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Located in South America, Venezuela is bordered by Colombia, the Caribbean Sea, Guyana and Brazil. Colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, Venezuela became an independent country in 1830. The northern portion of Venezuela is dominated by the eastern spur of the northern Andes. The mountains are cooler than the surrounding subtropical plains and host the majority of Venezuela's population. The country's core includes Lake Valencia and Caracas. Since the late 19th century, oil has been the driving force behind Venezuela's political and economic affairs. The first discoveries were made in the Maracaibo basin, and later discoveries revealed heavy, sour crude deposits in the Orinoco basin. The tropical Orinoco basin is largely unpopulated, with little significant infrastructure. Just to the south are the Guiana Highlands, which buffer Venezuela from the jungles of the Amazon River basin. As a Caribbean country, Venezuela lies within the direct sphere of influence of the United States. The United States is not only the largest military power in the region, but also the largest consumer market and a key destination for Venezuelan crude oil exports. As a result, Venezuela's primary geographic challenge is managing its relations with the United States. Venezuela has throughout history used its relationship with the United States to attract the foreign investment and technological development that resulted in the country's well-developed oil sector. But relations between the two countries don't always match the economic reality. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez built domestic and foreign policies around rejecting U.S. influence.
Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway shares land borders with Russia, Finland and Sweden and has coastline on the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas. The country’s core lies in the southeast around its capital Oslo. This lowland region is Norway’s most habitable and is closest to the more populated parts of Europe. With a rugged coastline consisting of about 50,000 islands, the Scandinavian Mountains stretching the length of the country and proximity to the Arctic, Norway is difficult to populate and, therefore, control. As a result, it has historically been dominated by regional powers such as Denmark and Sweden. After gaining independence in 1905 and maintaining neutrality throughout World War I, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940 despite, again, proclaiming neutrality. Following the war, Norway joined NATO and tightened economic relations with continental Europe to increase its national security. As member of the European Economic Area, Norway is part of several European Union institutions. However, Norwegians rejected full EU membership in referendums in 1972 and 1994. With a population of only about 5 million people, Norway has forged close ties with other Nordic countries to stifle the influence of continental Europe and Russia. Offshore oil and natural gas discoveries in the late 1960s have made the country one of the richest in the world and are vital pillars to its modern economy. But as reserves in the North Sea are depleting, the Barents Sea and Arctic are gaining importance for their natural resources and potential trade routes. Therefore, the upcoming geographic challenge for Norway, with its small population, is to secure its interests in the north through exploration and regional collaboration.