The Teller and Platt Amendments Explained

I consider myself a student of history. I like to believe I have a good grip on why American history has unfolded the way it has unfolded.

Yesterday, I learned about the Teller and Platt Amendments for the first time. I’m writing about them because they say so much about the dominance America wishes to hold over other nations, the way American imperialism was a driving force behind Castro taking over Cuba, bungled foreign policy, oppressing people of color in the name of corporate profit, and outright racism and white supremacy on the part of the United States.

Teller Amendment

At the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States had taken several territories from Spain, including Cuba and Puerto Rico. In April of 1898, Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado proposed what became the Teller Amendment that stated the United States would not adopt permanent control over Cuba.

The Teller Amendment asserted the United States, “Hereby Disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovergnity, jurisdiction, or over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, When that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”

The Senate adopted the Teller Amendment on April 19, 1998 by a vote of 42-35. The House approved the Amendment by a vote of 311-6. President McKinley signed the joint resolution on April 20, 1898.

Platt Amendment

Not withstanding the Teller Amendment, American forces occupied Cuba from the conclusion of the Spanish-American War until 1902. During that four-year period, Cuba was run by an American military government led by General Lenard Wood.

In July of 1900, the cuban people began working on a constitution. During their work, Cubans were notified the Congress of the United States would be attaching an Amendment to the Cuban constitution. The text of the amendment forced on the Cubans was the text of the Platt Amendment.

The Platt Amendment was drafted by Secretary of War Elihu Root and introduced in the Senate by Senator Orville Platt from Connecticut.

The Platt Amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 43-20. Since the Platt Amendment eventually became a treaty the Cubans were forced to accept, no House vote was needed.

The terms of the Platt Amendment prevented Cuba from entering into international treaties that would compromise Cuban independence or allow foreign powers to use the island for military purposes. The amendment also gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuba’s affairs to protect Cuban independence and to maintain a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty. In an astounding bit of hypocrisy, Cuba was also prevented from going into debt to support its government.

Cuba was also required to sell or lease land to the United States for the creation of American military bases on the island. Guantanamo Bay is still running because of the Platt Amendment.

Most of the terms of the Platt Amendment were done away with by the Roosevelt administration in 1934.

The Platt Amendment is critical because the United States used its occupying military force to mandate that Cuba agree to allow the United States to basically run Cuba by denying the Cuban people the right to negotiate with other governments, to force them to accept a United States military presence on their island, and to require them to allow American corporations to control large swaths of Cuban land. The language related to individual property rights was included to make sure American corporations, especially sugar companies, could continue controlling land and exploiting their Cuban workers.

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