Back-to-back hurricanes that wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in 2017 and a false ballistic missile attack warning that traumatized Hawai'i have these "ignored abroad" territories and two states looking at separation from the United States. Although independence can be a costly endeavor, the Trump administration's lack of empathy and support for Puerto Rico, forty percent of which is still lacking electrical power four months after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island commonwealth's infrastructure, the Puerto Rican independence movement is receiving a fresh look from many Puertorriqueños.
Although the two main Puerto Rican political parties, the Republican-linked New Progressive Party (PNP) and the Democratic-affiliated Popular Democratic Party (PDP) favoring continued ties to the United States, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), which favors full independence for Puerto Rico, is in the position of telling the other parties, including the PDP, that favor a form of autonomous free association with the United States, that "we told you so" about Washington's lack of concern about Puerto Rico. In fact, Puerto Rico has always served the colonialist and imperialist designs of the United States. Although the PIP has fought a long and protracted battle against the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, a campaign that began under FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the party received 9 percent of the vote in 2016 from a high of 11 percent in 2000. Based on the post-storm incompetence and initial pro-Trump sycophancy of PNP Governor Ricardo Rossello, who affiliates himself with the GOP, the Puerto Rico independence party, which has the support of Cuba, former Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is looking to increase its share of the vote this year.
The PDP's party plank, which has evolved from supporting continued colonial commonwealth status for Puerto Rico, now calls for the United Nations General Assembly to take up Puerto Rico's cause as a territory of the United States deserving of greater autonomy and political rights.
Puerto Ricans, who are subjected to a US-imposed financial control authority, were dealt a severe blow to their relative autonomy in 2016 when the US Supreme Court rejected their separate status from the United States. Although Puerto Ricans in the territory cannot vote in US presidential elections, US Associate Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the Supreme Court's majority, concluded: "Because the ultimate source of Puerto Rico's prosecutorial power is the federal government . . . the Commonwealth [of Puerto Rico] and the United States are not separate sovereigns."
The United States has historically abused the people of Puerto Rico and their leaders. In the 1930s, the head of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Pedro Albizu Campos, known as “El Maestro” to his followers, was routinely subjected to harassment and surveillance by US law enforcement and security agents. Albizu complained to the League of Nations but it came to no avail. In 1950, Albizu was arrested in a crackdown on Puerto Rican nationalist activities on the island and he was subsequently subjected to radiation burns and poisoning while in prison. Albizu suffered a stroke in prison in 1956. In 1964, he was pardoned but died shortly after his actual release from prison in 1965. El Maestro is still considered a hero by Puertorriqueños.
On March 31, 1917, the US purchased the Virgin Islands from then-owner Denmark, for $25 million. Every March 31st is celebrated as "Transfer Day" on the islands. However, the initial lack of emergency response by the Trump administration following Hurricane Maria, has Virgin Islanders, like Puerto Ricans, wondering if going it alone would not be a better option. Like their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islanders are disenfranchised. Neither can vote in US presidential elections. However, as seen with Trump, a US president's malignant decisions and intentions can have a fateful impact on both US Caribbean territories.
As with many colonial vestiges, local Virgin Islands politicians, including present-Governor Kenneth Mapp, are in the pockets of wealthy hotel and condominium real estate developers who have invested heavily in St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, and smaller islands. However, demands for independence, especially after Hurricane Maria, are growing. Islanders figure that if independent neighbors like Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts-Nevis can manage on their own, then the US Virgin Islands, perhaps combined with the British Virgin Islands, can do the same.
Aspirant nations like the Virgin Islands, bifurcated by the colonial arrogance of the United States and Britain, should be united and independent nations. Another American territory, American Samoa in the South Pacific, is separated by colonial contrivance from its neighbor to the west, the independent nation of Samoa. American Samoans suffer more disenfranchisement than Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders in that the Samoans are not automatically granted US citizenship upon birth in the territory. The splitting of Samoa into an independent nation and an American colony is as artificial as the creation of East and West Germany, North and South Vietnam, and North and South Korea. Washington protested when Western Samoa changed its name to "Samoa" in 1997. The American authorities believed that the government in Apia was staking a territorial claim to American Samoa. Perish the thought that Samoans would not want to reject the colonial names assigned to their islands by old white men living half a world away!
American Samoa has another problem. Some 26 percent of American Samoans are Mormon, a religion that promotes the concept of a "white man's burden" over non-white races and peoples. This same concept was used by Mormon missionaries in Hawai'i, many of whom supported the Hawaiian League, a group of white American settlers who conspired with the US Navy to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1893 and move for immediate American annexation of the islands as a US territory.
