-based comprehensive computer literacy program in the elementary school, and two computer laboratories in the secondary school, provide students access to these skills. CIC also offers summer school and summer day camp programs for students. A school-to-school program with a sister district in Bremerton, Washington, provides CIC faculty with opportunities to receive in-service and other professional development experiences.

Several other good, private schools in the Caracas area have been used by some North American families. However, none are accredited. The Washington Academy, located in Valle Arriba, offers bilingual education for kindergarten through eighth grade. The Jefferson Academy, also located in Valle Arriba, offers bilingual education for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

Caracas has many good, private nursery schools, some English speaking, some bilingual. A list can be obtained from the CLO coordinator. Neighborhood Spanish-speaking nurseries are numerous.

Other international community schools

Escuela Britanica offers kindergarten through grade six. The curriculum closely follows the British system. Uniforms are required. The education is excellent, but application must be made early.

Colegio Francia has a complete elementary school with instruction in French and Spanish. At the Colegio Humbolt, instruction is in German and Spanish for both elementary and high school grades.

Venezuelan Schools

There are numerous private elementary and secondary schools in Caracas, many of which are Catholic.

Special Educational Opportunities

For Spanish-speaking students, college classes are available at several universities. Universidad Simon Bolivar is free but entrance is very difficult for foreigners. Universidad Andres Bello and Universidad Metropolitana are private and charge tuition. Another private university, IESA, the Institute of Higher Studies in Administration, offers postgraduate studies in business administration and management. Due to the general difficulty of transferring foreign credits to the U.S., many have chosen to audit classes. International House offers graduate degree work in English for M.E. degrees through Marymount College and is initiating a Masters degree program in Business.

The Audubon Society (La Sociedad Conservacionista Audubon de Venezuela), maintains an environmental reference library, holds meetings and has various excursions. The office is located in the Paseo las Mercedes shopping center. The Caracas Circulating Library maintains a collection of current best sellers in English, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as a children's library. It is open 3 days a week, 1 day being Saturday mornings. The cost is about $5 to join and $5 per month.

The Caracas Playhouse, an English-language theater group, produces plays and musicals with the purpose of developing amateur theater in Caracas. Previous experience is not required for participation.

Spanish and English instructions are available through the Centro Venezolano Americano. The CVA also has a lending library and sponsors a wide variety of cultural programs. Other languages may be studied through various institutions such as the Centro Venezolano Italiano and Alianza Francesa. English and Spanish language lessons are also offered through Instituto Cultural Venezolano Britanico. The Venezuelan-American Association of University Women offers a biannual study group program that is open to nonmembers as well as members. Courses are offered in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, calligraphy, interior design, batik, education (including Venezuelan Field Study), bridge, mini-lectures on countries of the world, world religions, shorthand and typing, Indians of Venezuela, music, languages, cooking, and physical fitness.

Classes in music, dance, physical fitness, arts and crafts, languages, and many other subjects are available at commercial institutions and from individuals.


Sports activities in the immediate Caracas area are limited, principally because of the lack of public facilities. There are few public swimming pools in Caracas. One of them, Parque Miranda, has swimming instructions in an olympic-size pool and offers swim team competition.

Clubs in Caracas are excellent, fully equipped and provide a wide range of facilities. Many are also very expensive. There are no public golf courses in Venezuela. There are also no public tennis courts, but at least one semi-public court exists and there is a tennis club that some Americans have joined.

Jogging is a popular sport here, particularly since the climate allows this activity year round; however, jogging is usually done in daylight hours at Parque del Este. The Hash House Harriers has a run twice monthly on Sunday afternoons in different neighborhoods of Caracas. Everyone does not run, and many people walk the route. Hiking is another popular activity. Excellent but steep trails lead up the sides of the Avila Range, and the varieties of flora are unbelievable. The plateaus offer opportunities for sports such as softball, volleyball, soccer, etc., and picnicking is also popular. The physically fit can hike to the top and view the Caribbean Sea and port city of La Guaria on one side and on the other side have an airplane's view of Caracas. There is no charge for climbing the Avila and overnight camping is easily accommodated, however there are no facilities except for running water in some places.

Venezuela offers a range of challenges for every kind of fisherman. One can troll for monster marlin, tuna, wahoo, sailfish and other salt-water prizes along Venezuela's Caribbean coast, angle for trout in pristine Andean lakes or land peacock bass, catfish, and other freshwater game fish in the country's many rivers. The second major draw for any angler is the abundance and large size of fish in Venezuela's waters that have not been "fished out" as have many areas of the world that have long been popular for this sport. Side by side with offers for beach, jungle and Andean tours, one now finds that nearly all major travel and tourism agencies offer fishing packages for both salt-and freshwater. A license is not required.

Hunting is not popular here and the rules and regulations are vague and unenforced. There is a hunting season, however, and all endangered species are off limits to hunters at all times. A hunting license is not required, however guns must be registered.

Spectator sports are as popular among Caraquenos of all ages as they are among Americans. Professional baseball leagues, often featuring major league American and Venezuelan players, have a full schedule of games after the U.S. season ends. The general level is that of a triple A league in the U.S. Soccer is followed by many Venezuelans. Some of the finest teams in the world tour here occasionally and are worth seeing. A major bullfight season is held annually in Caracas' Nuevo Circo with well-known bull-fighters from Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, etc. Tickets are reasonably priced, but seldom advertised. Horseraces are held every Saturday and Sunday year round at a superbly designed and equipped track. The spacious stands are nearly always filled. A large percentage of the city's residents bet the weekly "5 and 6" (Cinco y Seis) ticket (picking five or six winners out of the last six races). Bi-weekly night races are held.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Caracas has several historical churches and museums, including the birthplace of Simon Bolivar, a museum of fine arts, a museum of natural history, a science museum, and a museum of contemporary art. There is also a lovely colonial museum, the Quinta Anauco, which features evening concerts during certain times of the year, and a unique and interesting Children's Museum. There are also some fine parks within the city. Strollers may enjoy Parque del Este or Parque Los Chorros, which is located at the base of the Avila, and offers a pleasant escape from the traffic and the noise. Parque del Este also has a small zoo and is a popular spot for early morning joggers. The suburb of El Hatillo on the outskirts of Caracas offers quaint colonial style shops, houses and restaurants. There are many shops in El Hatillo but one, Hannsi's, sells handicrafts from all over South America.

Beaches within a short drive from Caracas are crowded on weekends and unfortunately the water is polluted. For longer trips, the beach at Cata to the west of Caracas or Rio Chico to the east are popular on weekends. The islands in the Morrocoy National Park, 3-5 hours from Caracas by car, and then reachable only by boat, offer beautiful beaches and great snorkeling. Camping is allowed on these islands although there are no facilities. The islands of Los Roques, reachable only by air (30 minutes from Caracas), are beautiful and offer excellent snorkeling, too. Camping is allowed there also, but again, no facilities. Beaches in Venezuela are not like the beaches of Florida and California. They are generally very short in length and width and are not the type of beaches where one can take a nice long walk. However, some are beautiful and some have very crystal clear water.

There are several offshore islands that offer wonderful opportunities for snorkeling. Bonaire, one of the islands in the Netherland Antilles, is perhaps the best example. Scuba diving is also quite popular and there are certified diving instructors in Caracas who offer classes in English on a regular basis.

An interesting 1-day excursion from Caracas over winding but paved roads is to Colonia Tovar, a settlement of German immigrants about 40 miles from Caracas. The picturesque houses and cuisine remind one of the Bavarian Alps. Another pleasant day trip out of Caracas is to Los Teques where one can ride a narrow gauge train to El Encanto Park. When the train is operating, the trip affords lovely scenery and a chance to enjoy a picnic lunch at the end of the line. It is also near the Arte Murano glass factory, a favorite spot for buying Venetian style glass.

In the Andean region of Venezuela one can enjoy spectacular and beautiful scenery. The teleferico in Merida, when working, gives one a sweeping view of the mountains, while the Hotel Los Frailes, once a monastery, offers charm and beauty. Popular activities in this area are mountain climbing, trout fishing, and horseback riding. On the opposite side of Venezuela is the tropical jungle in the State of Bolivar. Canaima is a small settlement in the jungle at the base of the spectacular falls of the Carrao River. This place of imposing beauty is a perfect trip for those who admire adventure and is accessible only by air. An added attraction is an aerial view of Angel Falls, highest in the world (3,312 feet). It was named for an American aviator, Jimmy Angel, who landed above them in 1937. It rivals the Grand Canyon in the U.S.

For birdwatchers and anyone interested in exploring the countryside, the local Audubon Society organizes outings regularly. The most interesting require a four-wheel drive vehicle and overnight camping.

Trips to nearby Caribbean islands are also popular. The Venezuelan island of Margarita combines the charm of old Spanish colonial forts and churches with some nice beaches. Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago are other interesting islands to visit. Trinidad is especially exciting during Carnival when the entire island closes down and "jumps up" for 4 days to the music of hundreds of steel bands.

For the really adventurous traveler, there are canoe trips to the base of Angel Falls that require a few days, trips into the interior to visit missionaries working among primitive Indians (which require special permission), flights over the Grand Sabana area near the Brazilian frontier, boat trips down the Orinoco from Puerto Ayacucho to Ciudad Bolivar, and camping on the llanos (plains).

Traveling in Venezuela is often disorganized. Planes often get over-booked and sometimes trips don't go as planned. The best approach to this is to arrive very early at the airport and to have lots of patience.

Many apartments have nice window boxes for plants, herbs or flowers. There are numerous nurseries in Caracas and the climate is excellent for gardening. Most plants flourish here. Orchids are especially popular and are the national flower.


Caracas enjoys a diversity of international cuisine with Argentine-style steak houses, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and French restaurants being the most popular. Some restaurants provide music and dinner dancing. Caracas is truly a city of spectacular restaurants. Caraquenos love to dine out and it shows in the atmosphere, ambiance and diversity of their restaurants. The city also has many night clubs, and private discotheques and jazz clubs are becoming increasingly popular. A woman should have a male escort to enter clubs in Caracas at night.

Modern movie theaters, including several drive-ins, are located throughout the city. The majority of films shown are American with Spanish subtitles, but French, Italian and Mexican movies are also presented. Venezuela does not yet have a highly developed feature length film industry but sophisticated "soap operas", aired during prime-time by local TV stations are avidly followed by many.

Sports fans can expect to see regular season major league baseball games weekly in addition to the playoffs and the World Series. Professional basketball and the Super Bowl have also aired here in the past.

Social Activities

Caracas is a cosmopolitan city, offering opportunities to get involved. The extent and direction of social activities depends largely on your initiative. There are a number of organizations to help newcomers get introduced.

Groups and activities within the American community include the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club International, Lions Club International, the Audubon Society, a hiking club, "Circulo Excursionistas" and scouting. The Centro Venezolano-Americano sponsors social and cultural events.

The Venezuelan-American Association of University Women (VAAUW) offers membership to university graduates only. Those who attended college for two years may join as associate members. However, their excellent and varied courses and many of their programs and activities are open to nonmembers.

The Children's Service League is a volunteer organization that works with children and young adults, raises money for hospitalized and handicapped children, and annually helps 20 institutions and hospitals. CSL activities include sewing workshops, a mini-bookstore, a bridge competition and a bowling league, as well as the design, preparation and sale of its annual collection of Christmas and note cards. The CSL holds a Christmas Bazaar at which these cards and handicrafts are sold.

The Newcomer's Club emphasizes welcoming you to Caracas with tips on how to adapt to its culture and social life. It is a good place to meet other newcomers who live in your own area.


Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia State and Venezuela's second largest city (population was estimated at 1.9 million in 2000), is situated in the coastal lowlands, on the western shore of Lake Maracaibo. The lake, South America's largest, bounds the city on the east and south. The six-mile-long Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, which is the longest prestressed concrete span in the world, spans the narrow, northern neck of the lake and connects Maracaibo with the eastern shore. To the north, the lake opens into the Gulf of Venezuela and in the south, beyond the lake, rise the Andes.

Although 170 miles away, Pico Bolívar, the country's highest point, is visible from the city on a clear day. Called both the Bolívar Coast and Costa Oriental del Lago, this area is the center of Venezuela's petroleum industry. Scattered all along this coast and on the waters offshore are thousands of wells tapping the extensive deposits of the Maracaibo Basin, which provides 80 percent of the nation's oil.

Maracaibo was founded in 1571 and soon became an inland trading center. The city and the surrounding area underwent tremendous expansion following the discovery of oil in 1917. Production of Venezuela's three largest national oil companies is headquartered in the Maracaibo area. Directly across the lake from the city is El Tablazo, a huge petro-chemical complex, and up the gulf coast on the Paraguaná Peninsula at Amuay is the world's largest oil refinery. Numerous petroleum-related companies, many of them U.S. firms, operate in and around Maracaibo.

Clustered around the port are the colonial-style buildings and narrow streets of the old city. This is the site of the Cathedral of Maracaibo and the Palacio de las Aguilas, which serves as the seat of state government. Farther from the port, the architecture is more modern, with many multistory apartment and office buildings. Nearer the outskirts of the city, prosperity is less obvious, and modern buildings give way to brick and corrugated tin shacks.

The U.S. consular district of Maracaibo serves the coastal states of Zulia and Falcon and the Andean states of Táchira, Mérida, and Trujillo. An estimated 4,000 Americans live in this districtmostly in Maracaibo and across the lake on the Bolívar Coast in the oil towns of Cabimas, Las Morochas, Tia Juana, and Lagunillas. Because of the long history of American business participation in the area, Americans are generally well regarded, and many mixed-nationality families live here.

Maracaibo is hot and humid throughout the year, although winter months are slightly cooler. Daytime temperatures are usually 90°F or above, with 75 percent humidity. Annual rainfall is about 20 inches. The moderate rainy season begins in May, with rain becoming more frequent toward November.

Schools for Foreigners

Schooling in English is available from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade at Escuela Bella Vista, which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Some 30 nationalities are represented among the approximately 300 students; most are American and Venezuelan. There are approximately 40 full-time teachers, half of which are American. Although academic classes are conducted in English, Spanish-language courses are required at all grade levels. The quality of teaching is good, and students in the upper grades can choose from a variety of electives.

Bella Vista has good facilities, including an air-conditioned 14,500-volume library, cafeteria, two gymnasiums, science lab, computer lab, covered play area, a ball field, and tennis courts. Extracurricular activities include instrumental music, drama, school newspaper, yearbook, computers, gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball, track and field, tennis, and field trips. The school has neither special facilities for teaching children with learning disabilities, nor any programs for gifted students.

The school year runs from late August to mid-June. Venezuelan holidays are observed. Bella Vista is located at Calle 67, entre Avenue 3D y 3E, La Lago, Maracaibo. Mail can be addressed to Apartado 290, Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Special educational opportunities are offered at the University of Zulia, where those competent in Spanish can audit courses. Medicine, dentistry, law, engineering, and the humanities are taught at the university.

El Centro de Bellas Artes, established by Venezuelans and foreigners interested in fine arts, sponsors moderately priced classes and individual instruction in painting, sculpture, ceramics, leather work, and metalwork. The Spanish-speaking instructors are competent. Fees are moderate. Academia de Música, run by the State of Zulia, offers instruction in voice and various musical instruments. Private music and ballet instruction are also available.


Boating and other water sports on Lake Maracaibo are available, but limited by the lake's pollution. The majority of beaches in the immediate area are neither attractive nor well maintained. Good beaches are several hours away. Several professional sports stadiums host soccer and baseball, which are very popular. During the annual Feria de La Chinita, bullfights are presented in the Plaza de Toros.

Recreational facilities for children and teenagers are virtually nonexistent outside of private clubs, causing some problems for families. Most sports activities take place during evening hours when it is slightly cooler. A public park, Paseo del Lago, has been constructed on the lake shore, and facilities there include a jogging course, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and children's play equipment. The popular Paseo often draws Maracuchos for evening recreation, but upkeep of the facilities is inadequate.

Maracaibo has only limited hunting opportunities; most hunting is for fowl and takes place on privately owned haciendas. Opportunities for fishing are more plentiful. This sport is possible in some parts of the lake, as well as in the Gulf of Venezuela. In the Andes, trout fishing is available.

An informal group of English-speaking men meet at Escuela Bella Vista for mixed sports once a week, alternating among basketball, soccer, and other games. Most other sports activities require membership in clubs, which are expensive. Among these private clubs are Los Andes Yacht Club, Maracaibo Country Club, Club Náutico, and the German Club; many English-speaking expatriates belong to the latter.

The nearest place of interest outside of town is the Río Limón area, about 30 miles north of the city. From there, the visitor may take a boat trip up-river to see the Paraguaná Indian villages built on stilts over the water. A bridge crosses the river for car trips to the Indian villages of Sinamaica and Paraguaipoa farther up the coast from Río Limón. A modest beach resort, Caimara Chico (Balneario) on the Gulf of Venezuela, is near Sinamaica.

A pleasant change of scenery and climate is possible by visiting the Andean villages of La Puerta and Timotes, about 160 miles (three to four hours by car) from Maracaibo. Many Maracuchos have vacation cabins there, and some small inns cater to tourists. Valera and Mérida, farther down the Andean chain, are the nearest Andean cities accessible by air (about 45 minutes flying time). Alternatively, Mérida, a charming university town, is about a nine-hour drive, and from there one can travel into the Andes.

Aruba, a popular resort island, is less than an hour's flight from Maracaibo, and Caracas is about one hour by air or nine hours by car.


Maracaibo has many movie theaters, but few of them show first-run films. American movies are popular and are usually screened with Spanish subtitles. British, French, and Latin American films are also shown. Prices are reasonable.

Occasionally, it is possible to attend live performances presented by touring Venezuelan and international groups. Additionally, the binational center presents a full cultural program during the year. The Maracaibo Players, an amateur English-speaking dramatic group, stages two annual plays. The Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra, with several American members, gives reasonably priced Thursday evening concerts at Teatro Bellas Artes. Ticket prices are reasonable.

Maracaibo has several good restaurants. Steak is popular with Venezuelan diners, and this popularity is reflected in the number of good steak houses in town. Traditional Venezuelan cuisineor criollois featured in several restaurants. The city also has a variety of Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and French dining spots. Numerous soda fountains and tea shops serve American-style sandwiches and ice cream. There also are a few American-style fast food restaurants.

For those interested in history, Maracaibo offers the Urdaneta Museum. This museum chronicles the history of Spanish settlement in the Maracaibo area.

The ability to communicate in Spanish is essential to a full social life. American men sometimes join the local Rotary, Lions, Jaycees, Toast-masters, or Masonic organizations; women join various church-connected groups or the Maracaibo Women's Tennis Club or Ladies Club. Maracaibo has an active North American Association.

Special Information

Maracaibo is located only about 50 miles from the Colombian border. The Guajira Peninsula, shared by the two countries, is north of Maracaibo, and this area (particularly the Colombian side) is known as a drug-trafficking center where law enforcement resources are extremely limited. Border areas south and southwest of Maracaibo are lightly populated, largely wilderness regions from which come sporadic reports of Colombian guerrilla activity and kidnappings. Travel to any border area should be carefully considered.


BARQUISIMETO , established in 1552, a few years before the founding of Valencia, is the capital of Lara State in northwestern Venezuela. It is situated at an altitude of 1,856 feet at the northern end of the Cordillera Mérida, 170 miles southwest of Caracas. Barquisimeto is situated in a productive agricultural area. Cacao, sugarcane, sisal, and coffee are grown near the city. Several industries in the city produce cement, twine, and food products. A 230-foot tower built in 1952 to commemorate the city's 400th anniversary is a well-known landmark. Barquisimeto is the home of Central-Western University. In 2000, the city had an estimated population of 914,000.

CIUDAD BOLÍVAR is the commercial hub of the plains (llanos ) region of the east. It lies on the south bank of the Orinoco River, 280 miles southeast of Caracas. The city dates to 1764, when it was called San Tomás de la Nueva Guayana de la Angostura. Simón Bolívar, the South American liberator, declared Gran Colombia's independence from Spain here in 1819; the city was renamed in 1846 in his honor. Ciudad Bolívar is a river port and the principal docking area on the Orinoco. Exports include gold, diamonds, cattle, horses, skins, hides, timber, and agricultural products. Fishing and tourism also are important in Ciudad Bolívar; the late June catches of the sapoara fish are popular, and gold trinkets made hereespecially charmsare considered the best in Venezuela. The city is home to the Jesus Soto Museum, which features works by Venezuelan and European artists. This state capital has an estimated population of 308,000. The planned city of Ciudad Guayana (or Santo Tomé de Guayana) is situated 60 miles to the east at the juncture of the Orinoco and Caroní rivers. It has a population of about 692,000.

The small "Black Forest" village of COLONIA TOVAR lies in the mountains 40 miles west of Caracas. Known for its German sausage, flowers, and jams, the town becomes congested with visitors from Caracas on Sundays. German immigrants founded Colonia Tovar in 1843; it remained virtually isolated until modern roads were built in the vicinity in the 1940s.

CUMANÁ is South America's oldest Hispanic community, located 200 miles east of Caracas on the main highway. Dating to 1521, the city of approximately 208,115 people (2000 est.) is known for Fort Antonio and other colonial-era churches and houses. Beset by earthquakes, especially the massive devastations of 1766 and 1929, Cumaná lies near large salt beds and sandy beaches. Sardine canning supports many here. Cumaná is nestled in a rich agricultural area. Sugarcane, beans, tobacco, coffee, cacao, and fruits are grown here. The city is the home of Eastern University.

MARACAY , with a population of 460,000 in 2000, is the capital of Aragua State in the north, 50 miles southwest of Caracas. The center of Venezuela's cattle industry, it was, during the early years of this century, headquarters for the military government which ruled the country. The city is home to many industries which produce textiles, rayon, sugar, rubber, paper, cement, and food stuffs. Maracay is linked to Caracas via the Pan-American Highway.

MÉRIDA is the capital of Mérida State, 325 miles southwest of Caracas. Situated deep in the Cordillera Mérida Mountains at an altitude of 5,400 feet, this is an agricultural hub for neighboring hinterlands producing coffee, tobacco, and vegetable oils. Mérida is the highest city in Venezuela. The "Five White Eagles," a local name for looming mountain peaks, provide a stunning backdrop for Mérida's 21 parks, most notably the Park of the Five Republics. This park has the world's first Simón Bolívar monument (erected in 1842) and contains soil from each of the countries he freed. Recreational activities in the area include mountaineering and fishing. Andean tourists enjoy Mérida's cathedral, zoo, colonial museum, university campus, and unusual cable car. The cable car is the highest and longest in the world, climbing to above 15,000 feet. There are several hotels here. Mérida is known for its candied fruits and ruanas (Andean poncho-like woolen cloaks). Mérida's current population is approximately 230,000 (2000 est.).

SAN CRISTÓBAL , founded in 1561, is the capital of Tachira State in western Venezuela. A mountain city situated at the end of the Cordillera Mérida, it suffered great human loss and property damage in an earthquake which shook that part of the country in 1875. The 2000 population was estimated at 329,000. San Cristóbal is a commercial center for the cassava, corn, sugarcane, coffee, and pineapples grown near the city. The city's industries include factories which produce textiles, leather goods, shoes, cement, and cigarettes.

VALENCIA , the capital of Carabobo State in northern Venezuela, is one of the principal industrial and transportation centers in the country. It is situated at the western end of Lake Valencia, approximately 80 miles west of the capital. The city dates to the mid-16th century. It is an important producer of automobiles and parts, pharmaceuticals, food and dairy products, garments, cement, furniture, rubber goods, fertilizers, paper, textiles, soap, and vegetable oils. Colegio Internacional de Carabobo, offering a U.S. curriculum for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, is located five miles from the center of Valencia. The school has two computer labs, a science lab, an auditorium, cafeteria, recreational area, athletic field, and a library with nearly 13,500 volumes. Extracurricular activities include drama, dance, yearbook, literary magazine, field trips, and various trips. The school has approximately 25 full-time and 10 part-time teachers. Half of those teachers were American. Of the school's approximately 260 students, about 80 are American. Further information may be obtained by writing to the school at Apartado 103, Valencia. Valencia's population was estimated at 832,000 in 2000.


Geography and Climate

Venezuela is located on the north coast of South America, and covers 352,150 square milesabout the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. Caracas' altitude is about 2,700 feet above sea level, giving the city a permanent springtime climate.

The Orinoco River and the various mountain ranges, all branches of the Andes chain, divide the country into four distinct regions:

South of the Orinoco River are the wild and largely unexplored Guyana Highlands, rich in mineral resources and in developed and potential hydroelectric power. They are characterized by rugged relief and mesa-like formations. The climate ranges from temperate in the Gran Sabana to tropical on the fringes of the plateau.

North of the Orinoco are the "llanos" or plains. During the dry season (December-April) the entire area is almost desert-like. But during the rainy season, flooding rivers make the area muddy and practically impassable.

Spurs of the Andes Mountains run along each side of the Maracaibo basin and part of the seacoast. The bulk of Venezuela's population traditionally has lived in these highlands attracted by the temperate weather and fertile soil.

A tropical coastal plain stretches along most of Venezuela's 1,750-mile coastline. This narrow strip of land between mountains and sea widens in the west to form the Maracaibo basin. The climate is uniformly hot and humid.


Venezuela's population in 2000 was 18,105,000. Over 38 percent of the population was under 15 years of age, and 66 percent was under 30. Rapid population growth and migration from rural areas have produced densely populated cities containing over 84 percent of the population, while vast areas of the interior are sparsely populated.

Venezuela proudly regards itself as being a melting pot. About 20 percent of the population are Caucasian, 9 percent are black, 2 percent are Indian, and the remaining 69 percent are mixed race (mestizo).

Caracas is especially cosmopolitan. Around a quarter of its residents are immigrants and their descendents from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, most of whom came after the World War II. Smaller numbers of immigrants from other European countries also play an important role in the city's commercial and professional life. In the 1970s, the booming Venezuelan economy attracted large numbers of people from the other Caribbean and Andean countries. There are about 24,000 Americans in Venezuela, many of whom live in Caracas.

Public Institutions

Discovered by Columbus in 1498 on his third voyage to the New World, Venezuela was first explored by Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. According to legend, Ojeda named the country Venezuela (Little Venice) after seeing the Indian houses on stilts in Lake Maracaibo. It was one of the first New World colonies to revolt against Spain (1810), but it was not until 1821 that independence was achieved. Francisco de Miranda began the task. It was completed by the great hero and statesman of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, Venezuela's national hero and native son.

Venezuela, together with what are now Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, was part of the Union Gran Colombiana until 1830, when it withdrew and began its own existence as a sovereign state.

Until as recently as 1958, Venezuela's political history as an independent nation could be characterized as rule by a series of military dictators.

During General Juan Vicente Gomez' rule (1908-35), oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin, and Venezuela changed from a poor, largely agrarian country to one of the richest nations in Latin America.

The modern political forces set in motion by the new oil economy produced a brief experiment in democracy 1945-48, a military coup followed by a 10-year period of dictatorship under General Marcos Perez Jimenez, and finally the restoration of democracy in 1958. Former Presidents are Romulo Betancourt from the Accion Democratica (AD) Social Democratic party 1959-64; Raul Leoni (AD) 1964-69; Rafael Caldera from the Social Christian COPEI party 1969-74; Carlos Andres Perez (AD) 1974-79; Luis Herrera Campins (COPEI) 1979-84; Jaime Lusinchi (AD) 1984-89; Carlos Andres Perez (AD) 1989-93. Perez was removed peacefully after he was indicted by the Supreme Court. Ramon Velasquez became interim president until February 1994, when Rafael Caldera was once again inaugurated. President Hugo Chavez Frias came into office in February 1999.

Venezuela is a representative democracy. The constitution of 1999 provides for the direct election of the President every 6 years. The President is chief of state and head of the national executive branch, and he or she appoints the Vice-President. The President is assisted by Cabinet Members with the rank of Minister. State governors, legislators and municipal councilmen are elected locally.

The legislative branch consists of a unicameral National Assembly. The 165 representatives are elected by popular vote to serve 5-year terms.

The judicial branch consists of a Supreme Court and other courts on all different levels of government. The Republic of Venezuela is composed of 23 states and the Federal District that includes much of the Caracas metropolitan area.

Arts, Science, and Education

Venezuelan cultural life is centered in Caracas, a reflection of the capital's overwhelming political and financial influence. A quarter of the country's population lives in Caracas, a dramatic shift from the situation at the end of World War II when the city's population was about 250,000. In response to the petroleum boom and this population shift, numerous cultural and artistic institutions have been established. The luxurious Teresa Carreno performing arts complex opened in 1983 and is one of the most architecturally dramatic in the world. The Venezuelan Government has made a strong commitment to fostering culture, education, and the arts, backing these efforts with considerable state funding.

The National Cultural Council (CONAC), the major government funding source, actively promotes the arts and culture outside of Caracas as do individual state arts councils. Regional development councils, large state industries and private foundations also contribute to the arts. Foreign embassies sponsor performing artists on tour and the U.S.-Venezuelan binational centers also promote cultural and artistic activities.

Music is perhaps the best developed of Venezuela's cultural attractions. There are four major orchestras in Caracas alone. The National Symphony gives regular concerts at the Teresa Carreno Theater and often has visiting conductors and soloists. World-renowned musicians have performed with the National Symphony. The newer Municipal Orchestra was established to accompany the Municipal Opera and a variety of ballet and dance groups.

The Philharmonic Orchestra also has a regular concert season. Additionally, there is an active and excellent youth orchestra with several other youth orchestras around the country that nurture provincial talent and send their best students to Caracas for membership in the national youth orchestra. Also, choral music is pervasive with many groups each devoted to a particular choral speciality (baroque, modern, etc.). Popular musicjazz and rockis popular in Venezuela, and occasionally well-known entertainers come to Caracas. Most recently, Kenny G., Guns N' Roses, Robert Plant, and the B-52's have performed here. However, salsa and merengue remain the most popular among Venezuelans.

