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The Americas

South American States


Modern Venezuela
AD 1830 - Present Day

Located at the 'top' of South America, Venezuela borders the Greater and Lesser Antilles with Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago to the north, the much smaller state of Guyana to the east, Brazil to the south, and Colombia to the west. Its capital is Caracas, while its official title is the 'Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela'.

The southern half of its territory, below the River Orinoco, forms the western section of the Guiana Highlands, beyond which is the Amazon rainforest. Venezuela also administers a number of Caribbean islands and archipelagos, amongst which are Margarita Island, La Blanquilla, La Tortuga, Los Roques, and Los Monjes.

The coast of Venezuela was discovered by the European sailor and governor of Spanish Hispaniola, Christopher Columbus, on his last mission of exploration in 1498. At the time the coastal areas were inhabited by Carib, Arawak, and Chibcha native groups. The region was incorporated into the 'New Kingdom of Granada' (as opposed to the old kingdom of Granada in Spain), which was administered from Peru until 1717. Only northern Venezuela was included in this region.

Then the new kingdom became part of the even-newer Spanish Colonial viceroyalty of New Granada, and then its successor, Gran Colombia. Internal dissention led to several civil wars between the various rivals for the leadership of Gran Colombia's territories, and the state broke up in 1830. Ecuador and Venezuela both left at this time, and the dissolution of Gran Colombia was made official on 21 November 1831 when Ecuador, New Granada (Colombia) and Venezuela all formed new republican governments.

Jose Antonio Paez, one of the compatriots of Simon Bolivar - founder of Bolivia - became Venezuela's first president after leading the country out of Gran Colombia. The country's modern name prefix of 'Bolivarian' stems from this association. Starting out as one of South America's most impoverished countries, Venezuela's subsequent history was rarely peaceful, being dominated by dictators and military figures until the middle of the twentieth century.

Even in the early twenty-first century the country found itself at the centre of controversy and internal discord thanks to its leaders. Like many Latin American countries, it has a high percentage of urban poverty, a massive foreign debt, and widespread governmental patronage and corruption. On top of this, it seems to have reached a low point under Hugo Chavez and Nicholas Maduro which has alienated just about any external support it may once have had.

Torres del Paine, Chile

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information Anglo-American Rivalries and the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, R A Humphreys (Presidential Address to the Royal Historical Society, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 17, 1966), and from External Links: Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro claims election victory (The Week), and Venezuela: Maduro hits back at 'gringo plot to overthrow revolution' (The Guardian), BBC Country Profiles, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Lewiston Evening Journal, 15 Nov 1950 (Google Newspapers).)


Simon Bolivar's dream of a united independent state of former Spanish colonies in South America breaks up. Peru fights Bolivar's Gran Colombia over the latter's claim that its territory extends beyond the Andes mountain range to the River Amazon, also including the Amazonian basin.

Simon Bolivar
Simon Bolivar was proclaimed 'the Liberator' for his work in freeing much of South America from Spanish colonial control, although his attempts to forge a new 'super-state' from the former colonies came to nothing

The war is ended with the Battle of Tarqui and the Treaty of Gual-Larrea being signed on 22 September. The treaty specifies that the Colombian-Peruvian border is to retain the line it bore under Spanish colonial control. (The later state of Ecuador continues the disagreement.)

1830 - 1831

Internal stresses and strains prove too much for Gran Colombia, so Ecuador, Venezuela and other territories leave in 1830, although Panama remains. Following the departure of Ecuador and Venezuela, in July 1831 General Juan Eligio Alzuru proclaims the independence of Panama. Under Colonel Tomas Herrera, Gran Colombia's military forces defeat and execute Alzuru and forcibly reincorporate Panama.

However, the dissolution of Gran Colombia is made official on 21 November 1831 when Ecuador, New Granada and Venezuela all form new republican governments. Jose Antonio Paez, former compatriot of Simon Bolivar, becomes Venezuela's first president.


The Revolution of the Reforms is led by Jose Tadeo Monagas to oust President Jose Maria Vargas (successor to Paez and dominated by him). The rebels are subsequently defeated by Jose Antonio Paez and Vargas returns to office.

Map of Central America in the 1830s
The Federal Republic of Central America was formed of Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. This lasted from 1823-1841, by which time Mexico had grabbed much of Chiapas and the republic itself dissolved into the separate nation states known today - although Nicaragua did not control the independent Mosquito Coast until the end of the century, and British troops occupied eastern Belize (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Monagas, now in office himself under more acceptable circumstances, proclaims himself dictator and congress is disbanded. He begins what is sometimes referred to as the 'Monagas Dynasty', and becomes one of the country's most unpopular rulers. Paez attempts to remove him by force but is defeated. This temporarily ends Paez's domination of Venezuelan politics.

1847 - 1851

Jose Tadeo Monagas

Proclaimed dictator after being elected to office of president.

1851 - 1855

Jose Gregorio Monagas

Brother and dictator. Abolished slavery.

