Colonies

September 6, 2019

 

On Dec. 4, 1960, the United Nations issued a declaration setting a 2010 deadline for “Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.” The deadline was missed. More than five decades since the UN declaration, there remain 17 non-self governing territories around the world. Despite the recurrent movement for self-determination, colonies have been slow in defining their futures.

 

Colonialism in the 21st century is an anachronism. Yet, the imperialistic arrangement that may seem out of place in the modern world continues to thrive — but not without resistance, not without bitterness and not without sowing domestic discord.

 

In some cases, the quest for home-rule proved regressive, as in the case of Norfolk Island, whose Legislative Assembly was abolished on June 17, 2015. The parliament’s abolition spelled the end of the island’s limited autonomy granted by Australia in 1979 by virtue of the Norfolk Island Act.

 

Australia’s decision to revoke Norfolk Island’s self-governance was based on the commonwealth’s perception that the island had never gained self-sufficiency and remained heavily reliant on subsidies. With a population of close to 1,800, Norfolk Island received $12.5 million in commonwealth subsidy in 2015 alone.

 

In November last year, New Caledonia voted to remain part of France. The long-awaited independence referendum had an 81 percent turnout and its result was more than what was expected. With 56 percent of voters saying “yes” to Paris, the islands came closest to independence.

 

It was the first of three possible referenda on the territory's future. Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, another independence vote may be scheduled in 2020 if the local government approves it. If the second referendum again rejects independence, a last referendum may be called again in 2022.

 

The French colony is grappling with the same polarizing issues that are familiar to Guam. One is related to the vexed question of who should be eligible to vote. The Noumea Accord restricts voting in provincial elections to residents before 1988 to preserve the rights of indigenous and long-term white settlers. The voting eligibility is later extended to residents before 1994.

 

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Self-rule movements proved more difficult for tiny territories, such as the Eastern Islands which is populated by the indigenous group Rapa Nui. A special territory of Chile, Easter Islands was annexed in 1888 and, administratively, under the jurisdiction of the Valparaiso region.

 

Due to overlapping of authorities, and because of the Rapa Nui people’s constant demand for political participation, they have been granted a special status that established a model of government known as the Special Territorial Government. This status, however, does not guarantee their self-determination nor does it guarantee their territorial rights. Chile does not recognize their rightful ownership of the island territory.

 

For an even smaller island such as Tokelau, residents consider the status quo as a convenient option. Tokelau is on the UN’s list of territories, where greater independence in highly endorsed. However, Tokelauans have now voted twice, first in 2006 and again in 2007, to retain their colonial status rather than achieve autonomy from New Zealand.  With a population of 1,500, the 10-sq.km territory covers three tropical coral atolls— Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo.

 

Guam’s sister territory, Puerto Rico, has done, repeatedly, what it was required to do. Puerto Ricans have gone to the polls five times to express what they want for their island. In a 2017, Puerto Ricans voted for statehood in a non-binding plebiscite that drew only 23 percent of registered voters.

 

Each colony has its own story —  some unique, some it shares with similarly situated others. Each may learn from another’s feats and failures. Guam can , too.

 

The appeals court’s decision on the Dave Davis case, Dr. Robert Underwood said, serves as a catalyst for introspection. The ruling, he said, “gives us the opportunity to reexamine the whole self-determination issue.”

   

 

 

 

 

 

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Mar-Vic Cagurangan is the publisher and editor of the Pacific Island Times. Send feedback to publisher@pacificislandtimes.com

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