Venezuela Country Facts

Venezuela
Capital city Caracas
Surface 916.445 km²
Population 31.568.000
Road network length 96.155 km
Length of highway network 866 km
First highway 1953
Motorway name Freeway
Traffic drives To the right
License plate code YV

Venezuela (Spanish: República Bolivariana de Venezuela) is a country in South America. The country has 31 million inhabitants and is approximately 22 times the size of the Netherlands. The capital is Caracas.

Geography

Venezuela occupies the central north of South America, with a long coastline on the Caribbean Sea. The country borders Colombia to the west, Brazil to the south and Guyana to the east, much of which Venezuela claims as its territory. Just off the northeast coast is the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, north of Venezuela are the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.

Venezuela is in the shape of a T and measures up to 1,400 kilometers from east to west and 1,100 kilometers from north to south. In the north of Venezuela are high mountain ranges, with the 4,978 meter high Pico Bolívar as the highest point of Venezuela. It is located in a mountain range with several ridges over 4,000 meters high. Elsewhere in northern Venezuela are more mountain ranges with peaks above 2,000 meters. The major cities of Venezuela are mostly located around these mountain ranges.

The central part of Venezuela consists of the Orinoco basin, a huge river with only two bridges. The Orinoco has hardly any decline in Venezuela, less than 40 meters between the border with Colombia and the delta in the Atlantic Ocean. Central Venezuela consists mainly of lowlands with agricultural areas. There are few larger cities here, but the land is cultivated. The south of Venezuela consists of jungles that belong to the Amazon jungle. This consists of both lowlands and isolated mountain ranges, with peaks reaching almost 3,000 meters, but this region is inaccessible. The flatter east coast of Venezuela is also an inaccessible area. In the northwest of Venezuela is the large Lago de Maracaibo, a brackish bay with open access to the Caribbean Sea.

Demographics

City Population
Caracas 5.576.000
Maracaibo 4.164.000
Valencia 2.585.000
Barquisimeto 1.600.000
Maracay 1.302.000

Venezuela has a rapidly growing population. In 1950 the country had only 5 million inhabitants, in 1970 that had already doubled to more than 10 million and just after 1990 the limit of 20 million inhabitants was exceeded. In 2016 the limit of 30 million inhabitants was reached. The population mainly lives in the north of the country.

Much of Venezuela’s population lives in major cities, making the country the most urbanized in Latin America. The capital Caracas is centrally located in the north and has 3.2 million inhabitants. The second city is Maracaibo in the west, then Valencia, Barquisimeto and Maracay in the middle. The largest city further inland is Ciudad Guayana. In total there are 42 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Due to European colonization, Venezuela has a mixed population. The largest population groups are mestizo (mixed), with 52% and white, with 44%. Blacks comprise about 3% of the population. White Venezuelans are mainly of Spanish and Italian descent. Venezuelans of European descent live mainly in the northwest and least in the south. The mestizos are a mixed population group, the result of marriages between Europeans, Indians and Africans. The Native American population is less than 3% of the population.

Economy

Venezuela’s economy is dominated by the oil industry, which produces 50% of its GDP and 95% of its exports. The country is facing serious economic crises, with a sharp decline in prosperity and health. The country, which was once one of the most prosperous in Latin America, is suffering from a severely malnourished population. Economic mismanagement under the Chavez and Maduro presidencies has left the country producing virtually nothing outside of oil and forced to import everything. Venezuela has hyperinflation and the country faces severe shortages, ranging from everyday products in the supermarket to basic necessities in hospitals. The electricity supply is unreliable and in many cities only works for a few hours a day. Crime rates have always been high but have risen sharply since 2010. Corruption, shortage of food, an extremely unfavorable investment and business climate mean that Venezuela is hardly a functioning economy.

History

In 1498, Columbus arrived in Venezuela on his third voyage to the Americas. The Spanish colonization of Venezuela began in 1522 and established the first permanent settlement in South America in Cumaná. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Venezuela was gradually colonized and developed. At the beginning of the 19th century, attempts were made to declare independence. This failed twice, but under the leadership of Simón Bolívar, northwestern South America became independent, this was called Gran Colombia. This formed an area from western Guyana to Panama and south to northern Peru. Venezuela was declared an independent republic in 1830. The 19th century was marked by political instability and dictatorships. There were ongoing conflicts in which a significant part of the population perished.

During the First World War, huge reserves of oil were discovered under the Lago de Maracaibo. This resulted in economic prosperity that lasted until the 1980s. In the 1930s, Venezuela was the most prosperous country in Latin America. Rising prosperity attracted many immigrants from southern Europe after World War II. The 1950s and 1960s were marked by economic prosperity but political instability with many different governments, some democratically elected and some coming to power via coup d’état. During the oil crisis, oil prices rose sharply, so that Venezuela’s revenues grew strongly. The oil industry was nationalized in 1976, causing a huge increase in public spending, followed by a strong growth of the national debt. The sharp fall in oil prices in the 1980s caused a strong economic downturn. Venezuela’s industry was largely based on oil, the country produced little else. The 1980s and 1990s were marked by economic crises and political instability.

In 1998 Hugo Chávez came to power and installed a “Bolivarian Republic” named after the revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar. This amounted to a socialist model with high government spending. However, Venezuela’s economy has been completely dependent on the oil industry, and government revenues are largely dependent on oil revenues. During a three-month strike at the state oil company PDVSA in 2002-2003, the national economy shrank by 27%. The nationalization of the economy caused private investors to withdraw their money from Venezuela, followed by sharply rising inflation. Oil revenues were mainly spent on social projects and corruption and not on improving infrastructure or modernizing the oil industry. After 2010, poverty and inflation started to rise sharply, which was further exacerbated under the 2013 presidency of Nicolás Maduro. The once prosperous Venezuela entered a permanent cycle of economic contraction and hyperinflation, with poverty and crime skyrocketing.

 

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