Simona Chiose chronicles the relationship between Cuba and the United States from the pre-Castro days of nightclubs and mobsters through the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and to the present day, where we have just heard an American announcement that their nearly 60-year-old embargo of Cuba will end. In another article entitled, “After 53 years, a historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations” (December 17, 2014), author Tavia Grant lists the key changes that will occur with the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. In one more article entitled, “Facilitating dialogue: Canada plays host to secret U.S., Cuban meetings” (December 17, 2014), author Campbell Clark describes Canada’s role in the process that produced an end to the embargo.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, history, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • What is the significance of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba?

New Terminology:

Embargo, moniker, Castro, Batista, ideological

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Time required: One full period plus a homework assignment

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of the end to an American embargo of Cuba presents a dramatic change from a status quo that has changed little in more than 50 years. Canadian students may have a different view of Cuba, since Canadians have been free to travel to Cuba for decades, while Americans were not allowed to do so.  But, as the new order becomes reality, the Cuba that Canadians have been visiting is going to be very different in the future.

Using discussion and online videos, students learn about the history of Cuba since the 1958 revolution and the changes that are to come now that the United States is lifting the embargo.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Start by engaging students in a brief discussion about Cuba. Use these questions as a guide (answers in parentheses are for your benefit):

  • Have you heard any recent news about Cuba and if so, tell us about it (direct them to the recent announcement by President Obama.)
  • Where is Cuba? (In the Caribbean sea, about 160 kilometers off the tip of Florida)
  • Have any of you ever visited Cuba on a vacation? (Some may have, in which case you might ask them to describe their experiences. Use this to introduce a tourist video about Cuba )

Official Cuban Tourism video (6 minutes):

  • Is this how you imagined Cuba? How does this square with American descriptions of Cuba as a repressive Communist regime?
  • Why are all the cars in Cuba so old? (The US embargo has prevented Cuba from importing new cars; only newer cars from the Soviet Union have arrived since the embargo)
  • Who is Fidel Castro and how did he come to power? (Use their answers to introduce the following video)

Show this 3:50 minute video about Castro and the revolution from

  • How does this video compare to the tourist video you saw earlier?
  • Why do you think Castro decided to accept help from the Soviet Union after the revolution?
  • Many people think that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world ever came to a nuclear war. Who can describe this crisis? (After students have given their answers, tell them that back in 1962, the following TV news special was shown on TV. It is President Kennedy’s famous challenge to the Soviets to get their missiles out of Cuba)

This video runs 3:00 minutes:

Next, have students pair up to read the article by Simona Chiose. Direct them to be ready to describe the relationship between the United States and Cuba before the revolution and how it changed after the revolution.

When they have finished, engage them in a discussion about what they have read. Some questions:

  • Who were Rita Hayworth, Nat King Cole and the others who were mentioned under “When they were friends”? (They were the movie and music stars of the day; Meyer Lansky was a well-known mob boss and criminal)
  • Who, do you think, was behind the supposed 638 failed assassination attempts on Fidel Castro? (Most likely they included the American Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA)

Assign the following for homework: Using the articles provided, write a short essay in which you take one of these two positions:

a) The United States took the correct action in placing an embargo on Cuba, or,

b) The United States was responsible for Cuba becoming a communist country;

OR, write an essay summarizing Canada’s role in the ending of the embargo, including an explanation of the differences between Canada’s and the United States’ relationship with Cuba since 1958.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Constructive discussion and contribution by pairs of students.


Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Successful completion of the writing assignment.

Confirming Activity:

  • Discussion of the writing assignments in a subsequent class.