The Caracas Metropolitan Opera has a regular season in June and July, performing the standard repertoire with a mixture of artists from their own opera school as well as from Europe and the U.S. The opera school also gives workshop productions throughout the year, and independent entrepreneurs sponsor ad hoc performances.

Ballet has received enormous stature and impetus with the great success of the now world-renowned New World Ballet of Caracas which has two regular seasons, spring and fall. Many experimental groups are being spawned, founded by Venezuelans trained abroad. There are well-established ballet schools in Caracas as well as major cities of the interior, which give recitals. Many accept non-Venezuelan students. Baryshnikov has performed in Caracas as recently as 1993. Caracas is an active theater city with several plays being performed at any given time. Additionally, there are experimental groups, University players, children's theater, a black theater group near Caracas (Teatro Negro de Barlovento), the well-established Caracas Players who perform in English, and a venerable tradition of puppetry. Caracas has an annual theater festival, and is also the host of a biennial international theater festival. The International Theater Institute (ITI) has an office in Caracas.

The Venezuelan Institute of Folklore sponsors traditional festivals, regional fairs and dance groups in an effort to foster and preserve traditional Venezuelan culture. Such festival and other activities are often associated with local saints' days. For example, a popular dance known as Los Diablos Danzantes de Yare (the Dancing Devils of Yare) is performed on the feast of Corpus Christi. The village is approximately 50 miles from Caracas and the event draws a considerable crowd from the capital. Although this festival represents African influence on Venezuela, other festivals reflect the dominant Spanish influence on the country's folklore.

Private sector scientific activity is generally limited to instruction and some research, primarily in the social sciences. However, the Government's National Council for Scientific and Technological Investigations (CONICIT) plays a major role in developing science and technology in Venezuela. A bilateral agreement in science and technology between the U.S. and Venezuela provides the framework for mutually advantageous cooperative endeavors by our two countries in this field.

The arts flourish in Venezuela. The capital alone has three major museums: one devoted to Venezuelan painters, another to contemporary art beginning in the late 19th century and the third to fine arts with representations of all periods and all countries. Art galleries dot the city and are numerous, some with international connections. Provincial capitals also support local art museums. Venezuela's internationally known artists include Jesus Soto, Carlos Cruz, Hector Poleo, Alejandro Otero and his wife, Mercedes Pardo, and Cornelis Zitman. Art shows and auctions sponsored by such public service organizations as the Venezuelan American Association of University Women, the North American Association and Hadassah as fund-raising events, are very well attended.

The Venezuelan education system currently finds itself in a state of crisis. Educational planning was based on the premise of ever-increasing oil wealth, although petroleum revenues have, in fact, decreased in recent years. The oil boom's legacy, therefore, is an educational system that is overextended and underfunded. Yet the government remains committed to the notion that every citizen is entitled to a free education. The result is a student population that has increased more than seven times since 1958, including a university population that has risen more than 30 times in this period, and a Ministry of Education budget that has increased more than two-fold, yet is still considered inadequate.

There have been significant gains since the 1950s as a result of the government's policy of "Massification" of education. The adult literacy rate, for example, was 91% in 1995. In 1950, there were only four universities in Venezuela; today there are over 90 institutions of higher education. In 1958, there were 853,683 students in the entire system; today there are over 6 million.

The issue today in Venezuela is not quantity, but quality. The Ministry of Education has one of the largest budgets of any government department and its efforts now lie in adapting the curriculum to the demands of an increasingly technological society, in expanding compulsory education, and in upgrading teacher qualifications. However, the current financial difficulties and a demographic bulge (75 percent of the population is under 35 years of age) are likely to cause some dissatisfaction in the future.

Commerce and Industry

Venezuela is one of the wealthier nations in the hemisphere. In 1992, its GDP, measured at the official exchange rate, was $146.2 billion (2000 est.), or $6,200 per capita. The Government dominates the economy; State companies control the petroleum, minerals and basic industries. However, in 1989, an economic adjustment program was started in order to provide Venezuela with a market-oriented, diversified, and export-competitive economy.

Petroleum is and has been the cornerstone of the Venezuelan economy for over 50 years. 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 in 2000. A strong rebound in international oil prices fueled the recovery from the steep recession in 1999. Nevertheless, a weak nonoil sector and capital flight undercut the recovery. Venezuela is the fourth-leading supplier of imported crude and refined petroleum products to the U.S. This takes into account crude oil and refined products, as well as indirect imports via Caribbean refineries. Venezuela is one of the founding members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Venezuela's huge oil reserves will keep it a major oil producer for at least the next hundred years.

Venezuela's total exports in 2000 were $32.8 billion. Its most important nonpetroleum exports include aluminum, steel, iron ore, petro-chemicals, seafood, cement, coffee, cacao, and fruit. More than half of Venezuela's exports are to the U.S. It imported $14.7 billion worth of merchandise in 2000. Principal imports include machinery, transportation equipment, semi-manufactured goods and agricultural commodities. The U.S. supplies 53 percent of all imports.

In contrast to the highly concentrated pattern of Venezuela's exports, the internal economy is quite diversified. Hundreds of small-and medium-sized industries provide many of the products needed by a growing local market for consumer goods. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Venezuela encouraged foreign and domestic investment in the automobile, tire, and food production industries to reduce imports of consumer goods. During the boom years of the 1970s, Venezuela allowed more imports to satisfy growing domestic demand, while restricting foreign investment in line with general Andean Pact policy. Recently, however, Venezuela has liberalized foreign investment rules, and the Government has embarked on an ambitious privatization program.



Many consider a car to be essential in Caracas, although taxis and por puestos are plentiful. Traffic is usually heavy both during the week and on weekends leaving the city. Parking can be very difficult, particularly in older sections, but parking garages exist in many areas of the city. Bicycles and motorbikes are not safe due to the steep hills and heavy traffic. Most apartment buildings provide lockable parking for their tenants. Traffic moves on the right side of the road.

Public transportation in Caracas consists of buses, taxis, collective taxis (por puestos) and the clean and modern Metro system. All are overcrowded during morning, noon and evening rush hours. Buses are sometimes used by Americans, but they are slow and not always clean, comfortable or safe. Por puestos, which are cheap and travel fixed routes, are quite dependable.

The Metro system is clean and efficient though the network has not yet been fully completed. It runs through most major parts of town but service is not available to a few of the better parts of Caracas.

Taxis can be found on most main streets although they are scarce during rush hours and late at night. Several taxi companies have dispatcher service. Fares are currently inexpensive compared to the rates in major U.S. cities. There is a minimum charge and tips are not generally expected, although tipping is becoming more expected than previously. Prices increase with the lateness of the hour, the holiday seasons and out-of-town destinations. Take a map along, since many drivers are unfamiliar with the city.

International and Regional

The primary highway system is good, but often poorly marked, particularly in residential areas of cities. All major routes and connecting roads are paved. Mountain roads and some main roads suffer from landslides and washouts during the rainy season. Gas stations and garages can be found throughout the country.

All commercial flights, both domestic and international, use Maiquetia airport, about 15 miles from Caracas. American Airlines has daily flights to the U.S.through Miami, San Juan and JFK in New York. United has daily flightsthrough Miami and New York. Two Venezuelan airlines, Avensa and Viasa, also have daily flights to the U.S.

Two national airlines, Avensa and Linea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV), serve the principal cities of the country and many outlying areas not accessible by road. Both airlines have jet service between Caracas and the main cities of Venezuela.

Many carriers from Central and South American countries fly into Caracas, making travel to these countries relatively easy. There are also airlines from the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and Holland that fly into Caracas regularly.

Travel to some of the Caribbean islands may be complicated because of limited flight schedules.

Reservations to and from the U.S., particularly during the summer, Christmas and Easter seasons, are difficult to obtain on short notice. Personnel planning on arriving during these periods should request reservations well in advance.



Local telephone service is relatively reliable when the phone lines are working; however, some people have problems with the phone lines going totally dead for weeks and sometimes even months. Long-distance calls within Venezuela may be dialed directly. Some sections of Caracas also have direct dialing to the U.S. and such calls take little time. If it is necessary to go through the long-distance operator, delays may be expected during peak periods. AT&T and MCI calling cards can be used in Caracas to call the U.S. direct, and collect calls can be made as well. The American company, GTE, acquired a controlling interest in the Venezuelan phone company in 1992. Service has improved dramatically and is expected to continue to do so.

Radio-telegraph service between the U.S. and Venezuela is very good. Local telegrams within Venezuela, however, are unreliable and sometimes slower than regular mail.

Radio and TV

Caracas has a variety of TV programs in Spanish and English. There are satellite dishes on many of the buildings that capture HBO, Showtime, USA, Disney and news channels such as CNN. Cable is also available from two cable TV companies in Caracas at a cost comparable to the same service in the U.S. The Super Bowl, World Series, U.S. Open, and other major American sporting events are telecast here. Spanish soap operas are popular here along with game shows and sitcoms. Some American series are dubbed in Spanish.

Radio stations in Caracas are similar to those in the U.S. There are stations broadcasting Latin American music, U.S. rock, jazz and classical, in the same broadcast bands (FM and AM) as in the U.S.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Caracas has a lively and competitive press with seven daily newspapers. There are three major papers: conservative, business-orientated El Universal; center-left El Nacional, and centrist El Diario de Caracas, which feature in-depth coverage of Caracas and foreign news. Caracas also has an English-language newspaper, The Daily Journal, which publishes opinions of well-known U.S. columnists and uses wire services as its principal source of news. There are also two good daily financial newspapers. In addition, The Miami Herald and the The Wall Street Journal can be purchased at Caracas newsstands a day or two late, or received via mail subscriptions. Some 20 magazines are published in Venezuela. Among the more prominent news magazines are Bohemia, Zeta, Autentico, Momento, and Elite, Numero, Veneconomia and Venezuelan Economic Review are good sources of local economic news.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Caracas has many highly respected general practitioners and specialists of all types, many of whom have had U.S. training and speak English fluently. There are several clinics organized by groups of doctors that include facilities similar to well-equipped hospitals in the U.S. The quality of nursing care is generally below U.S. standards.

Caracas also has many U.S.-trained dentists, and many dental offices measure up to a great degree to the standards in the U.S., although some Americans have encountered problems. The cost of dental work in Caracas is generally lower than in the U.S.

Eye examinations by U.S.-trained specialists are available at reasonable prices, as are lenses and frames for glasses.

Selected pharmacies are open 24 hours daily on a rotational basis for use in case of emergencies. The schedule is printed in newspapers.

Community Health

Since 1936, a national health program has made Venezuela the largest relatively malaria-free tropical area in the world, although some resistant strains have shown up in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Many other diseases, including rabies, once endemic to the country, have been controlled.

Although health standards among the upper-and middle-classes are good, overall health conditions suffer from poor sanitation in the shack communities that surround the cities. Infectious hepatitis, amebiasis, and other intestinal problems, such as diarrhea caused by virus, bacteria or parasites, are health problems that may affect Americans. Gastroenteritis is one of the principal public health problems in Venezuela. Dengue fever, spread by mosquitos, is a rapidly expanding disease in most tropical areas. Individuals are advised to wear protective clothing and use insect repellent.

The climate in Caracas favors some allergy sufferers. However, the altitude, climate, and prevalence of tropical pollens during all seasons aggravate asthma and hay fever conditions. Sinus problems may also be aggravated. The frequency of respiratory infections such as colds is similar to that in the U.S.

Preventive Measures

The yellow immunization card is normally not checked when entering the country, but yellow fever vaccination is required for entry into many of the surrounding countries and islands. Because the vaccine is inconvenient to obtain locally, it is essential that visitors be vaccinated before arriving. Typhoid and tetanus immunizations are recommended. Immunizations against cholera are considered unnecessary. Gamma globulin has reduced the incidence of hepatitis A and personnel should take this injection every 3-6 months. Malaria is a problem in only a few areas. Mefloquine (lariam) or doxycycline is the recommended prophylaxis against malaria. The incidence of polio is similar to that of the U.S.

Sunburns are a common problem due to the close proximity of the equator, and you should use a good sunscreen to protect your skin. Sunscreens and suntan products are available in local pharmacies.

The city's faulty water pumping system has resulted in intermittent interruptions of the water supply in parts of the city. Tap water is not safe to drink and should be boiled before consumption. Nonfluoridated bottled water is available, and most apartments have bottled water delivered.

Caution should be used in eating tossed salads, slaws, raw or rare meat, and other possible sources of parasites. Cooking, boiling, or peeling is recommended. It is recommended not to eat raw seafood in the smaller towns outside Caracas.


Caracas has many flights from the U.S. arriving daily. United Airlines has daily flights from New York and Miami. American Airlines has daily flights from New York, Miami and San Juan. Viasa, a Venezuelan airline has daily flights from New York, Miami, Houston and San Juan. Avensa, another Venezuelan airline has daily flights from New York and Miami, and Aeropostal has a daily flight from Orlando.

A valid passport and a visa or tourist card are required. Tourist cards are issued on flights from the U.S. to Venezuela for persons staying less than ninety days. For current information concerning entry, tax, and customs requirements for Venezuela, travelers may contact the Venezuelan Embassy at 1099 30th St. N.W., Washington D.C. 20007, tel: (202) 342-2214, Internet: Travelers may also contact the Venezuelan consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Houston, San Francisco or San Juan.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Venezuela are strongly encouraged to register at the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas or the Consular Agency in Maracaibo and obtain updated information on travel and security within Venezuela. The U.S. Embassy is located at Calle Suapure and Calle F, Colinas de Valle Arriba, Caracas. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, telephone (011)(58)(212) 975-6411. In case of an after-hours emergency, callers should dial (011)(58)(212) 975-9821.

Cross-border violence occurs frequently in remote areas along the Colombian border in Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas states. U.S. citizens should consult the U.S. Embassy if they plan to visit these areas. Kidnapping, smuggling, and drug trafficking are common along the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

Most crime is economically motivated. Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations, along with the area around "Parque Simon Bolivar" near the "Capitolio" area in downtown Caracas. There have been cases of theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes. The "barrios" (the poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas) and isolated urban parks, such as "El Calvario" in the "El Silencio" area of Caracas, can be very dangerous. Most criminals are armed with guns or knives, and will use force. Theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked in isolated areas or on city streets is common. A guarded garage is not always a guarantee against theft. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables or belongings in open view even in locked vehicles. There have been incidents on Margarita Island where tourists have been targeted for robbery and theft.

Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas and travelers should exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Also, four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted in several recent carjackings.

Sporadic political demonstrations occur in urban centers. These tend to focus primarily on or near university campuses or secondary schools, and sometimes turn violent. Most tourist destinations, however, remain unaffected. The number and intensity of demonstrations have fluctuated widely. Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations.

Travelers may keep informed of local developments by following the local press (including "The Daily Journal," an English-language newspaper), radio and TV, and by consulting their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers for current information on demonstrations, the purpose and location of which are often announced in advance.

U.S. citizens visiting certain areas along the border with Colombia may be subject to search and seizure. For further information regarding travel to these areas, contact the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

A number of U.S. citizens have reported that Venezuelan officials at airports, immigration offices, and police stations have demanded bribes. U.S. citizens should report immediately to the U.S. Embassy any such demand.

U.S. citizens who do not have Venezuelan cedulas (national identity cards) must carry their passports with them at all times. Photocopies of passports prove valuable in facilitating their replacement if lost or stolen.

All pets entering Venezuela require a health certificate and a rabies certificate, issued by a veterinarian within the last 12 months, certifying that the animal is free from infections or contagious diseases, including rabies. For pets entering from the U.S., these certificates must be accompanied by a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, certifying that the person signing the health certificate is a veterinarian. A Venezuelan consul must stamp and sign the health certificate and rabies certificate (and letter, if applicable). These documents must accompany the pet when shipped. Inquiries should be directed to the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. Pets must not arrive as cargo; they must accompany the owner.

An exit permit is necessary to take a pet out of Venezuela. It is obtained from the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture. A rabies vaccine certificate and health certificate must be obtained from a veterinarian and these certificates must then be taken to the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain the exit permit. This must be done 15 days before actual departure. Pets must leave accompanied.

The basic Venezuelan currency unit is the Bolivar (abbreviated "Bs.") and is divided into 100 centimos. The bolivar is widely believed to be overvalued by as much as 50%.

Foreign exchange transactions must take place through commercial banks or exchange houses at the official rate. Hotels and banks often restrict transactions to their clients only. Money exchange by tourists is most easily arranged at "casas de cambio" (exchange houses). Credit cards are accepted at most upscale tourist establishments. Visa, MasterCard and American Express have representatives in Venezuela.

Bills are printed in denominations of Bs. 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1000. Venezuelan coins, followed by their local names, are: Bs25 (medio); or Bs50 (real); Bs. 1.00 (bolivar, bolo, or "B" as pronounced in English); Bs. 2.00 (dos bolivares); and Bs. 5.00 (cinco bolivares).

The metric system is used in all local weights and measures.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 6 La Paradura del Niño (Parade of Baby Jesus)

Feb/Mar. Carnival*

Mar/Apr. Palm Sunday*

Mar/Apr. Holy Thursday*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Holy Saturday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar. 19 St. joseph's Day

Apr. 19 Declaration of Independence

May 1 Labor Day

May 3 La Cruz de Mayo

May/June Ascension Day*

May/June Corpus Christi*

June 24 Battle of Carabobo

July 5 Independence Day

July 24 Bolivar's Birthday

Aug. 15 Assumption Day

Oct. 12 Dia de la Raza/Columbus Day

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Dec. 8 Immaculate Conception

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

General Information and Background

Alexander, Robert Jackson. Venezuela's Voice for Democracy: Conversations and Correspondence with Romulo Betancourt. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990.

Bauman, Janice and Young, Leni. Guide to Venezuela. Ernesto Armitano ed.: Caracas, 1989.

Dalton, L. Venezuela. Gordon Press: 1976.

Ellner, Steve. Venezuela's Movimiento al Socialismo: From Guerrilla Defeat to Innovative Politics. Duke University Press: Durham, N.C., 1988.

Fox, Geoffrey. The Land and People of Venezuela. Harper Collins Publishers: U.S.A., 1991.

Good, Kenneth. Into the Heart: One Man's Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomama. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Haggerty Richard. Venezuela: A Country Study. U.S.G.P.O: Washington, 1984.

Hellinger, Daniel. Venezuela: Tarnished Democracy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Herman, Donald L., ed. Democracy in Latin America: Colombia & Venezuela. Westport, CT: Green-wood Publishing, 1988.

Hofer, Hans. Inside Guides, Venezuela. Hofer Press Pte. Ltd: Singapore, 1993.

Kaye, Dorothy Karmen. Venezuelan Folkways. Blaine-Etheridge: 1976.

Living in Venezuela. Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry: VenAmCham, 1993.

Lombardi, John V. Venezuela: The Search for Order, The Dream of Progress. Oxford University Press: New York, 1982.

Lye, Keith. Take a Trip to Venezuela. New York: F. Watts, 1988.

Masur, Gerhard. Simon Bolivar. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, 1969.

Moron, Guillermo. A History of Venezuela (translated from Spanish). International Publications Service: New York, 1971.

Morrison, Marion. Venezuela. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1989.

Naim, Moses. Paper Tigers & Minotaurs, The Politics of Venezuela's Economic Reforms. Carnegie Endowment: 1993.

Rheinheimer Key, Hans. Topo: the Story of a Scottish Colony Near Caracas, 1825-1827. Brookfield, VT: Gower Publishing, 1989.

Waddell, D.A.G., et al. Venezuela. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1990.

Winter, Jane Kohen. Venezuela. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1991.

Specialized Studies

Betancourt, Romulo. Venezuela's Oil. George Allen & Unwin: London 1978.

Bond, Robert D. ed. Contemporary Venezuela and Its Role in International Affairs. University Press: New York, New York, 1977.

Carillo, Jorge Salazar. Oil in the Economic Development of Venezuela. Praeger Publishers: New York, 1976.

Martz, John D. and Myers, David J. eds. Venezuela: The Democratic Experience. Praeger: New York, 1977.

Powell, John Duncan. Political Mobilization of the Venezuelan Peasant. Harvard: 1971.

Ray, Talton. The Politics of the Barrios of Venezuela. Berkeley: 1969.

Tugwell, Franklin. The Politics of Oil in Venezuela. Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1975.

Wright, Winthrop R. Cafe Con Leche: Race, Class, and National Image in Venezuela. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1990.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Venezuela
Region: South America
Population: 23,542,649
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy Rate: 91.1%
Compulsory Schooling: 10 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.2%
Libraries: 701
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 4,262,221
  Secondary: 377,984
  Higher: 550,783
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 91%
  Secondary: 40%
Teachers: Primary: 202,195
  Higher: 43,833
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 21:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 93%
  Secondary: 46%

History & Background

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the most northerly of the countries of South America and the sixth in size. Venezuela was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his third journey to the Indies in 1498. Venezuela occupies an area of 912,050 square kilometers (352, 143 square miles) and is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on the north; on the east by the disputed territory of English Guyana; on the south by Brazil; and on the west by Colombia.

The population in 2000 was estimated to be 23.5 million. The distribution by age groups is as follows: 0-14 years, 33 percent; 15-64 years, 63 percent; 65 years and over, 4 percent. Venezuela is a highly centralized country; about 75 percent of the people are located in only 20 percent of the national territory. Therefore, the main educational, professional, industrial, and health centers are located in large cities: Caracas, Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Ciudad Guayana, Puerto La Cruz, and Valencia. Since colonial times Caracas has been, and still is today, the main political and administrative unit of the country; it enjoys the reputation of being one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Latin America, as evidenced by its modern architecture and highways. Caracas is about 40 minutes from the international airport, which serves as a gateway between North and South America.

Three main ethnic groups make up the Venezuelan population: European, African, and Indian. Despite the historical and cultural differences that have traditionally separated these groups, Venezuela is not a country of racial rivalry. The country can be considered a rarity in terms of racial integration; however, there are few pockets of regions that are inhabited by predominantly Indian or African descendants. The mestizo population amounts to 67 percent, the whites to 21 percent, the blacks to 10 percent, and the Amerindians to 2 percent. Compared with other Latin American countries, Venezuela never had a large Indian population. After its discovery by Spain, the Indian population was highly diminished, mainly because of the European dominance in strategic warfare planning and warfare superiority (horses, guns, and steel), but also because the natives lacked immunity to many of the diseases brought by the Europeans (Diamond 1999). Fewer than 150,000 Indians were counted in the 1981 census, and more than one third were Guajiros, a group located in Zulia, a northwest state bordering Colombia. There are also a significant number of Indians in Amazonas, a southern state bordering Brazil. Some of these tribes still speak their native dialects, but Spanish is the official language of this predominantly Catholic nation.

Major social and economic divisions were predominant in Venezuela during the colonial times. Education was primarily Catholic and only available to a small minority, which was basically comprised of Europeans and their descendants, typically known as criollos. Because of the rapid political developments in the Spanish Empire and in the colonies, these levels of inequalities were soon to disappear. On the one hand, Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, thus weakening the legal and economic foundation of the Crown. On the other hand, at the end of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, a small group of educators, intellectuals, and priests were highly influenced by the literature of the Enlightenment. This literature praised the rights of the individual, the ideals of justice and freedom for all, and promoted education of the masses as a means to achieve democracy and self-realization. The Enlightenment laid out the philosophical and legal principles for the emergence of nationhood, first in Europe, and later in Latin America.

Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), better known as "The Liberator," (because of his leading role in the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) was a strong believer in these philosophical principles. Therefore, it is no coincidence that historians from different schools have considered Bolívar's contribution to Spanish-American independence as a product of political European thought. In particular, the philosophies of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, foundations for the French Revolution (1789), have been considered political tools for the independence of Spanish-America. Thus, the idealistic vision of equality expressed by these philosophies can be considered the backbone of Bolívar's proclamation of free education in all regions.

The ideals of equality upheld by the French Revolution are highly relevant not only because of social justice, but also because of their influence on the national educational systems in the colonies. Different features of the Venezuelan educational system, such as the degree of centralization, the structure of schools and the well-rounded curriculum, are also a product of this European influence. According to Montesquieu, the only way to acquire the virtues of a Republic was through a good educational system. It was no coincidence, then, that Bolívar added a moral branch to his form of government. His famous motto clearly depicts this philosophy of the time: "moral y luces son nuestras primeras necesidades" ("morals and education are our primary needs"). When Bolívar died in 1830, there were 96 schools in the whole country. By 1839 the number of schools had more than doubled, reaching 215 schools. However, the number of school-age students who attended school was very low, only about 4.7 percent in 1840. Although education had become more accessible than in previous years, it was still a privilege available to limited numbers of students at any level. By 1844, there were 510 university students; between 1805 and 1848, the university graduated 247 bachilleres (high school diploma holders) and 45 licenciados (university diploma holders) and between 1827 and 1832, some 247 bachilleres and 48 licenciados. In 1844 there was a population of 1,218,716, and the school enrollment figures included 11,969 students in primary education, 621 students in secondary education, and 510 students at the university level.

Although the emphasis on education was present throughout the nineteenth century, the goal of free and compulsory education was not strongly pursued until the regime of President Antonio Guzmán Blanco (1829-1899). On June 27, 1870 he issued a decree concerning free and compulsory elementary education as the responsibility of the national government. This initiative made possible the organization of the whole educational system, establishing the Ministry of Public Education (1881). Also, the first teachers' schools were established. Within five years, the number of children in school rose from about 8,000 to nearly 23,000. Two universities were created: the National University of Zulia in Maracaibo (1891), followed by the National University of Carabobo in Valencia (1892). However, the National University of Carabobo was closed and did not reopen until 1958. By 1897 more attention was paid to secondary education which consisted of secondary, normal, and technical schools. Secondary education consisted of six years of education in two three-year cycles, after which the student was awarded the degree of bachiller. In 1909 the enrollment figure for primary students was 48,869, of whom only 5,799 attended private schools; the majority of students attended the national, federal, and municipal schools. There were 3,565 students in secondary education, 1,343 of whom attended private schools. In terms of enrollment, the major cities had the leading number of students, while the provinces were almost in a state of illiteracy.

During the long dictatorship (1909-1935) of Juan Vicente Gómez (1857-1935), there were no major developments in the educational system in Venezuela. In 1935, after his death, the need for a teachers' college led to the creation of the National Pedagogic Institute in Caracas. This period also witnessed a significant expansion of public education to the provinces. The official curriculum for primary schools first appeared in 1944. This curriculum remained in effect for nearly 30 years. The dictatorship (1948-1958) of Marcos Pérez Jiménez also represented a low point in the educational system in Venezuela. The regime did not support an open and liberal education, and fearing a political uprising, several universities were closed or were under-funded. The education budget was reduced, and the number of graduating or entering students drastically decreased. During this time, the country also went through a period of massive human rights abuses; political parties were banned, as was the importation of progressive literature. The government was inclined to support the development of the physical infrastructure of the country (highways, public buildings, etc.) rather than the intellectual growth of the population.

In 1958, the triumph of democracy over dictatorship brought new light and hope to the educational system in Venezuela. Several universities opened throughout the country, and new plans were conceived for the whole country. At least six years of primary school were compulsory until 1980, when the Organic Law of Education was passed. In 1961 the new constitution established the full support of the government for a plan backing free education at all levels. However, private education still had more prestige in the Venezuelan society. Although the government was able to improve the standards and attract high quality teachers with higher salaries, the private sector was more successful in modernizing the educational system and attracting students by offering bilingual and more international-type education.

Since the 1970s the Venezuelan educational system has expanded substantially, in both enrollment figures and the number of teachers at each level. Primary enrollments rose by 30 percent and secondary enrollment by over 50 percent, while university enrollment nearly doubled. In 1985 the literacy rate for individuals 15 years or older was 88.4 percent. One other relevant factor is that Venezuela is a very young country; about 75 percent of the total population is under 35 years of age. Although this is a relatively common figure for a Latin American country, it is no coincidence that Venezuela's prosperous economy, mainly because of the oil boom of the 60s and 70s, has also contributed to the population growth. It is expected that by the year 2035, this nation will double its current population. However, due to the ups and downs of the oil market in recent times, this heavily oil-dependent nation faces new social, economic, and educational challenges. The nation will have to try to continue to run the current infrastructure with a reduced and dwindling operating budget. At the same time, it will need to expand its educational system in accordance with its population growth. And lastly, it will need to incorporate new technologies into the classroom in order to keep up with the rest of the world.

At the outset of the twenty-first century, an unprecedented era of sweeping reform began to change the structure of Venezuela's educational system. The national government undertook to revise the range and goals set by the previous administrations. Pilot schools were created, with the participation of the community, in order to evaluate new programs. The outcome of this phase is yet unreported, but the evaluation process has sparked criticism. One area of conflict exists between supporters of a government-backed school system that is very nationalistic in principle and other sectors that back an open and liberal system of education at all levels.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

According to the recently rewritten constitution of Venezuela (1999), education is "democratic, free and compulsory." At the same time, this constitution establishes that "education is a public service and is based on the respect for all philosophical schools," and it "has the purpose of developing the creative potential of each individual." The main difference between this constitution and the one written in 1961 is that the current constitution establishes that education is free and compulsory through high school. Constitutionally speaking, higher education is also free, although not compulsory. This may sound incredible to teachers and students abroad, but for the last 40 years, the central government has made a resourceful effort to keep formal education free and accessible through all levels.

The newly constituted Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports is the institutional branch that oversees the implementation of new educational laws created by the President and congress. This institution is run by the Minister of Education, who has the authority to make changes or regulations to the whole educational system in conjunction with congress. Private institutions must be registered with the Ministry of Education and must follow the national curriculum and legislation. All private institutions receive some type of funding from the central government. Generally, this funding is based criteria such as whether it is charity or religion-based. The educational philosophy established in the constitution is that of a modern state: supporting education as the main tool for personal, social, economic and democratic development. It is also established that the central government will make the investments in education in accordance with recommendations set forth by the United Nations.

