One of the oldest democracies in the South American continent, Venezuela is blessed with several gifts from nature – beautiful rock formations carved naturally thousands of years ago, endemic wildlife, snow-capped Andes Mountains, long stretches of beaches with sugar-fine sand and vast petroleum and natural gas reserves. Venezuela was named after Venice when some 15th century European explorers arrived at this beautiful country and saw native houses on stilts called palafitos erected around Lake Maracaibo. Outside of the oil-producing countries in the Middle East, Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world and still has vast resources of natural gas that remain untapped. Travel to this wonderful country and explore its natural beauty and its rich cultural history.
:: Background of Venezuela ::
The indigenous people of Venezuela, the Caribs, the Arawaks and some Chibchas lived a peaceful existence along the coast, on the wide plains and in the tropical forests of the country before the European explorers landed on its shores in the 16th century beginning with Christopher Columbus.
The arrival of the Spanish had almost decimated the number of indigenous people in Venezuela. Spain was quick to exploit the riches of the country and tried to subdue its people and gain their allegiance. Venezuela was once very rich in pearl oysters particularly in Margarita and in Cubagua. For a while the bountiful pearl oysters brought riches to Spain until it was almost exhausted, along with the number of indigenous people they used to gather the pearls. Another Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda landed at the Gulf of Venezuela and in seeing the houses on stilts lining the coast gave it the name Venezuela meaning Little Venice.
When gold was discovered, slavery became rampant and African slaves were also brought into the country to work in the mines. While it enriched Spain and opened Venezuela to international trade, the majority of the inhabitants were subjected to very strict laws. In the 18th century the people of Venezuela, after suffering too much oppression and discrimination were broken into factions. However, they were one in wanting to be independent from Spain. The first organized attempt at rebellion was instigated by José María España together with Manuel Gual. However it was quickly put down due to the mantuanos or the privileged people in the country who collaborated with the ruling Spanish families.
In this Country Profile
The rise of Napoleon and its wars with Spain gave the people of Venezuela inspiration. It also led Britain to become pro-independence. The War of Independence of Venezuela eventually started in 1811 and several commanders and leaders who rose in prominence, fought and with the leadership of Simon Bolivar started to liberate parts of Venezuela and annexed it to the Gran Colombia. In 1821, Gran Colombia gained independence from Spain. It was not one continuous battle with a series of victories. There were several wins and losses, retreats and advances as well as factional in-fighting. However, it the end, their dream of finally being freed of Spain’s dominance was achieved, even if Bolivar’s dream of uniting the nation was not achieved during his time. The ravages of war left Venezuela impoverished and its population down into almost a million. It was the discovery of oil in Lake Maracaibo while WWI was raging that helped Venezuela get back on its feet.
:: Geography of Venezuela ::
Venezuela is in an enviable position, being located on the major air and sea paths that link South and North America. Bounded by Guyana, Brazil and Colombia on the east, south and west respectively, its northern side has a coastline stretching about 2,800 kilometers along the coast of the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Venezuela has plenty of natural sites to offer travelers with Angel Falls, the highest in the world; the snow-capped Andes mountains, Pico Bolivar, its highest mountain, several unique tabletop plateaus and the Orinoco River, the second largest in South America next to the Amazon and ranks number age in terms of size among all the large rivers in the world.
The county also boasts of having the largest lake in South America, the petroleum-rich Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela has varied terrain due to the mountains, valleys, deep gorges and wide plains. Its topography contribute largely to the variety of climate patterns in Venezuela, which is classified as tropical although can range from hot and humid in some areas especially the interior and alpine cool nearer the mountains. There are areas that received huge amounts of rain whereas some there are areas that are shadowed by the mountains and are therefore dry and prone to droughts.
Venezuela lies to the northern south of the continent of South and nestled between its closest neighbors, Guyana, Colombia and Brazil with its north side facing the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Venezuela’s geographic coordinates are 8° 0’ 00” north and 66° 0’ 00” west.
Venezuela is a big landmass measuring 912,050 square kilometers. Its total land area is 882,050 square kilometers and while the area covered with water measures 30,000 square kilometers. The country is more than two times bigger than California, USA.
Located among other large South American nations, Venezuela has a long land border. Its longest border is shared with Brazil on its south side, stretching for about 2,200 kilometers. On the east, Venezuela shares a border with Guyana for 743 kilometers and along its western side, it is bordered by Colombia for about 2,050 kilometers.
Venezuela also has quite a long coastline along its northern and southern parts. Its total coastline measures about 2,800 kilometers, facing the Caribbean Sea as well as the North Atlantic Ocean.
Its territorial sea claim covers 12 nautical miles with a contiguous zone of 15 nautical miles. Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone extends out for another 200 nautical miles and its continental shelf covers a depth of 200 meters or to the depth of allowed exploitation.
Venezuela’s climate is generally tropical but the temperature varies in the different regions of the country. Humidity is prevalent due to the bodies of water near and within the country although the presence of several peaks of the Andes Mountains, most of which are snow-capped, keep the temperature in the highlands from moderate to Alpine cold.
The terrain of Venezuela is quite varied. There are lowlands, table-top plateaus and highlands. The central plains, called llanos are located in Orinoco while the lowlands are found in Maracaibo along the northwest section of Venezuela. The Guiana highlands on the southeast consist of various table-top plateaus, the highest of which contain the highest waterfall in the world, the Angel Falls. On the northeast are the Andes Mountains. It is also the location of the highest mountain in Venezuela, the Pico Bolivar.
