The name means "Little Venice" in Italian; it was given to the country by early explorer Amerigo Vespucci (who lent his own name to the American continents as a whole). This was a reference to the natives building settlements out on Lake Maracaibo, which reminded him of Venice. However he was not the first European to explore the country; a few years earlier Christopher Columbus himself came there and described the land effusively, comparing it to Paradise. He coined the name "Land of Grace", which remains a nickname for Venezuela.
Since Venezuela was one of the less fortunate among Spain's former colonies (not having something exploitable besides coffee and cocoa), it never was truly important until a rich dude named Simón Bolívar appeared around the early 1810's and proclaimed that his small province was independent since that moment. Then he decided to take his Independence Tour for some nearby territories, until forming five countries who called him "The Liberator". Then he began a long agony, politically and physically, until he died of exhaustion and TBG in 1830.
After Bolivar died, the country began a long period of caudillism, small civil wars and more caudillistic dictators until someone found Oil in the early 1900's. Then began another long period of intercalating dictatorship and democracy which lasted for over 100 years. After the death of controversial president Hugo Chávez in 2013, the country's political situation became even more divisive as the next elected president, Nicolas Maduro, forcibly dissolved the also-elected General Assembly in 2017 and replaced it with a loyal "Constituent Assembly" (which was officially "elected", but in elections majoritarily judged as fraudulent), which was met internationally with wide disapproval. By 2018, Venezuela suffers one of the worst crises in Latin American history, with a corrupt government who took control of all the powers, an economic crisis where the salary is less than two dollars a week, and an emigration crisis. Many expect the country to finally collapse the same year, with inflation at around 1,000,000% (yes, six zeroes) and the highest Venezuelan banknote worth less than a 1/10 of a (US) cent.
By 2018, Venezuela is suffering one of the biggest cases of emigration in Latin America, with millions of Venezuelans leaving the country in order to survive. Many people have called this criss "The Bolivarian Exodus", as people are escaping from the Bolivarian Republic, which has been considered a criminal state by most of the world political powers. Luckily for them, many of the neighbor countries have accepted them and prepared special laws for them.
As of January 2019, the country has been experiencing a presidential crisis since incumbent President Nicolás Maduro swore himself for a second term after winning in the rather controversial and widely disputed May 2018 presidential elections. The National Assembly of Venezuela has since begun motions for a transitional government, spearheaded by its newly-elected president Juan Guaidó, who on January 23 was declared interim president in the absence of a legitimate head of state.
Venezuela is rarely mentioned in media not produced by Venezuelans, but lately it seemed a alarmingly increasing trend of mentioning its capital Caracas as the place from where drug traffickers and people with exotic diseases came from. The latter is a bit weird because Venezuela is a country where its population is mostly urban, and most of the diseases the voyagers export were controlled a lot of years ago even in some of the most distant areas, and there is a highly enforced policy of vaccinating tourists before going to the riskier areas.
If you see a Venezuelan in non-Venezuelan media, chances are that this one is a very gorgeous woman, probably a beauty queen. Venezuela has been famous for winning a lot of beauty pageants, near only with India and Puerto Rico. Venezuelans are very proud of the beauty of their women and take beauty pageants seriously, but don't like the misinterpretations on their integrity; when in Kill Bill one of the women with a criminal had a "Miss Venezuela" band, there was a big uproar.
Venezuela is also the only country in continental Latin America where the "everyman" sport is Baseball instead of Football (Soccer).note Kids in the poorer areas play using a broom stick as a bat and bottle caps if they can't find balls. Baseball is very strong, with very active small and professional leagues, and the aspiration of most kids is becoming a Major League player. There was a great motive of national pride when the manager who broke the "Black Sox Curse" was a Venezuelan, Ozzie Guillen. On the other side, football has been rising in popularity over the years thanks to the surprise improving of the national selection (nicknamed La Vinotinto after the wine red color of their uniforms) under the hands of Richard Paez.
The Venezuelan Telenovela industry is a little bipolar: It can't decide between being Pink or Modern. Some of their most famous exportations were classic pink soaps (the most famous one, Kassandra, made congress meetings stop and even the battles in Kosovo's war in The '90s), but as a consequence of the "Cultural Telenovela" movement in the 1970's and early 1980's (where some scriptwriters began adapting Venezuelan Literature classics and then followed to touch controversial topics) there is a lot of experimentation, with results ranging from the successful, to the unmentionable.
Famous Venezuelans (bar Mr. Chávez) and Venezuelan things:
- Ilich Ramírez Sánchez AKA Carlos the Jackal. A terrorist with far more fame than actual "quality" as a terrorist, he is now serving life in a French prison. As well as being the villain in The Bourne Series, he has appeared elsewhere and inspired a few people along the way.
- La Gran Sabana AKA the mix of plains, jungle and table mountains at the south of the country. The place have appeared in a lot of movies. Half of the plot of Jinki:Extend happens there, as also the entirety of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World". The place is also the inspiration for many backgrounds in Pixar's Up. Having producers marveling about the existence of such fantastic sceneries is a compliment powerful enough to turn the most unpatriotic person into a mess of national pride.
- Wilmer Valderrama, Fez from That '70s Show.
- Édgar Ramírez, a rising Venezuelan movie star, who not only played Carlos The Jackal in the titled 'Carlos', he played Ares in Wrath of the Titans, and had a role in Zero Dark Thirty.
- Patricia Velazquez, the girl who was the Egyptian princess Anck-Su-Namun in The Mummy Trilogy, who also is a supermodel.