The Ley Orgánica de Educación, (Law of Organic Education) of 1980, establishes in article 14 that the educational system in Venezuela is an organic ensemble where different policies and services are integrated in order to guarantee the unity of the educational process in and outside the school quarters. Article 15 establishes a technical and administrative unit designed to pay close attention to all the requirements of the educational process; that is, to maintain connections between all levels of the system. Article 16 establishes that the Venezuela educational system is constituted as follows: preprimary Education, Basic Education, Diversified (Professional), and Higher Education. And the sub-branches are: Special Education, Art Education, Military Education, Religious Education, Adult Education, and Extracurricular Education.

In relation to Diversified and Professional Education, article 23 of the Ley Orgánica de Educación reads:

[The] objective is to continue the teaching process that the student started in the previous levels; to widen the integral development of the student and his or her cultural background; to offer him or her opportunities so that he or she can define an area of study or work; to bring him or her a scientific, humanistic, and technical training that would allow the student to enter the labor market and to orient the student to continue on to Higher Education.

Universities are governed by a separate legislation: The Law of Universities. This law gives universities relatively autonomous freedom for self-government, which includes restriction of law enforcement from campuses. This stipulation has proven successful in the politicallycharged atmosphere traditionally associated with universities.

Although these are the main legal foundations of the Venezuelan educational system, Venezuela is currently undergoing a process of political and educational change; that is, the President and Congress are currently debating the articulation of new laws concerning the reform of the whole educational system.

Educational SystemOverview

Education in Venezuela is compulsory up to high school. Classes are conducted in Spanish in non-sectarian schools. Education is free for all, and every citizen has the right to attend public schools. The educational system in Venezuela is highly centralized. For this reason, changes or innovations that occur will affect the whole country. Public and private schools are subject to supervision by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. Private schools must meet the same standards as those required in the public schools. For all levels of education there are public and private institutions. The structure of the whole educational system is comprised of Basic Education (Educación Básica ), which lasts nine years (from 5 to 14 years); Diversified Secondary Education (Educación Media Diversificada ), which lasts 2 years (14 to 16); and Specialized Secondary Education (Educación Media Profesional ), which lasts three years (from 14 to 17), after which the student is awarded a technical degree. Secondary education (Educación media ) is divided into two cycles: Diversified and Professional. Training for bachilleres in science, arts, or humanities lasts two years, and training for professional or mid-level technicians técnicos medios lasts three years.

The educational system includes preprimary through higher and professional education. There are also a number of technical and trade schools for those who prefer a less formal education or for those who need to enter the labor market at a faster rate. The country has 900 high schools and 17 public universities. Venezuela is a very young country; the average age is 33 years. The last census showed a 91 percent literacy rate; the remaining 9 percent includes mostly minorities or deeply impoverished people.

Higher education is provided by universities, institutes, university colleges, and university institutes. There are two ecclesiastic university institutes and three military university institutes. These institutions are grouped in two sub-systems: Institutes and University Colleges, mainly for short courses of study (2 1/2 to 3 years) and Universities, mainly for long courses of study (five or six years), leading to the award of the Licenciado or to an equivalent professional title such as Engineer. Courses of study are Basic Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Agricultural and Marine Sciences, Health Sciences, Social Sciences, Education, Humanities, Art and Letters, and Military Sciences. Public universities are Independent (with autonomy) and Experimental. Access to higher education is carried out through the Oficina de Planificación del Sector Universitario (OPSU). Students generally take a national test before they are selected to a particular university or career. Some departments offer independent admission tests beyond the national test, prueba de aptitud académica. The grading system is on a scale from 1 to 20. The minimum passing mark is 10, and the maximum is 20. Some experimental institutions have a 1 to 5 grading scale, others a 1 to 9 grading scale.

The academic year for public education starts in September and ends in June. Examinations are given nationally each year. At the end of the year, students who have done poorly have the opportunity to pass the course by passing a make-up exam. Although education is generally free, less than 15 percent of the university age population attends the university on a full-time basis. Books, transportation, and daily expenses still remain the main burdens for the majority of the population. The current educational and economic reforms in Venezuela seek to address these issues of inequality and discrimination. The government faces the challenge of bettering the lives of a large number of uneducated people, while addressing the need for jobs in a country where unemployment hovers at 20 percent.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preschool education in Venezuela is free but not compulsory. There are many public and private institutions caring for children between the ages of three and six. They include kindergarten, day care, and nursery schools. In recent years the urban areas have witnessed a boom of private institutions caring for preprimary students. Some of these schools offer bilingual education and follow the strictest educational curriculum, comparable to those in developed countries. Due to the high cost of these institutions, the students who attend them have customarily been from the middle and the upper middle class.

Under the present educational system, primary education lasts nine years. All instruction is in Spanish, but there are a number of bilingual schools that also teach in English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The majority of primary schools in Venezuela are coeducational, and both men and women teach at this level. Approximately 2.7 million students, about 86.6 percent of the relevant school population, were enrolled in the primary system during the 1982-1983 school year. Most of the children in the primary schools fall within the 6 to 14 year old range. In the decade between 1974 and 1984, enrollment grew from 1,924,040 to 2,660,940, which is about 75 percent urban and 25 percent rural. About 88.4 percent of primary students are in public schools and 11.6 percent in private schools, but private education is largely urban. All institutions must be registered and supervised by the Ministry of Education. There are four classifications of public (official) schools: national, autonomous, state, and municipal. National schools enroll the largest number of students (81 percent urban), followed by state schools (54 percent urban), municipal schools (82 percent urban), and autonomous schools (88 percent urban).

According to the national census of 1950, only 50 percent (972,467) of the children of school age were enrolled. About 50 percent of the students that were ten years old or older were illiterate. However, there has been a steady progress in the number of students enrolled since 1958. In 1956-1957 there were 694,193 children in elementary schools, 561,367 in the public schools, and 132,826 in private schools. In 1961 the total elementary enrollment had risen to 1,254,255. In the 1980s and 1990s these figures had sharply increased; so had the number of school dropouts.

According to the Ministry of Education students registered in basic education from grade one to grade nine for the academic year 1988-1989 totaled more than 3.7 million. This number steadily increased each year, reaching almost 3.9 million in 1989-1990, approximately 4.0 million in 1990-1991, and nearly 4.2 million in 1991-1992, where it remained for the next several years before dropping slightly again in 1995-1996 to approximately 4.1 million. However, the next year (1996-1997) it went back up to approximately 4.2 million again. And the next year (1997-1998) it increased yet again, to more than 4.3 million.

As for dropouts, according to the Ministry of Education, student desertion in basic education from grade one to grade nine for the academic year 1985-1986 totaled 286,677. This number increased the following year (1986-1987) to 346,310. For the next several years it decreased steadily, hitting 249,343 in 1989-1990. After that it steadily increased each year, approaching half a million in 1994-1995. The number then declined dramatically the following year (1995-1996) to 226,291. In the academic year 1996-1997 student desertion in basic education from grade one to grade nine totaled 253,873.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Venezuelan educational system was undergoing sweeping reforms led by the administration of President Hugo Chávez (1999-2006). An experimental phase started in September of 1999 and includes 525 "Bolivarian schools" all over the country. The purpose of this program is to create a new educational philosophy inspired by the ideas of Simón Bolívar. According to this philosophy, there must be a permanent dialogue between the school system and the needs of the social community. The "Bolivarian schools" emerge as an answer to the educational crisis in Venezuela, and they intend to rescue the Latin American tradition concerning state-run education. In addition, these schools will have as one of their prime objectives to promote the advancement of the community and to teach more thoroughly the legacy of Simón Bolívar. The administration of President Chávez considers that under the old system "education" and "culture" were viewed separately; culture was considered an extracurricular activity and not an integral part of the educational agenda. The Bolivarian schools will try to bridge this gap by bringing forth a system that integrates these two elements. These schools aspire to create a leading model throughout the country in terms of technology, science, performing and visual arts, and sports. According to the Chávez administration, the teaching philosophy of the "Bolivarian schools" can be summarized as follows:

  • To be a model of integral attention for social equity.
  • To provide participation, autonomy, and democracy.
  • To provide a school system that values and respects students, the culture, and the community.
  • To be a model for permanent teaching improvement.
  • To be aware that the Bolivarian Schools are for the community and with community participation.

Since this project remains in an experimental phase, no data is available regarding success, difficulties, results, or areas where innovation is needed.

Secondary Education

The Ministry of Education has begun a thorough revision of the whole educational system in Venezuela, intending to comply with the regulations approved by the Ley Orgánica de Educación (1980). At the same time, the Ministry of Education goals include redesigning the curriculum to make it more cohesive, in order to prepare students for the challenges of the twenty-first century. Most critics consider the old system to be obsolete and outdated.

According to article 12 of the Law of Education(Ley de Educación 1940), education in Venezuela was divided into Preprimary, Primary, Secondary, Normal, Especial, Technical, Artistic, and Higher Education. Secondary education was divided in two cycles. The first cycle had a duration of four years and provided students with general scientific and humanistic education. The second cycle, which was considered a pre-college cycle, had a duration of two years and intended to have a complete curriculum, including philosophy and literature, physics and mathematics, or biology. Upon completion of this last cycle, the student was eligible for a high school diploma, bachiller. In 1969 the government entered a revision process of the whole educational system called La Reforma Educativa. During the period of the educational reform two decrees were approvedthe 120 decree and the 136 decree.

The 120 decree regulated secondary and technical education and established that these levels would have two cycles: a common cycle lasting three years and a second diversified cycle with a minimum duration of two years. As a consequence, less emphasis was placed on the Technical Schools, a project that the national government recaptured in 1984 and 1989 respectively. The first cycle was called Ciclo Básico Común" and provided students a general cultural background as well as vocational training. The second cycle, called Ciclo Diversificado, had among its objectives to continue training in the sciences or humanities (for students in secondary education) and to continue training in general cultural background as well as professional orientation according to their vocation (for students in the technical education track). Once the Ciclo Diversificado was approved, whether in secondary or technical education, students completing the designated program were awarded the degree of bachiller, majoring in a selected area of concentration.

The 136 decree regulated the Educación Normal and established that studies pursued through this track had two cycles: a basic cycle, which lasted two years, and a second cycle, which also lasted two years. The Ciclo Diversificado of the Educación Normal was to train teachers for preprimary school and primary education. Upon completion of the Ciclo Diversificado, a student would be awarded a degree in his or her specific concentration. This degree allowed students to continue on with their education at the university level. In 1972 a new degree was created, which established two cycles for the Educación Normal : a basic cycle, with a duration of one year and a second Ciclo Diversificado, with a duration of three years.

In 1973 a resolution was passed, establishing that the Ciclo Diversificado would include secondary, normal, and technical education. This cycle had two areas: 1) a common area, which included compulsory courses for all type of concentrations, and 2) a diversified area, which included specific courses according to each concentration. Following the Educacion Normal, secondary education offered two lines of concentrations: preprimary and primary education with a duration of three years. Upon completing this level of education, students would be awarded the degree of Teacher, with the major in a specific area. These degrees were equivalent to that of a bachiller in Educación Normal. That same year, a program of industrial internships was established, which targeted students in the last two years of their technical studies. In 1977 the following technical schools were created with an experimental nature: agricultural, commercial, industrial, and assistance-type. In 1978 new programs of internships were created for students in the sub-areas of study. These internships were to be extended to other majors and were to last at least six months.

In 1980 the law entitled Ley Orgánica de Educación was passed. This law established that the Diversified and Professional Education program would last no less than two years. Its objective was to continue the educational process of the student and to widen the integral cultural background by offering opportunities so that the student would be able to define an area of interest. At the same time, this level of education had a good global perspective; training was provided in the sciences, the humanities, and the technical areas. In addition, this law intended to prepare students for professional careers right after high school or for admission into the university. The curriculum for preprimary and primary education, as well as for those concentrating on music and sports, was progressively diminished after the 1981-1982 academic year.

In 1982, resolution number four established that the Ciclo de Formación Profesional de Educación Técnica had a duration of two years and an experimental nature, including the following concentrations: Agriculture, Industrial, Assistance, Commerce, and Administrative Services. Students graduated in this cycle would be awarded the degree of Técnico Medio in their specific areas of concentration. The General Regulation of the Ley Orgánica de Educación was passed in 1986. This Regulation established that the Educación Media Diversificada y Profesional belonged to the third level of the educational system. It would have a duration of two years and would include bachilleres and técnicos medios the student" area of concentration. Also, both degrees would allow students to continue with their college education.

The term "Educación Media" (secondary education) appears for the first time in the Ley Orgánica de Educación in 1948, which established that the curriculum in the second cycle included studies in the humanities and professional training. It also established that the first two years of this cycle were compulsory for all middle schools and that the schools must pay attention to vocational and/or professional training. Upon completion of these two years, students were able to pursue professional training or the regular courses leading to the bachillerato (high school course work). The bachillerato took approximately five years to complete, including the two mandatory years for all. Also, the professional training took from two to six years, according to the nature of the concentration. The artistic curriculum was taught in the first cycle as well as the second cycle, and was regulated by special policies.

In 2001 the structure of secondary education came as a supplement of the Educación Básica, which lasts nine years (from 5 to 14 years of age). The diversified secondary education (Educación Media Diversificada ) level lasts two years (ages 14 to 16), and the student is awarded a high school diploma (título de bachiller ). The length of Specialized Secondary Education (Educación Media profesional ) program is three years (ages 14 to 17) and the student is awarded a technical degree. Secondary education (educación media ) is divided into two cycles: diversified, which is a two-year program to train bachilleres in science, arts and/or humanities and professional, a three-year program to train mid-level technicians (técnicos medios ).

Current Reforms: The most recent reports available on the educational system in Venezuela show that Secondary Education is in a state of crisis. This level has serious problems in relation to quality, equipment, ethics, and enhancement. Most importantly, the system was viewed as a unitary structure and did not have the tools to carry out the main educational objectives. In addition, the needs of the educational system have changed over time, therefore, a thorough evaluation of the former goals are necessary, in order to be up-to-date with the current goals and challenges. Several significant problems challenge the secondary education system. The quality of education is of concernpaticularly in the areas of language (literature) and mathematicsbecause students seem to lack the minimum skills to successfully continue with their personal growth after graduation. Also, students have problems adapting to different social environments and situations, i.e., students demonstrate little respect for others, poor work ethics, and negative attitudes toward peers. Additionally, the national government is aware that students need more than just exposure to current technologies; in most instances, they also need hands-on training in how to use e-mail and navigate the Internet, for example.

In order to tackle some of these problems, the proposed educational reform in Venezuela has the following goals: to place emphasis on the integral development of the individual, taking into account rationality, creativity, self-awareness, responsibility, common sense, and the contribution that the individual can make to society; to promote equal opportunities for all, regardless of sex, age, national origin, ethnic or religious background, and social status; to guarantee education for all citizens, i.e., to strengthen the good points of the educational system and to evaluate areas of concern such as desertion, failure, and so forth; to modify the approach of rote memorization and to turn the educational experience into a live process, where the mind and ethical principles are emphasized, i.e., to give students the necessary tools to develop a critical mind; to prepare students to carry out a life project, i.e, to prepare the student for life as well as to teach him or her how to have personal satisfaction from his or her achievements; to prepare the student to be an active and cooperative individual in society; to create a network of institutions throughout the country with the prime objective to execute the government educational projects coherently; to shift the supervision procedure of schools by eliminating the simple collection of data and turning the school into a permanent academic supportive entity; to reduce centralization of the educational system as a whole; and to improve the quality of education and learning by training competent teachers and creating a learning environment for those teachers, incorporating new curriculum according to the student's development, utilizing meaningful teaching methodologies, and creating a good administration center.

New Curriculum: The Ministry of Education has established a model for a new curriculum development. This curriculum is to serve as a theoretical reference for schools and teachers, so that there will be a coherent orientation and implementation across the board. The educational reform for Secondary Education is based on the notion of a holistic approach and of curriculum integration.

Underlying education reform is the belief that education is a driving force toward positive change in a society. Education reformers in Venezuela believe that it is essential to have a common curriculum in order to maintain common social practices and teach community values. Additionally, it is expected that schools should separate their goals from other social processes, such as political propaganda, commercial advertisement, and public demonstration. Furthermore, the purpose of education is to make better and more effective citizens and, at the same time, help students fulfill their goals. Finally, the learning experience should be viewed as an active process, where both students and teachers participate.

The curriculum is designed to implement the following principles: 1) as active member within the educational process, the student is looking for solutions to common problems; 2) the student is in a constant state of adaptation due to the changing internal (school) and external (society) environment; 3) the school offers courses with a strong social, political, economic, and cultural content help the student to become a critical thinker; 4) the school conceives the teacher to be important tool for social change; 5) the school implements a methodology that integrates the arts and the social and natural sciences; 6) this new curriculum demands an active, flexible, and thoughtful method, based on democratic principles that would combine practical experience along with theoretical understanding.

Upon completion of the Secondary Education reforms, it is expected that students will learn the Spanish language very well; will understand a second language and will express themselves well in a second language. Students are expected to develop powerful critical thinking skills and be able to apply analytical skills in a variety of contexts. Students will actively and ethically participate in the enhancement and transformation of society and will behave in an ethical, responsible and independent manner. Students will further be expected to become sufficiently independent to continue research and personal growth on their own and value physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual development. Students will be expected to demonstrate artistic and literary sensitivity. Finally, students will be prepared to enter the labor force.

As in the case of the "Bolivarian Schools," these educational reforms have just been recently proposed, and the data regarding their implementation and results is unavailable. But it is evident that the educational system at this level is also undergoing a sweeping process of transformation.

Higher Education

The rapid economic and population growth that Venezuela has experienced during the last 30 years has tremendously changed the educational needs of the country as a whole. In 1994 higher education accounted for 43.6 percent of the national educational budget, representing 15.3 percent of the national budget. This growth has created the need for an army of newly trained professionals such as engineers, doctors, dentists, technicians, and educators. The university system in Venezuela has played a significant role in training these professionals. Public and private universities, including private institutes, are in charge of higher education. There are 17 public universities and 18 private universities.

Some of these universities are very specialized while others are more diverse and traditional. Public universities are typically well endowed. However, recent instability in the Venezuelan economy has reduced the government's resources to keep up with the costs of higher education. This financial crisis has caused a high number of strikes and demonstrations in which both professors and students have participated.

The higher educational system offers bachelors, master's, and doctorate degrees. In 1972, there were 89 graduate programs. By 1994, there were 1,047. Seven percent of these programs were doctoral programs, 46 percent were master's, and 47 percent were programs in different areas of specialization. The Central University of Venezuela (Universidad Central de Venezuela [UCV]) accounts for 32 percent of all graduate programs.

Admission to higher education is done through a national exam known as prueba de aptitud académica. The student receives a score and goes on to applying to his or her program and university of preference. Students usually select up to three choices because each career requires different scores. The careers that are high in demand, such as engineering, law, medicine, administration, and computer science, require higher scores. If the student is admitted to a program of his or her second choice, he or she has the opportunity of transferring to the program of his or her first choice, provided that the student performs well during the first academic year.

The tuition for higher education is generally affordable in public universities. However, the costs of living plus educational supplies constitute a burden for those who lack family support since there are no extended loan or fellowship programs. There are some public and private institutions that offer some kind of financial assistance in forms of loans or scholarships. In addition, in the 1970s the government created a scholarship program called Fundayacucho, (Gran Mariscal de Ayacuho Foundation) that mainly supported foreign professional training in the sciences. For example, at the master's level, Spain was the country of preference, followed by the United States, and the United Kingdom. The drawback about the Fundayacucho scholarship program was that, although the government guaranteed payment of tuition for foreign study, it did not aid in anyway in securing domestic jobs for those sponsored. This resulted in a massive brain drain of much needed professional personnel in this Third World nation. In most recent times, the Fundayacucho scholarship program has stopped giving out scholarships and is now basically a loan institution for students who wish to study abroad or at home. Fundayacucho also has a forgiveness program for these loans, depending on the GPA of the student.

Some public universities have fellowship programs to aid their own academic staff to secure graduate degrees. Most departments would hire instructors with just the licenciatura, a degree much more specialized than the regular bachelor's degree, but for the tenure process a graduate degree, either a master's or a Ph.D. has become the norm. This type of fellowship is a valuable resource for professors who cannot attend school abroad. Admission into graduate programs is not as selective and rigorous as in the United States. From 1958 through 1996, the Central University of Venezuela granted 603 graduate fellowships; the largest number of them were awarded to faculty in the sciences (about 25 percent).

Role of Libraries: All institutions of higher learning have a main library for study and research. However, if compared to libraries in developing countries, all these libraries would be considered very poorly equipped. For example, the largest library in Venezuela is the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional ), which holds only 300,000 books. International journals are rare as are any other foreign updated literature. The National Library specializes mainly in Venezuelan matters; since high school libraries are practically non-existent, this library is often used by area high school students, which over-burdens its resources. University libraries are not equipped with sufficient modern technologies such as computers, video rooms, or language labs. The emergence of the Internet as a research tool is slowly developing in this South American nation.

There are some specialized centers such as IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research) and CELARG (Center for Latin American Studies Romulo Gallegos) which have their own libraries. However, high quality research remains an extremely privileged activity and more often than not, researchers must travel abroad to complete their research.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The educational system in Venezuela is administered and financed by the central government with all levels under the control of the Ministry of Education. This Ministry has four major subdivisions: the Department of Elementary and Secondary School Education; the Department of Higher Education; the Department of Special Programs (Special Education, Adult Education, etc.); and the Department of Administration and Service.

The Ministry of Education oversees a large educational budget for the whole country. However, universities in particular have some autonomy and independence for self-governance. In some instances, universities are able to increase their operating budgets by securing private donations or by the royalties provided by patents, copyrights, and so forth. However, the larger responsibility will always be placed in the hands of the Minister and the Ministry's office. In this sense, higher education in Venezuela has not been able to free itself from this centralized type of administration. That is, the minister is virtually in charge of all operations: budget, inspection, administration, curriculum planning, supervision, orientation, university infrastructure and equipment, contracts, research, and policy implementation.

The government fully finances the whole educational budget. The Ministry of Education simply works with the budget assigned by the president and congress. Traditionally, the budget for the whole educational system has been about 15 percent of the national budget. Higher education usually takes the largest amount, about 33 percent of this budget, followed by basic and secondary education. However, private corporations have been very generous towards higher education through the establishment of a series of scholarship and fellowship programs financed by the private sector. Students typically follow an application procedure to secure funds for education, research, or travel. In other cases, the private sector also finances large research projects with the aid of trained professionals in the area.

Research in Venezuela is generally weak. Structurally, the whole educational system does not foster a research environment. National institutions of higher learning do not have the infrastructure to enable leading research projects; library facilities are outdated in terms of both books and technology. Additionally, researchers who have been trained overseas tend to continue their research overseas. Venezuela has experienced a notorious brain drain in the sciences; medicine, computer science and engineering are the main areas of concern. Researchers tend to seriously consider job offers overseas where they will typically be better paid and enjoy better working conditions. A scientist at the IVIC (Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Research) averages a salary of US$1,000 a month, but the cost of living of Venezuela is so high that a modest middle class housing rent easily reaches or surpasses such a figure.

CONICIT (the National Science Council) is a government-run institution that sponsors research in forms of grants and fellowships. A large number of researchers have benefited from these programs. CONICIT has a highly selective process, and researchers usually enter a national competition for their grants and fellowships. These grants and fellowships aim at supporting all kinds of research activities from a specific research project such as water treatment or animal research to foreign training and education in the sciences and the humanities.

Nonformal Education

In Venezuela adult education is set up for those who did not receive formal training when they were of school age, but also for those who decide to further their education later in life. Adult education in Venezuela does not have the years of scholarship or traditions of formal education but it does offer a venue for adults to explore new fields and benefit from the acquisition of knowledge.

Some adult educational programs available in secondary institutions. The Universidad Nacional Abierta, founded in 1976, has as its prime objective to train individuals in priority areas of national development by offering distance education. The support materials of this university are instructional materials prepared individually as well as audiovisual materials closely monitored by specialized instructors. The program offers the following areas of study: basic science and mathematics courses; engineering, architecture, and technology courses; social sciences education (preschool and special education); accounting; and administration.

The Universidad de la Tercera Edad (University of the Third Age) also gained some important ground within the adult community. Its prime objective was to teach noncredit and credit courses to adults over 60 years of age. This university was seen as a relevant opportunity for the socialization of the older population, and also as a relevant knowledge provider. In recent years, this university has ceased to function, but there are plans to reopen and expand its curriculum. In addition, some private institutions of higher learning offer vocational courses at a much lower cost than formal education. The most diligent effort to assist this population is done by the central government, which has 597 vocational schools all over the country and an enrollment of 51,656 students. For this type of school the curriculum is very flexible but is generally comprised of courses in administration, mathematics, arts and crafts, music, and so forth.

Teaching Profession

Venezuela is a country of high social and economic contrasts where educators are typically underpaid. The teaching profession is well regarded, but the majority of Venezuelans have not sought teaching as a profession because of the generally poor compensation. Customarily, primary school teachers were trained in the normal school track of high schools, but in more recent years there have been more rigorous demands placed on them, especially due to the level of specialization that is needed in careers such as special education. As for high school teachers, they have traditionally been trained at the Instituto Pedagógico (Teachers College), which requires a course of study of at least five years of higher education. There are four public Teachers College located in Caracas, Barquisimeto, Maracay and Maturín. Usually, teachers continue their education by pursuing a master's degree.

University professors have traditionally enjoyed fairly lenient entrance into teaching positions at institutions of higher learning. For the position of Instructor, a Licendciado degree has been the minimum requirement. However, in more recent years, a higher degree such as a master's or doctorate has become the norm to successfully climb the academic ladder. At one time, full professors did not necessarily hold a doctorate or carry out much in the way of research, but more recently these two elements have been important to university faculty in order to promotions and tenure. At the same time, due to the need and demand of students, new master's and doctoral programs have opened in areas that were nonexistent in the past, such as human resources, administration, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities. Medicine has traditionally attracted a better and larger pool of students than other careers. In other cases, students have opted to go overseas for professional training. The United States, Spain, France, England, Brazil and Mexico are the most common countries selected for these type of studies.

The salary of an educator varies depending on his or her years of experience and educational background. High school teachers have traditionally been better paid than primary school teachers, and university professors have been better paid than high school teachers. But in general, education is considered a low-paying profession and less than two percent of recent graduates would even consider teaching as a viable source of income. University positions, which pay the best, are virtually impossible to obtain, because of the lack of positions available. When the rare opportunity becomes available, it is usually on a part-time basis. For this reason, it is not unusual to find that educators from all levels hold a second, and sometimes third, job. This situation is a little less strenuous for educators in private institutions, which are regularly more demanding in educational curriculum and hiring requirements than public institutions.


The educational system in Venezuela has experienced a significant enrollment increase during the last 30 years. This is closely related to the general population explosion that is characteristic of third world nations. Although this population increase can be closely linked to the economic growth due to the oil boom of the 60s and 70s, the rapid growth of the student population has created serious problems in this heavily oil-dependent nation. The government has been ineffective in creating enough jobs and business opportunities for all. Therefore, it is not unusual to find highly skilled professionals taking jobs completely outside their fields, opening up a business or emigrating to a country that offers professional opportunities. The numbers speak for themselves: in 2001 the unemployment rate was almost 20 percent in a developing country where 65 percent of the population is under 35 years of age.

The oil crisis of the 80s and 90s created a big burden on the further growth of the educational system. During this period institutions of higher learning experienced temporary shut-downs because the government failed to deliver back pay or was unable to keep salary increases as previously contracted. As a result professors and instructors would strike. This economic crisis also made it impossible for these institutions of higher learning, which took up to 33 percent of the whole national budget in education, to keep up with the current technologies.

Teachers make an average of $300 dollars a month in a country with "first world" prices for housing and transportation. This situation has created a shortage of teachers and consequently an increase in part-time instructors. The schools hardest hit are those in the provinces where little or no supervision is the norm and where students often go for months without schooling. If the situation has deteriorated for the life of a teacher, it has been proportionately negative for students. The number of children who desert school to go to work has increased. The goal of the new administration has been to raise educational standards and to increase the salaries of educators. Although this has been carried through, the gap between a public and a private school is enormous. Overcrowded or poorly attended public schools are the norm vs. an elitist, expensive state-of-the-art private school. In Venezuela there is now, more than ever, a class distinction between the rich and the poor. The administration of President Hugo Chávez Frías has made an effort to ameliorate the ills of the educational system in Venezuela. The government has increased salaries at all levels and has designed a nationalistic type of school setting in order to create more nationalistic individuals. Chavez's plans have come under attack by critics who consider these reforms as mere political propaganda. Also, some have already predicted failure because of the poor ideological content and the lack of universal value of the proposed curriculum.

Despite this educational crisis, Venezuela stands high on the list of third world countries. About 91 percent of the population is literate, although "dysfunctional literacy," defined as those who how to read but very seldom do, depending on their level of instruction, habits, and job responsibilities, is unofficially estimated to be around 45 percent of the population. Venezuelans read an average of less than four books a year, and are not, in general, a book-oriented nation. Paradoxically, it is for this reason that education is highly valued in this Latin American country where 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.


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Héctor Jaimes

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Venezuela
Region (Map name): South America
Population: 23,916,810
Language(s): Spanish
Literacy rate: 91.1%
Area: 912,050 sq km
GDP: 120,484 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Sets: 4,100,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 171.4
Number of Cable Subscribers: 972,840
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 40.2
Number of Radio Receivers: 10,750,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 449.5
Number of Individuals with Computers: 1,100,000
Computers per 1,000: 46.0
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 950,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 39.7

Background & General Characteristics

General Description

Venezuela is bordered by Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, and has coastline touching the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Its population was estimated at 22.8 million in July of 1998. The nation covers an area of 912,050 square kilometers, with the population heavily concentrated in the northern regions near the coast. The official language is Spanish, but a small portion of the population speaks indigenous languages. The ethnic mix of the population is 21 percent Caucasian, 10 percent African, and 2 percent Native American with the remaining 67 percent reported as a mix of two or more of these groups. The Roman Catholic Church claims 96 percent of the population, although church attendance and religious enthusiasm are minimal. Two percent of the population identifies with various Protestant groups, and the remaining two percent with some other religion or no religion. The literacy rate is reported at 91.1 percent.

