Venezuela History - History

Venezuela History - History


Although Columbus is said to have "discovered" Venezuela in 1498, the region was already home to thousands of indigenous Indians. Spanish exploration became important in the 1520s as the Europeans quested for gold and other precious items. Caracas was founded in 1567 and, helped by African slave labor, the area became an agricultural center for both cocoa and wheat. By the end of the 18th century, the country was chafing under Spanish rule and after fairly destructive wars of independence, the goal was achieved in 1821. The country federated with New Granada and Ecuador but it was short-lived and Venezuela was declared an independent republic in 1830. Periods of instability occurred during the latter half of the 19th century as military control waxed and waned. Between 1908 and 1935, the country was controlled by General Juan Vincente Gomez. Over the next decades, power shifted from military to non-military leaders and back again. In 1958, multiparty democracy took hold and, despite problems centering on foreign debt and other economic issues, the country has remained under civilian control. Challenges occurred, however, such as an attempted military coup in 1992 which would have brought down Latin America's longest-lived civilian government; antigovernment rioting linked to an austerity plan in 1996; and more recently, the worldwide economic crunch of 1998.

A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Venezuela

Venezuela effectively achieved its independence from Spain by 1819 as part of the Republic of Colombia , and the United States recognized the Colombian federation in 1822. After Venezuela separated from Colombia in 1830, the United States recognized and established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1835.

Venezuela’s Fight For Independence: The Battle of Carabobo

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the battle of Carabobo, a major battle in Venezuela’s history. Fought during the Spanish-American wars of independence, the second battle at Carabobo in 1821 ultimately led to Venezuela’s independence from the Spanish Empire. The Battle of Carabobo was not the last in the fight for Venezuelan independence. However, it did mark the beginning of the decline of Spanish control in South America, hence its continued remembrance today as one of the most significant events in Venezuela’s modern history.

Revolution and Simón Bolívar

In the early 19 th century, revolution was rife across Latin America, taking cues from both the American and French revolutions a few decades before. Napoleonic control of Spain, the wars that followed, and the continued unrest only stoked the flames of revolution and calls for independence across the continent.

A key leader in the wars for independence and the unification of Latin America was Simón Bolívar. His leadership and military career played key roles in the success of the wars of independence.

Despite opposition and assassination attempts, Bolívar continued his campaigns for Venezuelan independence. Venezuela remained under Spanish control, with Spanish military leader Pablo Morillo holding the coastal regions in the east of Venezuela. Bolívar and his forces captured the city of Angostura, where he established another Venezuelan National Congress.

Bolívar en Carabobo by Artura Michelena, 1898

By 1818 the third Republic of Venezuela had been established with the task of liberating the entirety of Venezuela. First, though, Bolivar aimed to liberate Colombia, with the goal of establishing a new country Gran Colombia (a region consisting of what we know today as Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela). The Republic of Colombia was formed in 1819, with Bolívar as president. Once Colombia established independence, Bolivar moved on to liberate Venezuela.

The strength of Bolívar, his vice presidents, and his military only grew with the arrivals of volunteers for the cause. Spanish imperial allies recognised their strength, refused military aid, and ultimately an armistice was signed. The armistice, signed in November 1820, was to last six months. However, it created a strong base for Bolivar to work from, greatly impacting the events of the Battle that would follow.

The Battle of Carabobo

On 24 June 1821, Bolívar’s troops concentrated at Carabobo. Some suggest there were 6500 soldiers, whilst others say they were 8000 men strong, with the aid of a British battalion. However, what is certain, is that the Royalist forces were greatly outnumbered.

Deception played another key role during the Battle of Carabobo. Bolívar split his troops in half. One group focused on the centre of the battle. The other was sent on a flanking manoeuvre to envelop the Spanish forces from the side. In response, General de la Torre also split his forces, sending a group to fight the flank.

Batalla de Carabobo. (Battle of Carabobo).

Crossing rough terrain, the Royalist troops attempted to keep Bolívar’s troops at bay, but the Patriots were ultimately able to move forward. Within an hour, Bolívar and his troops successfully captured Carabobo. The battle saw 3000 casualties, the majority of which were members of the Spanish forces.

The Battle of Carabobo was by no means the last battle fought during the fight for independence. The Venezuelan War for Independence continued until 1823. However, this decisive victory left the Spanish forces in disarray and played a key role in Bolívar’s rise. Following the battle, Bolívar was able to establish Gran Colombia, becoming president of the vast region. Afterward, Bolívar went on to liberate Ecuador and Peru and aided in removing the last vestiges of Spanish control from South America.


Bolivar statue in Venezuela.

Today, the Battle of Carabobo still holds significance. In Venezuela, the 24th of June is known as the Battle of Carabobo Day or Army Day. The country honours the battle throughout June, and on the 24th, a military parade is held. During the event, army equipment is displayed, including tanks, and a re-enactment funded by the government is held.

A month later, on Navy Day, the birth of Simón Bolívar and the victory of the Battle of Lake Maracaibo (another battle in the war for independence) is commemorated.

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Venezuela: History

The Arawaks and the Caribs were the earliest inhabitants of Venezuela, along with certain nomadic hunting and fishing tribes. Columbus discovered the mouths of the Orinoco in 1498. In 1499 the Venezuelan coast was explored by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci. The latter, coming upon an island off the Paraguaná peninsula (probably Aruba), nicknamed it Venezuela (little Venice) because of native villages built above the water on stilts the name held and was soon applied to the mainland. Spanish settlements were established on the coast at Cumaná (1520) and Santa Ana de Coro (1527).

The major task of the conquest was accomplished by German adventurers—Ambrosio de Alfinger, George de Speyer and especially Nikolaus Federmann—in the service of the Welsers, German bankers who had obtained rights in Venezuela from Emperor Charles V. During part of the colonial period the area was an adjunct of New Granada. Cocoa cultivation was the mainstay of the colonial economy. From the 16th to the 18th cent. the coastline was attacked by English buccaneers, and in the 18th cent. there was a brisk smuggling trade with the British islands of the West Indies.

