What do Cubans want for their future?
First edition. May 2015.

Cuba, often at center stage in international affairs, is again the focus of global attention. Since Fidel Castro stepped down after nearly fifty years as Cuba’s leader, his brother, Raúl Castro, has embarked upon a series of reforms that are gradually but fundamentally changing the country. The 2014 announcement to normalize Cuba-U.S. relations after more than five decades, during which the two countries had no diplomatic ties, also signifies a historic shift. Outsiders have highly diverging views about Cuba and its history, particularly since the 1959 Revolution, which made major changes to Cuba’s government, economy, and society. While the revolution brought opportunities and advances long denied to many Cubans, others lost property, jobs, and the positions they held in Cuban society. Cubans today have very different opinions about their country’s history and its future direction.

History, Revolution, and Reform: New Directions for Cuba explores Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its most recent economic, social, and political changes. Students re-create the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their country’s future.


Part I of the reading focuses on the influence of Spanish colonialism on Cuba and Cuba’s struggles for independence. Part II surveys the changes the 1959 Revolution brought to Cuba. Part III focuses on the Special Period and Cuba today.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


José Martí and His Legacy

Using a variety of primary sources as well as a timeline and map, students assess the contested legacy of José Martí among Cubans.

The Dance of the Millions

Students analyze economic data from Cuba's "dance of the millions" in 1920 and compare the prices of Cuban sugar to those of commodities in Germany that same year.

Operation Carlota

Using a variety of Cuban, U.S., Russian, South African, Angolan, and European sources, students assess competing perspectives of Cuba's foreign policy in Angola.

The Special Period

Using numerous sources from the 1990s, including literature, hip-hop lyrics, jokes, and art, students explore the relationship between politics and popular culture and gain a deeper understanding of what life was like for Cubans during the Special Period.

Students explore the changing relationship between the United States and Cuba by interpreting political cartoons on the restoration of diplomatic relations and monitoring news media coverage of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Students analyze photographs of present-day Cuba, considering the benefits and limitations of using photographs as a source for learning about life in Cuba.

The Options Role Play

Working collaboratively, students take on the roles of Cuban citizens and explore three different options for Cuba's future in a role-play activity.

Cuban Government

Students create their own working definitions of "democracy" and explore a variety of media sources to assess claims that Cuba is a democracy.

Cuban American Experiences

Using excerpts of Cuban American memoirs, students present perspectives representing a wide array of Cuban American experiences and points of view.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Blight, James G. and Philip Brenner. Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with Superpowers after the Missile Crisis (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002). 324 pages.

Brenner, Philip, Marguerite Rose Jiménez, John M. Kirk, and William M. LeoGrande, eds. A Contemporary Cuba Reader: Reinventing the Revolution (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008). 413 pages.

Chávez, Lydia, ed. Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar: Cuba Enters the Twenty-First Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005). 253 pages.

Frank, Mark. Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013). 344 pages.

Gleijeses, Piero. Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002). 552 pages.

LeoGrande, William M. and Peter Kornbluh. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014). 544 pages.

Sweig, Julia E. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). 304 pages.

Includes an overview, timeline, and links to articles.
A database of English translations of speeches, interviews, and press conferences given by Fidel Castro from 1959 to 1996. Provided by the Latin American Network Information Center.
Includes an overview of the history and current status of U.S.-Cuba relations, an interactive timeline, and links to additional resources.
English version of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.
A collection of declassified U.S. government documents and photos about the secret history of U.S.-Cuba relations.
An overview of U.S. President Barack Obama’s new approach to U.S. policy toward Cuba. Includes video clips of Obama’s December 17, 2014, announcement, photos, and a timeline of diplomatic engagement.
A compilation of independent Cuban blogs translated into English by a volunteer collective.
The English version of Cuba’s first independent digital news outlet, directed by Yoani Sánchez
A 2011 documentary piece about how recent economic reforms are affecting ordinary Cubans. Link includes the entire episode (about 25 minutes).
A 2011 documentary film about race and racism in Cuba from the colonial era to today. Website includes the entire episode (about 50 minutes). PBS also has many other video resources on Cuba.
A 2007 documentary film about Cuban boys training to be boxers. Website includes the entire film (about 45 minutes). In addition, this website includes related interviews, photos of political posters, and links to other resources.
A PBS documentary film released in 2014 telling the story of Fidel Castro’s career through rare archival media reports, images, and recordings. Website includes a link to the entire episode (about 55 minutes).
A YouTube channel with video news clips from 1959 and the early 1960s on Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
The photo blog of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a Cuban writer, photographer, blogger, and political dissident. He has taken requests from Cubans living abroad who want to see buildings, parks, and neighborhoods in Havana that were important to them or their families when they used to live on the island and posted the photos on this site. He also posts stories viewers write about his photos.
Links to digitized photographs, letters, maps, and other resources from the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) at the University of Miami. The CHC collects, preserves, and provides access to primary and secondary sources relating to Cuba and the Cuban diaspora from colonial times to the present.
A database with many digitized photographs, maps, and other primary sources related to Cuba and other countries in the Caribbean.
Back to top