The Commission on Decolonization

In 1997, Senator Hope Cristobal introduced a bill which became Public Law 23-147. This law established a Commission on Decolonization “for the implementation and exercise of Chamorro Self-Determination.” The Legislature contended that the US designation of Guam as a non-self-governing territory meant that the US indeed recognizes that the native inhabitants of Guam have the right to one day exercise their collective self-determination through a decolonization process. The Legislature’s intent was to have Guam’s native inhabitants decide their future political status from options including Independence, Free Association or US Statehood. The law defined native inhabitants as “those persons who became US Citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and descendants of those persons.”

The Commission was to be composed of eleven members, including the chairperson. The governor of Guam would be the chairperson and two members of the Commission would be selected by the governor. The chairperson of the Legislature’s committee responsible for Federal Affairs would be the vice-chairperson. Other members would include the speaker or one appointed by the speaker, a member of the Legislature minority; a member from the Mayors Council, an advocate of Independence, an advocate of Free Association, and an advocate of Statehood. A youth member, appointed by the Speaker of the Guam Youth Congress, was also to be included. The staff of the Commission on Self-Determination would be the staff for the Commission on Decolonization.

The general purpose of the Commission on Decolonization as mandated by law is to determine the intent of the native inhabitants of Guam as to what they desire for their future political relationship or status with the US. Each political status option is headed by a task force that gathers input from the community. The Commission, along with each task force, is then mandated to conduct an extensive public education program and outreach to ensure a successful plebiscite. The Commission and the Guam Election Commission, with consultation from the executive and legislative branches, will then organize a plebiscite, following the public education program.

The three options, Statehood, Independence and Free Association with the US, will be allowed on the ballot. The choices are not limited to the three political status options, and there may be other status options on the ballot, such as commonwealth or incorporated status. Persons eligible to participate in the plebiscite “shall include those persons designated as Native Inhabitants of Guam…18 years of age or older and are registered voters on Guam.” The date of the plebiscite furthermore, “shall be held on a date of the General Election at which seventy percent of eligible voters…have been registered as determined by the Guam Election Commission.”

A decolonization plebiscite was to be scheduled in conjunction with the 2000 general elections on Guam, but the Guam Election Commission was unable to establish the required voter registration of seventy percent. In addition, the lack of funding to conduct a public education outreach campaign hindered a plebiscite for the 2000 elections.

The Commission on Decolonization was inactive for most of the administration under Governor Felix Camacho from 2002 to 2010. However, the Calvo-Tenorio Administration relaunched the Commission, and an Executive Director was appointed in 2011. Calvo convened a public forum to assess the public’s opinion on Guam’s political status, and then appointed the members of the Commission with the goal of addressing the political status issue.

Although the Commission has since had a mixed reception in the Guam community, the challenges facing the latest incarnation of the Commission on Decolonization remain. Funding for the Commission and the three task forces has been difficult to secure. In addition, the lack of information accessible to the general public about the specific details of what a plebiscite would entail, along with a pending federal lawsuit about the qualification of “native inhabitant” as a requirement to be part of the Chamorro Registry have contributed to the delay in scheduling.

In November 2011, a retired US Air Force officer, Arnold “Dave” Davis, filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Guam against the Territory of Guam, the Guam Election Commission and the Attorney General of Guam. Represented by the Center for Individual Rights, an American advocacy group based in Washington, DC, Davis cited the occasion in which he tried to be included in the Decolonization Registryand was rejected because he did not qualify as a “native inhabitant of Guam.” Although the suit was dismissed in local court because no plebiscite has been officially scheduled, Davis and his attorneys have appealed.