Columbus sighted Venezuela in 1498 and it was visited by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci in 1499 who named it Venezuela (Little Venice). It was part of the Spanish colony of New Granada until 1821 when it became independent, at first in union with Colombia and then as an independent republic from 1830. Up to 1945 the country was governed mainly by dictators. In 1945 a three-day revolt against the reactionary government of Gen. Isaias Medina led to constitutional and economic reforms. In 1961 a new constitution provided for a presidential election every five years, a national congress, and state and municipal legislative assemblies. Twenty political parties participated in the 1983 elections. By now the economy was in crisis and corruption linked to drug trafficking was widespread. In Feb. 1992 there were two abortive coups. A state of emergency was declared. In Dec. 1993 Dr Rafael Caldera Rodríguez’s election as president reflected disenchantment with the established political parties. He took office in the early stages of a banking crisis which cost 15% of GDP to resolve. Fiscal tightening backed by the IMF brought rapid recovery. Hugo Chávez Frías, who succeeded as president in Feb. 1999, continued with economic reforms and amended the constitution to increase presidential powers.
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