Venezuela is a country of striking natural beauty, and one of the most highly-urbanised countries in Latin America.
It 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.
But the government of his successor, Nicolas Maduro, has had to struggle with plummeting oil prices and an economic and political crisis that has left Venezuela in a state of near-collapse.
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Population 31.5 million
Area 881,050 sq km (340,561 sq miles)
Major languages Spanish, indigenous languages
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 70 years (men), 79 years (women)
President: Nicolas Maduro
President Nicolas Maduro has governed since March 2013, following the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez.
He was re-elected president for a second six-year term in May 2018, in a poll marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.
At the time, Venezuela was in the throes of a deep economic crisis, with rampant inflation and lack of basic necessities, despite boasting the world's biggest oil reserves.
Mr Maduro failed to undertake any significant reforms of the state-run economy, and established a Constituent Assembly to bypass the National Assembly and strengthen his grip on power.
In early 2019, opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president and appealed to the military to oust President Maduro.
The European Union, United States, and most Latin American countries recognised Mr Guaidó, leaving President Maduro dependent on the army and the international support of Russia and China.
Venezuela's political polarisation is mirrored in the media.
State TV coverage routinely ignores the opposition. Critical and exile media operate online.
Many journalists have fled because of threats and physical dangers, says Reporters Without Borders.
The government and its opponents use social media as a battleground.
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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, and presides over an imploding economy and divided nation.