Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is a commonwealth in political union with the United States of America at a strategic location in the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of 15 islands about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, at . The United States Census Bureau reports the total land area of all islands as 463.63 km² (179.01 sq mi).
It has a population of 80,362 (2005 estimate). The official 2000 census count was 69,221 . Of note is that the Northern Mariana Islands have the highest female to male sex ratio in the world, with an average of 77 men to every 100 women.
Geography and climate
The southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; the northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on Anatahan, Pagan and Agrihan. The volcano on Agrihan is the highest elevation in the islands at 965 meters. About one-fifth of the land is arable, another tenth is permanent pasture. The primary natural resource is fish, which causes conflict with the protection of endangered species. Past development has created landfills that must be cleaned up and has caused contamination of groundwater on Saipan, which may contribute to disease.
Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island located 120 km (80 miles) north of Saipan Island and 320 km (200 miles) north of Guam. The island is about 9 km (5.6 miles) long and 3 km (2 miles) wide. Anatahan began erupting suddenly from its east crater on May 10, 2003 at about 5:00 p.m. (17:00h). Since then it has continued to alternate between eruptive and calm periods. On April 6, 2005, approximately 50,000 cubic meters of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift southward over Saipan and Tinian. Recent eruptions have caused some commercial flights to re-route.
The islands have a tropical marine climate moderated by seasonal northeast trade winds. There is little seasonal temperature variation; the dry season runs from December to June, and the rainy season from July to October can include typhoons. The Guinness Book of World Records has cited Saipan as having the most equable temperature in the world. 
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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 in exchange 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 to fish with may not have been considered thievery in the eyes of the local population.
Due to this cultural misunderstanding, around half a dozen locals were killed and a village of 40 homes burned before the boat was retrieved, and the archipelago subsequently 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 henceforth 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 Govenor of the Islands (its remains can still be seen in 2006).
Guam was an important stop-over from Mexico for galleons carrying gold and other between the Philippines and Spain. There are several unfound sunken Spanish galleons off Guam.
Nearly all of the islands' native population (90%-95%) died out 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 this day.
The Marianas came under German contol for a brief period when Spain sold them to Germany, exclusive of Guam. In 1919 the Japanese invaded and occupied these islands and the League of Nations, pre-cursor of the United Nations, awarded them to Japan by mandate.
The Empire of Japan captured Guam during World War II and Japanese governance of the Islands moved to Guam. The Japanese annexation of the Marianas was not popular among its residents, and the Japanese forces have been accused of atrocities during their occupation of the islands, including the torture and killing of the residents of Guam and the Northern Marianas.
In 1944, the United States Marines invaded Guam at great cost of life. From the sea, the Japanese fortresses were not evident, and the Marines were largely mowed down by Japanese defenses as they approached. The Marines were successful and also took over Saipan and islands further north. The Japanese commander wrote a letter to Emperor Hirohito apologizing for the loss of the islands and then committed seppuku (hara-kiri / traditional Japanese form of ritual suicide).
On June 15, 1944, during World War II, U.S. Marines landed on the islands and eventually won the bitterly fought three-week Battle of Saipan. The Marianas were a critical part of the last chapter of the war, as Tinian provided the take off point for the bombing of Hiroshima.
As an unusual sidenote, the war did not end for everyone with the signing of the armistice. As of 1972, Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese soldier, had been hiding out near the village of Talofofo since WWII. He was the last soldier on active military duty when the Japanese left Guam, and his family thought that he had been killed in action.
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 U.S. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the U.S. 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.
Politics of the Northern Mariana Islands takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic system, whereby the Governor is head of government, and of a pluriform 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. 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 loyalities" where the size of one's extended family is more important than a candidate's personal qualifications. Some critics, including the author of Saipansucks.com, charge that this is nepotism carried out within the trappings of democracy.  .
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 . As a direct result of lobbying by Abramoff and associates, the Northern Mariana Islands received special federal subsidies.  As well, Congressman Bob Ney allegedly received free trips to the Northern Mariana Islands from Abramoff, in violation of federal law. 
The Northern Marianas Islands are also the site of another controversy 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 harbor 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."<ref>Pitney, Nico (2006-08-07). Rep. Doolittle: A Devoted Friend of Sex Slavery. American Progress Action Fund. Retrieved on 2006-10-18.</ref>
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 on 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 the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap)] of the TTPI's original seven districts.
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" 
On September 23, 2004, Congressman Richard Pombo of California introduced H.R. 5135 - the Northern Mariana Islands Delegate Act. The bill, had it become law, would have allowed CNMI to elect a non-voting delegate to the United States House of Representatives starting with the 2006 election. The bill died at the end of the 108th Congress. But, on February 18, 2005, the Delegate Act was reintroduced by Pombo with a new number, H.R. 873. 
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands benefits from substantial subsidies and development assistance from the federal government of the United States. The economy also relies heavily on tourism, especially, from Japan, and the rapidly dwindling garment manufacturing sector. The tourism industry is also dwindling. Since late 2006, tourist arrivals fell 15.23 percent (73,000 potential visitors) from the eleven months prior. 
The Northern Mariana Islands has successfully used its position as a free trade area with the U.S., while at the same time not being subject to the same labor laws. For example, the $3.05 per hour minimum wage in the Commonwealth is lower than in the U.S. and some other worker protections are weaker leading to lower production costs. This allows garments to be labeled "Made in USA" without having to comply with all U.S. labor laws. A bill passed by the US House of Representatives would extend federal minimum wages laws to the Northern Mariana Islands and raise the wage to $7.00 if signed into law. 
