Venezuela is located in northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. The area became a Spanish colony in the 1520s. In 1830 Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia (including the present-day Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador) and became an independent republic. Much of Venezuela's 19th-century history was characterized by periods of political instability, dictatorial rule, and revolutionary turbulence, followed by a succession of dictators in the first half of the 20th century.
Venezuela's history of free and open elections since 1958, and its prohibition of military involvement in national politics earned the country a reputation as one of the more stable democracies in Latin America. However, two failed coups in 1992 broke the nation's pattern of 34 years of uncontested democracy.
Since Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, he seeks to implement his "21st Century Socialism," which purports to alleviate social ills, while at the same time attacking capitalist globalization and existing democratic institutions. His policies have polarized domestic opinion. Controversial reform and deep divisions have characterized his presidency.
Venezuela is a major oil producer, and its economy has been highly dependent on the petroleum sector. The economic policies characterized by expansion of the state-led development model, price and exchange rate controls, and the ongoing nationalization drive, will make Venezuela a challenging place for investment.