As in much of Latin America, geographic factors play a strong part in dictating demographic patterns. A vast percentage of Venezuela's population lives within 50 miles of the Caribbean coast, between the sea and the Cord de Mérida mountain range that runs from the southern end of Lake Maracaibo to the capital. The area south of the mountains, comprising the large Orinoco River basin, supports a relatively small population with most of these living north of the river. South of the river is largely rain forest, very sparsely populated by mostly indigenous people although it represents slightly more than half of the land mass of the nation.

Venezuela's economic well being depends largely on the continued success of the petroleum industry. This sector accounts for a third of the nation's gross national product each year and roughly 80 percent of the revenues from exports. With increases in the price of petroleum, the nation has been experiencing a significant economic recovery in recent years. This combination of oil price increases and the positive economic moves of the Chávez government have helped to move Venezuela's economy out of the stagnation of the 1990s without bringing on a monetary crisis. Under the requirements of the new constitution, which he largely drafted, Hugo Chávez was reelected as president for a term of six more years.

The Nature of the Audience: Literacy, Affluence, Population Distribution, Language Distribution

During the oil and industrial boom years of the 1960s through 1980s, the population of Venezuela became increasingly urbanized with thousands of people migrating to the cities of Maracaibo, Coro, and Caracas in search of work. By the mid-1970s, Venezuela had surpassed Argentina as the most urbanized of South American nations. According to the 1995 census, the population of the nation stood at 21.3 million. Of this, 85 percent live in the large cities where population growth is a combined result of high birthrate, migration from rural areas, and immigration from abroad. In 2002, five Venezuelan cities, Caracas (3.5 million), Maracaibo (1.9 million), Valencia (1.7 million), Maracay (1.1 million), and Barquisimeto (1.0 million) boasted urban-area populations over one million and accounted for 43 percent of the nation's population. The result of this urbanization has been an improvement in the ability of print and broadcast media providers to reach a large percentage of the population with their messages.

The benefits that urbanization has brought in terms of ease of communication are offset by social problems. Municipal services have not possessed the funding or the expertise to meet the demands placed upon them by the influx of residents and the rapid expansion of their developed areas. Millions of people in the major cities live in large communities of sub-standard housing, while millions more occupy sprawling areas of single-family homes that have sprung up without the benefit of zoning, code enforcement, or planning. These problems and the other social problems that typically follow in the wake of urbanization and poverty have created a growing social awareness both among the people and among the organs of journalism.

Race does not play a significant role in Venezuelan life as most of the people are a mix of European, African, and Native American ancestry. The people typically consider themselves to be a single ethnic group despite visible differences that might create rifts elsewhere in the world. This unity derives from a common culture based on the Hispanic history of the region and augmented by African and Native American influences that have been effectively absorbed into the mainstream. Another source for the nation's sense of ethnic unity is the predominance of the Roman Catholic church, which accounts for 95 percent of the population in identification if not in practice. In recent years, a small but growing number of Protestants, Mormons, and other new religions have begun to influence if not convert the population.

Much more divisive than race and ethnicity in Venezuelan culture is the force of economic stratification. The nation's per capita gross national product stood at $3,020 in 1996, a figure that was declining mostly due to weak oil prices. During that same year, urban households in the bottom quintile earned 5,267 bolivares (approximately US$7.50) per month while those in the top quintile earned 74,261 bolivares (approximately US$106) monthly. The top 20 percent of the working populace accounts for 52 percent of household income. With such a small group of very wealthy persons and a huge mass of chronically and severely poor, Venezuela's income distribution is similar to that of traditionally wealthy yet politically corrupt nations of Africa and Asia and considerably more skewed than the United States and United Kingdom.

For many years, the media has essentially ignored the economic disparities present within the Venezuelan culture, portraying the entire nation as a homogenous, upper-middle class group. While this portrayal appeals to those in the economic levels that advertisers seek to reach, it leads to chronic dissatisfaction among the poorer classes. Just as the economic disparity creates feelings of resentment, regional biases within the media present a skewed picture of the nation. With most media outlets based in Caracas, the focus of the media falls largely on the capital and to a lesser degree on the other large metropolitan areas, especially Maracaibo. Regional radio stations and daily newspapers provide some coverage of the outlying areas, but the picture presented by both print and broadcast media is overwhelmingly one of Caracas.

Literacy in Venezuela stood at 91 percent in 1996, according to a World Bank Human Development Report. This level of literacy, comparable to those of Singapore and Colombia, placed the nation at number 32 among the 98 countries studied. Perhaps more significant, the literacy rate rose by 21.33 percent over the years 1970-1995, indicating that educational efforts of recent decades are creating a more literate populace with greater access to print media.

Historical Traditions

The first newspaper published in Venezuela appeared more than a decade before the nation achieved independence from Spain. The Gaceta de Caracas appeared in 1808 and established a tradition of relative freedom for the press. Given the area's distance, both physical and cultural, from the imperial stronghold in Bogotá, Colombia, democratic ideals and press freedom flourished in this region, especially as compared with the levels of freedom achieved in the other parts of Latin America.

Despite the long-standing desire of many Venezuelans to achieve the establishment of a truly open and democratic state, a tradition that includes the nation's pride as the birthplace of Simón Bolivar, Venezuela has, like many South American states, suffered under the rule of a progression of military and civilian authoritarian regimes. After the discovery of oil near Maracaibo, Venezuela quickly became among the world's largest producers of oil by the 1920s, a condition that has provided an impetus toward both openness and corruption.

Following the 1958 overthrow of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, this progression of dictators was broken for nearly four decades. Press freedom came slowly and not without obstacles during the 1960s. Due to both the political instability in Venezuela and the effects wrought by the Castro regime's attempts to export communism from Cuba throughout the Caribbean basin, the government found itself responding to conflicting stimuli by struggling to create a more open society while at the same time attempting to stem subversive elements. During the early 1960s, the government attacked communists and other political movements deemed to be a threat to the nation's newfound democratic ideals. In the course of these attacks, the government placed various impediments in the way of opposition publishing organs.

In 1963, Betancourt's government went so far as to outlaw the communist parties and shut down their media outlets. Through the remaining years of that decade and into the 1970s, the government, while relaxing restrictions on mainstream media, continued to attack threatening parties, especially in their capacity to effect media distribution. By the late 1970s, the politically extremist press had been effectively silenced, leaving only a relatively benign opposition expressed in the mainstream press to provide a contrast to government positions. At this point the government began to relax restrictions on communist and other opposition media usage; however, by this time, the democratic state and moderate press tradition had been developed fully enough that the subversive elements had largely ceased to threaten the status quo.

The constitution of 1961, ratified three years after the restoration of democratic rule in 1958, provided press freedom in its Article 66, which states that all citizens have the right to express their thoughts through the spoken word and the written word, using all available methods of distribution to spread these thoughts without being subject to prior censorship. However, this same article provides for punishment to be assessed against "statements that constitute criminal offenses." Also outlawed are materials deemed to be propaganda which serves to incite the public to disobey the law. These exceptions to the press freedom provisions of the constitution allow for a wide amount of latitude in interpretation, a flexibility that provided the governments of the nation's early democratic period with opportunities to control unwelcome reporting. Even before the ratification of the constitution, early democratic governments used its provisions to restrain free expression in pursuit of what they deemed to be the national interest. The most significant use of this power came in 1961 and 1962 during the prolonged crisis between the elected government of Rómulo Betancourt and the forces of the Young Communists and other communist groups. During this period, Betancourt suspended the constitutional provisions for a period of fourteen months and outlawed the media work of the Communist Party. Even after press restrictions were relaxed in 1962, the government pursued a policy of eliminating extremistespecially leftistelements from the established press, a process that continued throughout the 1960s. In response to these government moves, the remaining representatives of the press established a tacit agreement on standards, which has allowed them a maximum degree of free expression while at the same time avoiding in most cases the wrath and interference of the government.

During the economic prosperity brought about by a major increase in oil revenues and the political stability that characterized the 1970s in Venezuela, press freedom reached a level unparalleled throughout the nation's history. Even before the advent of democracy in 1958, oil revenue provided the dictatorial regimes with the funds to pursue significant programs expanding the social services infrastructure and attracting industry to the country. Improvements in the educational system raised the literacy rate in Venezuela from 77 percent in 1971 to 91 percent in 1995. This increase is accentuated by the fact that the numbers of illiterate citizens fall largely in older age groups, suggesting that over time, current efforts will see this number rise as the population moves through the school system. The result of these programs was the creation of a pool of better educated, healthier, and more highly skilled workers who eventually formed a larger middle class than might be found in other Latin American nations at that time. This class shift is widely credited with providing an impetus toward democratic rule.

In 1979, the government made assurances to the Inter-American Press Association that it would not assert control or regulatory power over the nation's private press, yet such control and regulation have always been in force to some degree, if only in the form of both legal stipulations and extra-legal practices. While each of the nation's constitutions has provided for freedom of the press, they have all likewise placed the obligation upon the members of the press to uphold standards agreed upon by the citizens and requiring them to serve as a national resource.

Having for many years walked a difficult line between reporting the news and avoiding government censorship and sanctions, the press found that as the economic outlook brightened and the political situation relaxed, their ability to report openly on items unfavorable to those in power improved. In 1980, for the first time, the press began to challenge government positions and criticize policy failures. At the same time, the increase in economic activity diluted the power of government advertisements in the media as more private-industry advertisements found their way into the media outlets.

As in many nations, the influence of the press, especially television, has long been contested in Venezuela. In 1980, the government banned the advertisement of tobacco and alcohol products on television in an effort to counter the perceived message that the use of these substances was essential to social and economic success. These new regulations, which were imposed as part of a package of new policies that accompanied the introduction of color broadcasting to the nation's television outlets, codified the long-held position that the national media, particularly the broadcast media, bore a public obligation to serve the larger good and to work in cooperation with the government to improve social conditions. As a continuation of this policy and attitude, a set of standards for regulating the level of violence and sex in television programs found its way into law in the early 1980s. Since that time, programming that is perceived to run counter to widely accepted national values does not clear the ratings office and thus is not permitted on the air.

Perhaps as a result of years of attempting to coexist with the political vagaries and dictatorial regimes of the nation, news reporting in Venezuela has traditionally been characterized by a stiff and unimaginative style. The word most commonly applied to reporters, cronistas, signifies their perceived role much more as relaters of facts than as interpreters of the events of the day.

Owing largely to a history that involves the coexistence of governments brought about by the nation's shifting political landscape, the Venezuelan media can be accurately described as nonpartisan in their handling of news stories. Given their dependence on government li-censure for continued existence, the broadcast media are probably the most strictly held to a policy of neutrality. Since the beginning of broadcasting in the country, news programs have been brief and factual. In recent years, more news analysis programming has found its way onto the airwaves, although the volume and the editorial liberty of these programs are not nearly as great as their counterpart programs in the United States and Europe. The print media, forced to abandon the publication of editorial opinions during the dictatorial regimes of the 1950s and before, avoided for many years the resumption of this practice. Although the major news dailies have all reintroduced editorial pages, the tenor of the opinions expressed in these editorials tends to remain restrained by comparison with those of comparable newspapers in other countries. One of the hallmarks of Venezuelan editorial pages is the general absence of journalistic reports. Rather than filling their columns with the work of an editorial board, Venezuelan op-ed editors surrender that space to politicians, academic figures, business leaders, activists, and other guest columnists. Invariably signed and affiliated with political parties or public positions, the authors of these editorials interject a wide variety of opinions into the newspaper without involving the editors of the publication directly. This practice, of course, is not as unbiased as it might appear on the surface. Editors still oversee the tenor and content of their pages through their selection of writers, a practice which allows the El Universal to create an opinion page as right-leaning as that of the Wall Street Journal, while El Nacional creates a page as biased to the left as the New York Times.

In October 2000, the International Press Institute included Venezuela on their "Watch List" of nations in which the freedom of the press stood at risk due to the repressive actions of the government. At that time, the same organization accused President Chávez of failing to oppose hostile actions directed at the press.

The press situation in Venezuela has two faces. On the exterior, freedom of expression exists, at least legally. However, on the interior, journalists constantly suffer from government repression aimed at eliminating all reporting critical of the official positions. The publication Press Freedom Survey 2000, created by Freedom House, concluded that the press in Venezuela was only partially free. Their criticism took particular exception with the October 1999 passage of constitutional article 59, which most in the press saw as a license for government censorship. The survey also notes that in November 1999, after reporters at Radio Guadalupana broadcast an editorial that criticized the policies and leadership of President Chávez, government intelligence officers appeared at the station and warned the staff that its further broadcasts would be monitored. That same December, explosive devices were discovered in the building that houses offices for several press organizations including the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, and the daily newspaper El Universal.

As critical as the Press Freedom Survey 2000 and other press watchdog groups have been toward Chávez, the situation must be viewed in perspective. The 2000 survey awarded Venezuela a score of 34 out of a possible 100. Nations scoring below 30 are considered to have a free press. Therefore, it was fair to assert at that time that the situation in Venezuela, while not as free as in previous years, was not as yet grave. In 1999, the International Federation of Journalists reported 312 cases of press harassment in Latin America, including 55 cases in Colombia, 126 in Peru, and 21 in Argentina. Venezuela, by contrast, reported only one case. The 2002 Press Freedom Survey, however, reflected a continued downward trend, with the revised score of 44 and mention of various government actions aimed at controlling the reporting of unfavorable news.


According to the World Bank's 1994 data, newspaper circulation in Venezuela totals 215 papers per 1,000 people, which ranks the nation 29th among the 106 for which the data are available. This figure places Venezuela just behind the United States (228/ 1,000) and just ahead of Canada (189/1,000) in newspaper circulation. The same data indicated that the nation owns 180 televisions per 1,000 population, a figure which places Venezuela at number 69 among the 127 countries available.

The two most influential newspapers in the nation are undoubtedly the two leading Caracas dailies, El Universal and El Nacional, with Maracaibo's primary dailies, Panorama and La Verdad placing a close third and fourth in influence. Most observers agree that the most important newspaper in Venezuela is the more conservative and business-oriented El Universal although the difference between this paper and its more liberal rival El Nacional is slight. The product of a creative liaison between poet Andrés Mata and the writer and lawyer Andrés Jorge Vigas, El Universal first appeared in April 1909. In 1914, the newspaper became the first in Venezuela to make use of international services, initially carrying the offerings from Cable Francés and UPI. In later years, Reuters, Wolf, and the Associated Press were added. Published in Caracas and distributed nationally, the newspaper offers editorials and covers national and international news, arts, business, politics, sports, and entertainment in its daily editions.

Although published in Caracas, El Universal is a truly national newspaper. Through the mid-1980s, the newspaper published from a single press in Caracas and made use of an extensive and efficient air distribution system to reach a vast majority of the nation's population in a timely fashion. With the development of less expensive printing facilities and better capability to transmit editions electronically, the air distribution network has been largely superseded by a series of provincial printing installations. The national editions of El Universal are published at 6:30 am each day from 32 regional distribution points and from there carried by truck to final distribution points, placing the paper within reach of more than 90 percent of its potential readership. El Universal maintains a circulation of approximately 150,000. In October 1995, El Universal began to complement its print edition with an Internet-based edition.

The nation's second most important newspaper is El Nacional, which like El Universal is published in Caracas. This newspaper, like its main rival, carries national as well as international news along with editorials, sports coverage, features, lifestyle coverage, political reporting, and obituaries.

Outside of the capital, the most influential newspapers are Maracaibo's twin dailies, Panorama and La Verdad, which both feature politics, local and national news, business, and sports coverage. Panorama, established in 1914, features national and regional news, including politics, economic coverage, and a regular section on the petroleum industry. Rounding out the newspaper are sections for opinion, sports, culture, and lifestyle. Panorama, the more conservative of the two Maracaibo-based dailies, has long been considered one of the most prestigious news sources in the nation and serves an elite readership spread throughout the nation.

Other regional newspapers of note include two Valencia-based dailies El Carabobeño, a centrist daily, andNotitarde. La Nación from San Cristóbal, El Impulso from Barquisimeto, Últimas Noticias, an independent daily based in Caracas, and El Tiempo, a Puerto Cruz-based daily independent round out the list of leading newspapers. The newest significant player in the Venezuelan newspaper market is Tal Cual, a daily tabloid, founded in April 2000 by Teodoro Petkoff, the former director of the daily El Mundo. Tal Cual combines a vigorous writing style with a colorful and informal layout to create a newspaper that is probably the most visually intriguing in the crowded Caracas scene.

In recent years, following the lead of North American newspapers, Venezuelan dailies have begun to move away from a strictly text-based format to one in which visual communication is far more important. In 2000, the Maracaibo-based Panorama effected a major design overhaul with the aid of a team of American graphic designers.

Press Laws

Constitutional Provisions & Guarantees Relating to Media

The current constitution of Venezuela was approved by the Constitutional Assembly on December 15, 1999 by 71 percent of voters. Article 57 of this document guarantees Venezuelans the "Right to the free expression of thoughts," while Article 59 promises the right to access needful information, true and impartial, without censorship.

Article 59 of the constitution decrees that all Venezuelans possess the "right to timely, truthful, impartial, and uncensored information." Free-press advocates fear that the adjectives, "timely, truthful, and impartial" might be used as a pretext to punish or silence opinion columns and political analysis deemed to be based more on conjecture than on verifiable fact. President Hugh Chávez, the primary author of the new constitution, brought to his office a history of criticism for free-press groups. In the build-up to the referendum campaign on the constitution, he publicly proclaimed the president and executive director of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders organization as scoundrels, largely as a result of their opposition to Article 59.

As of 2002, Article 59 had not been used as a pretext for the application of censorship or restriction upon the nation's press; however, various other methods, legal and otherwise, had been used by the government in order to assert greater control over the press. One clear example of this repression is seen in the sentence approved by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, Venezuela's highest court, in June 2001. In this decision, the court deprived the right of reply to the journalist Elías Santana of the magazine La Razón as a result of his writings critical of government policies.

Summary of Press Laws in Force

While the most significant legal force concerning journalists is the 1999 constitution, a pre-Chávez law on the practice of journalism remains troubling for many in the press. Since its imposition by the government in December of 1994, the new journalism law has been opposed by most of the publishers in Venezuela. The major effect of this law created additional difficulty for journalists seeking to obtain licenses. The penalties for the illegal and unlicensed practice of journalism under this law included imprisonment. President Rafael Caldera, the principal architect of the legislation, expressed outrage at the criticism leveled against his government from both domestic and international press representatives; however, the hostile reaction from representatives of the press have been nearly universal.


Censorship in the strictest sense has been exceptionally rare throughout Venezuelan history. Even under the control of the most repressive regimes, the government tended to take other approaches to media control rather than directly censor its work. In some cases, especially early in the nation's democratic period, certain journalists with politically extreme positions were essentially run out of their professions, but direct censorship, even during the Chávez years, remains rare. Although many critics point to the inauguration of Hugo Chávez as the point at which press-state relationships began to worsen, tension had actually been mounting throughout the 1990s.

In 1923, in response to a perception that it was serving as a conduit to distribute North American propaganda, the Maracaibo-based Panorama newspaper was closed by General Juan Vicente Gómez, the dictator who controlled the nation for 27 years. In a 163-word pronouncement, Gómez closed the daily and sent its editor, Ramón Villasmil, to prison. The paper remained closed for eight years, resuming publication in 1931, four years before the death of Gómez.

During the 1970s, the director of the news weekly Resumen continually incurred the wrath of the government when he ran a series of articles that were extremely critical of the president. In 1978, this criticism crossed the line that the government would tolerate when the magazine printed an article that accused the president of enriching himself by accepting bribes and kickbacks. The government acted against Resumen by confiscating the entire run of that issue of the magazine.

Article 57 of the 1999 Constitution provides for censorship in certain cases, which include anonymous authorship, war propaganda, and messages that promote discrimination or religious intolerance. This position was upheld by the nation's Supreme Court in their Decision 1013 on the Santana "Right of Reply" case in June 2001.

State-Press Relations

Since the December 1998 democratic election of Hugo Chávez as president of the República Bolivariana de Venezuela, relations between the government and the press have been strained and are generally considered to be deteriorating.

In June 2001, the Venezuelan Supreme Court passed down a decision through which they defined the criteria for the "timely, truthful and impartial information" clause in the 1999 Constitution's Article 58. The court's Decision 1013 put an end to the petition of Elías Santana, an activist in an anti-Chávez civic group Queremos Elegir ("We Want to Choose"), for his right to reply to the attacks leveled by Chávez on his radio show. In their ruling, the justices determined that while the constitution does make provision for a right to reply, this right was intended solely to benefit citizens who do not possess access to regular public forums. The court decreed that those in the media must take pains to avoid spreading "false news or news that is manipulated by the use of half truths; disinformation that denies the opportunity to know the reality of the news; and speculation or biased information to obtain a specific goal against someone or something." Santana, as a result of his work as a columnist for the national daily El Nacional, as well as other media professionals would not be protected by this provision.

The Court also ruled that journalists, while free to express their opinions, may not do so if these opinions include ad hominem attacks or irrelevant or unnecessary information. Publications, the court added, may be found in violation of the law if the majority of their editorials tended toward the same ideological position without that position being publicly stated by the periodical. Press freedom advocates both within Venezuela and overseas criticized the court's ruling as overly broad and open to manipulation by government officials bent on suppressing unwelcome coverage.

Many observers have noted the considerable irony in Chávez's hostility toward the press, as the President is a creature of the media. Chávez had been completely unknown when, on Feb. 4, 1992, he took the lead in a coup against the detested but popularly elected government of the time. Before the army suppressed the coup, Chávez appeared on national television and attacked the onset of moral and economic decay that he claimed threatened the future of the nation. Although his coup failed, Chávez became an instant hero in the minds of many, especially the poorer classes.

When he ran for president in 1998, Chávez could ascribe no small part of his rehabilitation to a wealth of sympathetic interviewers, especially in the broadcast media. The platform that Chávez spelled out for the nation promised nothing less than a complete revolution, although one made peacefully and by democratic means. The presidential campaign, pitting the gruff and unsophisticated Chávez versus a stunning blond former Miss Universe, proved a perfect televised spectacle. Playing on the visual contrast, Chávez presented himself as the strong and capable leader that the nation required, a strategy that played well in a country with a macho image and a desire for forceful leadership.

While the broadcast media helped to create Chávez, the print media remained opposed to him. Part of the explanation for this split lies in the audiences reached by the two media. The press was also put off by the style with which Chávez presented himself. They found him to bring a militaristic mindset to ideas such as education and macroeconomic policy. However, many print journalists had philosophical reasons for their opposition. Many of them stated that it was inappropriate for a coup leader to run for president.

In January of 2002, press-state relationships festered into a peculiar series of events that eventually unseated, replaced and then reseated Hugo Chávez as president. The constitutional crisis began simply enough as Chávez visited a poor neighborhood in Caracas. There, the president found himself greeted not as a hero of the poor but as a failed tyrant. The women of that neighborhood employed a traditional form of peaceful protest, the cacerolazo, in which they beat loudly on pots and pans. This same form of protest had been at the heart of the removal from office of Argentina's President Fernando de la Rua in December 2001. When the highly respected national daily El Nacional published a brief report of this protest the next day, the party of the president acted swiftly. They moved quickly to organize a "spontaneous" demonstration that placed party members and government workers outside the newspaper's offices for four hours of harassment that included rushing the doors, throwing stones, and shouting at workers. El Nacional Editor Miguel Otero quickly accused the government of inciting the demonstration to "keep the press from publishing what is going on in the country." The demonstration earned immediate condemnation from the Catholic church, the United States State Department, and the mayor of Caracas.

Organization & Functions of Information Ministry/Department

The 1961 constitution created the nation's Ministry of Communications, a department charged with the creation and maintenance of laws pertaining to standards and practices in the broadcast media. This ministry evolved into the Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL). CONATEL maintains oversight over all licensure and standards enforcement for radio and television broadcasting as well as oversight of the nation's cable television providers. The agency listed well over 700 television stations broadcasting across the country in 2002. This list includes 144 UHF stations with the balance broadcasting on VHF frequencies. In the Federal District that surrounds Caracas, the largest market in the nation, 40 separate stations are listed. The nation's television signal is distributed by approximately 200 cable television providers. CONATEL's list named 186 AM and 433 FM radio stations in service in 2002.

Managed News

On June 17, 1999, six months after taking office, President Chávez announced the creation of a daily newspaper, El Correo del Presidente (The President's Mail). Prior to the creation of this periodical, the president submitted the majority of his ideas directly to the public press, depending therefore on channels of communications that were increasingly not open to his political leanings. In an effort to counteract what he perceived to be unjust coverage from the media, both domestic and international, Chávez also launched an English-language version of his newspaper for sale abroad.

A year after the creation of his daily newspaper, El Correo del Presidente, President Chávez initiated a television program, De Frente con el Presidente, that airs on the state television channel, Venezolana de Televisión. As a companion piece to his newspaper, De Frente is used by the government for the promotion of various positions and policies that might not be covered favorably in the private press. In addition to the television program, Chávez also hosts a radio program titled Aló Presidente, which is transmitted every Sunday on the Radio Nacional network. One example of Chávez' use of this radio time is in his constant criticism of the journalist Elías Santana, whose anti-government posture he attacked and whom he marginalized as a representative of the most petty sector of civil society. When Santana, who listened to the program, spoke with representatives of Radio Nacional in order to make use of his right to reply, he was never answered by the station. After various legal attempts, the Venezuelan high court decreed that Santana held no such right.

In July 2000, only a few days before the national election, the nation's National Electoral Council issued a decree barring Chávez from the possible illegal use of his program for the promotion of his electoral campaign. In the end, however, Chávez skirted the order and Venezolana de Televisión broadcast a personal speech by the president in which he attacked his political opponents. Radio Nacional, on the other hand, refused to air three electoral advertisements on behalf of the president.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

The procedure for foreign correspondents wishing to work in Venezuela has long been simple. In order to work for foreign publications from within the nation, journalists must simply apply for a visa, a process that is normally automatic. The nation's Ministry of Work maintains a tight control on the hiring of foreign journalists by Venezuelan press entities. The laws which require all working journalists to belong to the journalists' colegio apply equally to foreign correspondents.

Prior to 1973, no Venezuelan media outlets supported reporters abroad. By 1980, all of the most prestigious dailies had established foreign bureaus, a practice that has expanded in the intervening years. The leading broadcast news outlets similarly either support foreign correspondents or maintain contractual employees from among the freelance press in those nations.

In June 2001, President Chávez announced that he had given orders that any foreigners, journalists or others, who made remarks critical of the country, the President, or the armed forces would be expelled from the country for interfering in domestic politics. These remarks came just days after a politician from Peru drew a comparison between Chávez and former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori. To date, no reports of this order being enforced have been made.

Aside from occasional problems with the foreign press, the government generally allows a free flow of information into the country from abroad. Many international newspapers and magazines are available, especially in the capital. Broadcast media are especially saturated with foreign, primarily American, offerings. The programming schedules of all of the television networks feature foreign programs ranging anywhere from 10 percent (in the case of Globovision) to nearly 50 percent (in the case of Televen and RCTV).

Foreign Ownership of Domestic Media

The government acted in 1974 to force all foreign investors to sell their interests in excess of 20 percent ownership in all Venezuelan broadcast media, an action paralleled in various other business groups. This policy was aimed more at gaining domestic control of Venezuelan business interests than at ensuring domestic control of the media's output. In recent years, various broadcast entities within the country have created partnerships with international media providers. The most noteworthy example of this is the media empire that has been created by the Cisneros family. Not only does the Cisneros media group of companies provide Venezuelan partnership for such North American entities as AOL-Time Warner and DirectTV, but they have taken immense amounts of capital and invested internationally, becoming key investors in various broadcasting ventures, most notably the North American Spanish-language giant Univision.

News Agencies

The largest news agency in Venezuela is Venpres. Created in May 1977 in order to serve the Ministry of Information and Tourism, they collect, develop and distribute news from among the many government ministries to the various media. In 1990, Venpres was advanced to the level of a full government agency, the Agency of National and International News reporting to the Central Information Office. The agency maintains 70 reporters and correspondents spread among the principal cities of the nation and charged with projecting the "true image" of Venezuela throughout the world. The services of the agency include daily news summaries, periodic complete news stories, an official newsmagazine, and periodic special features.

Moving far beyond their original charge as an agency responsible for the coverage and synthesis of the information generated by the various government agencies, Venpres functions as a fully rounded news provider with coverage of politics, national and international news, economic matters, culture, science, and sports.

Given the current strained relationship between press and state in Venezuela, it should not be forgotten that Venpres remains a government organ ultimately answering to the President. While not a completely independent entity, however, Venpres has demonstrated that it is not simply a propaganda organ. For example, the coverage of the activities of April 2002 during which President Hugo Chávez was removed and then restored to office, did not hide the chaos and violence within the streets of Caracas. A gallery of photos displayed on the agency's website shows the actions of law enforcement as well as wounded civilians receiving medical assistance. It displays loyalists as well as prominent protestors. While it might be argued that Venpres portrayed the military and police who acted against demonstrators in an overly heroic manner, the coverage could not be described as a whitewash in any sense.

