Study Guide

Platt Amendment Themes

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  • Freedom

    Oh yeah: this is a biggie. After all, the Platt Amendment is all about Cuba's freedom.

    Cuba technically became independent just as soon as the Treaty of Paris in 1898 told Spain they no longer had a claim on Cuba. But America had a thing or two (or seven) to say about that. Cuba's freedom is brought up often in this Amendment, both in terms of the U.S. wanting Cuba to have its independence and the U.S. wanted to restrict it.

    Talk about a split personality issue.

    Questions About Freedom

    1. Considering the rules of the Platt Amendment, was Cuba truly a free country with these regulations in place?
    2. Why does a country's freedom have to depend on what other countries have to say about it?
    3. Did the Platt Amendment make Cubans feel less free, or did it make them feel more protected?
    4. What are major reasons why the U.S. might have wanted to restrict Cuba's freedom, given the connection to America's own history of fighting for independence?

    Chew on This

    Thanks to the Platt Amendment, Cuba went from one overlord (Spain) to another (United States) without ever experiencing true freedom.

    The United States knew that without its help Cuba would be overrun by another European nation, therefore the Platt Amendment helped preserve Cuba's freedom.

  • Weakness

    By weakness, we're talking powerlessness against a larger, stronger force. And of course we're talking about Cuba's powerlessness and America's stronger force. The tone of the entire Platt Amendment is patronizing and condescending against Cuba, as though the U.S. sees Cuba as a very small, nonthreatening issue.

    Like a child who is powerless and needs rules to stay in line, but doesn't require much more thought than that. That kind of weakness.

    Questions About Weakness

    1. How was the "David and Goliath" comparison between Cuba and America viewed by the rest of the world?
    2. How did Cubans react to the Platt Amendment and to being powerless under America's heel?
    3. Did Cuba have a choice in accepting the Platt Amendment or was it forced upon them?
    4. How did the Platt Amendment affect the development of Cuba, in terms of Cubans having pride in the strength and character of their country?

    Chew on This

    The Platt Amendment created a sense of weakness or meekness in Cubans, making them feel like they were always required to be obedient to a master.

    The Platt Amendment sent a clear message to Cubans that they were expected to be subservient and powerless in the shadow of America.

  • Rules & Order

    At its heart, the Platt Amendment is a bunch of rules—seven of them, to be exact—meant to do two things: keep Cuba in line and keep the U.S. involved in the island.

    The U.S. wanted to keep a close eye on Cuba because of how close it was (and still is) to America, and it also wanted to take part in Cuba's natural resources. Remember that thanks to the Teller Amendment America could not legally take over Cuba as a territory (like they did with Puerto Rico, for example), so the rules laid out in the Platt Amendment served to get America as close as possible and still stay on the good side of the law (and the eyes of the world).

    Questions About Rules & Order

    1. Were the rules laid out in the Platt Amendment harsh, lenient, or somewhere in the middle? And from whose perspective?
    2. Were America's rules for Cuba fair, given the history of the island and the early 1900s mindset of imperialism?
    3. Which rule or rules most impacted the development of Cuba as a new nation? Why?
    4. Which rule or rules seem out of place or strange compared to the others? Why?

    Chew on This

    The Platt Amendment's rules were more than just for keeping order; they were meant to restrict Cuba in nearly everything, tying the country to the U.S. like a territory.

    The Platt Amendment's rules helped Cuba develop as a new nation by offering U.S. protection and guidance.

  • Power

    In the Platt Amendment, rules are power. America is exercising control over Cuba, dictating what their government can or can't do, and even claiming possession over certain parts of Cuba's territory. The entire thing is about power.

    The real question is, to what end? To help Cuba? To exploit Cuba for American gain? These questions do not have clear answers. Because of this lack of clear answers, the Platt Amendment is a bit strange in history. It could have been an example of America being a bully, or of America being a protective parent. There are certainly people who could argue either side of this power theme.

    Questions About Power

    1. Did America create the Platt Amendment to be a bully, or be a protector?
    2. Was Cuba high on America's priority list concerning power grabs in the early 1900s, or was the island more a nuisance that needed to be kept in check?
    3. How did American citizens view their own country's motives when the Platt Amendment was created?
    4. Is power over another country something to be proud of, or something to be ashamed of? And is there a difference today compared to a hundred years ago when this Amendment was created?

    Chew on This

    Many in Congress were bitter that Cuba could not be legally taken over, so they created the Platt Amendment to show Cuba who was boss.

    Many in Congress pitied Cuba, so they created the Platt Amendment to help Cuba gain a sense of its own power.

  • Imperialism

    Imperialism, or taking over other nations, was the name of the game for hundreds of years as European countries tried to gain more and more land. But by the time the U.S. became strong enough to play with the big boys, the world's opinion on imperialism was changing.

    Anti-imperialists at home were more than a little upset that America was going against its own history and taking over/exploiting smaller countries. But those new lands produced a lot of economic gain (Hawaii), or allowed for military control of an area (Guam, Cuba).

    Tough choices for Congress to make. Maybe that's why the Platt Agreement is so oblique.

    Questions About Imperialism

    1. Was the Platt Amendment an act of imperialism, even though the U.S. didn't formally own the island?
    2. How did the rest of the world react to the Platt Amendment, with the U.S. making rules for countries it didn't own?
    3. How did other American territories at the time like Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Philippines react to the Platt Amendment and America's control over Cuba?
    4. Would the U.S. (or any other country) be able to get away with something like the Platt Amendment in today's world, where imperialism is much less prevalent?

    Chew on This

    The Platt Amendment's rules for Cuba were so similar to actually taking over a country that the situation could be called imperialism.

    The U.S. was careful to not go too far with the Platt Amendment, thus avoiding the label of imperialism.

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