In 1795 there was an uprising against Spanish control, but it was only after Napoleon had taken control of Spain that a real revolution began (1810) in Venezuela, under Francisco de Miranda. In 1811 complete independence was declared, but the revolution soon encountered difficulties. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed cities held by the patriots and helped to forward the cause of the royalists. Later, however, Simón Bolívar (born in Venezuela) and his lieutenants, working from Colombia, were able to liberate Venezuela despite setbacks administered by the royalist commander, Pablo Morillo. The victory of Carabobo (1821) secured independence from Spain.

Venezuela and other territories became part of the federal republic of Greater Colombia. Almost from the beginning, however, Venezuela was restive. José Antonio Páez, who had conquered the last Spanish garrison at Puerto Cabello in 1823, favored independence. He was a caudillo with a strong following among the hardy cattlemen, the llaneros. In 1830 the separatists gained the upper hand, and Venezuela became an independent state. Páez was the leading figure. Although conservative and liberal parties appeared, the actual control of Venezuela was held mainly by caudillos from the landholding class. After Páez, José Tadeo Monagas and his brother entrenched (1846) themselves in power, but not before a bitter struggle was waged to prevent the refractory Páez from keeping a large measure of political control.

The Monagas brothers were overthrown in 1858, and civil war among caudillos became chronic. A brief liberal regime under Juan Falcón created the decentralized United States of Venezuela in 1864. From 1870 to 1888, Guzmán Blanco dominated Venezuela. He improved education, communications, and finances, crushed the church, and enriched himself. He was overthrown in 1888, but dictatorship was resumed four years later under Joaquín Crespo. During Crespo's regime began the Venezuela Boundary Dispute with Great Britain over the border with British Guiana (now Guyana). Cipriano Castro, a new dictator, came to power in 1899. The financial corruption and incompetence of his administration helped to bring on a new international incident, that of the Venezuela Claims.

The year 1908 marked the beginning of the rule of one of the longest-lasting of all Latin American dictators, Juan Vicente Gómez, who stayed in power until his death in 1935. His regime was one of total and absolute tyranny, although he did force the state (with the help of foreign oil concessions) into national solvency and material prosperity. His death was followed by popular celebration. Eleazar López Contreras became president (1935–41) and increased Venezuela's share of the oil companies' profits under his legally elected successor, Isaías Medina Angarita, Venezuela sympathized with the Allies and finally entered World War II on the Allied side in 1945.

Later in 1945 a military junta committed to democracy and social reform gained control of the government, which was then headed by Rómulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action party. A new constitution promulgated in 1947 provided, for the first time in Venezuelan history, for the election of a president by direct popular vote. The first president elected under the new constitution was the eminent novelist Rómulo Gallegos. His administration, however, was short-lived.

A military coup in Nov., 1948, overthrew the Gallegos government, and a repressive military dictatorship was established. By 1952, Col. Marcos Pérez Jiménez had become dictator, and he made wide use of police state techniques. A popular revolt, supported by liberal units of the armed forces, broke out early in 1958 Pérez Jiménez fled. Elections held that year restored democratic rule to Venezuela. Rómulo Betancourt adopted a moderate program of gradual economic reform and maintained friendly relations with the United States despite the association of U.S. interests with Pérez Jiménez. A new constitution (1961) was adopted.

The country, long out of debt because of the oil revenues, reached a peak of prosperity, but the new administration was nevertheless gravely challenged. Left-wing groups, particularly the Communists, bitterly opposed the administration, and their activities, combined with the restiveness of the poorer classes and the dissidence of leftist elements in the military, led to numerous uprisings. Extreme right-wing elements also plotted against the Betancourt regime. Betancourt was succeeded in 1964 by Raúl Leoni. In 1968 the Social Christian party came to power when Rafael Caldera Rodríguez won a close presidential election. The boundary dispute with Guyana flared up again in the 1960s, with Venezuela laying claim to some 60% of Guyana's territory.

The 1973 presidential election was won by Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez of the Democratic Action party. That same year Venezuela joined the Andean Group (later the Andean Community), an economic association of Latin American nations. In 1976, Venezuela nationalized its foreign-owned oil and iron companies. Luis Herrera Campíns replaced Pérez in 1978. A decrease in world oil prices during the early 1980s shocked the Venezuelan economy and massively increased Venezuela's foreign debt.

Democratic Action candidate Jaime Lusinchi defeated Campíns in 1983. He renegotiated the national debt and introduced austerity budgets and cuts in social services, but inflation and unemployment continued to plague the country. Pérez was returned to office in 1989 amid demonstrations and riots sparked by deteriorating social conditions. In 1992 Pérez survived two attempted military coups, but the following year he was removed from office on corruption charges he was later convicted and sentenced to jail for misuse of a secret security fund. In 1994 Rafael Caldera Rodríguez again became president, this time under the banner of the National Convergence party. He unveiled austerity measures in 1996 and privatized some state-run companies.

Venezuela's economy sagged and its budget deficit grew as oil prices fell again in the late 1990s. Relations with Colombia, long strained over control of offshore oil reserves and the illegal movement of many Colombians into Venezuela to work, deteriorated in the 1990s as Venezuela claimed that Colombian guerrillas were trafficking drugs and arms across the border. In 1999, Hugo Chávez Frías, a former army colonel who had participated in a failed coup attempt against Pérez, became president after running as an independent. He called for a halt to privatization of state assets and approved a law enabling him to rule by decree in economic matters for six months. He also cut Venezuela's oil production to force up prices, and pushed for other OPEC members to do the same.

A referendum in Apr., 1999, called for a national constituent assembly to draft a new constitution the assembly was elected in July and convened a month later. The assembly and Chávez engaged in a contest for power with the congress and judiciary the assembly declared a national emergency and stripped the congress of its powers. A constitution establishing a strong president with a six-year term in office and the ability to run for immediate reelection and a unicameral National Assembly was approved in referendum in December the new constitution also reduced civilian control of the military and increased the government's control of the economy. In the same month Venezuela experienced its worst natural disaster of the century, as torrential rains caused huge, devastating mudslides along the Caribbean coast perhaps as many as 5,000 people were killed.