1855 - 1858

Jose Tadeo Monagas

Second term as dictator. Exiled in favour of interim president.


Julian Castro

Ousted interim president. Imprisoned.

1858 - 1863

The Federal War (or the Five Year War, or even the Great War) is fought between the Monagas conservative party and the liberal party over the former's monopoly of land and official positions. The war kills many thousands, even though it consists of just three battles and a good deal of guerrilla warfare, but the Federalists win and establish a new government in 1863, replacing the man who has remained the power behind the presidential 'throne', Jose Antonio Paez.

Canaima National Park
Colonial building in Venezuela was relatively sparse while Spain's main concentration was on the gold-rich regions to the west, although some fine examples can certainly still be found

1860 - 1863

Jose Antonio Paez

Dictator and former president (1831). Accepted exile.

1863 - 1865

Juan Crisostomo Falcon

Military general. Won subsequent elections in 1865.

1865 - 1868

Briefly overthrown in 1865, Juan Crisostomo Falcon wins elections to become the legitimate president. In 1868, Jose Tadeo Monagas returns from exile and overthrows him in the Blue Revolution. Monagas takes control and organises fresh elections which, as the strongest candidate, he is expected to win. Instead, at the age of eighty-three he dies of pneumonia before the elections can get underway. The rest of the century is a litany of presidential elections followed by revolutions and military takeovers.


Jose Tadeo Monagas

Third term as dictator. Died prior to elections.


Manuel Ezequiel Bruzual

Provisional president. Overthrown after 2 months.

1868 - 1869

Guillermo Tell Villegas

Provisional 'president'.

1870 - 1873

Antonio Guzmán Blanco

Military general. Led a revolution. Stepped down voluntarily.

1870 - 1888

Dictator Antonio Guzmán Blanco begins the process of attracting foreign investment, which allows Venezuela to modernise its infrastructure and develop its agriculture and education services between 1870-1888. A liberal president is elected in 1877 but he dies in office in 1879. Several uprisings follow, with relative peace only being restored when Guzmán Blanco takes control again. A third term of office in 1886-1895 follows proper elections.

Antonio Guzmán Blanco
Venezuelan president and a typical Latin American caudillo (a military leader or dictator) of his era, Antonio Guzmán Blanco enjoyed absolute power for nineteen years before being outsed by a coup while he was visiting Europe

1879 - 1884

Antonio Guzmán Blanco

Second term as relatively benevolent dictator. Stepped down.

1892 - 1898

Joaquin Sinforiano de Jesus Crespo

Military general. Led a revolution. Won 'election'. Overthrown.

1895 - 1899

The Venezuela Crisis of 1895 erupts from a long-standing dispute with Great Britain over the territory of Guayana Esequiba. Britain claims it as part of British Guiana and Venezuela sees it as Venezuelan territory. The dispute becomes political when the US interferes, claiming that Britain is violating the US Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

In time the US is persuaded to side with Britain over many of the related territorial issues and, in 1899, the bulk of the disputed territory is awarded to British Guiana. By then, Cipriano Castro Ruiz and Juan Vicente Gómez have already overthrown de Jesus Crespo in Venezuela.

1899 - 1908

Cipriano Castro Ruiz

Military general who led a revolution. Overthrown.

1902 - 1903

Cipriano Castro defaults on Venezuela's considerable foreign debts and declines to pay compensation to foreigners who have been caught up in Venezuela's civil wars. The Venezuela Crisis of 1902-1903 is the result, with Great Britain, Germany, and Italy imposing a naval blockade which lasts for several months before international arbitration smoothes matters.


Another international dispute breaks out, this time with the Netherlands. It is resolved when Castro leaves Venezuela for medical treatment in Germany and is promptly overthrown by his former friend, Juan Vicente Gómez.

Church of San Francisco de Assis, Plaza Baralt de Maracaibo
Despite Venezuela's frequently unstable political situation, life for many people in the country continued as normal, perhaps impoverished by national mismanagement during the bad years, and perhaps a little improved during the better years (although these were also frequently mismanaged) - shown here is the Church of San Francisco de Assis, Plaza Baralt de Maracaibo (1917), in the country's north-west

1908 - 1935

Juan Vicente Gómez

Military general who led a coup.

1917 - 1918

While some South American states openly declare for the allies in the First World War against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, Venezuela remains officially neutral, even though it is supplying the allies with oil from the massive reserves which had been discovered at the start of the century. Within a decade Venezuela had become the world's largest oil exporter.

1945 - 1948

A coup establishes a civilian government in the country after long periods of dictatorial rule. Venezuela joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 15 February 1945 against Japan and Germany. Elections are held at the war's end, with President Romulo Gallegos becoming Venezuela's first democratically-elected leader. He is overthrown within eight months during a military coup which is led by Marcos Perez Jimenez.

1948 - 1950

Carlos Delgado Chalbaud

Military general who led a coup. Assassinated.

