Northern Mariana Islands

Introduction Under US administration as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975, and came into force on 24 March 1976. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.
History

European Explorers

The first European exploration of the area was that led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain. After being met offshore and accepting the refreshments offered to them by the native Chamorros, the latter then helped themselves to a small boat belonging to Magellan's fleet. This led to a cultural clash because in the old Chamorro culture there was little if any private property and to take something that one needed, such as a boat for fishing, was not considered thievery.

Due to that cultural misunderstanding, around half a dozen locals were killed and a village of 40 homes burned before the boat was retrieved. The archipelago thus acquired the ignominious name Islas de los Ladrones ("Islands of the Thieves").

Three days after he had arrived, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack--a portentous beginning to its relationship with the Spanish. The islands were then considered by Spain to be annexed, and therefore under their governance, from the Philippines, as part of the Spanish East Indies. The Spanish built a Royal Palace in Guam for the Governor of the Islands. Its remains could still be seen in 2006.

Guam was an important stop-over from Mexico for galleons carrying gold and other cargo between the Philippines and Spain. There are several lost sunken Spanish galleons off Guam.

In 1668 the islands were renamed by Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores as Las Marianas after Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain's Philip IV.

Most of the islands' native population (90%-95%)[5] died out or intermarried with non-Chamorro settlers under Spanish rule, but new settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought in to repopulate the islands. Despite this, the Chamorro population did gradually resurge, and Chamorro, Filipino and Carolinian language and ethnic differences remain basically distinct in the Marianas.

To facilitate cultural and religious assimilation, Spanish colonists forced the Chamorros to be concentrated on Guam for a period of time. By the time Chamorros were allowed to return to the present-day Northern Marianas, Carolinians (from present-day eastern Yap State and western Chuuk State) had settled in the Marianas. Hence Carolinians and Chamorros are both considered as indigenous to the Northern Marianas and both languages are official in the commonwealth (but not on Guam).

German and Japanese possession

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the rest of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to Germany.

Japan declared war on Germany during World War I and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919, the League of Nations, pre-cursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands to Japan by mandate. During Japan's occupation, sugar cane became the main industry of the islands, and labor was imported from Japan and associated colonies (especially Okinawa and Korea).

Hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces from the Marianas launched an invasion of Guam on December 8, 1941. Chamorros from the Northern Marianas, then under Japanese rule for more than two decades, were brought to Guam to assist the Japanese administration. This combined with the harsh treatment of Guamanian Chamorros during the brief 31-month occupation created a rift between the two populations that would become the main reason Guamanians rejected reunification referendum approved by the Northern Marianas in the 1960s.

American acquisition

Near the end of World War II, the United States military invaded the Mariana Islands on June 15, 1944, beginning with the Battle of Saipan, which ended on July 9 with the Japanese commander committing seppuku (a traditional Japanese form of ritual suicide). U.S. forces then recaptured Guam beginning July 21 and invaded Tinian (see Battle of Tinian) on July 24, which provided the take off point for the Enola Gay, the plane dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima a year later. Rota was left untouched (and isolated) until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, due to its military insignificance.

The war did not end for everyone with the signing of the armistice. The last group of Japanese soldiers surrendered on Saipan on December 1, 1945. On Guam, Japanese soldier Shoichi Yokoi hid out in the village of Talofofo until 1972.

Between the end of the invasion and the Japanese surrender, the Saipan and Tinian populations were kept in concentration camps. Japanese nationals were eventually repatriated, and the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians returned to the land.

The Commonwealth

After Japan's defeat, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United States. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. The islands are not represented in the U.S. Congress.

Geography Location: Oceania, islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines
Geographic coordinates: 15 12 N, 145 45 E
Map references: Oceania
Area: total: 477 sq km
land: 477 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes 14 islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian
Area - comparative: 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 1,482 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October
Terrain: southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; northern islands are volcanic
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Agrihan 965 m
Natural resources: arable land, fish
Land use: arable land: 13.04%
permanent crops: 4.35%
other: 82.61% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: active volcanoes on Pagan and Agrihan; typhoons (especially August to November)
Environment - current issues: contamination of groundwater on Saipan may contribute to disease; clean-up of landfill; protection of endangered species conflicts with development
Geography - note: strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean
Politics

The Northern Mariana Islands have a presidential representative democratic system, in which the Governor is head of government, with a multi-party system. The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth in political union with the United States. Federal funds to the Commonwealth are administered by the Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Repeating the separation of powers in other U.S. territories and state governments, executive power is exercised by the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands. Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature. Senate President Joseph Mendiola is a founding member of the Outlying Areas Senate Presidents Caucus. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.

