U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: VENEZUELA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NOVEMBER 1994

Official Name:  Republic of Venezuela

PROFILE

Geography
Area:  912,050 sq. km. (352,143 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas and 
Oklahoma combined.
Cities:  Capital--Caracas (metropolitan area population est. 2.8 
million, 1990 census).  Other major cities--Maracaibo, Valencia, 
Barquisimeto.
Terrain:  Varied.
Climate:  Varies from tropical to temperate, depending on elevation.

People
Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Venezuelan(s).
Population (1993 est.):  20.6 million.
Annual growth rate:  2.3%.
Ethnic groups:  Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, Indian, 
African.
Religions:  Roman Catholic 96%.
Languages:  Spanish (official), numerous Indian dialects.
Education:  Years compulsory--9.  Literacy--91%.
Health:  Infant mortality rate--21/1,000.  Life expectancy--72 yrs.
Work force (about 7.5 million):  Services--62.5%.  Manufacturing--15.5%.  
Agriculture--11%.  Construction--9%.  Other--2%.

Government
Type:  Federal republic.
Independence:  July 5, 1821.
Constitution:  January 23, 1961.
Branches:  Executive--president (head of government and chief of state; 
five-year term); Council of Ministers (cabinet).  Legislative--bicameral 
congress (203-member Chamber of Deputies, 53-member Senate) elected for 
five-year term.
Judicial--18-member Supreme Court.
Subdivisions:  22 states, one federal district (Caracas), and one 
federal dependency (72 islands).
Major political parties:  Democratic Action (Accion Democratica--AD), 
Social Christian (Comite Organizador Politico por Elecciones 
Independientes--COPEI), Convergencia (the President's coalition), the 
Radical Cause (Causa R), and the Movement to Socialism (Movimiento al 
Socialismo--MAS).

Economy
GDP (1993):  $58.5 billion.
Growth rate (1993):  -1%.
GDP per capita:  $2,800.
Natural resources:  Petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, gold, other 
minerals, hydroelectric power, bauxite.
Agriculture (5% of GDP):  Products--rice; coffee; corn; sugar; bananas; 
dairy, meat, and poultry products.
Petroleum industry (23% of GDP):  oil refining, petrochemicals.
Manufacturing (21% of GDP):  Types--iron and steel, paper products, 
aluminum, textiles, transport equipment, consumer products.
Trade (1993):  Exports--$14.2 billion:  petroleum ($10.5 billion), iron 
ore, coffee, steel, aluminum, cocoa.  Major markets--U.S., Japan, 
Germany, Colombia, Netherlands, Brazil, Italy.  Imports--$11 billion:  
machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, chemicals, 
foodstuffs.  Major suppliers--U.S., Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy, 
Colombia, Brazil.
Official exchange rate:  170 bolivars = U.S. $1.


PEOPLE AND HISTORY

Most Venezuelans are of European, Indian, and/or African descent.  Many 
Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese immigrants arrived during the early 
1950s.  About 85% of the population lives in urban areas, most of which 
are along the coast or in the Andes.  Almost half of Venezuela's land 
area lies south and east of the Orinoco River, yet it contains only 5.3% 
of the population.  In 1992, Venezuelans' median age was 21.

The indigenous peoples of Venezuela ranged from agriculturalists--the 
Timotes, who used irrigation and terracing--to less-advanced groups 
living on islands offshore.  Coastal Carib tribes, especially the Teques 
and the Caracas, proved formidable enemies to the Spanish who followed 
Columbus after 1498; the Carib leader Guarcaipuro mobilized as many as 
10,000 warriors to resist Spanish settlement.

The first permanent Spanish settlement in South America--Nuevo Toledo--
was established in Venezuela in 1522.  Spanish explorers noted that 
natives used a black, oily liquid--petroleum--in their daily chores and 
took some of it to Spain as a curiosity.  But the Spanish were 
interested in gold and looked for it elsewhere in their colonial empire.  
Nor did they appreciate Venezuela's agricultural potential.

Other Europeans, especially English adventurers and Dutch and French 
traders, began developing important commercial connections in the 
Venezuela region.  Spain's eventual efforts to limit their inroads and 
develop the colony proved counterproductive, and Venezuelans began to 
grow restive under colonial control.  Armed uprisings broke out in 1795, 
1797, and 1799.  In 1806, Francisco de Miranda--a Venezuelan aristocrat-
-launched an unsuccessful rebellion.

Independence was achieved in 1821 under the leadership of Simon Bolivar.  
Venezuela, along with what are now Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, was 
part of the Republic of Gran Colombia until 1830, when it separated and 
became a sovereign country.

