Four Ways to Teach about Fidel Castro

WORLD

Fidel Castro, who defined Cuba on the international stage for more than half a century, has died. Why is the former leader of a small, developing nation so important to the most powerful country on Earth? (American Experience)

How will the U.S. relationship with Cuba change now that the diplomatic embargo that defined the Castro Era has ended?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

young fidel

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro arrived in the United States for a “charm offensive” just a month after being sworn into office. President Eisenhower was not sufficiently charmed, and cut off diplomatic relations with the island nation just weeks before leaving office.
Photograph by Warren K. Leffler, courtesy Library of Congress

Discussion Ideas
The great American Experience lesson plan describes four ways to consider Fidel Castro’s influence on the U.S.: through the lenses of geography, history, economics, and civics.

GEOGRAPHY

cuba

 

 

 

  • Cuban immigrants and children of Cuban immigrants account for nearly 3% of the total immigrant population in the U.S. How have these immigrants shaped U.S. culture?
    • Cuban-American lawmakers help shape U.S. policy. For example:
      • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) were leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination this year (2016).
      • Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart represents a district in Miami, and former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart is the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute. The Diaz-Balart brothers, both Republicans, are actually related (by marriage) to Fidel Castro: Their aunt was his first wife.
      • The last five mayors of Miami (including the incumbent, Republican Tomas Regalado) are Cuban immigrants or the children of immigrants.
      • Former Florida circuit court judge Marilyn Milian has presided over TV’s The People’s Court since 2001.
    • Cuban immigrants have led and influenced a wide array of cultural enterprises in the U.S.:

 

HISTORY

This satellite image identifies a ballistic missile base in Cuba—the evidence with which President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis.Photograph by Keystone/Getty Images

This satellite image identifies a ballistic missile base in Cuba—the evidence with which President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Photograph by Keystone/Getty Images

 

  • What other 20th-century elected leaders governed as long as Fidel Castro? Take a look at this list for some help.
    • Castro had the longest leadership of any non-royal during the 20th century, at 52 years.
    • Chiang Kai-shek split his leadership between mainland China (22 years) and Taiwan (25 years).
    • Kim Il-sung helped found the nation of North Korea and led it for 45 years.
    • The longest-serving incumbent is President Paul Biya, who has led Cameroon for 41 years.

 

  • Other long-serving political leaders include Moammar Gadaffi, who led Libya for 41 years; Omar Bongo, who led Gabon for 41 years; and Francisco Franco, who led Spain for 39 years.
    • What do these leaders and their administrations have in common?
    • Do you think one person or one party can successfully lead a nation for so long? Why or why not?

 

 

ECONOMICS

The establishment of diplomatic relations will likely have a positive impact on Cuba's economy, depicted here on a 2012 Nat Geo map. The banking, tourism, and agricultural industries will probably be the most affected sectors of the economy. (The map suggests listening to "Cuban native and NGS cartographer Juan Valdes narrate an emigration time line. You can watch a video here!) Map by Martin Gamache, National Geographic

The establishment of diplomatic relations will likely have a positive impact on Cuba’s economy, depicted here on a 2012 Nat Geo map. The banking, tourism, and agricultural industries will probably be the most affected sectors of the economy. (The map suggests listening to “Cuban native and NGS cartographer Juan Valdes narrate an emigration time line.” You can watch that video here!)
Map by Martin Gamache, National Geographic

  • How did the 50-year diplomatic and trade embargo impact Cuba?
    • The U.S. is the world’s biggest supplier of humanitarian and economic aid. This aid could support the construction of agricultural facilities, hospitals, schools, infrastructure, and small businesses in Cuba.
    • Lack of U.S. food aid contributed to food rationing.
    • The lack of aid forced the Cuban population to invest in ingenuity and self-sufficiency. (Critics often point to the beautifully maintained 1950s-era cars that pop up in so many Cuban snapshots as an example of this.)

