Photo above: Wright Brothers airplane 1903. Right: Mesa Verde Cliff Dwelling. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.
U.S. Timeline - The 1900s
The World Takes Flight
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March 2, 1901 - The Platt amendment is passed by the United
States Congress, which limited the autonomy of Cuba as a
condition for American troop withdrawal. Cuba would become a
U.S. protectorate on June 12.
The relationship of the United States of America and Cuba had always been a complicated one. Today, we're colored by the Cold War no diplomatic relations aspect that we know best that has been prevalent since the early 1960's. Yes, the Bay of Pigs and the ascension of Fidel Castro to power, communism, and the Cuban Missile Crises, only recently changed to include embassies exchanged and renewed diplomatic relations as of 2015. It seems, to many, as if that had been the only dynamic. But, oh, it was not always so, and you don't have to go all the way back the Christopher Columbus and 1492. As early as the 1800's, Cuba was a prized possession of many who thought of it as a great place to grow sugar, and some thought, a place to wrest from Spain and annex as a state of the United States with slave labor. How dependent was Cuba on trade with the United States. The USA bought 82% of their sugar crop in 1860.
After the Ten Year War (1868-1878), the first of three wars for Cuban independence from Spain, Cuba began to look toward the United States for annexation. When the third (Cuban War for Independence) war pushed into its third year (1895-1898), the United States became imminently involved after the sinking of the U.S Battleship Maine, declaring armed conflict with Spain in the Spanish-American War, both in the Caribbean and Pacific. Ater ten weeks and the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, the United States took temporary possession of the island of Cuba, and now owned Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. By January 1, 1899, the United States was in occupation of Cuba and all Spanish troops had left, leaving the entire Spanish empire in ruins.
So why did the United States annex Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, but not Cuba?
Because the Teller Amendment of the United States Congress, when passed into effect on April 20, 1898, giving President McKinley approval to enter the Spanish-American War in the first place, stated ...
"... hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people."
The United States would govern the island of Cuba over the next two years, including the placement of governors in seven departments. That would lead to direct elections of mayors, a Constituent Assembly, and eventually a constitution.
But what would be the role of the United States in Cuba once they were a sovereign nation?
That's where the Platt Amendment comes in. It spelled out the role of the United States in Cuban affairs until 1934, and led to U.S. withdrawal of its occupying forces on May 20, 1902.
The President of the U.S. is hereby authorized to 'leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people' so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which, either as a part thereof or in an ordinance appended thereto, shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, substantially as follows:
I. That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island.
II. That said government shall not assume or contract any public debt, to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which the ordinary revenues of the island, after defraying the current expenses of government, shall be inadequate.
III. That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.
IV. That all acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected.
V. That the government of Cuba will execute, and, as far as necessary, extend, the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein.
VI. That the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba, the title thereto being left to future adjustment by treaty.
VII. That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.
VIII. That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.
Photo above: Lithograph of various scenes of the Spanish-American War, Caribbean and Pacific. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source: Text of Platt Amendment, Historyofcuba.com.
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