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VENEZUELA OVERVIEW Coming up with a country for this project was not difficult at all. What a wonderful opportunity to reacquaint myself with my native country! Physical landmarks.Venezuela has seven physical geographic regions which are as follows: the Andes Mountains, which include the highest peaks in the country, extend northward into Venezuela in two branches divided by the Lake Maracaibo Lowlands. Pico Bolivar is the highest point of the Venezuelan Andes at 16,427 feet and it is located in the eastern branch, the Cordillera de Merida The Sierra de Perija, the western branch, extends along the border with Colombia. The lowlands of Lake Maracaibo are overlooked by the Andean ranges. The lake itself is approximately 100 miles long from north to south and 75 miles in width at its widest point. The lake itself is a large shallow inlet of the sea with a narrow strait connecting the lake to the Caribbean. This area is the main oil-producing region of the country. The coastal plains and islands make-up another region which are located to the north and northeast of the country. It includes Caribbean islands such as Margarita, Tortuga and Los Roques. The coastal plains extend from the Colombian border and the Gulf of Venezuela eastward to the foothills of the Coastal Range, a coastline being 1,512 miles long. The coastal plains includes the Orinoco s delta which is Venezuela s longest river at 1,600 miles long.The coastal mountain system consists of two ranges that are parallel to each other, the Coastal Range and the Interior Range. This area makes up 3% of the national territory and contains the majority of Venezuela s population. In the valleys are the major cities of Caracas, Valencia, and Maracay, with all but the steepest slopes being populated. Naiguata peak is the highest point at 9,069 feet. In the northwest valleys and hill ranges lies the only desert in Venezuela wherein lies the city of Coro and its sand dunes. The sixth area is the Llanos, a savanna region, which is located between the Merida mountain range and the Orinoco River. The Llanos extend approximately 800 miles with a width varying from 100 miles to 300 miles.The seventh region is the Guiana Highlands which occupies almost 50 percent of the country and is the most remote and least explored area. A most often visited landmark is located in this region, the Angel Falls, which is world s highest waterfall at 3,212 feet.Climate. Venezuela is considered tropical with its southernmost point almost touching the equator (1 15n) and its northernmost region located at 11 50n. There are regional differences in relief, precipitation with temperatures being relatively uniform across the country with little variance throughout the year. An average annual temperature of above 75. predominates more than 90 percent of Venezuela with altitude being responsible for the measurable differences that occur. There are two climatic seasons in Venezuela; the wet season occurs from May to November, and the dry season begins in December lasting until the end of March.Language. Spanish is the national language of the majority (97%). Local idioms, colloquial phrases, and simplified verb usage distinguish Venezuelan Spanish from other Latin-American and Iberian forms. English is the country s most popular second language with it being favored in business communications, and private schools in Caracas have encouraged bilingualism in their students. Primary Cities – Populations Caracas (capital) 3,435,795 Maracaibo 1,400,648 Valencia 1,274,354 Maracay 956,656 Barquisimeto 787,359 Ciudad Guayana 542,707One percent of the population speaks a form of Amerindian which consists of 25 different languages. Most of them belong to three linguistic families – Cariban, Arawak, and Chibcha. Two percent speak other languages.Historical – Religious Monuments.The capital city of Caracas has historical monuments like the Plaza Bolivar commemorating the liberator of Venezuela, Simon Bolivar. Bolivar s birthplace is open to the public, as well as a museum in his honor. A monument representing the Battle of Carabobo is significant. It represents the final major military engagement of the War for Independence in Venezuela on June 24, 1821. There is a statue honoring Romula Gallegos, famous Venezuelan author and who also has the honor of being the first popularly elected civilian president in Venezuelan history (1948). There are many examples of colonial architecture in major cities such as Valencia, Merida, Isla Margarita, as well as in Caracas. Pico Bolivar in the Andes Mountains has a beautiful statue of a Virgin Mary. Cathedrals stand in all major cities, as well as a Basilica in the city of Maracaibo.Religion.Ninety-two percent of Venezuelans practice Roman Catholicism. The other eight percent is made up various Protestant sects with small groups of Jews and Muslims. Some of the Indian population continue to practice their native religions but most have converted to Catholicism with the help of the Franciscans, Capuchins, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Augustinians who where active in Venezuela during the colonial period. The Venezuelan constitution guarantees freedom of religion with religious tolerance generally observed. Venezuela is officially a secular state even though the Roman Catholic church has over time become more and more an instrument for social progress.Transportation.There are 42,001 total roadway miles including 12,300 of those being paved. The number of passenger automobiles using those roads amounts to approximately 1,615,000 and 438,000 goods vehicles. Expansion of railroads dwindled because of the development of the road system and the relatively low domestic fuel prices. The total mileage in rail links is 293 miles. Caracas begun a 50km underground railway project in 1976 and completed it in 1989. Caracas is serviced by two major airports: the Simon Bolivar handles international services and Maiquetia domestic flights. Venezuela has a total of 61 commercial airports, of which seven are of international status. The state airline, VIASA, was privatized in 1991, with Spain s state airline, Iberia, acquiring the controlling stake. Transport by water is handled by nine major ports for general cargo, 34 petroleum and mineral ports and five