Venezuela Spanish: Venezuela, IPA: [beneˈswela]), officially 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.
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's 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 (Venezia in Italian), so he named the region "Veneziela".
Alternatively, the Spanish geographer Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of Vespucci and de Ojeda's crew, states in his work Summa de Geografía that the indigenous population they found were called "Veneciuela", suggesting that the name "Venezuela" may have evolved from a native word. The Vespucci story, however, remains the most popular and accepted version of the origin of the country's name.
Venezuela, first colonized in 1522, hosted the Spanish Empire's first permanent South American settlement in what is now Cumaná. Originally part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, most of Venezuela eventually became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada; portions of eastern Venezuela became part of New Andalusia. After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela – under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal involved in the French Revolution – declared independence on 5 July 1811.
Full sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, known as El Libertador ("The Liberator") and aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla's victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo on 24 July 1823 helped seal Venezuelan independence. New Granada's congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; he then liberated several countries and founded Greater Colombia (Gran Colombia), comprising what are now Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. He then liberated Peru and founded Bolivia. Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, was to become his natural successor, until he was murdered in Berruecos. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez led to the nation's secession and declaration as the Republic of Venezuela; Páez became its first president.
Much of Venezuela's nineteenth and early twentieth-century history was characterized by political instability, political struggle and dictatorial rule. Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935 and the temporary demise of caudillismo (authoritarian 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.
The Venezuelan president is elected by 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 167 deputies, of which three are reserved for indigenous people, 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 twelve-year term. The National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE) is in charge of electoral processes; it is formed by five main directors elected by the National Assembly.
Venezuela abolished the death penalty in 1863, making it the country where this practice has been outlawed the longest.
Venezuela is divided into twenty-three states (estados), a capital district (distrito capital) corresponding to the city of Caracas, the Federal Dependencies (Dependencias Federales, a special territory), and Guayana Esequiba (claimed in a border dispute with Guyana). Venezuela is further subdivided into 335 municipalities (municipios); these are subdivided into over one thousand parishes (parroquias). The states are grouped into nine administrative regions (regiones administrativas), which were established by presidential decree.
Venezuela's mainland rests on the South American Plate; With 2,800 kilometres (1,700 mi) of coastline, Venezuela is home to a wide variety of landscapes. The extreme northeastern extensions of the Andes reach into Venezuela's northwest and continue along the northern Caribbean coast. Pico Bolívar, the nation's highest point at 4,979 meters (16,335 ft), lies in this region.
The country's center is characterized by the llanos, extensive plains that stretch from the Colombian border in the far west to the delta of the Orinoco River in the east. To the south, the dissected Guiana Highlands is home to the northern fringes of the Amazon Basin and Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall.
The country can be further divided into ten geographical areas, some corresponding to climatic and biogeographical regions. In the north are the Venezuelan Andes and the Coro region, a mountainous tract in the northwest, is home to several sierras and valleys. East of it are lowlands abutting Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela. The Central Range runs parallel to the coast and includes the hills surrounding Caracas. The Eastern Range, separated from the Central Range by the Gulf of Cariaco, covers all of Sucre and northern Monagas. The Llanos region comprises a third of the country's area north of the Orinoco River. To the south is the South Orinoco Region (the Guianas). The Insular Region is formed by Nueva Esparta and the Federal Dependencies. Finally, the Deltaic System, which forms a triangle covering Delta Amacuro, projects northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Orinoco River is the largest and most important river of the country, originating in one of the biggest watersheds in Latin America. Other important rivers are the Caroní and the Apure.
Though Venezuela is entirely situated in the tropics, its climate varies substantially, ranging from humid low-elevation plains with average annual temperatures as high as 28°C to glaciers and highlands (the páramos) with an average temperature of 8°C. Annual rainfall varies between 430 mm in the semiarid portions of the northwest to 1,000 mm in the Orinoco Delta of the far east. Most precipitation falls between May and November (the rainy season or "winter"); the drier and hotter remainder of the year is known as "summer", though temperature variation throughout the year is not as pronounced as at temperate latitudes.
Infant mortality in Venezuela stands at over 22 deaths per 1000 births, a rate that places Venezuela behind Mexico, Panama, Colombia and many other countries of its region; for comparison the infant death rate is about eight times higher than Sweden. The nutritional status of children under 5 years old allows for Venezuela to be placed in the low or acceptable range, defined by the international parameters, such as in 1999 with 4.7% of underweight, 13.6% of stunting and 3% of wasting.
According to the United Nations, the fraction of population without adequate sanitation is 32 percent, with a majority of people in many rural areas lacking in this basic commodity. In a cholera epidemic of contemporary times in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela's political leaders were accused of racial profiling of their own indigeneous people to deflect blame from the country's institutions, thereby aggravating the epidemic.. Water, due to the prevalence of cross contamination of drinking water with untreated sewage, is not safe to drink without proper treatment. In Venezuela only three percent of the sewage receives treatment, and major cities such as Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia have poor wastewater treatment: . There are approximately 5,000,000 people in Venezuela living without access to safe drinking water, resulting in a percentage of population ranking of Venezuela among the poorest in South America. As of the year 1999 there were an estimated 110,000 people in Venezuela living with HIV. 
Venezuela lies within the Neotropic ecozone; large portions of the country were originally covered by moist broadleaf forests. One of seventeen megadiverse countries and among the top twenty countries in terms of endemism, Venezuela hosts significant biodiversity across habitats ranging from xeric scrublands in the extreme northwest to coastal mangrove forests in the northeast. Notable mammalian fauna include the giant anteater, jaguar, and the capybara, the world's largest rodent. More than half of Venezuelan avian and mammalian species are found in the Amazonian forests south of the Orinoco.
