*Having taken over
Spain’s former colonies, the United States needed to decide what to do
with them. Cuba was given its independence, but with a US-written
constitution that contained the Platt Amendment, allowing the US to
intervene in Cuba whenever we felt it was necessary. The US also
held a permanent lease on Guantanamo Bay to use as a naval base.
Puerto Rico was simply kept as a US possession.
*The Foraker Act created a government for Puerto Rico. The US
would appoint the governor (and did so until 1948) and some of the
legislature, while the rest of the legislators would be chosen by the
Puerto Ricans. Later, the Jones-Shafroth Act gave them more
rights and more control over their legislature, but not equal rights
with other Americans. They could be taxed and drafted, but could
not vote in US elections, have their own members of Congress, or enjoy
some other rights.
*This inequality was because of a series of Supreme Court decisions in
the Insular Cases. These cases declared that the Constitution did
not follow the flag—people in America’s overseas territories were not
guaranteed the same rights as Americans living in the states.
*Under Theodore Roosevelt, America became more active in the Caribbean
world. This was often known as Big Stick diplomacy, as he was
always willing to use force if necessary (as were subsequent
*Roosevelt saw himself as Latin America’s policeman. This was not
entirely a new idea—previous presidents had used the Monroe Doctrine to
justify getting involved in the affairs of Latin American countries,
usually to protect them from European powers. Roosevelt took this
further, in what was called the Roosevelt Corollary (a mathematical
term for a statement which follows readily from a previous statement)
to the Monroe Doctrine: if any Latin American country had
problems, America had a duty to step in and help them out—by physical
force, if necessary. Latin Americans needed this, said Roosevelt,
because they could not take care of themselves and needed to be
uplifted by a more civilised nation.
*One of the first places American force was needed was in Panama, a
region in Panama where a French company had been working for years to
build a canal (another possible site was Nicaragua, but volcanic
activity in the area scared off American investors). America
bought that company, but still needed permission from the Columbian
government to work on the canal.
*When Columbia’s government refused, Roosevelt sent warships to support
a Panamanian revolution. The new government of Panama gave
America a ten-mile-wide canal zone for $10 million plus $250,000 a year
in rent. The United States controlled the Canal Zone from 1903 to
*The biggest problem facing workers was disease, particularly malaria
and yellow fever. Eventually the US Army found ways to prevent
infection by these diseases, particularly by draining swamps and
wetlands to reduce mosquito breeding grounds.
*Soon America was involved in many other Latin American
countries. Look at the map on page 272. What countries did
the US intervene in during the early 20th century? (Cuba, Haiti,
Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua,
*After Roosevelt left office, Taft put the big stick away, or at least
held it in reserve. He preferred to speak softly through what he
called Dollar Diplomacy: encouraging American companies to invest
in Latin American businesses (like oil in Mexico and Venezuela and
sugar and banana plantation in the Caribbean Islands and Central
America). If these businesses had problems, though, the Taft was
willing to pull the big stick back out.
*Some businesses even took care of themselves. When one of the
fore-runners of the United Fruit Company had problems with the
government of Honduras, they hired thugs in New Orleans to go to
Honduras, overthrow the government, and put in a more banana-friendly
administration. The next president gave United Fruit a 25-year
waiver from paying any taxes. Many other Latin American companies
ended up under the domination of United Fruit as well, earning them the
name ‘banana republics.’
*When Woodrow Wilson became president, he planned to use Moral
Diplomacy to convince Latin American countries to live up to American
standards. Read Wilson’s quote on page 273.
*In fact, Wilson used military force fairly often as well. When
he was worried that France or Germany might invade Haiti (because both
of whom had economic interests there), he sent US Marines in
*In Mexico in 1913, Victoriano Huerta overthrew the old government and
set himself up as president after executing the last one. He
promised to protect American investments, but Wilson felt it was
immoral to murder presidents, so he invaded Mexico to punish
Huerta. In 1914 the US Marine Corps occupied Vera Cruz.
*At first Wilson worked with a revolutionary leader named Pancho Villa
who controlled much of northern Mexico to fight against Huerta, but
later changed his mind when a new president who Wilson liked named
Caranza, turned against the Revolutionaries who had helped him come to
power. Pancho Villa then raided the US, killing 24 Americans (18
of them civilians) in three different attacks.
*10,000 US troops under Black Jack Pershing were sent into northern
Mexico in the Punitive Expedition. He never captured Pancho
Villa, who was assassinated in 1923 by enemies in Mexico.
*In 1917 the US government pulled troops out of Mexico, largely in
order to prepare for the US entry into World War I.
*In the same year, the United States bought some of the Virgin Islands
from Denmark for $25 million (partly out of fear that Germany might buy
them or just take them over).