Much of Venezuela's 19th-century history was characterized by periods of 
political instability, dictatorial rule, and revolutionary turbulence.  
The first half of the 20th century was marked by periods of 
authoritarianism--including dictatorships from 1908-35 and from 1950-58.  
Following the overthrow of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958, democratic 
elections were held every five years.  Perez Jimenez' ouster also marked 
the start of the military's withdrawal from direct involvement in 
national politics.  The presidency has passed back and forth between the 
country's two main political parties:  Democratic Action (AD) won in 
1958, 1963, 1973, 1983, 1988, and the Social Christian (COPEI) Party won 
in 1968 and 1978.

After a constitutionally mandated 10-year hiatus from power, Carlos 
Andres Perez took office again as President on February 2, 1989, for a 
second five-year term.  He abandoned economic nationalism, import 
substitution, and state intervention, the trademarks of his first term 
(1974-79).  The decline of oil prices in the mid-1980s and changes in 
policy forced austerity on consumers accustomed to subsidies.  Economic 
hardship and the austerity program sparked violence in February 1989.

When police no longer could maintain order, the government temporarily 
suspended some constitutional rights and used military force to restore 
order.  This turmoil set the stage for two military coup attempts 
against the Perez government, in February and November 1992.  In May 
1993, Perez was removed from office pending resolution by the Supreme 
Court of charges against him for malfeasance.

Perez was replaced by Ramon J. Velasquez, who presided over the December 
1993 elections that brought Rafael Caldera to office.  Caldera, a 
founder of COPEI and a former president (1969-1974), ran on a coalition 
"Convergence" ticket promising a reduction in corruption; he won the 
presidency with just over 30% of the valid vote--a seven-percentage-
point margin over his closest rival.  However, new elections and a new 
leader did not bring to an end the country's economic and political 
problems.


GOVERNMENT

The president is elected by a plurality vote with direct and universal 
suffrage.  The term of office is five years, and a president cannot be 
re-elected until at least two terms have been served by others.  The 
president decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes 
appointments to it with the involvement of the congress.  The executive 
branch initiates most legislation, which the legislature debates and 
approves, alters, or rejects.  The congress has the authority to 
override a presidential veto, but the president can also ask the 
congress to reconsider the portions of the bill found objectionable.

The congress is bicameral, and elections for the Senate and the Chamber 
of Deputies are held at the same time every five years.  Until 1993, 
voters cast ballots for a party list of candidates.  The 1993 national 
election permitted, for the first time, the direct election of one-half 
of the Chamber of Deputies by name and district.  When the congress is 
not in session, its Delegated Committee acts on matters relating to the 
executive and in oversight functions. 

All courts in Venezuela are part of the federal system.  The 18 members 
of the Supreme Court of Justice are elected by a joint session of the 
congress to serve nine-year terms; one-third of the court is elected 
every three years, and each justice can serve only one term.  The 
minister of justice names judges to the lower civilian courts, which 
include district courts, municipal courts, and courts of first instance.  

National Security

The armed forces number 89,000 personnel in four service branches--army, 
navy (including the marine corps), air force, and the Armed Forces of 
Cooperation (FAC), commonly known as the national guard--whose primary 
mission is to enforce internal security.

Principal Government Officials
President--Rafael Caldera
Foreign Minister--Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas
Ambassador to the United States--Pedro Luis Echeverria
Ambassador to the United Nations--Enrique Tejera Paris
Ambassador to the OAS--Sebastian Alegrett

Venezuela's embassy in the United States is at 1099 30th St. NW, 
Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-342-2214). Consulates are in Boston, 
Chicago, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and 
Puerto Rico.  Only consulates issue visas.


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Venezuela's history of free and open elections since 1958 and lack of 
military dominance in national politics has earned it a reputation as 
one of the more stable democracies in Latin America.  But the country 
has undergone a series of political and economic crises since early 1992 
which have resulted in suspensions of constitutional rights.

Its most recent economic and financial crisis led to restrictions on 
civil liberties earlier this year.  President Caldera gave the police 
the power to detain people without warrants, to enter homes without 
warrants, and to seize property without compensation.  With the 
government controlling imports--including supplies of imported newsprint 
and ink--newspaper publishers worried that the President would try to 
exert undue influence over reporting.  When the congress voted to 
restore civil liberties in late July 1994, the President signed a decree 
suspending them again.  He then challenged the congress to put the 
matter to a national referendum; congressional leaders agreed to uphold 
the President's decree.

