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As early as 1522 Spanish invaders reported that the Carib tribes in Venezuela used a black gooey substance for many purposes The viscous material was crude oil It was not until the 1950s however that oil production began in Venezuela Oil accounts for a quarter of the nations gross domestic product and three-quarters of export earnings and Venezuela is South Americas leading producer and one of the few non-Arab members of OPEC There are also substantial coal reserves and exploitation of the recently discovered Guasare Basin field is expected to add 10 million tons to annual production The political instability of the early 1990s shook foreign investor confidence but Venezuela has emphasized trade links with other South American countries The mid- to late 1990s saw a series of public and private sector strikes for higher wages In addition to participation in the G-3 agreement with Mexico and Colombia Venezuela has a free trade agreement with Colombia and has expressed the desire to become part of the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada Mexico and the United States The election of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela raises the question of the unraveling of the political system in all of Latin America and reveals the disillusionment some are feeling about worsening social conditions that have not improved under democratically elected governments Venezuela began its democracy 40 years ago with an unusual pact between the countrys principal parties that guaranteed an institutional stability not known in the region at that time But at the same time the leaders of the country never diversified the countrys economy instead choosing to rely heavily on its oil revenues As a result the Venezuelan economy is highly susceptible to the world markets price fluctuations and has not diversified enough to create jobs and allow for funds for programs of social support to combat the rising unemployment and levels of poverty in the country Chavezs victory also reflects the growing discontent
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