Venezuela

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Origins
Symbols
States

Language

Venezuela History

Economy

Geography and Climate

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion

Fauna and Flora

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Origin of the name, Venezuela Spanish for little Venice, because early explorers found inhabitants living in stilt houses in lakes.

Symbols 

Click on each link below to learn more about the symbols.
  • Capital - Caracas
  • National Bird - The Turpial (Icterus icterus)
  • National Flag - The Venezuelan flag is rectangular, with three horizontal stripes of equal width: yellow, blue, and red. Yellow stands for the richness of the Venezuelan earth. Blue, for the immense sea separating Venezuela from Spain. Red, for the blood that was spilled in the battles for independence.
         In the center of the blue stripe there are seven stars in the form of an arc, representing the seven original provinces that formed the Capitania General of Venezuela declaring their independence on July 5, 1811.  The Coat of Arms has been added to the upper left corner of the flag.
  • National Anthem
  • Coat of Arms vz_coa.gif (65010 bytes) 
  • National FlowerThe orchid (Cattleya mossiae). This kind of orchid is also known as Flor de Mayo (May Flower).
  • National Tree - The Aragüaney (Tabebuia chrysantha)
  • Independence Day, July 5th

States

Venezuela consists of 23 States, a Capital District and Federal Dependencies :

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(Click on map to see it in detail)

States

Venezuela States with their capital cities:

Special status areas

  • Capital District
  • Federal Dependencies:  all of Venezuela's off shore islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Venezuela.

for detailed statistics, see Wikpedia.org

Language

Spanish is the official language. 
Venezuela History History

The first people in Venezuela arrived about 16,000 years ago. The oldest archeological finds were discovered in the northwest state of Falcon in the Segovia Highlands. For thousands of years, the various people didn’t intermingle. They lived separately and formed hundreds of tribes, each with different laws and religions. They were also nomadic and moved about in search of food and water. Eventually they developed agricultural techniques and no longer needed to travel to find food. They also developed better building techniques and were able to build better shelters. Thus they became healthier, lived longer and had more children. The tribes evolved into several distinct cultures, pulled together by similarities in location, tradition and language. The three main groups were the Arawak, the Carib and the Chibcha.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive in Venezuela in 1498. Certain that he had landed in India, Columbus called the natives "Indians" and the term stuck. Columbus wrote about his findings and others were inspired to make the trip across the ocean. One of them was Amerigo Vespucci, another explorer who, inspired by huts on stilts on Lake Maracaibo, named the area Venezuela, meaning "little Venice".

In the mid-1500’s Spain began an effort to colonize the land for the Spanish crown. The natives put up a fierce effort to retain their land, but abuse, slavery and diseases brought by the Spaniards took their toll and by the late 1500’s Spain ruled Venezuela.

The period of colonial control was a time of change. Spanish settlers joined the native Indians. Some Spaniards brought slaves with them from Africa to work on plantations along the Caribbean coast. Eventually the three groups mingled with the great majority of the people in the nation having mixed ancestry. Power, however, remained securely in the hands of the Spaniards.

During the 1700’s the Spanish flourished and cattle ranches and plantations growing cacao, cotton, tobacco, indigo, coffee and sugar were very successful.

But the local people were unhappy with their lot, especially the Creoles, the descendents of the original conquerors. In 1810 they rose up against the Spanish and ousted them from the country. Independence was declared on July 5, 1811. But independence wasn’t easy and Spanish troops continually tried to overthrow the government. In 1813, Simon Bolivar began what was called a "War to the Death" against the Spaniards. He recaptured Caracas and was named the "Great Liberator". However he faced strong opposition from forces in Los Llanos and was forced into exile.

Bolivar returned again in 1819 with a plan to confiscate the ranches and plantations of the Spaniards and divide up the land. The plan worked and Bolivar was elected president of the Republic of Gran Colombia, as Venezuela was then known. Bolivar had a further grand plan to unite Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela as one great nation. His plan eventually failed, and he died in 1830 at the age of 47.

The new president of independent Venezuela was General Jose Antonio Paez. He faced many challenges. During the years of war, many people had died, ranches and plantations were in ruins and the economy was in a shambles. Yet Paez rebuilt the country and remained in power until 1849. The last half of the 19th century was a violent, uncertain time, with power changing hands many times.

