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What is the Platt Amendment?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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The Platt Amendment was a significant legislative act that impacted the relations between the United States and Cuba for decades. Passed in 1901 with the Army Appropriations Act, the law was added to the bill as a rider by Senator Orville Platt because it most likely would not have passed in its own right. In its most basic sense, the Platt Amendment dealt with the withdrawal of American troops from the island nation following the end of the Spanish-American War. The law gave the U.S. the right to engage in the political and economic affairs of Cuba domestically and with foreign powers. It also provided a permanent military base for the U.S. Navy in Guantanamo Bay.

The legislation mandated by the Platt Amendment replaced the laws established by the Teller Amendment of 1898. This previous bill required the U.S. military to cede control of the island to the Cuban people after the conflict with Spain was resolved. It was passed in response to President William McKinley's push for independence for Cuba after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine while in harbor in Havana. Congress required the U.S. government to forgo annexing the country after hostilities came to a close. Following the war, a new push for continued control over the nation resulted in the need for the Platt Amendment to revise the previous policy.

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After the protracted conflict with Spain drew to a close, the U.S. military and industrial interests desired a retention of influence over Cuba. The American Armed Forces found themselves occupying the nation and many businesses required protection from domestic dissidents and foreign intervention. Spain lost control of much of its worldwide empire during the conflict, resulting in the expansion of power for the U.S. because of Cuba's proximity to the mainland. American interests altered from the concerns of the Teller Amendment to the concepts that eventually would find themselves in the Platt Amendment.

Essentially establishing Cuba as a colony, albeit with self-governing authority, the U.S. instituted a number of controls to maintain power over the country. It created a national police organization composed of ex-rebels known as the Rural Guard. American businesses under the authority U.S. General Leonard Wood began to industrialize the island with new road construction, the establishment of a school system and the creation of modern sanitation infrastructure. In an effort to limit the influence of the population over its future, only adult males with property value of $250 US Dollars (USD) or more were allowed to vote. This disenfranchised much of the Afro-Cuban population, which the Americans viewed as a threat to their control.

The Platt Amendment and its policy of control over Cuba remained law until 1934, when the Treaty of Relations was adopted. President Franklin Roosevelt established the Good Neighbor Policy with both the Caribbean and Latin America in an effort to garner economic and military support from the region during the Great Depression. The 1934 Treaty of Relations removed Cuba from the direct sphere of American influence with one exception; it allowed for the continued control of Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. Military.

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Guantanamo Bay is at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the largest harbor on the south side of the island. This part of the island is under territorial control of the United States. The bay was briefly called Cumberland Bay when seized by the British during the War of Jenkins' Ear or Guerra del Asiento in Spain.

The War of Jenkins' Ear was between Great Britain and Spain from 1739 to 1748. The odd title was coined in 1858 by writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle. The title refers to an incident in 1731 when a British merchant ship captain, Robert Jenkins, lost his ear to Spanish coast guards.

The ear was exhibited before parliament and provided the avenue for war.

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