|Before the Spanish came to Venezuela, approximately
500,000 indigenous peoples lived in the area. Most of these peoples were
from three groups: Carib, Arawak and Chibcha. The Chibcha made roads that
can still be seen today in the Andean region of Venezuela.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus became the
first European to see Venezuela. Many explorers at the time thought that
Venezuela held the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. Europeans, however,
found only small quantities of precious metals in Venezuela. In the 16th
century, Europeans settled in the coastal areas. When they tried to conquer
the indigenous people, they met fierce resistance. At one time, the Carib
leader Guarcaipuro led 10,000 warriors against the Spanish.
|In the early 1620s, cocoa became an important
crop in Venezuela. More Spanish colonists came to Venezuela and people
were brought from Africa to work as slaves on plantations. The colonists
disagreed with the way the country was being run by the Spanish. Their
discontent paved the way for Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan
military leader, to mobilize Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to fight
for independence. Venezuela declared independence in 1811 and in 1821 Bolívar
and his troops won a decisive victory over the Spanish at the Battle of
Bolívar is called the Great Liberator, and Venezuelans are extremely
proud that he was born in Venezuela.
|At first, Venezuela was part of the country of
Gran Colombia, which was made up of present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador
and Peru. In 1829, Venezuela became an independent republic.
In the period after independence, Venezuela
was run by a succession of dictators known as caudillos. The economy
depended largely on cocoa and coffee. The discovery of oil near Lake Maracaibo
in 1922 boosted the national economy, but the money earned from oil was
not shared equally among Venezuela's people.
|In 1958, resistance to Venezuela's
last dictator, General Marcos Pérez Jímenez, led to a general
strike and street fighting in the cities. Jímenez resigned and left
the country. Venezuela became a democracy. Venezuela enjoyed a much better
standard of living than most of its neighbours until the mid-1980s, when
oil prices began to fall. Since that time, poverty has been increasing
The 1990s were a time of economic crisis, unrest
and attempts at reform. In 1998 a new president, Hugo Chavez, was elected.
Chavez faces the challenge of relieving poverty while reducing the country's
boundaries of Venezuela on Venezuelan maps differ from those shown on maps
from other South American countries. This is because some land is claimed
by both Venezuela and by Guyana. The boundary was determined by an international
tribunal in 1899, but the Venezuelan government disagreed with the decision
and still claims part of Guyana.