Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Home> Teachers> Free Lesson Plans> U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S.-Cuba RelationsUS-Cuba-Relations

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will do the following:
1. Explore the history of relations between Cuba and the United States
2. Examine in detail one event or period to be included on a class time line of U.S.-Cuba relations


The class will need the following:
Internet access
Large index cards (one for each pair of students)
Print and online resources about Cuba (Web sites are listed below)


1. Point out Cuba on a map of North America and on a map of the Caribbean. Ask students what they notice about Cuba's location. Then display a map of Cuba that shows its physical features and major cities. Write students' observations on a piece of newsprint. (They may notice that it's an island, it's the largest country of the Caribbean, it's very close to the United States, it has a lot of rivers, the names of its cities are Spanish, and the capital is Havana.)
2. Ask students what images, names, or events come to mind when they think about Cuba. Write their answers on the chart paper. If students have difficulty, you may want to prompt them to mention Fidel Castro, Eli?n Gonz?lez, Communism, or the Bay of Pigs.
3. As a class, look over your list and consider what some of these items reveal about the relationship between Cuba and the United States. After a brief discussion, explain that the U.S. has had a long, complicated, and often tense relationship with Cuba, which lies only 90 miles from Florida. It has been ruled by a Communist government since 1959. (See the definition of Communism below.)
4. Explain that the class will create a time line highlighting the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba from 1898 to the present. Students will work in pairs to learn about an important event, person, or policy associated with this relationship. Each pair will write a summary of the event, person, or policy on an index card, including basic facts and its significance in U.S.-Cuba relations. Then students will pin their cards along a time line. (You or a few students can create the blank time line with a long piece of newsprint; mark 10-year intervals.)
5. Have students work in pairs. Assign one or two of the following topics to each pair. (You may write these dates and terms on the index cards they will use for the time line.)

1868-78: Ten Years' War
1898: U.S. battleship Maine /Spanish-American War
1901: Platt Amendment
1902: Tom?s Estrada Palma
1903: Guant?namo Bay
1906-9: Charles E. Magoon
1933: Batista
1959: Fidel Castro
1961: Bay of Pigs
1962: U.S. trade embargo
1962: Cuban missile crisis
1980: Mariel boat lift
1991: Dissolution of the Soviet Union
1993: Domestic economic reforms
1994: U.S.-Cuba immigration agreement
1998: Visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II
1999: Eli?n Gonz?lez

6. Ask students to research their topic and write a descriptive summary explaining why the topic was significant in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Provide the following Web sites for their research:

U.S. State Department: Cuba

Cuban Experience

For more recent events, such as the Pope's visit and Eli?n Gonz?lez, search these news sites:


TIME for Kids

Scholastic News

7. When they've completed their summaries, have students present them to the class in chronological order and pin their index cards to the time line in the appropriate spot.
8. After the class has completed the time line, ask students to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Why has the U.S. been involved in Cuba's affairs? What are some important turning points in the relations between the two countries? Looking at Cuba's history, can students see reasons that Fidel Castro was able to take control of the country?
9. The following time line highlights important events in U.S.-Cuba relations. You may want to use this for your own reference or to share it with students after they have completed their research. It may also help to highlight connections between events.

Timeline of U.S.-Cuba Relations

1492 Christopher Columbus lands in Cuba and claims the island for Spain. (Spain rules Cuba for the next 400 years.)
1868-78 Cuban revolutionaries fight Spanish rule in the Ten Years' War. Spain retains control but promises reforms.
1895 Cubans again revolt against Spanish rule, and a second war of independence begins.
1898 The U.S. joins Cuba in its war after the U.S. battleship Maine is blown up in Havana harbor. The U.S. and the Cuban rebels defeat Spain in theSpanish-American War(known in Cuba as the "Spanish-Cuban American War"). Spain gives up all claims to Cuba.
1898-1902 A U.S. military government controls Cuba.
1901 Cuba adopts a constitution that includes a set of provisions called thePlatt Amendment. The amendment allows the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs.
1902 Tom?s Estrada Palmabecomes the first president of the Republic of Cuba.
1903 Under a treaty with Cuba, the U.S. receives a permanent lease onGuant?namo Bayand begins to build a large naval base there.
1906 U.S. troops return to Cuba, and a government headed by AmericanCharles E. Magoonrules Cuba until 1909.
1933 A revolutionary group led by Fulgencio Batista y Zald?var ("Batista") takes control of the government.
1934 The U.S. and Cuba sign a treaty that cancels the Platt Amendment. International investments in Cuba expand during the 1940s and 1950s.
1959 Fidel Castro'sforces overthrow Batista's government, and Castro becomes the ruler of Cuba.
1961 Fidel Castro declares Cuba a Communist country. Cuban exiles sponsored by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) invade Cuba at theBay of Pigsand are quickly defeated by Castro's army.
1962 U.S. begins atrade embargo: It becomes illegal for U.S. citizens to conduct business with Cuba or travel there.
One of the most serious incidents of the Cold War, theCuban missile crisis, occurs in October when the U.S. learns that the Soviet Union has secretly installed missiles in Cuba. The Soviet Union agrees to U.S. demands that it remove its missiles and dismantle the remaining missile bases.
1976 Cuba adopts a new constitution that establishes the Communist Party as the leading authority in the government and society.
1980 More than 125,000 Cubans move legally to the U.S. This event becomes known as theMariel boat liftbecause the refugees leave from the Cuban port of Mariel.
1991 TheSoviet Unionand its Communist government are dissolved. Cuba loses its most important source of aid, and its economy suffers greatly.
1993 Cuba instituteseconomic reformsthat allow some workers to start private businesses.
1994 After another large wave of immigration, Cuba and the U.S. reach animmigration agreement. The U.S. will admit at least 20,000 Cuban immigrants annually. In return, Cuba pledges to do more to prevent illegal departures.
1998 Pope John Paul II visits Cuba, an historic event because Castro's government outlawed religious freedom in the 1960s.
1999 Eli?n Gonz?lez, a six-year-old illegal immigrant, is rescued off the coast of Florida. The event sparks controversy about how the U.S. should handle Cuban exiles; Eli?n is returned to his father in Cuba in 2000.

