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THE history of Cuba's rôle in international affairs since the establishment of the republic in 1902 falls into three well-defined periods. The first extends from 1902 to April 1917, when Cuba entered the World War, following the lead of the United States. The second extends from that time to May 29, 1934, when the Permanent Treaty, which gave the Platt Amendment legal force in Cuba, was abrogated.[i] The third period covers the years from 1934 to the present.
During all the forty-odd years that Cuba has been an independent and sovereign nation -- including the era when the Platt Amendment governed her relations with the United States -- she has always enjoyed all the attributes of a nation in full control of her own destinies. People of considerable legal attainments, like Dr. Antonio Sánchez de Bustamente, Professor of International Law at the University of Havana and Member of the Permanent Court of International Justice, have continually maintained the thesis that the Platt Amendment did not impede Cuba's complete freedom of action. According to them, the Amendment embodied only two fundamental principles: one, that Cuba could in no way surrender her independence or any part of her territory, nor contract debts which would lead to foreign interference in order to collect them; and two, that Cuba should ensure the protection of the lives, property and liberty of all persons within her borders -- an obligation incumbent upon all sovereign states.
Cuba has concluded treaties of all sorts with other Powers, and the good sense of the Cuban authorities, plus the prudence of the majority of those who have governed the United States since 1902, prevented the Platt Amendment from becoming the source of mischief which many people anticipated. Nevertheless, the patriotism of the Cuban people was affronted by those clauses that forbade them to do things which they never would have done anyway, because to have done them would have meant surrendering those very rights of absolute independence which Cuba had struggled for half a century to wrest from Spain.
The most disturbing provision in the Platt Amendment was the right it conferred on the Government of the United States "to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty. . . ." Although certain shortsighted American officials have from time to time presumed more or less openly to meddle with the domestic affairs of Cuba, this sort of interference made no headway whenever the Cuban authorities repudiated such pretensions and jealously strove to fulfill the Constitution, laws and treaties of the Republic.
During the two periods when I was Secretary of State -- first in 1913 under President Menocal, and again in 1933 and 1934 during the provisional government of President Mendieta -- I can state as a matter of personal knowledge that, far from interfering improperly in Cuban affairs, Washington at all times rendered me enthusiastic coöperation; nor was there a single matter in which the two governments failed to reach a mutually agreeable solution. This was also the case when I was Cuban Ambassador in Washington between 1923 and 1925. Furthermore, throughout my almost seven years as Chairman of the Commission on Foreign Relations in the Cuban Senate, I noticed, even during the worst periods of our political disturbances, that the relations between the Cuban and American Governments were always inspired by a spirit of accommodation.
This, of course, is not to say that the United States Government has never intervened in Cuba. In September 1906, the American Secretary of War, Mr. Taft, was obliged to assume the reins of government during the turmoil caused by interfactional disputes as to who should succeed Estrada Palma as President. As soon as the Republic was quiet, Taft's successor, Governor Magoon, called provincial, and then national, elections. When General José Miguel Gómez was elected President by the vote of the people, the Governor handed over to him the reins of government and the American troops withdrew from Cuba.
The disastrous elections of November 1916 produced another revolution in February 1917, this time against President Menocal. The American Government, then on the eve of entering the European War, resolutely refused to take over the government of Cuba, as certain Cuban politicians would have desired, though it adopted various measures aimed at bringing about a general pacification of the island.
During the economic crisis of 1920-1921, the governments of Menocal and Zayas were subjected to interference, not only from General Crowder, whom President Wilson had sent to Cuba as his personal representative, but directly from the White House during Harding's term of office and the first months of Coolidge's administration. The Platt Amendment was constantly invoked as an excuse for intervening in every problem, whether political or economic. It was forgotten that Cuba had entered the World War at the side of the United States only a few hours after the latter's declaration of war; that Cuba had established compulsory military service with the idea of sending an army to Europe; that this idea was not carried out because the United States and the Allies themselves agreed that a small army from a tropical country would be of no practical use in Europe and that we should therefore concentrate all our efforts on increasing the production of sugar; and lastly, that President Zayas settled in cash a debt of ten million dollars which we had been obliged to contract with the United States for war preparations. It was also forgotten that Cuba's political disturbances were the result of the world economic crisis and of the new ideologies unleashed by the Communist Revolution in Russia.
The economic crisis in Cuba was aggravated by the tendency of the United States Congress to raise tariffs on the assumption that in this way the United States could reduce its purchases abroad while increasing its export of agricultural and industrial products. This absurd policy, by greatly stimulating the cultivation of sugar beets and cane in the United States and its island colonies, spelled disaster for Cuban sugar producers. The evil grew worse during the administration of President Hoover, who made no effort of any kind to help Cuba, despite the fact that during the war we had sold our sugar to the United States and the Allies at a price fixed by them, while in return taking quantities of American products which we were compelled to import at prohibitive prices.
