Venezuela, country on the northern coast of South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea. Venezuela’s landscapes range from the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains in the north to tropical jungles in the south. In the middle of the country are grassy plains and rugged highlands. Beautiful beaches fringe the coast, and islands belonging to Venezuela lie offshore. The country’s capital and largest city is Caracas. A Spanish colony for more than 300 years, Venezuela became one of the first of Spain’s South American colonies to declare its independence in the early 19th century.
Formerly known as the Republic of Venezuela, the country changed its official name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in 1999. The name is in reference to Símon Bólivar, the military leader who helped win independence for Venezuela and other South American countries. Since becoming a sovereign nation, Venezuela has undergone periodic episodes of civil conflict and dictatorship, with the military exerting a strong influence over politics. Since the late 1950s, democratically elected governments have ruled the nation.
The majority of Venezuelans are mestizos, people of mixed European and Native American ancestry. The country’s economy was dominated by agriculture until the discovery of vast quantities of petroleum in the early 1900s. Government-run agencies have coordinated oil production since the 1970s. Although the oil industry has generated great wealth, Venezuelan society remains sharply divided between rich and poor. An elite class of businessmen, oil-company technicians, and large landowners controls most of the country’s resources, while a large number of unskilled urban laborers and rural farmworkers live in relative poverty. © "Venezuela" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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