However, politics in the Northern Mariana Islands is often "more a function of family relationships and personal loyalties" where the size of one's extended family is more important than a candidate's personal qualifications. Some critics, including the author of Saipan Sucks, charge that this is nepotism carried out within the trappings of democracy. [2] Archive copy at the Internet Archive

The Northern Mariana Islands have also come into the news recently due to their connection to the scandals involving Jack Abramoff and allegedly former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay [3]. As a direct result of lobbying by Abramoff and associates, the Northern Mariana Islands received special federal subsidies. [4] As well, Congressman Bob Ney allegedly received free trips to the Northern Mariana Islands from Abramoff, in violation of federal law. [5]

The Northern Marianas Islands are also the site of another controversy, one involving Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), Jack Abramoff, and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the alleged links to the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Northern Mariana Islands role in stopping legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops on the islands in 2001.

The Northern Marianas Islands allegedly have the most abusive labor practices of anywhere in the United States. According to the progressive think tank American Progress Action Fund, "Human 'brokers' bring thousands there to work as sex slaves and in cramped sweatshop garment factories where clothes (complete with 'Made in U.S.A.' tag) have been produced for all the major brands."

People Population: 86,616 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 18.4% (male 8,342/female 7,594)
15-64 years: 79.9% (male 27,996/female 41,245)
65 years and over: 1.7% (male 740/female 699) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 29.9 years
male: 32 years
female: 28.9 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.377% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 19.04 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 2.31 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 7.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.1 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.68 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.06 male(s)/female
total population: 0.75 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 6.72 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 6.68 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 6.76 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.5 years
male: 73.89 years
female: 79.26 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.18 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: NA (US citizens)
adjective: NA
Ethnic groups: Asian 56.3%, Pacific islander 36.3%, Caucasian 1.8%, other 0.8%, mixed 4.8% (2000 census)
Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)
Languages: Philippine languages 24.4%, Chinese 23.4%, Chamorro 22.4%, English 10.8%, other Pacific island languages 9.5%, other 9.6% (2000 census)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97%
male: 97%
female: 96% (1980 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
conventional short form: Northern Mariana Islands
abbreviation: CNMI
former: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Mariana Islands District
Dependency status: commonwealth in political union with the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs
Government type: commonwealth; self-governing with locally elected governor, lieutenant governor, and legislature
Capital: name: Saipan
geographic coordinates: 15 12 N, 145 45 E
time difference: UTC+10 (15 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (commonwealth in political union with the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are four municipalities at the second order: Northern Islands, Rota, Saipan, Tinian
Independence: none (commonwealth in political union with the US)
National holiday: Commonwealth Day, 8 January (1978)
Constitution: Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands effective 1 January 1978; Covenant Agreement fully effective 4 November 1986
Legal system: based on US system, except for customs, wages, immigration laws, and taxation
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal; indigenous inhabitants are US citizens but do not vote in US presidential elections
Executive branch: chief of state: President George W. BUSH of the US (since 20 January 2001); Vice President Richard B. CHENEY (since 20 January 2001)
head of government: Governor Benigno R. FITIAL (since 9 January 2006); Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. VILLAGOMEZ (since 9 January 2006)
cabinet: the cabinet consists of the heads of the 10 principal departments under the executive branch who are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate; other members include Special Assistants to the governor and office heads appointed by and reporting directly to the governor
elections: under the US Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories, such as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; governor and lieutenant governor elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms (eligible for a second term); election last held 5 November 2005 (next to be held in November 2009)
election results: Benigno R. FITIAL elected governor in a four-way race; percent of vote - Benigno R. FITIAL 28.07%, Heinz HOFSCHNEIDER 27.34%, Juan BABAUTA 26.6%, Froilan TENORIO 17.99%
Legislative branch: bicameral Legislature consists of the Senate (9 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year staggered terms) and the House of Representatives (20 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve two-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 3 November 2007 (next to be held in November 2009); House of Representatives - last held 3 November 2007 (next to be held in November 2009)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Covenant Party 3, Republican Party 3, Democratic Party 1, independents 2; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Republican Party 12, Covenant Party 4, Democratic Party 1, independents 3
note: the Northern Mariana Islands does not have a nonvoting delegate in the US Congress; instead, it has an elected official or "resident representative" in Washington, DC; seats by party - Republican Party 1 (Pedro A. TENORIO)
Judicial branch: Commonwealth Supreme Court; Superior Court; Federal District Court
Political parties and leaders: Covenant Party [Benigno R. FITIAL]; Democratic Party [Dr. Carlos S. CAMACHO]; Republican Party [Juan S. REYES]
Political pressure groups and leaders: NA
International organization participation: Interpol (subbureau), SPC, UPU
Flag description: blue, with a white, five-pointed star superimposed on the gray silhouette of a latte stone (a traditional foundation stone used in building) in the center, surrounded by a wreath
Political status