1950 - 1951

Chalbaud is kidnapped and assassinated on 13 November 1950 as part of a failed coup plot. His killer, Simon Urbina, is arrested and sent to prison where he is assassinated under official orders just a day later. Chalbaud's death allows Marcos Perez Jimenez to assert himself as Venezuela's new strongman.

Adolf Hitler
Like most South American countries, many of which had right-leaning sympathies at the time, Venezuela was late to join the allies in the war effort

1952 - 1958

Marcos Perez Jimenez

Military general who manoeuvred himself into control.


Admiral Wolfgang Larrazabal ousts Marcos Perez Jimenez. The leftist Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action Party (AD) wins the subsequent presidential elections, returning the country to a semblance of democratic governance.


Carlos Andres Perez (AD) is elected president amid an economic depression - despite Venezuela benefiting from the oil boom of the early 1970s and its currency peaking against the US dollar. Perez launches an austerity programme with an IMF loan. Riots, martial law, and a general strike follow, with hundreds killed in street violence.


Colonel Hugo Chavez and his supporters launch two coup attempts within the year of 1992 against the government of President Carlos Andres Perez. Something like a hundred and twenty people are killed during the suppression of the coups. Chavez is jailed for two years before being pardoned. Between 1993-1995 the main target of his coups - President Perez - is impeached on corruption charges.


Failed revolutionary Hugo Chavez wins the presidential elections to become the country's leader by more legal means. However, his term of office begins to resemble more and more the career of a dictator-for-life. He launches his 'Bolivarian Revolution' which brings in a new constitution and socialist and populist economic and social policies which are funded by high oil prices, alongside an increasingly anti-US foreign policy.

Hugo Chavez
From 2009 Hugo Chavez had no limit to the term of his office as 'president' of Venezuela, and only terminal illness ended his 'reign' over the country

1998 - 2013

Hugo Chavez

Populist ex-military president and would-be dictator.


Hugo Chavez is himself deposed by a coup in April, although only for two days. Support by the military coupled with a widespread public show of disapproval at the coup's instigators forces its collapse.

2004 - 2005

Venezuelan commoner María Margarita Vargas Santaella marries Louis Alphonse, duke of Anjou and legitimist claimant to the French throne in a civil ceremony in Caracas, on 5 November. A religious ceremony is held the following day in La Romana, in Dominican Republic.

During 2005 Venezuela itself continues to suffer under the leadership of Chavez. In January he signs a decree on land reform in order to eliminate Venezuela's large estates and benefit the rural poor. Ranchers claim the move is an attack on private property.

In March new media regulations provide stiff fines and prison terms for slandering public figures. In December those parties which are loyal to Chavez dominate parliament after opposition parties boycott the forthcoming elections.

2006 - 2007

Hugo Chavez wins the presidential elections again and begins a second term of office. One of his first big acts is to sign a massive arms deal with Russia, including an agreement to buy fighter jets and helicopters. The move marks a reorientation away from relying upon US arms supplies. The following year, an attempt to cancel the limit on his term of office as president is defeated by a public vote, but only by fifty-one per cent of voters.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia in 2000 and was determined to hold onto it in the fashion of the former imperial family, whether from the 'throne' itself or behind the scenes due to the restrictions of the constitution

2008 - 2009

In September 2008, Venezuela and Russia sign an oil and gas cooperation accord. Russian warplanes visit Venezuela, with Russian warships heading there for November's joint exercises - marking the first return of the Russian navy to the Americas since the Cold War.

The attempt to cancel the limit on the presidential term of office is renewed in 2009 and this time Chavez is successful, winning the right to remain in office for as long as he sees fit.


The death of fifty-eight year-old Hugo Chavez is announced by his vice-president. Chavez had been seriously ill with cancer for more than a year, but had recently faded quite notably.

Given his alliances with Cuba and Iran during his time as president, he has made many enemies in leading countries across the world, as well as creating a form of 'socialist democracy' which nevertheless had required a dictator at its head. He has also led Venezuela into recession at a time at which the other Latin American countries are prospering.

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro, a like-for-like replacement for Hugo Chavez, continued the policy of placing personal interests ahead of nation and picking international fights where possible, although his regime eventually became moderately less antagonistic than the previous one

2013 - Present

Nicolas Maduro

Successor and would-be dictator.


Nicolas Maduro's ruling socialist party gains virtually unlimited powers after a reported eight million people vote in favour of creating a National Constituent Assembly on 30 July 2017. The election result paves the way for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to replace the National Assembly with a new parliament comprising 545 members who are nominated by his administration. The move is widely condemned as a 'power grab' by Maduro, who has been locked in a stalemate with the opposition-controlled National Assembly.


Following the lead set by the USA, on 4 February several EU nations which include Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Spain officially recognise Nicolas Maduro's opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country's interim leader after Maduro refuses to initiate fresh elections. Venezuela is an economic disaster zone, but Maduro vows to retain his grip on power.

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