The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a democratic nation, as of early 2012 governed by a Bolivarian government. It formally achieved independence from imperialist Spain in 1811, although the war with Spain continued until 1823, and then as Gran Colombia until 1825. From 1948 to 1958 the country was ruled by a brutal right-wing dictatorship, dominated by Marcos Pérez Jiménez.  Following this was a period of comparative democracy, but nevertheless the political left was excluded from power.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, economic crisis resulted in widespread indignation against the government, and the eventual house arrest and removal from power of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for corruption.  Antigovernment leader Hugo Chávez was pardoned in 1994, and was elected President in 1998 with a resounding majority. Chávez has pursued an independent, democratic socialist policy since his election.
- 1 History
- 2 Government
- 3 Social Services
- 4 Transportation
- 5 Geography and climate
- 6 Economy
- 7 Demographics
- 8 See Also
- 9 References
- 10 External links and further reading
Venezuela was first settled around 13,000 BCE.  Several thousand years later, Venezuela (along with other countries in the Americas) suffered a megafauna (large animal) extinction event, probably related to human hunters.  After this, the Venezuelan aboriginals were careful to take only sustainable quantities of food from the environment. This equilibrium was disrupted with the arrival of Spanish imperialists in 1498 C.E. Before long, Spain began colonizing the area (in 1522). The Spanish used slaves (indigenous and African) to work large gold mines in Yaracuy province, and to raise livestock.
By the end of the 18th Century, the area was thoroughly disgusted with Spanish imperialist crimes, and in 1810 the Venezuelan War of Independence broke out. Rebel leader Francisco de Miranda, however, betrayed this first revolution to the Spanish.  Simón Bolívar then launched a second revolution from 1813, and finally won a decisive victory at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821.  An army from Spain invaded Venezuela in 1823, hoping to re-establish their colony, but they were defeated at Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela was now part of a federation of independent states called Gran Colombia, or Great Colombia, which included the modern countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Guyana, and, obviously, Venezuela. This federation defeated the last Spanish armies in 1825, but Gran Colombia broke up in 1830 over the issue of the constitution.
For decades after independence, then Venezuelan political scene was dominated by José Antonio Páez. He was President from 1830 to 1835, 1839 to 1843, and 1861 to 1863. One of Páez’s greatest achievements was the elimination of the Church’s control over education and the immunity of the Church to taxation.  Páez’s first real rival for power was José Tadeo Monagas, Venezuela’s dictator in the 1850s. He and his brother José Gregorio Monagas introduced many liberal reforms, including the abolition of slavery and of the death penalty.  Following this era was the Federal War, a civil war which raged from 1859 to 1863. Páez led a liberal, reformist faction of the poor, but was defeated by the “Federalists”, or conservative landowners. The death toll was 40,000, an enormous blow for a country with a population less than 2 million.  Many have argued the Federal War was in fact an early example of a socialist/Bolivarian revolution. 
Following the war (1863-1870) the Federalists governed the country. However, in 1869 Antonio Guzmán Blanco successfully led a revolution, leading to his presidencies (1870-1877, 1879-1884, 1886-1887). Blanco modernized the infrastructure, building the Caracas-La Guaira railroad, expanded the education system, and continued Páez’s campaigns against the dominance of the Church, before retiring to Paris.
The power gap following Blanco’s retirement was filled by Joaquín Crespo, who was President 1892-1898 (as well as an earlier term from 1884-1886, after which he was exiled in disgrace). Crespo is widely viewed as corrupt, and left Venezuela heavily in foreign debt. After a brief period of democratic rule, the government was deposed by Cipriano Castro Ruiz, who continued Crespo’s policies of confrontation with foreign governments and corruption. It was not until 1945 that another election was held. However, in 1918 large reserves of oil were discovered, and by 1929 Venezuela was the world’s largest exporter of oil.