The disaster slowed plans for new elections, but the congress was replaced with a 21-member interim council. In July, 2000, Chávez won election to the presidency under the new constitution his coalition, the Political Pole, won 99 of the 165 seats in the assembly, short of the two-thirds majority needed to rule without constraints. Chávez won approval from the assembly to legislate by decree, and won passage of a Dec., 2000, referendum that ousted Venezuela's labor leaders, a move denounced by the International Labor Organization. Chávez also revived the dormant boundary dispute with Guyana, declaring that a satellite-launching facility being built by an American company in the territory claimed by Venezuela was a cover for a U.S. military presence.

In 2001, Chávez became somewhat more unpopular with the increasingly polarized Venezuelan people, although he still retained significant support among the lower classes. His attempts to assert control over the state oil company led to strikes and demonstrations in early 2002, and in April he was briefly ousted in a coup attempt. Latin American nations refused, however, to recognize a self-proclaimed interim government under business executive Pedro Carmona Estanga, and poorer Venezuelans mounted counter-demonstrations in his support. Chávez was restored to office and called for reconciliation a subsequent cabinet shakeup gave his government a less ideological cast.

The ongoing political turmoil, which led to a prolonged, polarizing antigovernment strike in the vital oil industry (Dec., 2002–Feb., 2003), sent the country into recession and reduced oil exports. Although Chávez outlasted his striking opponents, the crisis further eroded public support for his government. An agreement between the two sides, negotiated by the Organization of American States in May, 2003, called for an end to violence and a referendum on Chávez's presidency later in the year. An opposition petition calling for a referendum on Chávez was rejected in September, however, because of procedural errors.

A new petition for a recall referendum was presented in December, but so many of the signatures were rejected by the electoral commission that the petition was unsuccessful. Negotiations ultimately led to a compromise in which the opposition was allowed three days in May, 2004, to reaffirm disputed signatures, and the petition was validated. Also in May, a number of civilians and military officers were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Chávez. In the referendum, held in August, 58% voted to retain Chávez, and despite opposition denunciations of the result, foreign observers strongly endorsed it. Several opposition leaders were later charged (July, 2005) with conspiring to undermine Venezuela's government because their organization, Súmate, which played a major role in the petition drive, had received U.S. funds that were alleged to have been used to fund the referendum effort.

In Jan., 2005, the president signed a decree establishing a national land commission that would begin the process of breaking up the country's large estates and redistributing the land. During the same month relations with Colombia were tense after a Colombian rebel in Venezuela was kidnapped (Dec., 2004) by bounty hunters and turned over to Colombia authorities, but the dispute was resolved by the time both nations' presidents met in Caracas in February. National assembly elections in Dec., 2005, resulted in a sweep for parties supporting the president, but only a quarter of the electorate voted. Most opposition candidates withdrew from the contest before the vote in protest against what they said were biases and flaws in the electoral process, ceding complete control of the legislature to Chávez.

Chávez used Venezuela's increased oil revenues to fund social programs, to create a large military reserve and expanded militia, and to establish programs designed to reduce the effects of high energy prices on Caribbean nations. Chávez also publicly accused the United States of planning an invasion to overthrow him, while U.S. officials accused him of supporting antidemocratic forces in Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador. His public support, in 2006, for one candidate in the Peruvian presidential race and criticisms of the ultimate winner, Alan García, led Peru to recall its ambassador. Venezuela was admitted to full membership in Mercosur in mid-2006 (ratifed in 2012) at the same time it withdrew from the Andean Community, whose members included Peru and Colombia.

Chávez was handily reelected in Dec., 2006, benefiting from an economic boom due to high petroleum prices and from the social programs he had instituted for the poor, but the strong win masked the continuing polarization of Venezuelan society along class lines, with the poorer classes overwhelmingly favoring the president. At the same time, however, inflation was increasing, and it continued to grow thoughout 2007 and 2008. Proclaiming socialism or death at his inauguration (Jan., 2007), Chávez moved to nationalize all energy and power companies and the country's largest telecommunications firm. He also moved to consolidate some two dozen parties supporting him into a unified socialist party, which was only partially successful, and secured the right to rule by decree for 18 months. Chávez subsequently won passage of constitutional amendments that would have ended presidential term limits, increased the length of the president's term, and enhanced the president's powers generally, but the changes failed (Dec., 2007) to win the voters' approval.

After a Colombian raid (Mar., 2008) against rebels based in Ecuador there were several days of tensions between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela, who mobilized forces to their borders. Colombia said computer files seized in the raid had evidence of ties between the rebels and Chávez's government. Though Venezuela denied that, Chávez, who had succeeded in winning the release of several hostages held by the rebels, expressed public sympathy for the Colombian rebel leader killed in the raid. (The head of the Organization of American States said the following month that no government had presented it with evidence of ties between Venezuela and any terrorist group.) From mid-2009 relations with Colombia were again strained by Colombian accusations of Venezuela support for Colombian rebels, prompted in part by the capture from the rebels of weapons purchased by Venezuela from Sweden Venezuela alleged that Colombia's allowing U.S. forces to use Colombian bases against drug traffickers was a belligerent move by the United States. In Nov., 2009, Chávez ordered 15,000 troops to the Colombian border the following month he accused the United States of violating Venezuelan airspace from the Netherlands Antilles, where U.S. antidrug operations are based.

In Apr., 2008, Chávez ordered the nationalization of the cement industry and of Venezuela's largest steelmaker additional companies and industries, perhaps most notably financial institutions, were nationalized into 2010. As his right to rule by decree expired at the end of July, 2008, Chávez signed a number of decrees that mirrored many of the constitutional amendments that voters had rejected at the end of 2007, and in Jan., 2009, he secured legislative passage of a constitutional amendment that would end term limits for all elected officials. A referendum approved the amendment in Feb., 2009.

Meanwhile, in Nov., 2008, Chávez's allies again won a majority of the posts in local and regional elections, but the opposition increased the number of posts it held and won the Caracas mayorlty. Subsequent government moves stripped significant powers from posts that opposition candidates won, further concentrating power in central government hands, and the government launched corruption investigations or other cases against a number of leading opposition figures and critics. By late 2009, drought and increasing energy demands had led to such low water levels behind the Guri Dam that industrial cutbacks and other rationing measures, including rolling blackouts in 2010, were instituted. In Feb., 2010, the government declared an electricity emergency and imposed stricter rationing.