On September 3, 1923, the day I was elected President of the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations, I received a cable from President Zayas asking me to accept the post of Ambassador in Washington. My mission there had two objects: one, to effect the cessation of the unlawful activities of General Crowder, who by then had been given the status of Ambassador; and two, to secure the ratification of the treaty concerning the sovereignty of the Isle of Pines. This treaty had been waiting some twenty years for the approval of the Senate. Meanwhile it had been mislaid and several weeks were required to find it.
In 1925 General Machado succeeded Dr. Zayas as President. In spite of his promise not to stand for reëlection, Machado sought to have the Constitution of 1901 modified so that he could maintain himself in power. As a result, a widespread state of public disorder became almost permanent. It was under these circumstances that Machado was reëlected without opposition in 1928. Though the American Government succeeded in effecting an understanding between Machado and his opponents, this did not prevent an abortive revolution from breaking out in 1931. Shortly after assuming office in 1933, President Roosevelt authorized his new Ambassador to Cuba, Mr. Sumner Welles, to act as mediator between Machado and the majority of his opponents. The proposal was accepted and the basis for an agreement was reached which would have ended the conflict between government and governed in Cuba, if General Machado had given effect to his offer to resign. Instead, influenced by the evil advice of some of his friends and by his own intemperance, he carried out acts of such violence that on August 11, 1933, the Cuban Army declared against his authority, thus obliging him to renounce his office and leave the country the very next day.
Everyone acquainted with the history of Cuba knows that during the last half of the nineteenth century the United States was the principal center for our revolutionary activity against Spain. Without the sympathy of the American people, the liberty of Cuba would have been very slow in coming. Although some have dared to deny it, the Cubans are grateful. The Protocol of Peace signed at Washington on August 12, 1898, by which Spain undertook to give up Cuba and to withdraw her military and naval forces, together with the Joint Resolution of the American Congress of April 20, 1898, in effect created an unwritten treaty of mutual aid between Cuba and the United States, one that is eternal because it exists nowhere except in the hearts of the two fraternal nations. We declared war against Germany almost simultaneously with the United States to fulfill our sacred debt of gratitude. And for the same reason, I believe, as do most good Cubans, that Cuba would again immediately follow the United States if it were to enter the new and terrible war which today threatens the very foundations of civilization. We would do so, not merely to fulfill our moral obligation to our northern neighbor, but because, like the American people, we must always be on the side of those fighting for democracy, liberty and justice.
On July 14 of this year the Cuban people elected a new President and Congress in accordance with our recently adopted constitution. When the new government assumes office on October 10, it will confront many grave problems. Its most important duty, in my opinion, will be to establish closer bonds of collaboration with the United States and with the other republics of this hemisphere. As I have already remarked, Cuba's only course, in case the United States should become involved in a war with the totalitarian Powers of Europe or Asia, would be to render full and immediate aid. Apart from other considerations our geographic situation demands this. Cuba is a small island, almost within sight of the United States, and she is in a position to dominate both entrances to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as one of the passages leading from the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean Sea. Cuba thus guards not only the southern coast of the United States but one of the principal routes to the Panama Canal.
In the war now raging in Europe, it is absolutely essential to the United States and Cuba that Britain and her Allies should defeat the totalitarian Powers. It is with sincere grief that admirers of the French people like myself have witnessed the invasion, defeat and partition of their country. But I have great faith that Britain will not only defend herself successfully, but will in the end triumph, however difficult her own situation and that of her Allies may now appear. I also have great faith in immanent justice and the designs of Providence. I therefore cannot understand how intelligent men, as many of those who now rule Germany and Italy must be, can forget the obvious fact that he who resorts to brute force will, sooner or later, be destroyed by brute force.
However, if it should come to pass that Britain were defeated by Germany, the Americas would be faced with a most serious situation. The strength of the United States is so great that it might successfully defend itself against any invasion from Europe. The issue would, however, be much more doubtful if the United States had to withstand an attack not only from Europe but also from the Orient -- from Japan with her vast fleet, or from Russia whose military preparations along the Siberian coast opposite Alaska have recently assumed large proportions.
Were the United States called upon to defend itself from any such simultaneous attacks, it could count on the complete solidarity -- economic, political and military -- of Cuba. No other course would be conceivable for the Cuban people. We have always rebelled against any system resembling Nazism. We have always fought against tyranny, and whether it was inflicted upon us by the Spanish Monarchy or by a dictator of our nationality, we have in the end always succeeded in overthrowing it.
Cuba's actual military contribution to the defense of this hemisphere cannot, of course, be great in view of her very limited resources. We are a people of less than five million, our navy is only large enough to patrol our coast and our army sufficient merely to maintain internal order. We could not possibly defend ourselves for a single day, if a formidable enemy attacked us with the object of establishing bases on our soil from which in turn to attack the United States or any other area in the Caribbean.
