Venezuela is a nation located on the northern coast of South America. It has beautiful natural attractions, including several Caribbean tropical resort islands. The nation is considered to have an extremely high rate of biodiversity, with habitats that range from Caribbean islands to the Andes Mountains to Amazon Basin Rainforest. But this land of great beauty and diversity faces some significant social problems, including human rights allegations.
Venezuela has a population of 28.8 million, and almost 19% of the population falls between the ages of 15 and 24. There are approximately 98 males for every 100 females.
Venezuelans hail from a number of ethnic groups, including Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, and indigenous people groups. The official language is Spanish, but there are numerous indigenous dialects spoken. About 96% of Venezuelans are nominally Roman Catholic and about 2% are Protestant.
The Venezuelan government is a federal republic, with Caracas as its capital. It won its independence from Spain in July of 1811. The current president, Nicolas Maduro, has been in power since April 2013, when he assumed the presidential seat after the death of President Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela’s economy is highly dependent on oil revenue, which accounts for about 96% of its export earnings and 45% of its budget revenue. Inflation is alarmingly high, rising to over 60% in 2014. There is a significant budget deficit (29.4% of GDP in 2014). The government continues to struggle with housing and electricity crises and food and goods shortages, including necessities such as flour and milk. These social problems began under President Chavez’s increases of government control and have continued under President Maduro’s administration. Economic crises in addition to corruption and crime have led to numerous protests in recent years, most of which have faced violent government responses.
Although some improvements have been made over recent years, there are still some significant public health concerns, including a high risk for infectious diseases such as food and waterborne illnesses of hepatitis A and bacterial diarrhea. There is also a high risk for malaria and dengue fever. Proper sanitation and clean water are still relatively significant concerns in rural areas.
Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment. “Missions” dedicated to education, nutrition, healthcare, and sanitation were funded through petroleum revenues. The sustainability of this progress remains questionable, however, as the continuation of these social programs depends on the prosperity of Venezuela’s oil industry. In the long-term, education and health care spending may increase economic growth and reduce income inequality, but rising costs and the staffing of new health care jobs with foreigners are slowing development.
Since Chavez came to power in 1999, more than one million predominantly middle- and upper-class Venezuelans are estimated to have emigrated. The brain drain is attributed to a repressive political system, lack of economic opportunities, steep inflation, a high crime rate, and corruption. Thousands of oil engineers emigrated to Canada, Colombia, and the United States following Chavez’s firing of over 20,000 employees of the state-owned petroleum company during a 2002-2003 oil strike. Additionally, thousands of Venezuelans of European descent have taken up residence in their ancestral homelands. Nevertheless, Venezuela continues to attract immigrants from South America and southern Europe because of its lenient migration policy and the availability of education and health care. Venezuela also has been a fairly accommodating host to more than 200,000 Colombian refugees.
Venezuela has also attracted much concern in the area of human rights violations. Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for sex trafficking and forced labor. It is currently listed as Tier 3 nation, which means it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
Further human rights concerns are reported by the Human Rights Watch World Report, as of 2014. Accusations include political censoring and violence against demonstrations against the current government, limits on judges to rule fairly in politically sensitive cases, media censoring particularly that which is critical of the government, police and security forces abuse, bad prison conditions, and undermining and attacking the work of human rights defenders. Violent crime is rampant in Venezuela and was recently named the world’s second deadliest country during an NPR broadcast. This violence is particularly worrisome from government security forces, who typically receive impunity for their actions.
Population: 28,868,486 (July 2014 estimate)
0-14 years: 28.2%
15-24 years: 18.8%
25-54 years: 39.6%
55-64 years: 7.5%
65 years and over: 5.9%
Male to Female Ratio: 98 males per 100 females
Birth Rate: 19.42 births per 1,000 population
Average Life Expectancy at Birth: 74.39 years (Male: 71.26 years; Female: 77.67 years)
Infant Mortality Rate: 19.33 deaths per 1,000 live births
Central Intelligence Agency. “Venezuela.” The World Factbook.