Eventually the Venezuelans scheduled another election for 1945. However, when it became clear that the leftist Democratic Action Party (in fact, the leader of the Democratic Action had previously been Venezuela’s most influential communist) enjoyed by far the most support, the forces of the right attempted a clampdown, but were defeated. Parliamentary elections in 1945 showed a resounding victory by Democratic Action, echoed in the 1947 presidential elections, with 70.83% of the vote (the first truly democratic ones in Venezuelan history.
This democratic government did not last long, however. Conservatives in the Venezuelan military took power in a coup d’état, and ruled Venezuela in a brutal military junta from 1948 to 1958, supressing election results. Finally, in 1958, a popular revolution returned Venezuela to democratic rule.
The 1958 election showed Democratic Action remained the most popular political party, and so it resumed power. During this period, the DA became increasingly corrupt, and drifted towards the political right, ending government economic control in favour of American-style deregulation. In 1978, the DA was defeated. However, the DA returned to power in 1983 and 1988. The economy collapsed, and the DA faced three popular revolutions, once in 1989 and twice in 1992 (including one led by Hugo Chávez). All failed. President Carlos Andrés Pérez was finally removed from office and placed under house arrest by the courts.
The presidency then passed to Rafael Caldera in the 1993 elections. He faced a banking crisis from DA deregulation, similar to the 2008 American banking crisis. He failed to contain it.
Exasperated, Venezuelans turned to Hugo Chávez, leading to the Bolivarian Revolution. Chávez won by a large margin, and 71.8% of Venezuelans supported the reformation of Venezuela into the Fifth, Bolivarian republic. Chávez, though, supported the end of American political influence over Venezuela. Consequently, in 2002 the Americans attempted a coup, but this failed due to an immediate popular revolution of the working classes.
Under Chávez, the Venezuelan economy has significantly improved, as have the rights of the Venezuelan people. Chávez accomplished the “eradication of illiteracy”, and has significantly reduced poverty.
The opposition to Chávez in the election of 2012, Unity Table, was a coalition whose major partners were Democratic Action, a nominally leftist party with roots in social democracy and the Christian Democrats, a rightest party. These two parties had dominated Venezuelan politics for most of the 20th century. The coalition's nominee, Henrique Capriles Radonski, ran on a moderate leftist program which promised continued social and economic reform while avoiding the excesses Chávez has been accused of. During the campaign Capriles assumed a leading role with minimum input from coalition partners. Unity Table is expected to continue as the opposition but its partners have difficulty cooperating and in formulating a common platform that all coalition members can enthusiastically support. Chávez's supporters are also in a coalition which is dominated by his party the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. following the 2012 election Chávez appointed his foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, the architect of Venezuela's close relations with Iran and Syria, vice president. Elías Jaua who had been vice president was picked as Capriles' opponent in the upcoming election for governor of the state of Miranda. And he named the foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro, as his new vice president.
Chávez's supporters are also in a coalition dominated by his party the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Following the 2012 election Chávez appointed his foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, the architect of Venezuela's close relations with Iran and Syria, vice president. Elías Jaua, who had been vice president, was picked as Capriles' opponent in the upcoming election for governor of the state of Miranda.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a democratic country, with an executive branch of the Presidency and the legislative branch being the National Assembly.
Venezuela’s current government is led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), with Hugo Chávez as Venezuela’s President. The ideology of the PSUV is called Bolivarianism, after 19th-century revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar. It uses democratic socialism to achieve six goals:
- An end to imperialism
- Participatory democracy
- Economic self-sufficiency
- The creation of a national patriotism
- Equitable distribution of oil revenues
- The elimination of corruption
The Venezuelan state maintains National Armed Forces in order to “guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation and ensure the integrity of its geographical space”. In particular, they are to defend against American aggression. The military has 129,150 personnel, who are well equipped to defend Venezuela.