The National Assembly elections in September were won by Chávez's party, but the opposition, which did not boycott the elections, made significant gains, winning 47% of the vote and nearly 40% of the seats and denying the ruling party a constitutionally significant two-thirds majority. In Dec., 2010, there was significant flooding in states along the central and W Caribbean coast, and flood recovery and reconstruction was the pretext for Chávez's seeking legislation to rule by decree. Decried by his critics as an attempt to circumvent the incoming National Assembly, the law gave him decree powers for 18 months in many areas, such as banking and defense, not related to reconstruction. In Mar., 2011, the government adopted rules authorizing the military to arm the nation's militias, a progovernment force made up of militant Chávez supporters they had previously not been issued firearms.

Chávez was again reelected in Oct., 2012, after having been treated for cancer and declaring himself fully recovered his margin of victory was much less than in 2006. Subsequently, however, the president was again treated for cancer. This time, complications kept him in a Cuban hospital and led to the postponing of his Jan., 2013, inauguration. In Dec., 2012, Chávez's party made gains in the governors elections. Chávez died in Mar., 2013, after returning to Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Moros, his vice president, became interim president.

In the April presidential election Maduro was elected, but he only narrowly defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who had lost to Chávez in 2012 by more than 10%. Capriles called for a recount, but a more limited audit was conducted. There was some postelection violence, and Maduro accused Capriles of attempting a coup. In June, 2013, the Venezuela government said it had foiled a Colombian-based attempt to assassinate Maduro. Maduro had previously accused former Colombian president Uribe of plotting to kill him, and his subsequent tenure was marked by recurring charges of assassination plots by various opponents.

A couple significant power blackouts affected Venezuela's electrical grid in late 2013. The government blamed the blackouts on sabotage, and in October expelled several U.S. diplomats it accused of being involved in one blackout, but no concrete evidence of sabotage was presented by the government. Maduro received the power to rule by decree for 12 months in November, which he said was necessary to fight corruption and regulate the economy inflation rate meanwhile increased to above 50% in 2013 despite government price controls and remained high during 2014, when the country entered a recession. The country also suffered economically from the 2014 oil price collapse, and its economic troubles continued into 2015.

Antigovernment demonstrations surged beginning in Feb., 2014, after students protested alleged police indifference to an attempted sexual assault weeks of protests were marked by clashes with security forces and attacks by armed militants loyal to government. A number of opposition leaders, mainly from more hardline groups, were arrested in February and March, and three air force generals were arrested in March on charges of plotting an uprising. Denunciations of opposition plots against the president and arrests and charges against political opponents continued into 2015. Maduro also faced criticism beginning in 2014 from prominent leftists who had been supporters of Chávez.

After the United States imposed sanctions against Venezuelan officials for alleged human-rights violations in early 2015, Maduro sought and was given the power to govern by decree during 2015. He subsequently revived the boundary dispute with Guyana, over oil exploration offshore of Guyanaese territory. A Venezuelan crackdown against Colombian migrants and smugglers in Aug.–Sept., 2015, led thousands to flee to Colombia and created tense relations between the two nations. The opposition won the National Assembly elections of Dec., 2015, in a landslide, narrowly winning a two-thirds majority, but a handful of its victories were subsequently challenged in court by the ruling party. The Maduro government subsequently packed the supreme court with sympathetic judges and limited the National Assembly's powers over the central bank the court subsequently aligned itself with Maduro in disputes with the National Assembly.

In Jan., 2016, Maduro declared an economic emergency, allowing him to rule by edict for two months it was extended in March and again in May, when he also declared a state of exception, greatly increasing his powers. None of the decrees were approved by the assembly, but they were nonetheless allowed by the court. The opposition continued with its attempts to recall the president as economic conditions in the country further deteriorated, leading to widespread food shortages and looting of food markets. There were also electricity shortfalls for several months in the first half of 2016, linked (as in 2009) to issues with the Guri Dam. Maduro used the electoral council to delay a recall referendum, first postponing a possible vote until 2017 and then suspending the recall drive and delaying state governor elections. The supreme court overturned laws passed by the National Assembly and allowed Maduro to rule without legislative approval, as the opposition meanwhile mounted several mass protests against Maduro.

In Dec., 2016, the country was suspended from Mercosur for failing to align its national laws with the organization's key trade and human rights rules and accords the suspension became indefinite in Aug., 2017. By Dec., 2016, Venezuela was experiencing hyperinflation and in Jan., 2017, it introduced large-denomination banknotes. An attempted withdrawal in the previous month of the then-largest denomination banknote had sparked protests and riots. In Mar., 2017, the supreme court declared that the National Assembly was in contempt and that it would legislate instead. Widespread national and international criticism forced Maduro and the court to reverse parts of the antidemocratic ruling, but both the president and the court continued to work together to rule without the opposition-controlled legislature. The move also sparked recurring demonstrations that continued for weeks.

In May, Maduro called for a constitutional assembly, to be elected by social organizations and municipal governments more supportive of the ruling party than the population the new body was seen as a way of invalidating the freely elected National Assembly. The July election for the constitutional assembly was boycotted by the opposition, but the government claimed victory and a 40% turnout the voting system company said turnout figures had been tampered with. The new assembly dismissed (August) the Socialist attorney general, who had become a vocal critic of Maduro and said she would investigate the July election results. It also claimed sole power to pass laws. The election of the new assembly also led to crippling new financial sanctions on the government by the United States.

In the Oct., 2017, gubernatorial elections, Maduro's party secured the vast majority of the posts despite his unpopularity the opposition claimed fraud, and there was evidence of some unfairness in the voting process, but abstention by opposition voters also was a factor. In May, 2018, Maduro won reelection in a contest largely boycotted by the opposition, which denounced it as rigged. In Aug., 2018, Maduro was the target of an apparent assassination attempt. The country's hyperinflation led to the introduction of a new, revalued currency, an increase in the minimum wage, and a cut in fuel subsidies, beginning in August.

