Lesson Plans

Cuba in Transition: Is the Country Changing for the Better or Worse?

Daniel Aleman, 20, and his girlfriend, Kaisa Garcia, 21, before a Buena Fe concert at Mella theater in Havana. Their moments of privacy are rare - like many people their age, they will live with their parents for many years before being able to afford their own place to live. "If you can just forget about the economy, the safety here is nice," Ms. Garcia, a dancer, said. "I just try to create a bubble in my mind away from anything that doesn't work in the country, and I am happy." Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Image by Tracey Eaton. Cuba, 2015.

Musician Julio Cesar Onate, 27, far right, checks his email at a WiFi hotspot outside the Hotel Vedado in Havana. "There's a little more freedom in things we didn't have before," he said. "Now they give you the opportunity to get on the Internet." Image by Tracey Eaton. Cuba, 2015.

Some 20-somethings spend their free time at the beach at nightclubs. Arelys Blanco, 22, would rather hit the streets and pass out photos of political prisoners.
She’s a member of the Ladies in White, a political opposition group founded 12 years ago to push for the release of 75 democracy activists, journalists and others jailed in a 2003 crackdown.
"I never agreed with this regime, and so I joined," Blanco said. "I want total change for this country." Image by Tracey Eaton. Cuba, 2015.

A list of available products hangs outside a bodega in Havana. Bodegas provide food rations - like rice, flour, sugar and beans - to each Cuban citizen via the Libreta de Abastecimiento (Supplies Booklet), which establishes the amount and frequency of food allotted per person. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Wendy Jefferson, 21, a former long jumper, is raising her daughter, Sofia, in a peaceful neighborhood near Havana. She hopes improved U.S.-Cuba relations will make it easier for her to travel. She wants to visit her father, Jaime, a track coach in Mexico. “I’d like to be with him and my daughter and who knows, maybe he’d be my trainer. My dream was always that he be my trainer." Image by Tracey Eaton. Cuba, 2015.

From left, Yosuan Gonzalez, 15, Lazaro Gutierrez, 16, Lorenzo Velasquez, 13, Noel Sandoval, 19, and a friend hanging out in Havana with Emily Chanti, 4, and Yesena Kagemusa, 6. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Arelis Blanco, 22, is a member of an opposition group called Las Damas de Blanco or Ladies in White. She said police have arrested her and hit her while yelling, "Long Live Fidel!" Despite such experiences, she said she dreams "that Cuba be free, that there's a total change." Image by Tracey Eaton. Cuba, 2015.

A participant of a march organized by the wives and female relatives of imprisoned political dissidents rests by a tree in Havana. The opposition group, Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), attend Mass at Santa Rita Iglesia each Sunday, then march around the church dressed in white as a symbol of peace. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

From left, the artists Angel Leon, 24, and Victor Manuel Ojeda, 24, work on their own interpretation of a piece by the painter Eduardo Abela, 52, in Havana. Their adaptation of the painting alludes to the cult of action heroes by placing religious figures with Western cartoon characters. Art during the Communist years in Eastern Europe was highly monitored - artists who chose not to show a utopian view of the country were censored and punished. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Participants in the Labor Day parade on May 1st hold signs with images of the Communist figures Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx. In Cuba, the day is known as Dia del Trabajo and is a call for people to show support to their socialist government and the Cuban Revolution. Guests worldwide are known to join. While attendance is not mandatory, absence from the march is usually noted and discouraged. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Yasiel Valdivia waits for a bus in the port city of Mariel on the way to visit his mother and grandmother in a nearby village. Mr. Valdivia's uncle was among those who fled toward Florida in the Mariel Boatlift exodus of 1980. He has not since regained permission to return, separating him for the past 35 years from his sister, Yasiel's mother, and his mother, now 93. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Jose Alonzo, sporting a U.S.A. tattoo, waters the plants in front of his house in the port city of Mariel, Cuba, a place whose tranquil appearance belies its importance in both the history and future of Cuban-American interaction. Russians unloaded nuclear warheads there in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and it was the gateway through which 125,000 Miami-bound emigres fled during the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. The town is now the site of reconstruction of a deep-water container port and a free-trade zone. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Looking into a private barbershop in the Havana Vieja neighborhood of Cuba. Since privatization was first allowed within Cuba's state-owned socialist system in the mid-'70s, the requirements for those allowed to be cuentapropistas (private business entrepreneurs) have fluctuated from restrictive to less so - easing in the Raul Castro era of 2008 and after. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Lucilla Sulueta Cuesta, a 66-year-old retiree, gets her nails done in the Havana Vieja neighborhood. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

A pro-government poster and a newspaper biography of former President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