Despite their generally good reputation, the editors at Venpres have been used by the state for its purposes. In March 2002, an article offered by Venpres to its subscribers and published on its website, accused three journalists (Ibéyise Pacheco, director of the Caracas newspaper Así es la Noticia; Patricia Poleo, director of the daily El Nuevo País; and José Domingo Blanco, an on-air personality for the television news channel Globovisión ) of being in the pay of international drug cartels for the purpose of damaging the reputation of the Venezuelan government. While no evidence accompanied the article to prove the connection, all three journalists have a long record of criticizing the president. The director of Venpres, Oscar Navas Tortolero, offered to resign in the wake of the article's adverse consequences.

Venpres also supports an international service, cooperating with the corresponding agencies in several other countries and with the broader Prensa Latina and International Press Service. The government uses its Venpres services to provide information through its embassies and consulates to governments and media outlets around the world.

Broadcast Media


Television services, like radio, are divided among both government and privately operated systems. Two government organizations broadcast nationwide. Venezolana de Television is a government-run station providing programming on channels five and eight. Televisora Nacional is a smaller government-run television service.

Several private television services provide programming regionally and nationwide. NCTV, a Maracaibo-based private station and Venevision, a private channel served by nineteen relay stations, both provide programming nationwide. Televisora Andina de Merida (TAM) provides another private channel and focuses its coverage on the interior of the nation.

Venevision, with RCTV (Radio Caracas Television), the most important broadcasting outlet in Venezuela, began broadcasting in 1953 but took its present place of importance after being purchased by Don Diego Cisneros at the behest of then-president Rómulo Betancourt. The network provides daily news and news analysis programming. The network's news shows are broadcast on week-days at 5:45 am, noon, and 11:00 pm and feature national and international news along with coverage of cultural and sports matters. Venevision also is the Venezuelan outlet for BBC World Service programming as well as Univision's news service. The news analysis and opinion programming on Venevision ranges from a 48 Hours -style news magazine, 24 Horas, through interview programs such as Dominio Público and Vox Populi, to an On the Road with Charles Kurralt -style program, Así Son Las Cosas with Oscar Vanes.

RCTV, a privately-owned and operated Caracas-based channel, uses 13 relay stations to provide television service to virtually the entire nation. The earliest of the private television outlets, RCTV was created on November 15, 1953 by William H. Phelps, who created a television counterpart for the most influential of Venezuelan radio networks, Radio Caracas Radio. News coverage, led by Francisco Amado Pemía, began on the second day of broadcast from the new network. This first news program, El Observador Creole, continued news coverage over the space of 20 years. As time passed, RCTV prided itself on remaining on the vanguard of broadcast journalism. In 1969, they were the only Venezuelan television outlet capable of broadcasting live the Apollo XI moon landing.

Currently, RCTV's news department provides coverage of national and international news as well as financial markets, art and entertainment, fashion, and sports through their news program, El Observador. Appearing on RCTV weekly is a news magazine program, Ají Picante, that mixes a heavy dose of celebrity personality with topics drawn from sports, society, politics, and entertainment. La Entrevista de El Observador is an interview program appearing six mornings each week.

Televen came into existence in 1988 when a group of independent producers and television professionals came together to create a network that would be, in their words, "dignified, responsible, creative, innovative, and of high quality." From the beginning, Televen attempted to conjoin entertainment and information, although its early years leaned decidedly to the entertainment side of the equation. In 1994, Televen began to provide 24-hour programming, filling much of the new airtime with news and information programming. Currently, the network provides 30-minute news programs twice each weekday, at 8:00 am and 10:30 pm. Two hour-long news analysis programs, La Entrevista and Triángulo, are aired from 6:00 am until 8:00 am. At 10:00 pm every weekday a news opinion and analysis program, 30 Minutes, is aired.

Globovision, broadcasting since 1994 from Caracas, serves as the CNN of Venezuela. Throughout the day, Globovision provides a variety of news feeds in 15-and 30-minute increments. Globovision's news programming includes its own reporting as well as that from TV Española, Euronews, RCN (Colombia), and CNN. The network provides several news opinion programs throughout its broadcast schedule. These include Primera Página, a Nightline -style program focusing on the most important news stories of the day; En Vivo, focusing on the development of national life; Debate, in which various views on pressing issues of the day are argued, allowing the viewer to "form your own conclusion"; Yo Prometo, which focuses on the electoral process; Otra Visión, a program discussing the productivity of the nation; Cuentas Claras, an economic affairs program; Sin Máscara, a program that aims to expose events without "makeup"; and Reporteros, a Sunday press-review program.

PromarTV provides considerably less news programming than the other networks. Broadcasting out of the regional city of Barquisimeto, Promar provides a daily news program, El Gobierno es Noticia, which is most noteworthy for its emphasis on west-central regional news. Sin Barreras, a news opinion program, has experienced considerable success in its short run. The other regional network, Telecolor, broadcasts from Maracaibo and is a subsidiary of Globovision. Telecolor, like Promar, is distinguished mostly by its attention to regional news coverage.

American cable networks such as Warner, Sony, Bravo, and HBO also maintain a strong, although mostly entertainment-oriented, presence in Venezuela. Television services have expanded dramatically over the past several decades. In 1994, owing to the difficult economic times and government takeover of many banks, television suffered a critical period with advertising revenues falling off sharply. The devaluation of the currency by nearly 40 percent has created a very difficult credit market and made the importation of international programming economically unfeasible.

With the increasing market for Spanish-language television, Venezuela, long an importer of American programming, has found itself a lucrative export market in the Spanish cable networks that serve North America. In 2001, Spanish-language cable giant Univision closed a contract with Venezuela's RCTV through which RCTV will provide 800 hours of original programming each year over the 10-year term of the contract. In this same deal, Univision gained access to RCTV's library of past work that has not yet aired in the United States.


Many different radio providers, ranging from large nationwide networks to individual stations serve Venezuela: Circuito Éxitos, Unión Radio Noticias, Z100 FM, Victoria, El Templo, and others. The most important news radio provider in Venezuela is Unión Radio Noticias, which provides 24-hour news and information when it is not broadcasting sporting events. Besides three one-hour blocks of daily newscasts at 7:00 am, noon, and 5:30 pm, URN provides original programming for another 12 hours each weekday. These programs include call-in public affairs programs and interview shows. On the weekends, the programming becomes considerably lighter with many programs devoted to lifestyle matters, entertainment, and sports. Along with its considerable original programming, URN serves as a source for both the BBC World Service and CNN Radio news. This network has been widely recognized for excellence in broadcasting, including being awarded the Premio Nacional de Periodísmo (National Journalism Prize) in 1997, 1998, and 2000.


With a beginning at Venevision, Diego Cisneros expanded his media holdings across the Spanish-language broadcast and entertainment industry. At present the Cisneros Group of Companies owns outright or maintains a major interest in broadcasting outlets in Chile and Colombia. They are the major stockholders in the Spanish-language cable giant Univision and are partners with AOL-Time Warner in AOL Latin America. In Venezuela, the Cisneros Group has expanded from the Venevision flagship to a Venevision Continental product designed for sale across South America and Vale TV, a values education project dedicated to the nation's youth.

Electronic News Media

Internet Press Sites

Most of the large press organizations in Venezuela support thorough and professionally maintained Internet sites. All of the major Caracas-based television networks provide significant news coverage on their websites, as do the major dailies, except, at the time of this writing, El Nacional. These sites strongly resemble both in design and content the newspaper sites of many dailies in the United States. The Caracas tabloid Tal Cual, a newcomer to the Venezuelan news scene, not only places all of its content online, but allows readers to view page layouts of the print edition of the newspaper over the past week of issues. Tal Cual is also unique in extensively utilizing audio files in their Internet offerings. All of the sites provide access to at least six months of archived stories and allow flexible searching. Venpres, the government-run news agency maintains a similarly thorough Internet site.

Restrictions on access to the Internet do not exist within Venezuela. Although the access currently available tends to be rather expensive to the population in general, each year has seen more of the public gaining access to this medium of communication. The nation depends on various Internet providers based both with the nation and abroad.

Education & Training

The Venezuelan journalism colegio requires that practicing journalists hold a degree in journalism. Because of this requirement, journalism education is viewed with increased significance. Many critics complain about the quality of journalism education at the nation's universities, noting that these schools have not remained current with the shifting world of information-gathering or the introduction of new and changed media.

The two most important journalism programs in Venezuela are those at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas and at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, also in Caracas. The program of study in journalism at these universities spans ten semesters. Typically the first six of these semesters place all students in a common track while the final four allow each student to specialize in one of three areas of emphasis: broadcasting, public relations, and print journalism. This course of study leads to a bachelor's degree in Social Communication. The two Caracas universities also offer post-graduate education leading to a Specialist degree. Four-year journalism degrees are also offered at two regional universities: the University of Zulia in Maracaibo and the University of the Andes. Tuition at the state schools is free to all qualified students; however, the capacity of the state universities is not sufficient to meet the demand.

Major Journalistic Associations & Organizations

In 1972, the nation's Law of Journalism established Venezuela's colegio, to which all practicing journalists must belong. The law also sets the standards and guidelines according to which journalists should work. Media owners typically oppose the power of the colegio, while working journalists generally support it.


The future of the media in Venezuela depends heavily on the actions and policies of President Hugo Chávez. In April 2002, Chávez was apparently ousted from office by a combined popular-military coup only to be reinstated a few days later. At the time of this writing, the possibility of significant change in relations between press and government in the near future appears quite high. The "new start" promised by Chávez after the failed coup of April 2002 remains too brief to be fairly evaluated at the time of this writing.

Venezuela's government has been given the tools with which to effectively silence opposition voices in the media through legal means. To date, the government has demonstrated restraint in using these tools, probably due to the nation's strong tradition of free expression. Instead, it has employed extra-legal tactics of intimidation. One of the key trends to observe in the future is the direction that the government takes in controlling information.

As is so often the case, future conditions in the Venezuelan media depend to a great degree on economic matters. Not only will economic success or failure determine the degree to which the government possesses the popular support necessary to maintain press control, but economic questions will dictate the levels of investment that media outlets will be able to make in exploiting new media and fully funding old ones. The complexity of the influences that the economic future of the nation can have on the openness and quality of the media makes predictions very difficult. Positive economic news might mean both good and bad times for the journalists of Venezuela.

With a solid democratic tradition among its people and a long history of solid journalism, most observers see a good deal of hope in the future for the Venezuelan press. Political and economic difficulties have waxed and waned over the past century, and the journalists of Venezuela have shown themselves capable of adapting to whatever situations the times present.

Significant Dates

  • 1972: First Law of Journalism passed founding the journalism colegio.
  • 1994: Second Law of Journalism passed by Caldera providing penalties for unlicensed reporting.
  • 1998: Hugo Chávez Frias elected president.
  • 1999: New Constitution ratified, including the controversial Article 58, which provides free, uncensored access to information that is necessary, true, and impartial. Press freedom advocates see this provision as an invitation to government censorship.
  • 2000: Elias Santana, columnist for El Nacional, files suit against President Chávez after being denied a right of reply to accusations made on the president's weekly radio call-in program.
  • 2001: Ruling 1013 by the Venezuelan Supreme Court denies journalists the right to reply while defining the provisions of constitutional Article 58 in terms very advantageous to the government.
  • January 2002: Government organizes "spontaneous" demonstration against newspapers critical of the president.
  • March 2002: Venpres accuses three journalists of accepting money from international drug cartels for the purpose of smearing the reputation of the Venezuelan government.
  • April 2002: Thousands protest the government's continued harassment and attacks on media critical of his policies. Chávez is forced from office, replaced, and then returned to office promising a new start.


Annuario Estadistico. Caracas, annually.

Arias Cárdenas, Francisco J. La revolución bolivariana: de la guerrilla al militarismo: revelaciones del comandante Arias Cárdenas. Caracas, 2000.

Díaz Rangel, Eleazar. Prensa Venezolana en el Siglo XX. Caracas, 1994.

El Universal: 80 años de Periodismo en Venezuela,1909-1989. Caracas, 1989.

Freilich, Miriam. Cara a cara con los periodistas. Caracas, 1990.

Nweihed, Kaldone G. Venezuela y los países hemisféricos, ibéricos e hispano hablantes: por los 500 años del encuentro con la tierra de Gracia. Caracas, 2000.

Venezuela Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998. U.S. Department of State. Washington, 1999.

Mark Browning

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Republic of Venezuela

República de Venezuela



Venezuela, located on the northern coast of South America, has an area of 912,050 square kilometers (352,143 square miles), with a total coastline of 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles). It is bordered by Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south. Venezuela is a little more than twice the size of California. Caracas, the capital, is located on its northern coast.


As of July 2000, the population of Venezuela was estimated to be 23,542,649, an increase of 21.8 percent over the population in 1990. In 2000, the birth rate was 21.09 per 1,000, and the death rate 4.94 per 1,000. Based on a projected annual growth rate of 1.6 percent, the population is expected to number 27.3 million by 2010. Until 1990, Venezuela had one of the highest population growth rates in the world (3.4 percent annually from 1950-86), despite an educated populace and the wide availability of contraceptives. This high population growth rate is credited to improved sanitary and health conditions from the 1950s onward that resulted in a high birth rate and a low death rate.

People of mixed race (pardo) or Indian/Spanish heritage (mestizo) are estimated to account for two-thirds of the population of Venezuela. The term pardo refers to people who are the product of any racial mixture while the term mestizo refers specifically to people who are of Indian/Spanish heritage. Caucasians represent 21 percent of the population, Africans about 10 percent, and Indians about 2 percent of the population. This is a relatively young population: only 4 percent of Venezuelans are over the age of 65 while 33 percent are under the age of 14. It has been estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. Some 88.8 percent of the population live in urban areas, while 11.2 percent live in rural areas. Almost all of the population growth since 1940 has occurred in urban areas, a consequence of the modernization that has resulted from Venezuela's development of its oil industry.

It has been estimated that 75 to 85 percent of the population lives on just 20 percent of the country's land mass, while 4 or 5 percent of the population lives on 50 percent of the land. The most densely populated region is the upper northwest, where Venezuela's 3 largest cities are located. The most sparsely populated portion is the southern and eastern portions of the country, even though the government has tried to relocate industry there. The 2 regions are separated by the Orinoco river.


Venezuela is very much a country built by oil. Among Latin American countries, it has the highest GDP and the fifth highest GDP per capita . Oil was first pumped from the bed of Lake Maracaibo, in upper northwest Venezuela, in 1917. Some 75 percent of Venezuela's oil continues to be pumped from the area in and around Lake Maracaibo. Before 1917, cocoa and coffee were Venezuela's main exported products, but oil has been its chief export since 1926. In 1960, Venezuela was a founding member of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel (a group of countries that work together to control the buying and selling price of a product) that has enormous influence in world oil prices. Until 1970, Venezuela was the world's largest exporter of oil; it has since fallen to third place.

The extent to which the country relies of oil production can be seen in the numbers: in 1999, oil production contributed 27.9 percent to the Venezuelan GDP, 60 percent of the government's revenues, and 78 percent of the country's export earnings. As a result of this dependence on oil production, when oil prices have gone up on the world's market, the country's economy benefits. After OPEC increased world oil prices by 400 percent in 1973 Venezuela enjoyed a large windfall; in the 5 years from 1974 to 1979, the government earnedand spentmore money than it had in the preceding 144 years put together. In 1999, the Venezuelan economy shrank as a result of falling oil prices. The economy then experienced a recession (a fall in GDP for 2 consecutive quarters) with GDP falling by 7.2 percent in comparison to the GDP of the previous year. With oil prices rising again in 2000, the economy rebounded with annual growth of 3.2 percent.

Despite these fluctuations, the average annual growth of the GDP from 1979 to 1999 was only 0.9 percent. During that time, the population grew by 2.5 percent every year, causing per capita income to fall. Consumer prices rose an average of 54 percent per year from 1995 through 1999, a period when 12 percent of the labor force was unemployed. Dependence on oil also means that the government must borrow money when oil revenues are not available. Venezuela's external debt in 1998 was onethird of that year's GDP, and one-third of the govern-ment's oil revenues had to be used to pay the interest on the debt. Dependence on oil means that the Venezuelan economy cannot devote the resources to produce the food that its people consume, as it was able to do before 1920. Since the 1980s, Venezuela has had to import even the most basic foodstuffs, such as sugar and potatoes.

Despite periods of dictatorship and official corruption and patronage over the years, the general economic and political trajectory for Venezuela in the 20th century has been a positive one, and, since 1958, it has devoted much of its public funds to building a physical and social infrastructure for its people. Since that time, the government has practiced more or less free-market policies, allowing others to participate in the economy as it has seen fit. For example, multinational corporations were forced to sell their rights to pump oil to the government in 1976, but they were allowed back into the country in 1996.


Under its present constitution, approved in 1999, Venezuela is a federal republic with 1 federal district, 2 federal territories, 23 states, and 72 federal (island) dependencies. The president is elected to a 6-year term and can be reelected. The president selects a cabinet that is called the Council of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in a National Assembly of 165 members elected to 5-year terms. Upon receiving nominations from various civilian groups, the legislature selects the 18 judges of the Supreme Justice Tribunal for 12-year terms. The Supreme Justice Tribunal is the highest court in Venezuela; its 18 judges appoint lower-court judges and magistrates. Local government officials are chosen in local elections.

The political history and the economic history of Venezuela are inseparably intertwined. This is because since 1936, the government has pursued a policy of "sowing the oil," or using the government revenues from the tax on the sale of oil to promote the economic growth of the country. That policy has been pursued in earnest since the time of Venezuela's first democratically elected president, Rómulo Betancourt, in 1958. From the time of its independence from Spain in 1811 until 1958, Venezuela was ruled by a series of military dictators. From 1936 to 1958, although some public projects were constructed by the government, much of the government's oil revenues ended up in the pockets of the dictators and various government officials. From 1958 until the present, Venezuela has enjoyed uninterrupted democratic rule.

Two political parties dominated Venezuelan politics from 1958 to 1993: the liberal Democratic Action or Acción Democrática (AD) party, and the conservative Partido Social Cristiano, known as COPEI. The policies of these 2 parties did not differ from one another because of an agreement called the Pact of Punto Fijo signed by party political leaders in 1958. Under that pact, political leaders decided on a policy agenda before the election and agreed to divide cabinet and other government offices among the major parties after the election regardless of which candidate won in the vote count. The agreement ultimately broke down because political appointments were increasingly being made on the basis of patronage and because neither political party had succeeded in controlling excessive government spending. Dissatisfaction with the policies of the major political parties manifested itself in riots in 1989 that left hundreds dead, and in 2 unsuccessful military coups in 1992. In 1993, Rafael Caldera won the presidency under a 19-party alliance called the Convergencia Nacional (CN). It was the first time since 1958 that the presidency was held by a candidate from a party other than the AD or the COPEI.

Caldera faced a banking crisis in 1994, a fall in world oil prices (with decreasing government revenues) in 1997, and was ultimately forced to adopt unpopular budget cuts. His successor, Hugo Chávez Frias, elected in 1998, had been one of the military officers involved in the attempted coups of 1992. He campaigned on promises of changing the constitution to fight corruption and patronage, and also promised to move the economy away from its dependence on oil. A new constitution was adopted in 1999, and Chávez was reelected president. His party, the Movimiento Quinta República (MVR) has formed a governing alliance with the socialist party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS).

Moving the economy of Venezuela away from its dependence on oil will be a difficult task. This is because government spending based on oil revenues has been the engine of economic growth for so long. The increased tax revenues that resulted from the higher oil prices after 1973 were used by the government to nationalize the entire oil industry. The government also established hundreds of new state-owned industries, as in steel, mining, and hydroelectricity. The Chávez government has continued the effort of the Caldera government to privatize a number of these industries.

If Venezuela is to move away from its dependence on oil, its government will have to increase the tax revenues it gets from other sources. Venezuela has an income tax on all economic activity by individuals and businesses, but tax evasion by individuals remains a significant problem. In 1996, the government was taxing the profits of private oil companies at the very high rate of 67.7 percent. It is not clear that the taxing of other entities within Venezuela will provide sufficient revenues to the government.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Venezuela 206 468 185 25.8 87 3.0 43.0 3.98 525
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Brazil 40 444 316 16.3 47 3.1 30.1 18.45 3,500
Colombia 46 581 217 16.7 49 4.8 27.9 7.51 664
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


Venezuela has the distinction of having the most paved highways of any country in Latin America, 60 percent of its 94,929 kilometers (58,989 miles) of roads. Most of these highways are located in the northern part of the country, where population density is greatest. The southern half of the country is more heavily dependent on aircraft or river travel for transport. Almost 98 percent of goods are moved by trucks over the nation's highways. Although the capital city of Caracas has a subway system, the rest of the country is served by a very small railway system of 584 kilometers (363 miles). The railway system is used to transport freight, and the government is seeking ways to expand this system.

Venezuela has 11 international and 36 domestic airports, with the major one in Caracas processing 90 percent of international flights, 84 percent of air cargo, and 40 percent of domestic passengers. Many of the country's airports are not high quality facilities. Venezuela has 13 ports and harbors, but 80 percent of bulk cargo is handled by 3 ports on the Caribbean Sea: Maracaibo, La Guaira, and Puerto Cabello. The facilities at La Guaira were significantly damaged by the December 1999 mudslides.

Venezuela produced 70.39 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 1998, of which 65.463 billion were consumed internally, giving the country one of the highest electricity consumption levels in South America. Some 90 percent of households have electricity. Three-fourths of Venezuela's power comes from hydroelectric plants on its rivers. With reserves of 143 trillion cubic feet, Venezuela is believed to have the fifth largest reserves of natural gas in the world, 11 percent of which is consumed daily to generate power. Since 1998, the government has been privatizing its power-production system.

After the oil industry, the telecommunications industry is the fastest growing industry in Venezuela. The government recently ended its monopoly on fixed-line telephone service. CANTV, the national telephone company, has 2.5 million customers, compared with 3.5 million in the cellular telephone market. Venezuela had 11 Internet service providers in 1999, servicing 650,000 users, a number that is expected to double in 2000. In 1997, there were 10.75 million radios and 4.1 million televisions in Venezuela.


The single most important sector in the Venezuelan economy is mining, which includes the large oil industry. In 1999, 24 percent of Venezuela's GDP was accounted for by industry (80 percent of which came from the oil industry), 71 percent by services, and just 5 percent by agriculture. Various government administrations have attempted to diversify the Venezuelan economy away from its dependence on oil, but, as indicated by the figures above, oil production continues to increase as a percentage of GDP. Other minerals that can be found in abundance in Venezuela are iron, bauxite, and natural gas.

In 1995, the manufacturing sector accounted for 16.6 percent of GDP, dropping to 14.2 percent by 1999. The services sector, another source that could help reduce Venezuela's dependence on oil, has not reflected consistent growth in its contributions to the Venezuelan GDP. One exception to that is the transport and communications industry, which has shown a consistent annual growth from 1995 to 1999 (4.9 to 6.0 percent of GDP).


For centuries prior to the beginnings of the oil industry in 1917, agriculture served as the engine of the Venezuelan economy. As recently as the 1930s, agriculture employed 60 percent of the labor force and accounted for 21 percent of GDP. Today, agriculture is one of Venezuela's weakest sectors: as of 1999, it employed 13 percent of the labor force and accounted for 5 percent of GDP. Major crops include sugar cane (56 percent of total production in 1999), bananas (9 percent), maize (7 percent), and rice (5 percent). Crops are grown in the northern mountains of Venezuela and their foothills. In 1998, of the country's 15.367 million heads of livestock, 61 percent were cattle and 19 percent were pigs. Cattle grazing takes place in the plains (Llanos) area of Venezuela. This is an area about 800 miles wide that lies between the Mérida mountain range in the east of the country and the Orinoco River in the middle. Of its 2.708 million tons of livestock product in 1998, 56 percent came from cow's milk, 18 percent from poultry meat, and 13 percent from beef and veal.

Subsidization (government payments to farmers to grow or not grow their crops) of agriculture is a tool that has been consistently used by various administrations to assist Venezuela's ailing agricultural sector. The right of farmers to receive government subsidies was made a part of the new 1999 Venezuelan Constitution. This policy has given rise to a powerful farmers' lobby that is dedicated to maintaining the subsidies, often criticized for maintaining inefficient and obsolete production techniques and ineffective management strategies. Since the 1980s, however, subsidies have resulted in an increase in the country's agricultural output.

Another approach used by the Venezuelan government to bolster the agricultural sector has been the redistribution of land that can be used for planting and grazing. These land giveaways have had the added benefit of addressing the problem of land concentrated in the hands of a few owners. Today, only 3 percent of landowners hold 70 percent of the agricultural land in Venezuela. In 1999, after 12,350 acres of land were forcibly occupied by squatters, the government responded by promising that it would redistribute 6.175 million acres of government land, create 504,000 farming jobs, and give significant tax breaks to farmers. The government had been pursuing such policies since 1958, when it created its National Agrarian Institute. Although at least 10 percent of the country's land has been redistributed, these redistribution policies have had limited success because the dropout rates for participants has been as high as 33 percent. The government has also tried to protect Venezuelan farmers from international competition by limiting the number of competing crops that can be imported into the country.

Despite all of these difficulties, the Venezuelan agricultural industry has remarkable promise. In the 1990s, only 4 percent of the country's land area was being used for agriculture, but it has been estimated that 30 percent of the total is suitable for such purposes. Some 50 percent of the agriculture industry's revenues came from cattle ranching in 1999, though production of such basic food crops like rice and maize has been declining.



The country ranks sixth in the world in proven oil reserves. In 1999, Venezuela had 74.1 billion barrels of proven reserves of crude oil, another 270 billion barrels of heavy oil has been found in the belt in and around the Orinoco River, and more has been found in the eastern Venezuela basin. From 1929 to 1970, Venezuela exported more oil than any other country, and, since 1990, has ranked third, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. In 1989, production and sale of oil accounted for 13 percent of GDP, 51 percent of government revenues, and 81 percent of exports. By 1999, oil accounted for 27.9 percent of GDP, 46 percent of government revenues, and 75 percent of exports. In 1999, the country's national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), exported 90 percent of its oil and paid 70 percent of its profits to the government. More than 60 percent of oil exports were to the United States.

Although the PDVSA was not formally established until later, it was in 1935 that the government began its policy of "sowing the oil" or using oil wealth to develop the Venezuelan infrastructure. The policy was pursued in earnest in 1958, with the administration of Rómulo Betancourt, Venezuela's first democratically elected civilian president. In 1960, the government established the predecessor of the PDVSA, the Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation, for the purpose of overseeing the oil industry. In 1975, it nationalized the oil industry and, in 1977, the PDVSA was formed, and 14 foreign oil companies were compensated for their assets. This was helped by the fact that the Venezuelan government was flush with capital because the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 had increased oil prices by 400 percent.

From 1975 to 1995, decreases in the price of oil made it clear that Venezuela could not rely completely on itself for the production of its oil. Especially after 1981, the PDVSA began to face financial difficulties. Complete nationalization of the oil industry was proving to be a costly idea. For example, in 1981, decreasing oil prices resulted in decreased government revenues, causing the government to borrow capital and thereby increase the country's foreign debt . In 1982, the Central Bank of Venezuela responded to this crisis by simply seizing US$6 billion of PDVSA's profits to pay off some of the country's foreign debt. In 1995, private companies were once again allowed to explore and mine Venezuela's oil fields. While PDVSA remains a viable entity that has expanded into the oil-refining business, the idea of complete and exclusive nationalization has given way to an arrangement in which the PDVSA coexists with private companies. However, the government has not succeeded in its goal of reducing the country's dependence on the oil industry.


After oil, iron is the second most-mined mineral in Venezuela. It is estimated that Venezuela has 1.8 billion tons of high-grade iron ore reserves. In the 1950s, the Venezuelan government gave mining rights to 2 American companies, Bethlehem Steel and the United States Steel Corporation. In 1960, the government formed a corporation, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana, that was given mining rights to several iron-ore mines and an interest in the country's only steel complex, Siderórgica del Orinoco (Sidor), that had been built in 1955 by the American companies. In 1975, the government nationalized Sidor and in effect purchased the foreign interest in iron and steel production. The transition was smooth and the American companies were compensated. Because of government mismanagement and the large capital outlay involved, Sidor did not show its first profit until 1986, fully 11 years after the government had acquired it. In 1998, Sidor was privatized once again. In 1999, steel production fell to its lowest point in 7 years because of low prices on the world market, though it rebounded in 2000. In 1998, 35 percent of Venezuela's iron and steel exports went to the United States, its largest trading partner.


In the 1980s, Venezuela enjoyed a reputation as one of the most efficient aluminum producers in the world. During that time, Venezuela exported 60 percent of its aluminum which, after oil, brought in the most foreign dollars. As of 1990, Venezuela's proven reserves of bauxite (aluminum ore) stood at 500 million tons, with 5 billion more tons in probable reserves. As a result of mismanagement the government's aluminum production facilities have debts amounting to US$1.25 billion. The government has consistently refused to sell its interests in its aluminum subsidiaries and is seeking private entities to partner with. Production of aluminum has declined from 627 thousand tons in 1995 to 570 thousand tons in 1999.


Venezuela's coal reserves total 10.2 billion tons of coal. The country's largest coal field, Carbozulia, is located in the state of Zulia and is controlled by a subsidiary of PDVSA. In 1999, the government announced that the coal field would close because it had consistently operated at a loss. Venezuela also has estimated gold reserves of 10,000 tons. Exploitation of one of the country's main gold mines, Las Cristinas, has been placed in limbo because of a legal dispute between 2 Canadian companies. In early 2000, a Chinese company announced its intention of reopening the Sosa Méndez gold mine that had been closed for 30 years.


In 1998, the latest year for which data is available, 13.9 percent of the Venezuelan labor force worked within the manufacturing sector, which accounted for 16 percent of GDP in that year. As measured by the value of their output, the two most important industries were the food products industry with 17.8 percent, and the refined petroleum industry with 10.9 percent. The remaining 71 percent of the manufacturing sector's output was accounted for by industrial chemicals, iron and steel, transportation, and tobacco. From 1980 to 1990, the GDP produced by the manufacturing sector increased by an average of 4.3 percent per year, a figure that fell to 1.8 percent per year from 1990 to 1997.

