Within the various states, courts of first and second instance are active. The defense of the state is organized in the three traditional forces: army, navy (which includes the Coast Guard) and air force. There is also a National Guard. The military service is compulsory and lasts 30 months; the draft can be carried out, even on a voluntary basis, from the age of 18.The school system, reformed by the Chavez presidency, it is taught in private and public schools (where education is completely free) and provides for different levels of education: primary school, lasting 6 years, is compulsory and lasts up to 11 years of age. Higher education is given for a further 6 years, up to the age of 17. There are several universities in the country; among the main locations: Caracas (1725), Merída (1785), Valencia (1852), Maracaibo (1891), Cumaná (1958) and the Polytechnic of Barquisimeto (1962), which are flanked by some private institutes such as the Catholic University Andrés Bello and the Santa María University. The illiteracy rate registered among the population is equal to 4.8% (2007).
Compared to other South American countries, in colonial times Venezuela did not offer particular interests for European immigration; from this also a marked persistence of outdated and not very productive economic structures, characterized by the heavy privileges of the landed oligarchy and by the scarcity of entrepreneurial initiatives. The keystone of the change was represented by the exploitation of the huge oil reserves, which began after the First World War: Venezuela thus assumed a strategic role, first of all towards the United States, which, due to its geographical proximity, became the first importer of Venezuelan crude oil. For a long time, however, among the richest states in Latin America and the entire Third World, Venezuela did not derive real development from such wealth. bidonvilles, on the outskirts of Caracas and other major cities.
ECONOMY: TRADE, COMMUNICATIONS AND TOURISM
According to listofusnewspapers, commercial exchanges within the country are now quite lively, even if to a decisive extent they concern only Caracas and the other major cities, while a large part of Venezuela remains anchored to an economy of pure self-subsistence. As for foreign trade, in addition to oil, exports are mainly represented by iron ores, steel, aluminum, bauxite, coffee, cocoa, chemicals, manufactured goods; imports mainly consist of machinery and means of transport, foodstuffs, raw materials and building materials. The trade balance is in net surplus (thanks above all to the export of hydrocarbons); the most intense exchanges take place with the United States (on whose market Venezuela remains heavily dependent, in fact, in 2006 this covered over two-fifths of exports and over a quarter of imports), followed by the Netherlands Antilles and China for exports and Colombia, Brazil, China, Mexico and Panama for imports. § The communication routes are almost exclusively represented by roads (approx. 100,000 km, of which a third paved in 2001); the Caribbean area is well equipped, while access remains difficult in inland regions, often reachable only by plane or river navigation. To facilitate communications, gigantic bridges have been built: the one over Lake Maracaibo connects the two shores and has a length of 8800 m; the one on the Apure river opened the passage to the southern section of the llanos; while that of 1600 m on the Orinoco river, in Ciudad Bolívar, allows access to the Guayanense region. On the other hand, the railway network is very small (682 km in 2005). Inland waterways largely retain their past importance (the Orinoco can be traced back for more than 1100 km and regular navigation services operate on Lake Maracaibo). Maritime communications are fundamental, indispensable for a country whose economy eminently depends on trade with foreign countries. Venezuela can count on various modernly equipped ports; the most important are La Guaira, at the service of the capital, with which it is connected by an excellent motorway, Puerto Cabello and Maracaibo, the latter eminently oil-producing; followed by Puerto La Cruz, Cabimas, Amuay, Puerto Sucre and Punta de Piedras. Among the river ports there is a conspicuous merchant movement Ciudad Guayana, on the Orinoco, mainly used for the export of iron ores. Finally, the country can count on a good air network, connected to all the main American and European countries. The major airports are those of Caracas (Maiquetía, Simón Bolívar), Maracaibo, Barcelona, followed by Barquisimeto, Maturín, Ciudad Bolívar, Porlamar and San Fernando de Apure. § Tourism suffered a notable decline due to the 2002 coup, and the number of tourists almost halved between 1997 and 2004, only to recover again in 2005 (706,000 admissions); the sector, however, remains far below its potential due to the scarcity of organizational and receptive structures. and the number of tourists almost halved between 1997 and 2004, only to recover again in 2005 (706,000 admissions); the sector, however, remains far below its potential due to the scarcity of organizational and receptive structures. and the number of tourists almost halved between 1997 and 2004, only to recover again in 2005 (706,000 admissions); the sector, however, remains far below its potential due to the scarcity of organizational and receptive structures.