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History, United States Occupation

Platt Amendment, vote margin, Americanization, Treaty of Paris, Assembly members

In 1898 the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Spanish-American War. The United States and Spain negotiated the treaty with no Cuban representative present. The treaty left the United States firmly in control of newly independent Cuba. The United States assumed formal military possession of Cuba on January 1, 1899, and maintained a military occupation until May 20, 1902. Under U.S. tutelage, public schools were built and staffed throughout the island. Cuban teachers took educational courses at Harvard University and taught in their nation’s public elementary and secondary schools. Protestant missionaries flooded the country. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built bridges, roads, and sanitation systems. American army surgeon Walter Reed and Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay discovered the mosquito that carried malaria, and the army corps fumigated the pest.

Although the United States kept its commitment to give Cuba self-rule, the U.S. government required an “Americanization” of Cuba’s leaders before ending the occupation. The U.S. government insisted that Cubans learn democratic principals before they were allowed to rule themselves. United States officials’ sense of democracy meant that only Spanish and Cuban elites should form the constitutional assembly that would write Cuba’s new constitution, since these elites were more inclined to favor U.S. influence in Cuba.

Despite U.S. attempts to control the direction of Cuba’s new government, in 1900 Cuban separatists won a majority of seats in the constitutional assembly. To ensure that the assembly did not reject U.S. influence, the U.S. government insisted that the new constitution include a number of conditions defining the relationship between the two nations.

These conditions—known as the Platt Amendment after its author, U.S. senator Orville Platt—prohibited Cuba from making treaties and alliances with other foreign countries, granted military bases on the island to the United States, and allowed U.S. intervention on the island whenever instability threatened. It also limited Cuba’s ability to accept foreign loans and mandated public health measures to suppress disease and malnutrition. The United States insisted that the military occupation would not end until Cubans accepted the Platt Amendment as part of their new constitution.

Most Cubans were strongly opposed to the Platt Amendment. Assembly members spoke out against it and citizens protested. At first the assembly voted down the amendment. However, when a number of nationalist members left the Assembly in protest, the remaining members passed the amendment by a one-vote margin. Most Cubans viewed the Platt Amendment as an intrusion on Cuban sovereignty and as an attempt by the United States to maintain control. Consequently, Cuban national identity developed a strong anti-American feeling.



Article key phrases:

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