When Maduro took office in Jan., 2019, the National Assembly declared his government illegitimate, and then recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, as interim president. Many American and European nations recognized Guaidó as the country's leader, and a number of them imposed new sanctions on Maduro's government the United States in particular increased the severity of its sanctions as time progressed. Those moves and large demonstrations in favor of Guaidó failed to dislodge Maduro, who retained the support of Russia and China. In March two electrical blackouts left large areas of the country without power for days at a time a massive blackout also occurred in July.

In Jan., 2020, Maduro allies sought to elect a new National Assembly speaker, Luis Parra, a former Guaidó ally, by preventing most legislators from entering the assembly building Guaidó was reelected by the majority in another location. Maduro and other high-ranking government officials were charged with narcoterrorism and other crimes by the United States in Mar., 2020. The United Nations estimates that some 4.6 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 due primarily to economic conditions (the economy having contracted more than 60% since 2013) most went to Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

An attempt to kidnap Maduro in May, 2020, was foiled by Venezuelan security forces organized by a U.S. veteran, it had originally been planned in conjunction with two of Guaidó's advisers, who later withdrew. In June and July, the supreme court ordered the takeover of several major opposition parties including Guaidó's. Those moves and the reorganization of the national election council were denounced as designed to frustrate opposition candidates in the 2020 National Assembly elections.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: South American Political Geography

Venezuela: History

After Napoleon's invasion of Spain, Venezuelans take advantage of France's weak position and declare independence.

Venezuela joins Gran Colombia, which consists of territories of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Guyana.

Venezuela leaves Gran Colombia.

As a result of failing to repay loans, Venezuela's ports are blockaded by the British, Italian and German warships.

Venezuela becomes the world's largest exporter of oil.

Venezuela's currency peaks against the US dollar due to the oil boom, as well as the oil and steel industries becoming more nationalized.

After a decline in world oil prices, the government cuts welfare spending as oil was its biggest export.

Severe floods and mudslides hit north Venezuela, killing tens of thousands of people.

President Chavez passes 49 laws aimed at redistributing land and business, which was seen as a move to concentrate economic and political power in the state.

The government announces that major energy and telecommunications companies will be nationalized, and that the government will take control of major oil projects in Venezuela as part of the nationalization drive. Two leading US oil companies refuse to hand the government majority control of their operations, which are later expropriated from them.

Expansionary monetary policies and currency controls in an attempt to resolve hyper-inflation results in created opportunities for arbitrage and corruption and fueled a rapid increase in black market activity.

Timeline: Venezuela’s tumultuous history

Founded by Spanish colonialists, Venezuela became independent in 1830 but political unrest continues.

1498 – Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, working on behalf of the Spanish monarchy, sails along Venezuela’s eastern coast.

1499 – Alonso de Ojeda, a Spanish explorer, apparently names the country’s north coast “Venezuela”, or “little Venice” because of its resemblence to the Italian city.

1521-1522 – Spanish colonisation formally begins on the coast, following a visit by Christopher Columbus in 1499.

1550 – African slaves are shipped to Venezuela to work on plantations.

1810 – The king of Spain is overthrown by France’s Napoleon Bonaparte, providing an opening for anti-colonial movements fighting for independence.

1821 – After a series of bitter battles and short-lived declarations of sovereignty, Gran Colombia – comprising Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador, wins independence from Spain. Simon Bolivar, Venezuela’s national hero, plays a key role in the struggle.

1830 – Venezuela seperates from Gran Colombia to become an independent country with Caracas as its capital.

1902 – After failing to repay foreign loans, Venezuela’s ports are blocked by German, British and Italian warships.

1908-1935 – Venezuela becomes one of the world’s largest oil exporters under the leadership of Juan Vicente Gomez, a dictator.

1958 – Leftist Romulo Betancourt is elected president. He oversees the 1963 elections, the country’s first democratic civilian-to-civilian transfer of power.

1964 – Raul Leoni becomes president during a period of known as “puntofijismo”, in which elections are limited to competition between two major parties.

1973 – The Arab oil embargo begins following the “Yom Kippur War” between Arab states and Israel. Oil prices rapidly rise, benefiting Venezuela.

1983 – A fall in world oil prices leads to government spending cuts. President Jaime Lusinchi signs a pact between business, trade unions and government to deal with the fallout.

1989 – President Carlos Andres Perez is elected president as Venezuela seeks loans from the International Monetary Fund to prop up its economy.

1992 – Hugo Chavez, then a military officer, leads a failed coup attempt and is jailed.

1994 – Chavez is freed from prison and forms a new political party.

1998 – Hugo Chavez is elected president.

1999 – Chavez takes office promising to reduce poverty and corruption.

2000 – Chavez wins presidential elections by a margin above 20 per cent, against challenger Francisco Arias.

2001 – Venezuela’s government decrees a new law requiring PDVSA, the state petroleum company, to hold a majority stake in all upstream oil projects.

2002 – A strike by workers at PDVSA creates political chaos. The opposition launches a coup that ousts Chavez for three days, until democracy is restored by Chavez supporters and loyal members of the security forces.

2002-2003 – Chavez sacks about 20,000 PDVSA employees in light of the coup attempt, and begins using the energy company to finance social programmes.

2004 – Voters defeat an effort to recall Chavez by a wide margin.

2006 – During a vote with exceptionally high turnout, Chavez wins re-election to a new six-year term.

2007 – Chavez takes control over four heavy oil products in the Orinoco belt worth billions of dollars. US oil firms Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips leave the country and sue for compensation.

2007 – Chavez suffers his first electoral defeat in a referendum changing dozens of articles in Venezuela’s constitution, including the abolition of term limits.

2008 – Oil prices peak above $145 per barrel, and PDVSA is put in charge of a major food importing campaign to deal with supply shortages.

2010 – Congressional elections lead to significant gains for the opposition, but Chavez’s United Socialist Party still retains a majority.

2011 – Chavez undergoes cancer surgery in Cuba.

October, 2012 – Chavez is re-elected president with a convincing mandate despite his illness.

