Barrie McKenna offers a snapshot review of Venezuela’s decline from the 1950s to today, emphasizing the economic failures of late president Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. He cites an economy declined by half, due to a collapse in oil revenue and US sanctions, and notes that 3.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country because of hyperinflation (more than 1,000,000%) and country-wide food shortages.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • Why is Venezuela described by media as being in a state of crisis, and who is blamed for this situation?

New Terminology:

Reverse-engineering, ravages, sanctions, regime, exiles,

Materials Needed:

Globe article, Internet:

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

In recent years, Canadians have witnessed media reports detailing deteriorating conditions in Venezuela under the Nicolas Maduro, who in 2013 succeeded the late Hugo Chavez, who had introduced a socialist-style of government in 1998. Critics of the Chavez-Maduro regime claim that their attempts at land reform and wealth redistribution have resulted in the near-collapse of a once thriving economy.

Most observers agree that food shortages are widespread, the economy has stalled due to hyperinflation—expected to exceed 1,000,000% this year—and mismanagement of Venezuela’s oil industry (It has the largest oil reserves in the world—more than Saudi Arabia). However, critics also point out that the United States’ embargo on shipping oil dilutants to Venezuela (necessary to dilute its heavy oil prior to shipping), as well as its threats to intervene militarily, have contributed to the current crisis. Maduro’s government has also drawn international condemnation for apparent human rights violations. Internally, the country is split between Mr. Maduro and a self-declared new president, Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition. Canada has joined a number of Latin-American and other states in endorsing Mr. Guaido, while urging the resignation of Mr. Maduro.

As the crisis escalates, students can benefit from a lesson about the current status of Venezuela, as well as from a briefing on its history. Following a general class discussion, students will work on their own to review several different reports on Venezuela, including the one attached.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a discussion to introduce their lesson. Ask: (Answers in parentheses)

  • If we had an annual inflation rate of 1,000,000% in Canada, and you bought an item for $1 at the beginning of January, how much would that item cost by the end of December of the same year? ($1,000,000)
  • This is called “hyperinflation.” In what country is this happening right now? (Venezuela)
  • Where is Venezuela? Use phones or computers to pull up a map.
  • What do you know about this country? (Answers will vary)
  • Ask for volunteers to read the accompanying article by Mr. McKenna aloud to class.
  • List some of the actions that Mr. McKenna suggests need to be taken to bring Venezuela back from the brink. Have students note these on your chalk board.
  • Based on this article, do you think Mr. Maduro should step down?

For homework, or as part of the class, students are to prepare a report on Venezuela using this basic Wikipedia site: , as well as a well-regarded site that claims to be dedicated to rigorous journalistic reporting:

Work Sheet

Using the Wikipedia site, list a few facts about Venezuela, including:

Re-read, quickly, Mr. McKenna’s article, then answer these questions:

  • What information, if any, that you would consider important did you discover on The Conversation websites that Mr. McKenna did not mention in his article? Explain its importance.
  • Do you think Mr. McKenna brings a different perspective than the reports you read on The Conversation? If so, in what way—and with what purpose, do you think?
  • Finally, based on what you’ve read and discussed in class:
    • Do you think the current state of affairs in Venezuela represents a failure of the Chavez-Maduro regimes? Explain.
    • Do you think the role of the United States is significant? Explain.
    • Do you think Mr. Maduro should resign and let Mr. Guaido assume power? Explain.
    • How do you feel about Canada endorsing Mr. Guaido and urging Mr. Maduro to step down?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss their reports in a subsequent class.


Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can describe the general situation in Venezuela and provide an informed opinion on which players bear responsibility for it.

Confirming Activity:

  • Ask students to report when they notice news items on Venezuela.