The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (República Bolivariana de Venezuela in Spanish), is a federal republic located on the northern coast of South America. It is bordered by Colombia on the west, Brazil on the south, Guyana on the east, the Dutch Caribbean ABC islands to the north and the islands of Trinidad and Tobago to the north-east. Venezuela covers 353,841 square miles (916,445 km2) and has a population of 31,568,179) people. The country has extremely high biodiversity and is ranked 7th in the world’s list of nations with the most number of species. There are habitats ranging from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon Basin rain-forest in the south via extensive llanos plains. Additionally, there is the Caribbean coast in the center and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.
The territory now known as Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 amid resistance from indigenous peoples. In 1811, it became one of the first Spanish-American territories to declare independence which was not securely established until 1821, when Venezuela was a department of the federal republic of Gran Colombia. It gained full independence as a separate country in 1830. During the 19th century, Venezuela suffered political turmoil and autocracy, remaining dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) until the mid-20th century. Since 1958, the country has had a series of democratic governments. Economic shocks in the 1980s and 1990s led to several political crises, including the deadly Caracazo riots of 1989, two attempted coups in 1992, and the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for embezzlement of public funds in 1993. A collapse in confidence in the existing parties saw the 1998 election of former coup-involved career officer Hugo Chávez and the launch of the Bolivarian Revolution. The revolution began with a 1999 Constituent Assembly, where a new Constitution of Venezuela was written. This new constitution officially changed the name of the country to República Bolivariana de Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela).
Venezuela is a federal presidential republic consisting of 23 states, the Capital District (covering Caracas), and federal dependencies (covering Venezuela’s offshore islands). Venezuela also claims all Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River, a 61,583 square mile (159,500 km²) tract dubbed Guayana Esequiba or the Zona en Reclamación (the “zone being reclaimed”). Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America; the vast majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, especially in the capital (Caracas) which is also the largest city in Venezuela.
Oil was discovered in the early 20th century and, today, Venezuela has the world’s largest known oil reserves and has been one of the world’s leading exporters of oil. Previously an underdeveloped exporter of agricultural commodities such as coffee and cocoa, oil quickly came to dominate exports and government revenues. The 1980s oil glut led to an external debt crisis and a long-running economic crisis. Inflation peaked at 100% in 1996 and poverty rates rose to 66% in 1995 as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak. The recovery of oil prices in the early 2000s gave Venezuela oil funds not seen since the 1980s. The Venezuelan government then established populist social welfare policies that initially boosted the Venezuelan economy and increased social spending, temporarily reducing economic inequality and poverty. However, such policies later became inadequate, as their excesses – especially a uniquely extreme fossil fuel subsidy – are widely blamed for destabilizing the nation’s economy. The destabilized economy led to a crisis in Bolivarian Venezuela, resulting in hyperinflation, an economic depression, shortages of basic goods and drastic increases in poverty, disease, child mortality, malnutrition, and crime.
According to the most popular and accepted version, in 1499, an expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda visited the Venezuelan coast. The stilt houses in the area of Lake Maracaibo reminded the navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, of the city of Venice, so he named the region Veneziola “Piccola Venezia”. The name acquired its current spelling as a result of Spanish influence, where the suffix -uela is used as a diminutive term (e.g., plaza / plazuela, cazo / cazuela); thus, the term’s original sense would have been that of a “little Venice”. The German language 16th century-term for the area, Klein-Venedig, also means little Venice (literally “small Venice”).
However, Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of the Vespucci and Ojeda crew, gave a different account. In his work Summa de geografía, he states that the crew found indigenous people who called themselves the Veneciuela. Thus, the name “Venezuela” may have evolved from the native word.
Evidence exists of human habitation in the area now known as Venezuela from about 15,000 years ago. Leaf-shaped tools from this period, together with chopping and planoconvex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela. Late Pleistocene hunting artifacts, including spear tips, have been found at a similar series of sites in northwestern Venezuela known as “El Jobo”; according to radiocarbon dating, these date from 13,000 to 7,000 BC.
It is not known how many people lived in Venezuela before the Spanish conquest; it has been estimated at around one million. In addition to indigenous peoples known today, the population included historical groups such as the Kalina (Caribs), Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-Cuicas. The Timoto-Cuica culture was the most complex society in Pre-Columbian Venezuela, with pre-planned permanent villages, surrounded by irrigated, terraced fields. They also stored water in tanks. Their houses were made primarily of stone and wood with thatched roofs. They were peaceful, for the most part, and depended on growing crops. Regional crops included potatoes and ullucos. They left behind works of art, particularly anthropomorphic ceramics, but no major monuments. They spun vegetable fibers to weave into textiles and mats for housing. They are credited with having invented the arepa, a staple in Venezuelan cuisine.
After the conquest, the population dropped markedly, mainly through the spread of new infectious diseases from Europe. Two main north-south axes of pre-Columbian population were present, who cultivated maize in the west and manioc in the east. Large parts of the llanos were cultivated through a combination of slash and burn and permanent settled agriculture.
In 1498, during his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus sailed near the Orinoco Delta and landed in the Gulf of Paria. Amazed by the great offshore current of freshwater which deflected his course eastward, Columbus expressed in a letter to Isabella and Ferdinand that he must have reached Heaven on Earth (terrestrial paradise):
Great signs are these of the Terrestrial Paradise, for the site conforms to the opinion of the holy and wise theologians whom I have mentioned. And likewise, the [other] signs conform very well, for I have never read or heard of such a large quantity of fresh water being inside and in such close proximity to salt water; the very mild temperateness also corroborates this; and if the water of which I speak does not proceed from Paradise then it is an even greater marvel, because I do not believe such a large and deep river has ever been known to exist in this world.“
His certainty of having attained Paradise made him name this region ‘Land of Grace’, a phrase that has become the country’s nickname.
Spain’s colonization of mainland Venezuela started in 1522, establishing its first permanent South American settlement in the present-day city of Cumaná. In the 16th century, Venezuela was contracted as a concession by the King of Spain to the German Welser banking family (Klein-Venedig, 1528–1546). Native caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro (circa 1530–1568) and Tamanaco (died 1573) attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but the newcomers ultimately subdued them; Tamanaco was put to death by order of Caracas’ founder, Diego de Losada.
In the 16th century, during the Spanish colonization, indigenous peoples such as many of the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Kalina, converted to Roman Catholicism. Some of the resisting tribes or leaders are commemorated in place names, including Caracas, Chacao and Los Teques. The early colonial settlements focused on the northern coast, but in the mid-18th century, the Spanish pushed farther inland along the Orinoco River. Here, the Ye’kuana (then known as the Makiritare) organized serious resistance in 1775 and 1776.
Spain’s eastern Venezuelan settlements were incorporated into New Andalusia Province. Administered by the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo from the early 16th century, most of Venezuela became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in the early 18th century, and was then reorganized as an autonomous Captaincy General starting in 1777. The town of Caracas, founded in the central coastal region in 1567, was well-placed to become a key location, being near the coastal port of La Guaira whilst itself being located in a valley in a mountain range, providing defensive strength against pirates and a more fertile and healthy climate.
After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela, under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal who had fought in the Revolution and the French Revolution, declared independence on July 5, 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. A devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic. A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on August 7, 1813, lasted several months before being crushed, as well.
Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on June 24, 1821. On July 24, 1823, José Prudencio Padilla and Rafael Urdaneta helped seal Venezuelan independence with their victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo. New Granada’s congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia.
Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a newly independent Venezuela; Páez became the first president of the new republic. Between one-quarter and one-third of Venezuela’s population was lost during these two decades of warfare, which by 1830, was estimated at about 800,000.
The colors of the Venezuelan flag are yellow, blue, and red: the yellow stands for land wealth, the blue for the sea that separates Venezuela from Spain, and the red for the blood shed by the heroes of independence.
Slavery in Venezuela was abolished in 1854. Much of Venezuela’s 19th-century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule, including the Independence leader José Antonio Páez, who gained the presidency three times and served a total of 11 years between 1830 and 1863. This culminated in the Federal War (1859–1863), a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died in a country with a population of not much more than a million people. In the latter half of the century, Antonio Guzmán Blanco, another caudillo, served a total of 13 years between 1870 and 1887, with three other presidents interspersed.