In 1947, the Northern Mariana Islands became part of the post-World War II United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). The United States became the TTPI's administering authority under the terms of a trusteeship agreement. In 1976, Congress approved the mutually negotiated Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States. The CNMI Government adopted its own constitution in 1977, and the constitutional government took office in January 1978. The Covenant was fully implemented November 3, 1986, pursuant to Presidential Proclamation no. 5564, which conferred United States citizenship on legally qualified CNMI residents.

On December 22, 1990, the Security Council of the United Nations terminated the TTPI as it applied to the CNMI and five other of the TTPI's original seven districts (the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap)).

Under the Covenant, in general, federal law applies to CNMI. However, the CNMI is outside the customs territory of the United States and, although the internal revenue code does apply in the form of a local income tax, the income tax system is largely locally determined. According to the Covenant, the federal minimum wage and federal immigration laws "will not apply to the Northern Mariana Islands except in the manner and to the extent made applicable to them by the Congress by law after termination of the Trusteeship Agreement" [6]

The CNMI has a United States district court which exercises jurisdiction over the District of the Northern Mariana Islands (DNMI), which is coterminous with the CNMI. The United States District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands was established by act of Congress in 1977 and began operations in January 1978. The court sits on the island of Saipan, but may sit other places within the Commonwealth. The district court has the same jurisdiction as all other United States district courts, including diversity jurisdiction and bankruptcy jurisdiction. Appeals are taken to the Ninth Circuit. The district court's local rules specifically require lawyers to wear shoes to court.[7]

Being the last group of Americans not represented in Congress, bills to establish a non-voting delegate had been introduced several times, but were never passed by both houses of Congress before each bill died at the end of the two-year session. However, in the 110th Congress, both the House and Senate bills to apply federal immigration jurisdiction to the Northern Marianas contain provisions to establish a CNMI delegate seat.

Economy Economy - overview: The economy benefits substantially from financial assistance from the US. The rate of funding has declined as locally generated government revenues have grown. The key tourist industry employs about 50% of the work force and accounts for roughly one-fourth of GDP. Japanese tourists predominate. Annual tourist entries have exceeded one-half million in recent years, but financial difficulties in Japan have caused a temporary slowdown. The agricultural sector is made up of cattle ranches and small farms producing coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons. Garment production is by far the most important industry with the employment of 17,500 mostly Chinese workers and sizable shipments to the US under duty and quota exemptions.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $900 million
note: GDP estimate includes US subsidy (2000 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $633.4 million (2000)
GDP - real growth rate: NA%
GDP - per capita (PPP): $12,500 (2000 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: NA%
Labor force: 44,470 total indigenous labor force; 2,699 unemployed; 28,717 foreign workers (2000)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: NA%
Unemployment rate: 3.9% (2001)
Population below poverty line: NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): -0.8% (2000)
Budget: revenues: $193 million
expenditures: $223 million (FY01/02 est.)
Agriculture - products: coconuts, fruits, vegetables; cattle
Industries: tourism, construction, garments, handicrafts
Industrial production growth rate: NA%
Electricity - production: NA kWh
Electricity - consumption: NA kWh
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2007 est.)
Exports: $NA
Exports - commodities: garments
Exports - partners: US (2006)
Imports: $214.4 million (2001)
Imports - commodities: food, construction equipment and materials, petroleum products
Imports - partners: US, Japan (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: extensive funding from US
Debt - external: $NA
Currency (code): US dollar (USD)
Currency code: USD
Exchange rates: the US dollar is used
Fiscal year: 1 October - 30 September
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 21,000 (2000)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 20,500 (2004)
Telephone system: general assessment: NA
domestic: NA
international: country code - 1-670; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 6, shortwave 1 (2005)
Radios: NA
Television broadcast stations: 1 (on Saipan; in addition, 2 cable services on Saipan provide varied programming from satellite networks) (2006)
Televisions: NA
Internet country code: .mp
Internet hosts: 5 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2001)
Internet users: 10,000 (2003)
Transportation Airports: 5 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2007)
Heliports: 1 (2007)
Roadways: total: 536 km (2004)
Ports and terminals: Saipan, Tinian
Military Military - note: defense is the responsibility of the US
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: none