Platt Amendment Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Platt Amendment underscored Cuba’s independence from Spain and secured U.S. influence in Cuba for the next three decades.

Summary of Event

In 1895, Cuban revolutionaries initiated what was ultimately to become a successful revolt against Spanish colonial domination. The break from Spain was brought about by a variety of factors, the two most critical being the repressive nature of Spain’s colonial rule and a change in U.S. tariff policy as a result of recessions and depressions in the United States during the 1890’s. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894 Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act (1894)[Wilson Gorman Tariff] imposed a duty on Cuban sugar arriving in the United States, which previously had entered duty-free. With the economy of Cuba reeling from dwindling Cuba-U.S. trade because of the new tariff, Cuban dissidents, who had been waiting for an opportunity to act, launched a revolution. Platt Amendment Cuba-U.S. relations[Cuba U.S. relations] [kw]Platt Amendment (May 22, 1903) [kw]Amendment, Platt (May 22, 1903) Platt Amendment Cuba-U.S. relations[Cuba U.S. relations] [g]Caribbean;May 22, 1903: Platt Amendment[00720] [g]Cuba;May 22, 1903: Platt Amendment[00720] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 22, 1903: Platt Amendment[00720] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;May 22, 1903: Platt Amendment[00720] [c]Independence movements;May 22, 1903: Platt Amendment[00720] Martí, José Morales, Gerardo Machado y McKinley, William Platt, Orville Root, Elihu

Led by José Martí, who had strong ties to the United States, the rebels who called for Cuban independence began a guerrilla war against the Spanish. Even after the death of Martí during the first year of fighting, the ranks of the Cuban rebel forces continued to increase. Spanish authorities responded to the groundswell of domestic support for the rebels by attempting to separate the rebels from their supporters in rural areas. Under a new policy known as reconcentration, more than a quarter of a million Cubans were interned in concentration camps guarded by Spanish soldiers. Thousands of Cubans died in the unfit camps, which served as breeding grounds for disease. U.S. sympathy for the Cuban rebels was stimulated by reports of atrocities occurring as a result of the new Spanish policy, and people in the United States began to call for an end to the conflict through reconciliation. The mysterious sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine Maine (ship) in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, ended all hope of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The sinking of the Maine, which had been ordered to Cuba in an effort to display U.S. concern for events unfolding on the island and to protect U.S. citizens, drew the United States further into the conflict. Naval investigators concluded that a Spanish mine had caused the explosion. U.S. president William McKinley responded to events by demanding that Spain grant Cuba independence. Finding the Spanish response to this demand unsatisfactory, on April 11, 1898, McKinley requested authorization from the U.S. Congress to stop the war in Cuba by force, if necessary. Following some debate, on April 19 Congress declared that Cuba was and should be independent, demanded an immediate withdrawal of Spain from Cuba, authorized the use of force by the United States to accomplish that withdrawal, and vowed not to annex the island. The vow not to annex Cuba, which was known as the Teller Amendment, Teller Amendment was perhaps the most controversial of the issues debated.

Despite the Teller Amendment, the entrance of the United States into the conflict initiated the beginning of an exploitative relationship between the United States and Cuba that was dictated by the former. As the war drew to an end and Spanish withdrawal began to be realized, the United States downplayed the role of the Cuban rebels in the success of the military campaign. The Treaty of Paris, Paris, Treaty of (1898) which halted the conflict, required Spain to surrender all claims to Cuba, but the McKinley administration refused to recognize the former Cuban rebels as a legitimate government or the Cuban people as being capable of self-rule. For two years, the U.S. military performed the functions of government in Cuba. Although the U.S. military made substantial improvements in Cuba’s infrastructure and generally improved the quality of life on the island, Cubans resented the U.S. occupation. Many Cubans felt that they had traded one colonial master for another.

In 1900, the United States allowed Cuba to draft a constitution and hold elections. The United States refused to withdraw its troops, however, until provisions were made for the continuation of U.S.-Cuba relations. Elihu Root, the U.S. secretary of war, proposed such provisions, which ultimately were included in a bill sponsored by Senator Orville Platt. Platt, a Republican from Connecticut, attached a rider to the Army Appropriations Bill of 1901 that essentially made Cuba a U.S. protectorate.

The Platt Amendment, as the provisions came to be known, severely restricted Cuba’s ability to make treaties and its right to contract public debt. The United States also declared its right to intervene in Cuban affairs in order to preserve Cuban independence and maintain order. In addition, Cuba was expected to give the United States the right to maintain naval bases and coaling stations on the island. The Cuban government reluctantly appended the provisions of the Platt Amendment to the Cuban constitution. The last U.S. forces finally withdrew from Havana in 1902, and the Platt Amendment became a formal part of a U.S.-Cuba treaty on May 22, 1903.

Significance

Elihu Root.

(Library of Congress)

The Platt Amendment formed the basis for relations between the United States and Cuba for sixty years, until Fidel Castro emerged as the leader of Cuba. Forced to submit to the will of the United States, Cuba was soon inundated with U.S. investment. Foreign investors controlled and manipulated Cuban politics as well as the nation’s economy. U.S. troops reoccupied Cuba from 1906 to 1909, under the authority of the Platt Amendment, following an uprising that protested, among other things, U.S. involvement in Cuban affairs.

The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Good Neighbor Policy as U.S. president in 1933 initially brought little change in U.S.-Cuba relations, despite his Good Neighbor Policy, Good Neighbor Policy which was based on the belief that no state had the right to intervene in Latin America. Roosevelt was forced to deal with a Cuba in turmoil. President Gerardo “the Butcher” Machado y Morales, who had dominated Cuban politics for a decade, was forced to resign in 1933 because of popular opposition and U.S. pressure. His successor, Ramón Grau San Martín, was no more acceptable to the Roosevelt administration. Viewed as too radical by Roosevelt, Grau’s government was never recognized as legitimate by the U.S. administration.

It was not until Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio led a coup and installed a government acceptable to the United States that the Roosevelt administration agreed to discuss revoking the Platt Amendment. The second Treaty of Relations, as it came to be known, eliminated the limitations on Cuban sovereignty imposed by the Platt Amendment. The new treaty did allow the United States to retain its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, a provision that could be revoked only by mutual consent of the two states.

Despite the formal end of U.S. involvement in Cuba, the new Cuba, which was controlled by Batista, was no less tied to the United States financially or politically. Many international observers viewed Batista as a puppet for the U.S. government. Cuba attracted more U.S. investment under Batista than ever before. Many Cubans argued that despite the end of the Platt Amendment, Cuba was still a U.S. dependency. It was Cubans’ sense of frustration over their inability to achieve a true sense of sovereignty that served as a catalyst for Fidel Castro’s successful coup in 1959. Platt Amendment Cuba-U.S. relations[Cuba U.S. relations]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abel, Christopher, and Nissa Torrents, eds. José Martí: Revolutionary Democrat. London: Athlone Press, 1986. A brief but comprehensive account of the life of the father of Cuban independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Langley, Lester D. The Cuban Policy of the United States. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1968. An exceptionally detailed account of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pérez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy. 2d ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997. Addresses the history and direction of relations between Cuba and the United States, examining political, economic, and cultural ties between the two nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. An in-depth look at Cuba’s history of economic and political relationships.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Cuba Under the Platt Amendment: 1902-1934. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986. A well-written account of Cuba during its early years of independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Intervention, Revolution, and Politics in Cuba, 1913-1921. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978. A brief account of Cuban domestic and international politics during the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: From Columbus to Castro. 3d rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s (U.S.), 1990. An excellent history of Cuba.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: Or, The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. One of the most extensive works written about Cuba.

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