In 1895, a longstanding dispute with Great Britain about the territory of Guayana Esequiba, which Britain claimed as part of British Guiana and Venezuela saw as Venezuelan territory, erupted into the Venezuela Crisis of 1895. The dispute became a diplomatic crisis when Venezuela’s lobbyist, William L. Scruggs, sought to argue that British behavior over the issue violated the United States’ Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and used his influence in Washington, D.C., to pursue the matter. Then, U.S. President Grover Cleveland adopted a broad interpretation of the doctrine that did not just simply forbid new European colonies, but declared an American interest in any matter within the hemisphere. Britain ultimately accepted arbitration, but in negotiations over its terms was able to persuade the US on many of the details. A tribunal convened in Paris in 1898 to decide the issue and in 1899 awarded the bulk of the disputed territory to British Guiana.
In 1899, Cipriano Castro, assisted by his friend Juan Vicente Gómez, seized power in Caracas, marching an army from his base in the Andean state of Táchira. Castro defaulted on Venezuela’s considerable foreign debts and declined to pay compensation to foreigners caught up in Venezuela’s civil wars. This led to the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, in which Britain, Germany and Italy imposed a naval blockade of several months before international arbitration at the new Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague was agreed. In 1908, another dispute broke out with the Netherlands, which was resolved when Castro left for medical treatment in Germany and was promptly overthrown by Juan Vicente Gómez.
The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I proved to be pivotal for Venezuela and transformed the basis of its economy from a heavy dependence on agricultural exports. It prompted an economic boom that lasted into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product was Latin America’s highest. Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its authority.
He remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935, although at times he ceded the presidency to others. The gomecista dictatorship system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras, but from 1941, under Isaías Medina Angarita, was relaxed. Angarita granted a range of reforms, including the legalization of all political parties. After World War II, immigration from Southern Europe (mainly from Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France) and poorer Latin American countries markedly diversified Venezuelan society.
In 1945, a civilian-military coup overthrew Medina Angarita and ushered in a three-year period of democratic rule under the mass membership Democratic Action. Initially, under Rómulo Betancourt, until Rómulo Gallegos won the Venezuelan presidential election, 1947 (generally believed to be the first free and fair elections in Venezuela). Gallegos governed until overthrown by a military junta led by Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Gallegos’ Defense Minister, Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, in the 1948 Venezuelan coup d’état.
Pérez Jiménez was the most powerful man in the junta (though Chalbaud was its titular president) and was suspected of being behind the death in office of Chalbaud, who died in a bungled kidnapping in 1950. When the junta unexpectedly lost the election it held in 1952, it ignored the results and Pérez Jiménez was installed as President, where he remained until 1958.
The military dictator Pérez Jiménez was forced out on January 23, 1958. In an effort to consolidate the young democracy, the major political parties (with the notable exception of the Communist Party of Venezuela) signed the Punto Fijo Pact. Democratic Action and COPEI would dominate the political landscape for four decades.
In the 1960s, substantial guerilla movements occurred, including the Armed Forces of National Liberation and the Revolutionary Left Movement, which had split from Democratic Action in 1960. Most of these movements laid down their arms under Rafael Caldera’s presidency (1969–74); Caldera had won the 1968 election for COPEI, being the first time a party other than Democratic Action took the presidency through a democratic election.
The election of Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1973 coincided with the 1973 oil crisis, in which Venezuela’s income exploded as oil prices soared; oil industries were nationalized in 1976. This led to massive increases in public spending, but also increases in external debts, which continued into the 1980s when the collapse of oil prices during the 1980s crippled the Venezuelan economy. As the government started to devalue the currency in February 1983 to face its financial obligations, Venezuelans’ real standards of living fell dramatically. A number of failed economic policies and increasing corruption in government led to rising poverty and crime, worsening social indicators, and increased political instability.
Economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s led to a political crisis in which hundreds died in the Caracazo riots of 1989, two attempted coups d’état in 1992, and the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez (re-elected in 1988) for corruption in 1993. Coup leader Hugo Chávez was pardoned in March 1994 by president Rafael Caldera, with a clean slate and his political rights reinstated.
The Bolivarian Revolution refers to a left-wing populism social movement and political process in Venezuela led by the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, the founder of the Fifth Republic Movement and later the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The “Bolivarian Revolution” is named after Simón Bolívar, an early 19th-century Venezuelan and Latin American revolutionary leader, prominent in the Spanish American wars of independence in achieving the independence of most of northern South America from Spanish rule. According to Chávez and other supporters, the “Bolivarian Revolution” seeks to build a mass movement to implement Bolivarianism—popular democracy, economic independence, equitable distribution of revenues, and an end to political corruption—in Venezuela. They interpret Bolívar’s ideas from a populist perspective, using socialist rhetoric.