 

  • How has the embargo impacted the U.S.?
    • Many U.S. industries (travel and tourism, banking, telecommunications, machinery, agriculture) have lost a major North American market for their goods and services.

 

  • How has the embargo impacted both Cuba and the U.S.?
    • Families and friends have been kept apart for generations.
    • Prior to the embargo, the U.S. imported about a third of its sugar cane from Cuba. Cuba had to find another market (the Soviet Union and China, mostly) and the U.S. had to find another supplier (domestic and Brazil, mostly).
    • Scientific and technological collaboration has been limited.

 

  • Castro’s economic policy was established with a huge program of nationalization. What is nationalization?
    • Nationalization is the process of transferring ownership of a company, factory, or piece of land from private owners to the government.

 

  • Why do you think nationalization was such a crucial part of Castro’s economic policy?
    • Castro was a socialist (later, a Communist). He appealed to the Cuban poor and pursued equity for the working classes. He sought to “redirect the profits of industry to the public purse and establish some form of workers’ self-management.” Nationalization—putting profits from the hands of the few to the hands of the many (through public ownership)—is a key part of socialist strategy.

 

  • What are some other examples of nationalization or nationalized industries?
    • Mexico nationalized its entire petroleum industry in 1938. Today, Pemex remains the largest company in Mexico.
    • The Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom is a state-owned enterprise that is one of the world’s largest producers of maps.
    • China’s Sinopec Group is Asia’s largest oil company.
    • South African Airways is a government-owned enterprise.
    • Many public transportation agencies, such as Chile’s EFE, are nationalized.

 

CIVICS

Ten years before the Cuban Revolution in 1959 (count the number of stars on that American flag!), a young man sells flags in Havana. Photograph by Melville B. Grosvenor, National Geographic

Ten years before the Cuban Revolution in 1959 (count the number of stars on that American flag!), a young man sells flags in Havana.
Photograph by Melville B. Grosvenor, National Geographic

  • Consider what Castro’s Cuban Revolution attempted to accomplish: to overthrow an authoritarian regime and establish a more equitable state. In what ways may the revolution be considered a success?
    • Cuba has an impressive health care and education system, vastly improved from what was available to most Cubans in the 1950s.
      • greater life expectancy
      • lower infant mortality
      • greater access to quality care
      • greater literacy
      • greater participation in government
      • scientific and technological advancement
      • greatly improved gender equality
      • radically improved social mobility

 

  • In what ways may the Cuban Revolution be considered a failure?
    • Castro himself became a dictator, and his brother, Raul, continues to lead Cuba in the same authoritarian manner.
    • Cubans endure massive human rights violations:
      • imprisonment for dissent
      • forced labor
      • torture and abuse of prisoners
      • severe limitations on freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly
    • Censorship of all forms of media continues to be an issue.
    • Economic repression makes it difficult for Cuban entrepreneurs to profit from their work, and discourages innovation.
    • Cuba imposes strict limitations on travel both within and outside the country.
    • Always a marginalized group, black Cubans continue to endure covert discrimination and are underrepresented in government and leadership positions.
    • Historically, groups such as gays and lesbians and Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced into “re-education” camps.

 

  • The U.S. opposed Fidel Castro’s authoritarian government for more than 50 years. During that time, however, the U.S. lent financial, military, and propaganda support to authoritarian regimes in places such as Iran, Chile, and the Philippines. Today, many critics question the position of the U.S. opposing Cuba while continuing to support similarly dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, and Turkmenistan. What factors do you think have influenced these political decisions?
    • Think about impacts and relationships through the lenses discussed above: geography, history, economics, civics.

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

American Experience: Fidel Castro—Teachers Guide

Nat Geo: How America’s Relationship with Cuba Will Change study guide

New York Times: Fidel Castro obituary

Miami Herald: Fidel Castro obituary

NPR: Fidel Castro obituary

Independent: All the US Presidents Fidel Castro outlasted, and how they dealt with the Cuban Leader

UN Development Programme: Cuba—Human Development Indicators

One response to “Four Ways to Teach about Fidel Castro

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s