Mon, Jul 17, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Guam eyes end to US rule

AFP, HAGATNA, Guam

As Guam prepares to celebrate Liberation Day this week, political leaders on the Pacific island say it is 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 meeting of Guam’s decolonization commission in the capital, Hagatna.

“We just keep driving and driving. It’s annoying,” he added.

Guam has been an unincorporated territory of the US 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 UN lists Guam as one of only 17 remaining colonies worldwide, a situation Guam 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.”

The independence question is complicated by Guam’s long and complex relationship with the US 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 Asia-Pacific region.

In addition, many in Guam are heavily dependent on US welfare, with about 44,900 people 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.

Agana Heights village resident Marites Schwab 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 said. “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.

However, the debate is academic, at least in the short-term, after a 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, about 65,000 people in the multi-ethnic territory, was race-based and therefore unconstitutional.

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