Despite this latest crisis, Venezuela's political and electoral system 
in recent years had made progress in becoming more open.  The 1993 
national elections--with the presidency won by Caldera's coalition 
party--saw the first time in decades that elections were not dominated 
by the usual two political parties.  Also, as noted, the direct election 
of one-half of the Chamber of Deputies by name and district was 
permitted for the first time.  This resulted in a national congress 
comprised of four political blocs of roughly equal size, in contrast to 
the AD- and COPEI-dominated political system of the recent past.  

Venezuela's armed forces have rejected a direct role in national 
politics since 1959.  Civil-military relations in Venezuela are good.  
The majority of the military support democracy and the Caldera 
administration.  There have been some departures from this apolitical 
position in the recent past--such as the two tries in 1992 by elements 
of the military to overthrow the government--but these coup attempts 
were put down by the armed forces.

 On the local level, a decentralization of power from the national 
government to state and municipal authorities had begun in 1989 with the 
direct election of governors and mayors.  Until that year, the states 
were administered by governors appointed by the president.  In December 
1989, governors in 20 states and mayors in 269 municipalities were 
elected for the first time in the country's history.  This election also 
was the first to use a system allowing the voter to choose individual 
candidates by name, rather than selecting only among party slates.  
State and municipal elections were held again in 1992;  the next round 
of local elections is scheduled for 1995.


ECONOMY

Venezuela is rich in oil and other mineral resources, but its per capita 
income is only average for Latin America.  The economy has been 
shrinking in real terms since 1992; the inflation rate for 1993 was 46%.  
As of December 1993, the country had $27.3 billion in public external 
debt.

Venezuela's current economic crisis was triggered by the collapse of the 
country's banking system in early 1994.  The government's unsuccessful 
bank bailout cost an estimated half-year's budget.  The government had 
tried to intervene and assist many of the largest banks, which 
represented more than half of the nation's deposit base.  President 
Caldera has implemented a system of exchange and price controls to stem 
the flow of foreign exchange and to halt price increases.  GDP is 
expected to decline by 4%-5% for 1994.

Due to the series of political and economic crises that Venezuela has 
experienced since 1992, business confidence within the country has been 
shaken, and there is increased caution by international investors.  
Although new banking and insurance laws extend national treatment to 
foreign investors in the financial field, few have expressed interest.  
Small and undercapitalized, the financial sector already had been 
declining as a percentage of GDP in recent years.  

The government has no current financing arrangement with the 
International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Venezuela receives project loans 
from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.

Petroleum and Other Resources

Venezuela's economy is dominated by petroleum; oil prices rebounded 
earlier this year, providing a boost for the economy.  Until recently, 
the country was largely an exporter of crude oil but now is 
predominantly a marketer of oil products.  In 1993, the petroleum 
industry accounted for 23% of GDP, 74% of exports, and 61% of central 
government revenue.

The Government of Venezuela has opened up much of the hydrocarbon sector 
to foreign investment, promoting the establishment of massive new 
petrochemical joint ventures and reactivation of inactive fields.  
Authorization of foreign participation in exploration and production 
seems imminent.  A program to privatize state-owned enterprises, begun 
in 1991, has stalled in recent years, but the Caldera administration has 
announced that further privatizations, including heavy industry, will go 
ahead.

An abundance of other resources, such as iron ore, coal, bauxite, 
hydroelectric power, and gold are in various stages of development.  The 
Guasare Basin coal field is one of the larger fields in the Americas, 
and the government hopes to produce 10 million metric tons a year by the 
mid-1990s, making Venezuela a leading exporter of coal.  As projects 
develop over the next five years, mineral exports are expected to at 
least double in volume.

Manufacturing, Agriculture, And Trade

Manufacturing makes up 21% of GDP.  Venezuela manufactures and exports 
steel, aluminum, textiles, apparel, beverages, and foodstuffs.  It also 
produces cement, tires, paper, and fertilizers, and assembles cars for 
both the domestic and export market.

Agriculture accounts for only 5% of GDP, 11% of the labor force, and 20% 
of the land area.  The staple crops are maize and sorghum; most of 
Venezuela's wheat is imported.  Venezuela's main export crops are coffee 
and cocoa.  The sector is inefficient and depends on a network of 
subsidies and trade barriers.

Venezuela usually has a trade surplus.  In recent years, non-traditional 
(i.e., non-petroleum) exports have been growing rapidly but still 
constitute only about one-fourth of total exports.  The United States is 
its major trading partner, but regional markets--particularly that of 
fellow Andean Pact member and neighbor Colombia--are growing in 
importance.

