Where in the World Is Cuba?

Cuba provides opportunities to discuss and study government policy formation and international relations; preservation methods, partnerships and accords; journalistic integrity and historic legacy; ethnic, religious and cultural expression; and environmental diversity.

Neighbors don’t always get to know one another. You get to know the Canada family on one side of you and the Mexico family on the other side of your home. Yet a couple doors down, the Cuba family and others are barely recognized. Through this month's activities, you will get to know Cuba.


In December 2014, after months of negotiations assisted by Canada and the Vatican, the presidents of the U.S. and Cuba talked on the phone and agreed it was time for normalization of relations. On July 20, 2015, Cuba officially reopened its Embassy in D.C., 54 years after the diplomatic doors were closed. On August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.


The activities in this guide focus on the land and sea of this island nation, its history and culture, its economy and potential for business relations with America. Washington Post news, KidsPost and feature articles, editorials and guest commentary provide material for discussion, deeper understanding of contemporary issues, and next steps. Map-reading exercises, e-Replica searches and diverse topics encourage students to explore and to consider different points of view. Recent accords and policy changes are influencing travel, business and family ties. Preservation of cars and culture, Hemingway’s Finca Vigia and the coral reefs and sea life are also addressed.


After engaging in these activities, your students will know where in the world Cuba lives.


January 2016

U.S.-Cuban Policies and Accords
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
English, Government, Reading, History 
Suggested activities in this guide cross disciplines in the arts, sciences, history, government and economics. Encourage students to develop their personal vocabulary by making a list of words they do not know when reading The Post articles and resources. 

Terms in In the Know are found primarily in “A flow of Cubans — going home,” but will be helpful in discussing issues surrounding the normalization of diplomatic relations.


Introduce Caribbean Nations
Geography, History
On the NIE website, teachers will find a map collection under More Resources. Two of the maps are of North America. Select “North America Color Map” for students to identify countries in the Caribbean Sea. To confirm the names of countries, select “North American Color Map with Nations Named.”

Teachers may prefer to review the maps found In the Cuba and The Caribbean. Familiarize students with the countries of Central and South America that border the Caribbean.


Teachers may use this activity as an opportunity to review and locate these terms: “equator,”  “Greater Antilles,” “Torrid Zone,” “tropical and tropics” and “West Indies.”


Read the Map of Cuba

Locate the island of Cuba. Discuss its geographic relationship to The Bahamas, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Key West, Mexico and the U.S. Teachers may also take this opportunity to discuss and locate these: “Atlantic Ocean,” “Gulf of Mexico,” “Straits of Florida.”

Ask students to locate Havana (Habana), Guantanamo, Camagüey, Isla de la Juvenud and  Santiago de Cuba. Where are the Sierra Maestra and other mountain ranges located?


Picture Life in Cuba in Word and Image
Art, Journalism, Media Studies, Photography, Social Studies
Photographs capture daily scenes as well as major events. Give students “Faces of Cuba.” Discussion of each photograph could include:
• What do students think is happening before they read the captions?
• What information is added in each caption to help them learn more about activities?
• What actions or activities are different than those U.S. students experience? Which are similar?
• One caption includes a quotation. What does it reveal about the lives of young Cubans?
• What do the date of publication and the information in the photographs and captions reveal about the publishing cycle, “evergreen” topics and international coverage?


The Post has a number of photo galleries that accompany news and feature articles about Cuba. These may also be viewed to discuss life in rural areas, scenes in the city, beach cultureexpressions of faith and life on Isla de la Juvenud

Read KidsPost
Reading, English, Physical Education, Social Studies
Before reading the KidsPost article, write the headline on the board. Discuss key words: “Cuba,” “baseball players,” and ‘illegal.” What does this sentence communicate? Do your students know what an “illegal” departure is? What questions do students have after reading it?


Look at the photograph and read the caption together. What information is communicated to add to the story?

Read and discuss “Cuba welcomes baseball players who left country illegally.”
• Why did players have to leave Cuba illegally to work for a MLB team?
• Why were these players allowed to return to Cuba?
• What was the reaction in Cuba to the “three-day mission”?
• What is the goal of Major League Baseball in Cuba?

Research Cuban Roots
English, Journalism, Reading, Social Studies, Technology
“Cubans have been one of the ten largest immigrant-origin groups in the United States since 1970 and are currently the seventh largest,” according to the Migration Policy Institute. Out of the thousands who have made America home, many have risen in their chosen fields.