In 1922, Shell Oil began drilling for oil on the shores of Lake Maracaibo and hit the jackpot. More wells were dug and money began to flow into the country. Venezuela was transformed into a wealthy, modern country. The population grew as workers hurried in from other countries, seeking jobs. Many Venezuelans joined the oil industry, too, leaving behind their jobs in ranching, agriculture and manufacturing. With few workers left, these industries dried up. Venezuela was forced to use its newfound riches to import many of the goods it needed. Oil brought permanent change to the country.

During this time, the country was ruled by a number of different dictators. Some of them were ruthless, but others improved conditions by funding hospitals and schools and establishing banks. By 1958, Venezuelans had had enough and they demanded fair government. In 1959, Romulo Betancourt was elected president and Venezuela has had a democratic government ever since.

In 1983, oil prices around the world took a deep plunge and Venezuela’s oil profits dropped off sharply. Economic difficulties impacted Venezuela’s government throughout the 1990’s and today the country struggles to repair damage from its past.

Venezuela’s current president is Hugo Chavez. In 1992, as a lieutenant colonel in the army, he led a military revolt against the unpopular government. His attempted coup failed and he was imprisoned. In 1998 however, he staged a successful run for the presidency. He was very popular with the country’s poor and he promised greater freedom and wealth to its people. Within a few years, however, his plans for prosperity, along with his popularity, were fading. In April 2002, more than a dozen protesters were killed and hundreds injured when Chavez’s supporters fired at a demonstration of more than 150,000 citizens against the president. The next day military officers arrested the president and forced him to sign a letter of resignation. A new president was sworn in, but resigned a day later following massive protests by Chavez supporters. Hugo Chavez returned to power but controversy continues to this day.

Economy

Economy

Venezuela’s economy is based on producing and exporting petroleum products. It accounts for a third of the gross domestic product, half of the government revenue, and three-quarters of export earning. But petroleum is not Venezuela’s only valuable natural resource. The nation is also rich in minerals such as iron ore, tin, copper and bauxite. Venezuela also has deposits of gold, silver, platinum and diamonds.

Water is another important natural resource in Venezuela. Water-generated energy provides more than half of the nation’s electricity. The Guri Dam is Venezuela’s most important source of waterpower. It is also the second-largest dam in the world.

Farming & industry are also part of Venezuela’s economy. Farmers grow corn, bananas, oranges, sugarcane, corn, coffee and cacao, ranchers raise cattle, hogs, goats, sheep and chickens and factory workers produce cars, chemicals, clothing and processed food. Venezuela also has a strong fishing industry.

Tourism flourishes on the north coast with its sunny beaches and tropical islands. Also on the coast are several important ports.

Geography, Climate, Weather and Time Geography

Venezuela covers 353,841 sq mi (916,445 sq kms) in the far northern part of South America. It is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north, by Guyana to the east, by Brazil to the south and by Colombia to the west. The highest elevation in the country is Pico Bolivar at 16,427 feet (5,007m) the lowest elevation is sea level along the coastline.

It is a land of diverse landscapes and there are five main geographical regions: the Andes (mountains), the coast, the highlands, the lowlands and the llanos (plains).

The Andes region contains the Cordillera de Merida which extends north and east from the Andes Mountains in Colombia. The Andes Range stretches 4,500 miles (7,242km) across South America, from its southern tip north to the Caribbean coast in Venezuela.

The coastal region is found along the Caribbean Sea. The coastal strip is thin, only a few miles wide in most places. Inland, the land sweeps up into the steep heavily forested mountain range. The area between the sea and the mountains is very fertile and cities have flourished in this area. Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, is located near the coast, as are several other large cities. This is Venezuela’s most densely populated area, but it covers only 3% of the country.

