The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a country on the northern coast of South America. Comprising a continental mainland and numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela borders Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the west. Trinidad and Tobago, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba, and the Leeward Antilles lie just north of the Venezuelan coast.
A former Spanish colony, Venezuela is a federal republic. Historically, Venezuela has had territorial disputes with Guyana, largely concerning the Essequibo area, and with Colombia concerning the Gulf of Venezuela. Today, Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry, the environmental diversity of its territory, and its natural features. Christopher Columbus, upon seeing its eastern coast in 1498, referred to Venezuela as "Tierra de Gracia" ("Land of Grace"), which has become the country’s nickname.
Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America; the vast majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, especially in the largest metropolis, Caracas. Other major cities include Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracay, and Ciudad Guayana.
- Total: 916,445 km² (33rd) 353,841 sq mi
- Water (%): 0.3
- from Spain: July 5, 1811
- from Gran Colombia: November 21, 1831
- Recognised: March 30, 1845
- July 2005 estimate: 26,749,000 (43rd)
- 2001 census: 23,054,210
- Density: 29/km² (175th) 75/sq mi
Venezuela is located towards the north of South America with a total area of 912, 050 square kilometers and a land area that is 882,050 square kilometers. It borders the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south and Colombia to the west. There are four regions that make up this country, the Maracaibo lowlands which are in the northwest, the northern mountains which extend from the east west from the Colombia border to the Caribbean Sea, the Orinoco plains which are situated in the central part of Venezuela, and the Guiana highlands towards the southeast. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is home to about 5,500,000 people. Along with the continental mainland, there are many small islands that lie just north to the country, off the coast.
In the northwest where the Maracaibo lowlands are located, you will find flat land towards the Caribbean, and swampy area circling the Lago de Maraciabo. Despite the fact that this region carries rich agricultural land along with large petroleum deposits, it contains a very small population.
Up towards the Caribbean Sea is where you can find the northeasternmost extension of the Andes Mountains. With snowcapped mountains, it is beautiful, containing some of the highest peaks in the country. There are other mountain ranges nearby along with valleys in between, leading way to the site for the country´s capital, Caracas.
Further down you will find the great scope of land known as the Orinoco plains which extend west from the Caribbean coast to the Colombian border. There are beautiful rivers flowing out of the mountains in this area, though there are also shallow valleys and swampland as well.
The Guiana Highlands which are part of the oldest land foundations in South America, come up from the Rio Orinoco. This region makes up over half of the country, with plateaus and rolling plains. Angel Falls, the world´s highest waterfall is also located here.
Over the years the educational system in Venezuela has improved considerably. Adult illiteracy has gone down and as of the year 2000 is now said to be about 7 percent. Public education is given for children starting at the age of 6 till they reach the age of 15. The public school system is set up for nine years of elementary school, when children then undertake two or three years of secondary school. This is divided into two stages: the first is set up so that students receive general education in science and humanities. The second is used to prepare students for university and further higher education. This particular system specializes in philosophy, literature, physical science and mathematics, or biological science. Compared to other countries in Latin America, Venezuela has a great educational system and is ranked much higher among the rest. This could be attributed to the fact that Venezuela places more money of their budget in their educational system than most of the other larger countries in South America. Currently, there are 14 universities, both national and private in Venezuela. Most of them are located in Caracas, though there are others in cities spread out through the country. There are however, over 47 institutions dedicated to higher learning that include, polytechnic institutes and colleges geared towards specific studies.
Though Venezuela is constantly improving on the quality of healthcare given to its people, they are lacking sufficiently in the number of physicians that are available. The government has been taking action more recently to improve its efforts in public health, but due to the growing population, it is still a current problem. Malaria and Tuberculosis still affect a large number of people, with communicable and circulatory diseases being one of the lead causes of mortality in Venezuela. Sadly, only 84 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and only 74 percent has adequate sanitation. Although programs have been implemented and the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security has made Venezuela´s health care infrastructure one of the more advanced in Latina America, budgeting and funding towards health care has gone down. For this reason, the system has deteriorated drastically since the 1980´s. State hospitals are now said to be crowded, underfunded and inefficient. With private hospitals and clinics available, there are other options separate to public health care. Private healthcare in Venezuela is said to have the same quality of standards as those in the western world. However, private healthcare is costly and therefore, not an option for everyone.
Venezuela is known for its´ controversial healthcare initiative that was started by the government. Barrio Adentro is a program that brings doctors from Cuba to Venezuela to help treat those who live in more rural areas and have less access to decent healthcare. From the use of this program, more than 40,000 Venezuelans have received treatment that would not have received care otherwise; however it is a program that receives much discussion and debate. Venezuelan doctors (a group called Venezuelan Medical Federation, VMF) claim that many of the doctors that come over from Cuba are not licensed to practice. To add to this, they feel that this programs takes jobs from otherwise qualified Venezuelan practitioners. This program, thus far has been a great success in Venezuela despite some of the political issues.
In the country of Venezuela, the structure of the government takes place in that of a federal republic, meaning that the President of Venezuela is both head of state and head of the government as well. The President accesses the executive power whereas the legislative power is controlled by the National Assembly. There are three additional branches that make up the additional federal government- the judicial, the citizen and the electoral branches.
Similar to many of the other countries in South America, hundreds of years ago, Venezuela was owned by the Spanish, who came and conquered most of South America. In the late 1700´s the country of Venezuela finally gained freedom from the rule of Spain. Until the year 1830, Venezuela was joined with countries, known as Colombia, Panama and Ecuador in the Republic of Gran Colombia. It was during this year, that Venezuela became its own country. Venezuela saw much turmoil in its early years as an independent country with unstable leaders, revolutions, and cruel dictatorship.
Since the 1950´s, with the military withdrawing from direct involvement in the government, Venezuela was a stable and peaceful country. This changed during the elections of 1989. The Democratic Action (AD) and the Christian Democratic (COPEI) parties dominated the political environment at both the state and federal level. This started riots amongst the people where more than 200 were killed. The current President Hugo Chavez led one of the military coups against the government in 1992 due to dissatisfaction and economic decline under the ruling of President Carlos Andres Perez. Perez resigned and during the 1998 elections, Hugo Chavez took office and was reelected again in 2000 and in 2006. Domestically, Hugo Chavez has done well for his people, setting up campaigns to overthrow disease, illiteracy, poverty and malnutrition. He is well known though for his criticism of United States foreign policy and neoliberal globalization. His leadership has brought both enthusiasm and disapproval from countries abroad, though he has been named one of the top 100 most influential people of his time.