A collapse in confidence in the existing parties led to Chávez being elected president in 1998, and the subsequent launch of a “Bolivarian Revolution”, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela. Chávez also initiated Bolivarian missions, programs aimed at helping the poor.
In April 2002, Chávez was briefly ousted from power in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt following popular demonstrations by his opponents, but he was returned to power after two days as a result of demonstrations by poor Chávez supporters in Caracas and actions by the military.
Chávez also remained in power after an all-out national strike that lasted from December 2002 to February 2003, including a strike/lockout in the state oil company PDVSA. The strike produced severe economic dislocation, with the country’s GDP falling 27% during the first four months of 2003, and costing the oil industry $13.3 billion. Capital flight before and during the strike led to the reimposition of currency controls (which had been abolished in 1989), managed by the CADIVI agency. In the subsequent decade, the government was forced into several currency devaluations. These devaluations have done little to improve the situation of the Venezuelan people who rely on imported products or locally produced products that depend on imported inputs while dollar-denominated oil sales account for the vast majority of Venezuela’s exports. The profits of the oil industry have been lost to “social engineering” and corruption, instead of investments needed to maintain oil production.
Chávez survived several further political tests, including an August 2004 recall referendum. He was elected for another term in December 2006 and re-elected for a third term in October 2012. However, he was never sworn in for his third period, due to medical complications. Chávez died on March 5, 2013, after a nearly two-year fight with cancer. The presidential election that took place on Sunday, April 14, 2013, was the first since Chávez took office in 1999 in which his name did not appear on the ballot.
Venezuela under Hugo Chávez suffered “one of the worst cases of Dutch Disease in the world” due to the Bolivarian government’s large dependence on oil sales. Poverty and inflation began to increase into the 2010s.
Nicolás Maduro was elected in 2013 after the death of Chavez. Chavez picked Maduro as his successor and appointed him vice president in 2013. Maduro was elected President in a shortened election in 2013 following Chavez’s death. Despite the demand for a recount and claims of manipulation by his competitor, Maduro was announced victorious.
Venezuela devalued its currency in February 2013 due to the rising shortages in the country, which included those of milk, flour, and other necessities. This led to an increase in malnutrition, especially among children. In 2014, Venezuela entered an economic recession. In 2015, Venezuela had the world’s highest inflation rate with the rate surpassing 100%, becoming the highest in the country’s history. Economic problems, as well as crime and corruption, were some of the main causes of the 2014–2017 Venezuelan protests, which left hundreds of protesters killed.
In March 2017, opposition leaders branded President Nicolas Maduro a dictator after the Maduro-aligned Supreme Tribunal – which had been overturning most National Assembly decisions since the opposition took control of the body – took over the functions of the assembly, pushing a lengthy political standoff to new heights. However, the Supreme Court quickly backed down and reversed its decision on April 1, 2017. A month later, President Maduro announced the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election, 2017 and on August 30, 2017, the 2017 Constituent National Assembly was elected into office and quickly stripped the National Assembly of its powers.
Scott #265 was released in 1915. The 50-centimos deep violet stamp was printed by the American Bank Note Company and perforated 12. As had the majority of Venezuelan stamps issued since 1871, it portrayed Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who played a leading role in the establishment of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule. (The first stamps of Venezuela issued on January 1, 1859. featured the coat of arms.)
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad de Bolívar y Palacios is generally known as Simón Bolívar and also colloquially as El Libertador, He was born on July 24, 1783, at Caracas, Captaincy General of Venezuela, Spanish Empire in present-day Venezuela into a wealthy, aristocratic Creole family. As was common for the heirs of upper class families in his day, Bolívar was sent to be educated abroad at a young age, arriving in Spain when he was 16 and later moving to France.
While in Europe he was introduced to the ideas of the Enlightenment, later motivating him to overthrow the reigning Spanish. Taking advantage of the disorder in Spain prompted by the Peninsular War, Bolívar began his campaign for independence in 1808, appealing to the wealthy Creole population through a conservative process, and established an organized national congress within three years. Despite a number of hindrances, including the arrival of an unprecedentedly large Spanish expeditionary force, the revolutionaries eventually prevailed, culminating in the patriot victory at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821, which effectively made Venezuela an independent country.