- Maria Conchita Alonso, one of the actresses who predated the wave of Latin actress moving to Hollywood for about 20 years. Because she did it before it was fashionable to have a Latin Hottie in your film, she was forced to do tertiary roles and a lot of B movies. Her most memorable role was in that version of The Running Man starred by Arnold Schwarzenegger; she was the romantic interest. Her latest stunt was her Judge role in the VH-1 reality Viva Hollywood. For a while, she claimed to be Cuban, probably to appeal to the Miami market. She is Cuban-born, but her family moved to Venezuela when she was still a toddler.
- Simón Díaz, famous actor and folklore musician. Inside the country, he was more remembered either as a comedic actor for those born before The '80s, and as the beloved "Tío (Uncle) Simón" for the kids who born and grew up in that decade and after (Think about him like a Venezuelan Mr. Rogers). Outside the country, he was more known as a musician: a lot of his songs have been Covered Up to tears, and he was the author of "Caballo Viejo". He has given a honorary Grammy in 2008. Died in 2014.
- Terresa Carreño, a marvelous famous pianist and composer, she played for president Abraham Lincoln, and composed many songs and plays that are still played to this day. Her legacy persist in the Theater Teresa Carreño, a famous artistic Theater where plays and other artistic movements are presented.
- Fred Armisen, famous comedian and Saturday Night Live member, is Venezuelan from his mother's side, and have played a lot of Latin characters.
- Devendra Banhart, an indie folk musician, was born in Houston, Texas, but his mother was Venezuelan, so after a divorce, she took him to live with her to Caracas, until he was 14. He tends to sing in English as well as in Spanish, with a flawless Venezuelan accent, and one of his main inspirations is Simon Díaz, covering some of his songs in his music.
- Hermann Mejia, Venezuelan-born cartoonist, sculptor and painter, working for MAD Magazine and DC Comics, he moved from Venezuela in the 90s due to the eventual rising of crime rate and political situations.
- Famous 90's One-Hit Wonder La Macarena. OK, the duo who sang it was Spanish, but they did get inspiration from a Venezuelan flamenco dancer named Diana Patricia they met during a Latin American tour.
- Quite a lot of Beauty Contest Winners. The most notorious were Irene Saez (Miss Universe, won in 1981, and become Mayor of Venezuela's richest municipality in the late Nineties), Alicia Machado (the one Miss Universe who Donald Trump publicly forced on diet after she gained about 20 kilograms just months after her 1996's victory, now an actress and Reality Show star), the 2008 Miss Universe Winner, Dayana Mendoza (the one with the yellow dress) and the 2009 Miss Universe winner Stefanía Fernandez, who placed Venezuela into the Guiness Records for being the first country having two consecutive crowns.
- Ozzie Guillén, naturally. And hundreds of other Major League ballplayers over the years.
- Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, albeit outside the country is known mainly in the classical music circles.
- Angel David Revilla, known as Dross Rotzank, a pretty well-known blogger, and YouTuber, with one of the most subscribed channels in Latin America.
Venezuela in fiction:
- Carlos Rivera, One of Joe Yabuki' rivals from Ashita no Joe is a flamboyant Venezuelan boxer known as the "Venezuelan terror", and well known for being also the man who helped Joe recover his fighting spirit. While he has some stereotypical Latino traits, he is considered one of the best characters in the series.
- In the seventh episode of Heroes, Maya and Alejandro are briefly seen in a church located in Zulia State, months before their arrival to the US.
- A few appearances in Burn Notice, typically as a location for only-partially-drug-related Latin American intrigue: the fact that Chávez gets along swimmingly with the Russians and not at all with the Americans means that an unusual amount of spying occurs in Caracas.
- Also in Covert Affairs, for essentially the same reasons.
- The second Mercenaries game was explicitly set in Venezuela, with a plot about mercenaries taking over the evil government. Chavez and his entourage immediately assumed it was an attack on his regime, and expressed their criticism towards the game. Ironically, the "evil government" and the game's main villain act more like the political enemies of Chavez than to the man himself.
- New Mutants member, Sofia Mantega, aka Wind Dancer, later known as Renascence, is Venezuelan-born.
- The Parks and Recreation episode "Sister City" centers on visiting delegates from Pawnee's sister city of Boraqua, Venezuela. The country is essentially portrayed as a mix of Banana Republic and Commie Land, which is explicitly a negative satire of Hugo Chávez. The episode is probably not airing in Venezuela anytime soon. The main Venezuelan delegate was played by Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, who is Venezuelan on his mother's side in real life; this may have inspired the idea of putting Pawnee's sister city in Venezuela (besides SNL and Parks and Rec both being on NBC, Amy Poehler was an SNL alum and liked including her old colleagues in the show).
- There is a Venezuelan pilot, Evita Lambert, in the anime Gigantic Formula. As you can expect, she is a Wrench Wench Spicy Latina.
- Venezuela is the head country of a South American alliance in Call of Duty: Ghosts where they establish themselves as a global superpower thanks to South America's vast natural resources and sabotaging a kinetic weapons satellite and use it against United States to completely cripple their economy. They even went to the extent of invading United States to prove their military superiority.
- The eponymous Papillon, autobiographical alter-ego of Henri Charriere, is sent to a Penal Colony in French Guiana and spends fourteen years trying to escape; he is eventually imprisoned in Venezuela where he is finally released. The sequel Banco recounts over twenty years of his Venezuelan adventures as Papillon tries to bankroll his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the French justice system. These adventures take place during the turbulent period between 1945 and 1960, when Venezuela was often a Banana Republic prone to suffering both attempted and successful coup d'etats. Charriere speaks highly of the country and the Venezuelan people, describing them as being more generous than Europeans and willing to give a convicted criminal a second chance—France threw an innocent man away to die in a foreign swamp, Venezuela taught him how to live again.
The Venezuelan flag