Symposium 2016: Should we cut our territories and possessions loose and let them be independent nations?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent- Let’s look at Puerto Rico as an example for the purposes of this question.  Not only do the vast majority of people there not want to be independent, support for statehood is nearing all-time highs.  Rather than cutting them loose, I say we make PR a state and stop letting the country degenerate into a third-world sinkhole.  Bad investments, poor civil planning and insanely inept governance has turned what should be a tropical paradise into a poor cousin to the U.S.  Bringing the country into the fold would help all those problems, and in the end we would bear an economic boon as a result.  Our other territories are by and large small locales that likely wouldn’t survive on their own, and I don’t really see the benefit in cutting them loose.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent- While granting independence to the five inhabited territories that the US controls seems like a minor event, the significance of such a move could have a great impact around the world. For centuries, powerful countries (mostly European) have endeavored to “conquer the world” by invading foreign lands and colonizing other countries or peoples to access the natural resources of that land. Another reason for world powers to colonize was to build military bases in strategic locations to protect themselves against other powers who also covet certain territories.

Colonization of territories cost millions of lives in war, trillions of dollars in destruction from war as well as pollution caused by irresponsible harvesting of resources, and subjugated or enslaved tens of millions of people whose only crime was to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The five inhabited territories controlled by the US only have about four million citizens, so the impact in terms of lives affected won’t be significant in the grand scheme of things. However, granting freedom to territories the US once conquered will tell the world that the age of aggression, colonization, and subjugation of native people needs to come to an end. The ideal  outcome of a US move to de-colonize will be if other world powers elect to grant freedom to their own territories.

If the US does free their territories, they should allow those citizens to democratically choose their future. Some territories might decide to remain under the rule of the United States. Others may see more benefit in going independent. But we shouldn’t cast them loose with no warning or preparation. The transition should be done gradually and allow for the safety of the people and the smooth transition of power to the new ruling body.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent- Three territories are held by the United States, which are American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though they are governed by the United States, they do not hold statehood status. This placement gives them a lower legal and political standing, which sets them apart from the rest of the United States.

Other United States possessions without statehood status are categorized under the description of insular political communities that are associated with the United States. Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands belong to the United States and have commonwealth status, which is above a territory and below a state.

The United States also has islands in the Pacific that are identified as possessions. Possessions rank at the lowest legal and political status because of their lack of permanent populations. They do not seek to determine their own independence or self-rule.  Those possessions are Baker, Howland, Kingman Reef, Jarvis, Johnston, Midway, Palmyra and Wake Islands.

Included in the territory category are military bases and the land they occupy.  As these areas are occupied almost entirely by the military, they are governed by military laws and not by the same political structures that are in place for commonwealths and territories. These bases are located in various locations world-wide and include Okinawa, Japan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Territories and territorial law have been difficult to determine and define as the American government has fashioned acquisition of land as it goes along. When the United States and its early possessions and colonies (which eventually became states) were acquired it was through chaotic actions against British forces, other occupiers and battles with Native Americans. The policies for possessing land won and acquired under these conditions of war were not clearly established.  Since those early beginnings, America has struggled to develop a clear policy on the acquisition and possession of land.

As the Constitution does not give a clear picture or state in words how the United States can acquire land, essentially the power is given to the Congress through Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1, which basically says that new states may be admitted but no new states can be formed without consent of the legislatures of the concerned states.  Similar regulations apply  concerning territory and properties belonging to the United States.

International law allows the United States and other nation-states to acquire additional territory through occupation of a territory that is not part of a state as well as through conquest (through permission from an international community), relinquishment of land by another nation through treaty, and through expansion or growth of new land within a country’s boundaries.

Both Congress and the Supreme Court have given the Congress and president control over United States territories and some policy and administrative duties are assigned to the Office of Insular Affairs, which assists in territorial functions. The president makes appointments to judgeships and executive offices in territories while the Congress formulates court systems for territories, and any decisions made by territorial courts are subject to Supreme Court review.  Congress may also pass laws governing a territory that relate to its customs and native people, but it cannot pass laws that violate basic constitutional rights.

As far as cutting our territories and possessions loose and allowing them to become independent nations, a majority of these territories, possessions and commonwealths are not committed to obtaining independent status nor are some qualified to do so because of their lower level status, particularly possessions and military territories that have small  populations and are managed by the military.  Many of these island nations simply cannot stand on their own economically or defensively and require the United States government to assist them in shaping and maintaining their political structure and economic base.

Additionally, the federal government is hesitant to relinquish territorial holdings due to the fact that many of its territories and possessions are already self-governing in their own right, as they are able to elect their own legislatures, elect delegates to attend congressional sessions, hearings and conferences in Washington, D.C., and they can propose legislation and vote on legislation in committees, but they are not able to participate in final votes.

If any of the territories, commonwealths and possessions were to seek independence, there would be numerous complicated processes and laws to be altered and adapted, as in the case of Puerto Rico.  Congress cannot permanently yield sovereignty to Puerto Rico while it remains a territory of the United States.

Economics is the key to any breakaway from United States jurisdiction, and when island nations are dependent upon economic and defensive support, there is hesitancy to seek total separation and independence, which is a security that these island nations want to maintain.


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