What Is Venezuela?
If you pay attention to the news, you probably have heard lots of talk about Venezuela. Since around 2010, this country in South America has been facing a socioeconomic and political crisis, which has resulted in increasing food and supply shortages, massive unemployment, and a general sense of civic unrest.
But there is much more to Venezuela than simply what gets reported in the news. Venezuela is a beautiful country, with an abundance of natural resources and a long, rich history.
So what is Venezuela? Where is it located? And what is really going on with it?
Where Is Venezuela Located?
Venezuela is a country located on the northern coast of South America. As of 2016, it has a population of 31.57 million people. It boasts one of the largest proven oil reserves outside of the Middle East. It is also home to Angel Falls, which at 3,230 feet is the highest waterfall in the world.
Venezuela shares a border with three other countries: Guyana (located to the east), Colombia (located to the west) and Brazil (located to the south). Slightly more than twice the size of California, it is bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Formally named the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since 1999, the country is made up of a continental mainland and numerous islands situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is considered to be among the 17 most megadiverse nations in the world, and among the most urban countries in Latin America.
A Brief History of Venezuela
The first humans are thought to have arrived in Venezuela some 15,000 years ago. Though it is hard to get an accurate estimate, it is believed the Pre-Columbian population of Venezuela reached roughly one million people. Among this native population were the Kalina (Caribs), Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-Cuicas.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus would sail into the Gulf of Paria off Venezuela. He was amazed by the beauty of the land and the offshore current of freshwater. In a letter to Isabella and Ferdinand, the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he claimed that he must have reached Heaven on Earth. He called the region “Land of Grace,” a nickname that remains today. It was given the name of Venezuela, meaning Little Venice, in 1499 by explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
Despite heavy resistance from the indigenous population, Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522. Spain would rule the territory for nearly 300 years. However, in 1811, Venezuela became one of the first Spanish American colonies to declare independence, thus beginning the Venezuelan War of Independence.
Venezuela was finally able to attain sovereignty in 1821, following the Battle of Carabobo which was led by Simón Bolívar. Known as El Libertador, Bolívar would help several other South American nations achieve independence, helping organize them into the country of Gran Colombia. In 1830, Venezuela broke off from the coalition to become its own independent nation
Venezuela In the 20th Century
In the early 20th century, oil was discovered in Venezuela, and the country quickly became a leading oil exporter.
From the time of their independence, Venezuela had suffered from political turmoil and autocracy. The country was largely ruled by military strongmen up until the mid-20th century. However, in 1959 Venezuela established a democratically-elected government, and an new constitution was drafted in 1961.
Venezuela’s oil industry was nationalized in 1976, and around this time the country saw a rise of new social elites. Internationally, Venezuela would become a founding member of OPEC. In the next decade, art and culture would begin to flourish in Venezuela.
In 1999, Venezuela would see radical changes in governmental and social policies. The election of President Hugo Chávez signaled a shift from a free market economy towards more socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. Instead of maintaining positive relationships with the United States and Europe, Venezuela began to embrace increased development of the Global South.
Crisis in Venezuela
In the present day, Venezuela faces the threat of a weakening democracy, a highly-politicized military, and an increase in drug-related violence along the Colombian border.
President Hugo Chávez would die in office in 2013, and he was replaced with Nicolás Maduro, whose election to the presidency was contested as a fraud. Maduro would be re-elected again in 2018 to a second six-year term. Once again, there were claims that the election was rigged.
Opponents to President Maduro consider his rule to be a dictatorship. In February 2014, mass protests against the government began in response to high levels of criminal violence, hyperinflation, corruption, and a scarcity of basic goods.
In July 2016, President Maduro declared an economic state of emergency. Currently, Venezuela’s inflation rate is the highest in the world. In fact, the country is going through one of the worst economic disasters in world history.
Venezuela has a long and rich history, with a current political climate that is pointed towards change. Only time will tell what the future holds for the Land of Grace.