During part of the colonial period, Venezuela was part of the area known as New Granada. Cocoa cultivation was the lynchpin of the economy and a brisk smuggling trade sprang up with the West Indies.
Smuggling and pirate activity was rife during the 16th to 18th centuries.
Revolutionary forces seceded from Spain in 1811 but encountered difficulties and an earthquake in 1812 helped forward the cause of the royalists.
Simon Bolivar (born in Venezuela), the champion of South American revolutions, and his forces working from Colombia, were able to liberate Venezuela and independence was secured in 1821.
Venezuela then became part of Grand Colombia, but in 1830 separatists declared Venezuela an independent state.
During the first half of the 20th century Venezuela was governed by a military government that promoted the oil industry and instituted some social reforms.
But all governments since 1959 have been democratically elected.
Venezuela is divided into four distinct geographical regions, the Venezuelan highlands, the Guyana highlands, the coastal lowlands and the basin of the Orinoco River.
The Venezuelan flag
Inaccessible and largely unexplored wilderness accounts for more then half the national territory.
There are rich oil fields, a huge cattle industry and dense rainforests that are home to thousands of the indigenous population. However, irresponsible mining is endangering both the indigenous people and the rainforests.
Venezuela is a small-scale producer of coca leaves and opium but huge amounts of drug-related activity takes place across the border with Colombia and on Margarita Island.
Official name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Government type: Federal Republic
Population: 25,375,281 (July 2005 estimate)
Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects.
Ethnic diversity: About 65% of the population is mestizo, 20% white, 10% black, and 2% indigenous. Nationalities in Venezuela include: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German and African.
Literacy rate Age 15 and over can read and write.
total population: 93.4%; male: 93.8%; female: 93.1% (2003 estimate)
Religion: Nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Political parties and leaders: Democratic Action or AD, Jesus Mendez Quijada; Fifth Republic Movement or MVR, Hugo Chavez; Homeland for All or PPT, Jose Albornoz; Justice First, Julio Borges; Movement Toward Socialism or MAS, Hector Mujica; National Convergence or Convergencia, Juan Jose Caldera; Radical Cause or La Causa R, Andres Velasquez; Social Christian Party or COPEI, Eduardo Fernandez; Venezuela Project or PV, Henrique Salas Rome.
Political pressure groups and leaders: FEDECAMARAS, a conservative business group; VECINOS groups; Venezuelan Confederation of Workers or CTV (labor organization dominated by the Democratic Action).
International organisation participation includes: CAN, CDB, FAO, G-3, G-15, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICFTU, , LAIA, Mercosur (associate), MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, OPEC, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO
Military branches: National Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales, FAN): Ground Forces or Army (Fuerzas Terrestres or Ejercito), Naval Forces (Fuerzas Navales or Armada - includes Marines, Coast Guard), Air Force (Fuerzas Aereas or Aviacion), Armed Forces of Cooperation or National Guard (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperacion or Guardia Nacional
Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age for compulsory and voluntary military service; conscript service obligation - 30 months (2004)
Military manpower – there are approximately 6,236,012 males aged 18-49 available for military service.
Location: Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, between Colombia and Guyana
Area: total: 912,050sq km; land: 882,050sq km; water: 30,000sq km
Land boundaries: total: 4993 km; border countries: Brazil 2200km, Colombia 2050km, Guyana 743km
Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 12 nm; contiguous zone: 15 nm; exclusive economic zone: 200 nm; continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation.
Flooding in the Vargas state on
the Caribbean coast
Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands.
Terrain: Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast.
Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds.
Land use: Arable land: 2.95%; permanent crops: 0.92%; other: 96.13% (2001)
Natural hazards: Subject to floods, rockslides, mudslides; periodic droughts.
Environment - current issues: Sewage pollution of Lago de Valencia; oil and urban pollution of Lago de Maracaibo; deforestation; soil degradation; urban and industrial pollution, especially along the Caribbean coast; threat to the rainforest ecosystem from irresponsible mining operations
Environment - international agreements: Party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands.
Economy: Venezuela is highly dependent on the petroleum industry which accounts for over one third of the GDP and more than 80% of export earnings.
Venezuela is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States.
Inflation and unemployment remain consistent problems. Despite attempts by the government at economic reform, over 68% of the population lives in poverty. Numerous cities have squalid shanty towns and in the country many of the people are tenant farmers existing at subsistence level.
Despite continued political instability and economic depression, a previously rapidly falling economy recovered in 2004 aided by high oil prices.
Gross Domestic Product: $5341.78 per person
GDP - real growth rate: 16.8% (2004 est.)
Industries: Petroleum, iron ore mining, construction materials, food processing, textiles, steel, aluminum, motor vehicle assembly.
Exports: Petroleum, bauxite and aluminum, steel, chemicals, agricultural products, basic manufactures
Imports: Raw materials, machinery and equipment, transport equipment, construction materials.
Labour force: 12.25 million (2004 estimate)
Labour force - by occupation: agriculture 13%, industry 23%, services 64% (1997 estimate)
Unemployment rate: 17.1% (2004 estimate)
Disputes - international: Venezuela is involved with boundary and maritime disputes with Guyana and Colombia.
Sources: CIA world fact book, Infoplease.com, Nationmaster.com