Venezuela – geography
The highest mountain areas are to the NW, where the Eastern Cordilleras divide into two branches, the Sierra de Perijá west of Lake Maracaibo and the Cordillera de Mérida east of the lake. The low-lying, swampy area of Lake Maracaibo is strongly influenced by oil extraction. The Caribbean Coast Mountains run along the coast. The parallel mountain ranges, the northernmost of which are highest and stand steeply towards the coast, are separated by a series of fertile longitudinal valleys. The valleys make up only 3% of the country’s area, but have a large population concentration; Among other things, located here are some of the major cities such as Caracas, Valencia and Maracay. As is often seen in South America, the poorest part of the population has settled on the mountain slopes on the outskirts of cities, a situation that has had catastrophic consequences in connection with natural disasters, e.g. in 1999, see Vargas.
Llanos is the savannah-covered lowlands between the Cordillera de Mérida and the left bank of Orinoco. The soil is mainly river sediments, which are frequently flooded in summer, while in winter they are drought-stricken. The area is mainly used for cattle farming, and it is sparsely populated, because malaria mosquitoes and other insects are a nuisance. South of this lies the largest, least exploited and most sparsely populated region in Venezuela. The area is part of the Amazon basin and makes up approximately 50% of the country’s area. The Highlands of Guyana are part of this forested region. The earth’s surface is heavily eroded with rounded ridges, deeply cut valleys and flat-topped plateaus, tepuis. The Angel Falls, the world’s highest with a free fall of almost 1000 m, is located in La Gran Sabana in the southeastern part of the region.
A main watershed separates rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean from rivers flowing into the Caribbean Sea. Orinoco with tributaries such as Caroní, Apure and Meta drains 80% of the country before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean via its delta. For culture and traditions of Venezuela, please check calculatorinc.
The whole country is located in the tropical climate belt. The temperature decreases with altitude, while the difference between the warmest and coldest month is only 1-3 °C. Only in the highest mountain areas can frost occur. The precipitation varies greatly according to local conditions, especially depending on the exposure of the mountain sides, but in general most precipitation falls in the summer and more precipitation the closer you are to the equator. The Caribbean coast receives 280-400 mm annually, while the Amazon gets 2000-3000 mm. The dominant wind all year round is in most places the Northeast Passage. Rather than talking about summer and winter, a distinction is made between the dry season from December to April/May and the wet season the rest of the year. In the wet season, the intertropical convergence zone passes through the country twice, which is reflected in the annual curve of precipitation, which has two peaks, in May and October, except to the north.
The natural vegetation ranges from mangroves on Lake Maracaibo and shrub steppe with cactus and agave on the north coast over grassy savannah with scattered trees on the Llanos to rainforest in the Amazon.
Almost the entire population is made up of immigrants and their descendants. The largest ethnic group, approximately 70%, is mestizer. The whites, mainly from Spain, southern Europe or the USA, make up 20%, while the black population counts 9%, the Chinese 2%, and the Native American people approximately 1%. The ethnic groups are reflected in the geographical distribution. The Native American tribes often live in hard-to-reach areas, such as the northwestern part of the country bordering Colombia or the Amazon, where they make a living from hunting, fishing, farming, cattle ranching, or the burgeoning tourism industry, while blacks frequently work in the oil sector. The Maracaibo field or in the ports along the Caribbean coast. The whites and mestizos dominate the large urban communities. 40% of the population lives in the four largest cities (Caracas, Maracaibo, Valencia and Barquisimeto). When whites make up such a large proportion of the population, it is due to massive immigration after 1945. In 1950, they accounted for only 3%. From the beginning, the oil sector has had to call in foreign experts and skilled labor, and Venezuela has also over time invited foreign labor to develop agriculture and other industries.
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In support of economic development, today (2001) immigrants with a good educational background from the USA and Western Europe are preferred, while Colombians more or less illegally perform low-wage work in companies, at home and in agriculture. In addition to the officially registered residents, it is estimated that approximately 2 mio. illegal immigrants to reside in the country, of which 1.5 million. from Colombia, the others from Ecuador and Peru.
Population growth has fallen from 2.5% in 1990 to 1.4% in 2006; the population is quite young; with approximately 4% are over 65 years old, while approximately 66% are below 30. The death rate is just under 5 ‰. The standard of living had reached a southern European level in the 1970’s, but has since been declining. Economic inequality is significant, as 80% of the population can be characterized as poor. The political and economic influence is often reflected in the color of the skin; dark skin will often be associated with short education, low income and high unemployment risk.
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries contributed 5% of GDP in 1998 and employed approximately 11% of the workforce. Of the production value of these industries, 45% came from livestock farming, 40% from agriculture and 10% from fishing. The great importance of oil development for the economy has contributed to the fact that the above-mentioned industries have received little public attention. Venezuela, for example, is not self-sufficient in food, and less than 5% of the country is cultivated.
Farming is found mainly in the Cordilleras, while cattle graze mainly on Llanos near Orinoco. A land reform from 1960 has sought to change the historically very skewed land distribution. Today, farms can be divided into three types. The modernized farms, often over 20 ha, use mechanical power as well as fertilizer and are often operated as plantation farms with sugar cane, rice or cotton. The small family farms grow corn and beans for the local market and coffee and cocoa for export. The cattle farms frequently have more than 2000 ha. Agriculture’s main exports are coffee, cocoa and fruit, but together they account for less than 2% of exports.
Oil and industry. Through the 1900’s. the Maracaiboolie field, opened in 1917, has been crucial to the country’s economy. Today, oil is also mined on the Llanos, in the Orinocod Delta and offshore. Other raw materials include natural gas, coal, iron ore (at Mont Bolívar and El Pao), bauxite, zinc, copper, nickel, diamonds and gold; of which iron is most important. There is a significant hydropower potential by e.g. Caroní, where the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant is located at Represa de Guri (Guri Dam).
The oil refineries and the associated petrochemical industry are located at El Tablazo, at the Maracaibo field and near Puerto Cabello. The consumer goods industries (food, tobacco, textiles and clothing as well as car assembly plants) are located at the four largest cities, while heavy industries are located at Ciudad Guayana/Puerto Ordaz (integrated iron and steelworks) and San Tomé (aluminum industry). The industry developed between 1950 and 1989, protected by high tariffs and import restrictions, and in the 1970’s the iron mines as well as the oil and gas fields were nationalized. Since then, the economy has been liberalized and certain industries, such as telecommunications and the IT industry, have been privatized. However, some companies are still dependent on foreign expertise in the production and marketing stages.
Tourism is growing strongly. Charter tourism goes mainly to the holiday island of Margarita in the Caribbean Sea, but nature and wildlife have also become a travel destination. Venezuela has over 40 national parks, of which the seven located in the Amazon alone cover an area of 53,000 km2. However, tourism, which for several periods has contributed significantly to the economy, is being hit hard by the sometimes politically turbulent conditions in the country.
The transport system is well developed in the densely populated areas to the north and is based on road transport and shipping. Along the coast, a highway system connects the towns from Maracaibo to Cumaná. A stretch of the Pan-American Highway runs from Caracas to the SW to Colombia, while Brazil can be reached via a branch of the main road Caracas-Barcelona-Ciudad Bolívar. The sparsely populated areas of the country’s interior are mainly served by aircraft. The railway network is modest; the rails between the Highlands of Guyana and Ciudad Guayana transport ore in particular. Inland waterways play the major role at Lake Maracaibo and Orinoco, where ocean-going ships can reach Ciudad Guayana via a canal through the delta.