Give students the e-Replica activity "Meet the People | Americans with Cuban Roots." In order to begin this research activity, 17 individuals are named. Students could work individually or in pairs to conduct the e-Replica search and work on writing the brief statement. Students are asked to continue their Internet search, using reliable sources for biographic information. They then review the information to write a brief, informative piece.


Cuban Culture
Resource Graphic 

Recall Columbus to Castro
U.S. History, World History
The activities suggested in “Cuba — From Columbus to Castro” cover history, faith, arts and culture, and economics. Students might work in pairs or small groups to do research on the time periods or topics and prepare a class presentation. Suggested dates and events to be included in the timeline are found in the ANSWER section below.


Savor Culture
Art, Music, Photography
Whether watching the Cuban National Ballet Company, viewing works by local artists in a Havana gallery or dancing in a village to son and nueva trova beats, Cubans have a lively musical and arts scene. Even “old” cars are classics and works of art and heart. Cockfighting, dominos and Copelia ice cream are also ingrained in the culture. Refer to the Cuban Culture sidebar for places to begin research.


Preserve Papa’s Place
Art, English, History, Social Studies
Cubans adopted Ernest Hemingway as a native son during the 22 years he lived there. Finca Vigia, located ten miles east of Havana, was where he lived when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and A Movable Feast.

Read “Hemingway’s Finca Vigia restored in partnership of Cuban, U.S. preservationists” to learn more about his home and the efforts to preserve it. Discussion questions are found in “Finca Vigia Restored.”


Remember the ‘Maine’
Journalism, Mass Media, Social Studies, U.S. History
Is it possible that the media could make a war, then sink further into unethical reporting and competition to boost circulation? For suggested activities on the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor and yellow journalism, download INSIDE Journalism: The News Story, November 2002. Go to “A Changing Community, A Changing Role,” page 11.


Git Out of Guantanamo?
Debate, Journalism, Government, U.S. History
Among the many issues related to Cuba to be discussed and debated, the decision to close or continue to use the prison at Guantanamo Bay is in the top ten. It is an issue tied to U.S.-Cuban relations, to a presidential promise, to Congressional oversight and international human rights.

In Washington Post editorials, guest commentary and letters to the editor, dialogue and differing points of view have been expressed. Give students these pieces to begin framing an argument in response to the question: Should the prison at Guantanamo Bay be closed? Those that argue for closure must address what is to be done with the remaining prisoners held there.

• “Guantanamo prison is wasteful and un-American. Shut it down,” January 15, 2015
• “The president can close Guantanamo,” November 8, 2015
• “Close Guantanamo lawfully,” November 21, 2015
• “Congress can’t be ignored on Guantanamo,” November 25, 2015

Emigrate or Immigrate?
Business, Economics, Government
Before reading the two Post articles, review the definitions of “emigrate” and “immigrate” and the basics of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. As President Obama and President Castro broadcast in their respective countries that the process for a renewal of diplomatic relations had begun, reactions among Cubans varied.


Read and discuss “The other migrant crisis: Cubans are streaming north in large numbers” and “A flow of Cubans — going home.”   Vocabulary is found at the end of the latter article. Discussion questions are found in “To Immigrate or Emigrate.”





Read About Cuba and Cubans

Resume Diplomatic Relations
Economics, Journalism, U.S. Government
Views differ widely on what normalized relations with Cuba will mean for Cuba as well as the United States. For perspectives expressed in December 2014 when presidents Obama and Castro, give students “Views Will Vary | What Do You Think?” Teachers also show students “Secretary Kerry on the U.S. Embassy in Havana” or read the transcript of his remarks.

Discuss why each might hold that perspective. Additional information may be found at:
• U.S. Department of State, Cuba page
The Washington Post Cuba Fact Sheet
Embassy of Cuba in USA
• Obama Administration on Charting a New Course on Cuba
• “U.S. diplomats in Havana ponder how to make the most of their new status

Varying perspectives on normalization of relations with Cuba are found in the oped pages of The Washington Post. Read The Post editorial, “A warning to America from a Cuban dissident,” published in December 2015, a year after the move toward normalization took place.


Read additional Washington Post editorial opinions. Discuss the viewpoints presented.
• “The one-sided relationship with Cuba,” October 1, 2015
• “Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout,” December 17, 2014, includes video of President Obama making his December 16 announcement.
• “Cuba should not be rewarded for denying freedom to its people,” October 20, 2014


Follow Policy Changes
Economics, Journalism, Spanish, U.S. Government
Teachers may wish to summarize the Cuban Adjustment Act before asking students to read “Why the ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ debate could soon be coming to a head.” Or read aloud the first four paragraphs of The Fix piece to be sure students understand the basic tenets of the act and its history.

