Decolonization On Guam

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

[This article is the first in a series of two. Read the second article here.]

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, July 15, 2013) – On July 21, Marine Corp Drive will be filled with parades to mark the day the U.S. Marines took Guam in a bloody 1944 battle that liberated the island from the Japanese forces during World War II.

Sixty-nine years since Guam’s liberation, political leaders are again seeking liberty – this time for self-governance.

"Our journey will never be complete unless we undertake to resolve our political status and to decolonize Guam," Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said during her congressional address before the 32nd Legislature on May 30.

"We must renew our determination to take the necessary steps that will define our political relationship with the United States, and to give the people of Guam the political dignity that they deserve," she added.

17 colonies

Guam is one of the 17 remaining colonies in the post-colonial period.

"The [United Nations] made an aggressive statement this year – that they want to rid the world of colonialism," said Decolonization Commission Executive Director Edward Alvarez, who attended the UN decolonization meeting in Ecuador in May.

"For the first time in over 20 years, a U.S. delegate showed up at the decolonization meeting," Alvarez said.

That’s a good start, he said, but Guam can’t get too excited too soon, Alvarez said.

"When we see the UN and the U.S. send a delegation to Guam, that’s when we get excited. Hopefully, that would start the whole process," he added.

Guam looks to its sister territory, Puerto Rico, which is a step ahead. It held its own political status plebiscite last year and is now awaiting the next process. The action taken by its fellow colony has given Guam new impetus to calls for self-determination – a recurring buzzword that always hangs in limbo.

When he ran for office in 2010, Gov. Eddie Calvo set a goal to hold a self-determination plebiscite by 2012.

But the efforts toward decolonization are marred by a tortured process, challenged by a lack of information about what the yet-to-be scheduled plebiscite entails. The existing challenges are compounded by a pending appeal of a federal court’s dismissal of a lawsuit that seeks to nullify a public law that defines a "native inhabitants" vote.


"There has been a lot of misinformation about this whole issue," Alvarez said.

"People have the impression that Chamorros are fighting for their right to self-determination; the right has already been given by the United Nations through the UN charter, which the United States signed off on, agreeing that places like Guam have the right to choose what kind of political relationship they want with the administering power (the U.S.)."

Guam has three political status options: statehood, independence, and free association with the U.S. – similar to the compacts with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

The plebiscite has been postponed indefinitely, pending completion of the Chamorro Registry which is the subject of the lawsuit filed by Arnold "Dave" Davis.

No funds

"Although a lot has been done, we are not yet at the level where we should be at. We need to start the education process," Alvarez said.

But the Commission on Decolonization, which is in charge of public education, is financially handicapped and thus unable to perform its mission, he said.

The commission operates on a barebones budget, allocated for salaries and other necessities.

"We have no money for a public education program and governance study," Alvarez said.

Besides, the education campaign would require at least $1 million. Alvarez also said the commission needs $30,000 for the governance study that would provide the United Nations with a complete overview of Guam’s situation as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

"When you talk about totem pole responsibilities in GovGuam, decolonization is not up there with health, public safety and education," Alvarez said. "It should be just as important because political status sets forth the ground rules of engagements for our political relationship with the U.S. Otherwise, we will continue to be subjected to federal mandates."

In his State of the Island address delivered Jan. 31, 2012, Gov. Calvo noted the limitations imposed by Guam’s colonial status, which he said restrict the island’s ability to acquire self-sufficiency.

"It is insane for the federal government to levy the most liberal immigration policy in the U.S. history on Guam, then throw peanuts to offset its impacts, then strangle us with penalties and takeovers when our capacity is breached by the population increase, and in the very same breaths, prohibits us from building jobs and growing our economy with onerous regulations that keep paying-visitors out," Calvo said.

"My message to the federal government has less to deal with the financial assistance Guam has requested in the past; rather, it is this: We can be more self-sufficient if the U.S. government allows us to grow," he added.

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