At the 23rd anniversary celebration of Palau’s independence in October, Vice President Raynold “Arnold” Oilouch recalled the questions that saddled Palauans when they headed to the polls that would seal the future of their nation: “Do we know what we are getting ourselves into? Can Palau survive as independent nation?”
The same questions confront each of the remaining colonies in the 21st century — including Guam. But such questions are more of a reflection of self-doubts that beget answers only when one takes the plunge. The post-trusteeship period presented the answers, Oilouch said. “Yes, yes, yes; we can. It has been a successful 23 years for our young republic; we are a stronger nation today than we were when we started 23 years ago,” Oilouch said.
Palau chose to be a sovereign state in free association with its former colonizer. It may not be perfect—no political system is— but Palau takes pride in its maturity, having made a decision to transition toward self-determination that involves great responsibility. Its feats and failures are its own.
On Guam, when things go wrong, our leaders point to the territory’s weak political status as the default cop-out that perpetuates the victim mentality. Under its current status, Guam’s relationship with the feds is a love-hate affair. Like other U.S. territories, Guam is institutionally a second-class citizen—a status from which the island has the option to graduate.
Last month. Gov. Eddie B. Calvo spoke at the United Nations, to “reiterate our intent as a people to vote on our political status – as well as the challenges that we face in that regard.” He made “this appeal to a larger audience, one that I hope will help bring resolution to the fight for our rights as a people. I have made no secret over the years that my personal preference on political status but even more than that my desire is that we, the people of Guam, are raised out of our current status as an unincorporated territory and brought into a status of our own choosing.”
But no grand speech can put across the nuances of Guam. Regardless of the size of the worldwide audience, Guam’s quest for self-determination wil remain in limbo unless we acknowledge that the impediment to this goal is found right at the home front. Introspection can bring us to the realization Guam’s adversary is our own fragmented ideas about which direction the island should head out to and about who should have a say on the future of the island. This is exacerbated by the consequent apathy on the part of those who are alienated from the yet-to-be scheduled plebiscite. The progress on this voting process is stunted by a local statute — thumbed down by the district court for its discriminatory nature — that would exclude a significant portion of the island’s population. Those who fight to take part in the process are disdained as villains.
At the UN, Governor Calvo quoted his great grandfather Tomas Anderson Calvo who, in a speech during the opening of the first Guam Congress in 1917, “asserted that we must not be afraid to defend our rights as a people to determine for ourselves what path we should take. His rally cry that we fight for our right to self-governance resounded over the decades and we continue to hear its echo in the voices of the young leaders of today…. He closed by posing the question, of whether we are to be members of the American people or their servitors. My fellow brothers and sisters, we cannot wait another one hundred years for this question to be answered.”
There is no substitute for action to find the answer, which will come from here. Palau didn’t wait a hundred years.
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