Back to Top

Discussion Questions

1. Look at each event on the time line and describe how it relates to the preceding and succeeding events.
2. What role did the Soviet Union and the Cold War play in U.S. relations with Cuba?
3. Why, do you think, is our relationship with Cuba important?
4. Do you think our relations with Cuba will change in the near future? If so, how? If not, why not?

Back to Top


Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate how well students participate in class discussion, research and write about their topic, and present their findings to the class:
  • Three points: participated actively in class discussion; exhibited strong research and writing skills; gave a thorough, clear presentation with several important facts about U.S.-Cuba relations.
  • Two points: participated to an average degree in class discussion; exhibited on-grade research and writing skills; gave a presentation that included some important facts about U.S.-Cuba relations.
  • One point: participated little in class discussion; exhibited weak research and writing skills; gave a presentation that included few or no important facts about U.S.-Cuba relations.

Back to Top


Colonization in the Caribbean
Explain that Cuba was not the only Caribbean island subjected to colonization and that Spain was not the only country trying to stake its claim in the Caribbean. After Columbus visited the region, other European countries (and later the U.S.) gained control of several Caribbean islands. Today France, Britain, the Netherlands, and the U.S. still control islands in the region. Have students examine the international relations of other islands of the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Haiti, St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, Martinique, the Cayman Islands, and Aruba. Ask students to select one island and answer the following questions:
  • Describe the nation's government. Is it an independent country or a dependency?
  • Which other country or countries have played the greatest role in its history?
  • What influences have outside countries had on the island's language, architecture, or culture?
Refer students to the following Web sites:


Back to Top

Suggested Readings

Fodor's Exploring Mexico (4th ed.)
Fodor's Travel Publications, 2001.
There's nothing quite like a travel guide to transport you to exciting places! Here's a chance to visit Mexico with lots of color photographs and plenty of information. An introductory section talks about Mexico—as it is today and as it was in the past—including informative discussions about the Aztecs and the Maya. The following sections cover Mexico, piece by piece, with highlights of each area to start things off. A closing summary of travel facts makes this a practical guide as well.

The National Geographic Traveler: The Caribbean
Nick Hanna and Emma Stanford. National Geographic Society, 1999.
With its usual lush photographs, this National Geographic guide covers a host of beautiful islands scattered in the Caribbean—from Jamaica to Aruba to Martinique and more. Each section provides a brief introduction to an area and to some of its highlights. The descriptions are detailed and absorbing. Maps of each featured island are clear and carefully marked, just as you'd expect from National Geographic! The final section, Travelwise, overflows with information for the tourist on money, travel, festivals and holidays, who to contact in an emergency, as well as suggestions for lodging, dining, and places to shop.

Back to Top


Cold War
Definition: A period of intense rivalry that developed after World War II between groups of Communist and non-Communist nations, most notably the Soviet Union and the U.S.
Context: The invasion of the Bay of Pigs was one of the most serious incidents of theCold War.

Definition: A political and economic system in which a single party controls state-owned means of production with the aim of establishing a classless society; a social system in which property and goods are owned in common.
Context: The ideas ofCommunismgrew from the writings of Karl Marx, a German social philosopher who lived in the 1800s.

Spanish-American War
Definition: A brief conflict between the United States and Spain that took place between April and August 1898 over the issue of the liberation of Cuba.
Context: In the course of theSpanish-American War, the U.S. won Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands.

Back to Top


This lesson adheres to standards issued by the National Council for the Social Studies for students in grades 5-8:
  1. Provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.
  2. Provide for the study of people, places, and environments.
  3. Provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
  4. Provide for the study of global connections and interdependence.

Back to Top


Joy Brewster, freelance writer and editor of educational material.

This lesson was created in consultation with Geri Hastings, high school social studies teacher.

Back to Top