1902 Encyclopedia > Venezuela


VENEZUELA, a federal republic in South America, lying between about 57° and 73° 30' W. long, and 1° 40' and 12° 26' N. lat. The republic claims that the area of its territory is 632,807 square miles; but the boundaries are not yet definitely fixed, and its area is consequently uncertain. In the south-west it claims large tracts extend-ing to the south of the equator, which are also claimed by Colombia and Ecuador; and in the east it claims from British Guiana the upper valley of the Essequibo, together tvith all the territory on the left bank of that river below the influx of the Bupununi. Of the total area claimed only about 439,000 square miles are actually under Vene-zuelan administration.

Physical Features.—A branch of the eastern chain of the Andes enters Venezuela in the west about 7° N. lat., and under the name of the Sierra Nevada de Merida proceeds north-eastwards towards Triste Gulf. This branch consists of parallel chains enclosing elevated valleys, in one of which lies the town of Merida at the height of 5400 feet, over-looked by the highest summit of the chain (Picacho de la Sierra, 15,000 feet). The sierra contains the water-parting between the basin of the Orinoco and those of the small rivers on the north-west. Hence it may be considered to terminate where the Rio Claro, the stream on which Bar-quisimeto stands, after rising on its western slopes flows eastwards into the basin of the Orinoco. Beyond the Claro begin two parallel ranges known as the Maritime Andes of Venezuela, which stretch east and west along the coast. The valley between these two ranges is the most densely peopled part of Venezuela. Within it lie the town of Valencia (1800 feet), the Lake of Valencia (1400 feet), and the town of Caracas (3000 feet). Above Caracas the highest peak of the system, Pico de la Silla, rises to 8740 feet. Behind the wide bay between Cape Codera and Cumana there is an interruption in the Maritime Andes; but both ranges reappear between Cumana and the Gulf of Paria. West of the Maritime Andes low ranges (3500-5000 feet) trend northwards from the end of the Sierra de Merida towards the coast, on the east side of the Lake of Maracaibo, while the region on the west of that lake consists of lagoon-studded lowlands. East and south of the Sierra de Merida and the Maritime Andes the Venezuelan territory consists mainly of the basin of the Orinoco. This region is for the greater part of its extent thinly populated and little known. It consists of two portions,—a vast hilly or mountainous area, densely-wooded, in the south-east and south, and level plains in the north-west between the Orinoco and the Apure and the mountains. The latter is known as the llanos of the Orinoco, a region described by Humboldt as a vast " sea of grass," with islands of wood scattered here and there. Since the time of Humboldt, however, the aspect of these plains would seem to have changed very considerably. On the occasion of Appun's visit in 1850 trees seem still to have been comparatively rare; but a different aspect was presented when Dr P. Jonas visited the llanos in 1878. From the Galera, the southernmost range of hills north of the Orinoco basin, the traveller saw a vast plain thickly grown with low trees, among which the chaparro was chiefly represented. Few places were quite destitute of trees, and these of small extent. As far as Calabozo (about one-third of the dis-tance between the hills and the Apure) it was now chaparros (evergreen oaks), now mimosas, which were the prevailing feature of the landscape, though other trees were not rare. But towards the south the open grass-covered spaces in-creased in number and area. To the south of Calabozo woods of considerable extent were seen. This change in the character of the landscape is due to the decline of horse and cattle rearing in the llanos, partly in consequence of political disturbances and partly of a murrain which broke out in 1843 among horses, mules, and asses, and in that and several subsequent years reduced their numbers by several thousands.

Geology.—Geologically the chief mountain ranges of Venezuela are all similar in structure. The nucleus of the Sierra Nevada de Merida is formed of plutonic or metamorphic rocks (granite, syenite, gneiss, crystalline schists, &c), and this series is continued through-out the northern chain of the Maritime Andes. Stratified rocks belonging to the Cretaceous system are found on both sides of the plutonic nucleus of the former range, and are those chiefly seen in the southern chains of the Maritime Andes. Most of these deposits belong to the upper members of the Cretaceous system ; but the lower members come to the surface in considerable patches west of the Sierra Nevada de Merida, and in the chains just referred to. Tertiary and Quaternary deposits (generally as compact marl, sand, shingle, and conglomerate) are spread over nearly all the llanos, as well as round the Gulf of Maracaibo, and in the plains drained to the north by the Unare, between the two sections of the Mari-time Andes. The hills and mountains east of the Orinoco, accord-ing to Humboldt, Schomburgk, and Codazzi, seem to be mainly composed of granite, syenite, and other crystalline rocks.

