Cuba-United States Relations - Historical Background - Relations 1900–1959

Relations 1900–1959

An agreed condition between Cuba and the United States to secure the withdrawal of United States troops from the island was Cuba's adoption of the Platt Amendment. The amendment was a rider appended to the Army Appropriations Act, a United States federal law passed in March 1901 which was presented to the U.S. Senate by Connecticut Republican Senator Orville H. Platt. The Platt amendment stipulated that the United States could exercise the right to intervene in Cuban political, economic and military affairs if necessary, and replaced the less specific Teller Amendment. It was to define the terms of Cuban-U.S. relations for the following 33 years and was bitterly resented by the majority of Cubans. Another consequence of the amendment gave the United States continued use of the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay, where a United States Naval Station had been established in 1898. The lease of the bay was confirmed by the Cuban-American Treaty which was signed by the presidents of both nations in February 1903.

Despite recognizing Cuba's transition into an independent republic, United States Governor Charles Edward Magoon assumed temporary military rule for three more years following a rebellion led by José Miguel Gómez. In the following 20 years the United States repeatedly intervened militarily in Cuban affairs: 1906 - 1909, 1912 and 1917 - 1922. In 1912 U.S. forces were sent to quell protests by Afro-Cubans against perceived discrimination.

By 1926 U.S companies owned 60% of the Cuban sugar industry and imported 95% of the total Cuban crop, and Washington was generally supportive of successive Cuban Governments. However, internal confrontations between the government of Gerardo Machado and political opposition led to his military overthrow by Cuban rebels in 1933. U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles requested U.S. military intervention. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, despite his promotion of the Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America, ordered 29 warships to Cuba and Key West, alerting United States Marines, and bombers for use if necessary. Machado's replacement, Ramón Grau assumed the Presidency and immediately nullified the Platt amendment. In protest, the United States denied recognition to Grau's government, Ambassador Welles describing the new regime as "communistic" and "irresponsible".

The rise of General Fulgencio Batista in the 1930s to de facto leader and President of Cuba for two terms (1940–44 and 1952–59) led to an era of close co-operation between the governments of Cuba and the United States. The United States and Cuba signed the Treaty of Relations in 1934. Batista's second spell as President was initiated by a military coup planned in Florida, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman quickly recognized Batista's return to rule providing military and economic aid. The Batista era witnessed the almost complete domination of Cuba's economy by the United States, as the number of American corporations continued to swell, though corruption was rife and Havana also became a popular sanctuary for American organized crime figures, notably hosting the infamous Havana Conference in 1946. U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Arthur Gardner later described the relationship between the U.S. and Batista during his second spell as President:

Batista had always leaned toward the United States. I don't think we ever had a better friend. It was regrettable, like all South Americans, that he was known—although I had no absolute knowledge of it—to be getting a cut, I think is the word for it, in almost all the, things that were done. But, on the other hand, he was doing an amazing job.

As armed conflict broke out in Cuba between rebels led by Fidel Castro and the Batista government, the U.S. was urged to end arms sales to Batista by Cuban president-in-waiting Manuel Urrutia Lleó. Washington made the critical move in March 1958 to prevent sales of rifles to Batista's forces, thus changing the course of the revolution irreversibly towards the rebels. The move was vehemently opposed by U.S. ambassador Earl T. Smith, and led U.S. state department advisor William Wieland to lament that "I know Batista is considered by many as a son of a bitch... but American interests come first... at least he was our son of a bitch."

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