In the extreme, the island's exemption from U.S. labor laws have led to many alleged exploitations including recent claims of the existence of sweatshops, child labor, child prostitution and even forced abortions.  Ms. magazine took on the issue in depth in their Spring 2006 article "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists."
A separate immigration system outside of federal U.S. control has resulted in a large number of Chinese migrant workers employed in the Islands' garment trade. However, the lifting of World Trade Organization restrictions on Chinese imports to the US has put the Commonwealth-based trade under severe pressure, leading to a number of recent factory closures.
Exemptions from some Federal regulations
Although the CNMI is part of the United States, several Republican Party members of Congress have fought hard to keep regulation out of the CNMI, preserving it as a more pure form of capitalism, without labor regulation. In 1998, Republican Congressman Tom Delay called the CNMI a "perfect Petri dish of capitalism." And two years later, in addressing the Governor of the Islands, Delay famously said:
"You are a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we’re trying to do in America in leading the world in the free-market system."
However, the lack of labor regulation is not without controversy. The inapplicability of Federal labor regulations has resulted in some extreme labor practices, not common elsewhere in the United States. Some of these labor practices include forcing workers to have abortions, as exposed in the March 18, 1998 episode of ABC News' 20/20, and enslaving women and forcing them into prostitution, as the U.S. Department of Justice conviction of several CNMI traffickers in 1999 attests. In 2005-2006, the issue of these regulatory exemptions in the CNMI was brought up during the American political scandals of Congressman Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The islands have over 350 kilometers of highways, three airports with paved runways (one some 3000 meters (9840 feet) long; two around 2000 meters (6560 feet), three airports with unpaved runways (one about 3000 meters long; two under 1000 meters (3280 feet)), and one heliport.
Islands, island groups and municipalities
The islands total 463.63 square kilometers. An overview is presented next, with the individual islands from north to south:
|No.||Island||Area (km2)||Population</br>Census 2000||Height (m)||Highest Peak||Location|
|1||Farallon de Pajaros (Urracas)||2.55||0||319|
|2||Maug Islands||2.13||occupied 1939-44||227||(North Island)|
|4||Agrihan (Agrigan)||43.51||evacuated 1990||965||Mount Agrihan|
|5||Pagan||47.23||evacuated 1981||579||Mount Pagan|
|10||Farallon de Medinilla||0.85||0||81|
|11||Saipan||115.39||62 392||474||Mount Tagpochau|
|12||Tinian||101.01||3 540||170||Kastiyu (Lasso Hill)|
|14||Rota||85.38||3 283||491||Mt. Manira|
|NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS||463.63||69 221||965||Mount Agrihan|| 14°08' to 20°33'N,|
144°54° to 146°04'E
Administratively, the CNMI is divided into four municipalities:
Islands 1 through 10 are collective known as the Northern Islands, together forming the Northern Islands Municipality. Islands 11 through 14 are collectively known as the Southern Islands, with the municipalities Saipan, Tinian, and Rota (uninhabited Aguijan is part of Tinian municipality).
Because of volcanic threat, the northern islands have been largely evacuated. Currently, human habitation is limited to Agrihan, Pagan, and Alamagan, but population varies due to various economic factors including children's education. The Census of April 2000 registered just six people in all of the Northern Islands municipality (then residing on Alamagan), and the Northern Islands' mayor office is located in "exile" on Saipan.
Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have the only ports and harbors, and are the only permanently populated islands.
Notes and references
- CIA World Factbook 2000.
- Land areas and population data from United States Census Bureau.
- Northern Mariana Islands and constituent municipalities, United States Census Bureau
- U.S. and CNMI relations
- Full Committee Hearing: Conditions in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Thursday, February 8, 2007, United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- View complete webcast of above hearings (streaming Real video). Aprox 2.5 hours long.
- Northern Mariana Islands official government site
- The CNMI Covenant
- The CNMI Constitution
- CNMI Office of Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio
- H.R. 873 - the Northern Mariana Islands Delegate Act
- H.R. 5550 - The United States-Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Human Dignity Act
- Saipan Tribune
- Marianas Variety
- Bruce Lloyd Media Services CNMI News
- The Pacific Times
- Food for Thought - Weekly commentary on CNMI society by KZMI and KCNM manager Harry Blalock
- Open Directory Project - Northern Mariana Islands directory category
- Moon Handbooks Micronesia
- myMicronesia/Northern Marianas section
- Digital Micronesia
- Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands Archives
- Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
- Northern Mariana Islands Online Encyclopedia
- Micronesian Seminar
- Fresh Air (NPR): "Sweatshops in U.S. Territory"
- "Neo-Colonialism & Contract Labor Under The U.S. Flag" by Phil Kaplan
- "Solving Worker Abuse Problems in the Northern Mariana Islands" by Karen M. Smith
- "About Saipan" - A strongly critical take on the CNMI, Saipan Sucks
- Satellite Image of Anatahan Ash Plume
- Ocean Dots pictures
- Thinkprogress' information on sex and labor slavery
- Saipan and Tinian locator map
- Pascal Horst Lehne and Christoph Gäbler: Über die Marianen. Lehne-Verlag, Wohldorf in Germany 1972.
- Ms. magazine Spring 2006 article "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists" Article about the plight of garment workers, the Abramoff scandal, and other abuses, by Rebecca Clarren
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