As of 1988, slightly more than half of Venezuela's manufacturing firms were categorized as basic industries like food processing and wood products, 75 percent of which were small, family-owned businesses. Another 18 percent of firms were categorized as intermediate, like paper or plastics manufacturers. Some 19 percent of firms produced capital goods (goods used to make other products), and 9 percent made miscellaneous goods. Despite the existence of many small firms, as of 1988, a few large firms employed 64 percent of the manufacturing-sector labor force and produced 78 percent of its output.

Venezuela's manufacturing sector benefited and grew as a result of government policies pursued in the 1950s and especially in the 1970s, when the country's oil wealth was abundant. The government's ownership interest in manufacturing grew from 4 percent in the early 1970s to 42 percent by the late 1980s. The fall in the price of oil in the 1990s and loss of oil wealth has caused the government to scale back its subsidization of the manufacturing sector. The result has been a dramatic fluctuation in the sector's output. For example, manufacturing output grew 6.8 percent in 1995, contracted 5.2 percent in 1996, grew 4.4 percent in 1997, and shrank again in 1998.


In 1999, services accounted for roughly 71 percent of Venezuela's GDP and in 1997, employed 64 percent of its labor force. According to estimates by the World Bank, the GDP attributable to the services sector grew by an average of 0.5 percent every year from 1980 to 1998. In 1997, the largest part of the services sector was the 15.4 percent generated by the retail , restaurants, and hotels sector. Another 12.4 percent of GDP was generated by finance, insurance, real estate, and business services. Transport, storage, and communication accounted for 8.4 percent, followed by other services (7.2 percent), construction (5.1 percent), government services (4.8 percent), and electricity and water (1.5 percent).


Retail operations in Venezuela do not look very different from those in the United States. Although there are few department stores, there are numerous malls, and price haggling is uncommon. In 1995, 69.5 percent of the national income (GDP) was spent on private consumption, a figure that fell to 63.2 percent in 1996, rose to 65.8 percent in 1997, to 72.1 percent in 1998, and fell again to 70.2 percent in 1999. The year 2000 saw an increase in sales by clothing and food stores, sellers of telecommunication equipment, electrical appliances, and lottery tickets. Decreased sales were experienced by sellers of cars, pharmaceutical products, and hardware items. Venezuela has a well-developed professional services sector (physicians, attorneys, accountants, engineers and architects), with prestige attached to being a member of one of these professions.


Tourism has improved considerably in Venezuela since the late 1990s, and the industry contributes roughly 6 percent of GDP. In 1999, Venezuela received about 1 million tourists, 3 times greater than 1993 numbers. The government has targeted tourism as one of its priority areas, and intends to partner with the private sector to expand the country's tourist attractions. As of 1994, the latest year for which data are available, a large number of tourists visited from Europe and North America, attracted to Venezuela's beaches, the Andes Mountains, and Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall.


Since the 1950s, and especially in the 1970s, this industry grew rapidly thanks to profits from the oil industry. By 1989, Venezuela had an extensive array of specialized financial institutions, including 41 commercial banks (9 of them public-sector banks) with hundreds of branch offices, 23 development finance institutions owned by the government, and 29 finance companies. In 1994, a banking crisis forced the closure of a number of the nation's 41 commercial banks, while some others were taken over by the government. By 1999, 41 percent of Venezuela's banks were partially foreign-owned.

Commercial banks remain at the heart of this industry, and they are estimated to hold 70 percent of financial assets. Another 20 percent of those assets are held by finance companies that provide consumer loans and short-term and medium-term loans to industry. Mortgage banks and savings-and-loan institutions hold the remaining financial assets within the economy. In 1999, Venezuelan banks continued to charge an interest rate high enough to allow them to earn a profit given the high cost of money. In that year, when the inflation rate was 20 percent, the banks charged at least 31.89 percent on loans.


Perhaps more so than any other sector, the construction sector has been affected by fluctuations in government spending. The industry thrived from the 1970s through the 1980s when the Venezuelan government used its oil revenues to improve and expand the country's infrastructure. In the 1980s and the late 1990s, with a decrease in government spending, the impact on the construction sector was disproportionately negative. Although the Venezuelan economy suffered a recession of 7.2 percent in 1999, the construction industry experienced a contraction of 20.4 percent, with an unemployment rate of 40 percent. The industry is expected to benefit from construction projects in the state of Verges, which experienced significant destruction from mud slides in 1999, and from a government program to build 63,000 new homes.


Venezuela's imports increased 3-fold between 1975 and 2000. The increased importance of oil to the nation's economy has caused Venezuela to import more

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Venezuela
Exports Imports
1975 8.800 6.000
1980 19.221 11.827
1985 14.438 8.106
1990 17.497 7.335
1995 18.457 12.650
1998 17.161 N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

machinery, equipment, and food because enough resources cannot be devoted to producing those items at home. Imports have also increased because the availability of foreign currency resulting from the sale of oil has increased the demand for foreign goods in Venezuela. A large portion of Venezuela's imports and exports has traditionally been provided by the United States. In 1998, Venezuela exported US$9.157 billion of goods (52 percent of its exports) to the United States, with oil accounting for 57.6 percent of the total. Other exported goods included chemicals, iron and steel, and aluminum. The next most important export-trading partner for Venezuela was Colombia, which received 8.3 percent of Venezuela's exports, followed by Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, and Brazil. Oil accounted for 45.6 percent of the total value of Venezuela's exports overall.

In 1998, Venezuela imported US$6.520 billion (44 percent of its imports) from the United States. The next most important import-trading partner was Colombia, from which it received 6.4 percent of its imports, followed by Japan, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. Machinery and transport equipment accounted for 53 percent of Venezuela's imports from the United States in 1998.

Because of fluctuations in the world market price of oil, the value of Venezuela's exports can vary significantly from year to year. In 1997, for example, when world oil prices fell by 33 percent, the value of Venezuela's exports declined from US$23.707 billion in 1997 to $17.564 billion in 1998, a fall of 25.9 percent. With oil prices rebounding in 2000, the value of exports rebounded to US$32.8 billion in 2000. Venezuela has also been running a negative balance of trade in services, as when Venezuelans take money out of the country by traveling abroad, or when they purchase foreign products, like automobiles, thereby subsidizing both the foreign manufacturer and the shipping companies that deliver the vehicle to them. In 1998, Venezuelans imported US$5.054 billion in services while exporting only US$1.457 billion. However, Venezuela's overall trade balance is positive. In 2000, that trade surplus reached US$18.1 billion, on imports of US$14.7 billion.

Venezuela has amassed foreign debt as a result of the government borrowing money abroad and individual Venezuelans investing their money overseas because of fears of political and economic instability. It has been estimated that Venezuelans have invested US$50 billion abroad. In 1990, the country's foreign debt was estimated at US$38 billion, which the government has tried to reduce by restructuring (changing the terms of the loan and reducing the interest rate it owes).


Since 1985, Venezuela's currency, the bolívar, has become worth much less in terms of the U.S. dollar. In 1985, US$1 could buy 7.5 bolívars, but by 1999, it could buy 648.25 bolívars. Inflation , resulting from government spending in excess of revenues, is primarily responsible for this phenomenon. Since 1996, Venezuela has used a " crawling peg " exchange rate system, which attempts to slow down the process by which the bolívar loses value against the dollar. The annual rate of inflation has gradually declined since 1996, to a rate of 23.6 percent in 1999 and 13 percent in 2000. One reason for this is because demand for goods and services in Venezuela has declined. It is not clear if more economic reforms will be implemented in 2001, because the government of President Chávez has made it clear that its first priority is political, not economic, reform.

There are 3 small stock exchanges in Venezuela. The most active of these is the Caracas Stock Exchange, where the shares of only 91 companies are listed and only 12 are actively traded. The dollar value of the shares traded fell by 46.6 percent in 1999, partly as a result of the 7.2 percent recession that the economy experienced that year.


The oil wealth that has, within the past 50 years, transformed the Venezuelan economy from an agrarian,

Exchange rates: Venezuela
bolivares (B) per US$1
Jan 2001 699.700
2000 679.960
1999 605.717
1998 547.556
1997 488.635
1996 417.333
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Venezuela 4,195 3,995 3,357 3,353 3,499
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Brazil 3,464 4,253 4,039 4,078 4,509
Colombia 1,612 1,868 1,875 2,119 2,392
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

rural economy to a modern, urban one, has also significantly transformed Venezuelan society. Venezuelans today are more literate (91.1 percent in 1995 as opposed to 30 percent in the 1920s) and have a longer life expectancy (73.07 years in 2000 as opposed to 43 years in 1940). Still, in 1997, 67 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, and poverty appears to be increasing due to inflation and the 70 percent decrease in real wages since the 1980s. Venezuela has made great strides in meeting the basic needs of its citizens since the 1950s, but economic problems since the 1980s have eroded these early successes.

Education is compulsory in Venezuela up to the age of 14, and 75 percent of the country's students are enrolled in its public primary and secondary schools, though there are high rates of absenteeism attributed to poverty. Since the 1980s, educational spending has fallen below the average in South America. In 1983, Venezuela spent 7.4 percent of its GDP on education, but only 3.8 percent in 1998, and low pay has led to teacher shortages.

There are 99 public and private colleges and universities in Venezuela. The public university system in Venezuela has fared better than the lower education system. Venezuela boasts a number of national universities in various states that offer degrees through to the graduate and professional level. There are 2 national universities in Caracas alone. Tuition is free. Promising students are often given scholarships to study at foreign universities.

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: Venezuela
Lowest 10% 1.3
Lowest 20% 3.7
Second 20% 8.4
Third 20% 13.6
Fourth 20% 21.2
Highest 20% 53.1
Highest 10% 37.0
Survey year: 1996
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

The ministry of education has also begun to emphasize the importance of technical and vocational education in secondary schools. A system of adult-education has been developed to teach literacy and job skills to Venezuelans.

Venezuela enjoys some of the highest health standards in South America in terms of infant mortality (26.4 per 1,000 population) and longevity (73.07 life expectancy). Much of this was made possible by government intervention. Much of the population gets its medical care from facilities and hospitals operated by the Venezuelan Social Security Institute. Treatment at the country's clinics is free, though there is a small charge for prescription drugs. At the public hospitals, the poor receive treatment for free, and a small fee is charged to those who can afford to pay it. There is also a public welfare program that provides survivor and old-age pensions, maternity benefits, and payment for work-related accidents and illnesses. The institute finances its activities by a mandatory payment of 12 percent of the salaries of all Venezuelan workers. The government has had great success in implementing programs of prenatal care and children's immunization, improving water and sanitary conditions, and eliminating diseases.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Venezuela 30 6 17 16 13 7 12
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Brazil 22 13 18 15 34 4 -6
Colombia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

The 1999 constitution guarantees to Venezuela's citizens a health-care system that is funded by the government. In 1979, 14 percent of the government's budget was targeted to providing health services, but by 1999, that percentage had fallen to 6 percent of the national budget. A fall in the salaries of health care providers has been accompanied by a decrease in the quantity and quality of services provided. One response to this problem has been for the central government to allow the states to make more decisions about how to spend the country's health care budget. This approach has had some success in improving the delivery of health care in some areas. Another approach, rejected by the Chávez government, called for the privatization of the Venezuelan Social Security Institute.

The urbanization of Venezuelan society since the 1950s has created its own class structures by leaving behind many rural workers, many of whom are poor, illiterate, and undocumented. Some of them live in public housing, others live rent-free in the barrios (slums) of Venezuela's cities, of which there are more than 1,000 in Caracas alone.


In 1999, some 10.225 million Venezuelans were part of the formal labor force (accounted for in official statistics), but it is possible that another 4 million workers may be part of the informal labor force (workers, mostly in menial jobs, who lack legal protections and benefits). Working conditions in Venezuela appear to vary according to the degree of urbanization that the worker enjoys, with more workers in cities represented by a union. Many of the work benefits made available by the Venezuelan Social Security Institute (such as maternity benefits or payment for work-related illnesses) are less available to rural workers than to their urban counterparts. Although only 25 percent of workers in the formal labor force are organized, the unions have been able to exert an influence over politics that is far greater than the number of workers they represent. For example, unions were instrumental in getting a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage in 1999 and a 20 percent increase in 2000. The Constitution of 1999 includes progressive provisions that regulate working hours and conditions.

Urbanization has also encouraged the increased participation and empowerment of women in the Venezuelan workforce. In 1987, women constituted 31 percent of the labor force. Still, women continue to receive lower salaries than men for comparable work, and are more likely to be members of the informal labor sector.

Venezuelans with a university degree are more likely to hold the prestigious jobs in business and the professions, and they are generally more philanthropic and active in their communities than their counterparts in other South American countries.


1498. Christopher Columbus arrives in Venezuela.

1527. The city of Coro is founded.

1567. Caracas is founded after Spanish defeat Caracas and Teque Indians.

1728. Merchants from the Basque region of Spain are given a monopoly by the Spanish king over imports and export of cocoa in Venezuela. African slaves are imported and the economy prospers.

1811. On July 5, Venezuela declares independence from Spain. Francisco Miranda becomes the dictator of the First Republic. Spanish royalists retake Caracas and other cities in Venezuela within the year.

1813. Simón Bolívar invades Venezuela, liberates Caracas, and establishes the Second Republic, of which he is dictator. The Second Republic is destroyed by royalists by 1814, but Bolívar retakes the country and forms the Third Republic by 1817.

1818. Republic of Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador) is proclaimed.

1829. Venezuela breaks away peacefully from Gran Colombia, led by José Páez.

1830. First Venezuelan Constitution is adopted.

1858-72. Civil wars and political disputes between liberals and conservatives disrupt the country. By 1872, the liberals gain control, introduce a new constitution, and institute economic reforms.

1899. The rule of the Andinos (5 military rulers from the Andean state of Táchira) begins with the military takeover of Caracas by General Cipriano Castro. The rule of the Andinos continues until 1958 (with exception of 1945-48).

1908-35. Dictatorial General Juan Vicent Gómez assumes power and rules until 1935.

1945. First revolution by a political party with popular support (Acción Democrática party). Liberal junta rules, headed by Rómulo Betancourt. Schools, hospitals and public housing are built.

1947. In the first free election in Venezuelan history, Rómulo Gallegos is elected president, but is deposed by the military after 9 months in office.

1951. Major Marcoz Pérez Jiménez assumes power, outlawing all political activity.

1958. A military coup against the Pérez government returns civilian rule and Rómulo Betancourt is reelected as president.

1969. First peaceful transition of power from Betancourt's AD to COPEI.

MID-1970s. Booming oil prices lead to increased government spending.

1979. Decrease in oil revenues leads to increasing inflation, unemployment, and capital flight .

1985. An austerity plan is put in place by President Lusinchi. The austerity measures lead to massive riots in which hundreds are killed in 1989.

1992. Junior military officers, including Hugo Chávez, make 2 unsuccessful coup attempts.

1993. Rafael Caldera is elected president.

1998. Hugo Chávez Frias is elected president; a new constitution is approved by the people. Venezuela experiences the worst natural disaster in its history, with floods and mudslides in the northern state of Vargas.

2000. Chávez reelected president under the new constitution.


The single most important issue that faces the Venezuelan economy today is its dependence on oil. Fluctuations in oil revenue have led to a predictable cycle of deficit spending, currency devaluation , inflation, recession, and unemployment. Venezuela is rich in natural resources and has a concerned citizenry, which can bolster the government's efforts to promote economic stability through privatization and the discipline of the marketplace. Though there is promise for Venezuela, the road ahead is fraught with difficulties.

The adoption of a new constitution in 1998 and the nationwide federal and local elections held in 2000 have ensured the legitimacy of the government. Now that government must continue to encourage growth in non-oil related industries. Telecommunications and power generation hold great promise for growth in the coming years, as do petroleum-related industries. Should the economy remain fairly strong, construction should also gain strength. Venezuela's future looks bright if it can spur similar growth in other, export-oriented industries, while maintaining its strengths in oil production.


Venezuela has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Venezuela. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States of America. <>. Accessed September 2001.

Enright, Michael J., Antonio Francés, and Edith Scott Saavedra. Venezuela: The Challenge of Competitiveness. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Hagerty, Richard A., editor. Venezuela: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Venezuela. <>. Accessed September 2001.

"Venezuela." International Financial Statistics Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2000.

Linz Audain




Bolívar (B). One bolívar (B) equals 100 céntimos. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, and 50 céntimos and 1, 2, and 5 bolívars. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 bolívars.


Petroleum, bauxite and aluminum, steel, chemicals, and agricultural products.


Raw materials, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, and construction materials.


US$146.2 billion (2000 est.).


Exports: US$32.8 billion (2000 est.). Imports: US$14.7 billion (2000 est.).

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Venezuela (vĕnəzwā´lə, Span. vānāswā´lä), officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, republic (2005 est. pop. 25,375,000), 352,143 sq mi (912,050 sq km), N South America. Venezuela has a coastline 1,750 mi (2,816 km) long on the Caribbean Sea in the north. It is bordered on the south by Brazil, on the west and southwest by Colombia, and on the east by Guyana. Dependencies include Margarita Island, Tortuga Island, and many smaller island groups in the Caribbean. The capital and largest city is Caracas.

Land and People

Geographically Venezuela is a land of vivid contrasts, with four major divisions: the Venezuelan highlands, the coastal lowlands, the basin of the Orinoco River, and the Guiana Highlands. An almost inaccessible and largely unexplored wilderness south of the Orinoco, the Guiana Highlands occupy more than half of the national territory and are noted for scenic wonders such as Angel Falls. Iron ore, gold, diamonds, and other minerals are found near Ciudad Bolívar and Ciudad Guayana. The dense forests of the region yield rubber, tropical hardwoods, and other forest products. The boundary with Brazil is mostly mountainous; its rain forests are home to thousands of indigenous inhabitants. The Orinoco, one of the great rivers of South America, has its source in this region. The Orinoco basin is a great pastoral area. North of the Orinoco and about the Apure River and its tributaries are the llanos, the vast, hot Orinoco plains, where there is a great cattle industry.

Oil is found north of the Orinoco in Anzoátequi and Guárico states, but it is thick and was not easily extracted and refined. Prior to the 1990s the most vital oil region economically was an area in the coastal plains, the lowlands around Lake Maracaibo. There, since 1918, foreign and, later, Venezuelan interests have developed astonishingly rich oil fields. The coastal lowlands are exceedingly hot, but coastal ranges rise abruptly from the Caribbean to cool altitudes of 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,830–2,130 m). These ranges soon become a region of hills, intermontane basins, and plateaus known as the Venezuelan highlands and are a spur of the Andes. Further to the southwest, close to Barquisimeto, the mountains rise to their greatest height at Pico Bolívar (16,427 ft/5,007 m) in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida.

Densely populated, the highland region is the political and commercial hub of the nation. Coffee, the keystone of the economy before the oil boom, comes from the slopes and cocoa from the lower foothills. Valencia and Maracay are, next to Caracas, the chief cities of the mountain basins. Economically dominant in the 19th cent., they are still major urban centers, despite some loss of power because of the oil boom along the coast. Cattle from the llanos are fattened on the rich valley grasses near Lake Valencia. Field crops are intensively cultivated in the vicinity.

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


About 13% of Venezuelans are engaged in farming. The chief crops are corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, and coffee. There is also extensive livestock raising and fishing. Venezuela's mountains long impeded the nation's economic development because of the communications problems they presented. The country has developed a fine highway system, but goods are still carried primarily by ship. Venezuela has petroleum reserves that are by some estimates the second largest in the world, and oil accounts for about 90% of the export income, 50% of government earnings, and 30% of the gross domestic product. Venezuela is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. Other exports are bauxite, aluminum, steel, chemicals, iron ore, coffee, cocoa, rice, and cotton. Imports include raw materials, machinery, transportation equipment, and construction materials. The main trading partners are the United States, Colombia, and Brazil. A large amount of oil is exported to the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba for refining. Maracaibo, Puerto Cabello, La Guaira, and Cumaná are the important ports.

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

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


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


Early History and the Colonial Era

The Arawaks and the Caribs were the earliest inhabitants of Venezuela, along with certain nomadic hunting and fishing tribes. Columbus discovered the mouths of the Orinoco in 1498. In 1499 the Venezuelan coast was explored by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci. The latter, coming upon an island off the Paraguaná peninsula (probably Aruba), nicknamed it Venezuela (little Venice) because of native villages built above the water on stilts; the name held and was soon applied to the mainland. Spanish settlements were established on the coast at Cumaná (1520) and Santa Ana de Coro (1527).

The major task of the conquest was accomplished by German adventurers—Ambrosio de Alfinger, George de Speyer and especially Nikolaus Federmann—in the service of the Welsers, German bankers who had obtained rights in Venezuela from Emperor Charles V. During part of the colonial period the area was an adjunct of New Granada. Cocoa cultivation was the mainstay of the colonial economy. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the coastline was attacked by English buccaneers, and in the 18th cent. there was a brisk smuggling trade with the British islands of the West Indies.

Independence and Civil Strife

In 1795 there was an uprising against Spanish control, but it was only after Napoleon had taken control of Spain that a real revolution began (1810) in Venezuela, under Francisco de Miranda. In 1811 complete independence was declared, but the revolution soon encountered difficulties. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed cities held by the patriots and helped to forward the cause of the royalists. Later, however, Simón Bolívar (born in Venezuela) and his lieutenants, working from Colombia, were able to liberate Venezuela despite setbacks administered by the royalist commander, Pablo Morillo. The victory of Carabobo (1821) secured independence from Spain.

Venezuela and other territories became part of the federal republic of Greater Colombia. Almost from the beginning, however, Venezuela was restive. José Antonio Páez, who had conquered the last Spanish garrison at Puerto Cabello in 1823, favored independence. He was a caudillo with a strong following among the hardy cattlemen, the llaneros. In 1830 the separatists gained the upper hand, and Venezuela became an independent state. Páez was the leading figure. Although conservative and liberal parties appeared, the actual control of Venezuela was held mainly by caudillos from the landholding class. After Páez, José Tadeo Monagas and his brother entrenched (1846) themselves in power, but not before a bitter struggle was waged to prevent the refractory Páez from keeping a large measure of political control.

The Monagas brothers were overthrown in 1858, and civil war among caudillos became chronic. A brief liberal regime under Juan Falcón created the decentralized United States of Venezuela in 1864. From 1870 to 1888, Guzmán Blanco dominated Venezuela. He improved education, communications, and finances, crushed the church, and enriched himself. He was overthrown in 1888, but dictatorship was resumed four years later under Joaquín Crespo. During Crespo's regime began the Venezuela Boundary Dispute with Great Britain over the border with British Guiana (now Guyana). Cipriano Castro, a new dictator, came to power in 1899. The financial corruption and incompetence of his administration helped to bring on a new international incident, that of the Venezuela Claims.

The year 1908 marked the beginning of the rule of one of the longest-lasting of all Latin American dictators, Juan Vicente Gómez, who stayed in power until his death in 1935. His regime was one of total and absolute tyranny, although he did force the state (with the help of foreign oil concessions) into national solvency and material prosperity. His death was followed by popular celebration. Eleazar López Contreras became president (1935–41) and increased Venezuela's share of the oil companies' profits; under his legally elected successor, Isaías Medina Angarita, Venezuela sympathized with the Allies and finally entered World War II on the Allied side in 1945.

Late-20th-Century Venezuela

Later in 1945 a military junta committed to democracy and social reform gained control of the government, which was then headed by Rómulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action party. A new constitution promulgated in 1947 provided, for the first time in Venezuelan history, for the election of a president by direct popular vote. The first president elected under the new constitution was the eminent novelist Rómulo Gallegos. His administration, however, was short-lived.

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

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

The 1973 presidential election was won by Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez of the Democratic Action party. That same year Venezuela joined the Andean Group (later the Andean Community), an economic association of Latin American nations. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized its foreign-owned oil and iron companies. Luis Herrera Campíns replaced Pérez in 1978. A decrease in world oil prices during the early 1980s shocked the Venezuelan economy and massively increased Venezuela's foreign debt.

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

The Chávez Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chávez used Venezuela's increased oil revenues to fund social programs, to create a large military reserve and expanded militia, and to establish programs designed to reduce the effects of high energy prices on Caribbean nations. Chávez also publicly accused the United States of planning an invasion to overthrow him, while U.S. officials accused him of supporting antidemocratic forces in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador. His public support, in 2006, for one candidate in the Peruvian presidential race and criticisms of the ultimate winner, Alan García, led Peru to recall its ambassador. Venezuela was admitted to full membership in Mercosur in mid-2006 (ratifed in 2012); at the same time it withdrew from the Andean Community, whose members included Peru and Colombia.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in Nov., 2008, Chávez's allies again won a majority of the posts in local and regional elections, but the opposition increased the number of posts it held and won the Caracas mayorlty. Subsequent government moves stripped significant powers from posts that opposition candidates won, further concentrating power in central government hands, and the government launched corruption investigations or other cases against a number of leading opposition figures and critics. By late 2009, drought and increasing energy demands had led to such low water levels behind the Guri Dam (which supplies nearly three fourths of the country's electricity) that industrial cutbacks and other rationing measures, including rolling blackouts in 2010, were instituted. In Feb., 2010, the government declared an electricity emergency and imposed stricter rationing.

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

Chávez was again reelected in Oct., 2012, after having been treated for cancer and declaring himself fully recovered; his margin of victory was much less than in 2006. Subsequently, however, the president was again treated for cancer. This time, complications kept him in a Cuban hospital and led to the postponing of his Jan., 2013, inauguration. In Dec., 2012, Chávez's party made gains in the governors elections. Chávez died in Mar., 2013, after returning to Venezuela; Nicolás Maduro Moros, his vice president, became interim president.

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

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

Antigovernment demonstrations surged beginning in Feb., 2014, after students protested alleged police indifference to an attempted sexual assault; weeks of protests were marked by clashes with security forces and attacks by armed militants loyal to government. A number of opposition leaders, mainly from more hardline groups, were arrested in February and March, and three air force generals were arrested in March on charges of plotting an uprising. Denunciations of opposition plots against the president and arrests and charges against political opponents continued into 2015. Maduro also faced criticism beginning in 2014 from prominent leftists who had been supporters of Chávez. After the United States imposed sanctions against Venezuelan officials for alleged human-rights violations in early 2015, Maduro sought and was given the power to govern by decree during 2015. He subsequently revived the boundary dispute with Guyana, over oil exploration offshore of Guyanaese territory.


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

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Official name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Area: 912,050 square kilometers (352,144 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Bolívar Peak (5,007 meters/16,427 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 8 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,487 kilometers (924 miles) from west-northwest to east-southeast; 1,175 kilometers (730 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest

Land boundaries: 4,993 kilometers (3,103 miles) total boundary length; Brazil 2,200 kilometers (1,367 miles); Colombia 2,050 kilometers (1,274 miles); Guyana 743 kilometers (462 miles)

Coastline: 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Venezuela is located on the Caribbean Sea on the northern coast of South America, sharing borders with Guyana, Brazil, and Colombia. With a total area of about 912,050 square kilometers (352,144 square miles), the country is slightly more than twice the size of California. Venezuela is administratively divided into twenty-three states, one federal district, and one federal dependency.


Eleven offshore island groups containing a total of seventy-two islands are considered to be part of Venezuela.


With a tropical climate, Venezuela has little seasonal variation in temperature; there is considerable variation based on altitude, however, with much cooler weather in the Andean heights of the northwest than on the plains. Temperatures average 26°C to 28°C (79°F to 83°F) in the lowlands and plains that are below 800 meters (2,625 feet). On terrain that has elevations between 800 and 2,000 meters (2,625 to 6,560 feet), temperatures average 12°C to 25°C (54°F to 77°F). At elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 meters (6,560 and 9,840 feet), temperatures average 9°C to 11°C (48°F to 52°F). Finally, in the high mountains above 3,000 meters (9,840 feet), there are permanent snowfields and annual temperatures average below 8°C (46°F).

Two basic seasons occur in Venezuela: a wet season from May through November, which is commonly referred to as winter; and a dry season, or summer, from December through April. The average annual rainfall in Venezuela is 81 centimeters (32 inches), with more rain falling in the mountains and less on the Caribbean coast and islands. Humidity averages 50 to 60 percent. Heavy rains cause periodic flooding; for example, in December 1999, floods caused mudslides that destroyed settlements on the deforested river banks and hillsides in northern Venezuela, killing thirty thousand people.


Venezuela occupies a large and varied region of northern South America, with a Caribbean coast, extensions of the Andes Mountains, rainforests, and grassy plains. Geographers divide Venezuela into four regions: the Maracaibo Lowlands, the Northern Mountains, the Orinoco Lowlands, and the Guiana Highlands.

Venezuela is situated on the South American Tectonic Plate. The northern shoreline, however, sits on the border between this plate and the Caribbean Plate. The South American Tectonic Plate is slowly sliding westward while the Caribbean Plate is sliding eastward. Over millions of years, the action of these plates has caused the formation of rocky cliffs on the Caribbean Coast as well as myriad fault lines running through north-central Venezuela. The major fault line, the San Sebastian Fault, runs along the border between the two plates. Earthquakes and landslides often occur here.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Venezuela's northern shore meets the Caribbean Sea, which is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. The coral reefs off the coast have been damaged by silt buildups and tourist development.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gulf of Venezuela, an inlet of the Caribbean, lies at the far northwestern coastline of the country. This Gulf spills into Lake Maracaibo. On the eastern coast, the Gulf of Paria is partially enclosed by the neighboring island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. The Dragon's Mouth Strait links the Gulf of Paria to the Caribbean and separates northern Trinidad from the tip of the Paria Peninsula. The Serpent's Mouth Strait connects the Paria to the Atlantic Ocean and separates southern Trinidad from Venezuela. Near the Guyana border, the delta of the Orinoco River includes many small inlets.

