America’s broken trust in Micronesia


Micronesia has a complicated past

The islands have been conquered by a string of powers, the latest being the U.S.

By Gary T. Kubota

MAJURO, Marshall Islands » Micronesia, once known as the Caroline Islands, occupies an expanse of about 3 million square miles of ocean with more than 2,000 islands, atolls and islets.

The size is comparable to the contiguous United States.

But the total land mass is about 913 square miles, less than the size of Rhode Island or one-fourth of the Big Island.

Haunani-Kay Trask, a Hawaiian-studies professor at the University of Hawaii, said there are historic parallels between the Hawaiian Islands and island nations in Micronesia.

“We have all of that colonial expansion out of Europe in common. … Both suffered bombing and occupation by the U.S. military,” she said.

The sister civilizations are also facing similar challenges, as their native peoples seek a sovereign status, including reparations for bombed lands, health problems related to the Westernization of their culture, global warming and loss of ocean resources.

Critics say the United States, entrusted by the United Nations with helping the islands toward self-government, fell short of its mandate to develop them economically, socially and politically.

“I think there were shortcomings in those areas,” said David Hanlon, director of Pacific studies at the University of Hawaii.

Since the islands were sighted by Westerners in the 1500s, most of Micronesia has been a trade route eastward to Asia and was conquered by a succession of nations, including Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States.

Some islanders still speak Japanese, and their surnames are a calabash of Micronesia, Asian and Western names.

Under a United Nations mandate in 1948, much of Micronesia was placed under the administration of the United States as a strategic trust territory.

The U.S. was entrusted with helping the region develop.

Four separate political entities have emerged out of the former U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific, including the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

The Micronesian island of Guam, which was ceded by Spain to the United States in 1898 after the defeat of Spain, is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Under a Compact of Free Association, the four governments have gained self-rule but agreed to allow the United States to control military access and use, in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid.

The United States continues to use islands in Micronesia for military exercises, including Kwajalein for its missile test range, Tinian for military maneuvers and Farrallon de Medenilla for bombing practice.

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