In 1898 the United States became even more deeply involved in Latin American affairs. Its involvement grew out of disputes with Spain.
The main cause of tension between Spain and the United States was Cuba, a Spanish colony in the Caribbean. For many years, Cubans had been unhappy under Spanish rule. Nationalists, such as the poet-lawyer Jose Marti, attempted to overthrow the government in the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878). However, this military stalemate, and a later failed rebellion in 1895-in which Mart? was killed-elevated tension to a high level. The unrest alarmed Americans who had growing investments in Cuba.
Concern for American property was only one reason for tension between the United States and Spain. Many Americans felt sympathy toward Cuba’s desire for independence. Anti-Spanish speeches and writings by Cubans who lived in the United States and sensational stories in American newspapers of Spanish atrocities in Cuba stirred hostile feelings.
Anger boiled in 1898 when an American battleship, the Maine, exploded in Havana harbor, killing 260 Americans. The Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect American citizens and their property. No one knew the cause of the explosion, but many in the United States assumed that Spaniards were to blame. American newspapers played on this assumption, encouraging rising popular sentiment in the United States for war with Spain.
Spain was willing to make concessions to avoid war, but it would not withdraw from Cuba or grant it independence. President Mckinley, like his predecessor Cleveland, did not want war. American leaders felt unable to resist mounting popular demand, however, and declared war in April 1898. To pacify members who opposed growing American imperialism, Congress declared that the United States was fighting only on behalf of Cuban independence and had no intention of taking the island for itself.
The war, which had begun with the defeat of the Spanish in the Philippines (see pages 618-619), was a lopsided victory for the United States. In Cuba, American troops, including Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, landed east of Santiago in June. With Cuban help, American troops pushed to the city. Trying to flee Santiago Harbor, Spanish ships came under heavy fire. All ships were damaged or set ablaze and run aground. After these defeats, Spain sought peace. The Treaty of Paris was signed in December 1898.
By the terms of the peace treaty, Spain surrendered its claim to Cuba. It also ceded its colony Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and the Pacific Island of Guam to the United States. In addition, Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.
Following the war, United States troops occupied Cuba. The American military disbanded the Cuban army and at first sought to keep Cubans from governing, but it also established schools, built roads, provided sanitation, and worked to wipe out yellow fever. Finally, the United States recognized Cuba’s independence, and an elected government led by President Tomas Estrada Palma took office in 1902. Although the United States permitted a Cuban assembly to draw up a constitution, it insisted that the Cuban constitution include the so-called Platt Amendment.
This amendment forbade any transfer of land except to the United States and gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuba whenever it thought orderly government was endangered. The United States also insisted on having a permanent naval base in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay.