Study Guide

Platt Amendment Quotes

By U.S. Congress

  • Freedom

    […] the President is hereby authorized to "leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people" so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which […] shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, substantially as follows: (Intro)

    Things get confusing right off the bat—is Cuba actually free? Or does the U.S. control it? The first part of this quote sounds like the U.S. is formally transferring all power to the Cubans, and the second part sounds like "Oh yeah, but you have to follow these rules." The bigger issue here is whether Cuba really feels like it has freedom with the Platt Amendment weighing it down.

    That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba […] (I)

    This is the first of the seven rules in the Platt Amendment, and notice how two-sided it feels. One the one hand, the U.S. sounds like a bully—no allies for you, Cuba! That doesn't sound like true freedom. Yet on the other hand, the U.S. seems like they have Cuba's best interests at heart with the whole "impair the independence of Cuba" bit. What is America's true intention here? To restrict Cuba from making deals with other countries, or to protect Cuba's freedom from nations that might take advantage of the small island? Crafty writing here, Congress.

    That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence […] (III)

    Again we have a conflicting sense of things—this quote says that Cuba must allow the U.S. to get involved in the island whenever they want, yet it's all about the "preservation of Cuban independence." Is America being a bully and throwing its weight around on this resource-rich island, or is it genuinely concerned with Cuba's freedom? You have to hand it to Congress—this writing leaves the door wide open for the U.S. to stay involved with Cuba yet not look like a bad guy.

  • Weakness

    That the government of Cuba shall never […] authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island. (I)

    This quote is saying that Cuba can't let other nations colonize their island. Um.

    We're pretty sure that no country actually wants someone else to come in and colonize them. So, by saying this Congress is essentially implying that Cuba is very weak and can't control their own territory. And because they are so weak, other countries could simply swoop in and take what they want. Nice vote of confidence for Cuba there, Congress.

    That said government shall not assume or contract any public debt […] (II)

    The bigger idea here is that the U.S. doesn't want Cuba to owe any favors to other countries who might help them pay off their debts if things go bad. But, think about why Congress even thought about debt in the first place—perhaps they're assuming that little Cuba doesn't know how to run an economy and will get into trouble. That Cuba is such a weak, frail nation that debt is almost inevitable. That's the underlying message here.

    That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States. (VII)

    Now here's some patronizing talk. Cuba can't maintain its own independence; the U.S. has to do that. Cuba can't protect its own people; the U.S. will do that. Cuba can't defend anything; U.S. naval stations will help do that. These statements aren't just implying weakness, they're cramming it down Cuba's throat. No subtlety here. This quote both confirms America's view that Cuba is weak and opens the door to U.S. occupation of the island in the future. Bit of a power trip there, eh Congress?

  • Rules & Order

    That the government of Cuba will execute […] the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein. (V)

    Notice the two sides to this coin. The rule is that Cuba must keep its cities clean in order to prevent the spread of disease. Sounds reasonable, right? Congress says this is for the protection of the "people and commerce of Cuba," but also for the "commerce of the southern ports of the United States." By the Platt Amendment wording, it's not clear what the U.S. cares about more—Cubans becoming diseased, or those diseases spreading to American cities. But we'll let you take a guess on that one.

    That the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba, the title thereto being left to future adjustment by treaty. (VI)

    Here's a sneaky rule that Congress slips in toward the end of the Amendment—Cuba has to leave this little piece of land outside of their control. Now why would that be? Perhaps so that the U.S. could create a permanent settlement there, such as a military base, to keep a strong position in the Caribbean. We don't actually know what Congress' true intention was with the Isle of Pines, but including this section in the Amendment is a great example of the U.S. slapping rules on Cuba to weaken the island's position and enhance America's.

    That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States. (VIII)

    "Provisions" is a nice way of saying "rules." This quote is the final piece of the Platt Amendment, and it serves as a reminder to Cuba that they will be following these rules. It doesn't list an "or else," but the tone of the writing suggests that there will be no arguing the point. Notice that here and throughout the Amendment Congress doesn't really assure Cuba that these rules are for their own benefit; nor does Congress outwardly say that this is all for U.S. profit.

    Maybe it's all in how individuals end up interpreting the rules…

  • Power

    That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers […] (I)

    This quote shows that the U.S. is the exception. Congress is telling Cuba to not have any alliances, but of course this entire Platt Amendment required a treaty between Cuba and the U.S. That is not mentioned in this first rule, though. That is what we would call "implied power"—Congress doesn't even need to say "no treaties except for with us" because this is a power move. As though the treaty with the U.S. is so obvious and required that it doesn't even need to be mentioned.

    That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene […] for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the United States […] (III)

    American power on full display here. Yeah, Cuba's independent; but yes, the U.S. can get involved whenever it sees fit.

    By bringing up the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. is reminding Cuba that the only reason it is free is because America defeated Spain. This mention serves as a warning about American power—"we booted out Spain, so we're tough and you owe us your allegiance." Lastly, using the word "obligation" makes America's power seem justified here, as though the U.S. is nobly protecting poor Cuba.

    […] the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States. (VII)

    Let's focus on the naval stations part here. We can understand the U.S. wanting to put coaling stations on Cuba, in order to make some money. But naval stations? That sure seems like a pure power play.

    Naval bases on the island would be both a show of power (thus keeping Cuba in line), and a clear message that America has dominance in the area (the Caribbean). If you put both the coaling and naval stations together, that's economic and military power in one fell swoop.

  • Imperialism

    […] the President is hereby authorized to "leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people" so soon as a government shall have been established in said island […] (Intro)

    Plain and clear, the U.S. doesn't intend to take over the island of Cuba. America wants Cuba to govern itself, but it wants to make sure that government is up and running first. Sounds pretty anti-imperialist, right? Remember, the Teller Amendment made it illegal for the U.S. to take over Cuba, so shouldn't the U.S. have nothing to worry about? Maybe Congress knew that the rules it was about to set could be seen as imperialist, so it wanted to make it extra clear that Cuba would stay governed by Cuba.

    That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty […] (III)

    How imperialist does this sound? Think about it: how would Americans today feel if some other country decided to come in and "intervene for the preservation of American independence" or tell Americans they need foreign help to maintain "the protection of life, property, and individual liberty?"

    We can tell you now: Americans would take that as a huge insult. You can bet that Cuba and possibly the rest of the world saw this part of the Platt Amendment as imperialist on the part of America.

    That all Acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected. (IV)

    Military occupancy? U.S. lawful rights being enforced in Cuba? Sounds suspiciously like imperialism. We mean, occupying another country and enforcing your rights within that country is…well, it's pretty much like owning that country right?

    And that's imperialism.

    Now to be fair, the U.S. had just kicked Spain out of Cuba and still had military forces on the island for the transition, so that may have been all that Congress was referring to. But since the wording here is vague, we'll never know if they actually meant more than that…

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