LaborOn May 1, 2013, International Workers Day, increases in the minimum wage was announced together with issuance of regulations under the revised labor law approved by Hugo Chavez on April 30, 2012. The labor law, effective May 7, 2013, is scheduled to be fully enforced on June 15, 2013. It provides for a 40 day week with two consecutive days off with liberal maternity leave and universal pensions as well as anti-discrimination provisions.
Among other things the law provides for 25 weeks post-natal maternal leave, for some paternal leave, outlaws unfair dismissal, outlaws sub-contracted or outsourced labour, reduces trial periods to a maximum of one month, re-establishes a retirement bonus, and reduces the working week to 40 hours.
Venezuela provides many government-funded social supports, including those below.
Since the Bolivarian Constitution came into force, the “eradication of illiteracy” has been accomplished. The Constitution makes all education, including post-secondary, free of charge. The constitution also enforces mandatory basic and middle education (Grades 1-9). The effect of these policies can be seen in that adults have a mean education of just 6.2 years, whereas Venezuelan children born today can expect 14.2 years.
In 2003, the Venezuelan government established the Bolivarian University system, in order to combat the fact that university students tended to be drawn from the highest income brackets. The Bolivarian universities are open to any and all students, thus empowering the Venezuelan working class.
Venezuela’s health care system is also paid for by the government. Since the passage of the Bolivarian Constitution, Venezuela’s health care system has significantly improved for the poor. The strategy of the government is to build clinics and other facilities to pre-empt illness, thereby easing the burden on hospitals.
Venezuela has largely freed itself of malaria and other such diseases.
Venezuela has a variety of transportation networks. Among them are roads, of which Venezuela has 96,155 kilometres of length, and airports, the primary international travel system.
Among these are three subway systems. The Caracas Metro is the oldest of them, predating the Bolivarian Revolution, but the Valencia and Maracaibo networks opened in 2006 and are still partially under construction. Another system, the Guarenas/Guatire Metro, will open in 2012. Venezuela also has a large above-ground train system.
Venezuela also has 34 ships over 1000 GRT.
Geography and climate
Venezuela contains several major geographic regions. There are mountains in both the southeast and the north, with large lowlands in between. In the northwest, there is also a strip of lowlands along the coastline. Venezuela is a tropical climate, and has heavy rainfall between June and October.
Venezuela is famous for the large biodiversity of the country. To protect them, Venezuela has forty-three national parks.
Venezuela is also well-known for its oil reserves. The proven reserves are the seventh-largest on Earth.
Venezuela’s economy suffered a severe banking crisis caused by American-style deregulation in the 1990s, but economic growth has resumed since the Bolivarian Revolution. In 2005, the economy grew by 10.3%, although the American financial crisis has reduced growth to 4.9% in 2008. This growth is despite a decline in oil production from 557,000 m3/day in 1998 to just 366,000 m3/day, resulting from over-extraction of oil in the past.
Poverty in Venezuela has dropped from 54% in 2003 to just 27.5% in 2007, and extreme poverty fell from 25.1% to 7.6% in the same period.
To achieve this, the government of Venezuela has made considerable use of democratic socialist economic policy, and government regulation and ownership of many parts of the economy. Inflation, possibly resulting from strong public spending, has resulted. In an effort to ensure reasonable prices for staples price-controls have been imposed, but shortages sometimes develop which provide an opening for development of a black market.
- The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators
- "Chavez: We Have to Make the Economic Revolution Now" report by Rachael Boothroyd March 26th 2012
Co-managementVenezuela has experimented with co-management, most notably at Alcasa a state-owned aluminum producer. According to Carlos Lanz, then manager of Alcasa:
This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century.In February, 2012, there was report of a controversy regarding replacement of a worker-president of Alcasa by the "Bolivarian" bureaucracy. The issue was framed by In Defence of Marxism as a struggle between revolution and bureaucracy. Some workers denounced the new president, Ángel Marcano, as a reformist. The Venezuelan Communist Party was also reported to be opposed.
“It’s a state coup against workers’ control,” said Denny Sucre, a member of the Workers Socialist Front at the factory.
- "The myth of 'co-management' in Venezuela: Reflections on Alcasa and Invepal" http://libcom.org October, 2007
Venezuela has a population of 28,121,000. About one-third to two-fifths of the population is foreign, mainly European and African. Venezuela is heavily urbanized, with 93.1% of the population living in cities. Similarly, 95% of the population lives in the north, where most of the big cities can be found.
The vast majority of the Venezuelan population, 92%, is Roman Catholic, including Hugo Chávez and many other government leaders. However, Chávez feels that the excessive power of the church hierarchy is contrary to Bolivarian principles.
- "Marcos Pérez Jiménez, 87, Venezuela Ruler", The New York Times, September 22, 2001.
- http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=72717 [dead link]
- "Former Venezuelan leader under house arrest", BBC News, April 15, 1998.
- Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, p.46-47, 1999. ISBN 0-393-31755-2.
- Braudel, Ferdinand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The Perspective of the World. Berkley and Los Angeles, California, University of California Press, p.63, 1992.
- http://www.semp.us/publications/biot_reader.php?BiotID=476 [dead link]
- McCoy, Jennifer L., and Myers, David J. The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela. Baltimore, Maryland, John Hopkins University Press, p.157, 2004. ISBN 0-8018-8428-4.
- "Venezuela: Election", December 8, 1952.
- "The Americas: Democratic Spirit", 10, 1958.
- McCoy, Jennifer L., and Myers, David J. The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela. Baltimore, Maryland, John Hopkins University Press, p.157, 2004. ISBN 0-8018-8428-4.
- "A beacon of hope for the rebirth of Bolívar's dream", November 9, 2006.
- "Venezuela Announces Bank Rescue Package", The New York Times, August 10, 1994.
- "Venezuela coup linked to Bush team", The Observer, April 21, 2002.
- "Profile: Hugo Chavez", BBC News, December 5, 2002.
- "Venezuela’s Opposition Struggles for Unity" article by William Neuman in The New York Times October 16, 2012
- The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, Title 1, Article 2, Title 5, Chapters 1, Chapter 2, Sections 1-2 (http://www.analitica.com/bitblioteca/venezuela/constitucion_ingles.pdf)
- http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=93192 [dead link]
- The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, Title 7, Chapter 3 (http://www.analitica.com/bitblioteca/venezuela/constitucion_ingles.pdf)
- "Chavez Educates Masses at a University in His Image", The Washington Post, May 25, 2006.
- "Venezuela: New labour law 'part of transition to socialism'" article in GreenLeft by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim May 20, 2013
- "Large May Day Marches in Venezuela as Workers’ Law Comes into Effect" article by Tamara Pearson in Venezuelanalysis May 1, 2013
- The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, Title 3, Chapter 6, Articles 102-111, Title 5, Chapter 4, Sections 1, Article 274, Title 6, Chapter 2, Article 311 (http://www.analitica.com/bitblioteca/venezuela/constitucion_ingles.pdf)
- The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, Title 3, Chapter 6, Article 107 (http://www.analitica.com/bitblioteca/venezuela/constitucion_ingles.pdf)
- http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) [dead link]
- "Contribución petrolera se duplica por ajuste cambiario", El Universal, January 11, 2011. (in Spanish)
- "Chávez Threatens to Jail Price Control Violators". article by Simon Romero in The New York Times February 17, 2007
- "With Venezuelan Cupboards Bare, Some Blame Price Controls". article by William Neuman in The New York Times April 20, 2012
- "Chavez calls for democracy at work". article by Iain Bruce on BBC News 2005-08-17
- Venezuela: worker-president of ALCASA removed. from In Defence of Marxism 28 February 2012
- "Dismissal of Worker-President in Alcasa, Venezuela, Provokes Outrage". article by Rachael Boothroyd on Venezuelanalysis.com February 27th 2012