Latin America

The Platt amendment: an old nightmare

Current US policy toward Cuba is a historic anachronism that stems from failed attempts to turn the clock back by a century to the interventionist era in which this agreement was signed.

Marta Denis Valle

Political and military interference by the White House in other countries, which is now escalating on a dangerous scale, was common practise in Latin America in the 20th Century, after its lightning war against Spain in 1898.

After their third and last War of Independence (1895-1898), Cubans were stripped of their independence and sovereignty and then suffered the constant threat of Yankee marines landing at the slightest provocation. The United States seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Philippines and other minor Spanish possessions, but was unable to prolong its occupation of the Cuban Archipelago, which officially began in January, 1899.

The new Republic of Cuba was born in 1902; pieced together in the same climate of interference, with the rubber stamp of a neo-colonial statute.  Washington ensured its influence and control in the clauses written into what was called the Platt Amendment, which was adopted by Congress and forced into the first Cuban Constitution in 1901 under the threat of continued military occupation.  By doing so, it guaranteed that nothing and no one would disturb its neo-colonial presence.

This is how it happened

This document, a source of bitter recollection in Cuba’s history, was presented to US Congress on 26 February, 1901 by Orville H. Platt, as an amendment to the Army Appropriations Bill for the following fiscal year. It was approved by the Senate (43 votes to 20) and the House of Representatives (159 votes to 134) and was then sanctioned by the President of the United States, William McKinley, on 1 March 1901, becoming law 110 years ago.

According to public opinion the Platt Amendment was viewed as a “yoke” (like that used to link oxen together), because the eight articles it comprised clearly gave the US the right to intervene and set up military bases in the region in the form of a permanent treaty.

Among those who were opposed were the Cuban patriots, Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, who delivered his “Voto Particular” against the Convention on the 15 March, which was rejected and Juan Gualberto Gómez, who published his forceful response of 26 March 1901.

“Cubans are not being allowed to decide under any circumstances, it is being taken for granted that they accept the proposed resolutions…,” which had now become Law, argued Cisneros, twice President of Cuba in Arms (in the 1868 and 1895 Wars).

The commission sent to Washington from 20 April to 6 May failed and the United States rejected all of the amendments that were proposed by Cubans on its first vote on 5 June 1901, which, with a number of clarifications and explanations, was approved by a slim margin (15 in favour, 14 opposed).

Real threat

It was finally approved, without additions or arguments, by 16 votes in favour and 11 opposed during the 12 June session, in the absence of four constituents and a number votes in favour, which were cast just to get the North Americans to finally leave. In spite of public opposition and attempts by the Convention to oppose it, the Platt Amendment, which was incorporated into a permanent treaty between Cuba and the United States, had a lasting effect on the country.

In the same vein and with a similar objective, a number of other documents were forced on Havana (1903-1904), which completed the formula for complete submission, the agreement which allowed the establishment of the naval base in Guantánamo, the permanent Cuban-American Treaty and the so-called Treaty of Commercial Reciprocity, which effectively monopolised all internal and external commerce in Cuba.

For the Cuban population this did not only signify a threat, but a very real danger, as became evident in 1906 when military and naval forces landed in response to a popular uprising against the leadership of Tomás Estrada Palma, who became President in 1902, backed by the US Governor, Leonardo Wood. The United States set up its second puppet Government in the country from 1906 to 1909 and, before retreating, it left a clear message that no Government would have a future there unless it was backed by Washington.

In 1934, in the new permanent Cuban-American Treaty, the Platt Amendment was replaced by a more subtle form of domination, although the bilateral relations of the following decades would keep its spirit alive, until the triumphant revolution of 1 January, 1959.

Since then, US hostility towards the Cuban Revolution has been stubbornly entrenched in that outdated Platt-ist document and the short-sightedness of its long-forgotten executors, defeated by the military for the first time in the Battle of Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs), in 1961.  (PL)

*Historian and Journalist.

(Translated by Arianne Matthews – Email:

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