National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002
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National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2002

Little Venice: Economy — The economy is based on the oil wells that are State property. However, economy is also built on farming and ranching the following: corn, rice, apples, citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, cotton, sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, cattle, goats, pigs, and fish. Venezuela's economy also consists of mining and industry of the following resources: bauxite, iron ore, gold, diamonds, salt, coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Tourism also plays a role in Venezuela's economy. Venezuelan territory also includes several islands and islets in the Antillean Sea. Some of these islands and islets are inhabited.

The History — Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now Venezuela in 1498, during his third voyage to the New World. According to some historians, the region was named by Amerigo Vespucci, who, on seeing the native Indian houses built on stilts over
water, called it "Little Venice," or Venezuela. The first quarter century of European contact was limited to the northeast coast and confined to slave hunting and pearl fishing; the first permanent Spanish settlement, Cumaná, was not made until 1523. In the second quarter of the 16th century, the centre of activity shifted to the northwest region, where the Welser banking house of Augsburg purchased exploration and colonization rights; German attempts to find precious metals and to occupy the area failed, however, and Spain repossessed the area in 1546.

Caracas was founded in 1567, and by 1600 more than 20 settlements dotted the Venezuelan Andes and the Caribbean coast. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Llanos and Maracaibo regions were taken over gradually by various Roman Catholic missionary orders.

The colonial economy was based on agriculture and stock raising. Corn (maize), beans, and beef were the domestic consumption staples; sugar, cacao, tobacco, and hides were the principal exports. Venezuelan society during the colonial era was headed by agents of the Spanish crown. Royal bureaucrats monopolized the top governing posts, and Spanish
clergymen dominated the high church offices. Creoles (native-born whites), however, owned the colony's wealth, principally land, and used it to hold the nonwhite races in bondage: mestizos (persons of mixed ancestry) were generally without property, social status, or political influence; Indians performed forced labour on interior farms or were segregated on marginal lands; blacks were slaves on the coastal plantations.

In theory, Venezuela was governed by the Spanish crown through the Audiencia of Santo Domingo in the 16th and 17th centuries and through the Viceroy of New Granada (at Bogotá) from its incorporation in 1717. In practice, however, the Venezuelans exercised a great deal of local autonomy throughout the colonial era.