March 5, 2013 – Chavez died of cancer, a period of national mourning begins.

April 14, 2013 – Presidential election which will see Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro challenge opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

Famous Birthdays

    Francisco de Miranda, Venezuelan freedom fighter, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1816) Juan Manuel Olivares, Venezuelan composer, born in Caracas (d. 1797) Jose Angel Lamas, Venezuelan composer, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1814) Juan Lovera, Venezuela, artist Andres Bello, Venezuela poet/diplomat/scholar (Silvas Americanas)

Simón Bolívar

1783-07-24 Simón Bolívar, Venezuelan political and military leader (freed 6 Latin American republics from Spanish rule), born in Caracas (d. 1830)

    José Antonio Páez, President of Venezuela (1830-35), born in Curpa, Portuguesa, Venezuela (d. 1873) Juan José Flores, General and first President of Ecuador (1839-1845), born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela (d. 1864) Antonio Guzmán Blanco, Military leader, diplomat and politician, President of Venezuela (1870-77, 1879-84, 1886-87), born in Caracas, Great Colombia (d. 1899) Maria Teresa Carreno, Venezuelan pianist, singer, composer, and conductor, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1917) Wilhelm Lehmann, German writer, born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela (d. 1968) Rómulo Gallegos, 48th President of Venezuela (1948), born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1969) Teresa de la Parra, Venezuelan writer (Memorias de Mamá Blanca), born in Paris (d. 1936) Lorenzo Herrera, Venezuelan singer and composer, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1960) Juan Bautista Plaza, Venezuelan composer, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 1965) Arturo Uslar Pietri, Venezuela, writer/minister (Lanzas Coloradas) Romulo Betancourt, President of Venezuela (1945-48, 1958-64) Edmundo Ros, Trinidadian-Venezuelan musician and arranger, born in Port of Spain, Trinidad (d. 2011) Luis Felipe Ramón y Rivera, Venezuelan musician and composer, born in San Cristóbal, Táchira, Venezuela (d. 1993) Marcos Pérez Jiménez, President of Venezuela (1953-58), born in Michelena, Venezuela (d. 2001) Evencio Castellanos, Venezuelan pianist, and composer, born in Cúa, Miranda state, Venezuela (d. 1984) Pierre A. Lauffer, Antillian poet (Patria), born in Curacao, Venezuela (d. 1981) Baruj Benacerraf, Venezuelan-American immunologist (Nobel 1980 - discovery of genes that regulate immune responses and of the role that some of these genes play in autoimmune diseases), born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 2011) Acquanetta [Mildred Davenport], American actress nicknamed "The Venezuelan Volcano" (Tarzan & Leopard Woman), born in Newberry, South Carolina (d. 2004) Carlos Andrés Pérez, President of Venezuela (1974-79, 89-94), born in Rubio, Venezuela (d. 2010) Humberto Fernández Morán, Venezuelan scientist (d. 1999) Dilia Díaz Cisneros, Venezuelan teacher Chico Carrasquel, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 2005) Aldemaro Romero, Venezuelan pianist, composer, arranger, and orchestral conductor, born in Valencia, Venezuela (d. 2007) Oscar Sambrano Urdaneta, Venezuelan writer, born in Boconó, Venezuela (d. 2011) Marisol (Maria Sol) Escobar, Venezuelan sculptor, born in Paris, France (d. 2016) Jesse Corti, Venezuelan-American voice actor and comedian, born in Venezuela Luis Aparicio, Venezuelan baseball player (Chicago White Sox, MLB Hall of Fame), born in Maracaibo, Venezuela Gustavo Ávila, Venezuelan jockey (Kentucky Derby/Preakness 1971), born in Caracas, Venezuela Vic Davalillo, Venezuelan baseball outfielder (MLB All Star 1965 Gold Glove 1964), born in Cabimas, Venezuela Alberto Naranjo, Venezuelan jazz drummer, composer and arranger, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 2020) Jose Luis Rodriguez, Venezuelan singer (Dueno De Nada), born in Caracas, Venezuela César Gutiérrez, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Coro, Venezuela (d. 2005) Oscar D'León, Venezuelan musician Carlos Gimenez, Argentine-Venezuelan founder (Theater festival of Caracas) (d. 1993) Dave Concepción, Venezuelan baseball all star shortstop (Cincinnati Reds), born in Ocumare de la Costa, Venezuela Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, Venezuelan international terrorist, born in Michelena, Venezuela Manny Trillo, Venezuelan baseball infielder (Philadelphia Phillies), born in Caripito, Venezuela Bo Diaz, Venezuelan baseball player (d. 1990) Franco De Vita, Venezuelan spanish singer (Extranjero), born in Caracas, Venezuela

Hugo Chávez

1954-07-28 Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela (1998-2013), born in Sabaneta, Barinas State, Venezuela (d. 2013)

    Andrew Divoff, Venezuelan actor Andres Galarraga, Venezuelan infielder (Colorado Rockies), born in Caracas Irene Sáez, Venezuelan beauty queen crowned Miss Universe 1981 and politician, born in Chacao, Miranda, Venezuela Alvaro Espinoza, Venezuela, baseball shortstop (NY Yanks, NY Mets)

Nicolás Maduro

1962-11-23 Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelan politician, President of Venezuela (2013-present), born in Caracas, Venezuela

