Study Guide

Tomás Estrada Palma in Platt Amendment

By U.S. Congress

Tomás Estrada Palma

A Man From Two Worlds

Tomás Estrada Palma is a complicated figure in Cuba's history because he kind of played both sides. What do we mean by that? He was loyal to Cuba (he was their first president, after all), but he was very much in touch with America and was even a U.S. citizen. Whoa.

Right after the Spanish-American War, Cuba went from being controlled by Spain to being controlled by the U.S., and since many Cubans wanted full independence, having a leader on both sides must have been confusing.

At the same time, Palma was doing the best he could to walk a fine line. He wanted American support, but also wanted to help his own people. Like many Cubans he probably didn't like the rules of the Platt Amendment, but perhaps he saw them as a necessary evil to get his country where he wanted it to be.

Because it's hard to doubt Palma's patriotism for his country. He was there at Cuba's first real fight for independence against Spain (called the Ten Years' War), he became the leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Party right before the Spanish-American War, and he traveled to Washington, D.C., to try to get America to join their fight against Spain.

And he succeeded.

After the war, Palma knew that the Platt Amendment was crushing for Cuba, and although he approved of American assistance he also fought the U.S. in his own political way. Remember how the last of the Platt Amendment's rules was to let America create military bases and coaling stations anywhere on Cuba (VII)?

Well the U.S. eventually invoked that rule, trying to build five naval bases on the island. Palma said, basically, "No way, you can only have one." Cubans applauded his standing up to the big and tough Congress, even though it wasn't a full victory.

(Oh and by the way, that single naval base? Today that's the infamous Guantanamo Bay.)

Last but not least, it should be noted that later Cuban leaders like Fidel Castro strongly criticized President Palma. Castro had a statue of Palma in Havana destroyed because of Palma's relationship with the U.S. And we know how Castro felt about America...