Louis A. Pérez’ book is the most scholarly yet written about this important eight-year period in Cuban-American relations. More than that, it presents one of the clearest analyses of how the Platt Amendment both dominated and distorted the Cuban political system. While Cuban archives probably could not be consulted, the sources used are unrivaled in extent so far as American institutions are concerned.
Beginning with the startling announcement by President Mario G. Menocal in 1915 that he would seek another term as Cuban head of government, Pérez describes how the United States was drawn into the conflict between Menocal’s Conservative party and the opposing Liberal party. The United States supported Menocal’s reelection even though it would be accomplished by outright fraud, since the Conservative party “tended to represent the white, pro-American wealth of the island” (p. 16). A Liberal party insurrection, designed to force U.S. intervention to prevent the election from being stolen, failed. However, when the opposition to the Conservative government took on a more social form, and dispossessed farmers joined the Liberal insurrection to redress their socioeconomic grievances, leading to guerrilla attacks on American sugar properties, U.S. intervention was a foregone conclusion. In August 1917, the first contingent of American marines arrived in Cuba. Ostensibly in the island to drill and train, the expeditionary force quickly guaranteed continued sugar production. But once peace was established in rural Cuba, labor protests broke out in the urban centers. U.S. officials in Cuba saw in these protests sufficient peril to investment to warrant invocation of the Platt Amendment. In December 1918, marines landed in Guantánamo and were used to crush labor activities. Often the mere appearance of marines at strike centers fulfilled this purpose.
The book’s final section deals with the transition in American policy toward Cuba. Both American business interests and Washington concluded in 1920 that “directly controlling various aspects of Cuban national political processes guaranteed American interests better than merely supporting an incumbent sympathetic to the United States” (p. 141). Political-diplomatic intervention replaced military intervention, with emphasis on preventing rather than restraining disorder. Thus, Pérez concludes, by 1920 both the ultimate abrogation of the Platt Amendment and the Good Neighbor policy were already foreshadowed.
One shortcoming in this excellent work is that public opinion in Cuba is treated inadequately. The labor militancy and protests of 1918 and 1919 are mentioned, and their influence on invocation of the intervention clause of the Platt Amendment made clear. But no attention is paid to the views of those involved in the labor activities. Strangely, too, no mention is made of Cuban Socialists or of the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution on developments in Cuba. Finally, once the marines have intervened to protect the sugar properties and maintain production, workers and their leaders disappear from the scene.