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  • By Johanna Salinas and Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Without tourism, Guam relies on military for economic survival

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) approaches Apra Harbor for a scheduled Safe Haven Liberty port visit to the U. S. territory of Guam. Princeton is part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Logan C. Kellums

While tourism is on pause, Guam will bank on more military spending to keep the local economy afloat during the crippling pandemic crisis, according to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

In the absence of regular travelers, the governor is eyeing sailors who will be on shore leave. “I look forward to maybe having more military spending. We are seen now in the military as a very safe place to come and relax and have recreations here,” the governor said.

Last month, the Department of Defense designated the U.S. Naval Base Guam as a "Safe Haven Liberty" port for ships to safely pull in for potential logistical re-supply, possible repairs, and the rest and relaxation for sailors and crewmembers.

“There are many fleets that are out there in the waters that are even planning to come here and use Guam as there a recreational port,” Leon Guerrero said.

The U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) along with the USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) pulled into Guam for Safe Haven Liberty port visits in early June. The Nimitz Carrier Strike group, consisting of aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), pulled into Guam for a Safe Haven Liberty port visit June 24.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero

“Our economy is driven by military spending,” the governor said at Monday’s press conference. “Our economy is driven by government spending and then, of course, our economy is driven by tourism and other kinds of business.”

A large part of Guam’s economy is fueled by U.S. military spending. The Department of Defense has been investing in defense infrastructure capacity in preparation for the relocation of 5,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa, Japan.

During the last decade, DOD construction contracts have totaled over $2 billion and have averaged nearly $240 million annually for the most recent years, according to the Guam Economic Development Authority.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act appropriates $310 million for defense projects at Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base.

Guam is home to 12,807 military members and their dependents, according to Commander Naval Marianas.

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The U.S. Air Force hosts a rotating presence of bomber, tanker and fighter aircraft under the 36th Wing along with a variety of aircraft and contingency response training events. The Naval Base Guam is home to Commander Submarine Squadron 15, Coast Guard Sector Guam and Naval Special Warfare Unite one and supports 28 other tenant commands. It is the home base of dozens of Pacific Command, United States Pacific Fleet, Seventh Fleet, and Seabee units. Units of Submarine Squadron 15 stationed at Guam include USS Chicago, USS Key West, USS Oklahoma City, and USS Topeka.

“(The military), I think, is an industry that would help us with our economy and move on in that in that way. I also still very much support and encourage the of the bringing back of our tourism,” the governor said. “We have expended as we always have a lot of investment and resources to make sure that our tourism is maintained and our tourism continues and our tourism comes back with the greater strength and a good rebound.”

The governor had originally set to reopen tourism on July 1, but recalled the plan due to spikes in Covid-19 cases on Guam.

United Airlines has increased its flight frequency between Guam and Japan—the island’s main source market— but Japan Airlines has indefinitely postponed its earlier plan to resume flights to Guam on Aug. 1.


Despite the uncertainty, Leon Guerrero encourages local businesses to start preparing. “The advice that I give the industry is ‘always be prepared,’’ the governor said. “Even when we were talking with the airlines to schedule them because, eventually, we will be lifting some restrictions and we will be looking at what is the best protocol that would be a balance between the economy and also our public safety.”

The governor predicts it will take two years for tourism to recover, hence the need for Guam to explore other industries

“We are still also pursuing other diverse economies of course working very closely with telecommunications is one,” she said.

“So one of the things that we have been making also a priority is in the areas of agriculture, aquaculture is one of the priorities that we're looking at. Again we are fine trying to find ways or we can use various options so that we can attract people for maybe financial services telecommunications is another one data warehousing,” Leon Guerrero said.

“But we're also working in ways that we can do green recycling, green program. That can create jobs. There's many options that we are in the process of a discussing with the Guam Economic Development Authority.”

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