Islands and Archipelagos

Seventy-two islands belong to Venezuela. The most important by far is Margarita Island (Isla Margarita), which has an area of about 1,067 square kilometers (412 square miles). Though rocky and receiving little rainfall, it is nevertheless heavily populated and intensively farmed. The other islands vary from coral atolls to sand-bars to rocks. The 220-square-kilometer (85-square-mile) La Tortuga Island is located 88 kilometers (55 miles) west of Margarita. The most distant island, the tiny islet of Aves, is situated 483 kilometers (300 miles) north of Margarita. Morrocoy National Park, a wildlife preserve, is a small archipelago off the eastern coast.

Coastal Features

Venezuela boasts the Caribbean's longest coastline. Nature refuges and tourist resort areas are interspersed along the rocky coast. The Guajira Peninsula at the far northwest coast is shared with Colombia. The Paraguaná Peninsula helps define the Gulf of Venezuela. The central coast has sandy beaches and rocky cliffs as it undulates gently around to the Paria Peninsula, which juts out toward Trinidad.

Along the coast, Venezuela has five sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Los Roques Archipelago is a group of forty-five small islands surrounding a lagoon, with coral reefs and mangroves. Ciénaga de Los Olivitos is a coastal salt marsh area and a significant bird habitat that is threatened by salt mining. Cuare, Restinga Lagoon, and Tacarigua Lagoon are also coastal wetlands, with mangroves, birds, and turtles. Other wetlands include the mudflats of the Orinoco Delta, with more than seventy outlets spread out over 23,300 square kilometers (9,000 square miles).


Lake Maracaibo, covering about 16,316 square kilometers (6,300 square miles), is the largest inland body of water in Latin America. In the north, it is directly connected to the Gulf of Venezuela by an island-dotted channel some 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length. The lake has an average depth of 9 meters (30 feet) and is navigable to its southern end. The connection with the sea makes the lake brackish (a mixture of salt water and fresh water).

Second in importance among Venezuela's hundreds of lakes is Lake Valencia (369 square kilometers/142 square miles), located southwest of Caracas in the heart of the country's best agricultural lands. Originally, this lake drained southward toward the Orinoco, but forest clearing on surrounding mountain slopes and over-planting of adjacent level ground caused its waters to subside until it was left without a surface outlet. Lake Valencia and Lake Maracaibo are both badly polluted by sewage and industrial waste.

Other lakes include the large, mercury-contaminated Guri Reservoir on the Canaima River and other reservoirs formed by hydroelectric dams, as well as numerous small mountain lakes in the Cordillera de Mérida. The coastal lowlands are also scattered with lagoons.


Although there are more than one thousand rivers in Venezuela, the river systems are dominated by the Orinoco River. The Orinoco flows west, then north, and then east for 2,574 kilometers (1,600 miles) to the Atlantic Ocean from its source in the Guiana Highlands at the Brazilian border. This river carries an enormous amount of water, and it is among the greatest rivers in the world in terms of volume. It is as wide as 8 kilometers (5 miles) in some areas. Its flow varies substantially by season. When the river is low, Atlantic tidal effects can reach Ciudad Bolívar, 418 kilometers (260 miles) upstream.

The Orinoco River system includes 436 tributaries. A few of the longest of these are the Arauca, Apure, Meta, Guaviare, and Ventuari. The Orinoco system provides drainage for about four-fifths of the country. It gathers the interior runoff from the Northern Mountains, most of the water from the Guiana Highlands, and the seasonal waters of the extensive great plains (llanos ). As the Orinoco passes through the central part of southern Venezuela, it divides its waters. Through the Casiquiare Channel, it sends one-third of its volume through the Negro River to the Amazon River along navigable waterways.


Angel Fallsthe highest waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet), including a straight drop of 807 meters (2,647 feet)is a spectacular sight in Venezuela's Guiana Highlands. Its waters plunge from the 600-square-kilometer (232-square-mile) mesa, Auyán Tepuy, considered the abode of spirits by local Pemon Indians. The waterfall is named after American bush pilot Jimmie Angel, who revealed its existence to the world in 1935.

Most of the rivers rising in Venezuela's Cordillera de Mérida flow southeastward to the Apure River, a tributary of the Orinoco. From its headwaters in the Cordillera de Mérida, the Apure crosses the llanos in a generally eastward direction. There are also rivers that flow north from the Cordillera de Mérida into Lake Maracaibo and the Caribbean, including the Tuy River, which drains the country's most prosperous agricultural lands.

The country's other major river is the fast-flowing Caroni, which originates in the Gran Sabana and flows northward to join the Orinoco at Ciudad Guayana. Major hydroelectric projects have been established on its course.


There are no desert regions in Venezuela.


North of the Orinoco, the llanos (grasslands) cover about 300,000 square kilometers (115,800 square miles). These plains, broken by low mesas, are used for cattle grazing. The rivers and streams winding through the llanos seasonally overflow their banks, turning the grasslands into wetlands, which then gradually dry out. These alternately wet and dry grasslands form an extraordinary wild-life habitat with many species of birds (such as ibis, herons, storks), mammals (such as capybaras and pumas), and reptiles (such as anacondas and caimans).

In the Gran Sabana, south of the Orinoco in the Guiana Highlands along the Brazilian frontier, grasslands surround the forested tepui (tabletop mountains).

Venezuela suffered the loss of over 8 percent of its forests during the 1980s. The deforestation resulted mainly from agricultural and ranching expansion and also from urbanization, pollution, and logging. About 60 percent of the natural forest north of the Orinoco River was destroyed.

At present, 48 percent of Venezuela still has forest cover, which survives mostly in the northeast around the Orinoco Delta, the southeast, and the south. Mining and logging operations, both legal and illegal, continue to deforest the Guiana Highlands, however, where much of the remaining natural forest is found.

Efforts are being made to protect the remaining forests, with 35 percent of Venezuela's land use officially regulated and 29 percent of Venezuela's terrain designated as national park land. Huge forest parks include the Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Orinoco-Casiquiare (83,000 square kilometers/32,046 square miles) in the south, which is the world's largest protected tropical rainforest, and Canaima National Park (30,000 square kilometers/11,583 square miles) in the Guiana Highlands.

Hill regions of Venezuela include Tachira (a coffee-growing area in the west), the Sierra de San Luis in the northwest, Margarita Island, and the Paria Peninsula, as well as parts of the south. The capital, Caracas, is surrounded by urbanized, deforested hillsides that are vulnerable to landslides.


The Northern Mountains and their spur ranges extend from the Colombian border on the west to the coastal Paria Peninsula on the east. The Andes Mountains rise in Venezuela as the Cordillera de Mérida, containing permanently snow-capped peaks. The highest mountain in Venezuela, Bolívar Peak, at over 5,007 meters (16,427 feet), is located in this chain. The Cordillera de Mérida extends nearly to the Caribbean coast. The Cordillera de Venezuela runs eastward along the coast. This range, where altitudes average over 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) and individual peaks reach from 2,133 to 2,743 meters (7,000 to 9,000 feet), is flanked on the north by narrow coastal plains, except where the mountain slopes descend directly to the Caribbean. Part of the Cordillera de Venezuela terminates at Cape Codera on the Caribbean, but remnants of a parallel range continue eastward, ending near the Unare River.

Farther eastward the Cumana Highlands (also called the Eastern Highlands) rise in a broad block and extend to the east, terminating near the Gulf of Paria. At the core of the Cumana Highlands, some peaks reach 2,438 meters (8,000 feet), but most of the system is made up of relatively low, dissected uplands.

In the south, the Guiana Highlands contain many mountain ranges. The Sierra Parima and Pacaraima Mountains form the southeastern borders with Brazil, extending south and east, respectively, from a common point of origin. The Sierra Parima reach heights of 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) while Mount Roraina in the Pacaraima Mountains towers to 2,810 meters (9,218 feet). The Sierra Maigualida form an arc in the center of southern Venezuela.


Dramatic river canyons cut through the Canaima region of the Guiana Highlands. Devil's Canyon lies at the foot of Angel Falls in southeastern Venezuela. Kavac Canyon is one of the world's narrowest, with a depth of 122 meters (400 feet) but a width of only 1.2 meters (4 feet). Hacha Canyon is also located in the Canaima region. The Cordillera de Mérida contains several river canyons, such as Santa Catalina Canyon near Merída.

Oil Bird Cave (La Cueva del Guácharo), located near the town of Caripe, is the largest cavern in the country. The cave is named for the bird species that has inhabited the cave for several generations. The birds are considered to be one of the largest colonies of this unique species, a nocturnal, fruit-eating bird that can grow to a size of 33 centimeters (13 inches) with a wingspan of 91 centimeters (36 inches). Though native inhabitants had explored the entry to the cave in order to hunt the birds, Alexander von Humboldt conducted the first scientific exploration of the cave during his famous expedition to South America (1799-1804).


In the northwest, the Cordillera de Mérida chain broadens northward to form the Segovia Highlands, which consists of heavily dissected plateaus decreasing in altitudes from 1,828 meters (6,000 feet) at their southern extremity to 183 meters (600 feet) in the north.


The term "Latin America" is more of a cultural and political designation than a geographic description. It generally refers to the countries of the Western Hemisphere, south of the United States, where the native language is Spanish, Portuguese, or French. These three languages are Romance languages, which means that they were all derived from Latin, the language spoken by the ancient Romans.

The Guiana Highlands, rising almost immediately south of the Orinoco River, are considered to be the oldest land areas of the country; erosion over the centuries has caused unusual formations. Comprising about 57 percent of the national territory, the 517,988-square-kilometer (200,000-square-mile) highlands consist principally of plateau areas scored by swiftly running tributaries of the Orinoco. The most conspicuous topographical feature of the region is the Gran Sabana, a deeply eroded high plateau some 36,260 square kilometers (14,000 square miles) high, that rises deep in the interior in abrupt cliffs reaching elevations up to 762 meters (2,500 feet). From its rolling surface emerge massive perpendicular, flat-topped bluffs, called tepuis. The loftiest tepui, Mount Roraima (at the intersection of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana), exceeds 2,743 meters (9,000 feet).


The enormous Guri hydroelectric project on the Caroni River, the second-largest hydro-electric plant in the world, contains one of the world's largest dams. Completed in 1986, the damming of this river caused the flooding of large forest areas. This massive flooding resulted in environmental protests, including vigorous opposition to a plan to run power cables from the Guri project through the Cainama National Park to Brazil. A megadam project to generate electricity for export has been proposed for the Caura River in the central Guiana Highlands. This proposal is also causing a great deal of controversy among environmentalists.



Fox, Geoffrey. The Land and People of Venezuela. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Heinrichs, Ann. Venezuela. New York: Children's Press, 1997.

Jordan, Tanis, and Martin Jordan. Angel Falls: A South American Journey. New York: Kingfisher Books, 1995.

Murphy, Alan, and Mick Day. Venezuela Handbook. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 2001.


George, Uwe. "Venezuela's Islands in Time." National Geographic, May 1989, 526-562.

Web Site

Venezuela Yours. (accessed June 19, 2003).

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Venezuela is located on the northernmost tip of the South American continent. Its shoreline opens to the Caribbean Sea. The Venezuelan territory encompasses a portion of the Andes mountains chain, the Maracaibo Lake, and the Orinoco River basin and contains the regions of Guayana, Amazonia and the Plains. The capital city is Caracas. Venezuela has a wealth of raw materials—iron, asphalt, bauxite, water, coal, and above all, oil. The country is known worldwide as an oil-producing country.

Family, Society, and Culture

The axis organizing Venezuelan society does not lie in matrimonial alliances, mercantile practices, or religious ideology, but in the family. Based on the work of demographer James Mayone Stycos (1958), the definition of the family in the Venezuelan culture may explain Kingsley Davis's concern (1942) about Latin America as the black continent, speaking sociologically, with a social organization that is more unintelligible than Africa's. Characterized as matrifocal, Venezuelan family dynamics express one type of female-centered familism. Family conduct generally emphasizes the mother as the stable figure and decision-maker. Although families appear to be organized patrilineally, the cultural pattern is in reality matrilineal.

Conjugal forms of family and marriage are provided for in the civil and ecclesiastical codes that date from colonial times (Almecija 1992). However, these forms do not agree with the cultural reality. Various authors explain Venezuelan families in different ways (see e.g., Peattie 1968; Pollak-Eltz 1975). José L.Vethencourt (1974) considers Venezuelan family structure as atypical and as a failure to meet to bourgeois norms. His concept of matricentrism is conveyed in machismo, and both of these terms constitute conceptual poles in his structural analysis. Alejandro Moreno (1993) accepts Vethencourt's concepts but regards the family not as a failure to meet norms, but rather as an authentic Latin American family form. Rafael Lopez (1980) identifies this type of family with the Afro-Caribbean race, where the female is the focus of mythical and symbolic meanings in the kinship structuring process. The 1975 Congress on Family and Marriage in the Caribbean and Central America (Marks and Römer, 1975) discussed the matrifocal concept not mythologically but sociologically. The conclusion of this discussion was that concepts of matricentrism and matrifocality are insufficient to explain the reality of the Venezuelan family, that is, the powerful role of the grandmother figure.

Following a more sociological tendency, authors such as Gustavo Martin (1990), Manuel Briceño (1994) and Samuel Hurtado (1998) suggest that the Venezuelan family structure is ethnotypical—that is, it conveys the cultural pattern and explains the social structure. When the model cultural is so basic and strong, it affects societal rules. Society behaves as a family, characterized by an extremely pampering mother (Hurtado 1999). The neologism matrisociality defines the family-society relationship; however, the family structure interprets that relationship. Writers such as Alain Marie (1972), Audrey I. Richards (1982) and Karla Poewe (1981) have pointed to the tensions that exist in social organizations where the family structures tend toward a matrilineal system.

Excessive Motherhood

Economic and political strategies of the family determine patterns of social organization (Hurtado 1993, 1995). The matrifocal phenomenon can be seen in the figure of the grandmother. As decisionmaker, her figure represents the principle of family reciprocity. The residence of the extended family is matrilocal, based on the grandmother's settlement. Low-income nuclear families live in or near the grandmother's household. Middle-class and wealthy families may reside elsewhere, but communicate with and visit the grandmother frequently, ensuring mutual help (Hurtado 1998). In one study in a Caracas shantytown, one-half of nuclear family groups of three related extended families dwelt in the grandmother's household (total 14), and another half (total 16) in the grand-mother's neighborhood (Hurtado 1995)

Reciprocal systems depend upon the economic forms within family groups according to family composition and life cycle. There is mother, husband, wife, and filial economics, for example, and each has its specific function. There is a central function for mutual help among nuclear families related by grandmother. The contributions from the others make active a sort of semi-clan.

Matrifocality does not necessarily mean that the father is physically absent. However, the husband represents a marginal figure in the family group, even when married by civil norm and eccesiastical ritual. The husband is a lover of mother and a possible begetter of children, but there is no father figure evident in the cultural pattern. "A drinker husband is not a problem; the problem is a wicked son. The marriage is above all the children," is the attitude typical of a wife in this pattern (Hurtado 1998).

The Venezuelan family consists of a group of women and children. It is a family without conjugality, where women only need men to procreate. The mother is worshipped at the expense of the father. Within this excessive motherhood, fatherhood and conjugal relations occur only in ritual forms and fantasy. The mother-child relationship with its overprotecting nucleus is the paradigm.

To be a mother defines the paradigmatic relationship. Scholarly studies (Vethencourt 1974, 1995; Rísquez 1982; Moreno 1993, 1994; López 1980, 1993; Hurtado 1998, 1999), looking at sociological facts as well as symbol, characterize the mother figure according to a fundamental threefold shape, or three archetypal models: a mother is a begetter, a virgin, and a martyr. Data for these studies are obtained not by statistical methods but rather by qualitative methods—for example, large interviews, life stories, biographies, and fieldwork. Each part of this threefold shape is explained as follows:

  1. The belief that a woman is a mother because she gives birth involves a cultural destiny that constitutes the begetter archetype. If the woman begets, she becomes respectable; otherwise the culture qualifies her as an embittered person. Motherhood is always emphasized. Pregnancy is welcomed with joy and celebrated by rubbing the future mother's belly. Ideally, a male child is expected for it reaffirms motherhood, even though a baby girl is desired. Part of this archetype of motherhood is a long period of breastfeeding. Samuel Hurtado (1998) has found that breastfeeding continues for one to two years (24 women), as long as the child wanted it (14 women), or until another baby is born (3 women). Any pediatric advice against this long period of breastfeeding is ignored under the intervention of the mother's mother (Torres 1996);
  2. The virgin mother defines the second archetype. The grandmother is the virgin mother raising children she has not borne. The grandmother wants and seeks more for her grandchildren than for her own children. The mother-son structural axis continues in the grandmother-grandchild relationship. The grandmother develops a feeling of ownership over her grandchildren that are stronger than her daughter's. A mother that never becomes a grandmother does not fully and happily realize her motherhood. This is similar to the phenomenon of the woman who shows more devotion to an adopted child than to her biological offspring. This symbolic transformation is inherent in every woman because Venezuelan culture makes her a mother from the time of her conception. In this manner, girls and young ladies feel their fathers and baby brothers are their children;
  3. From indulgence and abandonment emerges the third archetype: the martyr mother. Women radically despise men. The mother suffers because she has to let her son as a male leave her home. Husbands are almost an unnecessary burden. In the reciprocal husband-wife system, he is only a provider, whom society calls family father. If he abandons his wife but gives money to his children, he is not considered irresponsible. The passage to manhood is very hard, as it means that the young male will be removed from his mother's concern. A mother expects that her son will leave the home in search of amusement with other women, and yet never forgives him for being born male. The marital process has a similar logic. Separation means that a woman expels the man from the house. The woman, the symbol and reality of the home and in whose womb the families originate, remains with the house and everything inside, including children. The man departs in solitude without taking by any belongings.

Separation is not necessarily preceded by the interference of another woman. In spite of what they might say, Venezuelan women accept that the man has another woman. The explanation that is commonly offered is that another woman stood in their way—his mother, even though this may not be true.

Living Together

According to the cultural pattern, the world is divided into two halves: the feminine side, valued as good, and the masculine side, valued as evil. The woman is identified with the house, and the housewife is the good woman. The man is identified with the street, symbolically a no man's land. According to this pattern, if a man spends too much time at home he will become effeminate. His obligation is to play the macho with other women, who symbolically turn into mean women because they are exposed to the masculine libido. From this male-female pattern, three masculine types emerge (Hurtado 1998): the man who respects his home but has sex with other women on occasional basis; the crook who fails to respect his home because his sexual affairs with other women have been discovered; and the marico (effeminate) who is afraid of troubles with women and confines himself to his mother's house.

Living together in Venezuela does not coincide with concubinage or cohabitation without legitimacy. Civil marriage is the form with the highest degree of legitimacy and respectability, and reaches its apotheosis when blessed by the ecclesiastical rite. Here the woman is the traditional real bride in a wedding gown. This ideal form of the ecclesiastical marriage, or main marriage, is considered the "first" one by most people. Other forms of living together, however, are seen as legitimate, normal and respectable, even though they differ in degree. The second and successive women (those not married to the man, living in other households with their children), together with their respective families, are consubstantial with the multiple marital configurations, although from the legal point of view they may be linked to hidden concubinage, adultery, or other punishable cohabitation forms (Briceño 1994; Salazar 1985; Hurtado 1998).

The successive marriages show a general tendency to polygyny in men, and to polyandry in women, as characteristics of machismo (Vethen-court 1974). In spite of civil and eccesiastical codes and religious ritual, many people do not marry, but join in real significance. Machismo is not explained in its counterpart, hembrismo, but in maternalism and the mother-macho relationship. Both machismo and hembrismo originated in the mother-child dynamics. Machismo and patriarchy are not synonymous. According to the cultural system there is matriarchal machismo as well as patriarchal machismo.


There are the concepts of matricentrism, matrifocality, and matrisociality that purport to explain family relations in Venezuela, but social scientists are challenged in conceptualizing the Venezuelan family. Knowledge of the family is found in cultural behavior, which centers on social relations. Scholars point to the mother as the key figure. The mother figure as an archetype has implications for other family figures as father and children, and for conjugal relations. The apotheosis of this ideal motherhood is the grandmother figure, the family's primary decision maker. While the mother/grandmother is the center of the family, living together outside of marriage is common and is seen as legitimate and respectable.

See also:Hispanic-American Families; Latin America


almécija, j. (1992). la familia en la provincia devenezuela. madrid, mapfre.

briceño, j. m. (1994). el laberinto de los tres minotauros. caracas: monte avila editores latinoamericana.

davis, k. (1942). "changing modes of marriage." in marriage and family, ed. becker and hill. boston: heath.

hurtado, s. (1993). gerencias campesinas en venezuela.caracas: consejo de desarrollo científico y humanístico de la universidad central de venezuela.

hurtado, s. (1995). trabajo femenino, fecundidad y familia popular urbana. caracas: consejo de desarrollo científico y humanístico de la universidad central de venezuela.

hurtado, s. (1998). matrisocialidad: exploración en la estructura psicodinámica básica de la familia venezolana. caracas: coediciones de la facultad de ciencias económicas y sociales y de la biblioteca central de la universidad central de venezuela.

hurtado, s. (1999). la sociedad tomada por la familia.ediciones de la biblioteca central de la universidad central de venezuela.

lévi-strauss, c. (1975). "la familia." in hombre, cultura y sociedad, ed. h. l. shapiro. méxico: fondo de cultura económica. ot: man, culture and society. london: oxford university press, 1956.

lópez, r. (1980). "the matrifocal family: a critical review of scholarly social science." master's thesis, university of chicago.

lópez, r. (1993). parentesco, etnia y clase social en la sociedad venezolana. caracas: consejo de desarrollo científico y humanístico de la universidad central de venezuela.

marie, a. (1972). "parenté, echange matrimonial et réciprocité" l'homme, xii, 3:5–46, 4:5–36.

marks, a. f. and römer, r. a., eds. (1975). family andkinship in middle america and the caribbean. curaçao, netherlands antilles: institute of higher studies; and leiden, the netherlands: royal institute of linguistics and anthropology.

martín, g. (1990). homo-lógicas, ed. de la facultad deciencias económicas y sociales de la universidad central de venezuela, caracas.

moreno, a. (1993). el aro y la trama. episteme, modernidad y pueblo. caracas: coediciones del centro de investigaciones populares y la universidad de carabobo.

moreno, a. (1994). padre y madre? caracas: centro de investigaciones populares.

peattie, l. r. (1968). the view from the barrio. ann arbor:the university of michigan press.

poewe, k. (1981). matrilineal ideology. toronto: academic press.

pollak-eltz, a. (1975). "the black family in venezuela." in family and marriage in middle america and the caribbean, ed a. f. marks and and r. a. römer. curaçao, netherlands antilles: institute of higher studies; and leiden, the netherlands: royal institute of linguistics and anthropology.

richards, a. i. (1982). "algunos tipos de estructura familiar entre los bantúes centrales." in sistemas africanos de parentesco y matrimonio, ed. a. r. radcliffe-brown and c. d. forde. barcelona: anagrama.

rísquez, f. (1982). conceptos de psicodinamia. caracas:monte avila.

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torres, m. (1996). "el complejo del destete y la aglactación." ph.d. thesis, universidad central de venezuela, caracas.

vethencourt, j. l. (1974). "la estructura familiar atípica y el fracaso histórico cultural en venezuela." revista sic (february):67–69.

vethencourt, j. l. (1995). "la madre absorbente envenezuela." heterotopía 1(sept.–dec.):93–101.


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912,050sq km (352,143sq mi)



capital (population):

Caracas (1,763,100)


Federal republic

ethnic groups:

Mestizo 67%, White 21%, Black 10%, Native American 2%


Spanish (official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 94%)


Bolívar = 100 céntimos

Republic in n South America. The w part of the Republic of Venezuela contains the Maracaibo lowlands, which surround the the oil-rich Lake Maracaibo, and the city of Maracaibo. Arms of the Andes mountains extend across most of n Venezuela. Situated in this region are Caracas and Valencia. A low-lying region, drained by the River Orinoco, lies between the n mountains and the Guiana Highlands in the se. The Guiana Highlands contain Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, with a total drop of 980m (3212ft).

Climate and Vegetation

Venezuela has a tropical climate. Lowland temperatures are always high, but the mountains are cooler and wetter. Much of the country has a marked dry season from December to April. About 34% of Venezuela is forested, with dense rainforest in the Orinoco basin and in the Guiana Highlands. Tropical savanna covers the lowlands; mountain grassland occurs in the highlands. Only c.4% of the land is cultivated.

History and politics

The original inhabitants of Venezuela were the Arawak and Carib Native Americans. In 1498 Christopher Columbus became the first European to sight Venezuela. In 1499, Amerigo Vespucci explored the coastline and nicknamed the country Venezuela (Sp. ‘little Venice’). Spanish settlements were soon established and German explorers, notably Nikolaus Federmann, completed the conquest. Venezuela became part of the Spanish colonial administrative area of New Granada. In the late 18th century, Francisco de Miranda led uprisings against Spanish rule.

In 1821, Simón Bolívar liberated Venezuela and it became part of Greater Colombia, a republic that also included Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. In 1830, Venezuela became a separate state. Political instability and civil war marred the mid- to late-19th century. Venezuela was ruled by a series of dictators: Guzmán Blanco was followed by Joaquín Crespo and then Cipriano Castro, under whom financial corruption scoured new depths. Juan Vicente Gómez's long and autocratic rule (1908–35) provided the stability for Venezuela to pay off its debts, helped by international interest in its rich oilfields.

In 1945, a pro-democracy military junta, led by Rómulo Betancourt, gained control. In 1948, Rómulo Gallegos was elected president, but in the same year a military coup re-established a dictatorship. In 1958, popular risings brought a return to democracy, with Betancourt as president. Venezuela became increasingly prosperous, but left-wing uprisings, notably two revolts in 1962 (covertly supported by Fidel Castro), led to much violence. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized its oil industry, using the money to raise living standards. In 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez became president. He introduced free-market economic reforms, but inflation and unemployment continued to rise. In 1992, there were two failed military coups. In 1993, Pérez was ousted after charges of corruption. In 1994, Rafael Caldera became president. His austerity measures provoked civil unrest. Hugo Chávez Frías of the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), leader of a failed coup in 1992, became president in 1998 elections. He was re-elected in 2000. In 2002, the military briefly ousted Chavez after violent protests and a general strike.


Venezuela is an upper-middle income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$6200). Industry employs 17% of the workforce. The major industry is petroleum refining, centred around Maracaibo. Other industries include aluminium and steel production, based around Ciudad Guayana. Oil accounts for 80% of the exports. Other exports include bauxite, aluminium, and iron ore. Agriculture employs 13% of the workforce. Major crops include bananas and other fruits, coffee, maize, rice, and sugar cane. In 2002, reform of the state oil company caused the bolivar to fall 25% against the US dollar and inflation to rise to 40%.

Political map

Physical map


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At the end of the 1950s there were two psychoanalysts in Caracas: Hernán Quijada, trained in Paris, and Guillermo Teruel, analyzed in London. The first reactions of associated groups (psychiatrists, psychologists) were varied, ranging from an attitude of refusal for some to curiosity and affiliation for others. Quijada's important position in the Ministry for Health made it easier to receive state support.

Quijada, Teruel, Manuel Kizer, Antonio García, Fernando Acuña, Cesar Augusto Ottalagano, Julio Aray, Antonio Briceño, Nicolás Cupello, Hugo Domínguez, Juan Antonio Olivares, Hans Voss, and W. Hobaica formed a work group that was officially recognized by the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) at the Copenhagen congress in 1965. Between 1966 and 1969 an IPA committee comprising León Grinberg and Maria Langer from Buenos Aires, Alfredo Nannum from Mexico, Luiz Guimarães Dalheim and Adelheid Lucy Koch from Brazil, worked at improving the group's training by revising theory and conducting group controls.

In 1969 the international committee appointed Teruel as the first training analyst. That same year, at the international Congress in Rome, the work group was transformed into a definitive association (Asociación Venezolana de Psicoanálisis; ASOVEP), prior to being affiliated to the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1971, at the Vienna Congress. The first group of candidates commenced training in 1969.

In May 1975 power struggles and exclusion anxiety gave rise to conflicts within the association between the oldest analysts and new arrivals. Two groups were formed with their respective orientations, calling for the intervention of the International Psychoanalytical Association at the London Congress in the same year. In 1976 a committee directed by Maxwell Gitelson and comprising Serge Lebovici, Daniel Widlöcher, Edward Joseph, and David Zimmermann went to Caracas to visit the association. Thanks to their intervention, the dissensions were soothed and a joint agreement was signed in 1977.

In 1983 Manuel Kizer, one of the founding members, left the ASOVEP to create a Lacanian group. In May 1989, after more quarrels, fifteen other members decided to constitute a separate group and received recognition as a work group from the International Psychoanalytical Association. This group went on to be recognized at the San Francisco Congress of 1995 as the Caracas Psychoanalytic Association.

The most noteworthy contributions from the ASOVEP includes J. Aray's work on the fetal psychism and abortion; Hugo Domínguez's study of the dynamics of communication; Alfonso Gisbert's work on the identity of the psychoanalyst; Rafael E. López-Corvo's study of femininity, addictions, and auto-envidia ("self-envy"); and Guillermo Teruel's work on the interaction between couples and the death instinct. From the Caracas Psychoanalytic Association, Addys Attías stands out for work on adolescent pathology, and A. Torres for work on feminine identification and neurosis.

There are therefore two associations in Caracas, each equipped with a training institute. In terms of publications, the ASOVEP review Psicoanálisis appears at irregular intervals, as well as a few monographs. The Caracas Association publishes a twice-yearly review, Trópicos.

Rafael E. LÓpez-Corvo


Olivares, Juan Antonio. (1984). Breve reseña histórica de la Asociación venezolana de psicoanálisis. Psicoanálisis, 1, 117-124.