Climate.—The climate and vegetation are such as might be ex-pected from the tropical situation of the country. But Venezuela, as well as the rest of tropical South America east of the Andes, is directly exposed to the trade-winds. The temperature is thereby considerably moderated, and no such extremes of heat are to be met with as are experienced in the corresponding latitudes of northern Africa. The more populous parts of Venezuela are, how-ever, hotter than the maritime districts of Guiana, being less directly exposed to the Atlantic breezes. At La Guaira the mean temper-ature of the year is 85° Fahr.; at Caracas, only 10 miles distant but 3000 feet higher, it is 71°'2 Fahr.; and the greatest extremes that have been observed at the latter station since 1868 are 83°-4 and 48° Fahr. At both stations the hottest periods are the middle of April and the end of August, wheu the sun is in the zenith. Everywhere there is a well-marked distinction between a dry and a rainy season, the latter occurring in the English summer months, when the sun is in the northern hemisphere and the force of th» trade-wind on the north coast of South America is considerably slackened. At La Guaira the rainy season proper lasts only three months (May to August); but this season lasts longer in the mountains and in the llanos.

Fauna.—The fauna includes among the mammals the rodents and carnivores common to the rest of tropical South America. The manatee is met with nearly everywhere on the coast. In all the rivers are to be found caymans, electric eels, rays, and caribs, the last (Pygocentrus piraya, P. nigricans, P. niger, Mull.) consist-ing of several species of savage and voracious fishes armed with two rows of very sharp teeth. Among the venomous serpents are the striped rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus), Lachesis mutus, an ally of the rattlesnakes, and a rather rare species of Cophias. Among the non-venomous sorts the commonest are the boa constrictor, the anaconda (Eunectes murinus), and the Coluber variabilis. Among birds is a singular form known from its note as the bell-bird (Chasmorhynchus carunculatus). Coral banks abound on the coast; like the waters which surround the roots of the mangroves, these-teem with marine life, and are peculiarly rich in beautifully coloured crustaceans. Swarms of locusts sometimes commit great ravages among the fields and plantations.

Flora.—The lower slopes of all the mountains are clad with the richest tropical vegetation. Amidst an endless variety of dicoty-ledonous foliage trees, interlaced by numerous twiners and climbers and adorned with epiphytic orchids, Tillandsix, aroids, and Lor-anthaceai, grow numerous palms and tree-ferns, up to the height of about 3500 feet. From among the forest trees may be singled out for mention the silk-cotton tree (Bombax Ceiba), the mango (Mangi-fera indica), the saman (Inga saman),—remarkable, like the last-mentioned, less for its height than for the extent and density of the shade which it casts,—the cow-tree (Brosimum Galaclodendron), and the Attalea speciosa,—this last being, one of the finest orna-ments of the palm tribe, a tree whose stem, 40 feet in height, carries-erect on its crown leaves which also grow to a height of 40 feet, with a breadth of 8 feet. The mouths of the Orinoco and many parts of the coast are rendered unhealthy by mangrove swamps, which are no doubt partly to blame for the yearly recurrence of yellow fever in many of the coast towns. From these swamps, however, La Guaira is free, and there the yellow fever is not a regular visitant.

