On this day in history, the U.S. battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, killing 260 crew members and resulting in an escalation of tensions with Spain. The cause of the catastrophe was unclear, but, goaded by inflammatory articles by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, the public demanded a declaration of war with Spain. “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” became a rallying cry for action.
On April 11, 1898, President McKinley asked the Congress for permission to use force in Cuba. Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado proposed an amendment to the declaration, proclaiming that the U.S. “hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control 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.”
Nevertheless, the occupation of Cuba by U.S. troops continued for several years after the war was over. The hegemony of the U.S. was formalized by the Platt Amendment, introduced by Senator Orville Platt (R-Connecticut). Senator Platt also influenced the decision to annex Hawaii and occupy the Philippines. Approved on May 22, 1903, the Platt Amendment allowed the United States “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…” This amendment also permitted the United States to lease or buy lands for the purpose of the establishing naval bases (the main one was Guantánamo Bay) and coaling stations in Cuba. It barred Cuba from making a treaty that gave another nation power over its affairs, going into debt, or stopping the United States from imposing a sanitation program on the island.
The Platt Amendment supplied the terms under which the United States intervened in Cuban affairs in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920. By 1934, rising Cuban nationalism and widespread criticism of the Platt Amendment resulted in its repeal on May 29, 1934 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America. The United States, however, retained its lease on Guantánamo Bay, where a naval base was established.