large fishing ports. There is a total of 3,834 miles of inland waterways with the Rio Orinoco and Lago de Maracaibo accepting oceangoing ships.Economical Base – Economical Problems.Venezuela s principal export at the beginning of the 20th century was coffee; the third largest producer after Brazil and Indonesia (then Java). By 1935, petroleum had overtaken coffee as the number one export and it continues to be so to this present day. Venezuela was one of five founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which was formally legalized in Venezuela, in January 1961. Until 1970, Venezuela was the world s largest petroleum exporter. Because of fallen oil prices that began in 1986, Venezuela began investing in other areas of economical development such as increased steel and aluminum output.In order to not depend so much on oil exports, Venezuela decided after 20 years of nationalized oil, that it would enter into joint ventures with the private sector, including 20 from the U.S. In January, 1996, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the government owned oil company, awarded its first joint- venture contract. This decision was not done with a smile, but with resentment because it was in accord with the International Monetary Fund guidelines which is regarded as an interference upon the independence of Venezuela. An economical problem has been the inability to provide enough food for its population, although there has been improvement in production output in the last decade. By the early 1990 s, only 20% of total food needs had to be imported, compared to 40% of a decade earlier. Recently, Venezuela has had to import approximately $700 million annually in food. The only agricultural product in which they are self-sufficient is meat. Other economical problems include an inflation rate of 71%, the highest in Latin America and unemployment of 11% due to the banking system nearly collapsing in June of 1994.Form of Currency.Venezuelan money is called the bolivar. The state-set exchange rate through Monday, April 15, 1996, is 290 bolivars to the dollar. An unofficial rate is 475 to 1.Type of Government – Prominent Factions – Parties.Venezuela s formal name is the Republic of Venezuela and its government type is a Federal Republic. The Constitution, as of the early 1990 s, has had twenty-six promulgations since 1811, with the most recent being in 1961. The Legislature is exercised by Congress which is divided into two Chambers: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Senators are elected by the population with two representing each state, and two to represent the Federal District. There are in addition other Senators, their number being determined by law, who are selected on the principle of minority representation. Ex-presidents of the Republic are life members of the Senate. Deputies are elected in the same way, the number representing each state to be at least two and for each Federal Territory one.Executive Power is vested in a President of the Republic elected every 5 years, who may not serve two consecutive terms. The President has the power to discharge the Constitution and the laws, to nominate or remove Ministers, to take command of the Armed Forces, to direct foreign relations of the State, to declare a state of emergency and withdraw the civil guarantees laid down in the Constitution, to convene extraordinary sessions of the Congress and to administer national finance. The President also appoints an Attorney-General to act as a legal arbiter for the state.Judicial Power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice and by the Tribunals. The Supreme Court forms the highest Tribunal of the Republic and the Magistrates of the Supreme Court are elected by both Chambers in joint sessions.Venezuelan political parties are considered highly organized as compared to the rest of Latin America. The political parties are: Accion Democratica – AD (Democratic Action). In September, 1941, AD was officially established with its origins dating back to 1928 formed by a group of university students who organized in protest of Juan Vicente Gomez s dictatorship. Ideologically, it is a member of the Socialist International and is considered as the most influential Latin American Party. AD, along with COPEI, has dominated national politics.Partido Social Cristiano (COPEI) was established after WWII as a Christian Democratic political party. It was founded in 1946 and is one of the two principal political parties in Venezuela. It has its roots in the Congress of Catholic Youth in Rome organization. Rafael Caldera, the present president, was a founding member. The party has a Christian socialist orientation with its members defending the Democratic system, civil and political liberties, a social benefits program, individual freedoms, and the incentive of private property. Movimiento al Socialismo – (MAS) was formed in January 19, 1971 by splintering off from the Venezuelan Communist Party. The MAS criticized the bureaucratization, excessive centralism, and monolithic nature of the Communist Party, which they felt held back debate and the exercise of democracy. It criticized the importation of socialism from one country to another because they felt each country should be treated individually. It has established itself as the third strongest political party although representation has not surpassed 10%.Partido Comunista de Venezuela (Communist Party) was created in 1926 and it was not until May 1, 1931 that the first manifesto of the party was circulated and in which the party survived as an illegal one until 1941, when the government legalized it. In 1950, it was outlawed once again only to be legalized again in 1958. Today, it is a small minority party, winning about one percent of the vote. Its program supports the installation of a socialist system based on the principles of Marxism and the class struggle.The most recent coup attempt was in February, 1992 by a group of rebels belonging to a faction of junior military officers known as the Bolivarist Movement for National Salvation, led by Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez. Their concerns were the lack of purchasing power as well as seeing that political corruption was prevalent everywhere. Also, the border dispute with Colombia would result in a loss of