Cuba's rôle in any American defense program naturally raises the question of Guantánamo Bay. In 1934, at the time of the negotiations which culminated in the abrogation of the Platt Amendment, the United States possessed not only the naval station at Guantánamo, but also the right to establish another at Bahía Honda. This right was later abandoned in a treaty, which however automatically lapsed upon failure to ratify it. Because of the disturbed state of the world, and in particular because of the proximity of Guantánamo to the Panama Canal, the United States could not give up the naval station. Furthermore, from the Cuban point of view the existence of the station is highly useful. In any war involving the United States, Cuba would run the risk of being occupied by enemy Powers, and in this event the Guantánamo station would insure our receiving prompt help from the United States Army and Navy. For these reasons, the Cuban Government felt, during the 1934 negotiations, that the prudent policy was to leave the question of Guantánamo as it was.
Since then I have had occasion to declare that if the United States Government should ever decide to abandon the Guantánamo station, Cuba might have to ask the United States to stay. Otherwise, enemy forces might occupy Cuban soil to the peril not only of Cuban independence but of the security of the United States. In my opinion, it is therefore to the mutual advantage of both countries that the American naval station be maintained at Guantánamo. I am certain that this opinion is shared by every sensible Cuban who loves his country and aspires to see it fulfill its obligations with dignity. In the troubled world in which we are living today, Cuba will continue to stand beside the United States, without prejudice to the liberty and independence which free nations must enjoy if they are to live in harmony.
I believe that, since the abrogation of the Platt Amendment, Cuba has proved that she desires to cultivate the best possible relations with the United States, despite the radicalism of a very small number of our leaders. But I also believe, since our two nations need each other and since ours is the poorer and weaker, that it is urgently necessary for the United States to devise with us certain economic agreements or regulations which will enable Cuba to live more than a mere hand-to-mouth existence. Only in this way can we remove the fear that American interests, through some change in the United States tariff laws, may again plunge us into serious economic distress, as happened, for example, at the time of the Hawley-Smoot Act. Increased preferential treatment by each country for the products of the other would, from our point of view, be beneficial not only to Cuban capital and workers, but to those American investors who have put their money in Cuban agriculture, industry and commerce. The more Cuba sells to the United States, the more the farmers and manufacturers of the United States will sell to Cuba, and the more work and higher wages there will be for American labor. Nor would lowered tariff rates adversely affect the American and Cuban budgets, for in the long run the expansion of trade would increase the total customs receipts of each country.
It is my belief that the Monroe Doctrine should be converted, by agreement among all the American republics, from a unilateral into an Inter-American doctrine, so formulated that each would regard an attack on the integrity of any other as an attack upon itself. The watchword should be "one for all and all for one." Unless Britain wins in her heroic struggle, democratic government will almost completely disappear from Europe; and if this should happen, the Americas, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, will sooner or later have to face the grave danger of an invasion by the totalitarian Powers of Europe or Asia, or both.
That the responsible statesmen of this hemisphere are fully alive to this threat was clearly indicated at the Second Consultative Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics, held at Havana during the last ten days of July 1940. Even the most optimistic person could hardly have anticipated that the Conference would take place in such a friendly atmosphere and that its results would be so substantial. All of the absurd intrigues of the totalitarian Powers to accentuate differences between the various states, and in particular to create the impression that serious dissensions divided the United States and Argentina, ended in ridiculous failure.
At Havana, as at the First Consultative Meeting in Panama in September and October 1939, each state was represented by its Foreign Minister (or Secretary of State) or by his personal deputy. In order to carry on their work more expeditiously, the twenty-one delegates -- for technically each country had only one delegate -- were divided into three committees of seven members each. The Neutrality Committee was presided over by Señor Leopoldo Melo of Argentina; Mr. Hull was chairman of the Committee on the Protection of Peace in the Western Hemisphere; while Señor Eduardo Suárez of Mexico headed the Committee on Economic Coöperation. Within a week these Committees had drawn up and agreed upon an Act of Havana, a Convention of Havana, a Declaration on Economics, and various other resolutions. The most important of these were the Act and the Convention, which provided for the provisional administration of European colonies in America in the event that their occupation by one or more American Powers should become necessary in order to forestall a change of sovereignty. Germany, it was feared, might try to occupy the Dutch or French possessions in the Caribbean, and against such contingency the American republics naturally had to take a stand.