Following this triumph over the Spanish monarchy, Bolívar participated in the foundation of the first union of independent nations in Latin America, Gran Colombia, of which he was president from 1819 to 1830. Through further military campaigns, he ousted Spanish rulers from Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia (named after him). He was simultaneously president of Gran Colombia (current Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador) and Peru, while his second in command Antonio José de Sucre was appointed president of Bolivia.
Bolívar aimed at a strong and united Spanish America able to cope not only with the threats emanating from Spain and the European Holy Alliance but also with the emerging power of the United States. At the peak of his power, Bolívar ruled over a vast territory from the Argentine border to the Caribbean Sea.
Bolívar is, along with Argentine General José de San Martín, considered one of the great heroes of the Hispanic independence movements of the early 19th century.
At the end of his life, Bolívar despaired of the situation in the region, with the famous quote “all who served the revolution have plowed the sea”. Earlier, in an address to the Constituent Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Bolívar stated “Fellow citizens! I blush to say this: Independence is the only benefit we have acquired, to the detriment of all the rest.”
On December 17, 1830, at the age of 47, Simón Bolívar died of tuberculosis in the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino in Santa Marta, Gran Colombia (now Colombia). On his deathbed, Bolívar asked his aide-de-camp, General Daniel F. O’Leary, to burn the remaining, extensive archive of his writings, letters, and speeches. O’Leary disobeyed the order and his writings survived, providing historians with a wealth of information about Bolívar’s liberal philosophy and thought, as well as details of his personal life, such as his long love affair with Manuela Sáenz. Shortly before her own death in 1856, Sáenz augmented this collection by giving O’Leary her own letters from Bolívar.
Due to the historical relevance of Bolívar as a key element during the process of independence in Hispanic America, his memory has been strongly attached to sentiments of nationalism and patriotism, being a recurrent theme of rhetoric in politics. Since the image of Bolívar became an important part to the national identities of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, his mantle is often claimed by Hispanic American politicians all across the political spectrum.
In Venezuela, Bolívar left behind a militarist legacy with multiple governments utilizing the memory, image and written legacy of Bolívar as important parts of their political messages and propaganda. Bolívar disapproved of the “party spirit” and “factions” which lead to an anti-political environment in Venezuela. For much of the 1800s, Venezuela was ruled by caudillos, with six rebellions and 437 military actions occurring to take control of Venezuela between 1892 and 1900 alone. The militarist legacy was then used by the nationalist dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez and more recently the socialist political movement led by Hugo Chávez Much of the modern political movement behind the Fifth Republic of Venezuela, ruled by the Bolivarian government established by Chávez, was built on the following of Bolívar and such militaristic ideals.
The nations of Bolivia and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Venezuela), and their respective currencies (the Bolivian boliviano and the Venezuelan bolívar), are all named after Bolívar. Additionally, most cities and towns in Venezuela are built around a main square known as Plaza Bolívar, as is the case with Bogotá. In this example, most governmental buildings and public structures are located on or around the plaza, including the National Capitol and the Palace of Justice. Busts and statues in his memory are located in the capital cities of Quito, Lima, Washington, D.C., Algiers, Paris, Sofia, Ottawa, London, Bucharest, Havana, Ankara, Teheran, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Prague, New Delhi, ((New Orleans)),Port-au-Prince, Santo Domingo, Paramaribo, Sucre, Buenos Aires, San José, etc.
Outside of Latin America, the variety of monuments to Simón Bolívar are a continuing testament to his legacy. These include statues in many capitals around the world. Several cities in Spain, especially in the Basque Country, have constructed monuments to Bolívar, including a large monument in Bilbao and a comprehensive Venezuelan government-funded museum in Bolívar, his ancestral hometown. An imposing bronze equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar at the entrance to Central Park at the Avenue of the Americas in New York City also celebrates Bolívar’s contributions to Latin America.
Monuments to Bolívar’s military legacy also comprise one of Venezuelan Navy’s sail training barques, which is named after him, and the USS Simon Bolivar, a Benjamin Franklin-class fleet ballistic missile submarine which served with the U.S. Navy between 1965 and 1995.