30 January 2017

Independent Guam can succeed with United States

Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist 
and assistant professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam.

Photo: PDN file
In my own education on political status, this quote from the late Guam Sen. Frank Lujan in his article, “Sleeping Beauty: Times Passes By,” played a pivotal role in helping me see new and firmer truths, just beyond the colonial common sense:

“Those who defend Guam's colonial status argue that economic independence for Guam is impractical. We happen to agree. Guam by herself can never be economically independent. But nor can our great mother country the United States. There no longer is any such animal as an independent nation in the world today. ... All nations in the latter part of the 20th century are economically interdependent.”

There is so much to unpack in this simple quote, so much to discuss in terms of the way people misunderstand decolonization and independence.

Due to a resistance or a fear of change, they place onto the possibility of Guam all manner of fearful and unrealistic expectations. The ideas that independence for the island would mean isolation are particularly strange, given the fact that if you look at any of the almost 200 examples in the world today, all have relationships with other countries, through which they help each other.

Independence isn’t the end of existence, despite what some may feel — it is instead the beginning of international relations. It is the foundation for international interdependence.

On Guam today, we do not exist in interdependence with others, but rather a state of dependence. It is our colonial status that makes the difference.

Guam clearly has connections to other countries, but we are not the master of those connections and what we can negotiate is limited due to our status. Our connections depend primarily on our colonizer, the U.S. and their relationships to those around us, opening doors for us to some countries, closing doors to others. The U.S. exists in interdependence with those countries, making decisions based on its own vast interests. Sometimes Guam can benefit from those decisions, but that isn’t interdependence, that is coincidence.

The title of my column last week was Guam can succeed without the United States,” which argued that Guam can become independent and so much of the fear or hesitancy that people may feel has colonial roots and shouldn’t be taken as fact. The insight from Lujan’s quote, however, is that no one is successful as an independent country alone. Even if political independence is meant to guarantee a minimum level of self-government and sovereignty, success is all about forging a system of interdependence with your neighbors and allies.

Independence does not mean leaving the world behind, it means joining it. It does not mean breaking all ties with the United States, but could actually improve or enhance our relationship to the U.S. At present we are a regularly disrespected and largely forgotten colonial footnote to the U.S. We are their possession. Why not be an ally of the U.S. instead? Why not work with them as equals or as partners?

Given our closely connected history with the U.S., and our strategic importance to them, it is very likely that an independent Guam and the U.S. would be key allies in this region. In my opinion, this arrangement would be far better than our current status. At present, we are a colony that fantasizes about being a real part of the U.S. and refuses to deal with our true relationship. As an independent country we could create a partnership that was mutually beneficial and based on respect and shared interests.

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