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18 August, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 17 August, 2017 10:41:09 PM
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Guam: A conflicted island at the centre of a firestorm

Guam: A conflicted island at the centre of a firestorm
A general view shows the Tumon bay area of Guam on Tuesday. The Guam govenor's office said that no changes in tourism figures were anticipated following the threat of a planned North Korean missile strike near the US island territory. AFP Photo

London: Last week a threat from North Korea to fire missiles into the sea near Guam led to a spike in war rhetoric from both the US and the North, and put the tiny island territory squarely at the centre of the world's attention. The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes went there to find out why Guam has been caught in the crosshairs.

Sitting here on Guam I am in the United States, and yet I am much closer to Manila than Los Angeles.

The nearest bit of the US proper, Hawaii, is nearly 4,000 miles (6,400km) to the east. Honolulu sits across the international dateline - so it is still Wednesday there - even though over here the sun is setting on Thursday.

Little wonder people in Guam often feel forgotten by the rest of America.

Standing in the immigration line it doesn't feel much like America either. The airport is filled with young families flooding off planes from Tokyo and Osaka, Seoul and Busan.

Of the 1.5 million tourists who flock to Guam's beaches each year, most are from Japan and South Korea. For them, it's a little bit of America anchored off the coast of Asia.

The car rental shops do a brisk trade in bright yellow Mustang convertibles. Young South Korean couples cruise the beach roads, the hood down.

There are shooting ranges that do an equally brisk trade with Japanese men eager to have a go with an M16, something that is illegal and taboo back home in Tokyo.

The fact that Guam belongs to America is an accident of history, a bit war booty left over from the 1898 Spanish-American war. It's the same deal that gave the US Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

And that has left a difficult legacy.

The Philippines eventually got independence, but Guam remains a US territory - in effect a self-governing colony.

Guamanians - as the locals refer to themselves - are US citizens. But here at home they have no right to vote in US presidential elections, and even though they elect a member of the US Congress, she cannot vote on any legislation.

Everyone I've spoken to here agrees this situation untenable, that Guam either needs to become a fully-fledged US state, or an independent country. But don't count on the latter.

The native people of Guam are called Chomorro. Their ancestors came here 4,000 years ago. Like their distant cousins in Hawaii and Samoa they are deeply conflicted about their American identity.

One evening this week a group of pro-independence Chomorro campaigners gathered on a street corner in the main town Hagatna. They held up peace banners and Guam flags and sang traditional folk songs. Passing cars hooted their support.

"We've been used for other people's war's for too long," one young woman told me. "Its time for us to stop being a colony."

"The American military occupies 27% of the land here," the leader of the protest Kenneth tells me.

"A lot of that land was taken from Chomorro families after World War Two. Not all of us accept this. We are an indigenous people. We've been here for thousands of years.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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