territory. The coup attempt did not succeed.Political Problems.The root of the political problems is the widespread, endemic political corruption. It is a business that is poorly managed because most politicians are to busy worrying about how they are going to make and hide their money. All the state-owned businesses do the same making the richer get richer and the poor get poorer. All the oil money has been flying out of the country because of the lack of confidence in the political system. Voters demonstrated their apathy last December when 60% of the voters stayed away from the polls during its largest ever regional elections. That percentage is surprising in a country where voting is mandatory by law.Recent Changes Within the Country – Future Outlook – Current Issues.The most recent changes within the country were announced Monday, April 15, 1996. The changes were announced by President Rafael Caldera in which he is ending two years of state economic controls. He has ordered a free-market shock program aimed at rescuing Venezuela s faltering economy. The measures are to help curb an inflation rate which is at 71%, shrink the fiscal deficit and to be able to attract foreign investment. It s going to be terrible, predicted Maria Pena, 42, a housewife. Gasoline prices rose this week ninefold to 65 cents a gallon. Wholesale and luxury taxes will jump to 16.5 percent, and interest rates will be freed. Mass transit fares will remain subsidized, and public employees will receive a 70% wage hike. Planning Minister, Teodoro Petkoff described Venezuela as a house on fire. It is ironic that Rafael Caldera, the president, won the election by campaigning against free-market policies.Current political issues continue to be the claiming of all the land west of the Essequibo River in Guyana and a maritime boundary dispute with Colombia in the Gulf of Venezuela. There are also environmental issues such as oil and urban pollution in Lake Maracaibo; sewage pollution in the Lago de Valencia; deforestation; and urban and industrial pollution, especially along the Caribbean coast.Birth – Death Rates.The 1994 estimates for birth rates is 25.74 births/1000 population and for death it is 4.63 deaths/1000 population which is a high birth/low death transition model. The high birth can be attributed to the practice of Roman Catholicism with the average woman having 3.05 children. More than 60% of the population is under 30 years of age. The low death rate is kept low by advances in the medical and technological fields. Education has contributed to awareness. For example, immunizations for tuberculosis in 1981 were 77% and in 1992 it was 82%.Average Life Expectancy.The average life expectancy for the total population is 73 years of age. For males, it is 70.12 and for females it is 76.03 years (1994 estimates).Literacy Rates. The total population has a literacy rate of 88%. Males have 87% and females 90%. Primary education is free and compulsory between the ages of seven and 13 years of age. Secondary education lasts another six years, made up of two cycles of three years each. Only 50% of students complete their basic education. There are 11 state universities, 106 higher education institutes and 13 private universities. Total Population.Venezuela s total population as of an 1994 estimate is 20,562,405. The country is primarily made up of immigrants with only 2% being Amerind, the indigenous Indian groups. The majority group consists of 69% Mestizo, 20% White, and 9% Black. There are immigrants who enter illegally and remain, perhaps about one-fourth of the population. The majority come from neighboring Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.The ethnic and racial groups are regionally oriented. Whites and mestizos are found mainly in the major cities, with the Indians being able to maintain their culture in the remote interior areas. Blacks and the mulatto-mestizo groups concentrate along the Caribbean coast. Assessment of American Policy in the Region, (political and economical). In your opinion is this policy correct? Why or why not?The United States has been active in fostering development within the Latin American community for most of this century. An example is the Alliance for Progress program under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy signed into action in 1961. It was a pool of $100 billion to help form a peaceful revolution throughout Latin America with reform of tax laws, economic integration, new monetary and fiscal policies, housing development, agrarian reform, improved wages and working conditions, promoting private enterprise, control of prices for primary commodities, and the building of democratic governments. Interest was lost after a few years because of lack of needed reforms. Presently, we continue to assist or perhaps more accurately, bail out with IMF loans. Presently, Venezuela has instituted more of the same old same economic measures in order to receive a$2.5 billion loan. Perhaps it is because the United States imports so much oil from Venezuela. Not until political change occurs will there be a transformation in the social and economic fabric of the country and the region. BIBLIOGRAPHYCIA World Fact Book, the Internet, 1995.South America, Central America and the Caribbean, 1993, fourth edition, Europa Publications Limited, London, England.Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, Edited by Barbara A. Tenenbaum, Volume 5, 1996, Charles Scribner & Sons, New York.World Atlas for the Macintosh, Computer Software, 1995.Latin America: A Political Dictionary, Ernest E. Rossi & Jack C. Plano, Western Michigan University, 1992, ABC-CLIO, Inc., Santa Barbara, California.Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995.Venezuela Embarks on free-market reforms, Houston Chronicle, April 17, 1996.Private firms to share in Venezuela s oil, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 23, 1995.Democracy stumbles in Venezuela, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 14, 1995.Venezuela s short slide to economic obscurity, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1995.Venezuelan Currency Plan, New York Times, April 9, 1996.Frustrated with crime, vigilantes roam Caracas, Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 1995.


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