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General information about Venezuela

Venezuela is a country on the northern tropical Caribbean coast of South America. Venezuela borders Brazil to the south, Guyana to the east, and Colombia to the west. North of the Venezuelan coast lie the islands of Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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 (Gulf of Coquibacoa according to Colombia). This issue is not yet resolved. Today, Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry, the environmental diversity of its territory, and its sheer natural beauty. It has been claimed that Christopher Columbus was so enthralled by Venezuela's landscape, when arriving to its coast in 1498, that he referred to the land as Tierra de Gracia (Land of Grace), which has become the country’s nickname.

Origin of name

The name "Venezuela" is believed to have originated from the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, who together with Alonso de Ojeda led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast (known today as the Gulf of Venezuela). On reaching the Guajira Peninsula, the crew observed the distinctive stilt villages (palafitos) that the indigenous Añu people had built over the water. This reminded Vespucci of the city of Venice and as a result the region was named Venezuela, which means Little Venice. On the other hand, Spanish conquistador and geographer Martín Fernández de Enciso, member of the same crew, says in his work Summa de Geografía that the above mentioned population was called Veneciuela, and that it was built on a large, plain rock. According to this theory, the name Venezuela could be a native word. Nevertheless, the first account remains by far the most popular and accepted version of the origin of the country's name.

History

Simón Bolívar, El Libertador Venezuela was the site of one of the first permanent Spanish settlements in South America in 1522, and most of the territory eventually became part of the viceroyalty of New Granada. Parts of what is now eastern Venezuela became New Andalusia. After several unsuccessful uprisings, the country declared independence from Spain on July 5th 1811 under the leadership of its most famous native son, Simón Bolívar. Nevertheless, full control over Venezuelan territory was achieved after Bolivar, with the help of General José Antonio Páez and especially the then General Grand Marshall Antonio José de Sucre, whose battle plan Bolívar chose to follow, won the Battle of Carabobo on June 24th 1821, and after José Prudencio Padilla won the Naval Battle of Lake Maracaibo on July 24th 1823. New Granada's congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army, he then led several countries to freedom and created a new republic called Colombia (also known as Great Colombia to differentiate it to the actual Republic of Colombia) consisting of what are now Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. He then led the army towards the south, liberating Peru and Bolivia (named after the Libertador) from the Spaniards. Antonio José de Sucre, who won many battles for Bolivar, was to become his natural successor, until he was murdered. Venezuela became, after the war of independence, along with Colombia and Ecuador, part of the Republic of Gran Colombia (República de Gran Colombia) until 1830, when the country separated through a rebellion led by Jose Antonio Páez and declared itself a sovereign republic. Páez became the first president of Venezuela.

Much of Venezuela's 19th- and early 20th-century history was characterized by political instability, political struggle and dictatorial rule. Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935 and the demise of caudillismo (authoritarian oligarchical rule), democratic struggles eventually forced the military to withdraw from direct involvement in national politics in 1958. Since that year, Venezuela has enjoyed an unbroken tradition of democratic civilian rule, though even this has not been without conflict.

Venezuela is member of the South American Community of Nations (SACN).

Government and politics

The National Assembly Building in downtown Caracas. The Venezuelan president is elected by a popular vote, with direct and universal suffrage, and functions as both head of state and head of government. The term of office is six years, and a president may be re-elected to a single consecutive term. The president appoints the vice-president and decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes appointments to it with the involvement of the legislature. The president can ask the legislature to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple parliamentary majority can override these objections.

The unicameral Venezuelan parliament is the National Assembly or Asamblea Nacional. Its 165 deputies, of which three are reserved for indigenous peoples, serve five-year terms and may be re-elected for a maximum of two additional terms. They are elected by popular vote through a combination of party lists and single member constituencies. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, whose magistrates are elected by parliament for a single 12-year term. The National Electoral Council (CNE) is in charge of electoral processes; it is formed by five main directors elected by the National Assembly.

Venezuela was the first modern country in the world that abolished the death penalty. It was abolished 1863.

