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Friday, January 9, 2009

The Many Turns of Venezuela History

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The Many Turns of Venezuela History

Even before the discovery of large oil reserves in its coastal regions early in the 20th Century and the ascendancy to power in 1999 of Hugo Chavez, much of Venezuela history was marked by battles for a rich minority to retain power over a poor, struggling majority.

Over the years, many dictators have risen to power in Venezuelan politics.

Located practically at the northernmost point of South America straddling the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Cuba, Venezuela is more than twice the size of the state of California and is home for about 28 million people, most of them of Mestizo, or mixed European and Native American descent.

Because of its rich oil reserves, which amount to 90 percent of the nation’s export earnings, Venezuela has one of, if not the highest per-capita income levels in South America. Still, the distribution of that wealth is limited and does little, as a whole, to improve the state of the poor, where commercial sexual exploitation of women and children is common.

Chavez, working to implement his “21st Century Socialism” program, has become a strong Communist-leaning force in the Western Hemisphere, changed laws to extend his term as president, and has nationalized businesses in the petroleum, communications, and electrical sectors to gain more control over the nation’s economy.

Important dates in Venezuelan history include:

* 6,000-13,000 B.C. first residents came to Venezuela from Gyanas, Brazil, and Antillas

* 1498 Christopher Columbus set foot on Venezuelan soil

* 1567 Current capital city of Caracas founded

* 1821 Independence from Spain: join with Colombia and Ecuador to form Republic of Greater Colombia

* 1830 Venezuela, meaning “Little Venice,” becomes a republic

* 1870-1888 Dictator Antonio Guzman Blanco develops infrastructure, expands agriculture, welcomes foreign investment, crushes the church

* 1908-1935 Dictator General Juan Vicente Gomez’s strong military presence ushers Venezuela into worldwide prominence as major oil exporter

* 1969-1974 President Rafael Caldera Rogriguez legalizes Communist party, establishes diplomatic relations with Soviet Union

* 1999 Venezuela adopts current constitution, leftist president Hugo Chavez takes power

* 2004 Largely because of social spending programs, Chavez’s popularity rating climbs to 70 percent

* 2007 Chavez nationalizes petroleum, telecommunications, and energy companies

Like many countries ruled for any significant length of time by Spain, Venezuela, although not listed as an overly religious country, professes to be 96 percent Roman Catholic, and lists Spanish as its official language. However, because of many different tribes living in the four distinct areas of the country--the Maracaibo lowlands; mountainous region in the north and northwest; grass-covered plains and forested areas in the Orinoco Basin, in the country’s south and southeast portions; and the Guiana Highlands south of the Orinoco River--multiple other dialects are spoken as well.

Although much of Venezuela history has seen the U.S. as that nation’s biggest export and import partner, that could change as Chavez internalizes more and more industries and becomes more independent from Western influences.

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