By Tim Lambert
For centuries the indigenous peoples of Venezuela lived by farming but also by hunting and fishing. Then in 1498 Christopher Columbus became the first European to reach Venezuela. In 1499 a Spaniard named Alonso de Ojeda led another expedition to the area. He called it Venezuela, meaning little Venice, after seeing huts on stilts. The Spanish founded their first town in Venezuela in 1521. They also began importing African slaves. However Venezuela was relatively unimportant to the Spanish.
In 1806 Francisco de Miranda led the first rebellion against Spanish rule. However he was soon defeated. Venezuela was finally liberated by Simon Bolivar in 1821. At first Venezuela was joined with Colombia and Ecuador as part of a state called Gran Colombia. However Gran Colombia soon broke up and Venezuela became completely independent in 1830.
During the 19th century Venezuela was ruled by military dictators called Caudillos. The first was José Antonio Paez. He ruled Venezuela until 1848. Venezuela then suffered civil wars. General Antonio Guzmán Blanco was caudillo from 1870-1888 and he restored order.
However in 1902 Venezuela failed to pay interest on loans from Britain, Germany and Italy. As a result those 3 nations sent their navies to blockade Venezuelan ports. However in 1914 oil was discovered in Venezuela. Oil became Venezuela's most important export. Then in 1945 a dictator was overthrown and the interim government promised to hold elections. A new constitution was introduced in Venezuela in 1947 and elections were held. However a coup took place in 1948. Marcos Pérez Jiménez became dictator of Venezuela. He was overthrown in turn in 1958.
After 1958 Venezuela became a democracy. However in 1998 Hugo Chávez was elected president. Chavez introduced a left wing regime in Venezuela. Chavez was re-elected in 2006. He allied Venezuela with Cuba. However Chavez died in 2013. He was replaced by Nicolás Maduro.
Today the population of Venezuela is 29 million. Today Venezuela relies heavily on revenue from oil but poverty persists. Venezuela also has a very high rate of inflation and recently basic goods like toilet paper have been in short supply. Venezuela also suffers from a high crime rate. Not surprisingly in recent years Venezuela has suffered a 'brain drain' as many wealthy people have fled abroad. In February 2014 political and economic dissatisfaction caused a wave of anti-government protests across Venezuela.
A brief history of Colombia
A brief history of Ecuador
A brief history of Bolivia
A brief history of Peru
A brief history of Brazil
A brief history of Chile
Last revised 2015