In my own view, the best policy to follow in regard to these European possessions is to maintain the status quo until the end of the war. As long as Britain controls the sea, her American colonies will run no risk of invasion. As for the Netherlands, its Government showed considerable adroitness by evacuating to London, leaving the home country in charge of General Winkelman, who, when he surrendered, could hand over only the territory under his own command -- which did not include the Dutch colonies overseas. The Netherland Government still controls a navy and a merchant marine, and as long as Britain is mistress of the seas Germany and Italy cannot occupy the Dutch colonies in the Western Hemisphere. The most likely source of trouble for the American republics lies in the ambiguous situation of the French colonies. The principal danger here is that the British may suspect the French colonial officials of becoming agents for the German Government. This might lead to an open conflict in the Caribbean, especially if the French Government permitted German raiders to prey on British commerce and colonial possessions from bases in the French colonies.
The essential difference between the Act and the Convention is that the Act provides a temporary apparatus for administering orphaned European colonies until the more formal and deliberate procedure laid down in the Convention can come into operation. The Act came into force upon its signature, whereas the Convention must await ratification by two-thirds of its signatories. The Act and Convention, taken together, thus determine very clearly the procedure which the American republics will adopt in the event a conflict should arise over an attempt by a non-American Power to occupy a British, French or Dutch colony in this hemisphere. To forestall, or defeat, any such attempt, the Conference agreed that, in the name of all the American nations, provisional administrations would be set up in any or all of the European colonies. This administration is, according to the terms of the Act, to "be exercised with the twofold purpose of contributing to the security and defense of the Continent, and to the economic, political and social progress" of the areas so administered. Furthermore, the Act provides that when the emergency is over, the provisional administration on behalf of the American republics will cease and the colonies will either "be organized as autonomous states if it shall appear that they are able to constitute and maintain themselves in such condition, or be restored to their previous status. . . ."
The Act also pledged the twenty-one signatory states to create an Emergency Committee, composed of one representative from each of them, to "assume the administration of the region attacked or menaced" until such time as the more complicated procedure of the Convention can come into effect. The Act further stipulates -- and this is of first-rate importance -- that if "the need for emergency action be so urgent that action by the committee cannot be awaited, any of the American Republics, individually or jointly with others, shall have the right to act in the manner which its own defense or that of the continent requires."
Next in importance among the concrete accomplishments of the Conference is the Declaration on Economics. At Havana there obviously was not sufficient time for the delegates to examine the countless details involved in any large-scale program for Inter-American economic coöperation. This explains why the Declaration confines itself largely to the enunciation of general principles and recommendations, leaving it up to the Inter-American Financial and Economic Advisory Committee, which sits in Washington, to develop the specific methods for giving them practical application. It will be up to this Committee to seek solutions for the very serious economic problems imposed upon the American nations by the war in Europe. In particular it must seek a way for disposing of the surplus products on the export of which depends the economic life of the American nations, without at the same time obliging them to adopt such devices as the barter system, so beneficial to Germany and so disastrous for the rest of us. I need hardly add that economic difficulties may easily lead to social crises. If the economic life of the American nations should come to a standstill because of the disappearance of their old markets, serious disturbances would soon ensue among the working classes.
Numerous other resolutions were adopted at Havana. Among them I might mention in particular those aimed at suppressing the various subversive activities now being carried on against the democratic institutions of the American republics by foreign agents, whether they are diplomatic agents or not.
Alongside these measures for political and economic collaboration there must, of course, also be coöperation in building up the military defenses of the Americas against the totalitarian danger. The United States is the only nation in this hemisphere with a powerful fleet; but its force would be greatly weakened if it had to extend its protection to the lower part of South America. The nations in that section of the continent should therefore do their utmost to prepare, not only to defend themselves, but to act with the assistance of the United States. It is true that the relations, commercial and otherwise, of those countries are more intimate with Europe than with North America and that this consideration might persuade them not to pursue policies detrimental to their trade. Yet it must be remembered that it is precisely these countries which would suffer the most if they were obliged to deal with Germany on a purely barter basis to the exclusion of commerce with the northern part of our hemisphere.
However, if these countries should nevertheless feel compelled to turn to Europe, the United States and all the nations in and around the Caribbean Sea (including those on the Pacific in the vicinity of the Panama Canal) ought then to come to an agreement among themselves. Such an agreement would cover not only military and economic but also social matters; for contrary to what many maintain, any economic understanding among these nations necessarily implies an agreement concerning wages and salaries for every class of worker and employee. Otherwise there would ensue ruinous competition between those countries where wages are miserable and those where they are high, with the inevitable result of lowering the living standards in the latter.
In conclusion, let me reiterate my belief that Cuba should draw as close as possible in her unwritten alliance to the United States, and that all the nations of Latin America should continue the good work initiated at Havana until a complete understanding has been reached between them on all matters of common concern. All of us in the Americas who think as I do and who have any influence in their own countries, should not rest for a moment until we have perfected our joint means for the protection of the entire hemisphere. Such solidarity will not only make us strong and respected, it will promote better conditions of life among our own peoples.
[i] For further details concerning the history of this treaty see my article "The Platt Amendment," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, April 1930, p. 364-378.