What independence would mean for Guam

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Pacific Daily News

September 22, 2016

Per United Nations Resolution 1541 (1960), the colonized people of non-self-governing territories such as Guam have three options to choose from when deciding a path for their decolonized future. The first is integration with their colonizer, which is commonly known in Guam as statehood. The second, free association is to form a foundational agreement and share parts of your sovereignty with another power, which is usually your former colonizer. Finally, there is independence, which contrary to common misconceptions does not mean isolation from the world, but rather joining it as a sovereign and equal entity.

As I have experienced over the past decade, discussing decolonization in Guam can move from inspiring to frustrating quite quickly. People seem to resist decolonization in general and independence in particular as being impossible or dangerous. Although I have met few people on Guam who have read the work of Francis Fukuyama, most notably his book “The End of History and the Last Man,” when broaching topics of decolonization and status change, many people seem to be acolytes to his thesis.

The main thrust of Fukuyama’s argument is that history, a dialectical process that moves humanity forward through regular conflict, ended with the fall of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War. Liberal democracy and capitalism appeared to have prevailed and have since become deeply ingrained in human understandings of what was best and progressive for the world. As a result, Fukuyama stated that there would be no more great ideological battles, no more real re-ordering of the world or of human understanding.

This has relevance for us in Guam, because if history is over, we were left behind. In that context, decolonization was something for the 1960s, a time of great political and cultural upheaval where people on almost every continent and island were fighting for their independence against colonizers and imperialists. But that era is over and we are supposed to look at dreams such as the Non-Aligned Movement or The Third World Hope as being nothing but political nightmares.

In this thinking, Guam missed the decolonization såkman and we were fortunate, because that ship just keeps on sinking slowly dragging the people of the world’s developing nations down into miserable watery graves. When you look at the list of 17 non-self-governing territories that are monitored by the United Nations, they seem to prove this point as nearly all of them are small islands, which common sense might tell us can never survive on their own and should be grateful that they have colonizers taking care of them.

In this context, Independence as a possible political status for Guam seems frightening. It seems to smack of biting the hand that so generously feeds us. It seems to spit in the face of history, which has clearly moved on from this sort of thing. It seems to recklessly take a course that no sensible people would ever go down, disconnecting themselves from their colonizer and seeking to determine their own destiny. In Guam this may feel right, but it isn’t. And one only need open a book or even look at a map to see this isn’t true.

According to the United Nations, in the 20th century more than 80 colonies decolonized, and the overwhelming majority of them did not choose to be states or freely associated nations, they chose to be independent countries. In 2014 The Guardian/UK studied 50 votes that were taken in colonies and territories just like Guam over the course of 150 years. The overwhelming majority voted to become independent, and this is why we have close to 200 independent countries in the world today.

Far from being terrifying, independence for colonized people is a normal and standard course. Billions of people in the world today do not live in terror since they are independent countries. It only feels that way in Guam, because people have accepted certain myths and misunderstandings about the status. For example, independence does not mean that suddenly we’d have to grow all our own food or give back everything that has been integrated into the culture since colonization. It doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help, make deals or learn from other countries. It does not mean cutting all ties with the United States.

Independence would not mean the end of the road, but rather a new beginning. One in which Guam is no longer owned by another, but can instead work with countries such as the United States and others as an equal, no longer bound to serve the interests of another, but rather negotiate and associate with its own interests in mind, as part of our goal of realizing its own long deferred destiny.

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