Castro in Cuba

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13463

Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba in 1959 in opposition to a military dictatorship. Due to Cuba's proximity to the US and alliance with USSR, this local conflict was a major chapter in the Cold War.


United States, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Why did Fidel Castro ally with the Soviet Union?

While we may not give it much thought now, Cuba had good relations with the US for 20 years following FDR's inauguration.

  • What changed?

The Imperial Era

European colonies in Africa

The United States was unique in the imperialist era in that it did not participate for much of the 19th century as the European nations occupied the globe.

Following the advice of George Washington and other founding fathers, the United States remained an isolationist nation for much of its early history. However, this changed at the turn of the 20th century.

To see just how much American foreign policy changed at the end of the 19th century, watch the beginning of How America became a superpower by Vox:

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Control of Cuba

1897 map of Cuba

  • Why was America so interested in Cuba?
  • Considering a war was started over the country, what was so important to American interests?

As sugar became a staple of the European diet, Cuba became the center of its trade because the island produced the best sugar cane. Subsequently, American companies and the American people relied upon the vast sugar farms and refineries on the island to fuel the western appetite.

Once the Spanish-American War was won, the US decided to keep the island as a semi-independent territory. This meant that Cuba's foreign policy was to be dictated by the the United States, and any popular uprisings were to be squashed by the American military.

FDR memorial

Two uprisings in the early 20th century were ended with American intervention and set the precedent for times when Cuba was no longer friendly. However, this changed when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president.

Wishing to end the period of semi-rule and give Cuba their independence, he did nothing to end the uprising that occurred in 1933. After this, Cuba slowly transitioned into a democratic country in its own right.

Cold War

Fulgencio Batista, 1940

Image by the Cuban government, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

In 1952, Fulgencio Batista seized control of the Cuban government. After being president of the country during WWII, he began a new military dictatorship. The next year, opposition formed against Batista, headed by Fidel Castro.

Initially, this opposition had no affiliation with communism or the Soviet Union. Fidel Castro attempted to distance the movement from the Socialist Party of Cuba.

However, as the struggle went on for years, the US began to identify any conflict in the region with the Cold War. No matter how brutal Batista became, the US felt required to support him out of fear that the island may fall to communism. It was this very same fear and antagonism that pushed Castro further left.

Fidel Castro

In the Got It? section, we will consider how much the US created the enemy that it so vocally fought in the 1960s and ensuing decades.

  • If Truman and Eisenhower had left Cuba alone just as FDR did, do you think that Cuba would have become such a pinnacle chapter in the Cold War?
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