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Venezuela, republic in northern South America. Covering an area of 352,134 sq mi (912,050 sq km), Venezuela extends along the Caribbean coast from Colombia in the west and southwest to Guyana in the east. It is bordered by Brazil to the south and the Caribbean Sea in the north. The capital is Caracas.


Venezuela may be divided into 4 contrasting geographical regions: the Venezuelan Highlands in the west and north; the coastal lowlands; the great central plain called the Llanos, dominated by the Orinoco River; and the Guiana Highlands. The Venezuelan Highlands are an extension of the Andes. Entering the country in the southwest, they contain Venezuela's highest mountains, including Pico Bolivár rising to 16,411 ft (5,002 m) to dominate the Sierra Nevada de Mérida. The central highlands with their fertile valleys form the most important part of the country and contain several large cities, including the capital, Caracas. The coastal lowlands, almost completely enclosed by mountains and centered on swamp-fringed Lake Maracaibo, are known as the Maracaibo Lowlands. They constitute one of the world's great oil-producing regions. The lowlands are known for their hot and humid climate. Inland lies the great central grassland plains called the Llanos. Covering some 120,000 sq mi (310,800 sq km) and drained by many streams descending from the mountains to the Orinoco River, they are the great cattle-grazing region of Venezuela. Finally, the Guiana Highlands, south of the Orinoco River, cover about half of Venezuela and are very thinly populated. Much of the region is covered with tropical forests and parts have yet to be explored. Angel Falls, the highest falls in the world at a height of 3,212 ft (979 m), are located in the Guiana Highlands.


Nearly 70% of the people of Venezuela are mestizo, a mixture of whites and Native Americans. About 20% of the population is white, mostly of Spanish descent; another 10% of the people are of black African descent; and 2% are Native Americans. The official language is Spanish and the dominant religion is Roman Catholicism.


Oil was first discovered in Venezuela in 1918. Since then, the country has been a major oil producer, although its share of the world market declined in the 1970s. Venezuela now accounts for 4% of the world's output. It also produces natural gas and iron ore. The country's chief agricultural products are coffee, rice, and cocoa. Oil revenues have been used to finance irrigation projects, industrial diversification, public works, and social welfare programs.


Venezuela was discovered by Columbus in 1498, but may have been named by the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed the north coast of South America in 1501. When the first Spanish settlement was founded at Cumaná in 1521, the country was inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs. The Spanish had to overcome fierce resistance in establishing dominion. Venezuelan independence, unsuccessfully attempted by Francisco de Miranda in 1806, was proclaimed by a national congress in 1811. Miranda became dictator in 1812, but was imprisoned by the Spanish. Simón Bolívar, who was born in Venezuela, led the independence struggle and triumphed in 1821. He made the country part of Greater Colombia, but it later broke free and became an independent republic in 1830 under José Antonio Páez. Dictatorships followed, the longest and most successful under Juan Vicente Gómez, who ruled the country from 1908 to 1935. It was under Gómez that Venezuela's oil riches were first developed and concessions granted to foreign companies. In 1958, the corrupt dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez was brought down by a military junta under Rómulo Betancourt and the country was restored to democracy. The petroleum industry was nationalized peacefully in 1976. Venezuela's economy suffered in the early 1980s with the drop in oil prices, but new discoveries of oil fields and higher oil prices brought on by the crisis in the Persian Gulf (1990) have led to a boost in oil production. In 1998 saw an economic recession, when prices on the world market plummeted.


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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - United Empire Loyalists to Victor Emmanuel