Coordinates7°N 65°W

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
República Bolivariana de Venezuela  (Spanish)
Motto: Dios y Federación
(English: “God and Federation”)
Anthem: Gloria al Bravo Pueblo
(English: “Glory to the Brave People”)
Land controlled by Venezuela shown in dark green; claimed but uncontrolled land shown in light green.
Land controlled by Venezuela shown in dark green; claimed but uncontrolled land shown in light green.
and largest city
10°30′N 66°55′W
Official languages Spanish[b]
Recognized regional languages
Ethnic groups
71% Catholic
17% Protestant
8% Irreligious
3% Other religion
1% No answer
Demonym(s) Venezuelan
Government Federal presidential constitutional republic
Delcy Rodríguez (constitutional position disputed)
Legislature National Assembly
Constituent Assembly (disputed)
• from Spain
5 July 1811
• from Gran Colombia
13 January 1830
• Recognized
29 March 1845
15 November 1945
15 December 1999
• Total
916,445 km2 (353,841 sq mi) (32nd)
• Water (%)
• 2018 estimate
Increase 28,887,118 [3][4] (government)
28,067,000 (IMF)[5] (44th)
• Density
33.74/km2 (87.4/sq mi) (181st)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
Decrease $70.140 billion[6] (51st)
• Per capita
Decrease $2,548[6] (93rd)
Gini (2013) Negative increase 44.8[7]
HDI (2018) Decrease 0.726[8]
high · 96th


Time zone UTC−4 (VET)
Date format dd/mm/yyyy (CE)
Driving side right
Calling code +58
ISO 3166 code VE
Internet TLD .ve
  1. ^ The “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” has been the full official title since the adoption of the Constitution of 1999, when the state was renamed in honor of Simón Bolívar.
  2. ^ The Constitution also recognizes all indigenous languages spoken in the country.
  3. ^ Some important subgroups include those of SpanishItalianAmerindianAfricanPortugueseArab and German descent.
  4. ^ Area totals include only Venezuelan-administered territory.
  5. ^ On 20 August 2018, a new bolivar was introduced, the Bolívar soberano (ISO 4217 code VES) worth 100,000 VEF.

Venezuela (/ˌvɛnəˈzwɛlə/ (About this soundlisten)American Spanish: [beneˈswela] (About this soundlisten)), officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (SpanishRepública Bolivariana de Venezuela),[9] is a country on the northern coast of South America, consisting of a continental landmass and many small islands and islets in the Caribbean Sea. It has a territorial extension of 916,445 km2 (353,841 sq mi). The continental territory is bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by ColombiaBrazil on the south, Trinidad and Tobago to the north-east and on the east by Guyana. The Venezuelan government maintains a claim against Guyana to Guayana Esequiba, an area of 159,542 km2 (61,600 sq mi). For its maritime areas, Venezuela exercises sovereignty over 71,295 km2 (27,527 sq mi) of territorial waters, 22,224 km2 (8,581 sq mi) in its contiguous zone, 471,507 km2 (182,050 sq mi) of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean under the concept of exclusive economic zone, and 99,889 km2 (38,567 sq mi) of continental shelf. This marine area borders those of 13 states. The capital and largest urban agglomeration is the city of Caracas. The country has extremely high biodiversity and is ranked seventh in the world’s list of nations with the most number of species.[10] There are habitats ranging from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon basin rain-forest in the south via extensive llanos plains, the Caribbean coast and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.

The sovereign state 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-kilometre (61,583 sq mi) tract dubbed Guayana Esequiba or the Zona en Reclamación (the “zone under dispute”).[11] Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America;[12][13] 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.

The territory now known as Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 amid resistance from indigenous peoples. In 1811, it became one of the first Spanish-American territories 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 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. The revolution began with a 1999 Constituent Assembly, where a new Constitution of Venezuela was written. This new constitution officially changed the name of the country to Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (SpanishRepública Bolivariana de Venezuela).

Oil was discovered in the early 20th century, and today, Venezuela has the world’s largest known oil reserves and has been one of the world’s leading exporters of oil. Previously, the country was an underdeveloped exporter of agricultural commodities such as coffee and cocoa, but 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. Inflation peaked at 100% in 1996 and poverty rates rose to 66% in 1995[14] as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak.[15] The recovery of oil prices in the early 2000s gave Venezuela oil funds not seen since the 1980s.[16] The Venezuelan government under Hugo Chávez then established populist social welfare policies that initially boosted the Venezuelan economy and increased social spending, temporarily[17] reducing economic inequality and poverty in the early years of the regime.[21] In 2013, Hugo Chávez died, shortly after being elected to a fourth term, and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro, elected by a narrow majority in a widely disputed election. Maduro continued the populist policies of Chávez, but with disastrous results.[22] The nation’s economy collapsed because of their excesses—including a uniquely extreme fossil fuel subsidy[23]—and are widely blamed for destabilizing the nation’s economy. The destabilized economy led to a crisis in Venezuela, resulting in hyperinflation, an economic depression,[24] shortages of basic goods[25] and drastic increases in unemployment,[26] poverty,[27] disease, child mortality, malnutrition and crime. These factors have precipitated the Venezuelan migrant crisis where more than three million people have fled the country.[28] By 2017, Venezuela was declared to be in default regarding debt payments by credit rating agencies.[29][30] In 2018, the country’s economic policies led to extreme hyperinflation, with estimates expecting an inflation rate of 1,370,000% by the end of the year and 10,000,000% in 2019.[31][32] Venezuela is a charter member of the UNOASUNASURALBAMercosurLAIA and OEI.


According to the most popular and accepted version, in 1499, an expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda visited the Venezuelan coast. The stilt houses in the area of Lake Maracaibo reminded the Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, of the city of Venice, Italy, so he named the region Veneziola, or “Little Venice”.[33] The Spanish version of Veneziola is Venezuela.[34]

Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of the Vespucci and Ojeda crew, gave a different account. In his work Summa de geografía, he states that the crew found indigenous people who called themselves the Veneciuela. Thus, the name “Venezuela” may have evolved from the native word.[35]

Previously, the official name was Estado de Venezuela (1830–1856), República de Venezuela (1856–1864), Estados Unidos de Venezuela (1864–1953), and again República de Venezuela (1953–1999).


Pre-Columbian history

Evidence exists of human habitation in the area now known as Venezuela from about 15,000 years ago. Leaf-shaped tools from this period, together with chopping and plano-convex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela.[36] Late Pleistocene hunting artifacts, including spear tips, have been found at a similar series of sites in northwestern Venezuela known as “El Jobo”; according to radiocarbon dating, these date from 13,000 to 7,000 BC.[37]

It is not known how many people lived in Venezuela before the Spanish conquest; it has been estimated at around one million.[38] In addition to indigenous peoples known today, the population included historical groups such as the Kalina (Caribs), AuakéCaquetioMariche, and Timoto–Cuicas. The Timoto–Cuica culture was the most complex society in Pre-Columbian Venezuela, with pre-planned permanent villages, surrounded by irrigated, terraced fields. They also stored water in tanks.[39] Their houses were made primarily of stone and wood with thatched roofs. They were peaceful, for the most part, and depended on growing crops. Regional crops included potatoes and ullucos.[40] They left behind works of art, particularly anthropomorphic ceramics, but no major monuments. They spun vegetable fibers to weave into textiles and mats for housing. They are credited with having invented the arepa, a staple in Venezuelan cuisine.[41]

Timoto-Cuica territory in present-day Mérida state, Venezuela
Timoto and Cuica toponyms.

After the conquest, the population dropped markedly, mainly through the spread of new infectious diseases from Europe.[38] Two main north-south axes of pre-Columbian population were present, who cultivated maize in the west and manioc in the east.[38] Large parts of the llanos were cultivated through a combination of slash and burn and permanent settled agriculture.[38]


The German Welser Armada exploring Venezuela.

In 1498, during his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus sailed near the Orinoco Delta and landed in the Gulf of Paria.[42] Amazed by the great offshore current of freshwater which deflected his course eastward, Columbus expressed in a letter to Isabella and Ferdinand that he must have reached Heaven on Earth (terrestrial paradise):

Great signs are these of the Terrestrial Paradise, for the site conforms to the opinion of the holy and wise theologians whom I have mentioned. And likewise, the [other] signs conform very well, for I have never read or heard of such a large quantity of fresh water being inside and in such close proximity to salt water; the very mild temperateness also corroborates this; and if the water of which I speak does not proceed from Paradise then it is an even greater marvel, because I do not believe such a large and deep river has ever been known to exist in this world.[43]

Nuestra Señora de Caracas1766.

Spain’s colonization of mainland Venezuela started in 1522, establishing its first permanent South American settlement in the present-day city of Cumaná. In the 16th century, Venezuela was contracted as a concession by the King of Spain to the German Welser banking family (Klein-Venedig, 1528–1546). Native caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro (c. 1530–1568) and Tamanaco (died 1573) attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but the newcomers ultimately subdued them; Tamanaco was put to death by order of Caracas’ founder, Diego de Losada.[44]

In the 16th century, during the Spanish colonization, indigenous peoples such as many of the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Kalina, converted to Roman Catholicism. Some of the resisting tribes or leaders are commemorated in place names, including Caracas, Chacao and Los Teques. The early colonial settlements focused on the northern coast,[38] but in the mid-18th century, the Spanish pushed farther inland along the Orinoco River. Here, the Ye’kuana (then known as the Makiritare) organized serious resistance in 1775 and 1776.[45]

Spain’s eastern Venezuelan settlements were incorporated into New Andalusia Province. Administered by the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo from the early 16th century, most of Venezuela became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in the early 18th century, and was then reorganized as an autonomous Captaincy General starting in 1777. The town of Caracas, founded in the central coastal region in 1567, was well-placed to become a key location, being near the coastal port of La Guaira whilst itself being located in a valley in a mountain range, providing defensive strength against pirates and a more fertile and healthy climate.[46]

Independence and 19th century

El LibertadorSimón Bolívar.

After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela, under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal who had fought in the American Revolution and the French Revolutiondeclared independence as the First Republic of Venezuela on 5 July 1811.[47] This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. A devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the republic.[48] Simón Bolívar, new leader of the independentist forces, launched his Admirable Campaign in 1813 from New Granada, retaking most of the territory and being proclaimed as El Libertador (“The Liberator”). A second Venezuelan republic was proclaimed on 7 August 1813, but lasted only a few months before being crushed at the hands of royalist caudillo José Tomás Boves and his personal army of llaneros.[49]

The end of the French invasion of homeland Spain in 1814 allowed the preparation of a large expeditionary force to the American provinces under general Pablo Morillo, with the goal to regain the lost territory in Venezuela and New Granada. As the war reached a stalemate on 1817, Bolívar reestablished the Third Republic of Venezuela on the territory still controlled by the patriots, mainly in the Guayana and Los Llanos regions. This republic was short-lived as only two years later, during the Congress of Angostura of 1819, it was decreed the union of Venezuela with New Granada to form the Republic of Gran Colombia. The war continued for some years, until full victory and sovereignty was attained after Bolívar, aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821.[50] On 24 July 1823, José Prudencio Padilla and Rafael Urdaneta helped seal Venezuelan independence with their victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo.[51] New Granada’s congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia.[50]

Revolution of 19 April 1810, the beginning of Venezuela’s independence, by Martín Tovar y Tovar

Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a newly independent Venezuela; Páez became the first president of the new State of Venezuela.[52] Between one-quarter and one-third of Venezuela’s population was lost during these two decades of warfare (including perhaps one-half of the white population),[53] which by 1830, was estimated at about 800,000.[54]

The colors of the Venezuelan flag are yellow, blue, and red: the yellow stands for land wealth, the blue for the sea that separates Venezuela from Spain, and the red for the blood shed by the heroes of independence.[55]

Slavery in Venezuela was abolished in 1854.[54] Much of Venezuela’s 19th-century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule, including the Independence leader José Antonio Páez, who gained the presidency three times and served a total of 11 years between 1830 and 1863. This culminated in the Federal War (1859–1863), a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died in a country with a population of not much more than a million people. In the latter half of the century, Antonio Guzmán Blanco, another caudillo, served a total of 13 years between 1870 and 1887, with three other presidents interspersed.

The signing of Venezuela’s independence, by Martín Tovar y Tovar.

In 1895, a longstanding dispute with Great Britain about the territory of Guayana Esequiba, which Britain claimed as part of British Guiana and Venezuela saw as Venezuelan territory, erupted into the Venezuela Crisis of 1895. The dispute became a diplomatic crisis when Venezuela’s lobbyist, William L. Scruggs, sought to argue that British behavior over the issue violated the United States’ Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and used his influence in Washington, D.C., to pursue the matter. Then, U.S. president Grover Cleveland adopted a broad interpretation of the doctrine that did not just simply forbid new European colonies, but declared an American interest in any matter within the hemisphere.[56] Britain ultimately accepted arbitration, but in negotiations over its terms was able to persuade the U.S. on many of the details. A tribunal convened in Paris in 1898 to decide the issue and in 1899 awarded the bulk of the disputed territory to British Guiana.[57]

In 1899, Cipriano Castro, assisted by his friend Juan Vicente Gómez, seized power in Caracas, marching an army from his base in the Andean state of Táchira. Castro defaulted on Venezuela’s considerable foreign debts and declined to pay compensation to foreigners caught up in Venezuela’s civil wars. This led to the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, in which Britain, Germany and Italy imposed a naval blockade of several months before international arbitration at the new Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague was agreed. In 1908, another dispute broke out with the Netherlands, which was resolved when Castro left for medical treatment in Germany and was promptly overthrown by Juan Vicente Gómez (1908–1935).

20th century

Flag of Venezuela between 1954 and 2006.

The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I[58] proved to be pivotal for Venezuela and transformed the basis of its economy from a heavy dependence on agricultural exports. It prompted an economic boom that lasted into the 1980s; by 1935, Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product was Latin America’s highest.[59] Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its authority.

He remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935, although at times he ceded the presidency to others. The gomecista dictatorship (1935–1945) system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras, but from 1941, under Isaías Medina Angarita, was relaxed. Angarita granted a range of reforms, including the legalization of all political parties. After World War IIimmigration from Southern Europe (mainly from Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France) and poorer Latin American countries markedly diversified Venezuelan society.

Rómulo Betancourt (president 1945–1948 / 1959–1964), one of the major democracy activists of Venezuela.

In 1945, a civilian-military coup overthrew Medina Angarita and ushered in a three-year period of democratic rule (1945–1948) under the mass membership party Democratic Action, initially under Rómulo Betancourt, until Rómulo Gallegos won the 1947 Venezuelan presidential election (generally believed to be the first free and fair elections in Venezuela). Gallegos governed until overthrown by a military junta led by the triumvirate Luis Felipe Llovera Páez, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and Gallegos’ Defense Minister, Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, in the 1948 Venezuelan coup d’état.

The most powerful man in the military junta (1948–1958) was Pérez Jiménez (though Chalbaud was its titular president) and was suspected of being behind the death in office of Chalbaud, who died in a bungled kidnapping in 1950. When the junta unexpectedly lost the election it held in 1952, it ignored the results and Pérez Jiménez was installed as president, where he remained until 1958. The expansion of the Venezuelan economy in this period was based on the indebtedness of the Venezuelan nation and that was one of the causes of the economic crisis in Venezuela in the 1960s,[60] in which important projects such as the Urban Center El Recreo de Marcel Brauer on Avenida Casanova in Sabana Grande district were paralyzed.[61]

During the years of Pérez Jiménez’s administration, the State intervened in areas of the economy that were traditionally carried out by private companies. The Pérez Jiménez government was characterized by its state capitalism and not by liberal capitalism. It was an antecedent of the populist and paternalistic economic regime of the later democratic regimes.[62] The national private entrepreneurship increasingly had less space to grow and prosper. The State was the great capitalist in the Venezuela of Pérez Jiménez and was the largest national shareholder of major hotel chains such as Sheraton.[63]

In the government of Pérez Jiménez, Venezuela’s debt grew more than 25 times and went from 175 million to more than 4,500 million bolivares in just 5 years (approximately 15 billion dollars in 2018). The malaise over the debts of Venezuela reached the barracks and the national business. Pérez Jiménez responded that: “there is no debt, but commitments”. The Finance Minister failed to convince Pérez Jiménez to order the cancellation of debts.[64] As of 14 January 1958, the Venezuelan business community decided to divorce itself completely from the regime, nine days before the collapse of the government.[60] The military dictator Pérez Jiménez was forced out on 23 January 1958.[65] In an effort to consolidate a young democracy, the three major political parties (Acción Democrática (AD), COPEI and Unión Republicana Democrática (URD), with the notable exception of the Communist Party of Venezuela) signed the Puntofijo Pact power-sharing agreement. The two first parties would dominate the political landscape for four decades.

Table where the Puntofijo Pact was signed on 31 October 1958

During the presidencies of Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello (1959–1964, his second time) and Raúl Leoni Otero (1964–1969) in the 1960s, substantial guerilla movements occurred, including the Armed Forces of National Liberation and the Revolutionary Left Movement, which had split from AD in 1960. Most of these movements laid down their arms under Rafael Caldera‘s first presidency (1969–1974); Caldera had won the 1968 election for COPEI, being the first time a party other than Democratic Action took the presidency through a democratic election. The new democratic order had its antagonists. Betancourt suffered an attack planned by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1960, and the leftists excluded from the Pact initiated an armed insurgency by organizing themselves in the Armed Forces of National Liberation, sponsored by the Communist Party and Fidel Castro. In 1962 they tried to destabilize the military corps, with failed revolts in Carúpano and Puerto Cabello. At the same time, Betancourt promoted an international doctrine in which he only recognized elected governments by popular vote.[need quotation to verify]

As a result of the debt that Marcos Pérez Jiménez had left, an economic adjustment program was necessary in Venezuela. The Economic Recovery Plan of 1960 was formulated by Tomás Enrique Carrillo Batalla. The construction industry was revitalized through the “rediscount” of the Central Bank of Venezuela. The Economic Recovery Plan fulfilled its objectives and in 1964, Venezuela was able to return to an anchored exchange rate, with free purchase and sale of foreign currency. This system lasted until the Venezuelan Black Friday of 1983, although the model was already running out at the end of the seventies.[66] The consolidation of the democratic system and the dissipation of fears of political radicalization of the country contributed to normalize the demand for foreign currency, stabilizing the parallel exchange rate.

For much of the period between 1950 and 1973, the Venezuelan economy was characterized by its stability and sustained strength, factors that contributed decisively to being able to maintain a fixed exchange rate without major inconveniences. In the period of Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974–1979, his first time as president), as a result of the Arab-Israeli war (the Yom Kippur war), the average price of a barrel of oil went from 3.71 to 10.53 dollars and continued to rise to exceed 29 dollars in 1981.[66] The income of the public sector went from 18,960 million bolivars in 1973 to 45.564 million in 1974. The economic bonanza also had the characteristics of an economic bubble, but Venezuelans remember the “Ta barato, dame dos”.[67][68] The increased inflow of funds to savings and loan entities and mortgage banks allowed an increase in the mortgage loan portfolio, which also tripled. In general, Venezuela was a prosperous country in the governments of Rómulo Betancourt (1945 – c. 1948; 1959–1964), Rafael Caldera (1969–1974; 1994 – c. 1999) and Carlos Andrés Pérez (1974–1979; 1989 – c. 1993)[citation needed]. In 1975 the iron industry was nationalized and the following year the oil industry, creating Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). Both Caldera and Pérez partially broke with the Betancourt Doctrine.

Sabana Grande district, Caracas (1954)

The election in 1973 of Carlos Andrés Pérez coincided with an oil crisis, in which Venezuela’s income exploded as oil prices soared; oil industries were nationalized in 1976. This led to massive increases in public spending, but also increases in external debts, which continued into the 1980s when the collapse of oil prices during the 1980s crippled the Venezuelan economy. As the government started to devalue the currency in February 1983 to face its financial obligations, Venezuelans’ real standards of living fell dramatically. A number of failed economic policies and increasing corruption in government led to rising poverty and crime, worsening social indicators, and increased political instability.[69]

During the presidency of Luis Herrera Campins (1979–1984), important infrastructure works were completed, such as the Parque Central Complex (which became the largest housing complex and the tallest towers in Latin America), Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex (the largest cultural center in South America at that time), the Brígido Iriarte Stadium and the United Nations Park. Most of these works had been previously planned.[67] Until the mid-eighties, the Venezuelan economy showed a very positive behavior, characterized by the absence of internal or external imbalances, high economic growth, largely due to the sustained and very high gross fixed investment of those years, 10 under unemployment and great price stability. This translated into sustained increases in the average real wage and an improvement in the condition of life.[66]

President Carlos Andrés Pérez was impeached on corruption charges in 1993.

The bolivar was devalued in February 1983, unleashing a strong economic crisis, which hit investments in the most important financial centers of the Venezuelan capital, such as Sabana Grande. In the government of Jaime Lusinchi (1984–1989), an attempt was made to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the measures failed. After a long period of accelerated economic expansion that lasts for six decades (value of the stock of homes by families), an extreme higher value is reached towards 1982. From this historical value begins then a systematic fall that mounts to 26 hundred up to 2006, and that configures a genuine unique experience in contemporary economic life.[70] However, the economic deactivation of the country had begun to show its first signs in 1978.[71]

In the 1980s, the Presidential Commission for State Reform (COPRE) emerged as a mechanism of political innovation. Venezuela was preparing for the decentralization of its political system and the diversification of its economy, reducing the large size of the State. The COPRE operated as an innovation mechanism, also by incorporating issues into the political agenda that were generally excluded from public deliberation by the main actors of the Venezuelan democratic system. The most discussed topics were incorporated into the public agenda: decentralization, political participation, municipalization, judicial oder reforms and the role of the State in a new economic strategy. Unfortunately, the social reality of the country made the changes difficult to apply.[71]

Economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s led to a political crisis in which hundreds died in the Caracazo riots of 1989 during the presidency of Carlos Andres Pérez (1989–1993, his second time), two attempted coups d’état in 1992 (February and November) by Hugo Chávez,[72] and the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez (re-elected in 1988) for corruption in 1993 and the interin presidency of Ramón José Velásquez (1993–1994). Coup leader Hugo Chávez was pardoned in March 1994 by president Rafael Caldera (1994–1999, his second time), with a clean slate and his political rights reinstated. This let him later get the presidency continuously from 1999 until his death in 2013, winning the elections of 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2012 and the presidential referendum of 2004, with the only exception in 2002 of Pedro Carmona Estanga as a two-day de facto government and Diosdado Cabello Rondón as a few-hours interim president.

Bolivarian government: 1999–present

The Bolivarian Revolution refers to a left-wing populism social movement and political process in Venezuela led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who founded the Fifth Republic Movement in 1997 and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela in 2007. The “Bolivarian Revolution” is named after Simón Bolívar, an early 19th-century Venezuelan and Latin American revolutionary leader, prominent in the Spanish American wars of independence in achieving the independence of most of northern South America from Spanish rule. According to Chávez and other supporters, the “Bolivarian Revolution” seeks to build a mass movement to implement Bolivarianismpopular democracy, economic independence, equitable distribution of revenues, and an end to political corruption—in Venezuela. They interpret Bolívar’s ideas from a populist perspective, using socialist rhetoric.

Hugo Chávez: 1999–2013

Chávez with fellow South American presidents Néstor Kirchner of Argentina and Lula da Silva of Brazil

A collapse in confidence in the existing parties led to Chávez being elected president in 1998 and the subsequent launch of a “Bolivarian Revolution”, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela. Chávez also initiated Bolivarian missions, programs aimed at helping the poor.[73]

In April 2002, Chávez was briefly ousted from power in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt following popular demonstrations by his opponents,[74] but he returned to power after two days as a result of demonstrations by poor Chávez supporters in Caracas and actions by the military.[75][76]

Chávez also remained in power after an all-out national strike that lasted from December 2002 to February 2003, including a strike/lockout in the state oil company PDVSA.[77] The strike produced severe economic dislocation, with the country’s GDP falling 27% during the first four months of 2003, and costing the oil industry $13.3 billion.[78] Capital flight before and during the strike led to the reimposition of currency controls (which had been abolished in 1989), managed by the CADIVI agency. In the subsequent decade, the government was forced into several currency devaluations.[79][80][81][82][83] These devaluations have done little to improve the situation of the Venezuelan people who rely on imported products or locally produced products that depend on imported inputs while dollar-denominated oil sales account for the vast majority of Venezuela’s exports.[84] According to Sebastian Boyd writing at Bloomberg News, the profits of the oil industry have been lost to “social engineering” and corruption, instead of investments needed to maintain oil production.[85]

Chávez survived several further political tests, including an August 2004 recall referendum. He was elected for another term in December 2006 and re-elected for a third term in October 2012. However, he was never sworn in for his third period, due to medical complications. Chávez died on 5 March 2013 after a nearly two-year fight with cancer.[86] The presidential election that took place on Sunday, 14 April 2013, was the first since Chávez took office in 1999 in which his name did not appear on the ballot.[87]

Nicolás Maduro: 2013–present

Nicolás Maduro with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the 48th Mercosur Summit in Brazil in 2015.

Poverty and inflation began to increase into the 2010s.[88] Nicolás Maduro was elected in 2013 after the death of Chavez. Chavez picked Maduro as his successor and appointed him vice president in 2013. Maduro was elected president in a shortened election in 2013 following Chavez’s death.[82][89][90]

Nicolás Maduro has been the president of Venezuela since 14 April 2013, after winning the second presidential election after Chávez’s death, with 50.61% of the votes against the opposition’s candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski who had 49.12% of the votes. The Democratic Unity Roundtable contested his election as fraud and as a violation of the constitution. An audit of 56% of the vote showed no discrepancies,[91] and the Supreme Court of Venezuela ruled that under Venezuela’s Constitution, Nicolás Maduro is the legitimate president and was invested as such by the Venezuelan National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional).[92][93][94] Opposition leaders and some international media consider the government of Maduro to be a dictatorship.[95][96][97][98] Beginning in February 2014, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have protested over high levels of criminal violence, corruption, hyperinflation, and chronic scarcity of basic goods due to policies of the federal government.[99][100][101][102][103] Demonstrations and riots have left over 40 fatalities in the unrest between both Chavistas and opposition protesters,[104] and has led to the arrest of opposition leaders including Leopoldo López[104][105] and Antonio Ledezma.[106][107][108][109] Human rights groups have strongly condemned the arrest of Leopoldo López.[110]

In the 2015 Venezuelan parliamentary election, the opposition gained a majority.[111]

Venezuela devalued its currency in February 2013 due to the rising shortages in the country,[83][112] which included those of milk, flour, and other necessities. This led to an increase in malnutrition, especially among children.[113][114] Venezuela’s economy had become strongly dependent on the exportation of oil with Crude accounting for 86% of exports,[115] and a high price per barrel to support social programs. Beginning in 2014 the price of oil plummeted from over $100/bbl to $40/bbl a year and a half later, this placed great pressure on the Venezuelan economy, which was no longer able to afford vast social programs. To counter the decrease in oil prices, the Venezuelan Government began taking more money from PDVSA, the state oil company, to meet budgets resulting in a lack of reinvestment in fields and employees. This has seen Venezuela’s oil production decrease from its height of nearly 3 to 1 million barrels (480 to 160 thousand cubic metres) per day.[116][117][118][119] In 2014, Venezuela entered an economic recession.[120] In 2015, Venezuela had the world’s highest inflation rate with the rate surpassing 100%, becoming the highest in the country’s history.[121] In 2017, Donald Trump‘s administration imposed more economic sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA and Venezuelan officials.[122][123][124] Economic problems, as well as crime and corruption, were some of the main causes of the 2014–present Venezuelan protests.[125][126] Since 2015 nearly 2 million people have fled Venezuela.[127]

In January 2016, President Maduro decreed an “economic emergency” revealing the extent of the crisis and expanding his powers.[128] In July 2016, Colombian border crossings were temporarily opened to allow Venezuelans to purchase food and basic household and health items in Colombia.[129] In September 2016, a study published in the Spanish-language Diario Las Américas[130] indicated that 15% of Venezuelans are eating “food waste discarded by commercial establishments”.

Close to 200 riots had occurred in Venezuelan prisons by October 2016, according to Una Ventana a la Libertad, an advocacy group for better prison conditions. The father of an inmate at Táchira Detention Center in Caracas alleged that his son was cannibalized by other inmates during a month-long riot, a claim corroborated by an anonymous police source but denied by the Minister of Correctional Affairs.[131]

Maduro was inaugurated for a contested and controversial second term on 10 January 2019.

In 2017, Venezuela experienced a constitutional crisis in the country. In March 2017, opposition leaders branded President Nicolas Maduro a dictator after the Maduro-aligned Supreme Tribunal, which had been overturning most National Assembly decisions since the opposition took control of the body, took over the functions of the assembly, pushing a lengthy political standoff to new heights.[95] However, the Supreme Court quickly backed down and reversed its decision on 1 April 2017. A month later, President Maduro announced the 2017 Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election and on 30 August 2017, the 2017 Constituent National Assembly was elected into office and quickly stripped the National Assembly of its powers.

In December 2017, President Maduro declared that leading opposition parties will be barred from taking part in next year’s presidential vote after they boycotted mayoral polls.[132]

Maduro won the 2018 election with 67.8% of the vote. The result was challenged by countries including ArgentinaChileColombiaBrazilCanadaGermanyFrance and the United States who deemed it fraudulent and moved to recognize Juan Guaidó as president.[133][134][135][136] Other countries including CubaChinaRussiaTurkey, and Iran have continued to recognize Maduro as president,[137][138] although China, facing financial pressure over its position, has reportedly begun hedging its position by decreasing loans given, cancelling joint ventures, and signaling willingness to work with all parties.[139] A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman denied the reports, describing them as “false information”.[140]

In January 2019 the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution “to not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s new term as of the 10th of January of 2019.”[141]

In August 2019, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order to impose a total economic embargo against Venezuela.[142]


Topographic map of Venezuela

Venezuela is located in the north of South America; geologically, its mainland rests on the South American Plate. It has a total area of 916,445 km2 (353,841 sq mi) and a land area of 882,050 km2 (340,560 sq mi), making Venezuela the 33rd largest country in the world. The territory it controls lies between latitudes  and 13°N and longitudes 59° and 74°W.

Shaped roughly like a triangle, the country has a 2,800 km (1,700 mi) coastline in the north, which includes numerous islands in the Caribbean and the northeast borders the northern Atlantic Ocean. Most observers describe Venezuela in terms of four fairly well defined topographical regions: the Maracaibo lowlands in the northwest, the northern mountains extending in a broad east-west arc from the Colombian border along the northern Caribbean coast, the wide plains in central Venezuela, and the Guiana Highlands in the southeast.

The northern mountains are the extreme northeastern extensions of South America’s Andes mountain range. Pico Bolívar, the nation’s highest point at 4,979 m (16,335 ft), lies in this region. To the south, the dissected Guiana Highlands contain the northern fringes of the Amazon Basin and Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, as well as tepuis, large table-like mountains. The country’s center is characterized by the llanos, which are extensive plains that stretch from the Colombian border in the far west to the Orinoco River delta in the east. The Orinoco, with its rich alluvial soils, binds the largest and most important river system of the country; it originates in one of the largest watersheds in Latin America. The Caroní and the Apure are other major rivers.

Venezuela borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south. Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, GrenadaCuraçaoAruba, and the Leeward Antilles lie near the Venezuelan coast. Venezuela has territorial disputes with Guyana, formerly United Kingdom, largely concerning the Essequibo area and with Colombia concerning the Gulf of Venezuela. In 1895, after years of diplomatic attempts to solve the border dispute, the dispute over the Essequibo River border flared up. It was submitted to a “neutral” commission (composed of British, American, and Russian representatives and without a direct Venezuelan representative), which in 1899 decided mostly against Venezuela’s claim.[143]

Venezuela’s most significant natural resources are petroleum and natural gasiron oregold, and other minerals. It also has large areas of arable land and water.

View of the tepuis, Kukenan and Roraima, in the Gran SabanaCanaima National Park. Tepuis are among the attractions of the park, these mountains are among the oldest exposed formations on the planet.[144]


Venezuela map of Köppen climate classification

Venezuelan climatic types, according to their thermal floors

Venezuela is entirely located in the tropics over the Equator to around 12° N. Its climate varies from humid low-elevation plains, where average annual temperatures range as high as 35 °C (95.0 °F), to glaciers and highlands (the páramos) with an average yearly temperature of 8 °C (46.4 °F). Annual rainfall varies from 430 mm (16.9 in) in the semiarid portions of the northwest to over 1,000 mm (39.4 in) in the Orinoco Delta of the far east and the Amazonian Jungle in the south. The precipitation level is lower in the period from August through April. These periods are referred to as hot-humid and cold-dry seasons. Another characteristic of the climate is this variation throughout the country by the existence of a mountain range called “Cordillera de la Costa” which crosses the country from east to west. The majority of the population lives in these mountains.[145]

The country falls into four horizontal temperature zones based primarily on elevation, having tropical, dry, temperate with dry winters, and polar (alpine tundra) climates, amongst others.[146][147][148] In the tropical zone—below 800 m (2,625 ft)—temperatures are hot, with yearly averages ranging between 26 and 28 °C (78.8 and 82.4 °F). The temperate zone ranges between 800 and 2,000 m (2,625 and 6,562 ft) with averages from 12 to 25 °C (53.6 to 77.0 °F); many of Venezuela’s cities, including the capital, lie in this region. Colder conditions with temperatures from 9 to 11 °C (48.2 to 51.8 °F) are found in the cool zone between 2,000 and 3,000 m (6,562 and 9,843 ft), especially in the Venezuelan Andes, where pastureland and permanent snowfield with yearly averages below 8 °C (46 °F) cover land above 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) in the páramos.

The highest temperature recorded was 42 °C (108 °F) in Machiques,[149] and the lowest temperature recorded was −11 °C (12 °F), it has been reported from an uninhabited high altitude at Páramo de Piedras Blancas (Mérida state),[150] even though no official reports exist, lower temperatures in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Mérida are known.


The Amazon of Venezuela and in the background the Autana Tepui

Ángel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, in Canaima National Park, Bolívar state

Venezuela lies within the Neotropic ecozone; large portions of the country were originally covered by moist broadleaf forests. One of 17 megadiverse countries,[151] Venezuela’s habitats range 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. They include xeric scrublands in the extreme northwest and coastal mangrove forests in the northeast.[145] Its cloud forests and lowland rainforests are particularly rich.[152]

Animals of Venezuela are diverse and include manateesthree-toed slothtwo-toed slothAmazon river dolphins, and Orinoco crocodiles, which have been reported to reach up to 6.6 m (22 ft) in length. Venezuela hosts a total of 1,417 bird species, 48 of which are endemic.[153] Important birds include ibisesospreyskingfishers,[152] and the yellow-orange Venezuelan troupial, the national bird. Notable mammals include the giant anteaterjaguar, and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent. More than half of Venezuelan avian and mammalian species are found in the Amazonian forests south of the Orinoco.[154]

For the fungi, an account was provided by R.W.G. Dennis[155] which has been digitized and the records made available on-line as part of the Cybertruffle Robigalia database.[156] That database includes nearly 3,900 species of fungi recorded from Venezuela, but is far from complete, and the true total number of fungal species already known from Venezuela is likely higher, given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7% of all fungi worldwide have so far been discovered.[157]

Among plants of Venezuela, over 25,000 species of orchids are found in the country’s cloud forest and lowland rainforest ecosystems.[152] These include the flor de mayo orchid (Cattleya mossiae), the national flower. Venezuela’s national tree is the araguaney, whose characteristic lushness after the rainy season led novelist Rómulo Gallegos to name it “[l]a primavera de oro de los araguaneyes” (the golden spring of the araguaneyes). The tops of the tepuis are also home to several carnivorous plants including the marsh pitcher plant, Heliamphora, and the insectivorous bromeliad, Brocchinia reducta.

Venezuela is among the top 20 countries in terms of endemism.[158] Among its animals, 23% of reptilian and 50% of amphibian species are endemic.[158] Although the available information is still very small, a first effort has been made to estimate the number of fungal species endemic to Venezuela: 1334 species of fungi have been tentatively identified as possible endemics of the country.[159] Some 38% of the over 21,000 plant species known from Venezuela are unique to the country.[158]


Tepui shrublands is an ecosystem that is considered almost endemic to Venezuela and currently classified Least Concern (LC) according to the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.[160][161]

Venezuela is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on the planet, yet it is one of the leaders of deforestation due to economic and political factors. Each year, roughly 287,600 hectares of forest are permanently destroyed and other areas are degraded by mining, oil extraction, and logging. Between 1990 and 2005, Venezuela officially lost 8.3% of its forest cover, which is about 4.3 million ha. In response, federal protections for critical habitat were implemented; for example, 20% to 33% of forested land is protected.[154] The country’s biosphere reserve is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; five wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.[162] In 2003, 70% of the nation’s land was under conservation management in over 200 protected areas, including 43 national parks.[163] Venezuela’s 43 national parks include Canaima National Park, Morrocoy National Park, and Mochima National Park. In the far south is a reserve for the country’s Yanomami tribes. Covering 32,000 square miles (82,880 square kilometres), the area is off-limits to farmers, miners, and all non-Yanomami settlers.

Venezuela was one of the few countries that did not enter an INDC at COP21.[164][165] Many terrestrial ecosystems are considered endangered, specially the dry forest in the northern regions of the country and the coral reefs in the Caribbean coast.[160][166][167]

Government and politics

Following the fall of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958, Venezuelan politics were dominated by the Third Way Christian democratic COPEI and the center-left social democratic Democratic Action (AD) parties; this two-party system was formalized by the puntofijismo arrangement. Economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s led to a political crisis which resulted in hundreds dead in the Caracazo riots of 1989, two attempted coups in 1992, and impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for corruption in 1993. A collapse in confidence in the existing parties saw the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez, who had led the first of the 1992 coup attempts, and the launch of a “Bolivarian Revolution”, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela.

The opposition’s attempts to unseat Chávez included the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt, the Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003, and the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, all of which failed. Chávez was re-elected in December 2006 but suffered a significant defeat in 2007 with the narrow rejection of the 2007 Venezuelan constitutional referendum, which had offered two packages of constitutional reforms aimed at deepening the Bolivarian Revolution.

Two major blocs of political parties are in Venezuela: the incumbent leftist bloc United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), its major allies Fatherland for All (PPT) and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), and the opposition bloc grouped into the electoral coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática. This includes A New Era (UNT) together with allied parties Project VenezuelaJustice FirstMovement for Socialism (MAS) and others. Hugo Chávez, the central figure of the Venezuelan political landscape since his election to the presidency in 1998 as a political outsider, died in office in early 2013, and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro (initially as interim president, before narrowly winning the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election).

The Venezuelan president is elected by a vote, with direct and universal suffrage, and is both head of state and head of government. The term of office is six years, and (as of 15 February 2009) a president may be re-elected an unlimited number of times. The president appoints the vice president and decides the size and composition of the cabinet and makes appointments to it with the involvement of the legislature. The president can ask the legislature to reconsider portions of laws he finds objectionable, but a simple parliamentary majority can override these objections.

The president may ask the National Assembly to pass an enabling act granting the ability to rule by decree in specified policy areas; this requires a two-thirds majority in the Assembly. Since 1959, six Venezuelan presidents have been granted such powers.

The unicameral Venezuelan parliament is the Asamblea Nacional (“National Assembly”). The number of members is variable – each state and the Capital district elect three representatives plus the result of dividing the state population by 1.1% of the total population of the country.[168] Three seats are reserved for representatives of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples. For the 2011–2016 period the number of seats is 165.[169] All deputies serve five-year terms.

The voting age in Venezuela is 18 and older. Voting is not compulsory.[170]

The legal system of Venezuela belongs to the Continental Law tradition. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Tribunal of Justice or Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, whose magistrates are elected by parliament for a single two-year term. The National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE) is in charge of electoral processes; it is formed by five main directors elected by the National Assembly. Supreme Court president Luisa Estela Morales said in December 2009 that Venezuela had moved away from “a rigid division of powers” toward a system characterized by “intense coordination” between the branches of government. Morales clarified that each power must be independent adding that “one thing is separation of powers and another one is division”.[171]

Suspension of constitutional rights

Protests in AltamiraCaracas (2014)

The 2015 parliamentary elections were held on 6 December 2015 to elect the 164 deputies and three indigenous representatives of the National Assembly. In 2014, a series of protest and demonstrations began in Venezuela, attributed[by whom?] to inflation, violence and shortages in Venezuela. The government has accused the protest of being motivated by fascists, opposition leaders, capitalism and foreign influence,[172] despite being largely peaceful.[173]

President Maduro acknowledged PSUV defeat, but attributed the opposition’s victory to an intensification of an economic war. Despite this, Maduro said “I will stop by hook or by crook the opposition coming to power, whatever the costs, in any way”.[174] In the following months, Maduro fulfilled his promise of preventing the democratically and constitutionally elected National Assembly from legislating. The first steps taken by PSUV and government were the substitution of the entire Supreme Court a day after the Parliamentary Elections[175] contrary to the Constitution of Venezuela, acclaimed as a fraud by the majority of the Venezuelan and international press.[176][177][178][179] The Financial Times described the function of the Supreme Court in Venezuela as “rubber stamping executive whims and vetoing legislation”.[180] The PSUV government used this violation to suspend several elected opponents,[181] ignoring again the Constitution of Venezuela. Maduro said that “the Amnesty law (approved by the Parliament) will not be executed” and asked the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional before the law was known.[182]

On 16 January 2016, Maduro approved an unconstitutional economic emergency decree,[183] relegating to his own figure the legislative and executive powers, while also holding judiciary power through the fraudulent designation of judges the day after the election on 6 December 2015.[175][176][177][178][179] From these events, Maduro effectively controls all three branches of government. On 14 May 2016, constitutional guarantees were in fact suspended when Maduro decreed the extension of the economic emergency decree for another 60 days and declared a State of Emergency,[184] which is a clear violation of the Constitution of Venezuela[185] in the Article 338th: “The approval of the extension of States of emergency corresponds to the National Assembly.” Thus, constitutional rights in Venezuela are considered suspended in fact by many publications[186][187][188] and public figures.[189][190][191]

On 14 May 2016, the Organization of American States was considering the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter[192] sanctions for non-compliance to its own constitution.

In March 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court took over law making powers from the National Assembly[193] but reversed its decision the following day.[194]

Foreign relations

The Guayana Esequiba claim area is a territory administered by Guyana and claimed by Venezuela.

Throughout most of the 20th century, Venezuela maintained friendly relations with most Latin American and Western nations. Relations between Venezuela and the United States government worsened in 2002, after the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt during which the U.S. government recognized the short-lived interim presidency of Pedro Carmona. In 2015, Venezuela was declared a national security threat by U.S. president Barack Obama.[195][196][197] Correspondingly, ties to various Latin American and Middle Eastern countries not allied to the U.S. have strengthened. For example, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki declared in 2015 that Venezuela was his country’s “most important ally”.[198]

President Maduro among other Latin American leaders participating in a 2017 ALBA gathering

Venezuela seeks alternative hemispheric integration via such proposals as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas trade proposal and the newly launched Latin American television network teleSUR. Venezuela is one of five nations in the world—along with Russia, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria—to have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Venezuela was a proponent of OAS‘s decision to adopt its Anti-Corruption Convention[199] and is actively working in the Mercosur trade bloc to push increased trade and energy integration. Globally, it seeks a “multi-polar” world based on strengthened ties among undeveloped countries.

On 26 April 2017, Venezuela announced its intention to withdraw from the OAS.[200] Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez said that President Nicolás Maduro plans to publicly renounce Venezuela’s membership on 27 April 2017. It will take two years for the country to formally leave. During this period, the country does not plan on participating in the OAS.[201]

Venezuela is involved in a long-standing disagreement about the control of the Guayana Esequiba area.


Sukhoi SU-30MKV of the Venezuelan Air Force

The Bolivarian National Armed Forces of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, FANB) are the overall unified military forces of Venezuela. It includes over 320,150 men and women, under Article 328 of the Constitution, in 5 components of Ground, Sea and Air. The components of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces are: the Venezuelan Army, the Venezuelan Navy, the Venezuelan Air Force, the Venezuelan National Guard, and the Venezuelan National Militia.

As of 2008, a further 600,000 soldiers were incorporated into a new branch, known as the Armed Reserve. The president of Venezuela is the commander-in-chief of the national armed forces. The main roles of the armed forces are to defend the sovereign national territory of Venezuela, airspace, and islands, fight against drug trafficking, to search and rescue and, in the case of a natural disaster, civil protection. All male citizens of Venezuela have a constitutional duty to register for the military service at the age of 18, which is the age of majority in Venezuela.

Law and crime

Murder rate (murder per 100,000 citizens) from 1998 to 2018.
Sources: OVV,[202][203] PROVEA,[204][205] UN[204][205][206]
* UN line between 2007 and 2012 is simulated missing data.
Number of kidnappings in Venezuela 1989–2011
Source: CICPC[207][208][209]
* Express kidnappings may not be included in data

In Venezuela, a person is murdered every 21 minutes.[210] Violent crimes have been so prevalent in Venezuela that the government no longer produces the crime data.[211] In 2013, the homicide rate was approximately 79 per 100,000, one of the world’s highest, having quadrupled in the past 15 years with over 200,000 people murdered.[212] By 2015, it had risen to 90 per 100,000.[213] The country’s body count of the previous decade mimics that of the Iraq War and in some instances had more civilian deaths even though the country is at peacetime.[214] The capital Caracas has one of the greatest homicide rates of any large city in the world, with 122 homicides per 100,000 residents.[215] In 2008, polls indicated that crime was the number one concern of voters.[216] Attempts at fighting crime such as Operation Liberation of the People were implemented to crack down on gang-controlled areas[217] but, of reported criminal acts, less than 2% are prosecuted.[218] In 2017, the Financial Times noted that some of the arms procured by the government over the previous two decades had been diverted to paramilitary civilian groups and criminal syndicates.[180]

Venezuela is especially dangerous toward foreign travelers and investors who are visiting. The United States Department of State and the Government of Canada have warned foreign visitors that they may be subjected to robbery, kidnapping for a ransom or sale to terrorist organizations[219] and murder, and that their own diplomatic travelers are required to travel in armored vehicles.[220][221] The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to Venezuela.[222] Visitors have been murdered during robberies and criminals do not discriminate among their victims. Former Miss Venezuela 2004 winner Mónica Spear and her ex-husband were murdered and their 5-year-old daughter was shot while vacationing in Venezuela, and an elderly German tourist was murdered only a few weeks later.[223][224]

There are approximately 33 prisons holding about 50,000 inmates.[225] They include; El Rodeo outside of Caracas, Yare Prison in the northern state of Miranda, and several others. Venezuela’s prison system is heavily overcrowded; its facilities have capacity for only 14,000 prisoners.[226]


Corruption in Venezuela is high by world standards and was so for much of the 20th century. The discovery of oil had worsened political corruption,[227] and by the late 1970s, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso‘s description of oil as “the Devil’s excrement” had become a common expression in Venezuela.[228] Venezuela has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index since the survey started in 1995. The 2010 ranking placed Venezuela at number 164, out of 178 ranked countries in government transparency.[229] By 2016, the rank had increased to 166 out of 178.[230] Similarly, the World Justice Project ranked Venezuela 99th out of 99 countries surveyed in its 2014 Rule of Law Index.[231]

This corruption is shown with Venezuela’s significant involvement in drug trafficking, with Colombian cocaine and other drugs transiting Venezuela towards the United States and Europe. In the period 2003 – 2008 Venezuelan authorities seized the fifth largest total quantity of cocaine in the world, behind Colombia, the United States, Spain and Panama.[232] In 2006, the government’s agency for combating the Illegal drug trade in Venezuela, ONA, was incorporated into the office of the vice-president of the country. However, many major government and military officials have been known for their involvement with drug trafficking; especially with the October 2013 incident of men from the Venezuelan National Guard placing 1.3 tons of cocaine on a Paris flight knowing they will not face charges.[233]

States and regions of Venezuela

State Capital State Capital
 Amazonas Puerto Ayacucho  Mérida Mérida
 Anzoátegui Barcelona  Miranda Los Teques
 Apure San Fernando de Apure  Monagas Maturín
 Aragua Maracay  Nueva Esparta La Asunción
 Barinas Barinas  Portuguesa Guanare
 Bolívar Ciudad Bolívar  Sucre Cumaná
 Carabobo Valencia  Táchira San Cristóbal
 Cojedes San Carlos  Trujillo Trujillo
 Delta Amacuro Tucupita  Yaracuy San Felipe
 Caracas Caracas  Zulia Maracaibo
 Falcón Coro  Vargas La Guaira
 Guárico San Juan de los Morros  Federal Dependencies1 El Gran Roque
 Lara Barquisimeto
1 The Federal Dependencies are not states. They are just special divisions of the territory.

Venezuela is divided into 23 states (estados), a capital district (distrito capital) corresponding to the city of Caracas, and the Federal Dependencies (Dependencias Federales, a special territory). Venezuela is further subdivided into 335 municipalities (municipios); these are subdivided into over one thousand parishes (parroquias). The states are grouped into nine administrative regions (regiones administrativas), which were established in 1969 by presidential decree.

The country can be further divided into ten geographical areas, some corresponding to climatic and biogeographical regions. In the north are the Venezuelan Andes and the Coro region, a mountainous tract in the northwest, holds several sierras and valleys. East of it are lowlands abutting Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela.

The Central Range runs parallel to the coast and includes the hills surrounding Caracas; the Eastern Range, separated from the Central Range by the Gulf of Cariaco, covers all of Sucre and northern Monagas. The Insular Region includes all of Venezuela’s island possessions: Nueva Esparta and the various Federal Dependencies. The Orinoco Delta, which forms a triangle covering Delta Amacuro, projects northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.

Largest cities

Largest metropolitan areas


Graphical depiction of Venezuela’s product exports in 28 color-coded categories

The Central Bank of Venezuela is responsible for developing monetary policy for the Venezuelan bolívar which is used as currency. The president of the Central Bank of Venezuela serves as the country’s representative in the International Monetary Fund. The U.S.-based conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, cited in The Wall Street Journal, claims Venezuela has the weakest property rights in the world, scoring only 5.0 on a scale of 100; expropriation without compensation is not uncommon. Venezuela has a mixed economy dominated by the petroleum sector,[235] which accounts for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. Per capita GDP for 2016 was estimated to be US$15,100, ranking 109th in the world.[65] Venezuela has the least expensive petrol in the world because the consumer price of petrol is heavily subsidized.

Annual variation of real GDP according to the Central Bank of Venezuela (2016 preliminary)[236][237]

As of 2011, more than 60% of Venezuela’s international reserves was in gold, eight times more than the average for the region. Most of Venezuela’s gold held abroad was located in London. On 25 November 2011, the first of US$11 billion of repatriated gold bullion arrived in Caracas; Chávez called the repatriation of gold a “sovereign” step that will help protect the country’s foreign reserves from the turmoil in the U.S. and Europe.[238] However government policies quickly spent down this returned gold and in 2013 the government was forced to add the dollar reserves of state owned companies to those of the national bank to reassure the international bond market.[239]

Manufacturing contributed 17% of GDP in 2006. Venezuela manufactures and exports heavy industry products such as steelaluminium and cement, with production concentrated around Ciudad Guayana, near the Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world and the provider of about three-quarters of Venezuela’s electricity. Other notable manufacturing includes electronics and automobiles, as well as beverages, and foodstuffsAgriculture in Venezuela accounts for approximately 3% of GDP, 10% of the labor force, and at least a quarter of Venezuela’s land area. The country is not self-sufficient in most areas of agriculture. In 2012, total food consumption was over 26 million metric tonnes, a 94.8% increase from 2003.[240]

Since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century, Venezuela has been one of the world’s leading exporters of oil, and it is a founding member of OPEC. 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[14] as (by 1998) per capita GDP fell to the same level as 1963, down a third from its 1978 peak.[15] The 1990s also saw Venezuela experience a major banking crisis in 1994.

Business Center Sabana Grande (2018), headquarters of Petrocaribe

The recovery of oil prices after 2001 boosted the Venezuelan economy and facilitated social spending. With social programs such as the Bolivarian Missions, Venezuela initially made progress in social development in the 2000s, particularly in areas such as health, education, and poverty. Many of the social policies pursued by Chávez and his administration were jump-started by the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals that Venezuela and 188 other nations agreed to in September 2000.[241] The sustainability of the Bolivarian Missions has been questioned due to the Bolivarian state’s overspending on public works and because the Chávez government did not save funds for future economic hardships like other OPEC nations; with economic issues and poverty rising as a result of their policies in the 2010s.[24][242][243] In 2003 the government of Hugo Chávez implemented currency controls after capital flight led to a devaluation of the currency. This led to the development of a parallel market of dollars in the subsequent years. The fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis saw a renewed economic downturn. Despite controversial data shared by the Venezuelan government showing that the country had halved malnutrition following one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals,[114][244] shortages of staple goods began to occur in Venezuela and malnutrition began to increase.[114] In early 2013, Venezuela devalued its currency due to growing shortages in the country.[245][246][247] The shortages included, and still include, necessities such as toilet paper, milk, and flour.[248] Fears rose so high due to the toilet paper shortage that the government occupied a toilet paper factory, and continued further plans to nationalize other industrial aspects like food distribution.[249][250] Venezuela’s bond ratings have also decreased multiple times in 2013 due to decisions by the president Nicolás Maduro. One of his decisions was to force stores and their warehouses to sell all of their products, which led to even more shortages in the future.[251] In 2016, consumer prices in Venezuela increased 800% and the economy declined by 18.6%, entering an economic depression.[252][253] Venezuela’s outlook was deemed negative by most bond-rating services in 2017.[254][255] For 2018 an inflation rate of 1,000,000 percent was projected, putting Venezuela in a similar situation to that in Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s.[256]


Islands of the Venezuelan Caribbean Sea

Tourism has been developed considerably in recent decades, particularly because of its favorable geographical position, the variety of landscapes, the richness of plant and wildlife, the artistic expressions and the privileged tropical climate of the country, which affords each region (especially the beaches) throughout the year.

