Self-determination was an important world issue after WW2. In 1946, the UN list had 74 territories “whose people have not yet attained a full measure of self-government”. In 1963, the UN created a revised list of 64 territories and in 1990 confirmed it as one of the decade’s priorities. Today, that list is down to 17. Article 73, XI which outlines the responsibilities of these administering powers includes: “to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement.” Has there not been time for that over the past 74 years?
As I have researched them a bit, it is interesting to see what they have in common.
Most of them are pretty small with populations the size of towns and small cities.
All but two are islands.
All but one of them are legacies of the Colonial world powers.
There are also some differences.
Some have claims laid by other countries (i.e Gibraltar by Spain)
Some have had votes or referendums for independence that were voted down, some were voted for and ignored by the administering power, and others have never had a vote.
Before now, I had only been on a day trip to Gibraltar and honestly thought more about its strategic location for Britain more than the impact on the populous. However, I now call one of these 17 locations home and spend a lot of time thinking about the injustice and challenges of this “non-governing” status. Here is some of what that means specifically for the people of Guam.
- Residents of Guam, who are US citizens, are unable to vote for President.
- Additionally, there is no voting representation in Congress. US territories are authorized one non-voting delegate.
- The Jones Act passed after the first World War to protect US Maritime interests requires only US shipping be used for the transportation of private goods. This drastically drives up the cost of goods on Guam by not allowing open market competition.
- Mixed messages that make things as confusing and difficult. For example, even though Guam is a US territory and its residents are US citizens, when sending mail to or from the mainland, a customs form is required. Likewise, when traveling from Guam to the continental United States, you need to go through both immigration and customs.
- For official government business, local governments may rely on US government computer systems that are operational based hours on the mainland.
- There is no dispensation from US law where geography makes a difference. As an example, the Philippines is a short flight from Guam, and there is a huge Filipino community on Guam; however, Guam is subject to US immigration and visa policies which affects families as well as the cost of construction and goods.
- Despite all of the above, Guam is exceptionally patriotic. Liberation Day in July is the biggest holiday of the year. There are people still on the island who lived through the horrors of a Japanese WW2 concentration camp. Guam is 7.9% veterans with only 5 states having a greater percentage. But unfortunately, funding for veterans is the lowest in the nation.
Guam’s future continues to be a subject of debate. Just recently the US Supreme Court announced it will not review a case that affects who is allowed to vote in a non-binding plebiscite for statehood, free association or independence.
Guam’s status as a non-governing territory is archaic. It is not representative of the ideals of the United States. I don’t know if the right answer is the full rights and benefits of statehood, full independence or something in between, but I do know that self-determination is way overdue!