    Rafael Vidal, Venezuelan athlete, born in Caracas, Venezuela (d. 2005) Ozzie Guillén, Venezuelan baseball shortstop and manager (3-time MLB All Star Chicago White Sox), born in Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela José Antonio Delgado, Venezuelan mountain climber (d. 2006) Luis Sojo, Venezuelan MLB infielder (World Series 1996, 1998–2000 Seattle Mariners, NY Yankees), born in Petare, Edo Miranda, Venezuela Fernando Carrillo, Venezuelan actor, born in Caracas, Venezuela Carl Herrera, Trinidadian-born Venezuelan NBA forward (San Antonio Spurs), born in Trinidad and Tobago Omar Vizquel, Venezuelan shortstop (Seattle Mariners, Indians), born in Caracas Ivonne Reyes, Venezuelan actress, born in Valencia, Venezuela Carlos García, Venezuelan baseball infielder (Pittsburgh Pirates), born in Táchira State, Venezuela Giovanni Carrara, Venezuelan baseball player Eddie Pérez, Venezuelan-American baseball catcher (Atlanta Braves), born in Ciudad Ojeda, Venezuela Robert Perez, Bolivar Venezuela, outfielder (Toronto Blue Jays) Ramon Garcia, Venezuelan pitcher (Milwaukee Brewers), born in Guanare, Venezuela Wilson Alvarez, Maracaibo Venezuela, pitcher (Chicago White Sox) Gabriela Montero, Venezuelan-American pianist, born in Caracas Natalia Streignard, Venezuelan actress, born in Madrid, Spain Alexander Delgado, Palmerejo Venezuela, catcher (Boston Red Sox) Felipe Lira, Venezuelan MLB baseball pitcher, 1995-2001 (Detroit Tigers, and 2 other teams), born in Santa Teresa, Venezuela Rich Garces, Venezuelan MLB pitcher (Boston Red Sox), born in Maracay Venezuela Troy Malave, Cumana Venezuela, outfielder (Boston Red Sox) Henry Blanco, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Caracas, Venezuela Edgardo Alfonzo, Sta Teresa Venezuela, infielder (NY Mets) Tomas Perez, Barquisimeto Venezuela, infielder (Toronto Blue Jays), born in Lara, Venezuela Magglio Ordóñez, Venezuelan baseball player Ugueth Urbina, Venezuelan pitcher (Montreal Expos), born in Caracas, Venezuela Marena Bencomo, Miss Universe-2nd place (Venezuela, 1997) Miguel Cairo, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Anaco, Anzoátegui, Venezuela Wiki González, Venezuelan baseball player Maria Alejandra Vento, Venezuelan tennis star (1995 Futures-Braz), born in Caracas Roger Cedeno, Venezuelan outfielder (LA Dodgers), born in Valencia, Venezuela Rafael Betancourt, Venezuelan MLB player, born in Cumaná, Venezuela Victor Zambrano, Venezuelan baseball player Carlos Guillén, Venezuelan baseball shortstop (3-time MLB All Star Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers), born in Maracay, Aragua Thor Halvorssen, Venezuelan human rights activist, born in Venezuela Ramón Hernández, Venezuelan baseball player Juan A. Baptista, Venezuelan actor, born in Caracas, Venezuela Alicia Machado, Venezuelan-American actress, winner of Miss Universe 1996 and Donald Trump critic, born in Maracay, Venezuela Yucef Merhi, Venezuelan artist Javier Toyo, Venezuelan football goalkeeper (Venezuela national football team), born in Caracas, Venezuela Tony Armas, Jr., Venezuelan baseball player Alex Escobar, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela Víctor Martínez, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela Mariangel Ruiz, Venezuelan actress & model, born in San Juan de los Morros, Venezuela Juan Rincón, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Maracaibo, Venezuela Johan Santana, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Tovar Municipality, Mérida, Venezuela César Izturis, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela Carlos Hernández, Venezuelan baseball player Carlos Zambrano, Venezuelan baseball pitcher (MLB All Star 2004, 06, 08 NL wins leader 2006 no-hitter 2008), born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela Francisco Rodriguez, Venezuelan baseball player, born in Caracas, Venezuela
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States of Venezuela

The country of Venezuela is divided into 23 states (estados in Spanish). Below is a complete list of Venezuela’s states:

  • Amazonas
  • Anzoátegui
  • Apure
  • Aragua
  • Barinas
  • Bolivar
  • Carabobo
  • Cojedes
  • Delta Amacuro
  • Falcón
  • Guárico
  • Lara
  • Mérida
  • Miranda
  • Monagas
  • Nueva Esparta
  • Portuguesa
  • Sucre
  • Táchira
  • Trujillo
  • Vargas
  • Yaracuy
  • Zulia

A History of Venezuela

Guillermo Morón belongs to the younger generation of Venezuelan historians. In the decade since receiving his doctorate in history, he has edited a multi-volume collection on the colonial period, while his dissertation on Venezuela’s sixteenth-century origins has been published. Now his Historia de Venezuela, a text which has enjoyed three editions since its original 1956 version, is available in English. The translator, John Street of Cambridge University, has also revised and reorganized the work. In collaboration with the author he adjusted the form in seeking “a narrative presentation.” This has meant a reordering of materials at several junctures, as well as an abridgement of the first two chapters.

In its original form the book concluded with the death of Juan Vicente Gómez in 1935. Now two new chapters have been added, dealing with post-Gómez political developments and with a consideration of the contemporary economic scene. The latter, largely a compendium of economic data from the Banco Central, was contributed by Dr. Manuel Rodríguez Mena of the Universidad Central in Caracas. Even with these additions, more than half the study is devoted to the years preceding 1830, and it is not unjust to observe that Dr. Morón seems most at home in this period.

His analysis of the Venezuelan Indians, of their gradual assimilation and a concomitant loss of self-identity, is clearly sympathetic. At the same time, his explanation of the contribution of Venezuela’s original inhabitants to the republic sometimes leans rather heavily on a poetic approach, one which is lacking in precision. The history of the colonial period follows in due course, after which Morón turns to the coming of independence. As the translator notes in a brief but effective preface, Morón is somewhat cavalier in his treatment of San Martín, yet perhaps less so than is the wont of many Venezuelans. Neither is his discussion of Bolívar as one-sided in admiration as are those of some of his predecessors, and Páez appears as a man of slightly lesser stature than many historians have suggested. If the author’s handling of the early 1800’s and the struggle for independence is less than definitive, it nonetheless meets reasonable standards for a book which was intended, after all, as a text for students.

The nineteenth-century panorama of political instability, of incessant internecine strife and factional controversy, rightly stresses the high degree of political opportunism and of unprincipled rivalries. Especially during his discussion of the so-called Federal Revolution and of the events preceding the assumption of power by Guzmán Blanco, he underlines the relative lack of basic ideological or programmatic distinctions between opposing forces. His contention that the nineteenth century was characterized by a form of social democracy which accompanied rigid political dictatorship, is among the points which some might regard as tenuous.