Vegetable Products.—The two chief crops grown for food are manioc and maize, the latter being generally ground coarse and baked into a kind of cakes called arepas, which are eaten hot like the Mexican tortillas. Among other vegetable products which take an important place in the Venezuelan dietary are all kinds of tropical fruits, including several kinds of melons and pumpkins, the sugar-cane (the sugar in a little refined condition, known as papelon, being a favourite article of food), the taro, sweet potatoes, various beans (including two species of Phaseolus, which grow only high up in the mountains, but are highly prized everywhere), and a species of hemlock (Conium moschatum), which is eaten like celery. Of plantation products grown for export by far the most important are coffee and cocoa, next after which come tobacco and cotton. The following table (I.) shows (in thousands of lb) the variations in the export of these products in several years since 1830-31 :—

== TABLE ==

This table clearly shows that coffee is rapidly taking a more and more important place as the leading staple of Venezuela. The only date at which the export of coffee shows a decline as compared with the previous date mentioned is 1864-65, when, it is clear, from a comparison of this column with that under cotton, that a consider-able area must have been temporarily given up to the cultivation of cotton in consequence of the Civil War in the United States. As regards quantity, Venezuela held the fifth place among the coffee-exporting countries of the world on an average of the ten years 1872-82. Both coffee and cocoa are grown under the shade ofery-thrinas, the scarlet racemes of which at the flowering season impart a brilliant aspect to the plantations. Besides the products above-mentioned, sugar and indigo at one time figured largely among the exports of Venezuela; but both of them have now almost disappeared from the list of exports, the former in consequence of the decline in cultivation, the latter because of the increasing consumption of papelon among the inhabitants.

== TABLE ==

The following table (II.) shows, in thousands of acres, the extent «f land under the principal crops in 1875, according to Codazzi, and in 1883 according to official estimates :—

== TABLE ==

Live-Stock.—The number of live-stock was officially returned in 1883 as follows:—cattle 2,926,733; sheep and goats 3,490,563; horses 291,603 ; mules 247,703 ; asses 658,764 ; pigs 976,500.

Industry.—Manufacturing industries are in general undeveloped. Artisans from Europe and North America are now settled in all the chief towns, and cotton weaving factories have been established.

Minerals.—The principal minerals of Venezuela are gold, copper, phosphates, and coal. The rich auriferous deposits on the banks of the Yuruari lie 100 miles south-west of the principal mouth of the Orinoco. At Aroa in the north-west, about 75 miles west of Puerto Cabello, are rich deposits of copper ore. Phosphates are obtained from the islands of Orchidia and Aves, which lie to the east of the Leeward Islands of the Dutch. A large deposit of bituminous coal, said to be of very good quality, exists about 6 miles south of Barce-lona, and a concession for a railway from this port to the coal-bed has been obtained from the Government. Another extensive deposit of bituminous coal has been found on the banks of the Utare, a small stream which empties itself into the sea about 40 miles east of La Guaira. Good petroleum is refined from deposits worked near Belijoque in the state of Los Andes. Both gold and copper ore are important exports, gold ranking in this respect next after coffee. The total amount of gold exported from Ciudad Bolivar from 1866 to 31st December 1886, so far as the export was controlled by the state, was 1,946,383 oz.; but it is estimated that within that time about half a million oz. were smuggled away. During the five years 1882-86 the average annual yield was about £740,000. The field from wdiich this yield is derived is at present one of the most promising in the world, but the frontier disputes between Great Britain and Venezuela interfere with the investment of capital for the development of some portions of it to which both Governments lay claim. Silver and tin are also met with, but neither has yet attained any commercial importance.

The manufacturing industries most extensively pursued are the making of shoes and hats. The latter industry is chiefly in the hands of Germans. A material called jipijapa is very largely used for the making of a kind of hats in imitation of Panama straw hats.