Cuban President Raul Castro clearly stated that there were requirements to be met on the Cuban side on normalization. View Raul Castro’s speech.

In addition to trade, embargo and business concerns, there is also the impact on the role of government in both countries. Follow the unfolding story in the A section of The Washington Post, especially The World pages. Students may also set up e-Replica alerts.


Environmental Accord
Government, Journalism, Marine Biology, Science
Cuba and the U.S. share waters that are alive with marine life. The April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated the kind of impact oil exploration and drilling could have. Since the embargo limited the presence of cargo and cruise ships in Cuba’s harbors, its coastline and waters are pristine.


A Memorandum of Understanding among NOAA, the National Park Service and Cuba’s National Center for Protected Areas was signed in November 2015. "We trust this document marks the start of a sustainable process of exchange that lets us develop scientific investigations and share best practices in management and conservation," Fernando Mario Gonzalez Bermudez, Cuba's first vice minister of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, said.


Read “U.S., Cuba sign first environmental accord since thaw,” Post coverage of the event and “U.S. and Cuba to Cooperate on Sister Sanctuaries,” the NOAA press release


Discuss the goals of the MOU, how scientists from both countries will collaborate and areas where they may disagree with other initiatives.


We have included two activities prepared for marine biology teachers and students by Lisa Wu, marine biology educator and director of the Oceanography/Geophysics Lab at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. These are “The Caribbean: An Introduction to a Large Marine Ecosystem” and “Coral Reefs & ReefGIS.”


Court Business in Cuba
Business, Economics, U.S. History, Government
Before introducing the embargo imposed on Cuba, teachers may wish to share a short history of U.S. business relations with Cuba in the early 1900s. Sugar has been an important export product of Cuba. Students may be interested in the tie of Hershey chocolates to Cuba


Define “embargo” and discuss with students the reasons embargos are imposed and monitored. Give students “U.S.-Cuban Trade and Embargo” to introduce the background on the embargo placed on Cuba, our neighbor south of Florida.


As the U.S. reinstates diplomatic relations with Cuba, Congress is asked to evaluate the current embargo statutes. Use the trade mission visit of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe as a case study. Give students “U.S.-Cuban Trade and Embargo” handout for background and discussion questions. Read “McAuliffe tries a trade pitch in Cuba.” The Post article informs readers that the Virginia Gov. will undertake a three-day trade mission to Cuba.


This is a story that does not end with one article. Read the January 9, 2016, article by Laura Vozzella in Cuba, “Virginia businesses begin wary courtship with Cuba.”


Discuss information added in this follow-up article:
• What hurdles must be crossed to export agricultural equipment?
• Use Onduline North America as an example of the two-pronged approach that is needed before business agreements can be signed?
• Compare the business plans of Onduline, Forever Oceans and Virginia Natural Beef.
• How might Cuban interest in basing industries in Cuba, not fit with the governor’s goals?
• What historic events, business practices and economic principles influence the decisions to be made?


Set up an e-Replica alert to follow the story of establishing business relations with Cuba.


Follow and Debate Congressional Action on the Embargo
Debate, Economics, Journalism, U.S. Government
As the embargo remains in place, President Obama has called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vowed to block moves by President Obama toward normalizing relations with the Cuban government. Give students "Views Will Vary | What Do You Think?" Discuss the issues. Where does your member of Congress stand on the issue?


Read “U.S.-Cuba relations: 10 questions on the embargo, embassies and cigars” and The Washington Post Cuba Fact Sheet. Follow the unfolding actions of Congress regarding Cuba in the A section of The Washington Post, especially The World pages. Students may also set up e-Replica alerts. How do students learn about the view of members of Congress on issues?


Economics, English, Social Studies
On December 17, 2015, Cuba and the United States reached an agreement that will allow U.S. commercial airlines to begin operating flights to the island for the first time in decades. Read “U.S., Cuba agree to let airlines begin flights” and discuss the details and restrictions. Also view “Cuba, U.S. to resume scheduled commercial airline service.”


Individuals and business are anticipating what U.S. citizens’ travel will mean.  View The Post video, “U.S. citizens in Cuba express optimism as first anniversary draws near."
• What must Cuba have ready for more tourists?
• What are the economic benefits for both U.S. and Cuban businesses?
• What is the downsize of increased tourism in Cuba?


Read the TRAVEL section of the Sunday Post. Watch for articles about Cuba and other Caribbean countries.  


Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

 Capitalist One who invests in trade and industry for profit; one with enough capital to use to make more money
 Compatriot Fellow citizen; friend or colleague who belongs to the same group or organization
Countercurrent Current flowing in an opposite direction to another; movement, opinion, mood contrary to the prevailing one
Economic sanction Domestic penalties applied unilaterally by one country (or multilaterally, by a group of countries) on another country (or group of countries); may include embargoes, tariffs, duties, quotas and other monetarily damaging penalities
Embargo An official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country
Emigration The act of leaving one’s homeland or country to settle in another; people leave their countries in order to flee a war, find education and employment or to join their families
Entrepreneur    Person who organizes and operates a business or businesses; assumes all the risk and reward of a given business
Exile  Barred from one’s native country, usually for political or punitive reasons 
Immigration The act of coming to and settling in a new homeland or country from one’s original homeland and country; controlled by host countries who may be concerned by effects on residents
Normalize relations

Restoration of diplomatic relations; easing or removal of restrictions, re-opening embassies


Proliferation Rapid increase in numbers; to spread or increase rapidly
 Proprietor Owner of a business or holder of property


Return individual(s) to their own country; restore allegiance or citizenship
Socialism A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole

Regard as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval; show strong disapproval

Timeline of Key Years in Cuban History

1492   Christopher Columbus claims Cuba for Spain

1511   Spanish conquests and settlements begin

1526   Slaves from Africa arrive

1762   British forces capture Havana

1763   Treaty of Paris returns Havana to Spain

1898   U.S. defeats Spain; claims to Cuba ceded to the U.S.

1902   Cuba gains independence; Platt Amendment keeps Cuba under U.S. protection with U.S. having the right to intervene in Cuban affairs

1934   U.S. abandons right to intervene in Cuban internal affairs; revises Cuba’s sugar quota and changes tariffs to favor Cuba

1959   Fidel Castro leads a guerrilla force of 9,000 into Havana; Fulgencio Batista flees; Castro becomes prime minister, Raul Castro is his deputy and Che Guevara is third in command

1960   Castro nationalizes all U.S. businesses in Cuba; U.S. breaks diplomatic relations

1962   Cuban missile crisis involves U.S., Russia and Cuba

1980   Mariel boatlift: surge in departures, 125,000 Cubans and 25,000 Haitians arrived in South Florida

1994   Cuba signs agreement with U.S.: U.S. will give visas to 20,000 Cubans a year, Cuba will halt the flow of others seeking refuge in U.S.

1999   Elian Gonzalez rescued off the coast of Florida in November; returned to his father in Cuba in June 2000

2000   U.S. House of Representatives approves sale of food and medicines to Cuba

2003   Cuban treatment of dissidents receives international condemnation; EU halts high-level official visits to Cuba to protest human rights violations

2008   Raul Castro becomes president days after his brother announces his retirement; bans on private ownership of mobile phones and computers lifted; abandons salary equality; restrictions on the amount of land available to private farmers relaxed

2009   President Obama states he wants a new relationship with Cuba

2014   Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announce the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at http://osse.dc.gov/service/dc-educational-standards.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Government, Political Science. The student will evaluate the impact of government decisions and actions that have affected the rights of individuals and groups in American society and/or have affected maintaining order and/or safety (1.2.3)


Government, Peoples of the Nation and World. The student will analyze economic, political, social issues and their effect on foreign policies of the United States (2.1.1)

• Policies of United States government that promote or fail to promote relationships with other countries include: national defense (military), arms control, and security of other nations, trade, human rights, economic sanctions, and foreign aid.

• Contemporary concerns which affect international relationships including: national security, economic well-being, the spread of democracy, developing nations, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and global economic conditions. (Standard 2)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html.

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the role of the United States in a changing world by

a)   describing the responsibilities of the national government for foreign policy and national security;

b)   assessing the role played by national interest in shaping foreign policy and promoting world peace;

c)   examining the relationship of Virginia and the United States to the global economy;

d)   examining recent foreign policy and international trade initiatives since 1980. (GOVT. 12)

Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of economic systems by

a)   identifying the basic economic questions encountered by all economic systems;

b)   comparing the characteristics of traditional, free market, command, and mixed economies, as described by Adam Smith and Karl Marx;

c)   evaluating the impact of the government’s role in the economy on individual economic freedoms;

d)   explaining the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom (GOVT. 14)

Government. The student will explain the meaning of citizenship in the United States and how it relates to American civic life by

a)   explaining how citizenship confers full membership in the American constitutional system;

b)   recognizing that American citizenship is defined by shared political and civic beliefs and values;

c)   describing how Americans are citizens of their locality, state, and nation;

d)   recognizing that noncitizens can become citizens (GOVT 19)



Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6)


History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7)


History/Social Studies, Grades 11-12. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9)



Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.