On his third voyage of discovery from Spain, Christopher Columbus sighted Venezuela. Spanish explorers observed native homes built on stilts at the water's edge and gave the land its name, which means 'little Venice.' Venezuela became a Spanish colony for the next 300 years before the South American Independence Movement which liberated the country in 1821. After a brief period of unification with Colombia and Ecuador, Venezuela was then controlled by a succession of military dictators. Political strife and civil war followed. In the 1900s oil was discovered, military rule ensued, and Venezuela became the world's leading oil exporter, while the majority of the nation's people remained poor. In 1958, the country established a democratic government and has remained one since.