In recent decades, logging, mining, shifting cultivation, development, and other human activities have posed a major threat to Venezuela's wildlife; between 1990 and 2000, 0.40% of forest cover was cleared annually. In response, federal protections for critical habitat were implemented; for example, 20% to 33% of forested land is protected. Venezuela is currently home to a Biosphere reserve that is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; five wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.
The petroleum sector dominates the Venezuela's mixed economy, accounting for roughly a third of 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 and its more than 14,000 retail gasoline outlets. Despite the significant oil wealth, 47% of the population live in poverty; as of 2006, the unemployment rate was 12.2%.
Venezuela is also highly dependent on its 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 1970s, 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 1% of the world's coffee, most of it consumed by the domestic market. However, Venezuelan coffees are again entering the North American specialty markets. Venezuela's cocoa industry has decayed since the days of Spanish colonialism, when African slaves worked on cocoa estates. The focus of cocoa cultivation has long since moved to tropical West Africa. In recent years, there has been an attempt to resuscitate this industry, as its rare variety of cacao, known as Chuao, is considered the finest and most aromatic in the world and is used in certain single-origin chocolates. The largest Venezuelan fine chocolate producer is El Rey, though some companies such as Savoy (Nestlé) also manufacture chocolate from Venezuelan cacao and export it to Europe.
Venezuela is one of the five founding members of OPEC, the international oil cartel. The initiative of Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, OPEC was proposed in 1960 as a response to low domestic and international oil prices. Since 2005, Venezuela has been a member of Mercosur, joining Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay; it has yet to gain voting rights. Venezuela is also a member of the South American Community of Nations (SACN).
A recent study on racial groups showed that 60% of the population are Mestizo (mixed race between white, African and indian), 29% white (mostly Spaniards, Italian, Germans and Portuguese), 8% African, 1% Amerindian and 2% Asian (China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and the Middle East ). The Venezuelan people comprise a combination of heritages. The historically present Amerindians, Spanish colonists and imported African slaves were joined by sponsored European groups and others from neighbouring countries in South America during waves of immigration in the 20th century. There are also various communities from Eastern Europe such as Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary. 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; 31 indigenous languages are also spoken, including Wayuu, Pemon, Warao, Kariña, Yanomami, and Guajibo. Immigrant communities and their descendents commonly use their own native languages. Nominally, 96% of the population belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Around 4% practice other faiths.
Infant mortality in Venezuela stands at 21.54 deaths per 1,000 births, eight times higher than in Sweden. Child malnutrition (defined as stunting or wasting in children under age five) stands at 17%; Delta Amacuro and Amazonas have the nation's highest rates. According to the United Nations, 32% of Venezuelans lacked adequate sanitation, with rural areas being the most undersupplied. Diseases ranging from typhoid, yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis D are present in the country. Only 3% of sewage is treated; most major cities lack treatment facilities.. Almost 20% of Venezuelans lack access to potable water, one of the highest rates in South America. As of 1999, around 110,000 Venezuelans had HIV.
Venezuela's heritage, art, and culture has been heavily influenced by its Latin American context. These elements extend to its historic buildings, architecture, art, landscape, boundaries, and monuments. Venezuelan culture has been shaped by indigenous, Spanish, and African influences dating at early as the colonial period. Before this period, indigenous culture was 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 prominence. Initially dominated by religious motifs, it began emphasizing historical and heroic representations in the late 19th century, a move led by Martín Tovar y Tovar. Modernism took over in the 20th century. Notable Venezuelan artists include Arturo Michelena, Cristóbal Rojas, Armando Reverón, Manuel Cabré, the kinetic artists Jesús-Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Yucef Merhi.
Venezuelan literature originated soon after the Spanish conquest of the mostly pre-literate indigenous societies; it was dominated by Spanish influences. Following the rise of political literature during the War of Independence, Venezuelan Romanticism, notably expounded by Juan Vicente González, emerged as the first important genre in the region. Although mainly focused on narrative writing, Venezuelan literature was advanced by poets such as Andrés Eloy Blanco and Fermín Toro. Major writers and novelists include Rómulo Gallegos, Teresa de la Parra, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Adriano González León, Miguel Otero Silva, and Mariano Picón Salas. The great poet and humanist Andrés Bello was also an educator and intellectual. Others, such as Laureano Vallenilla Lanz and José Gil Fortoul, contributed to Venezuelan Positivism.
Carlos Raúl Villanueva was the most important Venezuelan architect of the modern era; he designed the Central University of Venezuela, (a World Heritage Site) and its Aula Magna. Other notable architectural works include the Capitol, the Baralt Theatre, the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex, and the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge.
Indigenous musical styles are exemplified by the groups Un Solo Pueblo and Serenata Guayanesa. The national musical instrument is the cuatro. Typical musical styles and pieces mainly emerged in and around the llanos region, including Alma Llanera (by Pedro Elías Gutiérrez and Rafael Bolivar Coronado), Florentino y el Diablo (by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba), Concierto en la Llanura by Juan Vicente Torrealba, and Caballo Viejo (by Simón Díaz). The Zulian gaita is also a popular style, generally performed during Christmas. The national dance is the joropo. Teresa Carreño was a world-famous 19th-century piano virtuosa.
Baseball is Venezuela's most popular sport, though football, spearheaded by the increasingly successful Venezuela national football team, is gaining influence. Famous Venezuelan baseball players include Luis Aparicio (inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), David Concepción, Oswaldo Guillén, Andrés Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, Luis Sojo, Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Johan Santana (a two-time Cy Young Award winner).
Venezuela's national symbols are the the Flag, the Coat of Arms, and the National Anthem. Since the flora and fauna of the territory are remarkable, the government also officially declared these national symbols: