Venezuela country profile
Venezuela is a country of striking natural beauty, ranging from the snow-capped Andean peaks in the west, through the Amazonian jungles in the south, to the beaches of the north. It is also among the most highly urbanised countries in Latin America.
The country has some of the world's largest proven oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal, iron ore, bauxite and gold. Yet many Venezuelans live in poverty, often in shanty towns, some of which sprawl over the hillsides around the capital, Caracas.
Former president Hugo Chavez , who died in 2013, styled himself a champion of the poor during his 14 years in office, pouring billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil wealth into social programmes.
The government of his successor, Nicolas Maduro, has had to struggle with plummeting oil prices amid an economic crisis characterised by shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Population 30 million
Area 881,050 sq km (340,561 sq miles)
Major languages Spanish, indigenous languages
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 72 years (men), 78 years (women)
President: Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro assumed the role of acting president on the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013, and was declared winner of the presidential elections held the following month.
He was named as vice-president in October 2010 by Chavez, who subsequently named him as his preferred successor.
Mr Maduro was elected by a margin of less than 2% over his opposition opponent, Henrique Capriles, casting doubt on his ability to maintain unity within the left-wing ruling alliance assembled by Chavez.
Mr Maduro's first year in office also posed tough economic challenges, with inflation rising to over 50% a year - one of the highest rates in the world.
The new president reacted by having Congress vote to to grant him special powers for a year, and used them to place curbs on prices and company profits.
Under President Maduro, Venezuela's relations with the United States have gone from bad to worse. Venezuela has accused US diplomats of espionage and destabilising the country, while the US has taken the unusual step of declaring a 'national emergency' over Venezuela's impact on national security.
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Venezuela's many private broadcasters operate alongside state-run radio and TV.
State telecom firm Cantv operates a multichannel TV platform via the Venesat 1 satellite. Digital terrestrial TV is being rolled out.
Former President Chavez was accused of creating an intimidating climate for journalists, while some private media were accused of being involved in the opposition movement against him.
Officials have used legal channels to close down opposition TV and radio networks, says Reporters Without Borders. Under President Chavez, dozens of TV and radio stations had their licences revoked.
Globovision, the sole remaining opposition TV station, was sold in 2013. The new owners said the network's editorial line would change.
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Some key dates in Venezuela's history:
1810 - Venezuelans take advantage of Napoleon's invasion of Spain to declare independence.
1829-30 - Venezuela secedes from Gran Colombia.
1870-88 - Ruler Antonio Guzman Blanco attracts foreign investment, modernises infrastructure and develops agriculture and education.
1902 - Venezuela fails to repay loans. Ports blockaded by British, Italian and German warships.
1908-35 - Dictator Juan Vicente Gomez governs at time when Venezuela becomes world's largest oil exporter.
1945 - Civilian government established after decades of military rule.
1948 - President Romulo Gallegos, Venezuela's first democratically-elected leader, overthrown within eight months in military coup led by Marcos Perez Jimenez.
1964 - Venezuela's first presidential handover from one civilian to another takes place when Raul Leoni is elected president.
1973 - Venezuela benefits from oil boom and its currency peaks against the US dollar; oil and steel industries nationalised.
1983-84 - Fall in world oil prices generates unrest and cuts in welfare spending.
1989 - Carlos Andres Perez elected president amid economic depression, launches austerity programme with IMF loan. Riots, martial law and general strike follow, with hundreds killed in street violence.
1998 - Hugo Chavez elected president amid disenchantment with established parties, launches 'Bolivarian Revolution' that brings in new constitution, socialist and populist economic and social policies funded by high oil prices, and increasingly vocal anti-US foreign policy.
2013 - President Chavez dies at age 58 after a battle with cancer. Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez's chosen successor, is elected president by a narrow margin.
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