US primary rivalry livens former Spanish colony Guam

By Gonzalo Espariz, DPA,

Washington : Most US citizens do not know that the Stars and Stripes fly in Guam. Most people, in fact, do not know where to find Guam. However, thanks to the close race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the small island in the Pacific has found its place on the map.

Support TwoCircles

Obama wrote a letter that local media published Friday. Clinton promised to work for the island’s voting rights, and former US president Bill Clinton phoned Guam radio stations to promote his wife’s candidacy.

Both candidates have broadcast campaign ads on the island’s television stations, and Obama even opened an office in the capital, Hagatna, with three people working full time.

According to Guam media, the Clintons have capitalised on several visits to the island, including a stopover on their way to Asia.

Obama, in turn, is exploiting his Pacific connection, as he was born in Hawaii and grew up in Indonesia.

“I learned first-hand about the unique issues facing Pacific island communities,” he said in his letter.

Gaining favour with the US territory’s delegates is the motivation of these efforts.

The Democrats will formally choose a presidential candidate at their nominating convention in late August in Denver.

Each vote counts in the closest-ever nomination race. According to the website, Obama already has 1,738 delegates, to Clinton’s 1,599. Both are still a long way off the 2,024 needed to secure the nomination.

Guam will elect four delegates with full voting rights.

More important than the number of delegates is the chance to flaunt a triumph over the losing rival – even if that triumph takes place more than 20 hours from Washington on an island with only 170,000 people. They are, in fact, living a day ahead of the rest of the US.

Guam has little in common with the mainland, and its importance is almost exclusively strategic. The 550-sq-km island is home to US Navy and Air Force bases.

“People give me strange looks when I say I am from Guam,” says Kristina Horgan.

She arrived on the island when she was just seven months old, lived there for 25 of her 35 years, and now lives in Washington.

“Most people do not know where it is, and they change the subject or simply nod. Only some people with military connections know where it is,” Horgan added.

Other people are even more blunt.

“My roommate in college once asked me if we drank blood in Guam. I should have told her that we did, that we drank it in coconut shells,” Horgan said.

Guam, locally called Guahan, was discovered by Europeans during the 16th-century circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan. Formally a Spanish colony, Spain ceded it to the US in 1898, following the Spanish-American War.

As in the Philippines, Spanish influence is still apparent in Guam. Its governor’s name is Felix Perez Camacho, it has a Roman Catholic majority and born islanders call themselves “chamorros”.

The sudden attention from the mainland, even if it lasts only a few days, is welcomed by most residents on an island that has a long history of making demands on Washington. However, some see a situation plagued with hypocrisy.

“I’m struck by the fact that the former president (Clinton) is calling once again for our island’s assistance when it is Guam that has needed the help of the Clintons and the federal government for many years,” former island resident Ryan Flynn wrote in the daily Marianas Variety.

More than likely, once Saturday’s primary is over, Guam faces a rapid return to obscurity. The winning candidate will have no political need to return ahead of the November election because – just like the residents of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands – the inhabitants of Guam have no vote in US presidential elections.