Guam’s Political Status
Over the years, the Island of Guam has been deprived of the status of full self-governance, arguably becoming one of the oldest colonial dependencies in the world. For over three hundred years now, the people of Guam have been subjected to colonial rules from different masters, ranging from Spanish to Japanese forces and now the United States of America (Petersen 332). Today, Guam is documented as an unincorporated territory of the U.S. This means that, although Guamanian’s are governed by the US constitution, they are denied most of the rights conferred by the same constitution. The Island is under the jurisdiction of the US Navy, however, Guamanian have been fighting to be recognized as a self-governing territory. According to Shuster (197), Guam was once at the same political status as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Northern Mariana. The fact that these other territories have already attained a commonwealth political status, leaving Guam under the colonial rule of the US, has left several questions impartially answered. It is on this ground that this paper pursues to analyze the political status of Guam Island.
Following the intrusion of the colonial giants into Mariana Island back in 1565, Guam was secured as a Spain colony. Under the leadership of their queen, Spain had established its full colonial control by1968. According to Perez, the people of Guam were heavily subjugated by the Spanish monarchs (572). They, however, lasted under Spain’s leadership for less than a decade. As part of negotiations to end the Spanish-American War, America and Spain signed the famous Treaty of Paris in 1989. Among the provisions of the treaty was the official acquisition of Guam territory along with the Philippines and Puerto islands in the US. The acquisition, as explained by Petersen, was further reinstated by the subsequent insular cases that included Guam in the list of US unincorporated territories (332). Guam has since remained a territory of the US, apart from the three years of Word War II duration (1941-1944) when it had been captured by Japanese forces.
The relationship between the US government and Guam territory is recognized in Article IV of the constitution that deliberates the control over Guam to the US Office of Insular Affairs. As elaborated by Rogers (51), the Constitution’s Territorial Clause officially delegates to the congress the plenary powers have over Guam Island. For close to five decades under the US government, Guam had not witnessed a major political realignment. In 1950, Congress enacted the Organic Act of Guam, giving Guam a limited self–government (Perez 580). The Act defined the structure of Guam leadership under the governor and a legal alignment similar to the US legal system. It also gave Guamanians US citizenship, though with limited rights. For example, Guamanians would only vote for their legislator but were not allowed to participate in presidential elections. Their elected congress representative would also hold a nonvoting delegate position in the congress. Further, Guam was governed by a presidentially appointed governor until 1970 following the enactment of the Guam Elected Governor Act. The Organic Act, however, shifted the federal control over Guam to the US Department of the interior from the Navy (Shuster Perez 590).
Guam legislators are not contented with the limited self-governance status granted to them by the US. For over the last four decades, they have been actively beckoning for their freedom (Torres 155). In the early 1970s, the 12th Guam legislator formed a commission that would educate its citizens on their political status options. Encouraged by the progress made on the neighboring Islands, precisely the commonwealth negotiations between South Mariana and the US, Guam held its first plebiscites to determine the most preferred political status. The referendum decision was in favor of ‘Status Quo with improvement’ as opposed to statehood and independence status (Torres 163). This prompted Congress to pass legislation that would allow Guam to adopt its own constitution and drop the organic Act. Guam later organized a series of numerous referenda, in their effort to improve their political status. According to Na’puti, moreover, the Guam electorates are far from deliberating on their preferred political status with an upcoming plebiscite likely to be held in 2015 (2).
Guam’s quest for a self-determination status has been faced with several obstacles. To begin with, the US government seems unwilling to let go of the island. According to Kiste, the US government has consistently opposed the Guam self-determination bill (183). Under the Bush and Clinton administrations, for instance, the bill could hardly pass the committee report stage. Further, the congresses have had the final word on any legislation passed by the Guam government. It selectively determines which section of the US Constitution to apply to Guam policies. Rogers (51), sought to find out why the US government has been reluctant to set Guam free. According to his findings, Guam is a strategic geopolitical ground for US military missions. The American’s regard geographical location situated in the expanse of the Western Pacific Ocean, as a strategic ground for military operations, from where they can command the air, sea, and land. This has seen the US government fund a considerable portion of Guam’s budget.
In addition to the non-responsive US government, Guam’s journey to self-determination has also been hampered by unwillingness and disunions among the Guamanians. Rather than focusing on the political status, Guamanian’s arguments have emerged in defining the ‘self’ in self- determination. As stated by Monning, the United Nations guidelines recognize the right to self-government as entitled to the native inhabitants (840. Similarly, the treaty of Paris restricted its scope on the definition of the political rights of native inhabitants. This has provoked conflict as the Chamorro tribes assert themselves to be the rightful claimants of self-determination. In addition, constant disagreement between the governor and the legislature has also delayed Guam’s effort to attain self-government status. Rogers (61) explains how the legislature delayed the approval referendum kitty in the 1980s due to their conflict with the then-governor.
It is apparent that Guam was and still is a US colony. Although Guam has made a significant stride in calling for self-government, their current status is only a slight improvement of their political status back in1989 when the US took it over from Spain. Guam is a considerably valuable religion to the US government due to its geographical convenience. The US is, therefore, not expected to easily give in to their grievances. Their case is further weakened by their homegrown political conflicts. For a material result in Guam’s pursuit, they need to work in unison and disregard their native and political differences. Ahead of the potential 2015 referendum, local leaders should capitalize on educating their citizens on the probable advantages of political liberation.
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