Venezuela (/ˌvɛnəˈzweɪlə/ VEN-ə-ZWAYL-ə, Spanish pronunciation: [be.neˈswe.la]), officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Spanish: República Bolivariana de Venezuela [reˈpu.βlika βoliβaˈɾjana ðe βeneˈswela]), is a country on the northern coast of South America. Venezuela's territory covers around 916,445 square kilometres (353,841 sq mi) with an estimated population of approximately 29,100,000. Venezuela is considered a state with extremely high biodiversity, with habitats ranging from the Andes mountains in the west to the Amazon Basin rainforest in the south, via extensive llanos plains and Caribbean coast in the center and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.
Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 amid resistance from indigenous peoples. In 1811 it became one of the first Spanish-American colonies to declare independence, which was not securely established until 1821, when Venezuela was a department of the federal republic of Gran Colombia. It gained full independence as a separate country in 1830. During the 19th century Venezuela suffered political turmoil and autocracy, remaining dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) until the mid-20th century. Since 1958, the country has had a series of democratic governments. Economic shocks in the 1980s and 1990s led to several political crises, including the deadly Caracazo riots of 1989, two attempted coups in 1992, and the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for embezzlement of public funds in 1993. A collapse in confidence in the existing parties saw the 1998 election of former coup-involved career officer Hugo Chávez and the launch of the Bolivarian Revolution, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela.
Venezuela is a federal presidential republic consisting of 23 states, the Capital District (covering Caracas), and Federal Dependencies (covering Venezuela's offshore islands). Venezuela also claims all Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River, a 159,500 square kilometres (61,583 sq mi) tract dubbed Guayana Esequiba or the Zona en Reclamación (the "zone being reclaimed").
Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America; the vast majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, especially in the capital, Caracas, which is also the largest city in Venezuela. Since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century, Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves and been one of the world's leading exporters of oil. Previously an underdeveloped exporter of agricultural commodities such as coffee and cocoa, oil quickly came to dominate exports and government revenues. The 1980s oil glut led to an external debt crisis and a long-running economic crisis, which saw inflation peak at 100% in 1996 and poverty rates rise to 66% in 1995 as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak.
The recovery of oil prices after 2001 boosted the Venezuelan economy and facilitated social spending which significantly reduced inequality and poverty, although the fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis saw a renewed economic downturn. In February 2013, Venezuela devalued its currency due to the rising shortages in the country. Shortages of items included toilet paper, milk, flour and other necessities. As of June 2014, Venezuela's inflation has increased to 62%. This was one of the main causes of the 2014 Venezuelan protests.