Northern Mariana Islands

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Sankattan Siha Na Islas Mariånas
Flag of Northern Mariana Islands Seal of Northern Mariana Islands
Flag Seal
Anthem: Gi Talo Gi Halom Tase  (Chamorro)
Satil Matawal Pacifico  (Carolinian)
Location of Northern Mariana Islands
Capital Saipan
Largest city
Official language English, Chamorro, Carolinian
Government Presidential representative democracy
 - Head of State George W. Bush
 - Governor Benigno R. Fitial
 - Lt. Governor Timothy P. Villagomez
 - Resident

Pedro Agulto Tenorio
Commonwealth in union with United States 
 - Covenant 1975 
 - Total 477 km² (195th)
181 sq mi 
 - Water (%) negligible
 - July 2005 estimate 80,801 (198th)
 - Density 168/km² (n/a)
63.8/sq mi
Currency United States dollar (USD)
Time zone (UTC+10)
Internet TLD .mp
Calling code +1 670

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 15°1′2″N, 145°4′5″E. It has a population of 80,362 (2005 estimate). The official 2000 census count was 69,221 [1]. The United States Census Bureau reports the total land area of all islands as 463.63 km (179.01 sq mi).



Geography and climate

The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam to the south, comprise the Mariana Islands.

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.[2]




European Conquerors

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 was not a crime and not thievery in their eyes. (The Catholic Church did much to introduce mores against this practice, but even today, some young Chomorros hoping to revive their cultural heritage have come in conflict with the law over this on the Islands.)

Due to this cultural misunderstanding, over 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.

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

Nearly all of the islands' native population (90%-95%)[citation needed] 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 Japanese used the Islands as a military outpost. They did not treat the native population well.[citation needed]


Japanese Possession

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. This led to the Chamorros of Guam and Saipan bearing grudges against the Japanese, some which still remain after 65 years, despite Japanese tourists being a major contributor to the economies of Saipan and Guam.


American Takeover

In 1943; the United States Marines invaded Guam at great cost of life. From the sea the Japanese fortresses (even today 2006 (they have been preserved) ) 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 sepuku (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 are a critical part of the last chapter of the war, as Guam and Saipan provided the take off point for the bombing of Hiroshima.

As an unusual sidenote, the war had not completely ended for everyone with the signing of the armistice, because as of 1990, a Japanese Soldier apparently had still not received the message and had been hiding out in Guam since WWII. He was the last soldier on active military duty when the Japanese left in the Islands and his family thought that he had been killed in action.


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 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. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

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, charge that this is nepotism carried out within the trappings of democracy.[3][4].

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 [5]. As a direct result of lobbying by Abramoff and associates, the Northern Mariana Islands received special federal subsidies. [6] As well, Congressman Bob Ney allegedly received free trips to the Northern Mariana Islands from Abramoff, in violation of federal law. [7]

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."[1]


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 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" [8]

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. [9]



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.[10]

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.

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.[11]

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.

Agricultural production, primarily of tapioca, cattle, coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons exists, but is of relatively minor economic importance.


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.



Current Northern Mariana Islands license plate.
Current Northern Mariana Islands license plate.

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
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)
3 Asuncion 7.31 0 891
4 Agrihan (Agrigan) 43.51 evacuated 1990 965 Mount Agrihan
5 Pagan 47.23 evacuated 1990 579 Mount Pagan 18°08′36″N, 145°47′39″E
6 Alamagan 11.12 6 744 Banadera
7 Guguan 3.87 0 301
8 Sarigan 4.97 formerly inhab. 549
9 Anatahan 31.21 evacuated 1990 787
10 Farallon de Medinilla 0.85 0 81
11 Saipan 115.39 62 392 474 Mount Tagpochau 15°11′06″N, 145°44′28″E
12 Tinian 101.01 3 540 170 Kastiyu (Lasso Hill) 14°57′12″N, 145°38′54″E
13 Aguijan (Agiguan) 7.09 0 157
14 Rota 85.38 3 283 491 Mt. Manira 14°08′37″N, 145°11′08″E
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, with just six people remaining on Alamagan island (Census of 2000), and with the Mayor of the Northern Islands Municipality residing in "exile" on Saipan.

Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have the only ports and harbors, and are the only permanently populated islands.


See also

  • Aguijan
  • Battle of Saipan
  • Battle of Tinian
  • Garapan
  • Micronesia
  • Northern Marianas College
  • Saipan Sucks
  • Susupe
  • United Nations Trust Territories
  • NMI communications
  • NMI demographics
  • NMI economy
  • NMI music
  • NMI politics
  • Scouting in the NMI
  • NMI Territory Constitution
  • Department of Public Safety, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Saipan International Airport

Notes and references

  1. Pitney, Nico (2006-08-07). Rep. Doolittle: A Devoted Friend of Sex Slavery. American Progress Action Fund. Retrieved on 2006-10-18.

External links

Former German Schutzgebiete (colonies and protectorates)

Colonies Africa German East Africa (Tanganyika, Rwanda, Burundi)
Witu   (sultan under protectorate)
German South-West Africa     (Namibia)
German West Africa (Kamerun, Togoland)

Pacific German New Guinea and   (German Solomon Islands, German Marshall Islands
associated Pacific islands  Caroline Islands, Mariana Islands, Nauru, Palau)
German Samoa

Concessions China Kiaochow / Kiautschou
Tsingtao (leased)

Unrecognized New Swabia
Flag of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Archipelago  · Geography · Politics · Economy · Campaign




Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas) · Maug Islands :#blue Asuncion · Agrihan (Agrigan) · Pagan · Alamagan · Guguan · Zealandia Bank · Sarigan · Anatahan · Farallon de Medinilla · Saipan · Tinian  · Aguijan (Agiguan) · Rota


Northern Islands Municipality · Saipan · Tinian · Rota

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