Although Hawai'i became a state in 1960, the legacy of colonialism and US military occupation continues to plague Hawai'i. The recent false "incoming" ballistic missile attack on Hawai'i was airily dismissed by Trump's Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as purely a "state exercise." Considering that the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are extremely closely linked, there is wide belief in Hawai’i that the missile alert was much more than a "state" issue. From the December 7, 1941 attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor to the recent missile false alert, there is a belief among many Hawai'ians, particularly native Hawai'ians, that they have been and continue to be used as political pawns by Washington.
The Hawai'ian independence restoration movement is plagued by factionalism, some of it likely financed by US intelligence operations. There is a split between the monarchy restoration movement and those who favor a republican independent government. There is also a right-wing libertarian independence movement that has no connection to Native Hawai'ian independence movements, is run by white mainlanders (Haoles), and is devoted to establishing Hawai'i as an international tax-free financial center. Attempts to classify Native Hawai'ians as a US "Indian tribe" is also fraught with hidden agendas, including the establishing of casinos on "sovereign" Native Hawai'ian lands by business interests from the mainland and foreign nations.
The Trump’s administration disregard for Native Americans in favoring the opening of pristine Arctic wildlife preserves in Alaska to oil drilling and pipeline construction has resulted in a resurgence in secession demands by many of Alaska’s Inupiaq people. The chief representative of the Inupiaq, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, constantly presses legislators in Juneau and Washington for the protection in indigenous rights. The Inupiaq have also found an international voice through the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), which brings them together with other Inuit peoples from Canada, Greenland, and Siberia. Arrayed against the Inupiaq and other Inuit peoples are well-funded oil and gas industry lobbyists eager to exploit the energy resources and mining deposits in a rapidly-melting region north of the Arctic Circle. The unspoiled revered lands of the Inupiaq are in the crosshairs of the Trump administration and its backers in Big Oil, Big Gas, and Big Mining.
Two US Pacific territories, Guam and the nearby Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, like Hawai'i, feel exposed to threatened North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile attacks. These threats manifested themselves after Trump began hurling juvenile insults at the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. If it were not for a heavy US military presence in the region, Guam, or Guahan as it is called by the native Chamorro population, and the Northern Marianas would not be targets for North Korea. Anger by the people of Guam and the Northern Marianas is not directed at North Korea but at Trump for needlessly making repeated military threats against North Korea, action that has placed Guam and the Marianas in a North Korean bullseye.
Although Guamanians are born as US citizens, a proposed plebiscite on the political future of the island is stalled over the question of who may vote. Chamorros, like Native Hawai'ians, American Samoans, Virgin Islanders, and Puerto Ricans, resent non-native mostly white residents, most of whom are Republicans who support people like Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, from having a say in Guam's independence or increased autonomy options. The Republicans and their stooges, including Trump-supporting Guam Republican Governor Eddie Calvo, strongly oppose independence or increased sovereignty with a free association status, like that of the Northern Marianas, for Guam. Calvo, who wants Guam to become a US state, fed into Trump's noise machine when he told Fox News, "As far as I'm concerned, as an American citizen, I want a president that said that if any nation such as North Korea attacks Guam, attacks Honolulu, attacks the West Coast, that they will be met with Hell and fury."
Calvo's inflammatory rhetoric, while well-received in whites-only pool halls, country clubs, and bar rooms across the hinterlands of the American mainland, was considered dangerous by most Guamanians. Even some erstwhile Guamanian supporters of Calvo believe that continued territorial or free association status for Guam would still make it a target for a North Korean missile attack. Independence, with the phasing out of the US military presence, would make Guam as much a target as Tuvalu or Kiribati. In other words, Guam would no longer be a pawn caught between nuclear-armed powers.
Ideally, Guahan and the Northern Marianas, part of the same island chain – the Marianas – should be a united and independent nation, with its capital in Hagatna (formerly Agana) and freedom to pursue its own future, including establishing diplomatic and economic relationships with fellow Asia-Pacific nations like China, Japan, and Korea. The Marianas were divided first by Spain and Germany, followed by the United States and Japan. US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) has thrown up artificial and fascistic barriers to inter-island travel and trade between the peoples of Guahan, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. It's clearly beyond time for America's "Ignored Abroad" – from St. Croix and Moloka'i to Tutuila and Tinian – to achieve post-colonial status as independent nations free of dictates from Washington and the boorish intentions of resident non-natives from patently foreign places like New York, Florida, Texas, and California.