Guam eyes end to US colo­nial rule

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

As Guam pre­pares to cel­e­brate Lib­er­a­tion Day this week, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers on the Pa­cific is­land say it’s time to de­cide whether to re­main a US colony or be­come an in­de­pen­dent na­tion. De­bate about in­de­pen­dence has raged for decades but le­gal com­pli­ca­tions mean plans to take the is­sue to a vote have stalled sev­eral times. For­mer sen­a­tor Ed­die Due­nas said a self-rule plebiscite was long over­due and should be held along­side a gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion due next year.

“We have been driv­ing but we don’t know where we’re driv­ing to and how far we will go,” he told a re­cent meet­ing of Guam’s de­col­o­niza­tion com­mis­sion in the cap­i­tal Hagatna. “We just keep driv­ing and driv­ing. It’s an­noy­ing.” Guam has been an un­in­cor­po­rated ter­ri­tory of the United States since 1898, mean­ing its 160,000 in­hab­i­tants are US cit­i­zens but have lim­ited rights. They can­not par­tic­i­pate in US elec­tions and Guam’s sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the US Congress does not get to vote on leg­is­la­tion.

The United Na­tions lists Guam as one of only 17 re­main­ing colonies world­wide, a sit­u­a­tion Gover­nor Ed­die Calvo wants reme­died. Calvo has long cam­paigned for a ref­er­en­dum on self-de­ter­mi­na­tion that would give vot­ers three op­tions for the fu­ture-in­de­pen­dence, be­com­ing a US state, or re­main­ing in “free as­so­ci­a­tion” with Wash­ing­ton. All op­tions have their ad­vo­cates and Calvo says what­ever the out­come, at least vot­ers would have had a say in their fu­ture. “Any­thing is bet­ter than the sta­tus quo,” he said ear­lier this month.

“I would be hap­pier if we be­came a state (but) if vot­ers chose in­de­pen­dence or free as­so­ci­a­tion I would be hap­pier than I am right now.”

Goldilocks zone

The in­de­pen­dence ques­tion is com­pli­cated by Guam’s long and com­plex re­la­tion­ship with the United States since be­com­ing Wash­ing­ton’s colony in the wake of the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. It en­dured bru­tal Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion dur­ing World War II and was re­cap­tured by US marines af­ter a bloody month-long bat­tle on July 21, 1944, a date cel­e­brated as Lib­er­a­tion Day on the is­land. It still hosts one of the largest US mil­i­tary con­tin­gents in the Asi­aPa­cific, of­ten re­ferred to as Amer­ica’s “tip of the spear” in a re­gion where ten­sions with China, North Korea and Rus­sia are all too com­mon.

In ad­di­tion, many in Guam are heav­ily de­pen­dent on US wel­fare, with about 44,900 in­di­vid­u­als and 15,650 house­holds re­ceiv­ing food stamps and pub­lic health­care ben­e­fits. Fed­eral grants and taxes on US ser­vice per­son­nel in Guam also play a large role in meet­ing the is­land’s bud­get and in­fra­struc­ture needs. Marites Sch­wab, a res­i­dent of Agana Heights vil­lage, said she was con­cerned about whether Guam was po­lit­i­cally ma­ture enough to gov­ern it­self if it be­came a state. “What would they do in terms of con­tin­u­ing the ser­vices cur­rently pro­vided by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment?” she asked.

“What are the con­crete plans go­ing for­ward? I need to see some­thing prac­ti­cal and we can at­tain that by be­com­ing a state.” Adrian Cruz, an ad­vo­cate for main­tain­ing free as­so­ci­a­tion, said dependency on US funds made chang­ing the sta­tus quo a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion. “The US has got us into a Goldilocks zone where we don’t get too poor to re­volt but we’re not too pros­per­ous that we don’t need them any­more,” he said. The de­bate is aca­demic any­how, at least in the short-term, af­ter the US Fed­eral Court in March struck down plans to hold a self-rule plebiscite.

It ruled that lim­it­ing the vote to the indige­nous Chamorro pop­u­la­tion, which num­bers about 65,000 in the multi-eth­nic ter­ri­tory, was race-based and there­fore un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The de­ci­sion is un­der ap­peal and the gov­ern­ment has asked the United Na­tions to take up its cause. Michael Be­vac­qua, a Chamorro cul­ture ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Guam, said indige­nous peo­ple should have a vote on their fu­ture af­ter be­ing de­nied ba­sic rights un­der gen­er­a­tions of colo­nial rule. “A process of de­col­o­niza­tion that must fol­low the rules of the col­o­nizer is not de­col­o­niza­tion, it is an ex­ten­sion of col­o­niza­tion,” he said.—AFP

GUAM: This photo shows tourists on a beach in Guam’s cap­i­tal Hagatna.—AFP

PARIS: Fire­works light the sky above the Eif­fel Tower in the French cap­i­tal Paris, as part of France’s an­nual Bastille Day cel­e­bra­tions.—AFP

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