Where is it?:
At the top of South America, with the Caribbean Sea to the north, Brazil to the south, Colombia to the west and Guyana to the east. Just off the coast are Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Aruba and Curacao. According to the CIA World Factbook, the size of Venezuela is slightly more than twice the state of California. The land varies from the Andes mountains in the west to the Amazon rainforest in the south. Angel Falls in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall.
Caracas, which is also Venezuela's largest city, on the northern end of the country in a valley close to the Caribbean Sea. The population is nearly 6 million. The valley was populated by indigenous peoples until the Spanish arrived and founded Caracas in 1567. It was strategically located -- the coastal mountains served as a buffer from frequent Caribbean pirate attacks. Both the country of Venezuela and its capital, Caracas, are reported as having the highest murder rates per capita in the world. The outlying areas from the urban center are especially dangerous with armed gangs that operate with impunity.
The national flag of yellow, blue and red bands with a crescent of white stars is the most recent incarnation of the banner that was introduced in 1811. In 2006, President Hugo Chavez announced that an eighth star would be added to the flag, to much consternation from the opposition over the cost and what was seen as a needless change. The national anthem, "Gloria al Bravo Pueblo" (Glory to the Brave People), was adopted in 1885. The national flower is the orchid and the national bird is the turpial.
Spanish is the official language. Numerous indigenous dialects are also spoken in the country; the constitution recognizes 30 of them.
Over 28 million. About 96 percent are nominally Roman Catholic, 2 percent are Protestant and 2 percent are other religions. About 93 percent of the population live in urban areas; water sources and sanitation are largely unimproved in rural areas. The literacy rate is 93 percent and the median age is just over 26 years old.
The country declared independence from Spain in 1811, the first Spanish-American colony to do so. Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830; the others were Ecuador and New Granada, which became Colombia. The country got a taste of democratic rule in the 1940s, but struggled with dictatorships and coups. Chavez wrote a new constitution when he came into power in 1999.
The country is highly dependent on oil revenue and is a member of OPEC. Spending and minimum wage hikes have contributed to steep inflation in Venezuela, and increased nationalization of industry has kept many foreign investors away. The budget deficit and debt are climbing, and citizens are experiencing difficulties with housing and electricity, as well as food shortages. Unemployment is around 7.3 percent, and more than a quarter live below the poverty line. The inflation rate in 2011 was estimated at 27.6 percent.
The Bolivarian National Armed Forces include the Army, Navy, Military Aviation, and National Guard. Those from ages 18 to 30 are eligible for compulsory and voluntary military service with a 30-month service obligation. Nearly 12 million are estimated to be fit for military service.
Type of government:
Federal republic. Voting is universal at age 18. Chavez, who has been president since 1999, has sought to implement his Bolivarian Revolution, nationalizing industry and turning the country toward socialism. With Chavez's constitutional change in 2009, the president may run for unlimited six-year terms. National Assembly members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms; three seats are reserved for indigenous members.