A republic in northern South America on the Caribbean; rich in oil.
Country in N South America, on the Caribbean Sea, bounded E by Guyana, S by Brazil, and W by Colombia.
Venezuela is a federal republic of 20 states, two federal territories, and a federal district based on the capital, Caracas. The 1961 constitution provides for a president, who is head of state and head of government, and a two-chamber national congress, consisting of a senate and a chamber of deputies. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term and may not serve two consecutive terms. The president appoints and presides over a council of ministers.
The senate has 44 members elected by universal suffrage, on the basis of two representatives for each state and two for the federal district, plus any living ex-presidents. The chamber has 201 deputies, also elected by universal suffrage. Both chambers serve five-year terms, concurrent with that of the president.
For early history, see Native American, South America. Columbus visited Venezuela 1498, and there was a Spanish settlement from 1520. In 1811 a rebellion against Spain began, led by Simón Bolívar, and Venezuela became independent 1830.
Venezuela's first president, General José Antonio Páez, established 1830–48 the pattern of dictatorial rule. The claims of competing caudillos (military leaders) kept the country in a state of constant turmoil.
Venezuela adopted a new constitution 1961, and three years later Rómulo Betancourt became the first president to have served a full term of office. He was succeeded by Dr Raúl Leoni 1964 and by Dr Rafael Caldera 1969. The latter did much to bring economic and political stability, although underground abductions and assassinations still occurred. In 1974 Carlos Andrés Pérez, of the Democratic Action Party, became president, and stability increased. In 1979 Dr Luis Herrera, leader of the Social Christian Party, was elected.
Against a background of growing economic problems, the 1984 general election was contested by 20 parties and 13 presidential candidates. It was a bitterly fought campaign and resulted in the election of Dr Jaime Lusinchi as president and a win for the Democratic Action Party with an absolute majority in congress. President Lusinchi's austere economic policies were unpopular, and he tried to conclude a social pact among the government, labor unions, and business. He reached an agreement with the government's creditor bankers for a rescheduling of Venezuela's large public debt.
In 1988 Venezuela suspended payment on its foreign debt, which had grown due to a drop in oil prices since the 1970s. In Feb 1989, newly elected president Carlos Andrés Pérez instituted price increases and other austerity measures designed to satisfy $4.3 billion loan terms imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Riots followed in which at least 300 people were killed and in May a general strike was called in protest at the austerity program. Elections held in Dec were boycotted by the main opposition groups. At a meeting in Caracas May 1991, the leaders of the Andean Common market countries agreed to create a Latin American free-trade zone.
Throughout 1990 and 1991 dissatisfaction with the austerity program increased, resulting in more violent demonstrations, especially by students. In Feb 1992 an attempted coup by a group of army officers was foiled by troops loyal to the president. Pressured by mounting public unrest, Pérez promised major constitutional reforms. A second coup in Nov was also abortive. In May 1993 the supreme court ruled that Pérez could be tried on corruption charges, and Ramon José Velasquez became interim president. In the Dec 1993 presidential elections former president Dr Rafael Caldera was successful. In May 1994 Pérez was arrested and placed under house arrest pending trial. The country's financial situation continued to deteriorate, prompting Caldera to announce economic-stabilization measures Nov 1994.
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