Margarita Island is one of the top tourist destinations for enjoyment and relaxation. It is an island with a modern infrastructure, bordered by beautiful beaches suitable for extreme sports, and features castles, fortresses and churches of great cultural value.


Empty shelves in a store in Venezuela due to shortages

Shortages in Venezuela have been prevalent following the enactment of price controls and other policies during the economic policy of the Hugo Chávez government.[257][258] Under the economic policy of the Nicolás Maduro government, greater shortages occurred due to the Venezuelan government’s policy of withholding United States dollars from importers with price controls.[259]

Shortages occur in regulated products, such as milk, various types of meat, coffee, rice, oil, flour, butter, and other goods including basic necessities like toilet paper, personal hygiene products, and even medicine.[257][260][261] As a result of the shortages, Venezuelans must search for food, wait in lines for hours and sometimes settle without having certain products.[262][263] Maduro’s government has blamed the shortages on “bourgeois criminals” hoarding goods.[264]

A drought, combined with a lack of planning and maintenance, has caused a hydroelectricity shortage. To deal with lack of power supply, in April 2016 the Maduro government announced rolling blackouts[265] and reduced the government workweek to only Monday and Tuesday.[266] A multi-university study found that, in 2016 alone, about 75% of Venezuelans lost weight due to hunger, with the average losing about 8.6 kg (19 lbs) due to the lack of food.[267]

By late-2016 and into 2017, Venezuelans had to search for food on a daily basis, occasionally resorting to eating wild fruit or garbage, wait in lines for hours and sometimes settle without having certain products.[268][263][269][270][271] By early 2017, priests began telling Venezuelans to label their garbage so needy individuals could feed on their refuse.[272] In March 2017, Venezuela, with the largest oil reserves in the world, began having shortages of gasoline in some regions with reports that fuel imports had begun.[273]

Petroleum and other resources

A map of world oil reserves according to OPEC, 2013. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves, and the eighth largest natural gas reserves in the world.[274] Compared to the preceding year another 40.4% in crude oil reserves were proven in 2010, allowing Venezuela to surpass Saudi Arabia as the country with the largest reserves of this type.[275] The country’s main petroleum deposits are located around and beneath Lake Maracaibo, the Gulf of Venezuela (both in Zulia), and in the Orinoco River basin (eastern Venezuela), where the country’s largest reserve is located. Besides the largest conventional oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere,[276] Venezuela has non-conventional oil deposits (extra-heavy crude oilbitumen and tar sands) approximately equal to the world’s reserves of conventional oil.[277] The electricity sector in Venezuela is one of the few to rely primarily on hydropower, and includes the Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world.

In the first half of the 20th century, U.S. oil companies were heavily involved in Venezuela, initially interested only in purchasing concessions.[278] In 1943 a new government introduced a 50/50 split in profits between the government and the oil industry. In 1960, with a newly installed democratic government, Hydrocarbons Minister Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso led the creation of OPEC, the consortium of oil-producing countries aiming to support the price of oil.[279]

In 1973, Venezuela voted to nationalize its oil industry outright, effective 1 January 1976, with Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) taking over and presiding over a number of holding companies; in subsequent years, Venezuela built a vast refining and marketing system in the U.S. and Europe.[280] In the 1990s PDVSA became more independent from the government and presided over an apertura (opening) in which it invited in foreign investment. Under Hugo Chávez a 2001 law placed limits on foreign investment.

The state oil company PDVSA played a key role in the December 2002 – February 2003 national strike which sought President Chávez’ resignation. Managers and skilled highly paid technicians of PDVSA shut down the plants and left their posts, and by some reports sabotaged equipment, and petroleum production and refining by PDVSA almost ceased. Activities eventually were slowly restarted by returning and substitute oil workers. As a result of the strike, around 40% of the company’s workforce (around 18,000 workers) were dismissed for “dereliction of duty” during the strike.[281][282]


Caracas Metro in Plaza Venezuela

Venezuela is connected to the world primarily via air (Venezuela’s airports include the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, near Caracas and La Chinita International Airport near Maracaibo) and sea (with major sea ports at La Guaira, Maracaibo and Puerto Cabello). In the south and east the Amazon rainforest region has limited cross-border transport; in the west, there is a mountainous border of over 2,213 kilometres (1,375 mi) shared with Colombia. The Orinoco River is navigable by oceangoing vessels up to 400 kilometres (250 mi) inland, and connects the major industrial city of Ciudad Guayana to the Atlantic Ocean.

Venezuela has a limited national railway system, which has no active rail connections to other countries. The government of Hugo Chávez tried to invest in expanding it, but Venezuela’s rail project is on hold due to Venezuela not being able to pay the $7.5 billion[clarification needed] and owing China Railway nearly $500 million.[283] Several major cities have metro systems; the Caracas Metro has been operating since 1983. The Maracaibo Metro and Valencia Metro were opened more recently. Venezuela has a road network of nearly 100,000 kilometres (62,000 mi) in length, placing the country around 45th in the world;[284] around a third of roads are paved.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
1950 5,094,000
1960 7,562,000 +4.03%
1970 10,681,000 +3.51%
1980 15,036,000 +3.48%
1990 19,685,000 +2.73%
2000 24,348,000 +2.15%
2011 28,400,000 +1.41%
2016 31,028,337 +1.79%
Source: United Nations

Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin America;[12][13] the vast majority of Venezuelans live in the cities of the north, especially in the capital Caracas, which is also the largest city. About 93% of the population lives in urban areas in northern Venezuela; 73% live less than 100 kilometres (62 mi) from the coastline.[287] Though almost half of Venezuela’s land area lies south of the Orinoco, only 5% of Venezuelans live there. The largest and most important city south of the Orinoco is Ciudad Guayana, which is the sixth most populous conurbation.[288] Other major cities include BarquisimetoValenciaMaracay, Maracaibo, Barcelona-Puerto La CruzMérida and San Cristóbal.

According to a 2014 study by sociologists of the Central University of Venezuela, over 1.5 million Venezuelans, or about 4% to 6% of the country’s population, have left Venezuela since 1999 following the Bolivarian Revolution.[289][290]

Ethnic groups

Racial and Ethnic Composition (2011 Census)[1]
Other races

The people of Venezuela come from a variety of ancestries. It is estimated that the majority of the population is of mestizo, or mixed, ethnic ancestry. Nevertheless, in the 2011 census, which Venezuelans were asked to identify themselves according to their customs and ancestry, the term mestizo was excluded from the answers. The majority claimed to be mestizo or white—51.6% and 43.6%, respectively.[1] Practically half of the population claimed to be moreno, a term used throughout Ibero-America that in this case means “dark-skinned” or “brown-skinned”, as opposed to having a lighter skin (this term connotes skin color or tone, rather than facial features or descent).

Ethnic minorities in Venezuela consist of groups that descend mainly from African or indigenous peoples; 2.8% identified themselves as “black” and 0.7% as afrodescendiente (Afro-descendant), 2.6% claimed to belong to indigenous peoples, and 1.2% answered “other races”.[1][1]

Among indigenous people, 58% were Wayúu, 7% Warao, 5% Kariña, 4% Pemón, 3% Piaroa, 3% Jivi, 3% Añu, 3% Cumanágoto, 2% Yukpa, 2% Chaima and 1% Yanomami; the remaining 9% consisted of other indigenous nations.[291]

According to an autosomal DNA genetic study conducted in 2008 by the University of Brasília (UNB), the composition of Venezuela’s population is 60.60% of European contribution, 23% of indigenous contribution, and 16.30% of African contribution.[292]

Moreno (Mestizo) population of Venezuela in 2011
White population of Venezuela in 2011
Amerindian population of Venezuela in 2011
Black and Afrodescendant population of Venezuela in 2011

During the colonial period and until after the Second World War, many of the European immigrants to Venezuela came from the Canary Islands,[293] which had a significant cultural impact on the cuisine and customs of Venezuela.[294][295][296] These influences on Venezuela have led to the nation being called the 8th island of the Canaries.[297][298] With the start of oil exploitation in the early 20th century, companies from the United States began establishing operations in Venezuela, bringing with them U.S. citizens. Later, during and after the war, new waves of immigrants from other parts of Europe, the Middle East, and China began; many were encouraged by government-established immigration programs and lenient immigration policies.[299] During the 20th century, Venezuela, along with the rest of Latin America, received millions of immigrants from Europe.[300][301] This was especially true post-World War II, as a consequence of war-ridden Europe.[300][301][302] During the 1970s, while experiencing an oil-export boom, Venezuela received millions of immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.[302] Due to the belief that this immigration influx depressed wages, some Venezuelans opposed European immigration.[302] The Venezuelan government, however, were actively recruiting immigrants from Eastern Europe to fill a need for engineers.[300] Millions of Colombians, as well as Middle Eastern and Haitian populations would continue immigrating to Venezuela into the early 21st century.[299]

According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Venezuela hosted a population of refugee and asylum seekers from Colombia numbering 252,200 in 2007, and 10,600 new asylum seekers entered Venezuela in 2007.[303] Between 500,000 and one million illegal immigrants are estimated to be living in the country.[304]

The total indigenous population of the country is estimated at about 500 thousand people (2.8% of the total), distributed among 40 indigenous peoples.[305] There are three uncontacted tribes living in Venezuela. The Constitution recognizes the multi-ethnic, pluri-cultural, and multilingual character of the country and includes a chapter devoted to indigenous peoples’ rights, which opened up spaces for their political inclusion at national and local level in 1999. Most indigenous peoples are concentrated in eight states along Venezuela’s borders with Brazil, Guyana, and Colombia, and the majority groups are the Wayuu (west), the Warao (east), the Yanomami (south), and the Pemon (southeast).


Although most residents are monolingual Spanish speakers, many languages are spoken in Venezuela. In addition to Spanish, the Constitution recognizes more than thirty indigenous languages, including Wayuu, Warao, Pemón, and many others for the official use of the indigenous peoples, mostly with few speakers – less than 1% of the total population. Wayuu is the most spoken indigenous language with 170,000 speakers.[306]

Immigrants, in addition to Spanish, speak their own languages. Chinese (400,000), Portuguese (254,000),[306] and Italian (200,000)[307] are the most spoken languages in Venezuela after the official language of Spanish. Arabic is spoken by Lebanese and Syrian colonies on Isla de Margarita, Maracaibo, Punto Fijo, Puerto la Cruz, El Tigre, Maracay, and Caracas. Portuguese is spoken not only by the Portuguese community in Santa Elena de Uairén but also by much of the population due to its proximity to Brazil.[308] The German community speaks their native language, while the people of Colonia Tovar speak mostly an Alemannic dialect of German called alemán coloniero.

English is the most widely used foreign language in demand and is spoken by many professionals, academics, and members of the upper and middle classes as a result of the oil exploration done by foreign companies, in addition to its acceptance as a lingua franca. Culturally, English is common in southern towns like El Callao, and the native English-speaking influence is evident in folk and calypso songs from the region. English was brought to Venezuela by Trinidadian and other British West Indies immigrants.[309] A variety of Antillean Creole is spoken by a small community in El Callao and Paria.[310] Italian language teaching is guaranteed by the presence of a consistent number of private Venezuelan schools and institutions, where Italian language courses and Italian literature are active. Other languages spoken by large communities in the country are Basque and Galician, among others.


Religion in Venezuela according to the 2011 census[2]

  Catholic (71%)
  Protestant (17%)
  Agnostic/Atheist (7%)
  Other religion (3%)
  No answer (1%)

According to a 2011 poll (GIS XXI), 88% of the population is Christian, primarily Roman Catholic (71%), and the remaining 17% Protestant, primarily Evangelicals (in Latin America Protestants are usually called “evangelicos”). 8% of Venezuelans are irreligious (atheist 2% and agnostic and 6% indifferent). Almost 3% of the population follow another religion (1% of these people practice Santería).[2]

There are small but influential MuslimBuddhist, and Jewish communities. The Muslim community of more than 100,000 is concentrated among persons of Lebanese and Syrian descent living in Nueva Esparta StatePunto Fijo and the Caracas area. Buddhism in Venezuela is practiced by over 52,000 people. The Buddhist community is made up mainly of ChineseJapanese, and Korean people. There are Buddhist centers in Caracas, Maracay, Mérida, Puerto Ordáz, San Felipe, and Valencia.

The Jewish community has shrunk in recent years due to rising antisemitism in Venezuela,[311][312][313][314][315] with the population declining from 22,000 in 1999[316] to less than 7,000 in 2015.[317]


The joropo, as depicted in a 1912 drawing by Eloy Palacios

The culture of Venezuela is a melting pot made up of three main groups: The Indigenous Venezuelans, the Africans, and the Spanish. The first two cultures were in turn differentiated according to their tribes. Acculturation and assimilation, typical of a cultural syncretism, led to the Venezuelan culture of the present day, which is similar in many ways to the culture of the rest of Latin America, but still has its own unique characteristics.

The indigenous and African influence is limited to a few words, food names, and place names. However, the Africans also brought in many musical influences, especially introduction of the drum. The Spanish influence predominantes due to the colonization process and the socioeconomic structure it created, and in particular came from the regions of Andalusia and Extremadura (the places of origin of most of the settlers in the Caribbean during the colonial era). Spanish influences can be seen in the country’s architecture, music, religion, and language.

Spanish influences can also be seen in the bullfights that take place in Venezuela, and in certain gastronomical features. Venezuela was also enriched by immigration streams of Indian and European origin in the 19th century, especially from France. Most recently, immigration from the United States, Spain, Italy, and Portugal has further enriched the already complex cultural mosaic (especially in large oil-producing cities).


Carlos Raúl Villanueva was the most important Venezuelan architect of the modern era; he designed the Central University of Venezuela, (a World Heritage Site) and its Aula Magna. Other notable architectural works include the Capitolio, the Baralt Theatre, the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex, and the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge.


Antonio Herrera Toro, self portrait 1880

Venezuelan art was initially dominated by religious motifs. However, in the late 19th century, artists began emphasizing historical and heroic representations of the country’s struggle for independence.[318][319] This move was led by Martín Tovar y Tovar.[319][320] Modernism took over in the 20th century.[320] Notable Venezuelan artists include Arturo MichelenaCristóbal RojasArmando ReverónManuel Cabré; the kinetic artists Jesús SotoGego and Carlos Cruz-Diez;[320] and contemporary artists such as Marisol and Yucef Merhi.[321][322]


Venezuelan literature originated soon after the Spanish conquest of the mostly pre-literate indigenous societies.[323] It was originally dominated by Spanish influences. Following the rise of political literature during the Venezuelan War of Independence, Venezuelan Romanticism, notably expounded by Juan Vicente González, emerged as the first important genre in the region. Although mainly focused on narrative writing, Venezuelan literature was advanced by poets such as Andrés Eloy Blanco and Fermín Toro.

Major writers and novelists include Rómulo GallegosTeresa de la ParraArturo Uslar PietriAdriano González LeónMiguel Otero Silva, and Mariano Picón Salas. The great poet and humanist Andrés Bello was also an educator and intellectual (He was also a childhood tutor and mentor of Simón Bolívar). Others, such as Laureano Vallenilla Lanz and José Gil Fortoul, contributed to Venezuelan Positivism.


The Guanaguanare dance, a popular dance in Portuguesa State

The indigenous musical styles of Venezuela are exemplified by groups like Un Sólo Pueblo and Serenata Guayanesa. The national musical instrument is the cuatro. Traditional musical styles and songs mainly emerged in and around the llanos region, including, “Alma llanera” (by Pedro Elías Gutiérrez and Rafael Bolívar Coronado), “Florentino y el diablo” (by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba), “Concierto en la llanura” by Juan Vicente Torrealba, and “Caballo viejo” (by Simón Díaz).

The Zulian gaita is also a very popular genre, generally performed during Christmas. The national dance is the joropo.[324] Venezuela has always been a melting pot of cultures and this can be seen in the richness and variety of its musical styles and dances: calipsobambuco, fulía, cantos de pilado de maíz, cantos de lavanderas, sebucán, and maremare.[325] Teresa Carreño was a world-famous 19th century piano virtuoso. Recently, great classical music performances have come out of Venezuela. The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, under the leadership of its principal conductor Gustavo Dudamel and José Antonio Abreu, has hosted a number of excellent concerts in many European concert halls, most notably at the 2007 London Proms, and has received several honors. The orchestra is the pinnacle of El Sistema, a publicly financed, voluntary music education program now being emulated in other countries.

In the early 21st century, a movement known as “Movida Acústica Urbana” featured musicians trying to save some national traditions, creating their own original songs but using traditional instruments.[326][327] Some groups following this movement are Tambor Urbano,[328] Los Sinverguenzas, C4Trío, and Orozco Jam.[329]

Afro-Venezuelan musical traditions are most intimately related to the festivals of the “black folk saints” San Juan and St. Benedict the Moor. Specific songs are related to the different stages of their festivals and processions, when the saints start their yearly “paseo” – stroll – through the community to dance with their people.


The origins of baseball in Venezuela are unclear, although it is known that the sport was being played in the country by the late 19th century.[330] In the early 20th century, North American immigrants who came to Venezuela to work in the nation’s oil industry helped to popularize the sport in Venezuela.[331] During the 1930s, baseball’s popularity continued to rise in the country, leading to the foundation of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League (LVBP) in 1945, and the sport would soon become the nation’s most popular.[332][333]

The immense popularity of baseball in the country makes Venezuela a rarity among its South American neighbors—association football is the dominant sport in the continent.[331][333][334] However, football, as well as basketball, are among the more popular sports played in Venezuela.[335] Venezuela hosted the 2012 Basketball World Olympic Qualifying Tournament and the 2013 FIBA Basketball Americas Championship, which took place in the Poliedro de Caracas.

Venezuela national football team, popularly known as the “Vinotinto”

Although not as popular in Venezuela as the rest of South America, football, spearheaded by the Venezuela national football team is gaining popularity as well. The sport is also noted for having an increased focus during the World Cup.[335] According to the CONMEBOL alphabetical rotation policy established in 2011, Venezuela is scheduled to host the Copa América every 40 years.[336]

Venezuela is also home to former Formula 1 driver, Pastor Maldonado.[337] At the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, he claimed his first pole and victory, and became the first and only Venezuelan to have done so in Formula 1 history.[337] Maldonado has increased the reception of Formula 1 in Venezuela, helping to popularize the sport in the country.[338]

In the 2012 Summer Olympics, Venezuelan Rubén Limardo won a gold medal in fencing.[339]


The Venezuelan cuisine reflects the climatic contrasts and cultures that coexist in Venezuela. Among Venezuela’s dishes are the hallacapabellón criolloarepasempanadas, pisca andina, tarkarí de chivo, jalea de mango, patacones, and fried camiguanas.


Illiteracy rate in Venezuela based on data from UNESCO[340][341] and the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) of Venezuela[342]

The literacy rate of the adult population was already at 91.1% by 1998.[343] In 2008, 95.2% of the adult population was literate.[344] The net primary school enrollment rate was at 91% and the net secondary school enrollment rate was at 63% in 2005.[344] Venezuela has a number of universities, of which the most prestigious are the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) founded in Caracas in 1721, the University of Zulia (LUZ) founded in 1891, the University of the Andes (ULA) founded in Mérida State in 1810, the Simón Bolívar University (USB) founded in Miranda State in 1967, and the University of the East (UDO) founded in Sucre State in 1958.

Currently, many Venezuelan graduates seek a future abroad because of the country’s troubled economy and heavy crime rate. In a study titled “Venezolana Community Abroad: A New Method of Exile” by Thomas Páez, Mercedes Vivas, and Juan Rafael Pulido of the Central University of Venezuela, over 1.35 million Venezuelan college graduates have left the country since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution.[289][290] It is believed that nearly 12% of Venezuelans live abroad, with Ireland becoming a popular destination for students.[345] According to Claudio Bifano, president of the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, more than half of all medical graduates had left Venezuela in 2013.[346]

By 2018, over half of all Venezuelan children had dropped out of school, with 58% of students quitting nationwide while areas near bordering countries saw more than 80% of their students leave.[347][348] Nationwide, about 93% of schools do not meet the minimum requirements to operate and 77% do not have utilities such as food, water or electricity.[348]


Cases of malaria in Venezuela according to the Ministry of Popular Power for Health[349]
Deaths of children under one year in Venezuela according to the Ministry of Popular Power for Health[349]

Venezuela has a national universal health care system. The current government has created a program to expand access to health care known as Misión Barrio Adentro,[350][351] although its efficiency and work conditions have been criticized.[352][353][354] It has been reported that many Misión Barrio Adentro clinics have been closed, and (as of December 2014) it is estimated that 80% of Barrio Adentro establishments in Venezuela are abandoned.[355][356]

Infant mortality in Venezuela was 19 deaths per 1,000 births for 2014 which was lower than the South American average (To compare: The U.S. figure was 6 deaths per 1,000 births in 2013 and the Canadian figure was 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births).[357] Child malnutrition (defined as stunting or wasting in children under the age of five) was 17%. Delta Amacuro and Amazonas had the nation’s highest rates.[358] According to the United Nations, 32% of Venezuelans lacked adequate sanitation, primarily those living in rural areas.[359] Diseases ranging from diphtheriaplaguemalaria,[218] typhoid feveryellow fevercholerahepatitis Ahepatitis B, and hepatitis D were present in the country.[360] Obesity was prevalent in approximately 30% of the adult population in Venezuela.[357]

Venezuela had a total of 150 sewage treatment plants; however, 13% of the population lacked access to drinking water, but this number had been dropping.[361]

During the economic crisis observed under President Maduro’s presidency, medical professionals were forced to perform outdated treatments on patients.[362]

See also




Coordinates16°42′43″S 64°39′58″W

Plurinational State of Bolivia
Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia  (Spanish)
Tetã Hetãvoregua Mborivia  (Guarani)
Wuliwya Suyu  (Aymara)
Puliwya Mamallaqta  (Quechua)
Motto: “La Unión es la Fuerza” (Spanish)
“Unity is Strength”[1]
Anthem: Himno Nacional de Bolivia (Spanish)


Location of Bolivia (dark green) in South America (grey)

Location of Bolivia (dark green)in South America (grey)

Location of Bolivia
Capital Sucre (constitutional and judicial)
La Paz (executive and legislative)
Largest city Santa Cruz de la Sierra
17°48′S 63°10′W
Official languages[2]
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s) Bolivian
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic
Jeanine Áñez (interim)[4][5]
Legislature Plurinational Legislative Assembly
Chamber of Deputies
from Spain
• Declared
6 August 1825
• Recognized
21 July 1847
14 November 1945
• Current constitution
7 February 2009
• Total
1,098,581 km2 (424,164 sq mi) (27th)
• Water (%)
• 2019[6] estimate
11,428,245 (83rd)
• Density
10.4/km2 (26.9/sq mi) (224th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$89.018 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$43.687 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2016) Positive decrease 44.6[8]
HDI (2018) Increase 0.703[9]
high · 114th
Currency Boliviano (BOB)
Time zone UTC−4 (BOT)
Driving side right
Calling code +591
ISO 3166 code BO
Internet TLD .bo
  1. ^ While Sucre is the constitutional capital, La Paz is the seat of the government as member of the UCCI and the de facto capital. See below.

Bolivia[10] (/bəˈlɪviə/ (About this soundlisten) Spanish pronunciation: [bo.ˈli.βja]), officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia (SpanishEstado Plurinacional de Bolivia Spanish pronunciation: [esˈtaðo pluɾinasjoˈnal de βoˈliβja] (About this soundlisten)),[11][12] is a landlocked country located in western-central South America. The capital is Sucre, while the seat of government and financial center is located in La Paz. The largest city and principal industrial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra, located on the Llanos Orientales (tropical lowlands), a mostly flat region in the east of the country.

The sovereign state of Bolivia is a constitutionally unitary state, divided into nine departments. Its geography varies from the peaks of the Andes in the West, to the Eastern Lowlands, situated within the Amazon Basin. It is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. One-third of the country is within the Andean mountain range. With 1,098,581 km2 (424,164 sq mi) of area, Bolivia is the fifth largest country in South America, after BrazilArgentinaPeru and Colombia (and alongside Paraguay, one of the only two landlocked countries in the Americas), the 27th largest in the world, the largest landlocked country in the Southern Hemisphere and the world’s seventh largest landlocked country, after KazakhstanMongoliaChadNigerMali and Ethiopia.

The country’s population, estimated at 11 million, is multiethnic, including AmerindiansMestizosEuropeansAsians and AfricansSpanish is the official and predominant language, although 36 indigenous languages also have official status, of which the most commonly spoken are GuaraniAymara and Quechua languages.

Before Spanish colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire, while the northern and eastern lowlands were inhabited by independent tribes. Spanish conquistadors arriving from Cuzco and Asunción took control of the region in the 16th century. During the Spanish colonial period Bolivia was administered by the Royal Audiencia of Charcas. Spain built its empire in large part upon the silver that was extracted from Bolivia’s mines. After the first call for independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar. Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century Bolivia lost control of several peripheral territories to neighboring countries including the seizure of its coastline by Chile in 1879. Bolivia remained relatively politically stable until 1971, when Hugo Banzer led a coup d’état which replaced the socialist government of Juan José Torres with a military dictatorship headed by Banzer; Torres was murdered in Buenos AiresArgentina by a right-wing death squad in 1976. Banzer’s regime cracked down on leftist and socialist opposition and other forms of dissent, resulting in the torture and deaths of a number of Bolivian citizens. Banzer was ousted in 1978 and later returned as the democratically elected president of Bolivia from 1997 to 2001.

Modern Bolivia is a charter member of the UNIMFNAMOASACTOBank of the SouthALBA and USAN. For over a decade Bolivia has had[when?] one of the highest economic growth rates in Latin America; however, it remains the second poorest country in South America.[13] It is a developing country, with a medium ranking in the Human Development Index, a poverty level of 38.6%,[14] and one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America.[15] Its main economic activities include agricultureforestryfishingmining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very rich in minerals, including tinsilver, and lithium.


Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan leader in the Spanish American wars of independence.[16] The leader of VenezuelaAntonio José de Sucre, had been given the option by Bolívar to either unite Charcas (present-day Bolivia) with the newly formed Republic of Peru, to unite with the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, or to formally declare its independence from Spain as a wholly independent state. Sucre opted to create a brand new state and on 6 August 1825, with local support, named it in honor of Simón Bolívar.[17]

The original name was Republic of Bolívar. Some days later, congressman Manuel Martín Cruz proposed: “If from Romulus comes Rome, then from Bolívar comes Bolivia” (Spanish: Si de Rómulo, Roma; de Bolívar, Bolivia). The name was approved by the Republic on 3 October 1825.[18] In 2009, a new constitution changed the country’s official name to “Plurinational State of Bolivia” in recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of the country and the enhanced position of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples under the new constitution.[18]



Puerta del Sol, Archaeological Zone of Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Tiwanaku at its largest territorial extent, AD 950 (present-day boundaries shown).

The region now known as Bolivia had been occupied for over 2,500 years when the Aymara arrived. However, present-day Aymara associate themselves with the ancient civilization of the Tiwanaku culture which had its capital at Tiwanaku, in Western Bolivia. The capital city of Tiwanaku dates from as early as 1500 BC when it was a small, agriculturally based village.[19]

The community grew to urban proportions between AD 600 and AD 800, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes. According to early estimates,[when?] the city covered approximately 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles) at its maximum extent and had between 15,000 and 30,000 inhabitants.[20] In 1996 satellite imaging was used to map the extent of fossilized suka kollus (flooded raised fields) across the three primary valleys of Tiwanaku, arriving at population-carrying capacity estimates of anywhere between 285,000 and 1,482,000 people.[21]

Around AD 400, Tiwanaku went from being a locally dominant force to a predatory state. Tiwanaku expanded its reaches into the Yungas and brought its culture and way of life to many other cultures in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Tiwanaku was not a violent culture in many respects. In order to expand its reach, Tiwanaku exercised great political astuteness, creating colonies, fostering trade agreements (which made the other cultures rather dependent), and instituting state cults.[22]

The empire continued to grow with no end in sight. William H. Isbell states “Tiahuanaco underwent a dramatic transformation between AD 600 and 700 that established new monumental standards for civic architecture and greatly increased the resident population.”[23] Tiwanaku continued to absorb cultures rather than eradicate them. Archaeologists note a dramatic adoption of Tiwanaku ceramics into the cultures which became part of the Tiwanaku empire. Tiwanaku’s power was further solidified through the trade it implemented among the cities within its empire.[22]

Tiwanaku’s elites gained their status through the surplus food they controlled, collected from outlying regions and then redistributed to the general populace. Further, this elite’s control of llama herds became a powerful control mechanism as llamas were essential for carrying goods between the civic centre and the periphery. These herds also came to symbolize class distinctions between the commoners and the elites. Through this control and manipulation of surplus resources, the elite’s power continued to grow until about AD 950. At this time a dramatic shift in climate occurred,[24][page needed] causing a significant drop in precipitation in the Titicaca Basin, believed by archaeologists to have been on the scale of a major drought.

As the rainfall decreased, many of the cities farther away from Lake Titicaca began to tender fewer foodstuffs to the elites. As the surplus of food decreased, and thus the amount available to underpin their power, the control of the elites began to falter. The capital city became the last place viable for food production due to the resiliency of the raised field method of agriculture. Tiwanaku disappeared around AD 1000 because food production, the main source of the elites’ power, dried up. The area remained uninhabited for centuries thereafter.[24]

Inca Expansion (1438–1533)

Between 1438 and 1527, the Inca empire expanded from its capital at CuzcoPeru. It gained control over much of what is now Andean Bolivia and extended its control into the fringes of the Amazon basin.

Colonial period[edit]

The Spanish conquest of the Inca empire began in 1524, and was mostly completed by 1533. The territory now called Bolivia was known as Charcas, and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Local government came from the Audiencia de Charcas located in Chuquisaca (La Plata—modern Sucre). Founded in 1545 as a mining town, Potosí soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming the largest city in the New World with a population exceeding 150,000 people.[25]

By the late 16th century, Bolivian silver was an important source of revenue for the Spanish Empire.[26] A steady stream of natives served as labor force under the brutal, slave conditions of the Spanish version of the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita.[27] Charcas was transferred to the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776 and the people from Buenos Aires, the capital of the Viceroyalty, coined the term “Upper Peru” (SpanishAlto Perú) as a popular reference to the Royal Audiencia of Charcas. Túpac Katari led the indigenous rebellion that laid siege to La Paz in March 1781,[28] during which 20,000 people died.[29] As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew.

Independence and subsequent wars[edit]

The struggle for independence started in the city of Sucre on 25 May 1809 and the Chuquisaca Revolution (Chuquisaca was then the name of the city) is known as the first cry of Freedom in Latin America. That revolution was followed by the La Paz revolution on 16 July 1809. The La Paz revolution marked a complete split with the Spanish government, while the Chuquisaca Revolution established a local independent junta in the name of the Spanish King deposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Both revolutions were short-lived and defeated by the Spanish authorities in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de La Plata, but the following year the Spanish American wars of independence raged across the continent.

Bolivia was captured and recaptured many times during the war by the royalists and patriots. Buenos Aires sent three military campaigns, all of which were defeated, and eventually limited itself to protecting the national borders at Salta. Bolivia was finally freed of Royalist dominion by Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, with a military campaign coming from the North in support of the campaign of Simón Bolívar. After 16 years of war the Republic was proclaimed on 6 August 1825.

The first coat of arms of Bolivia, formerly named the Republic of Bolívar in honor of Simón Bolívar

In 1836, Bolivia, under the rule of Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, invaded Peru to reinstall the deposed president, General Luis José de Orbegoso. Peru and Bolivia formed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, with de Santa Cruz as the Supreme Protector. Following tension between the Confederation and Chile, Chile declared war on 28 December 1836. Argentina separately declared war on the Confederation on 9 May 1837. The Peruvian-Bolivian forces achieved several major victories during the War of the Confederation: the defeat of the Argentine expedition and the defeat of the first Chilean expedition on the fields of Paucarpata near the city of Arequipa.

At the outset of the war, the Chilean and Peruvian rebel army surrendered unconditionally and signed the Paucarpata Treaty. The treaty stipulated that Chile would withdraw from Peru-Bolivia, Chile would return captured Confederate ships, economic relations would be normalized, and the Confederation would pay Peruvian debt to Chile. In Chile, the government and public rejected the peace treaty. Chile organized a second attack on the Confederation and defeated it in the Battle of Yungay. After this defeat, Santa Cruz resigned and went to exile in Ecuador and then Paris, and the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation was dissolved.

Following the renewed independence of Peru, Peruvian president General Agustín Gamarra invaded Bolivia on November 18, 1841, the battle de Ingavi took place, in which the Bolivian Army defeated the Peruvian troops of Gamarra (killed in the battle). After the victory, Bolivia invaded Perú, several fronts of struggle were opened in the Peruvian south.

The eviction of the Bolivian troops in the south of Peru would be achieved by the greater availability of material and human resources of Peru, the Bolivian Army did not have enough troops to maintain the occupation. In the district of Locumba – Tacna, a column between Peruvian soldiers and peasants defeated a Bolivian regiment in the so-called Battle of Los Altos de Chipe (Locumba). In the district of Sama and in Arica, the Peruvian colonel José María Lavayén organizes a troop that manages to defeat the Bolivian forces of Colonel Rodríguez Magariños which dislodges the port of Arica. The battle of Tarapacá of 1842, Peruvian militias formed by the commander Juan Buendía, defeated on January 7, 1842, the detachment led by Bolivian colonel José María García, who died in the confrontation. Thus, the Bolivian troops leave Tacna, Arica and Tarapacá in February 1842, retreating towards Moquegua and Puno.[30] The combats of Motoni and  Orurillo expelled and subsequently initiated the withdrawal of Bolivian forces occupying Peruvian territory, threatening again Bolivia to suffer an invasion.

At the end of the war, the Treaty of Puno was signed on June 7, 1842. However, the climate of tension between Lima and La Paz would continue until 1847, when the signing of a Peace and Trade Treaty became effective.

The estimated population of the main three cities in 1843 was La Paz 300,000, Cochabamba 250,000 and Potosi 200,000.[31]

A period of political and economic instability in the early-to-mid-19th century weakened Bolivia. In addition, during the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile occupied vast territories rich in natural resources south west of Bolivia, including the Bolivian coast. Chile took control of today’s Chuquicamata area, the adjoining rich salitre (saltpeter) fields, and the port of Antofagasta among other Bolivian territories.

Thus, since independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighboring countries.[32] Through diplomatic channels in 1909, it lost the basin of the Madre de Dios River and the territory of the Purus in the Amazon, yielding 250,000 km² to Peru.[33] It also lost the state of Acre, in the Acre War, important because this region was known for its production of rubber. Peasants and the Bolivian army fought briefly but after a few victories, and facing the prospect of a total war against Brazil, it was forced to sign the Treaty of Petrópolis in 1903, in which Bolivia lost this rich territory. Popular myth has it that Bolivian president Mariano Melgarejo (1864–71) traded the land for what he called “a magnificent white horse” and Acre was subsequently flooded by Brazilians, which ultimately led to confrontation and fear of war with Brazil.[citation needed] In the late 19th century, an increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia relative prosperity and political stability.

Early 20th century[edit]

Bolivia’s territorial losses (1867–1938)

During the early 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country’s most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elite followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first 30 years of the 20th century.[34]

Living conditions of the native people, who constitute most of the population, remained deplorable. With work opportunities limited to primitive conditions in the mines and in large estates having nearly feudal status, they had no access to education, economic opportunity, and political participation. Bolivia’s defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–35), where Bolivia lost a great part of the Gran Chaco region in dispute, marked a turning-point.[35][36][37]

The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), the most historic political party, emerged as a broad-based party. Denied its victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR led a successful revolution in 1952. Under President Víctor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR, having strong popular pressure, introduced universal suffrage into his political platform and carried out a sweeping land-reform promoting rural education and nationalization of the country’s largest tin mines.

Late 20th century[edit]

In 1971 Hugo Banzer Suárez, supported by the CIA, forcibly ousted President Torres in a coup.

Twelve years of tumultuous rule left the MNR divided. In 1964, a military junta overthrew President Estenssoro at the outset of his third term. The 1969 death of President René Barrientos Ortuño, a former member of the junta who was elected president in 1966, led to a succession of weak governments. Alarmed by the rising Popular Assembly and the increase in the popularity of President Juan José Torres, the military, the MNR, and others installed Colonel (later General) Hugo Banzer Suárez as president in 1971. He returned to the presidency in 1997 through 2001. Juan José Torres, who had fled Bolivia, was kidnapped and assassinated in 1976 as part of Operation Condor, the U.S.-supported campaign of political repression by South American right-wing dictators.[38]

The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) financed and trained the Bolivian military dictatorship in the 1960s. The revolutionary leader Che Guevara was killed by a team of CIA officers and members of the Bolivian Army on 9 October 1967, in Bolivia. Félix Rodríguez was a CIA officer on the team with the Bolivian Army that captured and shot Guevara.[39] Rodriguez said that after he received a Bolivian presidential execution order, he told “the soldier who pulled the trigger to aim carefully, to remain consistent with the Bolivian government’s story that Che had been killed in action during a clash with the Bolivian army.” Rodriguez said the US government had wanted Che in Panama, and “I could have tried to falsify the command to the troops, and got Che to Panama as the US government said they had wanted”, but that he had chosen to “let history run its course” as desired by Bolivia.[40]

Elections in 1979 and 1981 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups d’état, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. In 1980, General Luis García Meza Tejada carried out a ruthless and violent coup d’état that did not have popular support. He pacified the people by promising to remain in power only for one year. At the end of the year, he staged a televised rally to claim popular support and announced, “Bueno, me quedo“, or, “All right; I’ll stay [in office].”[41] After a military rebellion forced out Meza in 1981, three other military governments in 14 months struggled with Bolivia’s growing problems. Unrest forced the military to convoke the Congress, elected in 1980, and allow it to choose a new chief executive. In October 1982, Hernán Siles Zuazo again became president, 22 years after the end of his first term of office (1956–60).

Democratic transition[edit]

In 1993, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was elected president in alliance with the Tupac Katari Revolutionary Liberation Movement, which inspired indigenous-sensitive and multicultural-aware policies.[42] Sánchez de Lozada pursued an aggressive economic and social reform agenda. The most dramatic reform was privatization under the “capitalization” program, under which investors, typically foreign, acquired 50% ownership and management control of public enterprises in return for agreed upon capital investments.[43][44] In 1993, Sanchez de Lozada introduced the Plan de Todos, which led to the decentralization of government, introduction of intercultural bilingual education, implementation of agrarian legislation, and privatization of state owned businesses. The plan explicitly stated that Bolivian citizens would own a minimum of 51% of enterprises; under the plan, most state-owned enterprises (SOEs), though not mines, were sold.[45] This privatization of SOEs led to a neoliberal structuring.[46]

The Law of Popular Participation dumped upon municipalities the responsibility of maintaining various infrastructures (and offering services): health, education, systems of irrigation, without support from the state.[when?][citation needed] The reforms and economic restructuring were strongly opposed by certain segments of society, which instigated frequent and sometimes violent protests, particularly in La Paz and the Chapare coca-growing region, from 1994 through 1996. The indigenous population of the Andean region was not able to benefit from government reforms.[47] During this time, the umbrella labor-organization of Bolivia, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), became increasingly unable to effectively challenge government policy. A teachers’ strike in 1995 was defeated because the COB could not marshal the support of many of its members, including construction and factory workers.

1997–2002 General Banzer Presidency[edit]

In the 1997 elections, General Hugo Banzer, leader of the Nationalist Democratic Action party (ADN) and former dictator (1971–78), won 22% of the vote, while the MNR candidate won 18%. At the outset of his government, President Banzer launched a policy of using special police-units to eradicate physically the illegal coca of the Chapare region. The MIR of Jaime Paz Zamora remained a coalition-partner throughout the Banzer government, supporting this policy (called the Dignity Plan).[48] The Banzer government basically continued the free-market and privatization-policies of its predecessor. The relatively robust economic growth of the mid-1990s continued until about the third year of its term in office. After that, regional, global and domestic factors contributed to a decline in economic growth. Financial crises in Argentina and Brazil, lower world prices for export commodities, and reduced employment in the coca sector depressed the Bolivian economy. The public also perceived a significant amount of public sector corruption. These factors contributed to increasing social protests during the second half of Banzer’s term.

Between January 1999 and April 2000, large-scale protests erupted in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city, in response to the privatisation of water resources by foreign companies and a subsequent doubling of water prices. On 6 August 2001, Banzer resigned from office after being diagnosed with cancer. He died less than a year later. Vice President Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramírez completed the final year of his term.

In the June 2002 national elections, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (MNR) placed first with 22.5% of the vote, followed by coca-advocate and native peasant-leader Evo Morales (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS) with 20.9%. A July agreement between the MNR and the fourth-place MIR, which had again been led in the election by former President Jaime Paz Zamora, virtually ensured the election of Sánchez de Lozada in the congressional run-off, and on 6 August he was sworn in for the second time. The MNR platform featured three overarching objectives: economic reactivation (and job creation), anti-corruption, and social inclusion.

Former President, Evo Morales

In 2003 the Bolivian gas conflict broke out. On 12 October 2003 the government imposed martial law in El Alto after 16 people were shot by the police and several dozen wounded in violent clashes. Faced with the option of resigning or more bloodshed, Sánchez de Lozada offered his resignation in a letter to an emergency session of Congress. After his resignation was accepted and his vice president, Carlos Mesa, invested, he left on a commercially scheduled flight for the United States.

The country’s internal situation became unfavorable for such political action on the international stage. After a resurgence of gas protests in 2005, Carlos Mesa attempted to resign in January 2005, but his offer was refused by Congress. On 22 March 2005, after weeks of new street protests from organizations accusing Mesa of bowing to U.S. corporate interests, Mesa again offered his resignation to Congress, which was accepted on 10 June. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodríguez, was sworn as interim president to succeed the outgoing Carlos Mesa.

2005–present Morales Presidency and re-nationalization of petroleum assets[edit]

Evo Morales’ inauguration as President

Evo Morales won the 2005 presidential election with 53.7% of the votes, an absolute majority, unusual in Bolivian elections. On May 1st, 2006, Morales caused controversy when he announced his intent to re-nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbon assets. Fulfilling a campaign promise, on August 6th, 2006, Morales opened the Bolivian Constituent Assembly to begin writing a new constitution aimed at giving more power to the indigenous majority.[49]

In August 2007, conflicts arose in Sucre, as the city demanded the discussion of the seat of government inside the assembly, hoping the executive and legislative branches could return to the city, but the assembly and the government said this demand was overwhelmingly impractical and politically undesirable. Three people died in that conflict and many resulted wounded. In May 2008, Evo Morales was a signatory to the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty of the Union of South American Nations. In the 2009 national general elections, Evo Morales was re-elected with 64.22% of the vote. His party, Movement for Socialism, also won a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Congress.

Amidst allegations that Morales rigged the 2019 Bolivian general election and after widespread protests against his rule, former government officials reported that Morales’ arrest was being sought.[50][51] Morales resigned on 10 November 2019, shortly after the military recommended his resignation in order to pacify the country. He fled to Mexico and was granted asylum there. Jeanine Áñez was declared acting president of Bolivia following the constitutional line of succession after the President, Vice President and Head of the Senate resigned. She was confirmed Interim President without a Congressional quorum due to refusal by the MAS senators to participate.[52] Some Morales supporters perceive his resignation as a coup. Violent protests against Áñez followed incited by Morales followers.[53] Many protesters are indigenous people who object to the evangelical Christian leanings of the new government.[54]

On December 4th, the Organization of American States published their final report of the audit of the elections, confirming intentional manipulation and irregularities in the electoral process.[55]

Evo Morales was the most important Bolivian leader of the last half-century. From leader of the coca growers, he became the first Indigenous president in one of South America’s poorest countries, a defender of marginalized people who improved the lives of the poor. He offered some apparent stability in a country known for its instability. He won three elections, starting in 2006, and ruled for almost 14 years. He controlled the executive, legislature and judiciary, as well as the electoral authority, police and army.[56] A referendum held on February 21st, 2016 put a limit of three terms to presidencies, which would have barred him from a fourth term, but a constitutional court put the restriction aside. [57]


Copacabana, on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.

Satellite image of Bolivia

Bolivian Altiplano.

Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun in Spanish), a geothermal field in Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Potosi Department, southwestern Bolivia. The area, characterized by intense volcanic activity, with sulphur spring fields and mud lakes, has indeed no geysers but rather holes that emit pressurized steam up to 50 metres high.

Amazon river basin seen in Pando Department, Northern Bolivia.

Bolivia is located in the central zone of South America, between 57°26’–69°38’W and 9°38’–22°53’S. With an area of 1,098,581 square kilometres (424,164 sq mi), Bolivia is the world’s 28th-largest country, and the fifth largest country in South America,[58] extending from the Central Andes through part of the Gran ChacoPantanal and as far as the Amazon. The geographic center of the country is the so-called Puerto Estrella (“Star Port”) on the Río Grande, in Ñuflo de Chávez ProvinceSanta Cruz Department.

The geography of the country exhibits a great variety of terrain and climates. Bolivia has a high level of biodiversity, considered one of the greatest in the world, as well as several ecoregions with ecological sub-units such as the Altiplanotropical rainforests (including Amazon rainforest), dry valleys, and the Chiquitania, which is a tropical savanna. These areas feature enormous variations in altitude, from an elevation of 6,542 metres (21,463 ft) above sea level in Nevado Sajama to nearly 70 metres (230 ft) along the Paraguay River. Although a country of great geographic diversity, Bolivia has remained a landlocked country since the War of the PacificPuerto SuárezSan Matías and Puerto Quijarro are located in the Bolivian Pantanal.

Bolivia can be divided into three physiographic regions:

  • The Andean region in the southwest spans 28% of the national territory, extending over 307,603 square kilometres (118,766 sq mi). This area is located above 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) altitude and is located between two big Andean chains, the Cordillera Occidental (“Western Range”) and the Cordillera Central (“Central Range”), with some of the highest spots in the Americas such as the Nevado Sajama, with an altitude of 6,542 metres (21,463 ft), and the Illimani, at 6,462 metres (21,201 ft). Also located in the Cordillera Central is Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America;[59] the lake is shared with Peru. Also in this region are the Altiplano and the Salar de Uyuni, which is the largest salt flat in the world and an important source of lithium.
  • The Sub-Andean region in the center and south of the country is an intermediate region between the Altiplano and the eastern llanos (plain); this region comprises 13% of the territory of Bolivia, extending over 142,815 km2 (55,141 sq mi), and encompassing the Bolivian valleys and the Yungas region. It is distinguished by its farming activities and its temperate climate.
  • The Llanos region in the northeast comprises 59% of the territory, with 648,163 km2 (250,257 sq mi). It is located to the north of the Cordillera Central and extends from the Andean foothills to the Paraguay River. It is a region of flat land and small plateaus, all covered by extensive rain forests containing enormous biodiversity. The region is below 400 metres (1,300 ft) above sea level.

Bolivia has three drainage basins:


Mean annual precipitation in Bolivia[60]

Bolivia map of Köppen climate classification.[61]

The geology of Bolivia comprises a variety of different lithologies as well as tectonic and sedimentary environments. On a synoptic scale, geological units coincide with topographical units. Most elementally, the country is divided into a mountainous western area affected by the subduction processes in the Pacific and an eastern lowlands of stable platforms and shields.


The climate of Bolivia varies drastically from one eco-region to the other, from the tropics in the eastern llanos to a polar climate in the western Andes. The summers are warm, humid in the east and dry in the west, with rains that often modify temperatures, humidity, winds, atmospheric pressure and evaporation, yielding very different climates in different areas. When the climatological phenomenon known as El Niño[62][63] takes place, it causes great alterations in the weather. Winters are very cold in the west, and it snows in the mountain ranges, while in the western regions, windy days are more common. The autumn is dry in the non-tropical regions.

  • Llanos. A humid tropical climate with an average temperature of 25 °C (77 °F). The wind coming from the Amazon rainforest causes significant rainfall. In May, there is low precipitation because of dry winds, and most days have clear skies. Even so, winds from the south, called surazos, can bring cooler temperatures lasting several days.
  • AltiplanoDesertPolar climates, with strong and cold winds. The average temperature ranges from 15 to 20 °C. At night, temperatures descend drastically to slightly above 0 °C, while during the day, the weather is dry and solar radiation is high. Ground frosts occur every month, and snow is frequent.
  • Valleys and YungasTemperate climate. The humid northeastern winds are pushed to the mountains, making this region very humid and rainy. Temperatures are cooler at higher elevations. Snow occurs at altitudes of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft).
  • ChacoSubtropical semi-arid climate. Rainy and humid in January and the rest of the year, with warm days and cold nights.

Issues with climate change[edit]

Bolivia is especially vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. Twenty percent of the world’s tropical glaciers are located within the country,[64] and are more sensitive to change in temperature due to the tropical climate they are located in. Temperatures in the Andes increased by 0.1 °C per decade from 1939 to 1998, and have begun to triple (0.33 °C) annually from 1980 to 2005,[65] causing glaciers to recede at an accelerated pace and create unforeseen water shortages in Andean agricultural towns. Farmers have taken to temporary city jobs when there is poor yield for their crops, while others have started permanently leaving the agricultural sector and are migrating to nearby towns for other forms of work;[66] some view these migrants as the first generation of climate refugees.[67] Cities that neighboring agricultural land, like El Alto, face the challenge of providing services to the influx of new migrants; because there is no alternative water source, the city’s water source is now being constricted.

Bolivia’s government and other agencies have acknowledged the need to instill new policies battling the effects of climate change. The World Bank has provided funding through the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and are using the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR II) to construct new irrigation systems, protect riverbanks and basins, and work on building water resources with the help of indigenous communities.[68] Bolivia has also implemented the Bolivian Strategy on Climate Change, which is based on taking action in these four areas:

  1. Promoting clean development in Bolivia by introducing technological changes in the agriculture, forestry, and industrial sectors, aimed to reduce GHG emissions with a positive impact on development.
  2. Contributing to carbon management in forests, wetlands and other managed natural ecosystems.
  3. Increasing effectiveness in energy supply and use to mitigate effects of GHG emissions and risk of contingencies.
  4. Focus on increased and efficient observations, and understanding of environmental changes in Bolivia to develop effective and timely responses.[69]


Bolivia, with an enormous variety of organisms and ecosystems, is part of the “Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries“.[70]

Bolivia’s variable altitudes, ranging from 90–6,542 metres (295–21,463 ft) above sea level, allow for a vast biologic diversity. The territory of Bolivia comprises four types of biomes, 32 ecological regions, and 199 ecosystems. Within this geographic area there are several natural parks and reserves such as the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, the Madidi National Park, the Tunari National Park, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, and the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area, among others.

Bolivia boasts over 17,000 species of seed plants, including over 1,200 species of fern, 1,500 species of marchantiophyta and moss, and at least 800 species of fungus. In addition, there are more than 3,000 species of medicinal plants. Bolivia is considered the place of origin for such species as peppers and chili pepperspeanuts, the common beansyucca, and several species of palm. Bolivia also naturally produces over 4,000 kinds of potatoes.

Bolivia has more than 2,900 animal species, including 398 mammals, over 1,400 birds (about 14% of birds known in the world, being the sixth most diverse country in terms of bird species)[71][unreliable source?], 204 amphibians, 277 reptiles, and 635 fish, all fresh water fish as Bolivia is a landlocked country. In addition, there are more than 3,000 types of butterfly, and more than 60 domestic animals.

Bolivia has gained global attention for its ‘Law of the Rights of Mother Earth‘, which accords nature the same rights as humans.[72]

A view from the mountain in El Sauce overlooking Samaipata, Bolivia

Politics and government[edit]

The government building of the National Congress of Bolivia at the Plaza Murillo in central La Paz

Bolivia has been governed by democratically elected governments since 1982; prior to that, it was governed by various dictatorships. Presidents Hernán Siles Zuazo (1982–85) and Víctor Paz Estenssoro (1985–89) began a tradition of ceding power peacefully which has continued, although three presidents have stepped down in the face of popular protests: Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, Carlos Mesa in 2005, and Evo Morales in 2019.

Bolivia’s multiparty democracy has seen a wide variety of parties in the presidency and parliament, although the Revolutionary Nationalist MovementNationalist Democratic Action, and the Revolutionary Left Movement predominated from 1985 to 2005. On November 11th, 2019, all senior governmental positions were vacated following the resignation of Evo Morales and his government. On November 13th, 2019, Jeanine Áñez, a former senator representing Beni, declared herself acting president of Bolivia. She is currently the de facto President of Bolivia.

