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Guam eyes end to US colonial rule after decades of uncertainty

HAGATNA (Guam)

As Guam prepares to celebrate Liberation Day this week, political leaders on the Pacific island say it’s time to decide whether to remain a US colony or become an independent nation.

Debate about independence has raged for decades but legal complications mean plans to take the issue to a vote have stalled several times.

Former senator Eddie Duenas said a self-rule plebiscite was long overdue and should be held alongside a gubernatorial election due next year.

“We have been driving but we don’t know where we’re driving to and how far we will go,” he told a recent meeting of Guam’s decolonisation commission in the capital Hagatna.

“We just keep driving and driving. It’s annoying.”

Guam has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since 1898, meaning its 160,000 inhabitants are US citizens but have limited rights.

They cannot participate in US elections and Guam’s sole representative in the US Congress does not get to vote on legislation.

The United Nations lists Guam as one of only 17 remaining colonies worldwide, a situation Governor Eddie Calvo wants remedied.

Calvo has long campaigned for a referendum on self-determination that would give voters three options for the future — independence, becoming a US state, or remaining in “free association” with Washington.

All options have their advocates and Calvo says whatever the outcome, at least voters would have had a say in their future.

“Anything is better than the status quo,” he said earlier this month.

“I would be happier if we became a state (but) if voters chose independence or free association I would be happier than I am right now.”

The independence question is complicated by Guam’s long and complex relationship with the United States since becoming Washington’s colony in the wake of the Spanish-American War.

It endured brutal Japanese occupation during World War II and was recaptured by US marines after a bloody month-long battle on July 21, 1944, a date celebrated as Liberation Day on the island.

It still hosts one of the largest US military contingents in the Asia-Pacific, often referred to as America’s “tip of the spear” in a region where tensions with China, North Korea and Russia are all too common.

In addition, many in Guam are heavily dependent on US welfare, with about 44,900 individuals and 15,650 households receiving food stamps and public healthcare benefits.

Agence France-Presse