Seeking Empire

44e. The Roosevelt Corollary and Latin America

Theodore Roosevelt
Lyall Squire Collection
Oh! Don't shoot, Mr. President/We're the Cracker Jack Bears/Yes, we met you at the White House in Washington/Don't you remember?/ Oh Mr. Teddy drop your gun/ For such business is no fun/So please don't keep us on the rack/'Cause we're the bears with "Cracker Jack."

For many years, the Monroe Doctrine was practically a dead letter. The bold proclamation of 1823 that declared the Western Hemisphere forever free from European expansion bemused the imperial powers who knew the United States was simply too weak to enforce its claim. By 1900, the situation had changed. A bold, expanding America was spreading its wings, daring the old world order to challenge its newfound might. When Theodore Roosevelt became President, he decided to reassert Monroe's old declaration.

The Platt Amendment

Cuba became the foundation for a new Latin American policy. Fearful that the new nation would be prey to the imperial vultures of Europe, United States diplomats sharpened American talons on the island. In the Platt Amendment of 1901, Cuba was forbidden from entering any treaty that might endanger their independence. In addition, to prevent European gunboats from landing on Cuban shores, Cuba was prohibited from incurring a large debt. If any of these conditions were violated, Cuba agreed to permit American troops to land to restore order. Lastly, the United States was granted a lease on a naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Independent in name only, Cuba became a legal protectorate of the United States.

The Platt Amendment

Introduced to Congress by Senator Orville H. Platt on February 25, 1901, the Platt Amedment passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 43 to 20.

It read:

I.-That 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.
II. That said 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.
III. That the government of Cuba consents that the United States 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 United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.
IV. That 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.
V. That the government of Cuba 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.
VI. That the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba, the title thereto being left to future adjustment by treaty.
VII. That 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.
VIII. That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States. "

Roosevelt Corollary

Convinced that all of Latin America was vulnerable to European attack, President Roosevelt dusted off the Monroe Doctrine and added his own corollary. While the Monroe Doctrine blocked further expansion of Europe in the Western Hemisphere, the Roosevelt Corollary went one step further. Should any Latin American nation engage in "chronic wrongdoing," a phrase that included large debts or civil unrest, the United States military would intervene. Europe was to remain across the Atlantic, while America would police the Western Hemisphere. The first opportunity to enforce this new policy came in 1905, when the Dominican Republic was in jeopardy of invasion by European debt collectors. The United States invaded the island nation, seized its customs houses, and ruled the Dominican Republic as a protectorate until the situation was stablilized.

A Big Stick

The effects of the new policy were enormous. Teddy Roosevelt had a motto: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." To Roosevelt, the big stick was the new American navy. By remaining firm in resolve and possessing the naval might to back its interests, the United States could simultaneously defend its territory and avoid war. Latin Americans did not look upon the corollary favorably. They resented U.S. involvement as Yankee imperialism, and animosity against their large neighbor to the North grew dramatically. By the end of the 20th century, the United States would send troops of invasion to Latin America over 35 times, establishing an undisputed sphere of influence throughout the hemisphere.

On the Web
The Caribbean Basin
The history and effects of U.S. involvement with Caribbean nations is explained by Emory University professor and once director of Latin American affairs on the National Security Council Robert Pastor. Several paragraphs relate to the "Protectorate Era."
The Platt Amendment
The text of the Platt Amendment, passed by Congress in 1901, which set out guidelines for relations between Cuba and the United States in the wake of Cuba's freedom from Spain.
The Roosevelt Corollary
Listen to historian Walter LaFeber give his thoughts on Roosevelt's interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, in RealAudio from this PBS American Experience webpage. There's a transcription, too, so you can follow along.
U.S. Intervention in Latin America
This nicely illustrated webpage briefly explains the increasing American involvement in Latin American after the Spanish American War. Follow the links to the text of the Monroe Doctrine, as well as a timeline and other interesting articles.

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