New flag and new coat of arms Recent political change has resulted in the flag of Venezuela being changed by the addition of an eighth star, symbolizing Guyana's contributions to the independence of the nation. The coat of arms has been changed, with the horse facing to the left, as opposed to the right. It is claimed by opponents of the Chavez government that this tactic was motivated by its disregard for national patrimonies and desire to promote their political propaganda at the unnecessary cost of taxpayers' money and hunger. They point out, for instance, the not so subtle metaphor conveyed in that change of the direction of the horse in the coat arms.

Subdivisions of Venezuela

Venezuela is subdivided into 23 states (estados), a Capital District (Distrito Capital) correspondent to the city of Caracas, and the Federal Dependencies (Dependencias Federales). The country is also divided into ten administrative regions (regiones administrativas), which were established by presidential decrees.

Geography

Main article: Geography of Venezuela Venezuela is home to a wide variety of landscapes, such as the north-easternmost extensions of the Andes mountains in the northwest and along the northern Caribbean coast, of which the highest point is the Pico Bolívar at 4,981 m.

The center of the country is characterized by extensive plains known as the llanos that stretch from the Colombian border to the river delta of the Orinoco east. To the south are found the dissected Guiana Highlands, home to Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, and the northern edge of Amazonia. This is a classical division, however.

The country can also be divided into nine geographical areas, some corresponding to the natural regions, one being the Andes Range. The Lake Maracaibo region comprises the lowlands near the Gulf of Venezuela. The Coro System, a mountainous block in the northern occidental territory, is the fount of several sierras and valleys. The Central Range is tied up with the coast and the hills surrounding Caracas, while the Eastern Range, separated from the Central by the Gulf of Cariaco, covers all of Sucre State and northern Monagas. The Llanos Region involves a third part of the country's area, above the Orinoco River. Under it, is the South Orinoco Region (the Guianas, above described). The Insular Region is formed by Nueva Esparta State and the Federal Dependencies. The last geographical region is the Deltaic System which forms a pantanous triangle, covering Delta Amacuro State, with the Atlantic platform branching off the coast.

The Orinoco River is the largest and most important river of the country, originating one of the biggest watersheds in Latin America. Other important rivers are the Caroní and the Apure.

The local climate is tropical and generally hot and humid, though more moderate in the highlands. The capital, Caracas is also the country's largest city. Other major cities include Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Maracay, and Ciudad Guayana.

Venezuela is one of the seventeen megadiverse countries, for the great number of animal and vegetable species that habitate there.

Economy

The petroleum sector dominates the economy, accounting for roughly a third of Venezuela's GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and more than half of government revenues. The oil sector operates through the government-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which among other things owns the US-based distributor CITGO, which has 14,000 retail gasoline outlets in the United States.

Venezuela also depends highly on the agricultural sector. Sectors with major potential for export-led growth are production of both coffee and cocoa crops. At one time, Venezuela ranked close to Colombia in coffee production, but in the 1960s and 70s, as petroleum temporarily turned Venezuela into the richest country in South America, coffee was relegated to the economic back burner. Today, Venezuela produces less than one percent of the world's coffee and most of it is drunk by the Venezuelans themselves. However, some interesting Venezuela coffees are again entering the North American specialty market. Venezuela's cocoa industry has decayed since the days of Spanish colonialism, when African slaves toiled in these sweltering, snake-infested estates. The focus of cocoa cultivation has long since moved to tropical West Africa and Venezuela now grows under one per cent of the world crop.

Venezuela is one of the five founding members of OPEC. The idea itself (an international oil cartel) was the initiative of Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo of Venezuela, who proposed it as a response to low domestic and international oil prices in August 1960. Since December 2005, Venezuela has been a member of Mercosur, joining with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, although it has yet to finalize policy changes in order to gain voting rights.

Demographics

The Venezuelan people comprise a rich combination of heritages. The historically present Amerindians, Spanish colonists and Africans were joined by Italians, Portuguese, Arabs, Germans, and others from neighbouring countries in South America during waves of immigration in the 20th century. About 85% of the population live in urban areas in the northern portion of the country. While almost half of Venezuela's land area lies south of the Orinoco river, this region contains only 5% of the population.

The national and official language is Spanish, but numerous indigenous languages also exist (Wayuu, Pemon, Warao, Kariña, Yanomami, Guajira, Guajibo, etc), as do languages introduced by immigrants. 96% of the population is at least nominally Roman Catholic. Around 4% of the population adheres to other faiths.

