THEY have US passports, but won’t be able to vote in the upcoming election.
They are forced to import goods from America over cheaper products, but cannot access benefits, such as disability allowance, that would come with being a citizen of the United States.
These are people seemingly totally overlooked by the entire world.
Their home is the breathtakingly beautiful Micronesian island of Guahan, popularly known as Guam.
Its tropical beaches and historic villages should make it a tourist mecca, but the paradisiacal aspect of this tiny island in the Western Pacific is somewhat overwhelmed by its strategic military importance.
One-third of the island is used for US military installations, with local government controlling less than 20 per cent of its land mass, which is roughly the size of Adelaide.
Lisa Natividad is one of Guam’s native Chamoru people, and she’s fighting for the world to recognise their plight.
“Our island is America’s best-kept secret,” she told an Alice Springs conference onUS military overseas strategy this weekend. “We are not part of the American family.
“It’s inhibited our ability to develop a viable economy. Our imports can only come on a US carrier — so a cheap product we might be able to get from Korea has to go via California and back. You can imagine the cost of living on the island as a result.
“While the US excuse for its militarist agenda is democracy, clearly on Guam, which is US soil, there is no democracy.”
AN ‘OVERSEAS POSSESSION’
Guam is essentially one of the world’s few remaining colonies, known as Non-Self-Governing Territories, a status also held by French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Bermuda, to name a few.
But, like the US Virgin Islands, Guam is an “organised, unincorporated” territory of the US, meaning the constitution does not fully apply.
That means Guam is considered an “overseas possession” rather than an integral part of the States, receiving one-seventh of the funding a state would be given and with its inhabitants not having the rights of other US citizens.
The Marianas are home to one of the oldest Pacific Island cultures, thought to have been settled by southeast Asian seafarers more than 4000 years ago.
But the ancient island, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands chain, has battled a turbulent history thanks to its important geo-strategic location.
It became a Spanish colony around 400 years ago, before it was ceded to the US after the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was occupied by Japanese forces for three years during World War II before it was reclaimed in 1944 by the US, and used for planning deadly nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki launched from nearby Tinian, also in the Mariana Islands.
‘THE TIP OF THE SPEAR’
America has since expanded its military presence in Guam, which is seen as key to protecting the superpower’s interests in Asia-Pacific.
The island is a vital part of the US “Pivot” to the region, forming a strategic triangle in conjunction with bases in Japan, Australia and Hawaii.
It’s known as “the tip of the spear” because of its proximity to potential conflict hot spots in Asia, including North Korea and the South China Sea. It has also been dubbed “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier” and “Fortress Pacific”.
Guam’s picturesque north is home to the less picturesque Andersen Airforce Base. In the south is a naval base.
Steven Wolborsky, director of plans, told US military publication Stars and Stripesthe island was home to around 19 million pounds (8.6 million kilograms) of explosives and continuous rotations of Global Hawk surveillance drones, B-52 bombers, fighter jets and 300 airmen.
“We have two 11,000-foot (3400-metre) concrete runways, both rebuilt within the last 10 years,” he said. “We have enough parking for more than 155 aircraft, with a robust in-ground refuelling infrastructure.
“We have the largest capacity of jet fuel in the Air Force at 66 million gallons (250 million litres) — coupled with an equal amount down south with the Navy.”
Now the military is engaged in a $A11.8 billion expansion of its facilities, introducing aircraft, submarines and patrol boats, as well as 5000 Marines and their families by 2023 (this was originally close to 10,000 but was reduced after a campaign).
Islanders say the relentless expansion will place additional pressure on the frail economy and infrastructure of Guam, which has a population of less than 160,000.
‘WHAT’S AT STAKE IS OUR SURVIVAL’
Dr Natividad, an Associate Professor of social work at the University of Guam, has been campaigning for the US Department of Defence to recognise its impact on island life.
She says issues for her silenced people include historic radiation exposure, prohibition of access to fishing, poor health outcomes and the desecration of sacred villages. “What’s at stake is our very survival,” the professor insists.
But some claim that removing the US military from the island could be catastrophic for its economy.
“That’s not including food stamps and school lunches and things like that.”
A military socio-economic impact assessment study found the new base would create more than 3000 fulltime civilian jobs in 2021, and tax revenues to the Guam government would increase by around $A52 million a year from 2028.
Dr Natividad believes a number of places throughout the world rebut the assertion US bases positively impact a community’s economy — Fayetteville, North Carolina has two, and one of the state’s highest rates of child poverty and infant mortality.
“The military sector is one of the least efficient mechanisms for job creation,” said the professor. “A quantification of the economic impacts of the military needs to transcend a mere bean count of jobs locals are able to get on bases. Rather, this analysis needs to take into account the various services and infrastructural investments made by local communities that include the provision of health care, the maintenance of roads, the increased demand for water, electricity, and the wear and tear of these systems.
“The social costs for military-related crimes, the demand for the sex industry, and the tensions between US active-duty troops and locals also needs to be considered.”
It appears the island has little hope of achieving independence any time soon.
Guam’s Governor Eddie Baza Calvo had called for a plebiscite on the island’s political status to coincide with November’s US election, but instead, they will have to make do with the usual non-binding straw poll on the outcome.
Dr Natividad admits she’s often asked for her view on the Trump vs. Hillary circus, but finds the debate “too painful in my colonial status to discuss.”
This is one community for whom the questions are just too complicated.