Platt Amendment

The Platt Amendment established the framework for U.S.-Cuban relations between 1901 and 1934. It was devised by a congressional subcommittee chaired by Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut. The amendment limited Cuba’s treaty-making powers, restricted Cuba’s foreign debts, gave the U.S. the right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence, allowed a U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and initiated sanitation and health care efforts designed to lure U.S. investors to the island. Congress ratified the agreement by an attachment to the Army Appropriation Bill in March 1901. Cubans reluctantly approved the Platt Amendment more than two years later, on May 22, 1903.

The Platt Amendment had its beginnings in the Teller Amendment, a congressional mandate approved before the Spanish American War, which stipulated that the U.S. would not annex Cuba after the conflict. The popular amendment, proposed by Senator Henry Teller, a Colorado Republican, also hinted at the possibility of Cuban independence following Spain’s defeat. 

President William McKinley and other Republican leaders, however, ignored the pleas for Cuban independence after the war. They did not believe that the Cuban rebels would be able to protect U.S. economic interests. They also feared that, without U.S. guidance, Cuba would degenerate into political, economic, and social instability. Such a scenario might entice another foreign power to annex Cuba. Racial stereotypes of the time reinforced the idea that the Cuban rebels were incapable of self-government.

McKinley, who feared the political consequences of annexing Cuba, asked his advisors to develop an alternative. Cuba’s military governor, General Leonard Wood, suggested the strategy that led to the Platt Amendment. Although Cuba was officially independent, the Platt Amendment ensured U.S. control over the island’s economic, political, and security interests. 

Critics claimed that the amendment violated the spirit of the Teller Amendment by putting Cuba under U.S. protection. Others worried that the amendment would spark a revolutionary impulse in Cuba. Not surprisingly, many Cuban nationalists resented the limits it placed on their independence.

Theodore Roosevelt supported his predecessor’s policies regarding Cuba. He believed they were necessary to ensure order, prosperity, and stability throughout the Caribbean. On the surface, both the Platt Amendment and a 1903 reciprocity treaty appeared to benefit both nations. In time, however, the policies required frequent military interventions in order to protect U.S. interests in Cuba.