The Caribbean Sea at zero meters is the lowest point in Venezuela while its highest elevation is located at Pico Bolivar, officially measured to reach a height of 4,981 meters (previous measurement was 5,007 meters). Pico Bolivar, named after Simon Bolivar, is located in the Mérida.
Aside from the beautiful beaches, mountain peaks, lakes, rivers and rock formations, Venezuela has bountiful natural resources that contribute greatly to the nation’s economy. It is second to the United States in vast reserves of natural gas, most of which remains untapped. It is also the fifth largest oil exporter in the world. Aside from these, Venezuela also have gold, iron ore, diamonds, bauxite and large hydropower potential because of several rivers in the country.
Out of the total available land area, only 2.85% of it is arable with 0.8% planted with permanent crops. Much of the land or about 96.27% is allocated for other uses.
Venezuela is prone to rockslides due to the number of mountains and tabletop plateaus. It is also prone to floods and mud slides. Part of the country experience droughts periodically.
Current Environmental Issues
Venezuela is becoming highly industrialized and as such sewage pollution is becoming a problem particularly in Lago de Valencia. In Lago de Maracaibo, where oil exploration is ongoing, oil and urban pollution as a result of the increased number of residents are beginning to affect the area. Venezuela is also facing deforestation, urban and industrial pollution near the Caribbean coast and soil degradation, while irresponsible mining contributes greatly to the threats to its rainforest ecosystem.
International Environmental Agreements
Venezuela has signed all the international environmental agreements it has entered into but has not ratified any of it yet. It has signed agreements on ozone layer protection, tropical timber 83 and 95, wetlands, desertification, endangered species, biodiversity, Antarctic treaty, climate change, hazardous wastes, climate change-Kyoto protocol, marine life pollution and ship pollution.
:: People of Venezuela ::
Citizens of Venezuela are called Venezuelans (singular – Venezuelan). The word can be used as a noun as well as an adjective to describe a native from Venezuela.
According to the 2011 CIA World Fact Book, the population of Venezuela is estimated to be around 27,635,743. Most of the population is concentrated in the urban areas in the northern coast of the country. The estimated population growth rate for 2011 is 1.493 percent. Total fertility rate for 2011 is about 2.42, translated into about 2 and a half children born to every female of child-bearing age in Venezuela. The country has zero net migration, according to the estimates done in the middle of 2011.
The highest age group in Venezuela belongs to the middle group, the 15 to 64 age bracket with 65.1%, broken into 9,130,561 females and 8,846,945 males. The next group belongs to the 0 to 14 age bracket where there are 4,149,781 males and 4,002,931 females collectively making 29.5% while those in the 65 years and over comprise 5.4% of the population, with females outnumbering the males, placed at 840,089 and 665,436 respectively.
Of the total population, the median age in Venezuela is 26.1 years with the female median age at 26.8 years is slightly higher than the makes, measured at 25.4 years based on 2011 calculations.
Birth and Death Rates
Based on the July 2011 estimates, there are 20.1 births for every 1,000 inhabitants in Venezuela while the death rate is placed at 5.17 for every 1,000 inhabitants.
The disparity between the genders of Venezuelan inhabitants very slightly favors the males, but is it not by much. Among the total population it is estimated that there is 0.98 male for every female while at birth the ratio is 1.05 male for every female. It lowers slightly in the under-15 age group with 1.03 males for every female. The ratio between males and females goes lower as the age level increases, with only 0.97 males for every female and still lower at 0.79 males for every female in the 65 years and older age group.
Infant Mortality Rate
Infant mortality rate is quite high in Venezuela, with about 20.62 deaths for every 1,000 live births for the whole country. The rate is higher for the males with 24.12 deaths/1,000 live births. Significantly the rate is lower for females with only 16.95 deaths for every 1,000 live births, as stated in the 2011 estimates.
Life Expectancy at Birth
The figures for life expectancy at birth is quite good, with the average for the total population registering almost 74 years. The females outlive the men by a few years, estimated at 77.17 years while the average for the males is only 70.84 years.
HIV / AIDS
While data figures for HIV/AIDS in Venezuela varies, it is evident that the country is also struggling to overcome this dreaded disease. People living with HIV/AIDS in Venezuela jumped dramatically from about 62,000 in 2004 to over 110,000 in 2010. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in adults 15 to 49 years of age was estimated at 0.7% in 2001. The death tally caused by the disease also increased, from 2,000 in 2001 to over 4,100 in 2003.
About sixty-eight percent of Venezuelans are mestizos while 21% is composed of German, Italian Portuguese and Spanish. Blacks account for about 10% of the population while the native Amerindians (Caribs and Arawaks) make up 2% of the population. A handful of Arabs are also present in Venezuela.
The majority of the population of Venezuela are nominal Roman Catholics, representing 96%. The rest is equally divided into Protestants and other religions
Spanish is the official language spoken by a huge majority of Venezuelan. Some other immigrant languages are spoken, including English while the older generation also speak some indigenous dialects.
Literary in Venezuela is increasing from the rate jumping from 88% in 1991 to 93% based on the 2001 census. Inhabitants age 15 and over are able read and write, with the male literacy rate measured at 93.3% compared to the 92.7% for females.
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