Commerce.—The total value of the imports amounted in the year 1885-86 to £2,498,135, and that of the exports to £3,292,171. The principal exports, besides the plantation products and minerals already mentioned, are hides and skins, coir, and animals ; those of minor importance are starch, indigo, sugar, tonqua beans, cinchona, caoutchouc, divi-divi, cocoa-nuts, copaiba balsam, plants, and tim-ber. The principal imports are manufactured articles, drugs, and wine, the last from Spain. Petroleum is imported from the United States, though it is expected that the native supplies will soon meet the home demand. Foreign commerce is chiefly carried on with the United States, Germany, France, and England. There is also a coasting trade of considerable magnitude (value £2,382,719 in 1883). The chief seaports are La Guaira (14,000 inhabitants) and Puerto Cabello (10,145), which has the finest natural harbour in Venezuela, enclosed by a ring of coral reefs ; the next in import-ance are Maracaibo (31,921), Ciudad Bolivar (10,861), Carupano (12,389), Puerto Sucre, Puerto Guzman Blanco, La Vela (the port of Coro, opposite the island of Curacao), and Guiria (on the Gulf of Park). Ciudad Bolivar is 236 miles up the river Orinoco, the navigation of which by any mouth has been free to all nations since the 25th of October 1886.

Communication.—The total length of railways open at the end of 1886 was 144 miles, and 263 miles were then in construction. The length of telegraph lines at the same date was 2595 miles. The railways already in existence or in construction are all short lines connecting the chief seaports with the nearest important in-land towns or seats of mineral production, or lines radiating to the more important towns round Caracas. The principal inland towns, besides CARACAS (q.v.), the capital (population 70,509 in 1883), are Valencia (36,145), Barquisimeto (28,198), Merida (10,747), Cala-bozo, Barinas, Nutrias, and Maturin (14,743).

Population, Area, &c.—The republic is divided into eight states, eight federal territories, the federal district, and two national colonies, the names of which, with their area in square miles and their population according to an official estimate for 1st January 1886, are given below :—

== TABLE ==

Armisticio, Alto Orinoco, Amazonas, Yuruari, and Delta include the disputed tracts of territory. The population of Caura in the preceding table is included in that of the state of Bolivar, the popu-lation of Armisticio and Delta in that of the states of Bolivar, Zamora, and Los Andes, and of the colony of Bolivar in that of the state of Guzman Blanco. The agricultural colonies are under the administration of a governor subordinated to the ministry of progress (del fomento). The pure white population is estimated at only 1 per cent, of the whole, the remainder of the inhabitants be-ing Negroes (originally slaves, now all free), Indians, and mixed races (mulattos and zambos).

Religion, Education, &c.—The Roman Catholic is the religion of the state, but liberty of worship is guaranteed by law. So far as legislative enactment goes, elementary education is now well pro-vided for ; but in the year ending 30th June 1886 the total number of common, municipal, and private schools was 1957, and the number of pupils 99,466. There are also two universities (Caracas and Merida), 19 federal colleges, and various other public and private institutions for higher education. The standing army consists of about 2800 men, but every male subject between eighteen and forty-five has to be enrolled in the national militia. The monetary system of Venezuela is that of the Latin convention, the franc being represented by the bolivar. The French metric system of weights and measures is likewise the legal system ; but the old weights, the libra =1-014 lb avoir., the quintal =101-4 R> avoir., and the arroba = 25-35 ft>, are also in use.

Finance.—The revenue, which is chiefly derived from customs duties, amounted in 1885-86 to £1,093,644 and the expenditure to £1,239,400. The public debt, of which the external portion alone amounted in 1878 to nearly £11,000,000, including arrears of in-terest, was reduced in 1881 to a total of £4,000,000 by the issue of new bonds in place of all the old ones, both external and internaL At the end of 1886 the external debt amounted to £2,680,850, bearing interest at 4 per cent.

Constitution.—The constitution is modelled to some extent on that of the United States. At the head of the executive is a pre-sident, who is assisted by eight ministers and a federal council. The legislative authority is vested in a congress of two houses,— a senate (24 members) and a chamber of deputies (52 members). The members of the chamber of deputies (one for every 35,000 in-habitants, and one more for an excess of 15,000) are elected every four years directly by the electors of the states and the federal dis-trict, those of the senate by the legislative bodies of the different states (three for each). The congress elects the members of the federal council, in which there is one senator and one deputy for each of the political divisions of the republic, and one deputy for the federal district. The federal council elects the president. The federal council and the president remain in office for two years.

