Bevacqua: Despite Organic Law, Guam Remains a Non-Self-Governing Territory | Opinion

In my column last week, I talked about the importance of being truly self-governing or having an adequate level of self-government as an independent country, a freely associated nation or an equal party within a union, as a state.

Currently, Guam has limited self-government. Compared to when the United States first took Guam in 1898, basic day-to-day control over our lives is very important.

Until 1949, the people of Guam were ruled by a US military autocracy, where they had no rights except as authorized by an appointed military commander, a US Navy Governor.

When the Organic Law was passed, it allowed U.S. citizenship and the ability to elect a local legislature, but it wasn’t until 1970 that Guam was able to elect its own governor.

Even to this day, Guam is governed by organic law, an act of Congress, not a constitution. Also, even if Guam adopted a constitution as a territory, it would not be the same as having one as an independent state or country.

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One thing that aggravates our current situation of non-self-government is the little information we have about our current territorial status and possible next steps.

The fact that the American flag flies over Guam does not prevent us from being non-self-governing. Neither is the fact that we are US citizens or that we receive money from the US federal government. These are aspects of, and may be considered potential benefits of, our current political status, but they are no substitute for actual full and equal participation in American democracy and governance by becoming a state or sovereignty and self-reliance by becoming an independent country.

These types of assertions, the idea that you cannot be considered non-autonomous or colonial if you benefit from the relationship are problematic.

Things such as exploitation, violence, displacement can all be part of a colonial relationship, but it is a mistake to assume that just because the colony and the people living there can benefit from the relationship or people may not be suffering horribly, he denies any need to decolonize and change status to become truly empowered.


When we look back to history, today, around the world, proud, independent, sovereign countries have taken advantage of their status as colonies and often achieved independence long after the most horrific abuses of their colonizers ended.

The fundamental problem with being a colony is not a lack of advantages, but limitations in terms of governance and control. As we discussed last week, it can be a lack of ability to influence the laws that apply to you, or an inability to control your borders or resources.

That’s why we’re doing ourselves a disservice by pretending that political status and decolonization are simply unimportant issues. As former nonvoting congressional delegate Robert Underwood once pointed out, not talking about colonization and decolonization in Guam is as ridiculous as not talking about disease or cures in a hospital.

While Guam remains a non-self-governing territory, talking about colonization and decolonization must be essential. Taking them seriously as a society also means understanding our place in the world, not accepting pious fictions about it, but considering where we are now and what next steps might be best.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist and curator of the Guam Museum.

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