The highlands located in the southeastern of Venezuela contain the Bolivar and Amazonas states. This region makes up nearly half the nation. It is a part of one of the world’s oldest rock formations - the pre-Cambrian Guiana Shield. Forests are a great natural resource here and there are underground deposits of iron ore, bauxite, gold and diamonds. The highlands region also contains the Gran Sabana (Grand Savannah). This area contains more than 100 tepuis. Tepuis are flat-topped mountains, with sheer cliffs down the sides. The largest tepui, Auyantepui, is 270 sq mi (700 sq km) on top. Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, plunges off the side of Auyantepui. It is 3,212 feet (979m) high. When water leaves the top of Angel Falls, it drops for fourteen seconds before it reaches the bottom.

The lowlands are the area surrounding Lake Maracaibo. The region is flanked on three by the Sierra de Merida and Perija mountain ranges. This allows for little wind in the area and it is one of the hottest regions in South America. At the foot of the mountains, rocks and sand abut the lake while the southern lakeshore is swampy. The area around the lake is known for its petroleum deposits and is the center of activity for all the oil production in Venezuela.

The llanos, or plains, region are the great treeless, grassy lands of the Orinoco River Valley. Low-lying and wet, they are about 600 miles (968km) long and 200 miles (323km) across. They cover nearly a third of the country. Numerous streams and rivers flow through the area including the Orinoco River. The Orinoco and its tributaries make up the third largest river system in South America. The river begins near the Venezuela/Brazil border, runs along the southern edge of the plains and eventually turns north and empties into the ocean. This is the region where most of the country’s cattle are raised and the area is inhabited mostly by ranchers. Only 10% of the country’s population can be found here.

Climate

Venezuela’s landscape is different in each region and so is the climate. At high altitudes in the Andes, snow covers the ground year-round. For most of the country, the climate is tropical and comfortable. Temperatures rarely vary by more than a few degrees from season to season with December and January being the coolest and May to October the hottest. The dry season lasts from December to April and the rainy season lasts from May to November. The northern part of the country is drier with the wettest parts of the country being in the south.

Weather 

What is the weather like in the Region today?  Follow this link to The Weather Underground for the forecast for the cities visited by our explorers.  Or check out this satellite map from Weather.com.  

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

Temp. converter: Enter a number and click outside the box
F: C:

Time

All of South America is in the same time zone. What time is it in different cities in the region as compared to the time in your home town?  Check this!

Population, Ethnic Groups, Culture and Religion Population

Venezuela’s population is about 25.3 million (6/2005) and is approximately 68% mestizo (any combination of Indian, European or African ancestry), 21% white, 10% black, and 1% Indian (native to the region).

Over one-fifth of the population lives in Caracas, while Los Llanos and Guayana are very sparsely populated. In total more than 75% of Venezuelans live in towns and cities causing serious problems with over crowding and unemployment.

Venezuela’s rate of population growth stands at 2.2%, one of the highest in Latin America. It was a destination for significant post-World War II immigration from Europe, mostly from Spain, Italy and Portugal, but since the l950’s there has been a stream of immigrants from other South American countries, particularly Colombia. Venezuela also has some Middle Eastern communities, notably from Lebanon.

Ethnic Groups

There are about 24 highly diverse indigenous groups, comprising some 532,750 people, scattered throughout the country. The main Indian communities include the Guajiro, north of Maracaibo; the Piaroa, Guajibo, Yekuana and Yanomami, in the Amazon; the Warao, in the Delta del Orinoco; and the Pemon, in southeastern Guyana.

Culture

Venezuela is a proud and patriotic country. Its victorious role in the War of Independence is a source of tremendous national pride and Venezuelans celebrate their independence champion Simon Bolivar as one of the continent’s greatest heroes: you won’t find a town without a Plaza Bolivar or a school without his portrait on the wall.

Almost as strong as Venezuelan’s pride in their history, is their pride in the beauty of their women, who have repeatedly won all the major international beauty contests. Beauty and glamour are extremely important and the pursuit of these has created a large industry.

Baseball is also a source of pride for sports aficionados and sports go hand in hand with the national drinks of rum and beer.

The climate and restricted space of the majority of Venezuelan homes invites the outdoor life. Consequently, much of family life takes place outside the home: in front of the house, in the street, in a bar or at the market. Personal affairs are discussed loudly and personal space is disregarded.

Venezuelans are a courteous and hospitable people, full of life and warmth. They are open and not shy about talking to strangers. This is a party nation, renowned for the energy and joie de vivre of its inhabitants.

