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Platt Amendment: Historical Significance and Other Facts

Abhijit Naik Feb 26, 2020
The historical significance of the Platt Amendment can be summed up in one sentence: it laid the terms of US-Cuban relations in the beginning of the 20th century. Historians though, seem divided over this topic, with some of them alleging that the amendment actually reduced Cuba to yet another US protectorate in Latin America.

Little-known Fact

Though the Platt Amendment is often associated with Senator Orville Platt, after whom it is named, it's worth noting that it was largely drafted by the then Secretary of War, Elihu Root.
On February 25, 1901, Orville H. Platt, a United States Senator from Connecticut, introduced to Congress the Platt Amendment. An amendment to the 1901 Army appropriations bill, it put forth seven conditions for the withdrawal of US troops from Cuba following the Spanish-American war. This amendment formed the basis of a treaty between the United States of America and Cuba to protect the latter from European imperialists.

Platt Amendment Facts and Significance

Spanish Empire and the Treaty of Paris

On December 10, 1898, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the Spanish Empire signed the Treaty of Paris, which brought about an end to their occupation of Americas. In doing so, they surrendered the control of Cuba to the United States. Article I of this peace treaty between the US and Spanish Empire said ...
"And as the island is, upon its evacuation by Spain, to be occupied by the United States, the United States will, so long as such occupation shall last, assume and discharge the obligations that may under international law result from the fact of its occupation, for the protection of life and property."
The Spanish sovereignty in Cuba effectively came to an end on February 1, 1899, and the Latin American nation was passed over to the United States. In 1899, President Theodore Roosevelt made General Leonard Wood the Military Governor of Cuba.
Wood tried to improve the life of Cubans by introducing numerous reforms on the lines of the progressive movement in the US, and was largely successful in doing so. One of his biggest achievements was the eradication of yellow fever disease, which was responsible for hundreds of deaths in Cuba every year.

What was the Purpose of the Platt Amendment?

✦ The US occupation of Cuba post the Spanish-American war benefited both countries. The US was now in a position to effectively enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that any interference by European nations into the New World would be considered as an act of aggression.
However, there was a slight problem―the Teller Amendment proposed by Senator Henry M. Teller. The Teller Amendment made it categorically clear that the United States, after helping the Cubans gain independence from the Spanish Empire, would not establish permanent control over Cuba, but would leave the control of the island to its people.
✦ As their military occupation of the island nation was to come to an end, the Americans needed an alternative mode of authority to keep things in order. Thus, on February 25, 1901, Orville H. Platt proposed the Platt Amendment, which was eventually passed by the US Senate by a vote of 43 to 20.
On May 20, 1902, General Wood handed over the reigns of government to democratically elected president, Tomas Estrada Palma, and the American army and navy withdrew from Cuba.
✦ The next hindrance was to convince the Cubans to incorporate the requirements of the Platt Amendment into their constitution. After an initial hesitation, citing that the amendment would significantly limit their sovereignty, the Constitutional Convention of Cuba eventually ratified it on June 12, 1901 by a vote of 16 to 11.
In turn, the US ratified a tariff giving Cuban sugar first preference in the US market.

Platt Amendment: Stipulated Conditions

On May 22, 1903, the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations was signed with the intent of fortifying relations between the two nations. This treaty made the Platt Amendment legally binding for Cuba. The provisions of this treaty were as follows.
✦ The Government of Cuba was not supposed to sign any treaty with foreign powers that would or could impair its independence, nor was it supposed to allow any foreign power to control any part of the island.

✦ The amendment barred the Government of Cuba from signing any sort of treaty which could result in debt for the island nation.
✦ The Government of Cuba gave the United States the right to intervene for the 'preservation' of the independence of Cuba.

✦ It ratified and validated all acts that the US had passed during their military occupation of Cuba.
✦ The Government of Cuba was responsible for the execution of plans of sanitation of the cities to end the recurrence of epidemic and prevent infectious diseases, which could threaten the native population of the island and the population of southern United States.
✦ The Isle of Pines―renamed to Isla de la Juventud in 1978―was to be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba.

✦ The Cuban Government was to sell or lease to the US land necessary for coaling or naval stations, so as to enable the US to maintain the independence of Cuba.
✦ In 1903, the Cuban government signed the Cuban-American Treaty, which stipulated that Cuba was to lease 'specific lands' to the United States for coaling and naval stations. The Guantanamo Bay area was leased to the US under this treaty.
The US intervened in the Cuban affairs in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920, citing the stipulations of the Platt Amendment. In the garb of 'preserving' the independence of Cuba, this Amendment actually limited it. Eventually, the 1934 Treaty of Relations replaced the 1903 Treaty of Relations, and the Platt Amendment was abrogated.
The new treaty, which was negotiated as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'Good Neighbor' policy, freed Cuba from the American influence and gave Americans the Guantanamo Bay.