History.—The coast of Venezuela was the first part of the American mainland sighted by Columbus, who, during his third voyage in 1498, entered the Gulf of Paria and sailed along the coast of the delta of the Orinoco. In the following year a much greater extent of coast was traced out by Alonzo de Ojeda, who was accompanied by the more celebrated Amerigo Vespucci. In 1550 the territory was erected into the captain-generalcy of Caracas, and it remained under Spanish rule till the early part of the 19th century. During this period Negro slaves were introduced ; but less attention was given by the Spaniards to this region than to other parts of Spanish America, which were known to be rich in the precious metals.

In 1810 Venezuela rose against the Spanish yoke, and on 14th July in the following year the independence of the territory was proclaimed. A war ensued which lasted for upwards of ten years, and the principal events of which are described under BOLIVAR (q. v.), a native of Caracas and the leading spirit of the revolt. It was not till 30th March 1845 that the independence of the republic was recognized by Spain in the treaty of Madrid. At the date of the battle of Carabobo (1821), by which the power of Spain in this part of the world was broken, Venezuela formed part of the federal state of Colombia, which embraced also the present Colombia and Ecuador ; but a meeting of Venezuelan notables on 26th November 1829 declared for the separation of their country from the con-federacy. Venezuela passed through the first years of its inde-pendent existence with more quietness than the other members of the confederacy. In 1846 there began a series of civil wars and revolutions, which continued, with but short periods of rest, down to the close of 1870. The chief rival parties in these internal dis-sensions were the Unionists and the Federalists ; the former aimed at securing a strong central Government, while the latter, who were ultimately victorious, desired to obtain a large measure of independence for separate states. It was during these troubles that the emancipation of the slaves took place, under a law of 24th March 1854. On 28th March 1864 a federal constitution was drawn up for the republic. Three years later, however, the civil war broke out again, and matters continued in an unsettled state, till in December 1870 Don Guzman Blanco, who had taken the leading part on the side of the Federalists, was declared provisional president. From that date Blanco acted as dictator till 20th February 1873, when he was elected constitutional president for four years, and it has been chiefly owing to his energy and ability that the confederacy has since proceeded on a course of orderly development. The two flourishing agricultural colonies already mentioned were founded during his first tenure of office, in 1874. The chief event in recent years has been the re-division of the territory in 18S1 into the states and territories whose names are given in the table above.

Bibliography.—See Humboldt, Voyage aux Regions Equinoxiales, Paris, 1804 ; C. F. Appun, Unter den Tropen, vol. i., Jena, 1871; A. Codazzi, Resnmen de la Geografia de Venezuela, Paris, 1841; Dr R. Villavicencio, La Republica de Venezuelabajo laPunta de Vista de laGeograJia, &c, Caracas, 1880; Dr W. Sievers, "Reiseberichte aus Venezuela," in Mitteil. geogr. Gesellsch., Hamburg, 1884; Dr P. Jonas, " Nachrichten aus Venezuela," in Peiermarnn's Mitteilungen, 1878 and 1879 ; British and U. S. Consular Reports, &c. ; J. M. Spence, The Land of Bolivar, London, 2 vols., 1878. Regarding the geology, see Hermann Karsten, Geologie de I'Ancienne Colombie Bolivarienne (with a geological map and eight plates), Berlin, 4to, 1886; and a paper on the gold mines of Venezuela by C. Le Neve Foster, in Quart. Journ. Geol. Sc., vol. xxv., 1869. Regarding the fauna and flora, see A. Ernst, Estudios sobre la Flora y Fauna de Venezuela, Caracas, 1877, 4to. There is a map of Venezuela by A. Codazzi in four sheets, with views and statistical tables, 1876; and a physical and political map accompanies the Statistical Annuary issued by the ministry of progress (Caracas, 1887). (G. G. C)


The name means " little Venice," and is a modification of the name of Venecia (Venice), originally bestowed by Alonzo de Ojeda in 1499 on an Indian village composed of pile-dwellings on the shores of the Gulf of Maracaibo, which was called by him the Gulf of Venecia.

Ranking after Brazil, Java, Ceylon, and Hayti.

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