Under former President Perez, Venezuela evinced an interest in joining 
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  President Caldera 
supports Venezuela's bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia and 
also signed the G-3 agreement with Colombia and Mexico earlier this 
year.

Labor and Infrastructure

Venezuela's labor force of about 7.5 million is growing at 2.5% a year.  
Economic contractions sharply pushed up unemployment beginning in 1993 
and also increased the informal sector's share of total employment to an 
estimated 43% in 1994.  The public sector employs 19% of the work force, 
while less than 1% works in the capital-intensive oil industry.  About 
25% of employed workers are unionized.

Venezuela has an extensive road system.  With the exception of air 
service, transportation and communications have failed to keep pace with 
the country's needs.  Much of the infrastructure suffers from inadequate 
maintenance.  Caracas has a modern subway, but only one functioning rail 
line serves the rest of the country.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Venezuela traditionally has said that its international conduct will be 
governed by:


--  Respect for human rights;
--  The right of all peoples to self-determination;
--  Non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations;
--  Peaceful settlement of disputes between nations, including border 
disputes;
--  The right of all peoples to peace and security; and
--  Support for democracy.

During the Perez presidency, Venezuela maintained an influential role in 
foreign affairs.  Joined by Colombia, Mexico, and Panama, the country 
sought a regional solution to Central America's problems through the 
Contadora process.  Venezuela's political parties played a prominent 
role in helping Nicaragua organize its own elections in 1990, and it 
hosted peace talks between El Salvador and the rebel Farabundo Marti 
National Liberation Front.  Venezuela also was active in international 
forums such as the Non-aligned Movement.  It has adopted the American 
Convention on Human Rights and supports the Inter-American Commission on 
Human Rights.

Under the Caldera administration, Venezuela has been less active in the 
international and regional arenas, reflecting the country's and the 
government's preoccupation with pressing internal economic problems.  
Regionally, Venezuela continues to participate in such groupings as the 
Friends of Haiti and the Friends of Guatemala.  The Caldera government 
has indicated that its foreign policy priorities will be relations with 
Colombia, Brazil, and the Caribbean; regional and sub-regional economic 
integration; and relations with the United States.

The country has numerous border disputes with its neighbors but seeks to 
resolve them peacefully.  Bilateral commissions have been established by 
Venezuela and Colombia to address a range of pending bilateral issues, 
including the resolution of the maritime boundary in the Gulf of 
Venezuela.  Relations with Guyana are complicated by Venezuela's claim 
to the area up to the Essequibo River--more than one-half the area of 
Guyana.  With the concurrence of both countries, the border issue was 
referred to the UN Secretary General for a determination of suitable 
means for settlement in 1987.  Since then, representatives of the two 
governments have held exchanges on the boundary under the auspices of 
the "good offices" of the United Nations.


U.S.-VENEZUELAN RELATIONS

The United States is Venezuela's most important trading partner, 
representing more than 45% of its international trade.  The U.S. exports 
to Venezuela machinery, transportation equipment, agricultural 
commodities, and auto parts and imports oil and other natural resources.  
The United States allocated $400,000 in FY 1994 for anti-narcotics 
assistance to Venezuela, which also received about $87,500 in 
International Military Educational Training (IMET) funds.  There is no 
USAID or Peace Corps mission in Venezuela.

The United States and Venezuela share views on strengthening democratic 
institutions around the world; furthering human rights; accelerating 
sound economic, social, and cultural development through orderly and 
progressive change within the framework of a free society; and 
cooperating in the defense and security of the Western Hemisphere 
against aggression or subversion.

Along with the United States, Venezuela supports the goals of nuclear 
non-proliferation in the hemisphere, conventional arms restraint, anti-
terrorism, and the promotion of hemispheric economic development.  
Venezuela and the United States both consider democratization in the 
region important.  But Venezuela also emphasizes avoiding force and not 
intervening in the internal affairs of states.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Jeffrey Davidow
Deputy Chief of Mission--Robert Morley
Political Counselor--Thomas Tonkin
Economic Counselor--Charles Ahlgren
Commercial Attache--Edgar Fulton
Consul General--James Blanford
Administrative Counselor--Arnold Munoz
Regional Security Officer--Edward Napoliello
Public Affairs Counselor--Peter De Shazo

The U.S. embassy is on Avenida de Miranda and Avenida Principal de la 
Floresta, Caracas (tel. 58-2-285-5294).  Office hours are 8 am to 5 pm, 
Monday through Friday.  The embassy is scheduled to move to a new 
location early in 1995. 

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