U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934

Prior posts have discussed the 1898 U.S. intervention in the Cuban war of independence from Spain in what the U.S. has called the Spanish-American War. Although the fighting in that war ended in August 1898 and the war officially ended by the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, U.S. troops remained on the island and Cuba came under the dominance of the U.S. [1]

That became official in 1901 with the Platt Amendment to an Army Appropriations Bill and with Cuba reluctantly amending its constitution on Christmas Day (December 25, 1901) to include these provisions of the Platt Amendment:

  • “The government of Cuba consents that the [U.S.] may exercise 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, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the [U.S.], now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.”
  • The “government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island.”
  • The Cuban “government shall not assume or contract any public debt, to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the island, after defraying the current expenses of government shall be inadequate.”
  • All “acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected.”
  • The Cuban “government . . . will execute, and as far as necessary extend, the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein.”
  • To “enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”

These same provisions of the Platt Amendment also were included in the May 22, 1903, Cuban–American Treaty of Relations of 1903.

This treaty was used as justification for the U.S.’ Second Occupation of Cuba from 1906 to 1909 that was initiated on September 29, 1906, by Secretary of War (and future U.S. president) William Howard Taft,  when he established the Provisional Government of Cuba under the terms of the treaty and declared himself its Provisional Governor. On October 23, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt issued Executive Order 518, ratifying that order by Taft.

These Cuban constitutional provisions lasted until May 29, 1934, when the U.S. and Cuba signed the 1934 Treaty of Relations that in its first article abrogated the 1903 Treaty of Relations and thereby allowed Cuba to delete these constitutional provisions. This marked the official end of the US de facto protectorate.

Cuba’s Lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.

It was in this context of the de facto U.S. protectorate that Cuba in 1903 leased to the US Guantanamo Bay and an island at the western end of Cuba “for the time required for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose.” The annual rent was $2,000 “in gold coin of the United States.”

In early 1933, in order to fight severe deflation Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a series of Acts of Congress and Executive Orders which suspended the U.S. gold standard except for foreign exchange, revoked gold as universal legal tender for debts, and banned private ownership of significant amounts of gold coin.

In 1934, the U.S. recalculated the gold equivalent rent for Guantanamo at $3,386. In 1973 the US recalculated the rent at $3,676 and in 1974 at $4,085, which has been used to this day.

Except for the first year (1959) of Revolutionary Cuba, Cuba has refused to cash the U.S. annual rental checks. When Fidel was president, he kept them in a desk drawer and loved to show them to visitors. Now they all are in a Havana vault somewhere.

But this 1903 lease is still the legal basis for the U.S.’ continued use to this day of Guantanamo.

The original $2,000 rent in 1903 would be $55,709 in today’s dollar while in gold it would be $309,869. But it never officially has been changed.

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[1]  U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017).

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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