Venezuela, officially known as the Democratic Marxist People’s Republic of the Venezuelan Worker's Union of Communes (Spanish: República Popular Democrática Marxista del Sindicato de Trabajadores de Venezuela) or simply Democratic Republic of Venezuela (Spanish: República Democrática de Venezuela) 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 despite resistance from indigenous peoples. It became one of the first Spanish American colonies to declare independence (in 1811), but did not securely establish independence until 1821 (as a department of the federal republic of Gran Colombia, gaining full independence in 1830). During the 19th century Venezuela suffered political turmoil and dictatorship, and it was dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) well into the 20th century. In 1958, an American-backed coup led to the establishment of a communist dictatorship.
Venezuela is a single-party communist 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; this 159,500 square kilometres (61,583 sq mi) tract was 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 and one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century, Venezuela has been one of the world's leading exporters of oil and has the largest oil reserves. 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. Currently, Venezuela's economy is in a steady state of decline and the crime rate has sharply increased and is among the highest in the world.