Daily Video

May 15, 2019

Study guide: What’s happening in Venezuela?



Directions: Read the summary, watch the videos and answer the discussion questions below. You may want to turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here.


Summary: The U.S. and dozens of other countries are pressuring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to resign and allow Juan Guaido to take over. It’s been 20 years that the government has been in power first under Hugo Chavez and then Maduro. The government has slowly closed off all the avenues for political participation, including packing the Supreme Court and the Electoral Council. They’ve also banned opposition parties from running.


According to Columbia University’s Christopher Sabatini, one of the last democratically elected bodies, the National Assembly, appointed its president Juan Guaido, and then declared under the Constitution that the current de facto president Maduro was illegitimate. They said that Maduro had won in a largely discredited election in May 2018, and therefore under the Constitution, Guaido is the president, leaving Venezuela with two presidents. The international community, made up of 60 countries including the U.S., rallied to Guaido’s defense, stating they were defending democracy and human rights. Russia was a noted exception.


Meanwhile, thousands of Venezuelan immigrants have entered the U.S. in recent years, seeking freedom the crises. Many have settled in and around the city of Houston, Texas, which is already home to a large Venezuelan-American community. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano met some of the new arrivals to learn what they went through to get here and the legal challenges they face.


Dig deeper: For the latest news, read Pompeo to meet with Putin amid disputes over Venezuela, ArcticFor more general background, watch NewsHour’s How Venezuela’s political crisis began (transcript here) and read What’s happening in Venezuela?


Discussion questions:


1) Essential question: What factors might cause a person to seek asylum?


2) What are the causes of Venezuela’s current political unrest? How long has it been going on? What are the effects of the unrest on the lives of Venezuelans?


3) What do you know about the history of the United States’ involvement in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America? How about Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez? For starters and more context, watch “Why Venezuela’s Chavistas are fiercely loyal to Maduro, despite economic crisis” (see for transcript or Youtube).


  • What role do communal councils play in Venezuela? By their name, what do you think a communal council is?


  • “As the poor, we were re-vindicated. We became able to study, when, before, we couldn’t. Venezuelans didn’t have immediate medical attention, and when the revolution came, they had a doctor at their side,” states Reina Lira, communal council leader, discussing her life growing up before Chavez took power. What services do the councils provide? How significant is it that these councils also included people who are poor and low-income?

    • Ask your students how representative they think the U.S. Congress is of the American people when it comes to income. According to Roll Call, “Beyond that grand total, the median minimum net worth (meaning half are worth more, half less) of today’s senators and House members was $511,000 at the start of this Congress, an upward push of 16 percent over just two years — and quintuple the median net worth of an American household, which the Federal Reserve pegged at $97,300 in 2016.

    • How important is it for Congress to greater match the lives of the vast majority of Americans when it comes to income? How about other factors, like race and gender?


  • Why do the councils remain loyal to Chavez and Maduro? Why have these communities formed voluntary militias? What interests does the U.S. have in Venezuela and the region? Why are members of these groups opposed to US intervention in Venezuela?

    • Like many conflicts, the history is long and complex. In this case, the conflict connects back to the days of imperialism to oil interests on the part of countries today, including the U.S. Current events are a great place to start and should pique your curiosity, but how could you learn more? If you’re not sure, how could you find out, if you are not sure?


  • A shift among some of Maduro’s loyal supporters has taken place as food costs have skyrocketed and other promises like housing have not come through, according to Laura Mendoza, who once considered herself a government loyalist. Try to put yourself in the shoes of Mendoza. What is the conflict she feels? How are citizens’ lives like Mendoza’s affected by leaders’ choices?

    • Can you think of examples in the U.S. when decisions by elected leaders have directly affected people’s lives?


4) Why is the U.S. backing Juan Guaido and not President Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor?


5) What is asylum? What are some challenges asylum seekers might face?


6) What are economic sanctions? What is the purpose of placing sanctions on Venezuela?


7) Should the U.S. and other countries continue to take in more Venezuelans? Why or why not? Do you think President Donald Trump should grant TPS (temporary protected status) to Venezuelan refugees to live and work legally in the U.S.? Why or why not?


8) Media literacy: What questions would you like to ask the individuals featured in the asylum story? What about the video interview with Columbia Prof. Christopher Sabatini?



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