Perhaps the most debatable passages come with his discussion of recent Venezuelan history. While the post-1945 years are given only brief notice, his more detailed description of the decade under López Contreras and Medina Angarita strikes this reviewer as unduly partial. Both of these men have probably been given too little credit for their very real accomplishments given the present favor in which Acción Democrática and Rómulo Betancourt are widely regarded, this is not surprising. Even so, one finds difficulty in agreeing, for example, that the Medina administration was free of graft and corruption. And there are serious grounds to question the author’s admiration for López Contreras’ 1936 Plan de Febrero, most of which was never seriously implemented. In view of Morón’s interpretation of the 1935-1945 decade, he is predictably unsympathetic to the October Revolution and to the three years of civilian government which followed.

The evident reluctance of the author to deal in depth with the past thirty years is understandable. Certainly there are problems in studying these events without entering areas about which there is, at present, no general consensus. Historia de Venezuela was deserving of this appearance in English, and will be of use to students in the United States. If the stylistic flow is somewhat rough as the result of innumerable names and dates, the reader need only be reminded that this version is an adaptation of a work which was basically a text, not an interpretive essay. There is substantial reason to anticipate future contributions from Dr. Morón, which may hopefully see him venture in a more serious and thorough way into recent and contemporary Venezuelan history. Much of what presently exists is largely journalistic in nature, and his talents would be well-used in a careful and systematic study of the events of the twentieth century.

History of the Venezuelan Oil Industry

The indigenous peoples in Venezuela, like many ancient societies already utilized crude oils and asphalts from petroleum seeps, which ooze through the ground to the surface, in the years before the Spanish conquistadors. The thick black liquid, known to the locals as mene, was primarily used for medicinal purposes, as an illumination source, and for the caulking of canoes.

Upon arrival in the early 16th century, the Spanish conquerors learned from the indigenous people to use the naturally occurring bitumen for caulking their ships as well, and for treating their weapons. The first documented shipment of petroleum from Venezuela was in 1539 when a single barrel of oil was sent to Spain to alleviate the gout of Emperor Charles V.

Portrait of Juan Vicente Gómez. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the knowledge of oil in Venezuela for centuries, the first actual oil wells of significance were not drilled until the early 1910s. In 1908, Juan Vicente Gómez replaced his ailing predecessor, Cipriano Castro, as the president of Venezuela. Over the next few years, Gómez granted several concessions to explore, produce, and refine oil. Most of these oil concessions were granted to his closest friends, and they in turn passed them on to foreign oil companies that could actually develop them. One such concession was granted to Rafael Max Vallardares who hired Caribbean Petroleum (later to be owned by Royal Dutch Shell) to carry out his oil exploration project. On 15 April 1914, the first Venezuelan oilfield of importance, Mene Grande, was discovered by Caribbean Petroleum upon the completion of the Zumaque-I (now called MG-I) oil well. This major discovery is what encouraged a massive wave of foreign oil companies to “invade” Venezuela in attempt to get a piece of the action.

From 1914 to 1917, several more oil fields were discovered across the country however World War I retarded significant development of the industry. Due to the war effort, purchasing and transporting the necessary tools and machinery some oil companies were forced to forego drilling until after the war. By the end of 1917, the first refining operations were carried out at the San Lorenzo refinery, and the first significant exports of Venezuelan oil by Caribbean Petroleum left from the San Lorenzo terminal. By the end of 1918, petroleum appeared for the first time on the Venezuelan export statistics at 21,194 metric tons. After about twenty years from the installment of the first oil drill, Venezuela had become the largest oil exporter in the world and the second largest oil producer, after the United States. Exportation of oil boomed from 1.9% to 91.2% between 1920 and 1935.

When oil was discovered at the Maracaibo strike in 1922, Venezuela’s dictator Juan Vicente Gómez allowed Americans to write Venezuela’s petroleum law.

Today, Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporting country in the world with the second-largest reserves of heavy crude oil (after Canada). Canada and Venezuela have significant potential for capacity expansion Venezuela could potentially increase production capacity by 2.4 Mbbl/d (380,000 m 3 /d) from 2001 level (3.2 MMbpd) to 5.6 MMbpd by 2025 – although this would require significant amounts of capital investment by national oil company PDVSA. By 2010, Venezuelan production had in fact declined to

2.25 Mbbl/d (358,000 m 3 /d). PDVSA have not demonstrated any capability to bring new oil fields onstream since nationalizing heavy oil projects in the Orinoco heavy oil belt formerly operated by international oil companies ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Total.

In 2005, PDVSA opened its first office in China, and announced plans to nearly triple its fleet of oil tankers in that region. Chávez has long stated that he would like to sell more Venezuelan oil to China so his country can become more independent of the United States. The United States currently accounts for 65 percent of Venezuela’s exports.

Hugo Chávez, President since 1999. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2007, Chavez also struck a deal with Brazilian oil company Petrobras to build an oil refinery in northeastern Brazil where crude oil will be sent from both Brazil and Argentina. A similar deal was struck with Ecuador where Venezuela agreed to refine 100,000 barrels (16,000 m 3 ) of crude oil from Ecuador at discount prices. Cuba has agreed to let thousands of Venezuelans be received for medical treatment and health programs, and in turn, Venezuela agreed to sell several thousands of barrels to Cuba at a 40% discount

As of March 2010, PDVSA’s current strategic plan forecasts 5 million barrels per day (790,000 m 3 /d) for 2015 and 6.5 million barrels per day (1,030,000 m 3 /d) for 2020[20] PDVSA’s goal to produce 6.5 million barrels per day (1,030,000 m 3 /d) by 2020 will likely be harder under Chavez’s policies, which hinder the potential increase of private investment.

One company which work tirelessly in the petrochemical industry both in Venezuela and elsewhere is CWIIL GROUP, which has a extensive research & development programs and the CWIIL GROUP Oil & Gas Division technologies researched & developed over the years has proved to be a Boon to the sector of petrochemical units worldwide.

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