Venezuela is a country with a large immigrant population and an unusually large expatriate community. English is widely spoken and newcomers are welcomed. The lifestyle and the business atmosphere of Venezuela is relaxed and friendly.
The tropical climate and the beautiful countryside provide an inviting environment for visitors. There are good schools for foreign children and many organizations foster easy adjustment and comfortable living.
Venezuela is a republic composed of 21 states, a federal district and the territory of Amazonas.
The 1961 Constitution provided for a president and a bicameral legislature consisting of a 53-member Senate and a 203-member Chamber of Deputies. While some checks and balances between branches were provided for, government was centralized around the president.
In 1999 a Constituent Assembly dominated by followers of President Hugo Chavez revised the Constitution. The voters overwhelmingly approved the new Constitution in December 1999. The revisions were designed to remove the judiciary from politics and add more effective checks and balances between the branches of government in order to reduce official corruption. The term for the president from was extended from five to six years and Chavez was allowed to run for a second term. The senate was eliminated in favor of a 167 member unicameral legislature. The Constitution reduced civilian control of the military and expanded governmental control of the economy - particularly over the country's rich oil reserves.
The Constitution also changed the Country's name from Republic of Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, after the independence fighter, Simon Bolivar. In elections held on July 30, 2000 the voters returned Hugo Chavez to the presidency for a four-year term, which he extended to six years once in office. On April 12, 2002, an attempt was made to oust him from power, following a violent demonstration; however, he returned to office two days later.
Ensuing years saw a presidency aiming at socialism but marked by oppression, inflation, and unemployment. Chavez's party - the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR)- dominated the government until his death on March 5, 2013. Interim President Nicolas Maduro is in office until the election scheduled for April 14.
The discovery of oil transformed Venezuela from an impoverished, backward nation into a world economic force. By 1951 the country was the world's second-largest oil producing country and a founding member of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries, OPEC.
Despite the discovery of oil official corruption and economic mismanagement have caused severe economic problems and frequent popular protests. Personal safety is also a concern, which has led some upper and middle-class Venezuelans to leave the country.
Confronted with mounting economic problems, Venezuela has embarked on a comprehensive plan to spur investment, diversify the economy, and invigorate it by reducing tariffs and encouraging some privatization. Oil still leads the way, and the government still does the steering.
Recent fluctuations in oil prices and investor uncertainty over the success of government reforms has slowed economic progress. With unemployment recently estimates at around 20 percent, there is much work for the new president in the post-Chavez administration.