But recent economic and political problems have left their scars. Long simmering resentments between the classes have bubbled to the surface and political upheavals are driving increasing numbers of the young and educated away from their families to set up their lives abroad, breaking up the traditionally close families.

Religion

Nearly all Venezuelans – 96% - are Roman Catholic. Another 2% are Protestant and the remaining 2% are Jews, Muslims, native Indians who follow their own traditional religions and members of small cult religions.

Catholicism was brought to Venezuela by the Spanish, however their first attempt at conversion was a failure. Franciscan and Dominican friars were sent from Spain to Venezuela in 1513. Their initial efforts were unsuccessful.

The first successful missions were established in northern Venezuela in 1650. The missionaries set up small communities there called pueblos de indios or indian towns. Some Indians were attracted to these settlements by the promise of gifts, but others were captured and forced to live there. Once there, they were lectured repeatedly and eventually most Indians broke down and converted.

Over the years, more missionaries arrived and settled similar pueblos de indios throughout Venezuela. These communities brought some organization to Venezuelan society, but much of the native culture was lost. It is because of these communities that Venezuela is a Spanish-speaking, mostly Catholic nation to this day.

Fauna and Flora Fauna & Flora

Venezuela’s diversity of animal and plant life can be attributed to the fact that there are four primary landscapes: the steamy Amazon, the snowy peaks of the Andes, the hot and flat savannas and the beaches and islands of the Caribbean.

Venezuela has 351 species of mammals, 341 species of reptiles, 284 species of amphibians, 1,791 species of fish and many butterflies and other invertebrates. More than 1,360 species of birds - approximately 20% of the world’s know species – reside in the country, and 46 of these species are endemic.

The evergreen forests of the Cordillera de la Costa are a good place to look for sloths, monkeys and marsupials, and are a definite must for bird-watchers.

The Andes are home to the endangered South American bear or spectacled bear, plus many birds.

Along the Caribbean coastline and on the islands you will spot many waterbirds including the colorful scarlet ibis. Isla Margarita is home to one of the largest remaining populations of the nearly extinct yellow-shouldered parrot. Dolphins are abundant along Venezuela’s coastline and the health and vitality of the reefs and the abundant marine life rivals any of the better-known diving destinations in the Caribbean.

The seasonally flooded plains of Los Llanos are among Venezuela’s best places to spot wildlife. You stand a good chance of seeing capybara, spectacled caiman, monkeys, giant anteaters, armadillo, anaconda, piranhas, ocelot and even the elusive jaguar. Birds flock here by the millions: it’s one of the planet’s most important bird-breeding reserves.

The Guyana region contains many rare, unique and endangered species. This region is a good example of how geography has influenced the evolution of plant and animal species. Dramatic contrasts in geology and altitude have produced a huge range of habitats for a diverse selection of plants and animals. The finest example is the "lost worlds" atop the tepuis, where flora and fauna is isolated from the forest below and from the other tepuis, and therefore has developed independently from its surroundings. Some of the tabletop habitats have been isolated for millions of years and many of the species found on the tops of the tepuis exist only their particular summit.

Animals and birds you might expect to see in the Guyana region include the endemic birds of the tepuis (such as the amazing cock of the rock with its brilliant orange crest), jaguar, puma, otters, harpy eagles and the tapir (the biggest mammal in the country.) The region is also home to the native, endangered Orinoco crocodile, which grows up to 8m long and is the largest crocodile in the Americas.

Venezuela boasts 650 types of vegetation and thousands of plant species in several major habitats. Tropical lowland rain forests still cover a very large part of the country and cloud forests can be found on the mountain slopes. Dry forests are found mainly on the larger Caribbean islands and in the hills of the northwest. The coasts and islands feature mangrove forests. Grasslands and savannas are mainly on the plains. Evergreen forests line the banks of the Orinoco River.


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Sources:  Government of Venezuela, Wikpedia.org, Venezuela by Kate A. Conley, Venezuela, Enchantment of the World by Terri Willis,  Interamerican Development Bank, Lonely Planet Venezuela, by Krzysztof Dydnysi & Charlotte Beech.

Kim and Don Greene, Contributors; publication date June 24, 2005