Geography

Venezuela

June 14, 2012, 6:52 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Orinoco River Delta. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Venezuela is a nation of twenty eight million people in northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean in the north,  Colombia in the west, Guyana in the southeast, and Brazil to the south.

Its major environmental issues:

  • include sewage pollution of Lago de Valencia;
  • oil and urban pollution of Lago de Maracaibo;
  • deforestation;
  • soil degradation;
  • overfishing;
  • urban and industrial pollution, especially along the Caribbean coast; and,
  • the threat to the rainforest ecosystem from irresponsible mining operations.

Venezuela was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Ecuador and New Granada, which became Colombia).

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms.

Democratically elected governments have held sway since 1959. Hugo Chavez, president since 1999, seeks to implement his "21st Century Socialism," which purports to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability.

Current concerns include:

  • a weakening of democratic institutions;
  • political polarization;
  • a politicized military;
  • drug-related violence along the Colombian border;
  • increasing internal drug consumption;
  • overdependence on the petroleum industry with its price fluctuations; and,
  • irresponsible mining operations that are endangering the rainforest and indigenous peoples.

Venezuela is on major sea and air routes linking North and South America. Angel Falls in the Guiana Highlands is the world's highest waterfall.

Geography

Geographic Coordinates: 8 00 N, 66 00 W

Area: 912,050 sq km (882,050 sq km of land, 30,000 sq km of water)

Land Boundaries: 4993 km. Border countries are Brazil (2,200 km), Colombia (2050 km), and Guyana (743 km).

Coastline: 2,800 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 15 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation

Natural Hazards: Subject to floods, rockslides, mudslides; periodic droughts

Terrain: Andes Mountains and Maracaibo Lowlands in northwest; central plains (llanos); Guiana Highlands in southeast. Highest point is Pico Bolivar (La Columna) at 5007 m.

Climate: Tropical; hot, humid; more moderate in highlands.

Other Major Cities: Maracaibo 2.153 million; Valencia 1.738 million; Barquisimeto 1.159 million; Maracay 1.04 million (2009)

Topography of Venezuela. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Ecology and Biodiversity


Source: World Wildlife Fund

  1. Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub
  2. Cordillera Oriental montane forests
  3. Maracaibo dry forests
  4. Catatumbo moist forests
  5. Amazon-Orinoco-Southern Caribbean mangroves (Coastal Venezuelan mangroves and Guianan mangroves,)
  6. Paraguana xeric scrub
  7. Lara-Falcón dry forests
  8. Cordillera de Mérida paramo
  9. Apure-Villavicencio dry forests
  10. Llanos
  11. La Costa xeric shrublands
  12. Cordillera La Costa montane forests
  13. Araya and Paria xeric scrub
  14. Orinoco Delta swamp forests
  15. Orinoco wetlands
  16. Guianan moist forests
  17. Guayanan Highlands moist forests
  18. Tepuis (Pantepuis)
  19. Guyanan savanna
  20. Rio Negro campinarana
  21. Negro-Branco moist forests
  22. Japurá-Solimoes-Negro moist forests
  23. Venezuelan Andes montane forests

Protected Areas
See main article: Protected areas of Venezuela

The immense Canaima National Park on the southeastern Venezuelan border with Guyana and Brazil is a spectacular plateau landscape studded with table mountains. Streams cascade from the cliff tops, one of them being the world’s highest waterfall. The flora and fauna of the summits is of considerable richness and high endemism which form a unique archipelago of isolated but related ecosystems.

People and Society

Population: 28,047,938 (July 2012 est.)

Venezuela's population was about 29 million as of 2012. The population growth rate is 1.6% per year, and half of Venezuelans are under the age of 26. According to the 2001 census, almost 90% of the population lives in urban areas. Metropolitan Caracas, the country's largest city, has an estimated 3.2 million inhabitants. Venezuela is proud of its tradition as a melting pot, and the majority of its citizens have a mixed racial heritage of Caucasian, African, and American Indian elements.

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 29.5% (male 4,149,781/female 4,002,931)
15-64 years: 65.1% (male 8,846,945/female 9,130,561)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 665,436/female 840,089) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 1.468% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 19.88 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 5.2 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.42 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 74.08 years

male: 70.98 years
female: 77.34 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.4 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects

Literacy: 93% (2001 census) 

Urbanized population: 93% of total population (2010)

History

At the time of Spanish discovery, the natives in Venezuela were mainly agriculturists and hunters living in groups along the coast, the Andean mountain range, and the Orinoco River. Venezuela was a relatively neglected colony in the 1500s and 1600s as the Spaniards focused on extracting gold and silver from other areas of the Americas.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the Venezuelans began to grow restive under colonial control. In 1821, after several unsuccessful uprisings, the country achieved independence from Spain under the leadership of Simon Bolivar. Venezuela, along with what are now Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, was part of the Republic of Gran Colombia until 1830, when Venezuela separated and became a separate sovereign country.

Much of Venezuela's 19th-century history was characterized by periods of political instability, dictatorial rule, and revolutionary turbulence. The first half of the 20th century was marked by periods of authoritarianism--including dictatorships from 1908-35 and from 1950-58. In addition, the Venezuelan economy shifted after the First World War from a primarily agricultural orientation to an economy centered on petroleum production and export. Since the overthrow of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958 and the military's withdrawal from direct involvement in national politics, Venezuela has enjoyed an unbroken tradition of civilian elected governments.

The Caracazo and Popular Dissatisfaction
Venezuela's prevailing political calm came to an end in 1989, when Venezuela experienced riots in which 200 people were reportedly killed in Caracas. The so-called “Caracazo” was a response to an economic austerity program launched by then-President Carlos Andres Perez. Three years later, in February 1992, a group of army officers led by then-Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt, claiming that the events of 1989 showed that the political system no longer served the interests of the people. Chavez was convicted of rebellion and jailed for his role in the coup, but was released in 1994. A second unsuccessful coup attempt by other officers affiliated with Chavez followed in November 1992, while Chavez remained in jail. A year later, Congress impeached Perez on corruption charges.

Deep popular dissatisfaction with the traditional political parties, income disparities, and economic difficulties were some of the major frustrations expressed by Venezuelans following Perez's impeachment. In December 1998, Hugo Chavez Frias won the presidency on a campaign for broad reform, constitutional change, and a crackdown on corruption.

Constitutional Reforms
President Chavez also had campaigned for the election of a National Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly (ANC) convened in August 1999 to begin rewriting the constitution. Venezuelans approved the ANC's draft in a national referendum on December 15, 1999. The political system described below is that defined by the 1999 constitution.

The president is elected by a plurality vote with direct and universal suffrage. The term of office is 6 years, and subsequent to a national referendum to amend the constitution on February 15, 2009, there are no term limits for elected officials. The president appoints the vice president. He decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes appointments to it, in consultation with the National Assembly. Legislation can be initiated by the executive branch, the legislative branch (either a committee of the National Assembly or three members of the latter), the judicial branch, the citizen branch (public defender, prosecutor general, and comptroller general) or a public petition signed by no fewer than 0.1% of registered voters. The president can ask the National Assembly to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple majority of the Assembly can override these objections.

The National Assembly is unicameral. Deputies serve 5-year terms, and may be re-elected indefinitely. These legislators are elected by a combination of party list and single member constituencies. When the National Assembly is not in session, a delegated committee acts on matters relating to the executive and in oversight functions.

The constitution designates three additional branches of the federal government--the judicial, citizen, and electoral branches.

The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court (TSJ), which may meet either in specialized chambers (of which there are six) or in plenary session. The National Assembly elects justices, who serve 12-year terms. The 1999 constitution was amended in 2004 to expand the number of justices to 32. The judicial branch also consists of lower courts, including district courts, municipal courts, and courts of first instance.

The citizens branch consists of three components--the prosecutor general ("fiscal general"), the public defender (“defensoria del pueblo”), and the comptroller general. The holders of these offices, in addition to fulfilling their specific functions, also act collectively as the "Republican Moral Council" (RMC). The RMC challenges actions they believe are illegal before the Supreme Court, particularly those which violate the constitution. The leadership of the RMC rotates among the three officials for 1-year periods. The holders of the "citizen power" offices are selected for terms of 7 years by the National Assembly.

The "Electoral Power," otherwise known as the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral or CNE), is responsible for organizing elections at all levels. Its five members are also elected to 7-year terms by the National Assembly. In the event of a hung vote in the National Assembly, the Supreme Court can be called on to appoint the members.