The constitution, drafted in 2006–07 and approved in 2009, provides for balanced executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral powers, as well as several levels of autonomy. The traditionally strong executive branch tends to overshadow the Congress, whose role is generally limited to debating and approving legislation initiated by the executive. The judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court and departmental and lower courts, has long been riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Through revisions to the constitution in 1994, and subsequent laws, the government has initiated potentially far-reaching reforms in the judicial system as well as increasing decentralizing powers to departments, municipalities, and indigenous territories.

The executive branch is headed by a president and vice president, and consists of a variable number (currently, 20) of government ministries. The president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, and governs from the Presidential Palace (popularly called the Burnt Palace, Palacio Quemado) in La Paz. In the case that no candidate receives an absolute majority of the popular vote or more than 40% of the vote with an advantage of more than 10% over the second-place finisher, a run-off is to be held among the two candidates most voted.[73]

The Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional (Plurinational Legislative Assembly or National Congress) has two chambers. The Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 130 members elected to five-year terms, seventy from single-member districts (circunscripciones), sixty by proportional representation, and seven by the minority indigenous peoples of seven departments. The Cámara de Senadores (Chamber of Senators) has 36 members (four per department). Members of the Assembly are elected to five-year terms. The body has its headquarters on the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, but also holds honorary sessions elsewhere in Bolivia. The Vice President serves as titular head of the combined Assembly.

The Supreme Court Building in the capital of Bolivia, Sucre

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Plurinational Constitutional Court, the Judiciary Council, Agrarian and Environmental Court, and District (departmental) and lower courts. In October 2011, Bolivia held its first judicial elections to choose members of the national courts by popular vote, a reform brought about by Evo Morales.

The Plurinational Electoral Organ is an independent branch of government which replaced the National Electoral Court in 2010. The branch consists of the Supreme Electoral Court, the nine Departmental Electoral Court, Electoral Judges, the anonymously selected Juries at Election Tables, and Electoral Notaries.[74] Wilfredo Ovando presides over the seven-member Supreme Electoral Court. Its operations are mandated by the Constitution and regulated by the Electoral Regime Law (Law 026, passed 2010). The Organ’s first elections were the country’s first judicial election in October 2011, and five municipal special elections held in 2011.


Bolivia has its constitutionally recognized capital in Sucre, while La Paz is the seat of government. La Plata (now Sucre) was proclaimed provisional capital of the newly independent Alto Perú (later, Bolivia) on 1 July 1826.[75] On 12 July 1839, President José Miguel de Velasco proclaimed a law naming the city as the capital of Bolivia, and renaming it in honor of the revolutionary leader Antonio José de Sucre.[75] The Bolivian seat of government moved to La Paz at the start of the twentieth century, as a consequence of Sucre’s relative remoteness from economic activity after the decline of Potosí and its silver industry and of the Liberal Party in the War of 1899.

The 2009 Constitution assigns the role of national capital to Sucre, not referring to La Paz in the text.[73] In addition to being the constitutional capital, the Supreme Court of Bolivia is located in Sucre, making it the judicial capital. Nonetheless, the Palacio Quemado (the Presidential Palace and seat of Bolivian executive power) is located in La Paz, as are the National Congress and Plurinational Electoral Organ. La Paz thus continues to be the seat of government.

Law and crime[edit]

There are 54 prisons in Bolivia, which incarcerate around 8,700 people as of 2010. The prisons are managed by the Penitentiary Regime Directorate (Spanish: Dirección de Régimen Penintenciario). There are 17 prisons in departmental capital cities and 36 provincial prisons.[76]

Foreign relations[edit]

Presidents of Bolivia, Cuba and El Salvador greet Nicolás Maduro at Maduro’s second inauguration in Caracas on 10 January 2019

Despite losing its maritime coast, the so-called Litoral Department, after the War of the Pacific, Bolivia has historically maintained, as a state policy, a maritime claim to that part of Chile; the claim asks for sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean and its maritime space. The issue has also been presented before the Organization of American States; in 1979, the OAS passed the 426 Resolution,[77] which declared that the Bolivian problem is a hemispheric problem. On 4 April 1884, a truce was signed with Chile, whereby Chile gave facilities of access to Bolivian products through Antofagasta, and freed the payment of export rights in the port of Arica. In October 1904, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed, and Chile agreed to build a railway between Arica and La Paz, to improve access of Bolivian products to the ports.

The Special Economical Zone for Bolivia in Ilo (ZEEBI) is a special economic area of 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) of maritime coast, and a total extension of 358 hectares (880 acres), called Mar Bolivia (“Sea Bolivia”), where Bolivia may maintain a free port near IloPeru under its administration and operation[78][unreliable source?] for a period of 99 years starting in 1992; once that time has passed, all the construction and territory revert to the Peruvian government. Since 1964, Bolivia has had its own port facilities in the Bolivian Free Port in Rosario, Argentina. This port is located on the Paraná River, which is directly connected to the Atlantic Ocean.

The dispute with Chile was taken to the International Court of Justice. The court ruled in support of the Chilean position, and declared that although Chile may have held talks about a Bolivian corridor to the sea, the country was not required to actually negotiate one or to surrender its territory.[79]


The Bolivian military comprises three branches: Ejército (Army)Naval (Navy) and Fuerza Aérea (Air Force). The legal age for voluntary admissions is 18; however, when numbers are small the government in the past has recruited people as young as 14.[3] The tour of duty is generally 12 months.

The Bolivian army has around 31,500 men. There are six military regions (regiones militares—RMs) in the army. The army is organized into ten divisions. Although it is landlocked Bolivia keeps a navy. The Bolivian Naval Force (Fuerza Naval Boliviana in Spanish) is a naval force about 5,000 strong in 2008.[80] The Bolivian Air Force (‘Fuerza Aérea Boliviana’ or ‘FAB’) has nine air bases, located at La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa CruzPuerto SuárezTarijaVillamontesCobijaRiberalta, and Roboré.

In 2018, Bolivia signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.[81][82]

The Bolivian government annually spends $130 million on defense.[83]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Bolivia has nine departments—PandoLa PazBeniOruroCochabambaSanta CruzPotosíChuquisacaTarija.

According to what is established by the Bolivian Political Constitution, the Law of Autonomies and Decentralization regulates the procedure for the elaboration of Statutes of Autonomy, the transfer and distribution of direct competences between the central government and the autonomous entities.[84]

There are four levels of decentralization: Departmental government, constituted by the Departmental Assembly, with rights over the legislation of the department. The governor is chosen by universal suffrage. Municipal government, constituted by a Municipal Council, with rights over the legislation of the municipality. The mayor is chosen by universal suffrage. Regional government, formed by several provinces or municipalities of geographical continuity within a department. It is constituted by a Regional Assembly. Original indigenous government, self-governance of original indigenous people on the ancient territories where they live.

No. Department Capital

Territorial division of Bolivia

1 Pando Cobija
2 La Paz La Paz
3 Beni Trinidad
4 Oruro Oruro
5 Cochabamba Cochabamba
6 Santa Cruz Santa Cruz de la Sierra
7 Potosí Potosí
8 Chuquisaca Sucre
9 Tarija Tarija


Graphical depiction of Bolivia’s product exports in 28 color-coded categories

La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivia’s estimated 2012 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled $27.43 billion at official exchange rate and $56.14 billion at purchasing power parity. Despite a series of mostly political setbacks, between 2006 and 2009 the Morales administration has spurred growth higher than at any point in the preceding 30 years. The growth was accompanied by a moderate decrease in inequality.[85] A surplus budget of 1.7% (GDP) was obtained by 2012, the government runs surpluses since Morales administration reflecting a prudent economic management.

A major blow to the Bolivian economy came with a drastic fall in the price of tin during the early 1980s, which impacted one of Bolivia’s main sources of income and one of its major mining industries.[86] Since 1985, the government of Bolivia has implemented a far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and structural reform aimed at maintaining price stability, creating conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating scarcity. A major reform of the customs service has significantly improved transparency in this area. Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place market-liberal policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and telecommunication sectors, that have encouraged private investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment.[87]

Young miners at work in Potosí

In April 2000, Hugo Banzer, the former president of Bolivia, signed a contract with Aguas del Tunari, a private consortium, to operate and improve the water supply in Bolivia’s third-largest city, Cochabamba. Shortly thereafter, the company tripled the water rates in that city, an action which resulted in protests and rioting among those who could no longer afford clean water.[88][89] Amidst Bolivia’s nationwide economic collapse and growing national unrest over the state of the economy, the Bolivian government was forced to withdraw the water contract.

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America.[90] The government has a long-term sales agreement to sell natural gas to Brazil through 2019. The government held a binding referendum in 2005 on the Hydrocarbon Law.

The US Geological Service estimates that Bolivia has 5.4 million cubic tonnes of lithium, which represent 50%–70% of world reserves. However, to mine for it would involve disturbing the country’s salt flats (called Salar de Uyuni), an important natural feature which boosts tourism in the region. The government does not want to destroy this unique natural landscape to meet the rising world demand for lithium.[91] On the other hand, sustainable extraction of lithium is attempted by the government. This project is carried out by the public company “Recursos Evaporíticos” subsidiary of COMIBOL.

It is thought that due to the importance of lithium for batteries for electric vehicles and stabilization of electric grids with large proportions of intermittent renewables in the electricity mix, Bolivia could be strengthened geopolitically. However, this perspective has also been criticized for underestimating the power of economic incentives for expanded production in other parts of the world.[92]

Once Bolivia’s government depended heavily on foreign assistance to finance development projects and to pay the public staff. At the end of 2002, the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with $1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. Most payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian government has generally achieved the monetary and fiscal targets set by IMF programs since 1987, though economic crises have undercut Bolivia’s normally good record. However, by 2013 the foreign assistance is just a fraction of the government budget thanks to tax collection mainly from the profitable exports to Brazil and Argentina of natural gas.

Foreign-exchange reserves[edit]

The amount in reserve currencies and gold held by Bolivia’s Central Bank advanced from 1.085 billion US dollars in 2000, under Hugo Banzer Suarez‘s government, to 15.282 billion US dollars in 2014 under Evo Morales‘ government.

Foreign-exchange reserves 2000–2014 (MM US$) [93]

Fuente: Banco Central de Bolivia, Gráfica elaborada por: Wikipedia.


Salar de Uyuni, one of the most visited sites in Bolivia.[94]

The income from tourism has become increasingly important. Bolivia’s tourist industry has placed an emphasis on attracting ethnic diversity.[95] The most visited places include Nevado SajamaTorotoro National ParkMadidi National ParkTiwanaku and the city of La Paz.

The best known of the various festivals found in the country is the “Carnaval de Oruro“, which was among the first 19 “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity“, as proclaimed by UNESCO in May 2001.[96]



Bolivia’s Yungas Road was called the “world’s most dangerous road” by the Inter-American Development Bank, called (El Camino de la Muerte) in Spanish.[97] The northern portion of the road, much of it unpaved and without guardrails, was cut into the Cordillera Oriental Mountain in the 1930s. The fall from the narrow 12 feet (3.7 m) path is as much as 2,000 feet (610 m) in some places and due to the humid weather from the Amazon there are often poor conditions like mudslides and falling rocks.[98] Each year over 25,000 bikers cycle along the 40 miles (64 km) road. In 2018, an Israeli woman was killed by a falling rock while cycling on the road.[99]

The Apolo road goes deep into La Paz. Roads in this area were originally built to allow access to mines located near Charazani. Other noteworthy roads run to CoroicoSorata, the Zongo Valley (Illimani mountain), and along the Cochabamba highway (carretera).[100] According to researchers with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bolivia’s road network was still underdeveloped as of 2014. In lowland areas of Bolivia there is less than 2,000 kilometres (2,000,000 m) of paved road. There have been some recent investments; animal husbandry has expanded in Guayaramerín, which might be due to a new road connecting Guayaramerín with Trinidad.[101]

Air traffic[edit]

Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) is a state-owned company and the country’s largest airline. Two BoA Boeing 737-300s parked at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport.

The General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil—DGAC) formerly part of the FAB, administers a civil aeronautics school called the National Institute of Civil Aeronautics (Instituto Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil—INAC), and two commercial air transport services TAM and TAB.

TAM – Transporte Aéreo Militar (the Bolivian Military Airline) is an airline based in La Paz, Bolivia. It is the civilian wing of the ‘Fuerza Aérea Boliviana’ (the Bolivian Air Force), operating passenger services to remote towns and communities in the North and Northeast of Bolivia. TAM (a.k.a. TAM Group 71) has been a part of the FAB since 1945.

Boliviana de Aviación, often referred to as simply BoA, is the flag carrier airline of Bolivia and is wholly owned by the country’s government.[102]

A private airline serving regional destinations is Línea Aérea Amaszonas,[103] with services including some international destinations.

Although a civil transport airline, TAB – Transportes Aéreos Bolivianos, was created as a subsidiary company of the FAB in 1977. It is subordinate to the Air Transport Management (Gerencia de Transportes Aéreos) and is headed by an FAB general. TAB, a charter heavy cargo airline, links Bolivia with most countries of the Western Hemisphere; its inventory includes a fleet of Hercules C130 aircraft. TAB is headquartered adjacent to El Alto International Airport. TAB flies to Miami and Houston, with a stop in Panama.

The three largest, and main international airports in Bolivia are El Alto International Airport in La Paz, Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz, and Jorge Wilstermann International Airport in Cochabamba. There are regional airports in other cities that connect to these three hubs. [104]


Railways in Bolivia (interactive map)
━━━ Routes with passenger traffic
━━━ Routes in usable state
·········· Unusable or dismantled routes

Bolivia possesses an extensive but aged rail system, all in 1000 mm gauge, consisting of two disconnected networks.


Bolivia owns a communications satellite which was offshored/outsourced and launched by China, named Túpac Katari 1.[105] In 2015, it was announced that electrical power advancements include a planned $300 million nuclear reactor developed by the Russian nuclear company Rosatom.[106]

Water supply and sanitation[edit]

Bolivias’s drinking water and sanitation coverage has greatly improved since 1990 due to a considerable increase in sectoral investment. However, the country has the continent’s lowest coverage levels and services are of low quality. Political and institutional instability have contributed to the weakening of the sector’s institutions at the national and local levels.

Two concessions to foreign private companies in two of the three largest cities – Cochabamba and La Paz/El Alto – were prematurely ended in 2000 and 2006 respectively. The country’s second largest city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, manages its own water and sanitation system relatively successfully by way of cooperatives. The government of Evo Morales intends to strengthen citizen participation within the sector. Increasing coverage requires a substantial increase of investment financing.

According to the government the main problems in the sector are low access to sanitation throughout the country; low access to water in rural areas; insufficient and ineffective investments; a low visibility of community service providers; a lack of respect of indigenous customs; “technical and institutional difficulties in the design and implementation of projects”; a lack of capacity to operate and maintain infrastructure; an institutional framework that is “not consistent with the political change in the country”; “ambiguities in the social participation schemes”; a reduction in the quantity and quality of water due to climate change; pollution and a lack of integrated water resources management; and the lack of policies and programs for the reuse of wastewater.[107]

Only 27% of the population has access to improved sanitation, 80 to 88% has access to improved water sources. Coverage in urban areas is bigger than in rural ones.[108]


Year Million
1950 3.1
2000 8.3
2018 11.4

People in La Paz city centre

According to the last two censuses carried out by the Bolivian National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE), the population increased from 8,274,325 (from which 4,123,850 were men and 4,150,475 were women) in 2001 to 10,059,856 in 2012.[111]

In the last fifty years the Bolivian population has tripled, reaching a population growth rate of 2.25%. The growth of the population in the inter-census periods (1950–1976 and 1976–1992) was approximately 2.05%, while between the last period, 1992–2001, it reached 2.74% annually.

Some 67.49% of Bolivians live in urban areas, while the remaining 32.51% in rural areas. The most part of the population (70%) is concentrated in the departments of La PazSanta Cruz and Cochabamba. In the Andean Altiplano region the departments of La Paz and Oruro hold the largest percentage of population, in the valley region the largest percentage is held by the departments of Cochabamba and Chuquisaca, while in the Llanos region by Santa Cruz and Beni. At national level, the population density is 8.49, with variations marked between 0.8 (Pando Department) and 26.2 (Cochabamba Department).

The largest population center is located in the so-called “central axis” and in the Llanos region. Bolivia has a young population. According to the 2011 census, 59% of the population is between 15 and 59 years old, 39% is less than 15 years old. Almost 60% of the population is younger than 25 years of age.


According to a genetic study done on Bolivians, average values of Native American, European and African ancestry are 86%, 12.5%, and 1.5%, in individuals from La Paz and 76.8%, 21.4%, and 1.8% in individuals from Chuquisaca; respectively.[112]

Ethnic and racial classifications[edit]

Danza de los macheteros, typical dance from San Ignacio de Moxos, Bolivia

Aymara man, near Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The vast majority of Bolivians are mestizo (with the indigenous component higher than the European one), although the government has not included cultural self-identification “mestizo” in the November 2012 census.[113] There are approximately three dozen native groups totaling approximately half of the Bolivian population – the largest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America. Exact numbers vary based on the wording of the ethnicity question and the available response choices. For example, the 2001 census did not provide the racial category “mestizo” as a response choice, resulting in a much higher proportion of respondents identifying themselves as belonging to one of the available indigenous ethnicity choices. Mestizos are distributed throughout the entire country and make up 26% of the Bolivian population. Most people assume their mestizo identity while at the same time identifying themselves with one or more indigenous cultures. A 2018 estimate of racial classification put mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian) at 68%, indigenous at 20%, white at 5%, cholo at 2%, black at 1%, other at 4%, while 2% were unspecified; 44% attributed themselves to some indigenous group, predominantly the linguistic categories of Quechuas or Aymaras.[3] Whites comprised about 14% of the population in 2006, and are usually concentrated in the largest cities: La PazSanta Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba, but as well in some minor cities like Tarija and Sucre. The ancestry of Whites and the White ancestry of Mestizos lies within the continents of Europe and Middle East, most notably SpainItalyGermanyCroatiaLebanon and Syria. In the Santa Cruz Department, there are several dozen colonies of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia totaling around 40,000 inhabitants (as of 2012).[114]

Afro-Bolivians, descendants of African slaves who arrived in the time of the Spanish Empire, inhabit the department of La Paz, and are located mainly in the provinces of Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas. Slavery was abolished in Bolivia in 1831.[115] There are also important communities of Japanese (14.000[116]) and Lebanese (12.900[117]).

Indigenous peoples, also called “originarios” (“native” or “original”) and less frequently, Amerindians, could be categorized by geographic area, such as Andean, like the Aymaras and Quechuas (who formed the ancient Inca Empire), who are concentrated in the western departments of La PazPotosíOruroCochabamba and Chuquisaca. There also are ethnic populations in the east, composed of the ChiquitanoChanéGuaraní and Moxos, among others, who inhabit the departments of Santa CruzBeniTarija and Pando.

There are small numbers of European citizens from GermanyFranceItaly and Portugal, as well as from other countries of the Americas, as ArgentinaBrazilChileColombiaCubaEcuador, the United StatesParaguayPeruMexico and Venezuela, among others. There are important Peruvian colonies in La PazEl Alto and Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

There are around 140,000 mennonites in Bolivia of Friesian, Flemish and German ethnic origins.[118][119]

Indigenous peoples[edit]

The Indigenous peoples of Bolivia can be divided into two categories of ethnic groups: the Andeans, who are located in the Andean Altiplano and the valley region; and the lowland groups, who inhabit the warm regions of central and eastern Bolivia, including the valleys of Cochabamba Department, the Amazon Basin areas of northern La Paz Department, and the lowland departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, and Tarija (including the Gran Chaco region in the southeast of the country). Large numbers of Andean peoples have also migrated to form Quechua, Aymara, and intercultural communities in the lowlands.

  • Andean ethnicities
    • Aymara people. They live on the high plateau of the departments of La Paz, Oruro and Potosí, as well as some small regions near the tropical flatlands.
    • Quechua people. They mostly inhabit the valleys in Cochabamba and Chuquisaca. They also inhabit some mountain regions in Potosí and Oruro. They divide themselves into different Quechua nations, as the Tarabucos, Ucumaris, Chalchas, Chaquies, Yralipes, Tirinas, among others.
    • Uru people
  • Ethnicities of the Eastern Lowlands
    • Guaraníes: made up of Guarayos, Pausernas, Sirionós, Chiriguanos, Wichí, Chulipis, Taipetes, Tobas, and Yuquis.
    • Tacanas: made up of Lecos, Chimanes, Araonas, and Maropas.
    • Panos: made up of Chacobos, Caripunas, Sinabos, Capuibos, and Guacanaguas.
    • Aruacos: made up of Apolistas, Baures, MoxosChané, Movimas, Cayabayas, Carabecas, and Paiconecas (Paucanacas).
    • Chapacuras: made up of Itenez (More), Chapacuras, Sansinonianos, Canichanas, Itonamas, Yuracares, Guatoses, and Chiquitanos.
    • Botocudos: made up of Bororos and Otuquis.
    • Zamucos: made up of Ayoreos.


Languages in Bolivia
Languages percent
Other Indigenous
Other Foreign

Geographic distribution of the indigenous languages of Bolivia

Bolivia has great linguistic diversity as a result of its multiculturalism. The Constitution of Bolivia recognizes 36 official languages besides SpanishAymaraAraonaBaureBésiroCanichanaCavineñoCayubabaChácoboChimánEse EjjaGuaraníGuarasu’weGuarayuItonamaLecoMachajuyai-KallawayaMachineriMaropaMojeño-IgnacianoMojeño-TrinitarioMoréMoseténMovimaPacawaraPuquinaQuechuaSirionóTacanaTapietéToromonaUru-ChipayaWeenhayekYaminawaYukiYuracaré, and Zamuco.[2]

Spanish is the most spoken official language in the country, according to the 2001 census; as it is spoken by two-thirds of the population. All legal and official documents issued by the State, including the Constitution, the main private and public institutions, the media, and commercial activities, are in Spanish.

The main indigenous languages are: Quechua (21.2% of the population in the 2001 census), Aymara (14.6%), Guarani (0.6%) and others (0.4%) including the Moxos in the department of Beni.[3]

Plautdietsch, a German dialect, is spoken by about 70,000 Mennonites in Santa CruzPortuguese is spoken mainly in the areas close to Brazil.


Bolivia is a constitutionally secular state that guarantees the freedom of religion and the independence of government from religion.[120]

According to the 2001 census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics of Bolivia, 78% of the population is Roman Catholic, followed by 19% that are Protestant, as well as a small number of Bolivians that are Orthodox, and 3% non-religious.[121][122]

The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on the World Christian Database) records that in 2010, 92.5% of Bolivians identified as Christian (of any denomination), 3.1% identified with indigenous religion, 2.2% identified as Bahá’í, 1.9% identified as agnostic, and all other groups constituted 0.1% or less.[123]

Much of the indigenous population adheres to different traditional beliefs marked by inculturation or syncretisim with Christianity. The cult of Pachamama,[124] or “Mother Earth”, is notable. The veneration of the Virgin of Copacabana, Virgin of Urkupiña and Virgin of Socavón, is also an important feature of Christian pilgrimage. There also are important Aymaran communities near Lake Titicaca that have a strong devotion to James the Apostle.[125] Deities worshiped in Bolivia include Ekeko, the Aymaran god of abundance and prosperity, whose day is celebrated every 24 January, and Tupá, a god of the Guaraní people.

Largest cities and towns[edit]

Approximately 67% of Bolivians live in urban areas,[126] among the lowest proportion in South America. Nevertheless, the rate of urbanization is growing steadily, at around 2.5% annually. According to the 2012 census, there are total of 3,158,691 households in Bolivia – an increase of 887,960 from 2001.[111] In 2009, 75.4% of homes were classified as a house, hut, or Pahuichi; 3.3% were apartments; 21.1% were rental residences; and 0.1% were mobile homes.[127] Most of the country’s largest cities are located in the highlands of the west and central regions.

Largest cities or towns in Bolivia

Census 2012, INE
Rank Name Department Pop. Rank Name Department Pop.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Santa Cruz de la Sierra
El Alto
El Alto
1 Santa Cruz de la Sierra Santa Cruz 1,453,549 11 Montero Santa Cruz 109,518 La Paz
La Paz
2 El Alto La Paz 848,840 12 Trinidad Beni 106,422
3 La Paz La Paz 764,617 13 Warnes Santa Cruz 96,406
4 Cochabamba Cochabamba 630,587 14 Yacuíba Tarija 91,998
5 Oruro Oruro 264,683 15 La Guardia Santa Cruz 89,080
6 Sucre Chuquisaca 259,388 16 Riberalta Beni 89,003
7 Tarija Tarija 205,346 17 Viacha La Paz 80,388
8 Potosí Potosí 189,652 18 Villa Tunari Cochabamba 72,623
9 Sacaba Cochabamba 169,494 19 Cobija Pando 55,692
10 Quillacollo Cochabamba 137,029 20 Tiquipaya Cochabamba 53,062



Bolivian children playing tarka

Bolivian culture has been heavily influenced by the Aymara, the Quechua, as well as the popular cultures of Latin America as a whole.

The cultural development is divided into three distinct periods: precolumbian, colonial, and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include TiwanakuEl Fuerte de SamaipataInkallaqta and Iskanawaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.[129]

The Diablada, dance primeval, typical and main of Carnival of Oruro a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2001 in Bolivia (File: Fraternidad Artística y Cultural “La Diablada”)

The Spanish brought their own tradition of religious art which, in the hands of local native and mestizo builders and artisans, developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as “Mestizo Baroque”. The colonial period produced not only the paintings of Pérez de Holguín, Flores, Bitti, and others but also the works of skilled but unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. An important body of Native Baroque religious music of the colonial period was recovered and has been performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.[129]

Bolivian artists of stature in the 20th century include María Luisa PachecoRoberto Mamani MamaniAlejandro Mario YllanesAlfredo Da Silva, and Marina Núñez del Prado.

Bolivia has a rich folklore. Its regional folk music is distinctive and varied. The “devil dances” at the annual carnival of Oruro are one of the great folkloric events of South America, as is the lesser known carnival at Tarabuco.[129]


In 2008, following UNESCO standards, Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy, making it the fourth country in South America to attain this status.[130]

Bolivia has public and private universities. Among them: Universidad Mayor, Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca USFX – Sucre, founded in 1624; Universidad Mayor de San Andrés UMSA – La Paz, founded in 1830; Universidad Mayor de San Simon UMSS – Cochabamba, founded in 1832; Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno UAGRM – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, founded in 1880; Universidad Técnica de Oruro UTO – Oruro, founded in 1892; and Universidad Autónoma Tomás Frías UATF – Potosi, founded in 1892.

