Guam Self-Determination Vote May Come In 2015

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

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, July 16, 2013) – If a public education campaign begins soon and everything falls into place, a self-determination plebiscite on Guam is likely to happen in two years, according to Edward Alvarez, executive director of the Commission on Decolonization.

"Realistically, if we have the money and the money is given to us now, I can say comfortably that August 2015 will be the date," Alvarez said.

Currently, the three task forces under the Decolonization Commission are drafting their individual position papers, each explaining and advocating the three political status options for Guam: statehood, independence, and free association.

"These choices were set by the United Nations and based on the UN format that we are following now," Alvarez said.

Prior to adopting the UN-based arrangement, Guam was following the congressional format that required engagement with the U.S. Congress to get a political status established for the island, Alvarez said.

In 1997, then-Sen. Hope Cristobal introduced a bill, now Public Law 23-147, which eliminated the requirement to seek congressional action.

Choices can expand

But choices are not limited to the three political status options, Alvarez said.

"There is nothing in the law that precludes voters from choosing any other status on the ballot," Alvarez said. "They can start a drive for other options, such as commonwealth or incorporated status. They can start a petition and they must get a certain number of people to sign to get it on the ballot."

Inclusive process

Alvarez said the plebiscite is exclusive to "native inhabitants" as set by precedents that upheld indigenous peoples' inalienable right to choose a political status for themselves.

But once the political status is selected, Alvarez said, the subsequent process, such as the ratification of a Guam Constitution, will involve everyone on island.

"People who have migrated to Guam, those who have made Guam their home and raised their children here, those who pay their taxes and contribute to the economy will not be left out," Alvarez said. "Everyone will have the right to participate in a vote on the Constitution."

Where does it begin?

The path to decolonization is not a one-way street, Alvarez said.

Instead, the process requires multi-party efforts – the local community, the United States and the United Nations.

"We need to work together. The UN needs to work with us, the U.S. need to work with us," Alvarez said. "The UN cannot demand the U.S. The UN does not have the enforcement powers. Everybody needs to come to the table."

On the local front, Alvarez said he has been conducting information campaigns in schools and public forums to educate the community of all aspects of the self-determination process.

The education campaign, he added, also requires a marketing strategy to expand the advocacy for Guam.

On the national level, he said, the plan includes teaming up with fellow territories and networking with Chamorros living in the U.S. mainland, who will lobby their senators and congressmen on behalf of Guam.

"I think if you have hundreds and thousands of voters calling their senators and congressmen, we will get some attention," Alvarez said.

The local and national efforts must also be complemented by international support, he said.

"We are at the day and age when we should be partners with the U.S. and not anything below, which is the kind of relationship that we have with the U.S. now. We do not control much."

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