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Learn about Venezuela > History & Culture
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History & Culture
Located in the north of South America, Venezuela was Spain's most successful agricultural colony, first with cacao then with coffe. Today, Venezuela is an independent democratic nation and the third largest oil producer in OPEC.

Spanish Conquest
At the time of the Spanish Conquest, Venezuela was inhabited by some 500,000 indigenouse peoples belonging to three disparate tribes – the Cariban, Arawak, and Chibcha. Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in Venezuela, arriving in 1498. More explorers followed him, including Alonso de Ojeda who gave the country the name Venezuela, meaning "Little Venice."

The first Spanish settlement was established at Cumaná in 1521. Early colonists searched for gold, but soon turned to agriculture, using the indigenous people and imported black slaves for labor. Resistance was subdued when many tribal communities fell victim to European diseases such as smallpox, which wiped out two-thirds of the population in the Caracas Valley alone. There were few rebellions against colonial rule, and for the next 300 years Venezuela’s history was not characterized by any major events.

Independence
The lack of lootable wealth in Venezuela led to colonial neglect, which in turn prompted dissatisfaction and resentment among the American-born Spanish elites. After several unsuccessful uprisings, the country achieved independence from Spain in 1821 under the leadership of its most famous son, Simn Bolvar. Venezuela, along with what are now Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, was part of the Republic of Greater Colombia (Gran Colombia) until 1830, when Venezuela separated and became a sovereign republic.

Democracy
Postindependence, much of Venezuela's 19th and early 20th century history was characterised by periods of political instability, dictatorial rule, and revolutionary turbulence, until the discovery of huge oil reserves in the Maracaibo basin in the 1910s brought some degree of prosperity to the country. By the late 1920s Venezuela had become the world's largest oil exporter, but little of this newfound wealth found its way to the common people. With poverty rife and educational and health facilities in a deplorable state, a series of popular uprisings took place, culminating in the country's first democratic elections in 1947.

Following the military's withdrawal from direct involvement in national politics in 1958, Venezuela has enjoyed an unbroken tradition of civilian democratic rule. In recent years however, the presidency of Hugo Chvez saw a failed coup d'tat in 2002 and continued popular opposition to his government.

Culture
Most Venezuelans come from a mix of European, Indian, and African roots, while a minority are exclusively white, black, or Indian. Roman Catholicism is the overwhelmingly dominant religion (96%). Spanish is spoken by almost all Venezuelans, though some indigenous tongues are spoken by remote tribes and english is spoken by a few in urban centers.

Despite a rough history, Venezuelans are infamous in South America for their easy-going nature and fun-loving spirit. Greetings are warm and friendly: people kiss business acquaintances on the cheek once and personal friends twice, and handshakes are common among strangers. Appearances count in Venezuela, especially among women who dress to impress.

The country's most distinctive cultural outlet is probably its music, which is an eclectic blend of European, African and indigenous rhythms.


Explore:
              Did you know?
                  The Guianan
                Cock-of-the-Rock
               (Rupicola rupicola)
              inhabits the ancient
                  mountains of
                    Venezuela.
spanish church venezuela
Colonial architecture
Venezuela was ruled by Spain from early 1500 to 1821, when it was liberated by Venezuelan Simon Bolivar. The ruins of some colonial churches and settlements have survived in the Henri Pittier National Park, where IZE Venezuela's Eco-lodge is located. Here, a church in Los Llanos, Venezuela.
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