Loans and Debt Resolution - Cuba and the platt amendment (1901)



The end of the war with Spain in 1898 left Cuba occupied by the armed forces of the United States but with the future status of the island not clearly defined. Spain had relinquished sovereignty over Cuba, and the United States had renounced any thought of annexing it. But that renunciation did not absolve the United States, in its own eyes, from responsibility for Cuba's future. President William McKinley remarked in his annual message of 5 December 1899 that the United States had assumed "a grave responsibility for the future good government of Cuba." The island, he continued, "must needs be bound to us by ties of singular intimacy and strength of its enduring welfare is to be assured."

What those ties were to be was defined by Elihu Root, McKinley's secretary of war. General Leonard Wood, America's military governor of Cuba, convoked a constitutional convention, which sat in Havana from November 1900 to February 1901. It completed a constitution for independent Cuba but failed to carry out a directive of the governor to provide for relations between the Cuban government and the government of the United States. Secretary Root outlined his concept of what those relations should be in a set of proposals that were introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Orville H. Platt of Connecticut and were known henceforth as the Platt Amendment. This was actually an amendment to the Army Appropriation Bill of 2 March 1901; the amendment authorized the president to terminate the military occupation of Cuba as soon as a Cuban government was established under a constitution that provided, among other things, that Cuba should never permit any "foreign power" to gain a foothold in its territory or contract any debt beyond the capacity of its ordinary revenues to pay; and that Cuba should consent that the United States might intervene in its affairs for the preservation of Cuba's independence.

The new Cuban government was inaugurated on 20 May 1902. The Platt Amendment took its place as an annex to the Cuban constitution and was embodied in the permanent treaty of 1903 between Cuba and the United States. It remained in force until 1934, when all of the treaty except the naval base article was abrogated. Under that article the United States enjoyed the use of Guantánamo Bay, on the south coast near Santiago, as a naval station. Under Article 3 the United States exercised the right of intervention from time to time, notably in 1906–1909, following a breakdown of the Cuban government, but more frequently in subsequent years.



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