AskDefine | Define Venezuela

Dictionary Definition

Venezuela n : a republic in northern South America on the Caribbean; achieved independence from Spain in 1811; rich in oil [syn: Republic of Venezuela]

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English

Proper noun

Venezuela
  1. Country in South America. Official name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

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Czech

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  1. Venezuela

Dutch

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Proper noun

Venezuela

French

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Venezuela m
  1. Venezuela

Italian

Pronunciation

Venezuela, /vened"dzwela/

Proper noun

Venezuela

Norwegian

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Venezuela

Spanish

Etymology

Old Spanish Veneçuela (Venecia + -uela - diminutive)

Pronunciation

Proper noun

Venezuela f
  1. Venezuela

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Extensive Definition

Venezuela (, ), officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Spanish: República Bolivariana de Venezuela), is a country on the northern coast of South America.
The country comprises a continental mainland and numerous islands located off the Venezuelan coastline in the Caribbean Sea. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela possesses borders with Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the west. Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Leeward Antilles lie just north, off the Venezuelan coast. Falling within the tropics, Venezuela sits close to the equator, in the Northern Hemisphere.
A former Spanish colony, which has been an independent republic since 1821, Venezuela holds territorial disputes with Guyana, largely concerning the Essequibo area, and with Colombia concerning the Gulf of Venezuela. In 1895, after the dispute over the Guyana border flared up, it was submitted to a neutral commission, which in 1899 decided it mostly in Guyana's favour. Today, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry, the environmental diversity of its territory, and its natural features. Venezuela is considered to be among the world's 17 most biodiverse countries.
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 capital Caracas which is also the largest city. Other major cities include Maracaibo, Valencia, Maracay, Barquisimeto, Ciudad Guayana and the popular tourist city of Mérida. Venezuela is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats.

Etymology

The name "Venezuela" is believed to have originated from the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who, along 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 villages (palafitos) that the people had built over the water. This reminded Vespucci of the city of Venice (lang-it Venezia), so he named the region "Venezuola", meaning "little Venice" in Italian. In Spanish, the suffix -zuela is used as a diminutive term (e.g., plaza / plazuela, cazo / cazuela); thus, the term's original sense would have been that of a "little Venice".
Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of the Vespucci and 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. In English, the word Venezuela is pronounced as . The Venezuelan Spanish is .

History

Human habitation of Venezuela is estimated to have commenced at least 15,000 years ago from which period leaf-shaped flake tools, together with chopping and plano-convex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela. Late Pleistocene hunting artifacts, including spear tips, have been found at a similar series of sites in northwestern Venezuela known as "El Jobo"; according to radiocarbon dating, these date from 13,000 to 7,000 BC. In the 16th century, when the Spanish colonization of Venezuela began, indigenous peoples such as the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Caribs, were systematically killed. Indian caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were ultimately subdued; Tamanaco himself, by order of Caracas' founder Diego de Losada, was also put to death.
Venezuela was first colonized by Spain in 1522, when it 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 were incorporated into New Andalusia. After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela—under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal involved in the French Revolutiondeclared independence on 5 July 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. However, a devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic. A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on 7 August 1813, lasted several months before being crushed as well.
Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, known as El Libertador ("The Liberator") and aided by Alexandre Petion of Haiti,José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla and Rafael Urdaneta'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; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia. Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador, and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a new Republic of Venezuela; Páez became its first president.
Much of Venezuela's nineteenth century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule. During first half of the 20th century, caudillos (military strongmen) continued to dominate, though they generally allowed for mild social reforms and promoted economic growth. Following the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935 and the demise of caudillismo (authoritarian rule), pro-democracy movements eventually forced the military to withdraw from direct involvement in national politics in 1958. Since that year, Venezuela has had a series of democratically elected governments. The discovery of massive oil deposits, totaling some 400 million barrels, during World War I prompted an economic boom that lasted into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela's per capita GDP was Latin America's highest,.
After WWII the globalization and heavy immigration from Southern Europe (mainly from Spain, Italy, Portugal) and poorer Latin American countries markedly diversified Venezuelan society.
The huge public spending and accumulation of internal and external debts by the government and private sector during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s, followed by the collapse of oil prices during the 1980s, crippled the Venezuelan economy. As the government devalued the currency in order to face its mounting local and non-local financial obligations, Venezuelans' real standard of living fell dramatically. A number of failed economic policies and increasing corruption in government and society at large, has led to rising poverty and crime and worsening social indicators and increasing political instability, resulting in two major coup attempts in 1992.
In the February 1992 coup, Hugo Chávez, a former paratrooper, attempted to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez as anger grew against the President's economic austerity measures. Chávez was unsuccessful and landed in jail. In November of that year, another unsuccessful coup attempt occurred, organized by other revolutionary groups in the Venezuelan Armed Forces and those that remained from Chávez’s previous attempt.
In 1998, Hugo Chávez (who led the first unsuccessful coup in 1992) was elected president as a reaction against the established political parties and the corruption and inequalities their policies created. He remains president today. Since coming to power, Chávez has attracted some controversy through his reforms of the Constitution, the implementation of his "Bolivarian Revolution", and in 2002 (though now a democratically elected president) Chávez was temporarily ousted from power by right-wing elements in the army and the business sector.

