Study Guide

Platt Amendment

By U.S. Congress

Platt Amendment Introduction

Like they say, over and over again: freedom isn't free.

It always comes with a huge price tag. When you finally graduate high school and move out of your parents' house, you realize that you have to pay for your food yourself (ouch). When you get your own set of wheels, you realize that car maintenance is expensive. When you go on that road trip, you realize that there are a zillion little costs—those weird-yet-tasty gas station taquitos add up.

And in history, independence also has its costs. The cost might be resources and money…or it might be people's lives and families. In the case of Cuba and the United States, the cost of independence was being able to set your own rules.

That's where the Platt Amendment comes in.

After Cuba had just booted Spain out of their country (and believe us, Spain hadn't been a great friend to Cuba) they were excited to chart their own course. Then America came in and said, basically, "Hold your horses, you little island with your shiny new independence. We'll tell you what you can and can't do."

It was a classic case of out with the old (Spain) and in with the new (America). And the new included the Platt Amendment's rules. So how tough was America on Cuba?

Maybe tough isn't the right word. Invasive might be better. The Platt Amendment's seven rules centered on one main theme: Cuba has to let America be the only foreign power that can be involved in the island. No treaties or deals with other countries. No borrowing money from other countries. No letting other countries help; only America can come in and deal with any problems. No complaining if America decides to plop its military on the island, whenever and for whatever reason.

Oh, and make sure America has plenty of access to the island's resources.

So, was little Cuba really independent with this Platt Amendment hanging over its head? Or is it a puppet, strings being pulled by the powerful nation ninety miles to the north?

History will tell who ultimately wins this battle of control for property and resources, but we can tell you one thing right now—there's no such thing as free freedom.

  

What is Platt Amendment About and Why Should I Care?

This historical nugget is brought to you by the letter "P." "P" as in "Platt," sure—but also "P" as in power. Because power was the name of the game when it came to the Platt Amendment. This little doc allowed America to control almost every aspect of newly independent Cuba.

But why? Did the U.S. want to control Cuba for its resources? To keep the country in line? To be a bully and flex its red, white, and blue muscles for the world to notice? To ensure that American got unlimited access to Cuban treats like medianoches and ropa vieja?

Maybe it's a bit of all of the above…although we're pretty sure that delicious Cuban sandwiches weren't a top priority for the dudes who drafted the Platt Amendment. (Some peoples' priorities are so messed up.)

Both history and the world today are full of examples of those who are powerful beating up on those who are weak. From the elementary school playground to the campaign for the presidency, it's survival of the fittest. (Maybe that's a little dramatic, but then again maybe it's not.) The often-forgotten case of Cuba vs. America, focused around the Platt Amendment's harsh rules, is a perfect example of the struggle for power.

And here's what makes it fascinating: we can sympathize with both sides of this story.

There was Cuba, the poor little island that just wanted to be left alone to begin its independence, with a history of being colonized and bullied by half of Europe, then slapped with the Platt Amendment. It's not hard to compare that situation to other nations (that was kind of America's predicament once, after all), or even to people.

Then on the other hand there was the United States, the powerful nation that was just coming into its own on the world stage, showing the planet that it deserved to be treated with respect and at the same time trying to protect its borders and its regions from creeping colonial Europe. We can compare this to anyone who has risen up through blood, sweat, and tears and wants desperately to hold on to their new position.

So why should we care about the Platt Amendment and the story of Cuba and America? Because it's the story of power and control, and it's the story of fear and desperation. It's the story that we've all seen…and that we'll all see again.

Platt Amendment Resources

Websites

Short and Sweet Review
Shmoop approves of overviews like these—quick, to the point, and with cool images of the original document.

Zoom Around and Learn
This site has a cool feature where you can zoom around the actual document and see the original writing. Also includes a nice description of the document and its impact.

Teller Plus Platt Together
This is a very brief overview that combines the Teller and Platt Amendments, which go hand in hand.

PBS' Crucible of Empire
A website based around the film of the same name. Excellent overview of the Spanish-American War, from yellow journalism to music of the time.

Movie or TV Productions

Crucible of Empire
If you want to know about the Spanish-American War, this is your documentary.

A Rough Ride
A two-episode production about Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and their adventures in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Articles and Interviews

Connecticut History Pride
Here is a "today in history" article about Connecticut's own Orville Platt and his amendment.

Video

Crash Course U.S. History—Imperialism
Historian and comedian (we think) John Green describes the whole era of American imperialism, which of course includes Cuba.

Spanish-American War for Dummies
Mr. Hip Hughes goes over the main events of the war and discusses Cuba and the Teller & Platt Amendments to boot.

Cuba From Coolidge to Obama
President Obama was the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since Coolidge in 1928, and you can see the news story here.

Audio

Guantanamo—Cuba's, or the U.S.'s?
Here's a six-minute NPR story on the never-ending debate on who owns Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama Visits Cuba, With Tension
A news story on Obama's 2016 visit to Cuba that was a tense one, but helped break down some barriers. As always, Guantanamo Bay is front and center of the discussions.

Images

America's Choice Options
A political cartoon showing ol' Uncle Sam choosing which of America's conquests he'd like at the moment.

America Reaching for Empire
This political cartoon shows a rather disturbing Uncle Sam reaching for Caribbean islands, including Cuba. Check out those hands…creepy.