Northern Marianas College teacher Guadalupe “Lupe” Camacho Borja-Robinson gave a sobering assessment of how the Covenant with the U.S. has resulted in the CNMI government having relatively no say in the military’s current plan to use Pagan as a live-fire training site.
In her presentation for the NMI Humanities Council’s lecture series, Borja-Robinson said the CNMI’s covenant with the U.S. ratified by a plebiscite in 1975 may have ceded too much control of the islands to the federal government.
“The present unilateral actions of the United States military on Pagan, Saipan, and other Northern Islands clearly show that the United States has sovereignty in the Northern Marianas. I believe it is time to re-examine the Covenant that established commonwealth status, and determine to what extent the U.S. can exercise its sovereignty in our islands. I believe the Northern Marianas may have given up too much to the U.S. in those early political status talks,” she said in her presentation.
Titled “The Early Political Status Talks on Saipan in the Early 1970’s Leading to the Plebiscite Vote on U.S. Commonwealth Status of the Northern Mariana Islands: A Personal Perspective,” Borja-Robinson’s talk was the initial offering of the NMI Humanities Council’s three-part lecture series. It was held on Oct. 8 at Room D-1 of the college and was attended by 30 or so people.
In her lecture, Borja Robinson recounted that right from the get-go the Marianas Political Status Commission wanted commonwealth status when status talks formally began in 1972 on Saipan.
“For many of those Marianas commission members and other island leaders, commonwealth status offered a better economy than remaining part of the Trust Territory. It was mainly the Carolinian community on Saipan [that] opposed commonwealth; they favored a unified Micronesia.”
Borja-Robinson noted that under the Naval Technical Training administration from 1952 to 1962, Saipan saw a fairly good economy with many jobs and the minimum wage was at 75 cents an hour. However, that drastically fell to 16 cents an hour under the Trust Territory government. So for many island leaders, she said, commonwealth status offered improved lives with more jobs and a higher minimum wage.
While the Marianas status group included the brightest minds the islands had to offer, she still sees the meeting as “‘city folks negotiating with island leaders who were smart, but many of whom did not have the formal education that the American negotiators had because there were no educational opportunities for local people before the war under the Japanese administration.”
Edward Pangelinan, who was the first Chamorro attorney in the Northern Marianas, chaired the Marianas status group.
Borja-Robinson said the negotiating table tilted unfairly to the United States’ side in 1975 resulted in the islands getting an unfair shake in exercising a measure of self-government.
“In light of recent military activities on Pagan, the U.S. Air Force’s plan to build a divert airfield on Saipan, and other military actions, I believe we need to re-examine the Covenant and determine to what extent the U.S. military has sovereignty in the Northern Marianas. The negotiations that led to the Covenant vote in 1975 did not include military activities on Pagan, a divert airfield near the Saipan airport, and related issues.”
Borja-Robinson said she is worried that the militarization of not only Pagan and Tinian but the rest of the Marianas would put the region squarely on the crosshairs of the enemies of the United States, especially in the event of a nuclear war.
“I am concerned that in the event of a nuclear attack from North Korea or another country in Asia, those of us in the Northern Marianas and Guam will be the first targets due to our islands being part of the ‘Marianas hub’ of the U.S. Pacific Command. I hope that this paper will encourage others to study further the present unilateral actions of the U.S. military in the Northern Marianas and report their findings.”
Borja-Robinson has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Hawaii (Hilo and Honolulu) and a master’s in Adult and Continuing Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
She has been an educator on Saipan for over 20 years and a journalist for five years in Guam and on Saipan.
The second part of lecture series was held last night, with former representative William Torres, Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council chair Ramon B. Camacho, and architect Herman B. Camacho presenting “Saipan and Northern Islands Leadership Kiosku Project.”