In 2017, Bolivia is the first country in South America in terms of funds dedicated to public education and is the second in Latin America, after Cuba.[citation needed]


Based on 2013 The World Factbook estimates, Bolivia is ranked 161st in life expectancy with a number of 68.2 years.[126] Life expectancy for men is 65.4 and for women is 71.1.[126] A study by the United Nations Development Programme and United Nations International Emergency Children’s Fund reported over 230 babies died per day in Bolivia through lack of proper care.[131] The majority of the population has no health insurance or access to healthcare.[132] Demographic and Health Surveys has completed five surveys in Bolivia since 1989 on a wide range of topics.[133]

Between 2006 and 2016, extreme poverty in Bolivia fell from 38.2% to 16.8%. Chronic malnutrition in children under five years of age also went down by 14% and the child mortality rate was reduced by more than 50%, according to World Health Organization.[134]


Soccer is widespread. The national team is the Bolivia national football team.

Racquetball is the second most popular sport in Bolivia as for the results in the Odesur 2018 Games held in Cochabamba.[135][136]

See also




Coordinates6°30′N 9°30′W

Republic of Liberia
Motto: “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here”
Anthem: All Hail, Liberia, Hail!


Location of Liberia (dark blue) – in Africa (light blue & dark grey) – in the African Union (light blue)
Location of Liberia (dark blue)– in Africa (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union (light blue)
Location of Liberia
and largest city
6°19′N 10°48′W
Official languages English
Spoken and national languages[1]
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s) Liberian
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic
George Weah
Jewel Taylor
Bhofal Chambers
Francis Korkpor
Legislature Legislature of Liberia
House of Representatives
Formation and Independence
• Settlement by the American Colonization Society
January 7, 1822
July 26, 1847
• Annexation of Republic of Maryland
March 18, 1857
• Recognition by the United States
February 5, 1862
November 2, 1945
January 6, 1986
• Total
111,369 km2 (43,000 sq mi) (102nd)
• Water (%)
• 2015 estimate
4,809,768[2] (125th)
• 2008 census
3,476,608 (130th)
• Density
40.43/km2 (104.7/sq mi) (180th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$6.468 billion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$3.221 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2016) 35.3[4]
HDI (2018) Increase 0.465[5]
low · 176st
Currency Liberian dollar (LRD)
Time zone UTC (GMT)
Driving side right
Calling code +231
ISO 3166 code LR
Internet TLD .lr

Liberia (/lˈbɪəriə/ (About this soundlisten)), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwestGuinea to its northIvory Coast to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometres (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,900,000.[6] English is the official language, but over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country’s capital and largest city is Monrovia.

Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States.[7] The country declared its independence on July 26, 1847. The U.S. did not recognize Liberia’s independence until February 5, 1862, during the American Civil War. Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed and free-born black people who faced legislated limits in the U.S., and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans, relocated to the settlement.[8] The settlers carried their culture and tradition with them. The Liberian constitution and flag were modeled after those of the U.S. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected Liberia’s first president after the people proclaimed independence.[8]

Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence, and is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. It retained its independence during the Scramble for Africa. During World War II, Liberia supported the United States war efforts against Germany and in turn, the U.S. invested in considerable infrastructure in Liberia to help its war effort, which also aided the country in modernizing and improving its major air transportation facilities. In addition, President William Tubman encouraged economic changes. Internationally, Liberia was a founding member of the League of NationsUnited Nations, and the Organisation of African Unity.

The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated “bush“. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Americo-Liberians developed as a small elite that held on to political power, and indigenous tribesmen were excluded from birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904, in an echo of the United States’ treatment of Native Americans.[9] Americo-Liberians promoted religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.

In 1980 political tensions from the rule of William R. Tolbert resulted in a military coup during which Tolbert was killed, marking the beginning of years-long political instability. Five years of military rule by the People’s Redemption Council and five years of civilian rule by the National Democratic Party of Liberia were followed by the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars. These resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people (about 8% of the population) and the displacement of many more, and shrank Liberia’s economy by 90%.[10] A peace agreement in 2003 led to democratic elections in 2005, in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President. National infrastructure and basic social services were severely affected by the conflicts, with 83% of the population now living below the international poverty line.[11]


A European map of West Africa and the Grain Coast, 1736. It has the archaic mapping designation of Negroland.

The Pepper Coast, also known as the Grain Coast, has been inhabited by indigenous peoples of Africa at least as far back as the 12th century. Mende-speaking people expanded westward from the Sudan, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The DeiBassaKruGola, and Kissi were some of the earliest documented peoples in the area.[12]

This influx of these groups was compounded by the decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and the Songhai Empire in 1591. The area now called Liberia was a part of the Kingdom of Koya from 1450 to 1898.[citation needed] As inland regions underwent desertification, inhabitants moved to the wetter coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smeltingrice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhai empires.[12] Shortly after the Mane conquered the region, the Vai people of the former Mali Empire immigrated into the Grand Cape Mount County region. The ethnic Kru opposed the influx of Vai, forming an alliance with the Mane to stop further influx of Vai.[13]

People along the coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Arab traders entered the region from the north, and a long-established slave trade took captives to north and east Africa.

Early colonization[edit]

Between 1461 and the late 17th century, PortugueseDutch, and British traders had contacts and trading posts in the region. The Portuguese named the area Costa da Pimenta (“Pepper Coast”) but it later came to be known as the Grain Coast, due to the abundance of melegueta pepper grains. European traders would barter commodities and goods with local people.

In the United States there was a movement to settle free-born Blacks and freed slaves in Africa. This was ostensibly because they faced racial discrimination in the form of political disenfranchisement and the denial of civil, religious, and social privileges;[14] most whites and later a small minority of Black nationalists believed that Blacks would be better off in Africa.[7][15] Southern slaveholders had a different perspective: they wanted to get free people of color out of the South, where they were thought to threaten the apparent stability of their slave societies. In 1816 the American Colonization Society was founded for this purpose in Washington, D.C., by a group of prominent politicians and slaveholders, but its membership grew to include many abolitionists.

In 1822 the American Colonization Society began sending black volunteers to the Pepper Coast, the closest point of Africa and therefore the least expensive to reach, to establish a colony for freed blacks. Although mortality from tropical diseases was horrendous — of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 1,819 were alive in 1843[16][17] — by 1867 the ACS (and state-related chapters) had assisted in the migration of more than 13,000 blacks to Liberia.[18] These free African-Americans and their descendants married within their community and came to identify as Americo-Liberians. Many were of mixed race and educated in American culture; they did not identify with the indigenous natives of the tribes they encountered. They intermarried largely within the colonial community, developing an ethnic group that had a cultural tradition infused with American notions of political republicanism and Protestant Christianity.[19]

Map of Liberia Colony in the 1830s, created by the ACS, and also showing Mississippi Colony and other state-sponsored colonies.

The ACS, supported by prominent American politicians such as Abraham LincolnHenry Clay, and James Monroe, believed repatriation of free African Americans was preferable to widespread emancipation of slaves.[15] Similar state-based organizations established colonies in Mississippi-in-AfricaKentucky in Africa, and the Republic of Maryland, which Liberia later annexed.

The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated “bush“. They knew nothing of their cultures, languages, or animist religion, and were not interested in learning. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Encounters with tribal Africans in the bush often became violent confrontations.

In Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, Benjamin Dennis and Anita Dennis argue that the Americo-Liberians replicated the only society most of them knew: the racist culture of the American South. Believing themselves different from and culturally and educationally superior to the indigenous peoples, the Americo-Liberians developed as an elite minority that held on to political power. They treated the natives the way American whites had treated them: as inferiors. The natives could not vote and could not speak unless spoken to. Just as American Blacks were prohibited from marrying or having sexual relationships with white women, the natives could not marry Americo-Liberian women. Even when some natives became educated, they were excluded from government positions, except for a token few.[20] Indigenous tribesmen did not enjoy birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904.[9] Americo-Liberians encouraged religious organizations to set up missions and schools to educate the indigenous peoples.


Residence of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, first President of Liberia, between 1848 and 1852.

On July 26, 1847, the settlers issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a constitution. Based on the political principles of the United States Constitution, it established the independent Republic of Liberia.[21][22] The United Kingdom was the first country to recognize Liberia’s independence.[23] The United States did not recognize Liberia until 1862, after the southern states, who had significant influence in the American government, seceded from the union to form the Confederacy.

The leadership of the new nation consisted largely of the Americo-Liberians, who initially established political and economic dominance in the coastal areas that the ACS had purchased; they maintained relations with U.S. contacts in developing these areas and the resulting trade. Their passage of the 1865 Ports of Entry Act prohibited foreign commerce with the inland tribes, ostensibly to “encourage the growth of civilized values” before such trade was allowed in the region.[21]

By 1877, the True Whig Party was the country’s most powerful political entity.[24] It was made up primarily of Americo-Liberians, who maintained social, economic and political dominance well into the 20th century, repeating patterns of European colonists in other nations in Africa. Competition for office was usually contained within the party; a party nomination virtually ensured election.[24]

Pressure from the United Kingdom, which controlled Sierra Leone to the northwest, and France, with its interests in the north and east, led to a loss of Liberia’s claims to extensive territories. Both Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast annexed territories.[25] Liberia struggled to attract investment to develop infrastructure and a larger, industrial economy.

There was a decline in production of Liberian goods in the late 19th century, and the government struggled financially, resulting in indebtedness on a series of international loans.[26] On July 16, 1892, Martha Ann Erskine Ricks met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and presented her a handmade quilt, Liberia’s first diplomatic gift. Born into slavery in Tennessee, Ricks said, “I had heard it often, from the time I was a child, how good the Queen had been to my people—to slaves—and how she wanted us to be free.”[23]

Early 20th century[edit]

Charles D. B. King, 17th President of Liberia (1920–1930), with his entourage on the steps of the Peace Palace, The Hague (the Netherlands), 1927.

American and other international interests emphasized resource extraction, with rubber production a major industry in the early 20th century.[27] In 1914 Imperial Germany accounted for three quarters of the trade of Liberia. This was a cause for concern among the British colonial authorities of Sierra Leone and the French colonial authorities of French Guinea and the Ivory Coast as tensions with Germany increased.[28]

First World War[edit]

Liberia remained neutral during World War I until August 1917, when it declared war on Germany. In 1919 Liberia attended the Versailles Peace Conference. Liberia was one of the founding members of the League of Nations when it was founded in January 1920.[29]

Middle 20th century[edit]

In 1929 allegations of modern slavery in Liberia led the League of Nations to establish the Christy commission. Findings included government involvement in widespread “Forced or compulsory labour”. Minority ethnic groups especially were exploited in a system that enriched well-connected elites.[30] As a result of the report, President Charles D. B. King and Vice President Allen N. Yancy resigned.[31]

In the mid-20th century Liberia gradually began to modernize with American assistance. During World War II the United States made major infrastructure improvements to support its military efforts in Africa and Europe against Germany. It built the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport under the Lend-Lease program before its entry into the Second World War.[32]

After the war President William Tubman encouraged foreign investment in the country. Liberia had the second-highest rate of economic growth in the world during the 1950s.[32]

Liberia also began to take a more active role in international affairs. It was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and became a vocal critic of the South African apartheid regime.[33] Liberia also served as a proponent both of African independence from European colonial powers and of Pan-Africanism, and helped to fund the Organisation of African Unity.[34]

technical in Monrovia during the Second Liberian Civil War.

Late 20th-century political instability[edit]

On April 12, 1980, a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew and killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr. Doe and the other plotters later executed a majority of Tolbert’s cabinet and other Americo-Liberian government officials and True Whig Party members.[35] The coup leaders formed the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) to govern the country.[35] A strategic Cold War ally of the West, Doe received significant financial backing from the United States while critics condemned the PRC for corruption and political repression.[35]

After Liberia adopted a new constitution in 1985, Doe was elected president in subsequent elections that were internationally condemned as fraudulent.[35] On November 12, 1985, a failed counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the national radio station.[36] Government repression intensified in response, as Doe’s troops retaliated by executing members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Nimba County.[36]

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, launched an insurrection in December 1989 against Doe’s government with the backing of neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. This triggered the First Liberian Civil War.[37] By September 1990, Doe’s forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital, and Doe was captured and executed in that month by rebel forces.[38]

The rebels soon split into various factions fighting one another. The Economic Community Monitoring Group under the Economic Community of West African States organized a military task force to intervene in the crisis.[38][failed verification] From 1989 to 1996, more than 200,000 Liberians died and a million others were displaced into refugee camps in neighboring countries.[9] A peace deal between warring parties was reached in 1995, leading to Taylor’s election as president in 1997.[38]

Under Taylor’s leadership, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to its use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front in the Sierra Leone Civil War.[39] The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a rebel group based in the northwest of the country, launched an armed insurrection against Taylor.[40]


In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast.[40] Peace talks between the factions began in Accra in June of that year, and Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity the same month.[39] By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia.[41] Under heavy pressure from the international community and the domestic Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement,[42] Taylor resigned in August 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria.[43]

A peace deal was signed later that month.[44] The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving in September 2003 to provide security and monitor the peace accord,[45] and an interim government took power the following October.[46]

The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the most free and fair in Liberian history.[47] Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and former Minister of Finance, was elected as the first female president in Africa.[47] Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and transferred him to the SCSL for trial in The Hague.[48][49]

In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war.[50]

Following the 2017 Liberian general election, former professional football striker George Weah, one of the greatest African players of all time,[51][52] was sworn in as president on 22 January 2018, becoming the 4th youngest serving president in Africa.[53] The inauguration marked Liberia’s first fully democratic transition in 74 years.[54] Weah cited fighting corruption, reforming the economy, combating illiteracy and improving life conditions as the main targets of his presidency.[54]


A map of Liberia

Liberia map of Köppen climate classification.

Liberia is situated in West Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean to the country’s southwest. It lies between latitudes  and 9°N, and longitudes  and 12°W.

The landscape is characterized by mostly flat to rolling coastal plains that contain mangroves and swamps, which rise to a rolling plateau and low mountains in the northeast.[55]

Tropical rainforests cover the hills, while elephant grass and semi-deciduous forests make up the dominant vegetation in the northern sections.[55] The equatorial climate, in the south of the country, is hot year-round with heavy rainfall from May to October with a short interlude in mid-July to August.[55] During the winter months of November to March, dry dust-laden harmattan winds blow inland, causing many problems for residents.[55]

Liberia’s watershed tends to move in a southwestern pattern towards the sea as new rains move down the forested plateau off the inland mountain range of Guinée Forestière, in GuineaCape Mount near the border with Sierra Leone receives the most precipitation in the nation.[55]

Liberia’s main northwestern boundary is traversed by the Mano River while its southeast limits are bounded by the Cavalla River.[55] Liberia’s three largest rivers are St. Paul exiting near Monrovia, the river St. John at Buchanan, and the Cestos River, all of which flow into the Atlantic. The Cavalla is the longest river in the nation at 515 kilometers (320 mi).[55]

The highest point wholly within Liberia is Mount Wuteve at 1,440 meters (4,724 ft) above sea level in the northwestern Liberia range of the West Africa Mountains and the Guinea Highlands.[55] However, Mount Nimba near Yekepa, is higher at 1,752 meters (5,748 ft) above sea level but is not wholly within Liberia as Nimba shares a border with Guinea and Ivory Coast and is their tallest mountain as well.[56]


Forests on the coastline are composed mostly of salt-tolerant mangrove trees, while the more sparsely populated inland has forests opening onto a plateau of drier grasslands. The climate is equatorial, with significant rainfall during the May–October rainy season and harsh harmattan winds the remainder of the year. Liberia possesses about forty percent of the remaining Upper Guinean rainforest. It was an important producer of rubber in the early 20th century.

Administrative divisions[edit]

Bomi County Bong County Gbarpolu County Grand Bassa County Grand Cape Mount County Grand Gedeh County Grand Kru County Lofa County Margibi County Maryland County Montserrado County Nimba County Rivercess County River Gee County Sinoe County

A clickable map of Liberia exhibiting its fifteen counties.

About this image

A view of a lake in Bomi County

Liberia is divided into fifteen counties, which, in turn, are subdivided into a total of 90 districts and further subdivided into clans. The oldest counties are Grand Bassa and Montserrado, both founded in 1839 prior to Liberian independence. Gbarpolu is the newest county, created in 2001. Nimba is the largest of the counties in size at 11,551 km2 (4,460 sq mi), while Montserrado is the smallest at 1,909 km2 (737 sq mi).[57] Montserrado is also the most populous county with 1,144,806 residents as of the 2008 census.[57]

The fifteen counties are administered by superintendents appointed by the president. The Constitution calls for the election of various chiefs at the county and local level, but these elections have not taken place since 1985 due to war and financial constraints.[58]

Parallel to the administrative divisions of the country are the local and municipal divisions. Liberia currently does not have any constitutional framework or uniform statutes which deal with the creation or revocation of local governments.[59] All existing local governments – cities, townships, and a borough – were created by specific acts of the Liberian government, and thus the structure and duties/responsibilities of each local government varies greatly from one to the other.[citation needed]

Map # County Capital Population
(2008 Census)[57]
Number of
1  Bomi Tubmanburg 82,036 1,942 km2 (750 sq mi) 4 1984
2  Bong Gbarnga 328,919 8,772 km2 (3,387 sq mi) 12 1964
3  Gbarpolu Bopolu 83,758 9,689 km2 (3,741 sq mi) 6 2001
4  Grand Bassa Buchanan 224,839 7,936 km2 (3,064 sq mi) 8 1839
5  Grand Cape Mount Robertsport 129,055 5,162 km2 (1,993 sq mi) 5 1844
6  Grand Gedeh Zwedru 126,146 10,484 km2 (4,048 sq mi) 3 1964
7  Grand Kru Barclayville 57,106 3,895 km2 (1,504 sq mi) 18 1984
8  Lofa Voinjama 270,114 9,982 km2 (3,854 sq mi) 6 1964
9  Margibi Kakata 199,689 2,616 km2 (1,010 sq mi) 4 1985
10  Maryland Harper 136,404 2,297 km2 (887 sq mi) 2 1857
11  Montserrado Bensonville 1,144,806 1,909 km2 (737 sq mi) 4 1839
12  Nimba Sanniquellie 468,088 11,551 km2 (4,460 sq mi) 6 1964
13  Rivercess Rivercess 65,862 5,594 km2 (2,160 sq mi) 6 1985
14  River Gee Fish Town 67,318 5,113 km2 (1,974 sq mi) 6 2000
15  Sinoe Greenville 104,932 10,137 km2 (3,914 sq mi) 17 1843

Environmental issues[edit]

Pygmy hippos are among the species illegally hunted for food in Liberia.[60] The World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild.[61]

Endangered species are hunted for human consumption as bushmeat in Liberia.[60] Species hunted for food in Liberia include elephantspygmy hippopotamuschimpanzeesleopardsduikers, and other monkeys.[60] Bushmeat is often exported to neighboring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, despite a ban on the cross-border sale of wild animals.[60]

Bushmeat is widely eaten in Liberia, and is considered a delicacy.[62] A 2004 public opinion survey found that bushmeat ranked second behind fish amongst residents of the capital Monrovia as a preferred source of protein.[62] Of households where bushmeat was served, 80% of residents said they cooked it “once in a while,” while 13% cooked it once a week and 7% cooked bushmeat daily.[62] The survey was conducted during the last civil war, and bushmeat consumption is now believed to be far higher.[62]

Loggers and logging truck, early 1960s

Liberia is a global biodiversity hotspot—a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans.[63]

Slash-and-burn agriculture is one of the human activities eroding Liberia’s natural forests.[64] A 2004 UN report estimated that 99% of Liberians burned charcoal and fuel wood for cooking and heating, resulting in deforestation.[64]

Illegal logging has increased in Liberia since the end of the Second Civil War in 2003.[63] In 2012 President Sirleaf granted licenses to companies to cut down 58% of all the primary rainforest left in Liberia.[63] After international protests, many of those logging permits were canceled.[63] In September 2014 Liberia and Norway struck an agreement whereby Liberia ceased all logging in exchange for $150 million in development aid.[63]

Pollution is a significant issue in Monrovia.[65] Since 2006 the international community has paid for all garbage collection and disposal in Monrovia via the World Bank.[66]


Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The government of Liberia, modeled on the government of the United States, is a unitary constitutional republic and representative democracy as established by the Constitution. The government has three co-equal branches of government: the executive, headed by the president; the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Legislature of Liberia; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and several lower courts.

The president serves as head of governmenthead of state, and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.[2] Among the president’s other duties are to sign or veto legislative bills, grant pardons, and appoint Cabinet members, judges, and other public officials. Together with the vice president, the president is elected to a six-year term by majority vote in a two-round system and can serve up to two terms in office.[2]

The Legislature is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House, led by a speaker, has 73 members apportioned among the 15 counties on the basis of the national census, with each county receiving a minimum of two members.[2] Each House member represents an electoral district within a county as drawn by the National Elections Commission and is elected by a plurality of the popular vote of their district into a six-year term. The Senate is made up of two senators from each county for a total of 30 senators.[2] Senators serve nine-year terms and are elected at-large by a plurality of the popular vote.[2] The vice president serves as the President of the Senate, with a President pro tempore serving in their absence.

Liberia’s highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court, made up of five members and headed by the Chief Justice of Liberia. Members are nominated to the court by the president and are confirmed by the Senate, serving until the age of 70. The judiciary is further divided into circuit and speciality courtsmagistrate courts and justices of the peace.[67] The judicial system is a blend of common law, based on Anglo-American law, and customary law.[2] An informal system of traditional courts still exists within the rural areas of the country, with trial by ordeal remaining common despite being officially outlawed.[67]

From 1877 to 1980 the government was dominated by the True Whig Party.[24] Today over 20 political parties are registered in the country, based largely around personalities and ethnic groups.[47] Most parties suffer from poor organizational capacity.[47] The 2005 elections marked the first time that the president’s party did not gain a majority of seats in the Legislature.[47]


Corruption is endemic at every level of the Liberian government.[68] When President Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was “the major public enemy.”[69] In 2014 the US ambassador to Liberia said that corruption there was harming people through “unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford”.[70]

Liberia scored a 3.3 on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) on the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. This gave it a ranking 87th of 178 countries worldwide and 11th of 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa.[71] This score represented a significant improvement since 2007, when the country scored 2.1 and ranked 150th of 180 countries.[72] When dealing with public-facing government functionaries, 89% of Liberians say they have had to pay a bribe, the highest national percentage in the world according to the organization’s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer.[73]


The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) are the country’s armed forces. Founded as the Liberian Frontier Force in 1908, the military was renamed in 1956. For virtually all of its history, the AFL has received considerable material and training assistance from the United States. For most of the 1941–89 period, training was largely provided by U.S. advisers. After UN Security Council Resolution 1509 in September 2003, the United Nations Mission in Liberia arrived to referee the ceasefire with units from Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, and China with the view to assist the National Transitional Government of Liberia in forming the new Liberian military.[74]

Foreign relations[edit]

President Sirleaf with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and British PM David Cameron in September 2015

After the turmoil following the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, Liberia’s internal stabilization in the 21st century brought a return to cordial relations with neighboring countries and much of the Western world. As in other African countries, China is an important part of the post-conflict reconstruction.[75]

In the past, both of Liberia’s neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have accused Liberia of backing rebels in their countries.[69]

Law enforcement[edit]

The Liberian National Police is the country’s national police force. As of October 2007 it has 844 officers in 33 stations in Montserrado County, which contains Monrovia.[76] The National Police Training Academy is in Paynesville City.[77] A history of corruption among police officers diminishes public trust and operational effectiveness. The internal security is characterized by a general lawlessness coupled with the danger that former combatants in the late civil war might reestablish militias to challenge the civil authorities.[78]

Economy and infrastructure[edit]

A proportional representation of Liberian exports. The shipping related categories reflect Liberia’s status as an international flag of convenience – there are 3,500 vessels registered under Liberia’s flag accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.[79][80]

Liberia, trends in the Human Development Index 1970–2010.

The Central Bank of Liberia is responsible for printing and maintaining the Liberian dollar, Liberia’s primary currency. Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a formal employment rate of 15%.[67] GDP per capita peaked in 1980 at US$496, when it was comparable to Egypt’s (at the time).[81] In 2011 the country’s nominal GDP was US$1.154 billion, while nominal GDP per capita stood at US$297, the third-lowest in the world.[82] Historically the Liberian economy has depended heavily on foreign aidforeign direct investment and exports of natural resources such as iron orerubber, and timber.[55]

Following a peak in growth in 1979, the Liberian economy began a steady decline due to economic mismanagement after the 1980 coup.[83] This decline was accelerated by the outbreak of civil war in 1989; GDP was reduced by an estimated 90% between 1989 and 1995, one of the fastest declines in history.[83] Upon the end of the war in 2003, GDP growth began to accelerate, reaching 9.4% in 2007.[84] The global financial crisis slowed GDP growth to 4.6% in 2009,[84] though a strengthening agricultural sector led by rubber and timber exports increased growth to 5.1% in 2010 and an expected 7.3% in 2011, making the economy one of the 20 fastest-growing in the world.[85][86]

Current impediments to growth include a small domestic market, lack of adequate infrastructure, high transportation costs, poor trade links with neighboring countries and the high dollarization of the economy.[85] Liberia used the United States dollar as its currency from 1943 until 1982 and continues to use the U.S. dollar alongside the Liberian dollar.[87]

A boy grinding sugar cane.

Following a decrease in inflation beginning in 2003, inflation spiked in 2008 as a result of worldwide food and energy crises,[88] reaching 17.5% before declining to 7.4% in 2009.[84] Liberia’s external debt was estimated in 2006 at approximately $4.5 billion, 800% of GDP.[83] As a result of bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt relief from 2007 to 2010, the country’s external debt fell to $222.9 million by 2011.[89]

While official commodity exports declined during the 1990s as many investors fled the civil war, Liberia’s wartime economy featured the exploitation of the region’s diamond wealth.[90] The country acted as a major trader in Sierra Leonian blood diamonds, exporting over US$300 million in diamonds in 1999.[91] This led to a United Nations ban on Liberian diamond exports in 2001, which was lifted in 2007 following Liberia’s accession to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.[92]

In 2003, additional UN sanctions were placed on Liberian timber exports, which had risen from US$5 million in 1997 to over US$100 million in 2002 and were believed to be funding rebels in Sierra Leone.[93][94] These sanctions were lifted in 2006.[95] Due in large part to foreign aid and investment inflow following the end of the war, Liberia maintains a large account deficit, which peaked at nearly 60% in 2008.[85] Liberia gained observer status with the World Trade Organization in 2010 and is in the process of acquiring full member status.[96]

Liberia has the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP in the world, with US$16 billion in investment since 2006.[86] Following Sirleaf’s inauguration in 2006, Liberia signed several multi-billion-dollar concession agreements in the iron ore and palm oil industries with numerous multinational corporations, including BHP BillitonArcelorMittal, and Sime Darby.[97] Palm oil companies like Sime Darby (Malaysia) and Golden Veroleum (USA) have been accused of destroying livelihoods and displacing local communities, enabled by government concessions.[98] Since 1926 The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company has operated the world’s largest rubber plantation in Harbel, Margibi County. As of 2015 it had more than 8,000 mostly Liberian employees, making it the country’s largest private employer.[99][100]

Shipping flag of convenience[edit]

Due to its status as a flag of convenience, Liberia has the second-largest maritime registry in the world behind Panama. It has 3,500 vessels registered under its flag, accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.[79][80]


There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has a mobile phone service. Much of Liberia’s communications infrastructure was destroyed or plundered during the two civil wars (1989–1996 and 1999–2003).[101] With low rates of adult literacy and high poverty rates, television and newspaper use is limited, leaving radio as the predominant means of communicating with the public.[102]


The streets of downtown Monrovia, March 2009

Liberia’s economic main links to the outside world come through Monrovia, via the port and airport in the capital.