Government

The Venezuelan president is elected by a 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 diminish 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.

Politics

There are currently two major blocs of political parties in Venezuela: the leftist United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its major allies Fatherland for All (PPT), and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV); and A New Era (UNT) together with its allied parties Project Venezuela, Justice First, Movement for Socialism (Venezuela) and others. Following the fall of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958, Venezuelan politics was dominated by the center-right Christian democratic COPEI and the center-left social democratic Democratic Action (AD) parties; this two-party system was formalized by the puntofijismo arrangement. However, this system has been sidelined following the initial 1998 election of current president Hugo Chávez, which started the Bolivarian Revolution.
The voting age in Venezuela is 18 and older. Voting is not compulsory. Most of the political opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary election. Consequently, the MVR-led bloc secured all 167 seats in the National Assembly. Then, the MVR voted to dissolve itself in favor of joining the proposed United Socialist Party of Venezuela, while Chávez requested that MVR-allied parties merge themselves into it as well. The National Assembly has twice voted to grant Chávez the ability rule by decree in several broadly defined areas, once in 2000 and again in 2007. This power has been granted to previous administrations as well.

Public health

Infant mortality in Venezuela stood at 16 deaths per 1,000 births in 2004, much lower than the South American average (by comparison, the U.S. stands at 5 deaths per 1,000 births in 2006). 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 lack adequate sanitation, primarily those living in rural areas. 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. 17% of Venezuelans lack access to potable water.
Travelers to Venezuela are advised to obtain vaccinations for a variety of diseases including typhoid, yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis D. In a cholera epidemic of contemporary times in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela's political leaders were accused of racial profiling of their own indigenous people to deflect blame from the country's institutions, thereby aggravating the epidemic.
As had previous administrations, the government is attempting to create a national universal health care system that is free of charge. The current vehicle for this idea is Misión Barrio Adentro.

Foreign relations

Throughout most of the 20th century, Venezuela maintained friendly relations with most Latin American and Western nations. Relations between Venezuela and the United States worsened in 2002, when the U.S. government helped to instigate the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt and recognized the short-lived unconstitutional regime of Pedro Carmona. Correspondingly, ties to various leftist-led Latin American and Middle Eastern countries not allied to the U.S. have strengthened. Venezuela seeks alternative hemispheric integration via such proposals as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade proposal and the newly launched pan-Latin American television network teleSUR. Venezuela was a proponent of OAS's decision to adopt its Anti-Corruption Convention, and is actively working in the Mercosur trade bloc to push increased trade and energy integration. Globally, it seeks a "multi-polar" world based on strengthened ties among Third World countries.

