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Platt Amendment: Giving America Oversight in Cuba

Inspired by Secretary of State Elihu Root and drafted by Connecticut senator Orville H. Platt, the Platt Amendment gave the United States an oversight role in Cuban affairs and was formally incorporated into the Cuban constitution.

At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States controlled several overseas territories, including Cuba. In April 1898, Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado, proposed an amendment to the United States’ declaration of war against Spain, declaring that the United States would not establish permanent control over Cuba. The Teller Amendment asserted that the United States "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 Senate adopted the amendment on April 19.

Nonetheless, the occupation of Cuba by U.S. troops continued for several years after the war was over and achieved some notable improvements in Cuban life. A school system was organized, finances were set in order, and considerable progress was made in eliminating yellow fever. In July 1900, the Constitutional Convention of Cuba started its deliberations and was notified that the U.S. Congress intended to attach an amendment to the Cuban Constitution. In 1901, Secretary of War Elihu Root drafted a set of articles as guidelines for future United States–Cuban relations, known afterwards as the Platt Amendment. Platt had influenced the decision to annex Hawaii and occupy the Philippines. He sponsored this amendment as a rider attached to the Army Appropriations Bill of 1901. Cubans reluctantly incorporated the amendment, which essentially made Cuba a protectorate of the United States, into their constitution. The Platt Amendment was also included in a permanent treaty between the two countries.

The Platt Amendment, an unwelcome limitation on Cuban independence, was not abrogated until 1934. The new treaty coincided with Roosevelt`s Good Neighbor Policy as well as the declaration that was drawn up at the 7th International Conference of American States in December 1933, according to which no state has the right to intervene in the affairs of another. A notable exception to the policy of giving up America`s exceptional rights in Cuba was the maintenance of its rights at Guantanmo Bay "until the two contracting parties agree to the modification or abrogation of the stipulations of the agreement in regard to the lease to the United States of America for coaling and naval stations ..." Needless to say, the United States has agreed to no such modifications and has maintained its base at Guantanamo Bay to this day.