As Americans, we don’t like to think of the United States as a colonial power. Yet the Mariana Islands are part of an American insular empire of non-state strategic colonies and commonwealths. These ‘Insular Areas’ are part of the American political family – but they are not equal players in the American political process. They are all poorer than the poorest of the US states, and they face common problems, including:

  • weak economies based largely on tourism
  • ecological degradation from U.S. military and corporate pollution
  • high enlistment rates in the US armed services
  • fundamental, unanswered questions of national identity
  • social and psychological disorders common among colonized people.

Residents of Guam, the CNMI, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens (while residents of American Samoa are U.S. “nationals”) – yet none of these Americans can vote in federal elections. None of the insular areas is represented by a U.S. Senator, nor a voting representative to Congress. Residents of the Insular Areas may not vote in presidential elections.

Despite this lack of representation, the federal government exerts broad control over the islands. The US Congress recently enacted legislation granting a non-voting delegate to the CNMI – but taking away the CNMI’s long-standing control over its own immigration and labor laws.

The people of the CNMI had no say whatsoever in the framing, or ratifying, of this legislation. On Guam, a proposed military buildup threatens to confiscate ancestral lands which are home to endangered species and archaeological sites – without input from the community whose lands they are taking.

With no star on the flag they die for and no vote for their Commander-in-Chief, youth from these islands are fighting in Iraq – while their homeland is in jeopardy from the very military they are serving.

Want to learn more? See “The Overseas Territories and Commonwealths of the United States of America” by attorney Dan MacMeekin, for an excellent introduction to the issues confronting the U.S. insular areas.

Insular Facts

  • Number of insular areas: 5
  • Total insular residents: 4,395,288
  • Locations: Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Samoa, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands
  • Number of U.S. insular areas on the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories: 3