Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Elihu Root, warned that orderly self-rule in Cuba depended on the island's prosperity. Without it, perpetual revolution would reign.
American entrepreneurs were only too happy to help. They had beaten their heads against the walls that had been erected against free trade between Cuba and the United States. With the Spaniards gone, all saw a rich potential that could only be realized by American capital. “No better field for the expenditure of capital,” declared James Bryce, “could be wished for. Under a wise and firm government, and in the hands of our energetic race, it might attain to a very high measure of prosperity.” Bryce was an American inventor who rose to become chief engineer at IBM in its early years.
Elihu Root directed their attention to the sugar industry as he reported, “More than half of the people of the island are depending directly or indirectly upon the success of that industry. If it succeeds we may expect peace, plenty, domestic order, and the happiness of a free and contented people to reward the sacrifice of American lives and treasure through which Cuba was set free. If it fails, we may expect that the fields will again be wasted, the mills will again be dismantled, the great body of laborers will be thrown out of employment, and that poverty and starvation, disorder and anarchy will ensue...”
Despite these grim warnings, the American sugar beet industry delayed ratification of a commercial treaty for a year. The treaty stipulated that Cuban products then entering on the free list would remain on the schedule and that other products would enter at a special discount of twenty percent less than similar items for other nations. American exports to Cuba received equal privileges.
American capital began pouring into Cuba as soon as the treaty was ratified. Ownership of the bankrupt plantations quickly passed into American hands. Cuba's prosperity may not have been insured, but prospects looked bright for Americans investing in the island.