From left, Yandi Corrioso Samoraz, 22, and Raymel Medina, 16, go for an evening swim, with construction of the new port visible in the background, in Mariel. Raymel said he would like to learn more about the world, but extremely limited Internet access in his city makes this a challenge. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Children wearing the uniform of Communist youth are prepared to salute "Voto!" ("He voted!"), as a woman places her ballot in Cuba's Elecciones Parciales (Partial Elections). The vote was to elect delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People's Power, the country's unicameral parliament, on April 19, in Havana. The delegates function as district representatives for a two-and-a-half-year term. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Women practice tai chi under a fresco of the Cuban revolutionary philosopher Jose Marti and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara in Mariel. Images of government idols - a famously ubiquitous sight across Cuba - fill the space that an absence of advertising leaves in printed media, billboards and edifices. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Traffic moves through the center of the port city of Mariel. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

A man prepares whole grilled chicken for sale transported in the trunk of his Moskovitch, an automobile made by Russia from 1946 to 2002, before a cock-fighting event at a sports arena in Managua. Image by Yana Paskova. 2015.

A chicken's beak is tied shut to prevent premature pecking before a cock-fighting event at a sports arena. Cock fighting in state-run events in Cuba is permitted, but not for monetary betting. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

People march by a sign saying, "The embargo: the longest genocide in history," during the Labor Day march on May 1. The commercial, financial and economic embargo enforced by the United States against Cuba went into effect in 1960, nearly two years after the deposition of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship by the Cuban Revolution, and just after Cuba nationalized American-owned properties in Cuba without remuneration to the United States. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Apartment blocks with a crumbling infrastructure are seen in the provinces on the way to the port city of Mariel. Many houses in Cuba are in need of major repairs. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Nancy Mena, 48, gives Juaneto Mena, 82, a shave in the port city of Mariel. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

An image of former President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is posted at a bodega in Havana. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Dancers mingle to the sounds of D.J. Mike Polarni after a concert at Fabrica de Arte, in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

A late-night pizza shop, playing mostly American music from the 1980s and 1990s, in the port city of Mariel. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Buses full of passengers drive by El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building of Cuba — whose name and design were modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington. The building was the seat of the government until the Revolution of 1959, when the Communist leadership disbanded congress. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

Maydelin Pérez Pérez, 38, sells empanadas with her 3-year-old daughter, Lorena Sofia Reyez, in the Habana Vieja neighborhood. Ms. Pérez is divorced, cannot afford day care for her four children, and says her ex-husband contributes the equivalent of $1 of child support monthly. Image by Yana Paskova. Cuba, 2015.

The attached activities and discussions are written as notes for the facilitator. Please feel free to adapt this lesson.

Educator Notes: 

This lesson requires a basic understanding of Cuba­-U.S. relations. 

Recommendations for lesson placement:

World History or U.S. History: Cold War Unit, following Cuban Missile Crisis Government; Economics: Following comparison of types of government or economic models.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.


Examine current events in Cuba, now that the US and Cuba have restored diplomatic ties.

Essential Question: Is Cuba in the midst of positive change, negative change, or stagnation?

Introducing the Lesson:

Today we are going to examine some photo, print, and broadcast journalism recently produced by two Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grantee journalists, Tracey Eaton and Yana Paskova. Take a piece of paper and make three columns. On the top of the first column, write “positive change.” On the top of the second column, write “negative change.” On the top of the third column, write “stagnation,” meaning things stay the same.

Step 1:

Cuba: Reliving Memories of Communism

Scroll through slideshow. Give each photo a number and read the captions.

If time is an issue, just go through the first row of photos

­For each photo, students individually decide if it represents positive change, negative change, or stagnation for Cuba. Write the number of the photo in the appropriate column and provide a reason for its placement.

­Ask students to share their responses and reasoning out loud.

­Example: Photo 2 represents stagnation because there continues to be food rationing.

Step 2:

­Read “Cuban Youth: A New Dawn”  together as a class ­ this will provide context for Eaton’s two articles.

Step 3:

­Read “Cuban 20-­Somethings Brace for Big Changes as Ties with U.S. Improve” and “Activists Say Historic Thaw Won't Help Cuban People” individually. While reading the articles and watching the related videos, place pieces of evidence in the appropriate column.

­Read the first few paragraphs of Cuban 20­Somethings together. Ask the class: Do you see any evidence of positives, negatives, or stagnation so far in this article?  Student responses may vary. Some students may view the tourist shop’s existence as positive change since it shows entrepreneurship. Some may see Baez’s measly commission as a negative effect of capitalism creeping in. 

­Students continue to read and work on their own.

Step 4:

Homework, in­class writing assignment, or discussion

­Answer the following question: Is Cuba in the midst of positive change, negative change, or stagnation?

­Provide a clear thesis and at least four pieces of evidence from the photos and articles we looked at today in class.

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