Public electricity services are provided solely by the state-owned Liberia Electricity Corporation, which operates a small grid almost exclusively in the Greater Monrovia District.[103] The vast majority of electric energy services is provided by small, privately owned generators. At $0.54 per kWh, the cost of electricity in Liberia is among the highest in the world. Total capacity in 2013 was 20 MW, a sharp decline from a peak of 191 MW in 1989 before the wars.[103]

Completion of the repair and expansion of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Project, with a maximum capacity of 80 MW, is scheduled to be completed by 2018.[104] Construction of three new heavy fuel oil power plants is expected to boost electrical capacity by 38 MW.[105] In 2013, Liberia began importing power from neighboring Ivory Coast and Guinea through the West African Power Pool.[106]

Liberia has begun exploration for offshore oil; unproven oil reserves may be in excess of one billion barrels.[107] The government divided its offshore waters into 17 blocks and began auctioning off exploration licenses for the blocks in 2004, with further auctions in 2007 and 2009.[108][109][110] An additional 13 ultra-deep offshore blocks were demarcated in 2011 and planned for auction.[111] Among the companies to have won licenses are Repsol YPFChevron Corporation, and Woodside Petroleum.[112]


Liberia’s population from 1961–2013, in millions.[113] Liberia’s population tripled in 40 years.[113]

Liberia’s population pyramid, 2005. 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15 in 2010.[114]

As of the 2017 national census, Liberia was home to 4,694,608 people.[115] Of those, 1,118,241 lived in Montserrado County, the most populous county in the country and home to the capital of Monrovia. The Greater Monrovia District has 970,824 residents.[116] Nimba County is the next most populous county, with 462,026 residents.[116] As revealed in the 2008 census, Monrovia is more than four times more populous than all the county capitals combined.[57]

Prior to the 2008 census, the last census had been taken in 1984 and listed the country’s population as 2,101,628.[116] The population of Liberia was 1,016,443 in 1962 and increased to 1,503,368 in 1974.[57] As of 2006, Liberia had the highest population growth rate in the world (4.50% per annum).[117] In 2010 some 43.5% of Liberians were below the age of 15.[114]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Ethnic Groups in Liberia
Ethnic Groups percent
Other Liberian
Other African
Non African

The population includes 16 indigenous ethnic groups and various foreign minorities. Indigenous peoples comprise about 95 percent of the population. The 16 officially recognized ethnic groups include the KpelleBassaManoGio or Dan, KruGreboKrahnVaiGola, Mandingo or MandinkaMendeKissiGbandiLomaDei or Dewoin, Belleh, and Americo-Liberians or Congo people.

The Kpelle comprise more than 20% of the population and are the largest ethnic group in Liberia, residing mostly in Bong County and adjacent areas in central Liberia.[118] Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of African American and West Indian, mostly Barbadian (Bajan) settlers, make up 2.5%. Congo people, descendants of repatriated Congo and Afro-Caribbean slaves who arrived in 1825, make up an estimated 2.5%.[2][119] These latter two groups established political control in the 19th century which they kept well into the 20th century.

Numerous immigrants have come as merchants and become a major part of the business community, including LebaneseIndians, and other West African nationals. There is a high percentage of interracial marriage between ethnic Liberians and the Lebanese, resulting in a significant mixed-race population especially in and around Monrovia. A small minority of Liberians who are White Africans of European descent reside in the country.[better source needed][2] The Liberian constitution restricts citizenship to “Negroes or persons of Negro descent.”[120]


English is the official language and serves as the lingua franca of Liberia.[121] Thirty-one indigenous languages are spoken in Liberia, but each is a first language for only a small percentage of the population.[122] Liberians also speak a variety of creolized dialects collectively known as Liberian English.[121]

Largest cities[edit]


Religion in Liberia (2010)[124]
Religion percent
Roman Catholicism
Other Christian
Other faith

According to the 2008 National Census, 85.6% of the population practices Christianity, while Muslims represent a minority of 12.2%.[125] A multitude of diverse Protestant confessions such as LutheranBaptistEpiscopalPresbyterianPentecostalUnited MethodistAfrican Methodist Episcopal (AME) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) denominations form the bulk of the Christian population, followed by adherents of the Roman Catholic Church and other non-Protestant Christians. Most of these Christian denominations were brought by African American settlers moving from the United States into Liberia via the American Colonization Society, while some are indigenous—especially Pentecostal and evangelical Protestant ones. Protestantism was originally associated with Black American settlers and their Americo-Liberian descendants, while native peoples held to their own animist forms of African traditional religion. Indigenous people were subject to Christian missionary, as well as Americo-Liberian efforts to close the cultural gap by means of education. This proved successful, leaving Christians a majority in the country.

Muslims comprise 12.2% of the population, largely represented by the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups. Liberian Muslims are divided between SunnisShiasAhmadiyyasSufis, and non-denominational Muslims.[126]

Traditional indigenous religions are practiced by 0.5% of the population, while 1.5% subscribe to no religion. A small number of people are Bahá’íHinduSikh, or Buddhist. While Christian, many Liberians also participate in traditional, gender-based indigenous religious secret societies, such as Poro for men and Sande for women. The all-female Sande society practices female circumcision.[127]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right.[127] While separation of church and state is mandated by the Constitution, Liberia is considered a Christian state in practice.[47] Public schools offer biblical studies, though parents may opt their children out. Commerce is prohibited by law on Sundays and major Christian holidays. The government does not require businesses or schools to excuse Muslims for Friday prayers.[127]


Students studying by candlelight in Bong County

In 2010, the literacy rate of Liberia was estimated at 60.8% (64.8% for males and 56.8% for females).[128] In some areas primary and secondary education is free and compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16, though enforcement of attendance is lax.[129] In other areas children are required to pay a tuition fee to attend school. On average, children attain 10 years of education (11 for boys and 8 for girls).[2] The country’s education sector is hampered by inadequate schools and supplies, as well as a lack of qualified teachers.[130]

Higher education is provided by a number of public and private universities. The University of Liberia is the country’s largest and oldest university. Located in Monrovia, the university opened in 1862. Today it has six colleges, including a medical school and the nation’s only law school, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.[131]

In 2009, Tubman University in HarperMaryland County was established as the second public university in Liberia.[132] Since 2006, the government has also opened community colleges in BuchananSanniquellie, and Voinjama.[133][134][135]

Due to student protests late in October 2018, newly elected president George M. Weah abolished tuition fees for undergraduate students in the public universities in Liberia.[136]

Private universities[edit]

  • Cuttington University was established by the Episcopal Church of the USA in 1889 in Suakoko, Bong County, as part of its missionary education work among indigenous peoples. It is the nation’s oldest private university.
  • Stella Maris Polytechnic, a post-secondary, private institution of higher learning. Founded in 1988, the school is owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia. Located on Capitol Hill, the school has approximately 2,000 students.[137]
  • Adventist University of West Africa, a post-secondary learning environment that is situated in Margibi County, on the Roberts International Airport.[138]
  • United Methodist University, a private Christian university located in Liberia, West Africa, it is commonly known amongst locals as UMU. As of 2016, it had approximately 9,118 students. This institution was founded in 1998.[139]
  • African Methodist Episcopal University, a private higher education institution that was founded in 1995.[140]


Hospitals in Liberia include the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia and several others. Life expectancy in Liberia is estimated to be 57.4 years in 2012.[141] With a fertility rate of 5.9 births per woman, the maternal mortality rate stood at 990 per 100,000 births in 2010.[142] A number of highly communicable diseases are widespread, including tuberculosisdiarrheal diseases and malaria. In 2007, the HIV infection rates stood at 2% of the population aged 15–49[143] whereas the incidence of tuberculosis was 420 per 100,000 people in 2008.[144] Approximately 58.2%[145] – 66%[146] of women are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation.

Liberia imports 90% of its rice, a staple food, and is extremely vulnerable to food shortages.[147] In 2007, 20.4% of children under the age of five were malnourished.[148] In 2008, only 17% of the population had access to adequate sanitation facilities.[149]

Approximately 95% of the country’s healthcare facilities had been destroyed by the time civil war ended in 2003.[150] In 2009, government expenditure on health care per capita was US$22,[151] accounting for 10.6% of total GDP.[152] In 2008, Liberia had only one doctor and 27 nurses per 100,000 people.[144]

In 2014, an outbreak of Ebola virus in Guinea spread to Liberia.[153] As of November 17, 2014, there were 2,812 confirmed deaths from the ongoing outbreak.[154] In early August 2014 Guinea closed its borders to Liberia to help contain the spread of the virus, as more new cases were being reported in Liberia than in Guinea. On May 9, 2015, Liberia was declared Ebola free after six weeks with no new cases.[155]

According to an Overseas Development Institute report, private health expenditure accounts for 64.1% of total spending on health.[156]


Rape and sexual assault are frequent in the post-conflict era in Liberia. Liberia has one of the highest incidences of sexual violence against women in the world. Rape is the most frequently reported crime, accounting for more than one-third of sexual violence cases. Adolescent girls are the most frequently assaulted, and almost 40% of perpetrators are adult men known to victims.[157]

Both male and female homosexuality are illegal in Liberia.[158][159] On July 20, 2012, the Liberian senate voted unanimously to enact legislation to prohibit and criminalize same-sex marriages.[160]


Bassa culture. Helmet Mask for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei), Liberia. 20th century. Brooklyn Museum.

The religious practices, social customs and cultural standards of the Americo-Liberians had their roots in the antebellum American South. The settlers wore top hat and tails and modeled their homes on those of Southern slaveowners.[161] Most Americo-Liberian men were members of the Masonic Order of Liberia, which became heavily involved in the nation’s politics.[162]

Liberia has a rich history in textile arts and quilting, as the settlers brought with them their sewing and quilting skills. Liberia hosted National Fairs in 1857 and 1858 in which prizes were awarded for various needle arts. One of the most well-known Liberian quilters was Martha Ann Ricks,[163] who presented a quilt featuring the famed Liberian coffee tree to Queen Victoria in 1892. When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf moved into the Executive Mansion, she reportedly had a Liberian-made quilt installed in her presidential office.[164]

A rich literary tradition has existed in Liberia for over a century. Edward Wilmot BlydenBai T. MooreRoland T. Dempster and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo are among Liberia’s more prominent authors.[165] Moore’s novella Murder in the Cassava Patch is considered Liberia’s most celebrated novel.[166]


One-third of married Liberian women between the ages of 15–49 are in polygamous marriages.[167] Customary law allows men to have up to four wives.[168]


A beachside barbeque at SinkorMonrovia, Liberia

Liberian cuisine heavily incorporates rice, the country’s staple food. Other ingredients include cassavafishbananascitrus fruitplantainscoconutokra and sweet potatoes.[169] Heavy stews spiced with habanero and scotch bonnet chillies are popular and eaten with fufu.[170] Liberia also has a tradition of baking imported from the United States that is unique in West Africa.[171]


The most popular sport in Liberia is association football, with President George Weah — the only African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year — being the nation’s most famous athlete.[172][173] The Liberia national football team has reached the Africa Cup of Nations finals twice, in 1996 and 2002.

The second most popular sport in Liberia is basketball. The Liberian national basketball team has reached the AfroBasket twice, in 1983 and 2007.

In Liberia, the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex serves as a multi-purpose stadium. It hosts FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in addition to international concerts and national political events.[174]

Measurement system[edit]

Liberia is one of only three countries that have not officially adopted the International System of Units (short SI, also called the metric system), the others being the United States and Myanmar.

  • In the United States, the Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act amended the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 and designated the metric system as “the Preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce”, but is mixed in consumer usage, with the population generally preferring customary units and industries either fully metric or mixed.[175][circular reference]
  • Myanmar has made an official decision to metricate and, since 2013, has been transitioning away from Imperial and Burmese units in the past few years. Gasoline sales are now in litres.[176]

The Liberian government has begun transitioning away from use of United States Customary Units to the metric system.[177] However, this change has been gradual, with government reports concurrently using both United States Customary and metric units.[178][179] In 2018 the Liberian Commerce and Industry Minister announced that the Liberian government are committed to adopting the metric system.[180]

See also




Coordinates33°N 44°E

Republic of Iraq
Motto: الله أكبر (Arabic)
Allāhu Akbar” (transliteration)
God is the Greatest”
Anthem: Mawṭinī
(English: “My Homeland”)



Location of Iraq
and largest city
33°20′N 44°23′E
Official languages
Recognised regional languages
  • Other Recognized languages
Demonym(s) Iraqi
Government Federal parliamentary constitutional republic
Barham Salih
Adil Abdul-Mahdi[1]
• Speaker
Mohamed al-Halbousi
Medhat al-Mahmoud
Legislature Council of Representatives
Independence from the United Kingdom
3 October 1932
14 July 1958
15 October 2005
• Total
437,072 km2 (168,754 sq mi) (58th)
• Water (%)
• 2018 estimate
38,433,600[2][3] (36th)
• Density
82.7/km2 (214.2/sq mi) (125th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
$733.926 billion[4] (34th)
• Per capita
$17,952[4] (76th)
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
$250.070 billion[4] (48th)
• Per capita
$6,116[4] (97th)
Gini (2012) 29.5[5]
HDI (2018) Increase 0.689[6]
medium · 120th
Currency Iraqi dinar (IQD)
Time zone UTC+3 (AST)
Driving side right
Calling code +964
ISO 3166 code IQ
Internet TLD .iq
  1. Constitution of Iraq, Article 4 (1st).

Iraq (/ɪˈræk//ɪˈrɑːk/ (About this soundlisten) or /ˈræk/Arabicاَلْعِرَاقُ‎, al-ʿirāqKurdishعێراق‎ Êraq), officially the Republic of Iraq (Arabicجُمْهُورِيَّةُ ٱلْعِرَاقِ‎ About this soundJumhūriyyah al-ʿIrāqKurdishکۆماری عێراق‎ Komarî Êraq), is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including ArabsKurdsChaldeansAssyriansTurkmenShabakisYazidisArmeniansMandeansCircassians and Kawliya.[7] Around 99% of the country’s 38 million citizens are Muslims,[8] with tiny minorities of ChristiansYarsansYezidis and Mandeans also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Iraq has a coastline measuring 58 km (36 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf and encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert.[9] Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through Iraq and into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land.

The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, historically known as Mesopotamia, is often referred to as the cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws and live in cities under an organised government—notably Uruk, from which “Iraq” is derived. The area has been home to successive civilisations since the 6th millennium BC. Iraq was the centre of the AkkadianSumerianAssyrianChaldean Empire, and Babylonian empires. It was also part of the MedianAchaemenidHellenisticParthianSassanidRomanRashidunUmayyadAbbasidAyyubidSeljukMongolTimuridSafavidAfsharid and Ottoman empires.[10]

The country today known as Iraq was a region of the Ottoman Empire until the partition of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. It was made up of three provinces, called vilayets in the Ottoman languageMosul VilayetBaghdad Vilayet, and Basra Vilayet. In April 1920 the British Mandate of Mesopotamia was created under the authority of the League of Nations. A British-backed monarchy joining these vilayets into one Kingdom was established in 1921 under Faisal I of Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from the UK in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Iraqi Republic created. Iraq was controlled by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from 1968 until 2003. After an invasion by the United States and its allies in 2003, Saddam Hussein‘s Ba’ath Party was removed from power, and multi-party parliamentary elections were held in 2005. The US presence in Iraq ended in 2011,[11] but the Iraqi insurgency continued and intensified as fighters from the Syrian Civil War spilled into the country. Out of the insurgency came a highly destructive group calling itself ISIL, which took large parts of the north and west. It has since been largely defeated. Disputes over the sovereignty of Kurdistan Region continue. A referendum about the full sovereignty of Kurdistan Region was held on 25 September 2017. On 9 December 2017, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIL after the group lost its territory in Iraq.[12]

Iraq is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 19 governorates (provinces) and one autonomous region (Kurdistan Region). The country’s official religion is IslamCulturally, Iraq has a very rich heritage and celebrates the achievements of its past in both pre-Islamic as well as post-Islamic times and is known for its poets. Its painters and sculptors are among the best in the Arab world, some of them being world-class as well as producing fine handicrafts, including rugs and carpets. Iraq is a founding member of the UN as well as of the Arab LeagueOICNon-Aligned Movement and the IMF.


The Arabic name العراق al-ʿIrāq has been in use since before the 6th century. There are several suggested origins for the name. One dates to the Sumerian city of Uruk (Biblical Hebrew Erech) and is thus ultimately of Sumerian origin, as Uruk was the Akkadian name for the Sumerian city of Urug, containing the Sumerian word for “city”, UR.[13][14] An Arabic folk etymology for the name is “deeply rooted, well-watered; fertile“.[15]

During the medieval period, there was a region called ʿIrāq ʿArabī (“Arabian Iraq”) for Lower Mesopotamia and ʿIrāq ʿAjamī (“Persian Iraq”),[16] for the region now situated in Central and Western Iran.[16] The term historically included the plain south of the Hamrin Mountains and did not include the northernmost and westernmost parts of the modern territory of Iraq.[17] Prior to the middle of the 19th century, the term Eyraca Arabica was commonly used to describe Iraq.[18][19]

The term Sawad was also used in early Islamic times for the region of the alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, contrasting it with the arid Arabian desert. As an Arabic word, عراق means “hem”, “shore”, “bank”, or “edge”, so that the name by folk etymology came to be interpreted as “the escarpment“, viz. at the south and east of the Jazira Plateau, which forms the northern and western edge of the “al-Iraq arabi” area.[20]

The Arabic pronunciation is [ʕiˈrɑːq]. In English, it is either /ɪˈrɑːk/ (the only pronunciation listed in the Oxford English Dictionary and the first one in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary[21]) or /ɪˈræk/ (listed first by MQD), the American Heritage Dictionary,[22] and the Random House Dictionary.[23] The pronunciation /ˈræk/ is frequently heard in US media.[citation needed]

In accordance with the 2005 Constitution, the official name of the state is the “Republic of Iraq” (Jumhūrīyyat al-‘Irāq).


Pre-historic era

Between 65,000 BC and 35,000 BC northern Iraq was home to a Neanderthal culture, archaeological remains of which have been discovered at Shanidar Cave[24] This same region is also the location of a number of pre-Neolithic cemeteries, dating from approximately 11,000 BC.[25]

Since approximately 10,000 BC, Iraq (alongside Asia Minor and The Levant) was one of centres of a Caucasoid Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. The following Neolithic period (PPNB) is represented by rectangular houses. At the time of the pre-pottery Neolithic, people used vessels made of stone, gypsum and burnt lime (Vaisselle blanche). Finds of obsidian tools from Anatolia are evidences of early trade relations.

Further important sites of human advancement were Jarmo (circa 7100 BC),[25] the Halaf culture and Ubaid period (between 6500 BC and 3800 BC).[26] These periods show ever-increasing levels of advancement in agriculture, tool-making and architecture.

Ancient Iraq

Cylinder Seal, Old Babylonian Period, c.1800 BC, hematite. The king makes an animal offering to Shamash. This seal was probably made in a workshop at Sippar.[27]

The historical period in Iraq truly begins during the Uruk period (4000 BC to 3100 BC), with the founding of a number of Sumerian cities, and the use of PictographsCylinder seals and mass-produced goods.[28]

The “Cradle of Civilization” is thus a common term for the area comprising modern Iraq as it was home to the earliest known civilisation, the Sumerian civilisation, which arose in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates river valley of southern Iraq in the Chalcolithic (Ubaid period).

It was here, in the late 4th millennium BC, that the world’s first writing system and recorded history itself were born. The Sumerians were also the first to harness the wheel and create City States, and whose writings record the first evidence of MathematicsAstronomyAstrologyWritten LawMedicine and Organised religion.

The language of the Sumerians is a language isolate. The major city states of the early Sumerian period were; EriduBad-tibiraLarsaSipparShuruppakUrukKishUrNippurLagashGirsuUmmaHamaziAdabMariIsinKuthaDer and Akshak.

The cities to the north like Ashur, Arbela (modern Erbil) and Arrapha (modern Kirkuk) were also extant in what was to be called Assyria from the 25th century BC; however, at this early stage, they were Sumerian ruled administrative centres.

Victory stele of Naram-Sin of Akkad.

Bronze Age

In the 26th century BC, Eannatum of Lagash created what was perhaps the first empire in history, though this was short-lived. Later, Lugal-Zage-Si, the priest-king of Umma, overthrew the primacy of the Lagash dynasty in the area, then conquered Uruk, making it his capital, and claimed an empire extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.[29] It was during this period that the Epic of Gilgamesh originates, which includes the tale of The Great Flood.

From the 29th century BC, Akkadian Semitic names began to appear on king lists and administrative documents of various city states. It remains unknown as to the origin of Akkad, where it was precisely situated and how it rose to prominence. Its people spoke Akkadian, an East Semitic language.[30]

During the 3rd millennium BC, a cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influences between Sumerian and Akkadian are evident in all areas, including lexical borrowing on a massive scale—and syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This mutual influence has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian of the 3rd millennium BC as a Sprachbund.[31] From this period, the civilisation in Iraq came to be known as Sumero-Akkadian.

Bill of sale of a male slave and a building in Shuruppak, Sumerian tablet, circa 2600 BC.

Between the 29th and 24th centuries BC, a number of kingdoms and city states within Iraq began to have Akkadian speaking dynasties; including AssyriaEkallatumIsin and Larsa.

However, the Sumerians remained generally dominant until the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2335–2124 BC), based in the city of Akkad in central Iraq. Sargon of Akkad, originally a Rabshakeh to a Sumerian king, founded the empire, he conquered all of the city states of southern and central Iraq, and subjugated the kings of Assyria, thus uniting the Sumerians and Akkadians in one state. He then set about expanding his empire, conquering GutiumElam and had victories that did not result into a full conquest against the Amorites and Eblaites of Ancient Syria.

After the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in the late 22nd century BC, the Gutians occupied the south for a few decades, while Assyria reasserted its independence in the north. This was followed by a Sumerian renaissance in the form of the Neo-Sumerian Empire. The Sumerians under king Shulgi conquered almost all of Iraq except the northern reaches of Assyria, and asserted themselves over the GutiansElamites and Amorites, destroying the first and holding off the others.

An Elamite invasion in 2004 BC brought the Sumerian revival to an end. By the mid 21st century BC, the Akkadian speaking kingdom of Assyria had risen to dominance in northern Iraq. Assyria expanded territorially into the north eastern Levant, central Iraq, and eastern Anatolia, forming the Old Assyrian Empire (circa 2035–1750 BC) under kings such as Puzur-Ashur ISargon IIlushuma and Erishum I, the latter of whom produced the most detailed set of law yet written.[citation needed] The south broke up into a number of Akkadian speaking states, IsinLarsa and Eshnunna being the major ones.

During the 20th century BC, the Canaanite speaking Amorites began to migrate into southern Mesopotamia. Eventually, they began to set up small petty kingdoms in the south, as well as usurping the thrones of extant city states such as IsinLarsa and Eshnunna.

Hammurabi, depicted as receiving his royal insignia from Shamash. Relief on the upper part of the stele of Hammurabi’s code of laws.

One of these small Amorite kingdoms founded in 1894 BC contained the then small administrative town of Babylon within its borders. It remained insignificant for over a century, overshadowed by older and more powerful states, such as Assyria, Elam, Isin, Ehnunna and Larsa.

In 1792 BC, an Amorite ruler named Hammurabi came to power in this state, and immediately set about building Babylon from a minor town into a major city, declaring himself its king. Hammurabi conquered the whole of southern and central Iraq, as well as Elam to the east and Mari to the west, then engaged in a protracted war with the Assyrian king Ishme-Dagan for domination of the region, creating the short-lived Babylonian Empire. He eventually prevailed over the successor of Ishme-Dagan and subjected Assyria and its Anatolian colonies. By the middle of the eighteenth century BC, the Sumerians had lost their cultural identity and ceased to exist as a distinct people.[32][33] Genetic and cultural analysis indicates that the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq are probably their most direct modern descendants.[34][35][36]

It is from the period of Hammurabi that southern Iraq came to be known as Babylonia, while the north had already coalesced into Assyria hundreds of years before. However, his empire was short-lived, and rapidly collapsed after his death, with both Assyria and southern Iraq, in the form of the Sealand Dynasty, falling back into native Akkadian hands. The foreign Amorites clung on to power in a once more weak and small Babylonia until it was sacked by the Indo-European speaking Hittite Empire based in Anatolia in 1595 BC. After this, another foreign people, the Language Isolate speaking Kassites, originating in the Zagros Mountains of Ancient Iran, seized control of Babylonia, where they were to rule for almost 600 years, by far the longest dynasty ever to rule in Babylon.

Iraq was from this point divided into three polities: Assyria in the north, Kassite Babylonia in the south central region, and the Sealand Dynasty in the far south. The Sealand Dynasty was finally conquered by Kassite Babylonia circa 1380 BC.

The Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC) saw Assyria rise to be the most powerful nation in the known world. Beginning with the campaigns of Ashur-uballit I, Assyria destroyed the rival HurrianMitanni Empire, annexed huge swathes of the Hittite Empire for itself, annexed northern Babylonia from the Kassites, forced the Egyptian Empire from the region, and defeated the ElamitesPhrygiansCanaanitesPhoeniciansCiliciansGutiansDilmunites and Arameans. At its height, the Middle Assyrian Empire stretched from The Caucasus to Dilmun (modern Bahrain), and from the Mediterranean coasts of Phoenicia to the Zagros Mountains of Iran. In 1235 BC, Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria took the throne of Babylon, thus becoming the very first native Mesopotamian to rule the state.

Jehu, king of Israel, bows before Shalmaneser III of Assyria, 825 BC.

