The first step toward the reunification of the Marianas archipelago is for Guam to first become a commonwealth, according to local historian Don Farrell.
Farrell, whose lecture “Marianas Reunification Efforts” bookended the Northern Marianas Humanities Council’s three-part lecture series, said it was the U.S. territory’s first Washington representative to Congress, Tony Wan Pat, who first suggested commonwealth status for Guam as a pathway to reunification.
“It was Tony Wan Pat, in a meeting with the late former governor Ricky Bordallo, who said that for us to reunify, Guam must first become a commonwealth and create its own constitution just like the Northern Marianas,” Farrell said during his lecture at the Northern Marianas College Tuesday night.
“If Guam does proceed with commonwealth status and gain what we have today, then we could consider the issue of combining both commonwealths into one and asking for incorporated status,” he said.
Once a united Guam and Northern Marianas becomes an incorporated territory, then the islands can petition for statehood.
“Becoming incorporated will not necessarily make us a state but it will give us the dignity of having the option to ask,” he said.
However, Farrell said that Guam and the CNMI’s reunification carries inherent problems.
“We got trade and tariff agreements. There’s a port here and a port on Guam. Businesses will have a fit with separate tax codes in the Northern Marianas and Guam.”
And “we’re not even talking about the makeup of a Marianas legislature” and where the new capital would be located, Farrell said.
He jocularly suggested making Tinian the capital because like Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, Saipan and Guam should make the “sacrifice.” Farrell resides on Tinian.
Another possible hurdle are rifts between the islands in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of Guam during World War II and Guam’s perceived rejection of reunification in 1969.
Farrell said this rejection is a myth. “It was screw up of mythical proportions.”
He said the timing was bad as Guam was already getting its first governor and people were afraid of subsidizing the underdeveloped Northern Marianas. Another factor is some Guamanians still cannot forget Japanese Chamorros serving as translators and policemen in Guam during the war.
But a united Marianas also doesn’t need to look far for a successful integration of island units, Farrell said.
“Hawaii has different governments and villages in how many different islands. To them, it’s an additive. Not everything belongs to Oahu. Maui, Hilo…those islands are big contributors to the state of Hawaii. So that opportunity is still there.”
Farrell is the first to admit that times have changed. He said in the 1950s and 1960s, both Guam and the Northern Marianas were underdeveloped and primarily Chamorro populations.
However beginning in the 1970s, both Guam and the CNMI greatly improved their standards of living as foreign investment and immigration laws changed and financial dynamics in the demographics of the islands also changed.
“Some suggest that the time for reunification has passed. Many people, particularly the business community, seem satisfied with the status quo and are indifferent to the indignity of ‘unincorporated’ status.
“Some say the separate governments for Guam and the Northern Marianas have become institutionalized; that the political leaders on Guam and in the NMI will not make the sacrifices that would be required to create one elected government for all Mariana residents. Guam Gov. Felix Camacho and CNMI Gov. Benigno Fitial both spoke in favor of reunification, just not during their terms—one of the two would lose his job!”
Farrell said many Guamanians, especially the younger generations, also point to the CNMI Covenant, with its imbedded concept of mutual consent, as a significantly better political status than Guam’s unilateral Organic Act.
“They remember that a pledge was made to give Guam commonwealth status. That historical precedent could serve as the basis for a new political status movement for Guam. Others just want to be able to travel and do business freely between Guam and the Northern Marianas, without fighting through two different sets of laws and regulations. Many believe the cost of two separate governments within the Marianas is a foolish waste of money and aggravation.”
Many in Guam and the Northern Marianas point to the military buildup in the Marianas as ultimately a reunifying factor.
“After all, it was the Department of Defense’s perceived need for a fallback base for Okinawa that drove forward the Northern Marianas political status movement. Today’s U.S.-Japan security alliance still calls for moving the 3rd Marine Division from Okinawa to the Marianas. It seems logical that having one bargaining team dealing with Marianas military issues will get a better deal out of the Department of Defense than two different groups negotiating separately,” Farrell said.