Washington Holds Guam Back, Despite Not Knowing Where It Is

Dennis Lennox Former executive director, Republican Party of the Virgin Islands
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Guam, so far west that it’s actually east, is where America’s day begins, at least that’s how Gov. Eddie Calvo described the geographic location of this American soil in Asia.

Yet the territory, an anachronism from when the United States vanquished Spain, gaining many of the former’s long-held colonial possessions, is more than a footnote in the annals of a dusty old volume on U.S. history.

Guam is front and center as the situations in North Korea and the South China Sea continue to unfold.

The Pentagon may know where Guam is — the island is home to Air Force and Navy installations — but few politicians and bureaucrats in the federal government can even find it on the map.

“Benign neglect,” were the words Lieutenant Gov. Ray Tenorio used to describe Washington’s relationship with his island. “The feds view Guam only as a military asset. Nothing more.”

The situation is only magnified by a political status that denigrates the loyal Americans who live here to second-class status.

Denied a full voting member of the House of Representatives, its delegate to Congress can only vote in committees. It also has lacks senators and has zero votes in the Electoral College for president, meaning Guam has little political capital in a city where influence is everything.

Notwithstanding Washington’s indifference to what happens beyond the fences encircling the Navy and Air Force bases, the island has a strong economy rooted in tourism.

While Japanese and South Koreans know Guam is comparable to Hawaii, American tourists are non-existent thanks to the federal government.

Blame cabotage, an obscure legal doctrine that prevents foreign-flagged airlines from flying between two U.S. airports. The only way to get to Guam without leaving America is on United via Honolulu, a flight that is longer and more expensive than most flights to Europe from the East Coast.

Cabotage also extends to the seas via the Jones Act, an imperialist federal law that massively increases the costs of living and doing business through mercantilism. As a result, pretty much everything is shipped in from the mainland even though it would make much more sense to buy say fresh food from the Philippines or Taiwan.

The federal government is also hurting Guam’s economy in two other areas.

Between its relatively small population of about 170,000 people and its considerable distance from the mainland, Guam has relied upon Filipino workers going back to when the Philippines was a territory under the Star and Stripes.

That wasn’t a problem until H-2B worker visas went from nearly a 100 percent issuance rate to a nearly 100 percent denial rate under the now-former Obama administration. Worse yet is the fact that the feds won’t provide any real explanation for the sudden change.

Flash forward to today and there aren’t enough workers to handle both private sector development — hotels, new housing and even backyard pools — and the massive build-up resulting from the pending transfer of U.S. Marines from Japan. When there are spare workers they are lured away by lucrative work on the bases.

Politically it’s difficult for Guam, without senators and a vote in the House, to convince Washington that its need for guest workers is substantively different than those exploiting guest worker visas back on the mainland.

Completely separate from the issue is something more outrageous.

Since the World War II-era there has been a shipyard here with at least one dry dock to maintain and repair Navy vessels.

Following post-Cold War military installation closures the ship repair facility was eventually privatized with a company called Guam Shipyard operating the dry dock. Unlike those on a H-2B visa, dry dock workers are Americans.

These skilled trade jobs, which numbered in the hundreds and paid premium wages, are exactly the sort of job that President Donald Trump talked about during his campaign.

Skilled trades are critical to revitalizing American industry, including in the Rust Belt but also on a small island like Guam, where good-paying jobs like those at the dry dock diversify an economy overly dependent on tourism.

Unfortunately for Guam, penny-pinching bureaucrats in the Pentagon have sacrificed the national interest and put hundreds of Americans out of work by taking vessels to dry docks in Singapore, the Philippines and now India.

With communist Chinese nationals making up 25 percent of workers in Singapore’s shipyards it isn’t wise to have foreign nationals repairing billion-dollar Navy vessels.

Despite Congress recognizing, as recently as the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, that utilizing a dry dock in Guam was a vital national interest — economically, militarily — the Navy is deliberating playing games by designating vessels as forward-deployed to circumvent a federal law that would otherwise require maintenance and repairs to occur in Guam or other U.S. ports.

One cannot help but to wonder what motivates Pentagon bureaucrats to ignore the national interest, especially in light of the so-called Fat Leonard corruption scandal plaguing the Navy.

Of course, one also realizes that Guam’s political status makes it easier to send Navy vessels to shipyards in foreign countries.

Don’t think for one minute this would happen if the territory had senators let alone a full voting congressman who could actually wield the power of the purse in Guam’s favor.

Dennis Lennox writes about politics. Follow @dennislennox.