During the Bronze Age collapse (1200–900 BC), Babylonia was in a state of chaos, dominated for long periods by Assyria and Elam. The Kassites were driven from power by Assyria and Elam, allowing native south Mesopotamian kings to rule Babylonia for the first time, although often subject to Assyrian or Elamite rulers. However, these East Semitic Akkadian kings, were unable to prevent new waves of West Semitic migrants entering southern Iraq, and during the 11th century BC Arameans and Suteans entered Babylonia from The Levant, and these were followed in the late 10th to early 9th century BC by the migrant Chaldeans who were closely related to the earlier Arameans.

Iron Age

After a period of comparative decline in Assyria, it once more began to expand with the Neo Assyrian Empire (935–605 BC). This was to be the largest empire the region had yet seen, and under rulers such as Adad-Nirari IIAshurnasirpalShalmaneser IIISemiramisTiglath-pileser IIISargon IISennacheribEsarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, Iraq became the centre of an empire stretching from PersiaParthia and Elam in the east, to Cyprus and Antioch in the west, and from The Caucasus in the north to EgyptNubia and Arabia in the south.

The Arabs and the Chaldeans are first mentioned in written history (circa 850 BC) in the annals of Shalmaneser III.

It was during this period that an Akkadian influenced form of Eastern Aramaic was adopted by the Assyrians as the lingua franca of their vast empire, and Mesopotamian Aramaic began to supplant Akkadian as the spoken language of the general populace of both Assyria and Babylonia. The descendant dialects of this tongue survive amongst the Mandaeans of southern Iraq and Assyrians of northern Iraq to this day.

Relief showing a lion hunt, from the north palace of Nineveh, 645–635 BC.

In the late 7th century BC, the Assyrian Empire tore itself apart with a series of brutal civil wars, weakening itself to such a degree that a coalition of its former subjects; the BabyloniansChaldeansMedesPersiansParthiansScythians and Cimmerians, were able to attack Assyria, finally bringing its empire down by 605 BC.[37]

Babylonian and Persian periods

The short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire (620–539 BC) succeeded that of Assyria. It failed to attain the size, power or longevity of its predecessor; however, it came to dominate The LevantCanaanArabiaIsrael and Judah, and to defeat Egypt. Initially, Babylon was ruled by yet another foreign dynasty, that of the Chaldeans, who had migrated to the region in the late 10th or early 9th century BC. Its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II, rivalled another non native ruler, the ethnically unrelated Amorite king Hammurabi, as the greatest king of Babylon. However, by 556 BC, the Chaldeans had been deposed from power by the Assyrian born Nabonidus and his son and regent Belshazzar.

In the 6th century BC, Cyrus the Great of neighbouring Persia defeated the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the Battle of Opis and Iraq was subsumed into the Achaemenid Empire for nearly two centuries. The Achaemenids made Babylon their main capital. The Chaldeans and Chaldea disappeared at around this time, though both Assyria and Babylonia endured and thrived under Achaemenid rule (see Achaemenid Assyria). Little changed under the Persians, having spent three centuries under Assyrian rule, their kings saw themselves as successors to Ashurbanipal, and they retained Assyrian Imperial Aramaic as the language of empire, together with the Assyrian imperial infrastructure, and an Assyrian style of art and architecture.[citation needed]

The Greek-ruled Seleucid Empire (in yellow) with capital in Seleucia on the Tigris, north of Babylon.

In the late 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region, putting it under Hellenistic Seleucid rule for over two centuries.[38] The Seleucids introduced the Indo-Anatolian and Greek term Syria to the region. This name had for many centuries been the Indo-European word for Assyria and specifically and only meant Assyria; however, the Seleucids also applied it to The Levant (Aramea, causing both the Assyria and the Assyrians of Iraq and the Arameans and The Levant to be called Syria and Syrians/Syriacs in the Greco-Roman world.[39]

Flourished in the 2nd century, the strongly fortified Parthian city of Hatra shows a unique blend of both Classical and Persian architecture and art.[40][41]

The Parthians (247 BC – 224 AD) from Persia conquered the region during the reign of Mithridates I of Parthia (r. 171–138 BC). From Syria, the Romans invaded western parts of the region several times, briefly founding Assyria Provincia in Assyria. Christianity began to take hold in Iraq (particularly in Assyria) between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and Assyria became a centre of Syriac Christianity, the Church of the East and Syriac literature. A number of independent states evolved in the north during the Parthian era, such as AdiabeneAssurOsroene and Hatra.

The Sassanids of Persia under Ardashir I destroyed the Parthian Empire and conquered the region in 224 AD. During the 240s and 250’s AD, the Sassanids gradually conquered the independent states, culminating with Assur in 256 AD. The region was thus a province of the Sassanid Empire for over four centuries, and became the frontier and battle ground between the Sassanid Empire and Byzantine Empire, with both empires weakening each other, paving the way for the ArabMuslim conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century.

Middle Ages

The Abbasid Caliphate at its greatest extent, c. 850.

The Arab Islamic conquest in the mid-7th century AD established Islam in Iraq and saw a large influx of Arabs. Under the Rashidun Caliphate, the prophet Muhammad‘s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, moved his capital to Kufa when he became the fourth caliph. The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the province of Iraq from Damascus in the 7th century. (However, eventually there was a separate, independent Caliphate of Córdoba in Iberia.)

The Abbasid Caliphate built the city of Baghdad in the 8th century as its capital, and the city became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. Baghdad was the largest multicultural city of the Middle Ages, peaking at a population of more than a million,[42] and was the centre of learning during the Islamic Golden Age. The Mongols destroyed the city and burned its library during the siege of Baghdad in the 13th century.[43]

In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire’s forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu Khan demanded its surrender, but the last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, he besieged Baghdad, sacked the city and massacred many of the inhabitants.[44] Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million.[45]

The sack of Baghdad by the Mongols.

The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and Baghdad’s House of Wisdom, which contained countless precious and historical documents. The city has never regained its previous pre-eminence as a major centre of culture and influence. Some historians believe that the Mongol invasion destroyed much of the irrigation infrastructure that had sustained Mesopotamia for millennia. Other historians point to soil salination as the culprit in the decline in agriculture.[46]

The mid-14th-century Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world.[47] The best estimate for the Middle East is a death rate of roughly one-third.[48]

In 1401, a warlord of Mongol descent, Tamerlane (Timur Lenk), invaded Iraq. After the capture of Baghdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred.[49] Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur).[50] Timur also conducted massacres of the indigenous Assyrian Christian population, hitherto still the majority population in northern Mesopotamia, and it was during this time that the ancient Assyrian city of Assur was finally abandoned.[51]

Ottoman Iraq

The 1803 Cedid Atlas, showing the area today known as Iraq divided between “Al Jazira” (pink), “Kurdistan” (blue), “Iraq” (green), and “Al Sham” (yellow).

During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control. From the earliest 16th century, in 1508, as with all territories of the former White Sheep Turkmen, Iraq fell into the hands of the Iranian Safavids. Owing to the century long Turco-Iranian rivalry between the Safavids and the neighbouring Ottoman Turks, Iraq would be contested between the two for more than a hundred years during the frequent Ottoman-Persian Wars.

With the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639, most of the territory of present-day Iraq eventually came under the control of Ottoman Empire as the eyalet of Baghdad as a result of wars with the neighbouring rival, Safavid Iran. Throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533–1918), the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances.

By the 17th century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. The nomadic population swelled with the influx of bedouins from Najd, in the Arabian Peninsula. Bedouin raids on settled areas became impossible to curb.[52]

English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, 1852.

During the years 1747–1831, Iraq was ruled by a Mamluk dynasty of Georgian[53] origin who succeeded in obtaining autonomy from the Ottoman Porte, suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a programme of modernisation of economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and imposed their direct control over Iraq. The population of Iraq, estimated at 30 million in 800 AD, was only 5 million at the start of the 20th century.[54]

During World War I, the Ottomans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. In the Mesopotamian campaign against the Central Powers, British forces invaded the country and initially suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–1916). However, subsequent to this the British began to gain the upper hand, and were further aided by the support of local Arabs and Assyrians. In 1916, the British and French made a plan for the post-war division of Western Asia under the Sykes-Picot Agreement.[55] British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917, and defeated the Ottomans. An armistice was signed in 1918. The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Ottoman losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918, the British had deployed 410,000 men in the area, of which 112,000 were combat troops.[citation needed]

British administration and independent kingdom

British troops in Baghdad, June 1941.

The country today known as Iraq was a region of the Ottoman Empire until the partition of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. It was made up of three provinces, called vilayets in the Ottoman languageMosul VilayetBaghdad Vilayet, and Basra Vilayet. These three provinces were joined into one Kingdom by the British after the region became a League of Nations mandate, administered under British control, with the name “State of Iraq“. A fourth province, which Iraqi nationalists considered part of Upper Mesopotamia was ultimately added to Syria. In line with their “Sharifian Solution” policy, the British established the Hashemite king, Faisal I of Iraq, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as their client ruler. Likewise, British authorities selected Sunni Arab elites from the region for appointments to government and ministry offices.[specify][56][page needed][57]

Faced with spiraling costs and influenced by the public protestations of the war hero T. E. Lawrence[58] in The Times, Britain replaced Arnold Wilson in October 1920 with a new Civil Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox.[59] Cox managed to quell a rebellion, yet was also responsible for implementing the fateful policy of close co-operation with Iraq’s Sunni minority.[60] The institution of slavery was abolished in the 1920s.[61]

Britain granted independence to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932,[62] on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases, local militia in the form of Assyrian Levies, and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal’s death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. Ghazi was followed by his underage son, Faisal II‘Abd al-Ilah served as Regent during Faisal’s minority.

On 1 April 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and members of the Golden Square staged a coup d’état and overthrew the government of ‘Abd al-Ilah. During the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, the United Kingdom (which still maintained air bases in Iraq) invaded Iraq for fear that the Rashid Ali government might cut oil supplies to Western nations because of his links to the Axis powers. The war started on 2 May, and the British, together with loyal Assyrian Levies,[63] defeated the forces of Al-Gaylani, forcing an armistice on 31 May.

military occupation followed the restoration of the pre-coup government of the Hashemite monarchy. The occupation ended on 26 October 1947, although Britain was to retain military bases in Iraq until 1954, after which the Assyrian militias were disbanded. The rulers during the occupation and the remainder of the Hashemite monarchy were Nuri as-Said, the autocratic Prime Minister, who also ruled from 1930 to 1932, and ‘Abd al-Ilah, the former Regent who now served as an adviser to King Faisal II.

Republic and Ba’athist Iraq

The 14 July Revolution in 1958.

In 1958, a coup d’état known as the 14 July Revolution was led by the Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim. This revolt was strongly anti-imperial and anti-monarchical in nature and had strong socialist elements. Numerous people were killed in the coup, including King Faysal II, Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Nuri al-Sa’id.[64] Qasim controlled Iraq through military rule and in 1958 he began a process of forcibly reducing the surplus amounts of land owned by a few citizens and having the state redistribute the land. He was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif in a February 1963 coup. After the latter’s death in 1966, he was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, who was overthrown by the Ba’ath Party in 1968. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became the first Ba’ath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of Saddam Hussein, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq’s supreme executive body, in July 1979.

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution took place. Following months of cross-border raids between the two countries, Saddam declared war on Iran in September 1980, initiating the Iran–Iraq War (or First Persian Gulf War). Taking advantage of the post-revolution chaos in Iran, Iraq captured some territories in southwest of Iran, but Iran recaptured all of the lost territories within two years, and for the next six years Iran was on the offensive.[65][page needed] The war, which ended in stalemate in 1988, had cost the lives of between half a million and 1.5 million people.[66] In 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed an Iraqi nuclear materials testing reactor at Osirak and was widely criticised at the United Nations.[67][68] During the eight-year war with Iran, Saddam Hussein extensively used chemical weapons against Iranians.[69] In the final stages of the Iran–Iraq War, the Ba’athist Iraqi regime led the Al-Anfal Campaign, a genocidal[70] campaign that targeted Iraqi Kurds,[71][72][73] and led to the killing of 50,000–100,000 civilians.[74] Chemical weapons were also used against Iraqi Shia civilians during the 1991 uprisings in Iraq.

Ba’athist era presidents Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein in 1978.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait. This subsequently led to military intervention by United States-led forces in the First Gulf War. The coalition forces proceeded with a bombing campaign targeting military targets[75][76][77] and then launched a 100-hour-long ground assault against Iraqi forces in Southern Iraq and those occupying Kuwait.

Iraq’s armed forces were devastated during the war. Shortly after it ended in 1991, Shia and Kurdish Iraqis led several uprisings against Saddam Hussein’s regime, but these were successfully repressed using the Iraqi security forces and chemical weapons. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people, including many civilians were killed.[78] During the uprisings the US, UK, France and Turkey, claiming authority under UNSCR 688, established the Iraqi no-fly zones to protect Kurdish and Shiite populations from attacks by the Saddam regime’s fixed-wing aircraft (but not helicopters).

Iraq was ordered to destroy its chemical and biological weapons and the UN attempted to compel Saddam’s government to disarm and agree to a ceasefire by imposing additional sanctions on the country in addition to the initial sanctions imposed following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi Government’s failure to disarm and agree to a ceasefire resulted in sanctions which remained in place until 2003. The effects of the sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq have been disputed.[79][80] Whereas it was widely believed that the sanctions caused a major rise in child mortality, recent research has shown that commonly cited data were fabricated by the Iraqi government and that “there was no major rise in child mortality in Iraq after 1990 and during the period of the sanctions.”[81][82][83] An oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration began planning the overthrow of Saddam’s government and in October 2002, the US Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. In November 2002, the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 1441 and in March 2003 the US and its allies invaded Iraq.


The April 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein‘s statue by US Army troops in Firdos Square in Baghdad shortly after the Iraq War invasion.

On 20 March 2003, a United States-organized coalition invaded Iraq, under the pretext that Iraq had failed to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program in violation of UN Resolution 687. This claim was based on documents provided by the CIA and the British government and were later found to be unreliable.[84][85][86]

Following the invasion, the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern Iraq. In May 2003 L. Paul Bremer, the chief executive of the CPA, issued orders to exclude Baath Party members from the new Iraqi government (CPA Order 1) and to disband the Iraqi Army (CPA Order 2).[87] The decision dissolved the largely Sunni Iraqi Army and excluded many of the country’s former government officials from participating in the country’s governance,[88] including 40,000 school teachers who had joined the Baath Party simply to keep their jobs,[89] helping to bring about a chaotic post-invasion environment.[90]

An insurgency against the US-led coalition-rule of Iraq began in summer 2003 within elements of the former Iraqi secret police and army, who formed guerilla units. In fall 2003, self-entitled ‘jihadist‘ groups began targeting coalition forces. Various Sunni militias were created in 2003, for example Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The insurgency included intense inter-ethnic violence between Sunnis and Shias.[91] The Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal came to light, late 2003 in reports by Amnesty International and Associated Press.

US Marines patrol the streets of Al Faw, October 2003.

The Mahdi Army—a Shia militia created in the summer of 2003 by Muqtada al-Sadr—began to fight Coalition forces in April 2004.[92][92] 2004 saw Sunni and Shia militants fighting against each other and against the new Iraqi Interim Government installed in June 2004, and against Coalition forces, as well as the First Battle of Fallujah in April and Second Battle of Fallujah in November. The Sunni militia Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became Al-Qaeda in Iraq in October 2004 and targeted Coalition forces as well as civilians, mainly Shia Muslims, further exacerbating ethnic tensions.[93]

In January 2005, the first elections since the invasion took place and in October a new Constitution was approved, which was followed by parliamentary elections in December. However, insurgent attacks were common and increased to 34,131 in 2005 from 26,496 in 2004.[94]

During 2006, fighting continued and reached its highest levels of violence, more war crimes scandals were made public, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed by US forces and Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity and hanged.[95][96][97] In late 2006, the US government’s Iraq Study Group recommended that the US begin focusing on training Iraqi military personnel and in January 2007 US President George W. Bush announced a “Surge” in the number of US troops deployed to the country.[98]

In May 2007, Iraq’s Parliament called on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal and US coalition partners such as the UK and Denmark began withdrawing their forces from the country.[99][100][101] The war in Iraq has resulted in between 151,000 and 1.2 million Iraqis being killed.[102][103]


In 2008, fighting continued and Iraq’s newly trained armed forces launched attacks against militants. The Iraqi government signed the US–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which required US forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by 30 June 2009 and to withdraw completely from Iraq by 31 December 2011.

US troops handed over security duties to Iraqi forces in June 2009, though they continued to work with Iraqi forces after the pullout.[104] On the morning of 18 December 2011, the final contingent of US troops to be withdrawn ceremonially exited over the border to Kuwait.[11] Crime and violence initially spiked in the months following the US withdrawal from cities in mid-2009[105][106] but despite the initial increase in violence, in November 2009, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials reported that the civilian death toll in Iraq fell to its lowest level since the 2003 invasion.[107]

Military situation in 2015

Following the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, the insurgency continued and Iraq suffered from political instability. In February 2011, the Arab Spring protests spread to Iraq;[108] but the initial protests did not topple the government. The Iraqi National Movement, reportedly representing the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, boycotted Parliament for several weeks in late 2011 and early 2012, claiming that the Shiite-dominated government was striving to sideline Sunnis.

In 2012 and 2013, levels of violence increased and armed groups inside Iraq were increasingly galvanised by the Syrian Civil War. Both Sunnis and Shias crossed the border to fight in Syria.[109] In December 2012, Sunni Arabs protested against the government, whom they claimed marginalised them.[110][111]

During 2013, Sunni militant groups stepped up attacks targeting the Iraq’s Shia population in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Nouri al-Maliki-led government.[112] In 2014, Sunni insurgents belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group seized control of large swathes of land including several major Iraqi cities, like TikritFallujah and Mosul creating hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons amid reports of atrocities by ISIL fighters.[113]

After an inconclusive election in April 2014, Nouri al-Maliki served as caretaker-Prime-Minister.[114]

On 11 August, Iraq’s highest court ruled that PM Maliki’s bloc is biggest in parliament, meaning Maliki could stay Prime Minister.[114] By 13 August, however, the Iraqi president had tasked Haider al-Abadi with forming a new government, and the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and some Iraqi politicians expressed their wish for a new leadership in Iraq, for example from Haider al-Abadi.[115] On 14 August, Maliki stepped down as PM to support Mr al-Abadi and to “safeguard the high interests of the country”. The US government welcomed this as “another major step forward” in uniting Iraq.[116][117] On 9 September 2014, Haider al-Abadi had formed a new government and became the new prime minister.[citation needed] Intermittent conflict between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions has led to increasing debate about the splitting of Iraq into three autonomous regions, including Sunni Kurdistan in the northeast, a Sunnistan in the west and a Shiastan in the southeast.[118]

In response to rapid territorial gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the first half of 2014, and its universally-condemned executions and reported human rights abuses, many states began to intervene against it in the Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017). Since the airstrikes started, ISIL has been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria.[119] Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Iraq in ISIL-linked violence.[120][121] The genocide of Yazidis by ISIL has led to the expulsion, flight and effective exile of the Yazidis from their ancestral lands in Northern Iraq.[122] The 2016 Karrada bombing killed nearly 400 civilians and injured hundreds more.[123] On 17 March 2017, a US-led coalition airstrike in Mosul killed more than 200 civilians.[124]

Since 2015, ISIL lost territory in Iraq, including Tikrit in March and April 2015,[125] Baiji in October 2015,[126] Sinjar in November 2015,[127] Ramadi in December 2015,[128] Fallujah in June 2016[129] and Mosul in July 2017. By December 2017, ISIL had no remaining territory in Iraq, following the 2017 Western Iraq campaign.[130]

In September 2017, a referendum was held regarding Kurdish independence in Iraq. 92% of Iraqi Kurds voted in favor of independence.[131] The referendum was regarded as illegal by the federal government in Baghdad.[132] In March 2018, Turkey launched military operations to eliminate the Kurdish separatist fighters in northern Iraq.[133] Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr‘s political coalition won Iraq’s parliamentary election in May 2018.[134]

2019–2020 : civil unrest, and U.S. and (presumed) Kata’ib violence

Serious civil unrest rocked the country beginning in Baghdad and Najaf in July 2018 and spreading to other provinces in late September 2019 as rallies to protest corruption, unemployment, and public service failures turned violent.[135]

Protests and demonstrations started again on 1 October 2019, against 16 years of corruption, unemployment and inefficient public services, before they escalated into calls to overthrow the administration and to stop Iranian intervention in Iraq. The Iraqi government at times reacted harshly, resulting in over 500 deaths by 12 December 2019.

On 27 December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Iraq was attacked by more than 30 rockets, killing a U.S. civilian contractor and injuring others. The U.S. blamed the Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia.

On 29 December 2019, the United States bombed five Kata’ib Hezbollah militia’s positions in Iraq and Syria, in retaliation for the presumed Kata’ib attack of 27 December. According to Iraqi sources, at least 25 militia fighters were killed.

On 31 December 2019, after a funeral for Kata’ib Hezbollah militiamen killed by U.S. airstrikes, dozens of Iraqi Shia militiamen and their supporters marched into the Green Zone of Baghdad and surrounded the U.S. embassy compound (see article: Attack on the United States embassy in Baghdad). Demonstrators smashed a door of the checkpoint, set fire to the reception area, left anti-American posters and sprayed anti-American graffiti. U.S. president Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the attack.

On 3 January 2020, amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, the U.S. launched a drone strike on a convoy traveling near Baghdad International Airport, killing:


Satellite map of Iraq.

Iraq lies between latitudes 29° and 38° N, and longitudes 39° and 49° E (a small area lies west of 39°). Spanning 437,072 km2 (168,754 sq mi), it is the 58th-largest country in the world. It is comparable in size to the US state of California, and somewhat larger than Paraguay.

Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000 m3 (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58 km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf. Close to the coast and along the Shatt al-Arab (known as arvandrūd: اروندرود among Iranians) there used to be marshlands, but many were drained in the 1990s.


Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate with subtropical influence. Summer temperatures average above 40 °C (104 °F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48 °C (118.4 °F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21 °C (69.8 °F) with maxima roughly 15 to 19 °C (59.0 to 66.2 °F) and night-time lows 2 to 5 °C (35.6 to 41.0 °F). Typically, precipitation is low; most places receive less than 250 mm (9.8 in) annually, with maximum rainfall occurring during the winter months. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare, except in the far north of the country. The northern mountainous regions have cold winters with occasional heavy snows, sometimes causing extensive flooding.

Government and politics

Baghdad Convention Center, the current meeting place of the Council of Representatives of Iraq.

The federal government of Iraq is defined under the current Constitution as a democraticfederal parliamentary republic. The federal government is composed of the executivelegislative, and judicial branches, as well as numerous independent commissions. Aside from the federal government, there are regions (made of one or more governorates), governorates, and districts within Iraq with jurisdiction over various matters as defined by law.

The National Alliance is the main Shia parliamentary bloc, and was established as a result of a merger of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance.[137] The Iraqi National Movement is led by Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia widely supported by Sunnis. The party has a more consistent anti-sectarian perspective than most of its rivals.[137] The Kurdistan List is dominated by two parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masood Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani. Both parties are secular and enjoy close ties with the West.[137]

In 2018, according to the Failed States Index, Iraq was the world’s eleventh most politically unstable country.[138][139] The concentration of power in the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and growing pressure on the opposition led to growing concern about the future of political rights in Iraq.[140] Nevertheless, progress was made and the country had risen to 11th place by 2013.[141] In August 2014, al-Maliki’s reign came to an end. He announced on 14 August 2014 that he would stand aside so that Haider Al-Abadi, who had been nominated just days earlier by newly installed President Fuad Masum, could take over. Until that point, al-Maliki had clung to power even asking the federal court to veto the president’s nomination describing it as a violation of the constitution.[142]

Transparency International ranks Iraq’s government as the eighth-most-corrupt government in the world. Government payroll have increased from 1 million employees under Saddam Hussein to around 7 million employees in 2016. In combination with decreased oil prices, the government budget deficit is near 25% of GDP as of 2016.[143]

Pro-independence rally in Kurdistan Region in September 2017

Since the establishment of the no–fly zones following the Gulf War of 1990–1991, the Kurds established their own autonomous region.[citation needed]


In October 2005, the new Constitution of Iraq was approved in a referendum with a 78% overall majority, although the percentage of support varying widely between the country’s territories.[144] The new constitution was backed by the Shia and Kurdish communities, but was rejected by Arab Sunnis. Under the terms of the constitution, the country conducted fresh nationwide parliamentary elections on 15 December 2005. All three major ethnic groups in Iraq voted along ethnic lines, as did Assyrian and Turcoman minorities.

Law no. 188 of the year 1959 (Personal Status Law)[145] made polygamy extremely difficult, granted child custody to the mother in case of divorce, prohibited repudiation and marriage under the age of 16.[146] Article 1 of Civil Code also identifies Islamic law as a formal source of law.[147] Iraq had no Sharia courts but civil courts used Sharia for issues of personal status including marriage and divorce. In 1995 Iraq introduced Sharia punishment for certain types of criminal offences.[148] The code is based on French civil law as well as Sunni and Jafari (Shi’ite) interpretations of Sharia.[149]

In 2004, the CPA chief executive L. Paul Bremer said he would veto any constitutional draft stating that sharia is the principal basis of law.[150] The declaration enraged many local Shia clerics,[151] and by 2005 the United States had relented, allowing a role for sharia in the constitution to help end a stalemate on the draft constitution.[152]

The Iraqi Penal Code is the statutory law of Iraq.


Soldiers of the 53rd Brigade, 14th Iraqi Army division graduate from basic training.

The current military control in Iraq as of 3 May 2018:

  Controlled by Iraqi government
  Controlled by Iraqi Kurds

Iraqi security forces are composed of forces serving under the Ministry of Interior (which controls the Police and Popular Mobilization Forces) and the Ministry of Defense, as well as the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau, reporting directly to the Prime Minister of Iraq, which oversees the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. Ministry of Defense forces include the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Air Force and the Iraqi Navy. The Peshmerga are a separate armed force loyal to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The regional government and the central government disagree as to whether they are under Baghdad’s authority and to what extent.[153]

The Iraqi Army is an objective counter-insurgency force that as of November 2009 includes 14 divisions, each division consisting of 4 brigades.[154] It is described as the most important element of the counter-insurgency fight.[155] Light infantry brigades are equipped with small arms, machine guns, RPGs, body armour and light armoured vehicles. Mechanized infantry brigades are equipped with T-54/55 main battle tanks and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles.[155] As of mid-2008, logistical problems included a maintenance crisis and ongoing supply problems.[156]

The Iraqi Air Force is designed to support ground forces with surveillance, reconnaissance and troop lift. Two reconnaissance squadrons use light aircraft, three helicopter squadrons are used to move troops and one air transportation squadron uses C-130 transport aircraft to move troops, equipment, and supplies. It currently has 3,000 person