Venezuela is the northernmost country of South America. The north of Venezuela is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The name Venezuela ("Little Venice") is from the explorer Amerigo Vespuccio. He saw stilt houses on Lake Maracaibo; those houses reminded him of the city of Venice in Europe.
In relation to other countries in South America, it is bordered by Colombia to the west and Guyana to the east. On the south-east is Brazil. Of the three countries which border Venezuela, the longest border is with Brazil: 2,200 kilometres. The border with Columbia is slightly smaller: 2,050 km. The border with Guyana is much smaller at: 743 kilometres. In relation to the world, Venezuela is almost twice as large as the American state of California.
Because Venezuela is close (eight degrees north) to the equator, it is mostly tropical, however, Venezuela also has a desert region, open plains and even tall mountains with snow on them. Venezuela has highlands in the middle of the country, and many waterfalls like the Angel Falls.
The weather is as varied as the geography of this land. Venezuela has beautiful hot humid coasts, the Andes mountains begin their journey down South America in Venezuela and are an area of rich agriculture and tourist industry. The mountains are obviously cool compared to the plains (Los Llanos) below where cattle ranches thrive. The highest mountain is Pico Bolivar at 5007 metres. The other mountain range in the south-east is the Guiana Highlands. Parts of the Amazon jungle are in Venezuelan territory. The beautiful ancient formation of La Gran Sabana of Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World is an amazing territory of table top mountains. The plains where these mountains lie have sheer drops of kilometers into the amazon jungle which are breathtaking.
One of Venezuela's major rivers is the Orinoco River. Just over a third of Venezuela is forests and woodland, and a fifth is used as farmland. Just under half the land is used for where people live and work. Venezuela is one of the richest countries in South America for mineral resources, gold and diamonds in particular. Also there are many oil wells, where petroleum and gas come out. Much of Venezuela is irrigated which means water can spread. Venezuela tends to have floods, rock slides and mudslides, as well as droughts. In many of Venezuela's cities especially along the heavily polluted Caribbean coast, there is pollution from the sewers, oil and water. In the past Venezuelan forests and soil have been used a great deal, so there is deforestation and soil degradation.
History of Venezuela
Before the first Spanish settlement in 1522, the indigenous people were living near the Orinoco river and the Andean mountain range. In the middle of the 1500s, gold was discovered, which led to the indigenous people (and Africans who were imported to Venezuela) becoming slaves. The Europeans also raised livestock on the plains. During the 18th century the land was passed under the responsibility of New Granada, after having been owned by two viceroyalties. Venezuela declared independence from Spain in 1811, but for eight years until 1819 there was a war. Venezuela, with other nations close to it, was part of Gran Colombia until 1830. Oil became an important part of Venezuela's economy in the 20th century, and is still its main source of income. Venezuela in the 20th Century has been largely influenced by oil policy, from the early century dictatorships to the latter half century democracies, to today's government. The current president is Hugo Chávez Frías.
People of Venezuela
There are twenty-six million people in Venezuela. Ninety-five percent live north of the Orinoco River. Half of the population is mestizo (of mixed European and Indian ancestry); about 41% - 45% of Venezuelans are of European lineage, and 8% have mainly African ancestry. The native Indian population is statistically small. Historical ethnic backgrounds include indigenous, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German and African.
One third of the Venezuelan people are under 15, two thirds are between 16 and 64 and four percent are over 64. For every 1000 people, every year 21 infants are born and 4 of them die. If you are a Venezuelan man you can expect to live up until you are 70 and if you are a woman you can expect to live up to 76.
The official language is Spanish. Other languages include the native languages of Venezuelan Indians. Ninety-one percent of people are able to read and write by the time they are 15 years old.
Eighteen percent of Venezuelans are unemployed, and most of those who are employed work in the informal economy. Two thirds of Venezuelans who work do so in the service sector, nearly a quarter work in industry and a fifth work in agriculture. An important industry for Venezuelans is oil, where the country is a net exporter, even though only one percent work in the oil industry.
Many of the people of Venezuela enjoy baseball, soccer and music. Many Venezuelan players are playing in the Major Baseball League of America and Venezuelan music and dancing is distinctive. Music is varied and reflects the mixed rich cultural heritage of the country, typical music include black drums from the coasts, Gaitas from Zulia, LLanera from the plains, as well as many modern movements of rock, pop, salsa, meringue,etc. The national dance is joropo from the Llanos area. Edgar Ojeda is a particularly famous musician who works with children and has written much about music.
Venezuela is also known for its participation in beauty contests, which are widely shown on television. One Miss Universe, Irene Saez, selected in 1981, become mayor and governor and ran for president in 1998.