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Culture Name



Identification. In 1499, as a member of Christopher Columbus's third voyage to the Americas, Alonso de Ojeda made an initial reconnaissance of what is today Venezuela's northern Caribbean coast. Ojeda named this region Venice because the indigenous houses were located on stilts above the Orinico River's current. This initial name later evolved into that of Venezuela, which was then used to name the colonial territory under Spanish rule as the Capitanía General de Venezuela.

Venezuela's national population is very similar to that of most other South American countries, with a mixture of an initial indigenous population, a large Spanish influx, and a significant population of African ancestry. There have also been notable European and Latin American migrations in the last two centuries. Even with these different populations, however, Venezuela has one of the most stable national identities in the continent. This national stability is probably due to two factors: (1) Venezuela has an extremely small contemporary presence of indigenous communities to contest the national stability, and (2) until the 1990s Venezuela boasted an incredibly strong national economy.

Location and Geography. Venezuela is located on the northern (Caribbean) coast of South America. It has an area of 352,144 square miles (912,050 square kilometers) and is bordered by Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, Colombia to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea to the north. In general, Venezuela is usually divided into four major environmental regions: the coastal zone, the Andean mountain range, the llanos (plains), and the Guiana Highlands.

Venezuela's capital, Caracas, and all the other major cities are located along the coast. Historically the coast has been the most populated area in the country and is where most of Venezuela's population lives today. The rest of the country is traditionally referred to as the interior (el interior ). The northernmost tip of the Andes' continental range runs through the northernmost part of Venezuela. Andean inhabitants are portrayed as conservative and reserved, having more in common culturally with other Andean populations than with the rest of the country.

The llanos is by far the largest region in the country, making up one-third of the territory. The region is mainly great open plains with small foothills toward the north, dividing the region into low and high llanos. The population in the region is typically portrayed as open and rugged plains-people. The population is far from homogenous, however, and even the language spoken in the region still reflects both indigenous and African linguistic influence.

To the east the llanos end at the Macizo Guayanés (Guyanese Mount) which is one of the oldest rock formations in the world. The region to the south, the Guiana, is also referred to as La Gran Sabana (Great Savanna) since it is composed of savannas and flat mountaintops (referred to as tepuis in the indigenous Pemón tongue). It was this environment that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930) immortalized in his epic, The Lost World. Further south is the Amazonas with its hot and humid tropical forest. The Amazonas region is sparsely populated even though it includes 70 percent of Venezuela's indigenous population.

Demography. Venezuela is mainly made up of four groups: mestizos, or pardos, (mixed European and Indian ancestry), comprising 67 percent of the population; white (European descent, mainly Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese), 2l percent; black (African and Caribbean descent), 10 percent; and Indian (Native Americans), 2 percent. These groups tend to be regionally localized: The cities are mainly (but not exclusively) inhabited by whites and pardos; Indians occupy the remote Guianan and Amazonas interior; and blacks live along the Caribbean coastline. At least one-fourth of Venezuela's contemporary population consists of immigrants, many of them illegal.

Linguistic Affiliation. Venezuela's official language, Spanish, was introduced into the territory in the sixteenth century. There are still twenty-five surviving indigenous languages belonging to three linguistic families: Caribans, Arawak, and Chibcha. A strong African linguistic presence is also felt along the coastal region. It is English, however, that is slowly becoming the country's second official language. As extremely modern-minded citizens, Venezuelans feel it is necessary to be fluent in English for cultural and commercial purposes. Venezuela's oil boom has also contributed to an increase in English usage, and many private schools use English in a bilingual curriculum.

Symbolism. The most cohesive national symbol is the image of the country's main independence fighter, General Simón Bolívar (17831830). Bolívar led the military movement that freed Venezuela and the neighboring countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia of Spanish domination. Statues of him are present in almost every city and town, and the country's currency and the main airport (as well as many other institutions) are named after him.

Venezuelans are also one of the most appearance-minded people in the world. Venezuelans place an extreme national pride on their physical beauty, fashion, and overall outward appearance. They also express pride in the fact that Venezuelan contestants either win or place very well in the yearly Miss World and Miss Universe beauty pageants. Although beauty is predominantly a concern for the female population, males have also increased their awareness of beauty standards, and a yearly male beauty pageant has also been instituted. This beauty concern is also reflected in the growth of the television media in the country. Venezuela was one of the first exporters of telenovelas (soap operas) to the South American continent and the world.

Another national symbolic marker is the Caribbean coast along with its grand Lake Maracaibo. Lake Maracaibo itself is approximately 130 miles (209 kilometers) long and 75 miles (120 kilometers) at its widest, and is directly connected by a narrow strait to the Caribbean Sea. The coastline and lake reflect the symbiotic relationship of the country with both South America and the Caribbean. The Caribbean coastline, and its imagery of sand, sun, and pleasurable delights, also supports the second largest industry of the country, tourism.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The current Venezuelan nation as such appeared in 1829. Venezuela had three brief republican configurations before 1829. The first Venezuelan republic was a short-lived rule forged in 1810 by Venezuela's Francisco de Miranda; Miranda surrendered to the Spaniards in 1812 and died in exile in 1816. The second republican junta (1813) was led by Simón Bolívar himself but was as short-lived as the initial republic. Finally, Bolívar was able to oust the Spanish colonial empire in the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821, and proclaimed Venezuela part of the Republic of Gran Colombia (which included the contemporary states of Colombia and Ecuador). Because of internal political conflicts and Bolívar's waning health, however, Venezuela proclaimed itself an independent republic on 5 July 1829.

National Identity. Venezuela has been able to sustain a national identity that owes much to its Spanish colonial heritage. The country has maintained a white (European) national ethos and its top positions have typically been secured for its lighter-skinned citizens. This European-minded identity has been very much part of Venezuela since its initial republican origin. For example, in many of Bolívar's foundational writings the Indians, pardos, and blacks are referred to in paternalistic fashion and benevolently advised to come into the modern civilized fold. This particular national ethos, however, has not gone unaffected by both the pardo and black communities, which together make up more than two-thirds of Venezuela's population. This demographic reality in itself is reflected in Caribbean and Latin American cultural characteristics even in the face of a white ideology central to the national identity.

Ethnic Relations. The four main cultural groups are very much regionally oriented: whites and pardos are mostly city dwellers; Indians live in the Amazon as region; and blacks along the Caribbean coast. These groups have maintained a surprisingly small amount of modern ethnic friction considering the predominantly white control of the country. This Europanist trend has also significantly impacted Venezuela's large immigrant population.

In the 1840s and again during the early 1900s Venezuela consistently attempted to entice Europeans to migrate to the country. Both of these campaigns proved unsuccessful, with Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants flocking to Venezuela only after World War II. These constant attempts to bring in skilled workers and to "whiten" the national population were further supported by congressional proposals in the late 1800s to prohibit the immigration of Asians and black.

By far the largest immigrant group in the country, however, is Colombians, followed very closely by other South AmericansEcuadorians and Chileansand Caribbeans, mainly Dominicans and people from the Lesser Antilles. Since the 1960s, largely due to the oil boom, official immigrant restrictions on nonwhite populations have ended. By then, however, social power was solidly entrenched among the white elite.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Venezuela's spatial landscape is clearly demarcated between the urban and the rural. The city of Caracas, with its 4 million inhabitants (almost a fifth of the country's total population) is the emblem of a modern elite and European-style existence. Meanwhile the rural homesteads of the llanos, Andes, and Guiana Highlands represent a farming way of life with a more traditional subsistence strategy. The recent influx of rural migrants (both from Venezuela and abroad) has impacted the urban landscape, especially within the ranchos (lower- and middle-income urban housing). Modern ideals and the escalating Americanization of Venezuelan culture have increasingly diminished the presence of traditional rural customs in the city centers.

This blend of modernist aspirations tempered with local traditions, including colonial architectural remnants, has created a unique Venezuelan style. A particular architectural expression of this is the internationally acclaimed construction of the Central University of Caracas, designed by the Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, with asymmetrical buildings, large standing murals, and sculptures.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Venezuelans have three main meals: a large breakfast, a large dinner (around noontime), and a very light supper in the evening. Venezuelan hospitality is widespread, so something to drink and eat is expected when visiting someone's home. Arepas, the most distinctive Venezuelan food, are thick disks made of precooked cornmeal, either fried or baked. Large arepas, with a variety of fillings (ham and cheese is the most popular one), are eaten as snacks throughout the day; smaller arepas are typically served as side companions at all meals.

Similar to arepas are empanadas (deep-fried pasties) and cachapas (a pancake/crepe-like dish), which are filled with cheese, ham, and/or bacon. Among the other main Venezuelan dishes are the pabellón criollo, which consists of black beans, fried sweet plantains, white rice, and semi-shredded meat (carne mechada ), all topped with a fried egg. Also popular are pernil (roasted pork), asado (roasted beef), bistec a caballo (steak with fried egg), and pork chops. Fruit juices are also extremely popular and there is also a great variety of salads, although these are traditionally seen as a complementary, not a main, dish.

Tequeños, long small rolls filled with hot cheese or chocolate, take their name from Los Teques, a city just outside Caracas. The typical drink of the llanos, chicha, is made out of ground rice, salt, condensed milk, sugar, vanilla, and ice.

Basic Economy. That Venezuela was until 1970 the largest oil exporter in the world positively differentiated its economy from other South American nations. Since the 1940s oil revenues were consistently used to diversify Venezuela's national industry. This national trend has most significantly affected a strong mineral export policy and the development of hydroelectric energy. It was only in the mid-1970s that Venezuela was finally able to break the multinational hold over its oil and gas industry. This transnational privatization trend returned in the 1990s, however, when a drop in oil prices, global recession, inflation, unemployment, government corruption, and a lack of skilled personnel forced the reversal of the initial nationalizing policy. An increasing foreign debt as well as large level of illegal immigration further burdened Venezuela's troubled economy at the turn of the millennium. Venezuela has responded to these circumstances with growing support and continued diversification of its industry, larger agricultural outputs, and greater exploitation of its natural resources.

Land Tenure and Property. Until the 1950s and 1960s when the first agrarian reform projects were implemented, the land distribution was still very similar to that of colonial days, allowing 2 percent of the population to control over 80 percent of the land. Agricultural production is also quite underdeveloped with less than 5 percent of the total territory dedicated to farming. There is still a large group of traditional farmers harvesting small family plots (conucos ), with their main crops being corn, rice, coffee, and cacao. Large agricultural producers (fincas comercializadas ) have most significantly benefitted from government and state funding, allowing them to use large amounts of wage labor, fertilizers, and insecticides, and to also mechanize their production. There are also large herding farms (fincas ganaderas ), some over 6,000 acres (2,430 hectares), located in the vast llanos region.

Major Industries. More than half of Venezuela's labor force is incorporated into the service sector of the economy, while less than 40 percent of the population is dedicated either to agricultural or industrial production. Venezuela has quite a diversified industrial sector, largely due to its reinvestment of oil resources. The first type of industry are the oil refineries and petrochemical plants themselves. These tend to be located around Puerto Cabello (just west of Caracas) and in the state of Zulia (Venezuela's westernmost state). The second largest industry is the production of consumer goods. Import substitution strategies have been established for goods such as textiles, leather, paper, tires, tobacco, light engineering products, and modern appliances. The auto industry has also attempted, albeit less successfully, to establish its own assembly industry. The third type of industry is the production of heavy industrial materials such as iron, steel, and aluminum.

Trade. Venezuela's most lucrative export item is oil. Its main trading partner is the United States, with which it has been able to maintain favorable trade balances. Venezuela imports machinery, transportation equipment, pharmaceuticals, food products, tobacco, and beverages from the United States in exchange for its oil. Venezuela's other major trading partners are the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, and Colombia.

Division of Labor. The main division of labor in the country is between rural and urban populations. By far, rural occupations such as agriculture and cattle herding are considered to be less sophisticated. This same modernist ideal contributes to a division between manual and specialized forms of labor. The immigrant population occupies most of the menial and less remunerative forms of employment which Venezuelans themselves avoid. In the 1990s, however, there was a significant lack of local specialized workers; this was one of the main factors that seriously compromised the country's oil production.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Venezuela does not recognize an official caste system although it does participate in a strongly defined class structure that is not without its strong caste implications. The class system places most of the political and economic power in the hands of a very small group (less than 10 percent of the population). The elite is composed of the traditional white population; this also provides white (European) immigrants greater opportunity for participating in Venezuela's economic wealth. Meanwhile this color/racial division is most dramatically felt by Latin American immigrants of African and Indian ancestry, who are forced to form the lowest ranks of Venezuelan society.

Venezuela also developed a large middle class in the twentieth century mainly as a result of the oil revenues. The middle class, and in particular the large lower-middle class, was significantly affected by the social crisis of the 1990s which led to large-scale riots that caused thousand of deaths and the collapse of President Carlos Andrés Perez's government.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Media images of physical beauty and fashion are the most salient symbols of social stratification. How one looks, what one wears, one's profession, and one's wealth are the greatest markers of social status. The country's preoccupation with a modern beauty ideal and personal hygiene is closely related to a colonial complex of idealizing European (white) culture. Since World War II, U.S. pop culture has most significantly attracted and been imitated by Venezuelans. The reification and embodiment of North American ideals of beauty, musical genres, and fashion define who maintains the greatest level of social status.

Political Life

Government. Venezuela's government is federalist in nature, composed of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch is led by a popularly elected president who holds office for five years. The legislative branch is composed of a Congress that is divided into a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies reflects the country's regional representation, while the Senate has two representatives from each state and the capital's federal district. Venezuela's highest judicial institution is that of the Supreme Court, whose members are elected by the representatives of Congress.

Leadership and Political Officials. In 1999 Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías was overwhelmingly voted into office as Venezuela's president. Chávez's election as president was striking because he had recently been imprisoned for leading a failed coup against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez. But Chávez can best be described as a caudillo (popular leader), that is, a leader who expresses an idiosyncratic nature and has wide-level popular support. In fact, until 1935 Venezuela had mainly been lead by strong military caudillos. It was not until 1969 that the first transition between two popularly elected democratic governments occurred.

The two main political parties are the Social Christian (COPEI) and the left-leaning Democratic Action (Acción Democrática), although the left-leaning MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) and Radical Cause (Causa Radical) also have popular followings. Nevertheless, the fragile political party structure is still evident in the election of strong caudillo figures such as Chávez and in his explicit effort to try to dismantle the political party system.

Social Problems and Control. The largest problems in terms of social unrest are those that result from traditional crimes and riots. Crimes come in all shapes and sizes, from petty theft to widespread government corruption. Most street crime is committed at night or in the poorest neighborhoods of the urban centers. These violent crimes, although committed at gun- or knifepoint, tend to be fatal less often than they could be. There is, however, widespread carrying of guns not only by the police but also by private guards and a significant part of the male population. All of this contributes to constant shoot-outs and police chases, which produce a notable increase in wounds and death. At the same time the police and other government officials do not tend to garner much public affection, which only increases the difficulty of maintaining the public order. In the 1990s the economic crises also contributed to traditional forms of public protests and riots. This unfortunately had its climax during Pérez's government when confrontations between the people and the army and police led to over a thousand deaths.

Military Activity. The Venezuelan military includes an estimated eighty thousand members divided into the navy, army, and air force. The country has traditionally maintained low levels of defense expenditures, averaging only 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product. Venezuela has had ongoing historic conflicts with neighboring Colombia and Guyana, which flared up in the 1980s. Since then, however, the military has been less concerned with international conflicts than with maintaining internal political order. The military has also been brought in to investigate cases of ransom kidnaping, which have significantly increased since the 1980s.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

In striking comparison to most other South American countries, Venezuela has a negligible presence of nongovernmental organizations. The two areas that most vividly benefit from international and local support are the environment and human rights advocacy. The area around Lake Maracaibo and the Amazon regions are the ones most generally presented as in need of local legislative protection. Meanwhile, it is also Amazon indigenous groups such as the Yanomamo who receive the greatest amount of international funds to defend themselves against government and private mining incursions in their territory. Unfortunately the Yanomamo have been the target of genocidal massacres as well as the constant threat of the destruction of their traditional ways of life.

Gender Role and Status

Division of Labor by Gender. Men overwhelmingly occupy the most important political, economic, social, and religious positions in Venezuela. The traditional sexist Western gender division of labor is present in Venezuela, with men occupying the most physical demanding jobs while women are traditionally relegated to household or domestic service jobs. In the rural areas, however, women and men both partake in demanding physical labor, and Western roles are somewhat blurred. Cattle herding, however, is still a predominantly male occupation. Meanwhile, the beauty pageant industry and the preparation of females for international competitions seems to both sustain and subvert traditional Western notions of female and male occupations. In this manner females are still highly regarded as beauty objects but more and more men are also raised to similar standards of sexual objectification.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Venezuela is a very patriarchal society expressing its own distinct national brand of machismo. Although men and women are legally equal, there are still great differences in terms of actual wage earnings, sexual freedom, and social expectations. In daily life, men are still expected to work outside the home, support the household, and prove their virility with many heterosexual liaisons. The modernist trend of following North American culture, however, is creating conflicts with these traditional gender expectations. Women are more and more a part of the general workforce, increasing their economic standing and discarding the exclusive domestic burden of the household and child rearing.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. Venezuelans practice open-ended marriages, meaning there are few legal restrictions as long as the person marries someone of the opposite sex and of legal age. In actuality, however, there are several concerns regarding whom one should get involved with, particularly in terms of class and racial distinctions. It is expected and predominant that people marry others of their same or higher social class standingincluding racial status as well. The ideal is generally to marry somebody "whiter" or at least of the same racial status; the opposite, although not completely rare, is seen as going against the norm.

Domestic Unit. In Venezuelan society the family and the role played by the mother are essential in the maintenance of the social fabric. Most people tend to live in nuclear families (parents and siblings), although extended kin (grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) traditionally live close by. When migration has produced a break in the family, the ties are closely maintained through letters, phone calls, and e-mail. In this manner it is not surprising that children (both male and female) live with their parents until their mid-twenties or until they marry and can move out on their own. It is expected that family members do everything in their power to help and support all family membershelp that can range from getting each other jobs to making space for them in their own homes.

Inheritance. Inheritance rules are legally prescribed and there is no major distinction in terms of gender, class, or race. The higher status one holds, however, the more successful one is in maneuvering Venezuela's complex legal and social system.


Child Rearing and Education. Children are traditionally cared for by their parents, although the extended kin may also play a major role in the upbringing. In terms of child rearing the national culture espouses Western ideals of good behavior, education, and competitiveness. On top of this an enormous amount of friendliness, generosity, and overall good nature is expected of children as they grow up.

Venezuela provides free and compulsory education through grade twelve for all its population. In 1995 literacy was estimated at over 90 percent. Private and Catholic schools provide a large array of grade and high schools (liceos ) mainly in the major urban centers. These private institutions have far better reputations and are where most of the middle and upper classes send their children.

Higher Education. In general only 20-30 percent of Venezuela's population goes on to obtain a university degree. Since the 1950s there has been an increasing proliferation of private universities although by far the ones with the best reputations are public ones such as the Universidad Central de Caracas (the Central University in Caracas). A university degree or title (normally referred to as carrera ) traditionally takes between four and five years after which one obtains the degree of licenciado (equivalent to or higher than the bachelor of arts degree in the United States). There are a series of master's level graduate programs but doctorates at the Ph.D. level are quite rare.


Venezuelans are characterized by their outgoing and gregarious nature. This extroverted behavior is visible in the traditional forms of greeting and in people's body language. When meeting somebody, even if it is for the first time, it is common to give two kisses, one on each cheek; women greet men and women this way, while men only kiss women. Between men a strong-gripped handshake is the custom and many times this is accompanied by the placing of the other hand on the side for greater emphasis. A hug is also used between men, especially if the men have not seen each other for a while. These forms of male greeting, however, are used for people of equal status and indicate familiarity and therefore are not be used with somebody of higher status.

Body language between Venezuelans is also much more fluid and pervasive. People stand very close to each other while talking and will gesticulate with their hands and bodies to make a point. It is also common for people to touch each other to even further emphasize what it is that they are saying. Friendly conversations can also appear to be arguments because of their loud and freewheeling nature. Meanwhile there is also lots of unique sign language. For example, pointing with one's finger is considered rude and vulgar; it is much more acceptable and widely understood if one just points with one's mouth. At the same time a smaller version of the "okay" symbol is usually meant as an insult rather than as a symbol of agreement.

There is also an enormous amount of public expression of machismo. Women are customarily showered with remarks and gazes from men who want to display admiration and awe at their sexual beauty. This behavior, however, very rarely goes further than a piropo (small adulatory phrase) and any touching or pinching is not condoned. Women tend to ignore most of these remarks and from early on learn not to publicly acknowledge them (either favorably or not).


Religious Beliefs. Most Venezuelansat least 90 percent of the populationare Catholic. Since the 1980s, Protestant religions have been attracting more followers, especially Evangelists and Adventists, and to a lesser degree, Mormons. There are also significant Jewish communities in Caracas and Maracaibo; these communities are traditionally grouped under the banners of the Asociación Israelita Venezolana (Israeli Venezuelan Association) and the Unión Israelita de Venezuela (United Israelis of Venezuela). Venezuela also has a smaller number of Islamic practitioners.

Most indigenous religious practices were lost with the decimation of the Native American population and the few surviving indigenous populations practice their religious traditions in complete isolation from the national culture. Even though indigenous religion did not survive intact, many Venezuelans participate in a symbiotic religious practice known as the culto of María Lonza (culto meaning more religious practice than cult). This culto has its home base in the hill of Sorte, near the small town of Chivacoa, just east of the larger western city of Barquisimeto. María Lonza is portrayed as a Venezuelan witch/healer who was born from an Indian father and a Creole Spanish mother. She is traditionally represented with two other figures, that of a black henchman, el Negro Felipe, and of an Indian cacique (chief), Guaicapuro. The three of them together are traditionally referred to as the Three Powers (Tres Poderes ).

Another interesting religious belief shared by Venezuelans is the veneration for the figure of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández. This Venezuelan doctor, who lived during the late 1800s, was recently given venerable status by the Vatican but is still not officially recognized as a saint by the church. Nevertheless, this has not deterred a widespread following in Venezuela (and other Latin American countries) that proclaims Brother Gregorio (as he is referred to) a miraculous healer who actually operates and heals people while they sleep.

Rituals, and Holy Places. The Catholicism practiced in Venezuela very much follows the guidelines of the Roman hierarchy. Masses are held everyday but attendance is obligatory only on Sunday. Since the Second Vatican Council masses are no longer said in Latin but in Spanish, and the priest (males only) now faces the public as opposed to celebrating the ritual with his back to them. The mass is believed to recreate Jesus' last supper with his apostles before his crucifixion, and the ritual itself is believed to transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ to be partaken of by everybody free of mortal sin. There are Catholic churches throughout Venezuela with the most impressive cathedrals located in Caracas and other major cities. In smaller towns, however, there are also churches with a grand colonial architectural style: these churches had greater importance during Venezuela's colonial period than they do now.

The principal rituals associated with the culto of María Lonza involve the main practitioners falling into trances through hypnotic music, dancing, rum drinking, and painting themselves with different color dyes. During these trances they "see" what is in the supplicant's psyche and what the future has in store for them. Even though this culto has a strong rural and Afro-indigenous origin it is not uncommon to see practitioners from all social backgrounds and classes involved. There is also a statue of a naked María Lonza riding on a tapir in the center of Caracas.

Death and the Afterlife. Venezuelans' belief in the afterlife follows the Roman Catholic belief in hell (for those who were evil in life), purgatory (for those who still need to do penance for their sins), and heaven (for those without any fault). Even the syncretic practices of María Lonza and San Gregorio are intertwined with this Catholic understanding of death and the afterworld. In the practices of Maria Lonza and San Gregorio, however, both also express the possibility of communicating with dead spirits and deities. These beliefs in establishing an actual connection with the world beyond death are closer to the beliefs of African-based religions such as voodoo than to those of Christianity.

Medicine and Health Care

Venezuela's health-care system has a large array of public and private hospitals and clinics. Even though the country's health coverage is better than that of most other South American countries, its public system is still far from exemplary. The public hospitals normally have long lines and waiting periods, and they tend to be understaffed (there is a particular shortage of nurses) with the staff they do have being overworked. Private clinics, however, are quite well operated, and the people who can afford to can get some of the best medical care in the world. Similar to other "developed" Western nations, most deaths in Venezuela are due to heart attacks, cancer, and fatal accidents. AIDS is also present but is still not a major epidemic as in the United States or certain African countries.

In general the death rate is four for every thousand, while the birth rate is twenty-nine for every thousand. Most traditional tropical and third world diseases have been eradicated in Venezuela, although infant mortality is still much higher than in most European countries. Although Western medicine is the most popular mode of health care, other non-Western traditions are surprisingly still present. Surviving in many rural belief systems, herbal remedies (including rubbing the body with plants while saying certain prayers) are still widely believed to cure nontraditional ailments such as the evil eye and various emotional afflictions.

Secular Celebrations

There are several important and officially recognized holidays in Venezuela other than New Year's and Christmas. Carnival is by far one of the liveliest Venezuelan traditions. This holiday falls on the three days prior to Ash Wednesday (in the Catholic calendar). It normally means a holiday exodus from Caracas and other cities to Venezuela's Caribbean coast and even to Trinidad (an island off the northeast coast of Venezuela), which is famous for its Carnival celebrations. In the coastal towns Carnival means general partying with lots of drinking and dancing, parades with drummers and people in costumes, and a generally greater level of sexual undertones.

Other important holidays are Bolívar's birthday (24 July) and Venezuela's Independence Day, which is celebrated on the day of the victorious Battle of Carabobo (24 June). The Day of the Race (Día de la Raza) is celebrated on 12 October with parades. This day also holds great religious significance for María Lonza followers. Venezuela also celebrates a series of religious town festivals that commemorate either the appearance of the Virgin Mary (or of a saint) to an Indian/rural peasant or the miraculous protection of the town from an epidemic or natural disasters. The most famous of these festivals include: the Feast of Corpus Christi in San Francisco de Yare, the Feast of the Divina Pastora (the Divine Sheperdess) in Santa Rosa, and the Feast of San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), which is celebrated by extensive rhythmic drumming and dancing in Caracas and other parts of the country.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Since the 1920s the Venezuelan state has invested in developing and maintaining a national culture through the arts. The two areas that have most benefited from this support have been literature and music. Caracas features a publicly financed symphony orchestra that plays not only classical genres but also the more nationalistic genre of joropos. The state also supports several museums that house some of the national artistic production. The three prime ones are: the Museum of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1938; the Museum of Colonial Art, which is located in an eighteenth century house; and the Museum of Natural Sciences, which was founded in 1940 and houses over fifteen thousand exhibits. All three are located in Caracas.

Literature. Very few Venezuelan artists are known outside of the national borders. Exceptions to this in literature include the writers Rómulo Gallegos and Arturo Uslar Pietri. Gallegos in first part of the twentieth century and Pietri in the second half worked within a continental tradition of nostalgic and national writing about the nature of Venezuelan/American identity.

Graphic Arts. Architects such as Carlos Raúl Villanueva have gained international acclaim, while other architects such as Enrique Hernández, Enrique Zubizarreta, and José Castillo are also widely recognized for their designs.

Performance Arts. In music, Venezuela has produced one of the world's leading salsa bands in the person of Oscar D'Leon whose music has become emblematic of this genre's tradition even in Puerto Rico and New York City (the original sources of salsa music). World pop diva Mariah Carey is the daughter of an Afro-Venezuelan man.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The actual scientific research carried out in Venezuela has not been significantly registered outside of its national borders. The country includes high quality universities and research institutions such as the National Academy of History, the Royal Academy of Language, and the Central University in Caracas. Interestingly enough, initial research pursuits date back to the 1800s with Dr. José Gregorio Hernández's medical work, which contributed greatly to the present configuration of the Ministry of Health. An intense research spirit is still alive, if not continentally disseminated. A small example of these are the historical works of such scholars as Iraida Vargas and Mario Sanoja.


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The original inhabitants of Venezuela were Amerindians, mainly Caribs and Arawaks. The bulk (about 68 percent) of the present population is mestizo (mixed race); an estimated 21 percent is unmixed white, 810 percent is black, and 2 percent is Amerindian. Among the Amerindian groups living in Venezuela are the Guajiros and the Pemon, both of which are profiled in this chapter.

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VenezuelaAdela, bailer, bailor, baler, Benguela, bewailer, derailleur, hailer, inhaler, jailer, loudhailer, mailer, nailer, railer, retailer, sailer, sailor, scaler, Scheele, shillelagh, tailor, Taylor, trailer, Venezuela, wailer, whaler •fabler • Daimler • blackmailer •abseiler • wassailer • boardsailor •wholesaler •appealer, candela, Coahuila, concealer, dealer, feeler, healer, Keeler, kneeler, Leila, peeler, Philomela, reeler, revealer, Schiele, sealer, sheila, Shelagh, spieler, squealer, stealer, tequila, velar, Vila, wheeler, wheeler-dealer •enfant terrible •Anguilla, Aquila, Attila, Camilla, cedilla, chiller, chinchilla, driller, Drusilla, fibrillar, filler, flotilla, fulfiller, Godzilla, gorilla, griller, guerrilla, killer, Manila, manilla, mantilla, miller, pillar, Priscilla, sapodilla, sarsaparilla, Schiller, scilla, scintilla, spiller, swiller, thriller, tiller, vanilla, vexilla, villa, Willa, willer, zorilla •kiblah • fiddler •kindler, swindler •sniffler • sigla • stickler •sprinkler, twinkler, winkler •Himmler, Simla •crippler •Hitler, Littler, Mitla •grizzler • Polyfilla • drosophila •downhiller • Angela • painkiller •weedkiller • ladykiller • Pamela •similar, verisimilar •propyla • caterpillar • canceller •councillor (US councilor), counsellor (US counselor)

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