Political Turmoil
Under the new constitution, voters re-elected President Hugo Chavez of the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) in July 2000. The MVR and the pro-Chavez Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) parties won 92 seats in the 165-member legislature. In April 2002, the country experienced a temporary alteration of constitutional order which included the temporary departure of Chavez from the presidency. When an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 persons participated in a march in downtown Caracas to demand President Chavez's resignation, gunfire broke out, resulting in as many as 18 deaths and more than 100 injuries on both sides. Military officers took President Chavez into custody, and business leader Pedro Carmona swore himself in as interim President. Less than 2 days later, military troops loyal to Chavez returned him to power. Opposition leaders called a national work stoppage on December 2, 2002. Strikers protested the government and called for the resignation of President Chavez. The oil sector joined other sectors of the economy and effectively shut down all economic activity for a month. The strike formally ended in February 2003 as political opponents of Chavez changed tactics, focusing on a recall referendum to revoke the mandate of the president.

The Recall Referendum Process
For a presidential recall to occur, the promoters must obtain signatures for 20% of all registered voters. Preparations for the recall were delayed by the lack of a quorum in the National Electoral Council. In September 2003, after an impasse in the National Assembly, the Supreme Court resolved the issue by naming a new CNE board of directors. After months of intense deliberations that included two conflicting signature drives overseen by the CNE, deep disagreements and occasional violence over the CNE’s disqualification of signatures on the petition, and the intervention of international electoral observers, the CNE certified that the opposition had obtained sufficient signatures to trigger the vote mechanism and set the date of the recall referendum for August 15, 2004. According to the CNE, President Chavez won 59% of the vote. His opponents immediately claimed electoral fraud. However, international electoral observation missions carried out by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center found no indication of systemic fraud.

From Referendum to Elections
In the wake of the referendum victory, pro-Chavez candidates continued to sweep other electoral contests. Chavez supporters won 20 out of the total 22 state governorships up for election in October 2004. Chavez supporters also won a majority of the seats in the August 2005 municipal council elections. Pro-Chavez parties won all 167 seats in the December 2005 National Assembly elections, after most opposition candidates boycotted the elections over voter secrecy concerns. The final reports of the European Union (EU) and OAS observer missions to the 2005 legislative elections, which were marked by record-high abstention, noted high levels of distrust in electoral institutions. The reports made specific recommendations to increase transparency and help voters regain the confidence necessary for participation. Most recommendations were not implemented.

A New Term and New Administration
President Chavez was re-elected by an overwhelming majority (63%) in the December 3, 2006 presidential elections. He defeated Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales, whose Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) party formed an alliance with several significant opposition parties. Though international observers found no evidence of election fraud, they did note concerns over abuse of government resources used to support the Chavez campaign, voter intimidation tactics, and manipulation of the electoral registry.

In January 2007, President Chavez announced a renewed effort to implement his vision of "21st Century Socialism" in Venezuela. The National Assembly granted him special constitutional powers via an "enabling law" to rule by decree on a broad range of issues for 18 months. Chavez used that authority to take major steps to nationalize the telecommunications and electricity sectors, as well as to finalize a majority government share in many oil projects, all sectors with significant foreign investments.

On August 15, 2007, President Chavez proposed a package of constitutional reforms, including measures that allowed indefinite presidential re-election, a reorganization of the geographic boundaries of government, and a redefinition of private property. On December 2, 2007, the proposed reforms were narrowly defeated in a public referendum. President Chavez has since passed some of the changes defeated in the referendum by presidential decree or legislation. Indeed, Chavez organized a vote on a constitutional amendment to end term limits for all elected officials, which was approved on February 15, 2009.

Gubernatorial and mayoral elections were held nationwide in November 2008. These state and local elections were deemed largely free and fair, although electoral nongovernmental organizations noted some irregularities, such as prohibited election-day campaigning and extended polling hours in pro-government neighborhoods.

In the first months of 2009, the Chavez administration passed a series of new laws, including laws to centralize control over ports, roads, and airports; nationalize major industries; and strip the opposition mayor of Greater Caracas of authority and resources.

In legislative elections held on September 26, 2010, Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party won 98 seats, the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) 65 seats, and the “third way” Fatherland for All (PPT) party 2 seats. Debate continues over the national popular vote, with Chavez claiming the PSUV won a majority (by 100,000 votes) and the opposition claiming a 52% majority when all non-PSUV parties are counted together.

Following the September 2010 elections, the PSUV moved quickly to accelerate implementation of President Chavez’s "Bolivarian Revolution" in advance of the inauguration of the new National Assembly on January 5, 2011. In addition to appointing nine Chavez loyalists to the TSJ, PSUV deputies approved a series of laws aimed at creating a “communal” state and economy; limiting internal rules for assembly debate; prohibiting party defections; and increasing government control over the independent media, Internet, banks, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It also approved a fourth “enabling law” granting President Chavez decree powers for 18 months, effectively marginalizing the legislative power of the newly-elected opposition deputies.

Nearly all notable legislation enacted since January 2011 has been through presidential decree. President Chavez issued decree laws that authorized the government takeover of “idle or underutilized” land and buildings in "emergency zones," imposed a windfall profits tax on oil sales over $40 per barrel, required all companies to provide food ticket benefits to employees, and extended government control over private sector enterprises through the establishment of set prices on certain goods and services.

2012 Presidential Elections
The constitution establishes January 10 as the date for presidential inaugurations, but does not set election dates. In March 2012 the CNE officially convoked Venezuela’s presidential election for October 7, 2012 and gubernatorial elections for December 16, 2012. Despite his cancer diagnosis in June 2011, President Chavez said he would be his party’s candidate. The opposition's “Unity Table” (MUD) held a primary election on February 12, 2012, in which three million voters (17% of the electorate) participated. Voters elected Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski as the opposition’s presidential candidate.

Government

Government Type: federal republic

Capital: Caracas (3.051 million) (2009)


Western Caracas, Simon Bolivar International Airport, the port of La Guaira, and El Avila National Park, April 4, 2011. Source: NASA.
 

Other Major Cities: Maracaibo 2.153 million; Valencia 1.738 million; Barquisimeto 1.159 million; Maracay 1.04 million (2009)

Administrative divisions:  23 states (estados, singular - estado), 1 capital district* (distrito capital), and 1 federal dependency** (dependencia federal); Amazonas, Anzoategui, Apure, Aragua, Barinas, Bolivar, Carabobo, Cojedes, Delta Amacuro, Dependencias Federales (Federal Dependencies)**, Distrito Capital (Capital District)*, Falcon, Guarico, Lara, Merida, Miranda, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Portuguesa, Sucre, Tachira, Trujillo, Vargas, Yaracuy, Zulia.

note: the federal dependency consists of 11 federally controlled island groups with a total of 72 individual islands


Political divisions of Venezuela. The "Reclamation" zone is held/administered by Guyana, but claimed by Venezuela.
 

Independence Date: 5 July 1811 (from Spain)

Legal System:   accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction

International Environmental Agreements

Venezuela is party to Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, and Wetlands.

Water

Total Renewable Water Resources: 1,233.2 cu km (2000)

Freshwater Withdrawal8.37 cu km/yr (6% domestic, 7% industrial, 47% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 313 cu m/yr (2000)

Agriculture

Agricultural products: corn, sorghum, sugarcane, rice, bananas, vegetables, coffee; beef, pork, milk, eggs; fish

Irrigated Land: 5,800 sq km (2008)

Resources

Natural Resources:  petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds

Land Use:

arable land: 2.85%
permanent crops: 0.88%
other: 96.27% (2005)

Energy

High world oil prices have helped fuel Venezuela’s recovery, as the petroleum industry is the mainstay of the country’s economy. The oil sector accounts for more than three-quarters of total Venezuelan export revenues, about half of total government revenues, and about one-third of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt in Venezuela is one of the world’s largest accumulations of natural bitumen and heavy oil. The Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt (or Faja del Orinoco) is located in the southern part of the Eastern Venezuelan Basin, to the north of the Orinoco River. It covers an area of 54,000 km2 in the Monagas, Anzoategui, and Guarico states. As of January 2008 Venezuela reported 87.04 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 4.708 trillion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves.

See Energy profile of Venezuela

International Conflict

Venezuela claims all of the area west of the Essequibo River in Guyana, preventing any discussion of a maritime boundary. Guyana has expressed its intention to join Barbados in asserting claims before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that Trinidad and Tobago's maritime boundary with Venezuela extends into their waters. Venezuela also has a dispute with Colombia over maritime boundary and Venezuelan-administered Los Monjes islands near the Gulf of Venezuela. Colombian-organized illegal narcotics and paramilitary activities penetrate Venezuela's shared border region and in 2006, an estimated 139,000 Colombians sought protection in 150 communities along the border in Venezuela. The United States, France, and the Netherlands recognize Venezuela's granting full effect to Aves Island, thereby claiming a Venezuelan EEZ/continental shelf extending over a large portion of the eastern Caribbean Sea; Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines protest Venezuela's full effect claim.

Economy


The Venezuelan Government dominates the economy. There is considerable income inequality. The Gini coefficient was 0.3902 in 2011. According to government statistics, the percentages of poor and extremely poor among Venezuelan households were 23.8% and 5.9%, respectively, in the second half of 2009. Record government expenditures helped to fuel positive GDP growth of about 4.2% in 2011, after a sharp drop in oil prices caused a global economic contraction in 2009-2010. The Consumer Price Index increased by 27.9% from September 2009 to September 2010, following increases of 25.1% in 2009, 30.9% in 2008, and 22.5% in 2007.

The state oil company, PDVSA, controls the petroleum sector. Government companies control the electricity sector and important parts of the telecommunications and media sectors. In 2008, the government nationalized cement and steel producers, as well as select companies in the milk and meat distribution sectors. In 2009 it nationalized assets in the oil (including assets owned by U.S. oil services companies), chemicals, tourism, agribusiness (including a processed rice plant owned by a U.S. company), retail, and banking industries. In 2010, the government nationalized companies in the agricultural and construction sectors as well as U.S. assets in the petrochemical and packaging industries. Threats of continuing nationalizations, as well as other threats to property rights and an uncertain macroeconomic environment characterized by high inflation and foreign exchange controls, have led to reduced space for the private sector and low levels of private investment.

A number of U.S. companies whose assets have been nationalized in Venezuela have chosen to pursue their claims through international arbitration. On January 24, 2012, the Venezuelan Government formally denounced the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) Convention, triggering its withdrawal from this international arbitration forum. Venezuela’s withdrawal will take formal effect in 6 months. While pending ICSID cases will not be affected by the decision, it will affect the ability of prospective foreign investors in Venezuela to invoke international arbitration.

All requests for foreign exchange at the official exchange rate must be approved by the National Exchange Control Administration (CADIVI), and the Central Bank (BCV) completes all legal purchase and sale of foreign currency. On December 30, 2010, the government set the official exchange rate at 4.3 bolivares per dollar. An alternative exchange market, called the Transaction System for Foreign Exchange Denominated Securities (SITME), is accessed through authorized Venezuelan financial institutions and operates by means of a bond-swap mechanism through the Central Bank. The SITME exchange rate has averaged 5.3 bolivares=U.S. $1 since transactions began in June 2010. Any other foreign exchange transactions are not legally permitted, although a black market is reported to exist. Central Bank international reserves were U.S. $28.4 billion at the end of January 2012.

On August 17, 2011, President Chavez announced his government’s decision to relocate all of Venezuela’s international reserves that were deposited in U.S. and European financial institutions. This included 211 tons of gold reserves to be transferred to the Central Bank of Venezuela and $6.28 billion in cash reserves to be transferred to banks in Brazil, China, and Russia.

Petroleum and Other Resources
Economic prospects remain mostly dependent on oil prices and the export of petroleum. The oil sector accounts for roughly 12% of GDP, 95% of export earnings, and about 40% of the central government’s budget revenues. Venezuela remains an important supplier of imported crude and refined petroleum products to the United States.

In the 1990s, the Government of Venezuela opened up much of the hydrocarbon sector to foreign investment, promoting multi-billion dollar investment in heavy oil production, reactivation of old fields, and investment in several petrochemical joint ventures. By the late 1990s almost 60 foreign companies representing 14 different countries participated in one or more aspects of Venezuela's oil sector. On November 13, 2001, under an enabling law authorized by the National Assembly, President Chavez enacted a new Hydrocarbons Law, which came into effect in January 2002. The new law provided that all oil production and distribution activities would be the domain of the Venezuelan state, with the exception of the joint ventures targeting extra-heavy crude oil production. Private investors cannot own 50% or more of the capital stock in joint ventures involved in upstream activities. The new law also provided that private investors could own up to 100% of the capital stock in downstream ventures. A Gaseous Hydrocarbons law promulgated earlier by the Chavez government also allowed substantial participation by private investors with respect to gas production ventures.

During the December 2002-February 2003 general strike, petroleum production and refining by PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, almost ceased. Despite the strike, these activities eventually were substantially restarted. Out of a total workforce of 45,000, over 20,000 PDVSA management and workers were subsequently dismissed because the government asserted they had abandoned their jobs during the strike. Current levels of production remain a subject of debate, with considerable difference between the levels cited by the Venezuelan Government and those cited by private sector and international observers.

In early 2005, the government informed companies with operating service contracts for mature fields that they must migrate the contracts to joint ventures that conform to the 2001 Hydrocarbons Law. The government threatened to seize fields operating under the services contracts on December 31, 2005 if oil companies did not sign transition agreements to migrate their contracts. All but three companies ultimately signed joint venture agreements with the government. One company was bought out by its partner, while the fields operated by two other companies were ultimately taken over by the government. These disputes were handled by negotiation. In early 2007, President Chavez announced that the Venezuelan Government would take a majority government share in the remaining foreign investments in the oil sector, including the four heavy-oil "strategic associations" in the Orinoco belt. Several international oil companies agreed to migrate their interests to joint ventures with majority government ownership. Two U.S. companies decided to pull out of Venezuela and filed for international arbitration.

In May 2009, the National Assembly passed an oil services sector law reserving to the state all primary hydrocarbons activity. This legislation laid the foundation for the expropriation of nearly 80 oil services companies, including three U.S. firms. The National Assembly in June 2009 passed legislation to require private-sector petrochemicals producers to enter joint ventures with Petroquimica de Venezuela (Pequiven, the state chemicals company), affecting many foreign companies operating in Venezuela.

In February 2010, the government announced winning consortia in the Carabobo bid round, allowing two private sector consortia to negotiate the formation of mixed companies to produce crude and to develop heavy oil upgraders in the Carabobo region of the Orinoco belt. This was the first new bid round in the oil sector conducted since President Chavez came to power in 1999.

Trade, Manufacturing, and Agriculture
Despite political tensions between the United States and Venezuela, the United States remains Venezuela's most important trading partner. In 2011, bilateral trade topped U.S. $55.6 billion. Venezuelan exports to the United States were U.S. $43.3 billion (accounting for at least 42% of total Venezuelan exports), and U.S. exports to Venezuela were $12.4 billion (or 24.2% of total Venezuelan imports). The United States is the single most important customer for Venezuelan oil. Venezuela shipped an average of 987,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum products per day to the United States in 2010, a figure which accounted for at least half of Venezuelan oil exports and 8.3 % of U.S. oil imports.

Manufacturing contributed about 15% of GDP in real terms in 2009, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela. The manufacturing sector remained hindered by a marked lack of private investment and a highly overvalued official exchange rate that inhibits exports and makes it difficult to compete against imports. Venezuela manufactures and exports steel, aluminum, textiles, apparel, beverages, and foodstuffs. It produces cement, tires, paper, fertilizer, and assembles cars both for domestic and export markets.

Agriculture accounts for about 5% of GDP, 10% of the labor force, and at least one-fourth of Venezuela's land area. Venezuela exports cigarettes, fish (primarily domestically raised crab and shrimp), tropical fruits, cocoa, and manufactured products. The country is not self-sufficient in most areas of agriculture. Venezuela imports about two-thirds of its food needs. In 2009, U.S. firms exported $967 million worth of agricultural products, including wheat, corn, soybeans, soybean meal, cotton, animal fats, vegetable oils, fruits, nuts, dairy products, processed fruits and vegetables, and other items to make Venezuela one of the top two U.S. markets in South America. The United States supplies roughly one-quarter of Venezuela's food imports.

Labor and Infrastructure
Official statistics registered 6.6% unemployment at year-end 2009, although such figures do not account for workers in the informal sector of the economy, who constitute approximately half of the country’s total workforce. The public sector employs about 20% of the workforce. Only 12% of workers are unionized. Of those employed, a significant proportion work in the “informal” sector.

Labor unions allege the government repeatedly violates International Labor Organization (ILO) agreements on freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively. Specifically, the constitution and laws permit undue influence in the internal elections of unions. The government has told the ILO it would correct the problem. Labor reform legislation is expected to be enacted through the president’s decree law authority on May 1, 2012.

Venezuela has an extensive road system. With the exception of air service, transportation has failed to keep pace with the country's needs. Much of the infrastructure suffers from inadequate maintenance. Caracas has a modern subway but only one functioning rail line serves the rest of the country. Venezuela’s ports, recently nationalized, do not currently match the country’s status as a trader. Venezuela’s importers and exporters complain of delays and high costs.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $373.7 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $315 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $12,400 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 4.7%
industry: 34.9%
services: 60.4% (2011 est.)

Industries: petroleum, construction materials, food processing, textiles; iron ore mining, steel, aluminum; motor vehicle assembly

Natural Resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, other minerals, hydropower, diamonds

Currency: Bolivar

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., International, C., & Department, U. (2012). Venezuela. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156840

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