Military

Venezuelan culture comes from a wide variety of heritages, mainly of the indigenous populations, Spanish and African provenance, dating from the Colonial Period. Before this period, indigenous cultural manifestations were expressed in art (petroglyphs), crafts, architecture (shabonos) and social organization. Aboriginal culture was subsequently assimilated by Spaniards; over the years, the hybrid culture had diversified by region.

Venezuelan art is gaining attention within and outside the country. First dominated by religious motives, in the late 19th century it changed to historical and heroic representations, led by Martín Tovar y Tovar. Modernism took over in the 20th century. Some very remarkable Venezuelan artists include Arturo Michelena, Cristóbal Rojas, Armando Reverón, Jesús-Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez (who both contributed greatly to kinetic art), and Manuel Cabré.

Venezuelan literature began developing soon after the Spanish conquest, and it was dominated by Spanish culture and thinking. Following the rise of political literature during the Independence War, then came Romanticism, the first important genre in the region, whose great exponent was Juan Vicente González. Although mainly focused on narrative, poets also figure with great importance, Andrés Eloy Blanco being the most famous of them, and also Fermín Toro. Major writers and novelists are Rómulo Gallegos, Teresa de la Parra, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Adriano González León, Miguel Otero Silva and Mariano Picón Salas. Another great poet and humanist was Andrés Bello, besides being an educator and an intellectual.

Other philosophers and intellectuals, like Laureano Vallenilla Lanz and José Gil Fortoul, along with many other writers, sustained the theory of Venezuelan positivism.

The great architect of the Venezuelan Modern era was Carlos Raúl Villanueva, who designed and built the Universidad Central de Venezuela, (World Heritage Site) and its Aula Magna. Venezuelan architectural examples are the National Pantheon, the Baralt Theatre, the Teatro Teresa Carreño,and the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge.

Indigenous musical styles are sort of a crucible of Venezuelan cultural inheritances, most exemplified by groups like Un Solo Pueblo and Serenata Guayanesa. The national musical instrument is the cuatro. The typical or represantative musical styles are mainly from the llanos area and its surroundings, such as Alma Llanera (by Pedro Elias Gutierrez and Rafael Bolivar), Florentino y el Diablo (by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba), Concierto en la llanura by Juan Vicente Torrealba and Caballo Viejo (by Simón Díaz). The Gaita (music style) is also a popular style, played generally during Christmas, typical of Zulia State. The national dance is the joropo.

Teresa Carreño was a world famous piano virtuosa during the late 19th century.

Venezuela is also known for their world famous baseball players, such as Luis Aparicio, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York (USA), David Concepción, Oswaldo Guillén, Andrés Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, Luis Sojo, Bobby Abreu, and Johan Santana, winner of the Cy Young Award in 2004. Although baseball is tremendously popular (it's the national pastime), football (soccer) is also gaining popularity, due to the increasing performance of the Venezuela national football team.

National symbols

Venezuela's national symbols include the Flag, the Coat of Arms, and the National Anthem. Other elements relative to the typical flora and fauna of the territory are remarkable. The governments through history have officially declared these as national symbols:

National Flower

The orchid (Cattleya mossiae) This kind of orchid is also known as Flor de Mayo (May Flower). It was first discovered in the northern land in 1839 and was given the status of National Flower on 23 May 1951.

National Tree

The araguaney (Tabebuia chrysantha) Called aravanei by the caribes, it can be found mostly in regions with temperate weather. It can reach a height between 6 and 12 m. The araguaney flourishes within the period following a rainy season, mostly on the first months of the year. Rómulo Gallegos referred to these months as "La primavera de oro de los araguaneyes" (the golden spring of the araguaneyes). Declared National Tree on 29 May 1945.

National Bird

The turpial (Icterus icterus) Fully coloured with yellow-orange tones except in the head and the wings, which are black with a few tones in white; also has a blue spot surrounding the eyes. It can be found in woods, the llanos, at the shores of jungles, and in northern and southern Orinoco. The turpial is fairly appreciated due to its singing and was declared the National Bird on 23 May 1958.

These information were taken from the English edition of the wikipedia

Venezuela en America de sur
Mapa Venezuela

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