- Area: 912,050 sq km
- Population: 31,304,016
- Infant mortality: 12.2 deaths/1,000 live births
- Life expectancy: 76 years
- Urbanisation: 88.2% of total population
- Literacy: 97.1%
Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and New Granada, which became Colombia). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have held sway since 1959. Under Hugo CHAVEZ, president from 1999 to 2013, and his hand-picked successor, President Nicolas MADURO, the executive branch has exercised increasingly authoritarian control over other branches of government. In 2016, President MADURO issued a decree to hold an election to form a "Constituent Assembly." A 30 July 2017 poll approved the formation of a 545-member Constituent Assembly and elected its delegates, empowering them to change the constitution and dismiss government institutions and officials. The US Government does not recognize the Assembly, which has generally used its powers to rule by decree rather than to reform the constitution. Simultaneously, democratic institutions continue to deteriorate, freedoms of expression and the press are curtailed, and political polarization has grown. The ruling party's economic policies have expanded the state's role in the economy through expropriations of major enterprises, strict currency exchange and price controls that discourage private sector investment and production, and over-dependence on the petroleum industry for revenues, among others. Current concerns include human rights abuses, rampant violent crime, high inflation, and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods, medicine, and medical supplies.
The climate is tropical; hot and humid but more moderate in the highlands. The terrain includes the Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in the northwest, central plains (llanos) and Guiana Highlands in the southeast.
Venezuela remains highly dependent on oil revenues, which account for almost all export earnings and nearly half of the government’s revenue, despite a continued decline in oil production in 2017. In 2017, in the absence of official statistics, foreign experts estimate that GDP contracted 12%, inflation exceeded 2000%, people faced widespread shortages of consumer goods and medicine, and central bank international reserves dwindled. In late 2017, Venezuela also entered selective default on some of its sovereign and PDVSA bonds. Domestic production and industry continues to severely underperform and the Venezuelan government continues to rely on imports to meet its basic food and consumer goods needs. Falling oil prices since 2014 have aggravated Venezuela’s economic crisis. Insufficient access to dollars, price controls, and rigid labor regulations have led some US and multinational firms to reduce or shut down their Venezuelan operations. Market uncertainty and state oil company PDVSA’s poor cash flow have slowed investment in the petroleum sector, resulting in a decline in oil production. Under President Nicolas MADURO, the Venezuelan Government’s response to the economic crisis has been to increase state control over the economy and blame the private sector for shortages. MADURO has given authority for the production and distribution of basic goods to the military and to local socialist party member committees. The Venezuelan Government has maintained strict currency controls since 2003. The government has been unable to sustain its mechanisms for distributing dollars to the private sector, in part because it needed to withhold some foreign exchange reserves to make its foreign bond payments. As a result of price and currency controls, local industries have struggled to purchase production inputs necessary to maintain their operations or sell goods at a profit on the local market. Expansionary monetary policies and currency controls have created opportunities for arbitrage and corruption and fueled a rapid increase in black market activity.