Military

Venezuela's national armed forces include roughly 100,000 personnel spread through four service branches: the Ground Forces, the Navy (including the Marine Corps), the Air Force, and the Armed Forces of Cooperation (FAC), commonly known as the National Guard. As of 2008, a further 600,000 soldiers were incorporated into a new branch, known as the Armed Reserve; these troops bear more semblance to a militia than the older branches. The President of Venezuela is the commander-in-chief of the national armed forces.

Subdivisions

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. Historically, Venezuela has also claimed all Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River; this tract was dubbed Guayana Esequiba or the Zona en Reclamación (the "zone to be reclaimed").

Geography

Venezuela's mainland rests on the South American Plate; With 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 , 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 Orinoco River delta 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 Orinoco, with its rich alluvial soils, binds the largest and most important river system of the country; it originates in one of the largest watersheds in Latin America. The Caroní and the Apure are other major rivers.
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. South of it lies the Guiana Shield, a massive two billion year old Precambrian geological formation featuring tepuis, mysterious table-like mountains. The Insular Region includes all of Venezuela's island possessions: Nueva Esparta and the various Federal Dependencies. The Deltaic System, which forms a triangle covering Delta Amacuro, projects northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.
Though Venezuela is entirely situated in the tropics, its climate varies substantially; it varies from that of humid low-elevation plains, where average annual temperatures range as high as , to glaciers and highlands (the páramos) with an average yearly temperature of . Annual rainfall varies between in the semiarid portions of the northwest to 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. Venezuela hosts significant biodiversity across habitats ranging from xeric scrublands in the extreme northwest to coastal mangrove forests in the northeast. Manatees, Boto river dolphins, and Orinoco crocodiles, which reach up to in length, are notable aquatic species. Venezuela also hosts a huge number of bird species, a total of 1,417, 48 of which are endemic. Important birds include ibises, ospreys, kingfishers, and the yellow-orange turpial, the national bird.
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 2003, 70% of the nation's land was under conservation management in over 200 protected areas, including 43 national parks.

Economy

The petroleum sector dominates Venezuela's mixed economy, accounting for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. The country's main petroleum deposits are located around and beneath Lake Maracaibo, the Gulf of Venezuela, and in the Orinoco River basin, where the country's largest reserve is located.

Demographics

Since 1926, Venezuelan Census does not contain information about ethnicity so only rough estimates are available. Some 70% of the population are Mestizo, defined as a mixture of any other races; another 20% are unmixed caucasians, mostly of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German descent. Other important groups include Afro-Venezuelans, though their numbers are unclear due to poor census data. Asians, predominantly Lebanese, Arab , Chinese and Turkish descent, make up a small percentage of the population. Only about 5% of Venezuelans are Indigenous. These groups were joined by sponsored migrants from throughout Europe and neighboring parts of South America by the mid-20th century economic boom.
About 85% of the population live in urban areas in northern Venezuela; 73% live less than from the coastline. Though almost half of Venezuela's land area lies south of the Orinoco, only 5% of Venezuelans live there.
The national and official language is Spanish; 31 indigenous languages are also spoken, including Guajibo, Pemon, Warao, Wayuu, and the various Yanomaman languages. 83% of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.

Culture

Venezuela's heritage, art, and culture have 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. 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 was initially dominated by religious motifs, but 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.
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 of Venezuela 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. In the last years, Classical Music has had great performances. The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra has realized excellent presentations in many European theaters and has received honors of the public.
Baseball is Venezuela's most popular sport, although football (soccer), spearheaded by the Venezuela national football team, is gaining influence. Famous Venezuelan baseball players include Luis Aparicio (inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), David (Dave) Concepción, Oswaldo (Ozzie) Guillén (current White Sox manager, World Series champion in 2005), Cubs Ace Carlos Zambrano, Freddy Garcia, Andrés Galarraga, Omar Vizquel (an eleven-time Gold Glove winner), Luis Sojo, Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Félix Hernández, Magglio Ordóñez, Ugueth Urbina, Víctor Martínez, Rafael Betancourt, and Johan Santana (a two-time unanimously selected Cy Young Award winner).
The World Values Survey has consistently shown Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in the world, with 55% of those questioned saying they were "very happy".
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