Venezuela History

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VENEZUELA

Although Columbus is said to have "discovered" Venezuela in 1498, the region was already home to thousands of indigenous Indians. Spanish exploration became important in the 1520s as the Europeans quested for gold and other precious items. Caracas was founded in 1567 and, helped by African slave labor, the area became an agricultural center for both cocoa and wheat. By the end of the 18th century, the country was chafing under Spanish rule and after fairly destructive wars of independence, the goal was achieved in 1821. The country federated with New Granada and Ecuador but it was short-lived and Venezuela was declared an independent republic in 1830. Periods of instability occurred during the latter half of the 19th century as military control waxed and waned. Between 1908 and 1935, the country was controlled by General Juan Vincente Gomez. Over the next decades, power shifted from military to non-military leaders and back again. In 1958, multiparty democracy took hold and, despite problems centering on foreign debt and other economic issues, the country has remained under civilian control. Challenges occurred, however, such as an attempted military coup in 1992 which would have brought down Latin America's longest-lived civilian government; antigovernment rioting linked to an austerity plan in 1996; and more recently, the worldwide economic crunch of 1998.