Venezuela is originally known as the Republic of Venezuela. The countries estimated population is about 20,562,000, covering 352,143 sq mi. It is bordered by Brazil (S), Colombia (W and SW), Guyana (E), and the Caribbean Sea (N). Principal cities include Carcas, the capital. Venezuela has four major geographical regions: the oil-rich coastal lowlands; the Orionco River basin, whose vast plains support a great cattle industry; the Guiana Highlands, a largely unexplored wilderness occupying more than half the nation’s territory and noted for scenic wonders such as Angel Falls; and the densely populated Venezuelan highlands, a spur of the Andes Mountains that rises to 16,427 ft (5,007 m) in the Sierra Nevada de Mrida and that is the nation’s political and commercial hub.
Venezuela enjoys the highest percent income in Latin America of oil which has much wealth. This was first exploited in 1918, which accounts for over 80% of its export earnings. Coffee, the mainstay of the economy before the oil boom, is still produced; other leading crops are cocoa, sugarcane, bananas, corn, sorghum, and rice. Manufactures include food products, building materials, textiles, chemicals, and automobiles. The country established a customs union with Colombia in 1991. The population is 67% mixed descent, 21%
European descent, 10% African descent, and 2% indigenous peoples. The principal language is Spanish and the main religion is Roman Catholicism. After it gained independence in 1830, Venezuela was ruled chiefly by dictators until 1958. Peaceful elections have since distinguished the country as one of the most stable democracies in South America. Even so, tension over political corruption and a standard of living in steep decline forced the resignation of the president in 1993.
A founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the nation has proven oil reserves that will last a century at current production rates. Riding a wave of oil prosperity in the 1970s, Venezuela found itself awash in debt when the wave broke in the 1980s. To reduce dependence on oil-export revenues, it expanded hydropower and mining of iron ore, gold, diamonds, and bauxite.
Farming and logging threaten parks and reserves that protect almost a third of Venezuela, a conservation pioneer in Latin America. Only 2 percent of the land is cultivated, and the nation must import much of its food.
Most Venezuelansa blend of American Indian and Europeanlive in cities. Close to 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and yet, despite the burden of a population that has been growing by 2.6 percent a year, Venezuelans enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in South America.