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South America Destination Guide

Venezuela

Venezuela

Venezuela has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Latin America, much of which comes from the petroleum industry. Oil and oil products account for over 90 percent of the country's exports, for 25 percent of the GNP, and for more than 60 percent of the government's revenue. Petroleum and development are synonymous terms in Venezuela.

Area: 353,841 sq mi (916,445 sq km).
Population : 25,093,000.
Capital: CARACAS.
Languages Spanish (official), some 25 Indian languages.
Currency: bolivar.
More than two-thirds of the people are mestizos (mixed European and Indian), followed by whites (about one-fifth), blacks (one-tenth), and Indians.
Religions: Roman Catholicism; some Protestantism.
Mountain ranges and plains dominate Venezuela's geography. In the west, a northeastern spur of the ANDES MOUNTAINS rises to Bolivar Peak- The Llanos (plains) occupy onethird of the country's central region. The ORINOCO RIVER system drains almost the entire country and has an extensive and thickly wooded delta.

The highest waterfall in the world, ANGEL FALLS, is in Venezuela. Lakes include MARACAIBO and VALENCIA. Venezuela has a developed tourism infrastructure, spectacular new architecture and an extensive road network.The southern part of the country is a wild region of dense rain forest, including a swath of the legendary Amazon Basin, while the north is bordered by 28OOkm of Caribbean coast lined with countless beautiful beaches.Venezuela's most unusual natural formations are the tepuis, flat topped mountains with vertical flanks that loom more than 1000m above rolling savannas. Their tops are noted for moonlike landscapes and peculiar endemic flora.Venezuela has heaps of hotels for every budget, and it's usually easy to find a room, except perhaps on major feast days.

The modern oil industry of Venezuela began in the early part of the century when the dictator Vincente Gomez encouraged foreign petroleum companies to develop the nation's reserves. The petroleum fields of the Llanos and the Maricaibo Basin became major sources of oil entering international trade. For many years Venezuela exported crude oil which was refined on the nearby Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao and in the United States and in northwestern Europe. Since World War 11, refineries have been built in Venezuela, the by products providing raw materials for tires, synthetic fibers, medicines, and a host of other industries. Additionally, the government, in partnership with the petroleum companies, has obtained a greater share of the industry's profits. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized the industry. Nationalization is but the final step in Venezuela's move to regain control over its single most important economic activity.

Iron ore along the northern fringe of the Guiana, Highlands has also contributed substantial export for Venezuela. Originally developed by United States corporations, the operations were nationalized in 1975. The ores were located in a little developed part of Venezuela and required large capital investments and an extensive infrastructure. Once developed, the area received additional investments from the Venezuelan government with the goal of creating a national center of heavy industry. Hydroelectric power and imported coal are now used to make iron and steel and aluminum. Ciudad Guayana (population over 100,000) is the center of this ambitious development program.

For many years Venezuela has had a policy of "sowing the oil." Governmental profits derived from petroleum and iron ore have been reinvested to stimulate other sectors of the economy and to provide a better level of living for the population, Funds have been used for highway construction and farni to market roads, low cost housing and education, agricultural improvement and colonization, and for industrialization. By these means the wealth Produced by mining is allocated to the population; mining industry itself employs only about 3 percent of the labor force.

Venezuela is one of the most urbanized nations of Latin America; nearly 80 percent of the population is considered urban. Of Venezuela's 12 million people, 2 million live in the metropolitan area of Caracas; Maracaibo (850,000), Valencia (570,000), Barquisimeto (335,000), and Maracay (225,000) are the four next largest centers.

Most of Venezuela's population is located in the Cordillera de Merida highlands. Away from the urban centers, small plot agriculture is characteristic. Population density is high. South of the highlands stretches the broad, flat, and sparsely settled Llanos, devoted mainly to cattle raising. Along the highland Llanos fringe, however, some agricultural colonization is taking place. South of the Llanos, except for the Ciudad Guayana area, lies a large area outside effective government control. Venezuela is in Rostow's take off stage.

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