Page images

3. An Organic Act and accompanying "integration" with the United States, would probably be the death knell for Samoan custom. Samoa would inevitably become "Americanized", and traditional ways—in politics, government, ceremony, agriculture, etc.—would decrease in importance. Recommendation

The Commission does not believe that Organic Act status is feasible at the present time.

The Commission recommends that if Organic Act status is proposed to Congress, a thorough program of public education be instituted to sensitize Samoans to the value of land and the problems which the thoughtless sale of land for a quick profit can create.

IV. COMMONWEALTH STATUS Commonwealth is a unique status. A brief review of the political history of Puerto Rico is probably the best introduction to a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages it might offer American Samoa.

Puerto Rico became a United States Possession on July 25, 1898, at the conclusion of the Spanish American war.

Shortly thereafter, civilian governors appointed by the President, with the consent of the United States Senate, administered the island. At the same time, Puerto Rico was permitted to send a Resident Commissioner to sit in the United States Congress with a voice on the floor of the House of Representatives and membership in some of its committees, but without the right to cast a vote.

Largely through the efforts of the first two Puerto Rican Resident Commissioners, Congress conferred United States citizenship on Puerto Ricans in 1917.

Following World War II, President Truman appointed the first native-born governor. In 1948, Congress passed a law authorizing Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was established in 1952. A Constitutional Assembly was elected to draft the Constitution. This Assembly was composed of 92 persons representing the various social, economic and political factors in the country. In March, 1952, the Constitution was submitted to the oters at a referendum, and was approved by the people overwhelmingly.

The new Constitution was officially proclaimed by the Governor of Puerto Rico on July 25, 1952, thus inaugurating Commonwealth as a new system of government which the Puerto Ricans chose for themselves.

One of the main considerations in choosing this status was the desire of the Puerto Ricans to maintain and preserve their cultural identity as a SpanishAmerican people, together with their wish to maintain economic and political ties with the United States.

Statehood would have meant the eventual cultural assimilation of the Puerto Rican people into the American way of life.

It would also have meant a step backward in economic development because of the high taxes required by the federal treasury.

Independence would have dissolved all ties with the American nation, from common citizenship to free trade.

Not desiring either of these alternatives, a new political concept was createda voluntary association of the United States and Puerto Rico through a Commonwealth. This guarantees Puerto Rico full authority to manage its internal affairs, but allows it to maintain its union with the United States.

The Commonwealth has a republican form of government, with the traditional separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and separation of church and states. The civil and political rights of citizens are guaranteed by a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Executive power is exercised by a Governor, who is elected by direct vote every 4 years. The Governor appoints, with the consent of the Senate of Puerto Rico, the members of his Cabinet, composed of the Secretaries of the nine executive departments.

Legislative power is vested in a Legislative Assembly composed of a Senate, of 32 members, and a House of Representatives of 64 members, elected by the people every four years.

A Supreme Court of nine justices caps the judicial structure. The lower courts include Superior and District courts and Justices of the Peace. All judges are appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate of Puerto Rico. In cases involving the constitutionality of a law, decisions of the courts of Puerto Rico may be appealed as high as the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 1962, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico proposed to the United States Congress that a plebiscite be held, to choose between the alternatives of Commonwealth, Statehood, and Independence.

Congress, in 1964, created a joint commission, the Status Commission, composed of 7 representatives from the United States and 6 from Puerto Rico, to study the present and future relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Among the United States members of the Commission were members of Congress of both principal parties. On the Puerto Rico delegation, members of all three parties were represented.

The Commission worked two years preparing its report, and held public hearings during which various constitutional, political, economic, social and cultural factors relevant to the three political status formulas were presented and discussed. The Commission made its report in August, 1966 to the President and the Congress of the United States, and to the Governor and the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico.

The Status Commission concluded that all three forms of political statusCommonwealth, Statehood, and Independence were valid, and conferred upon the people of Puerto Rico equal dignity and status, as well as national citizenship.

The Commission recommended that the will of the citizens of Puerto Rico be expressed through a plebiscite choosing between continuation of Commonwealth status, Statehood or Independence.

In the Plebiscite of 1967: 425,132 (60.4%) voted to continued Commonwealth Status; 274,312 (39.9%) voted to request Statehood; and 4,248 (0.6%) voted to attain Independence.

The plebiscite was conclusive proof that most of the people of Puerto Rico were satisfied with their unique Commonwealth status. Advantages

1. The primary advantage of Commonwealth status for American Samoa would be that it would enable Samoa to become completely self-governing. Under a Commonwealth Constitution, Samoa could elect its own Governor, just as Puerto Rico does. Likewise, the Samoan Legislature would have complete autonomy in legislating about matters of internal interest. Similarly, Samoa could have selfcontained judicial system, with both trial and appellate courts. The right to appeal to the federal appellate courts could be preserved for cases in which a constitutional issue was involved.

2. If Samoa were a Commonwealth, it could devise a tax and revenue structure fitted to Samoa's needs. Taxes and tax rates would be established by the Legislature, and all local revenue would be spent locally. Samoa would also become eligible for certain federally funded programs which are now available to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, but denied to the Territory of American Samoa. There is also the possibility of increased economic deveolpment under Commonwealth-foreign and United States investment in Samoa would probably increase.

3. As citizens of a Commonwealth, Samoans could have United States citizenship just as Puerto Ricans do. United States citizens resident in a Commonwealth are not allowed to vote in Presidential elections, however, and thus the benefits of United States citizenship for Samoans would not be substantial. Disadvantages

1. If Samoa were a Commonwealth, it would probably see the loss of its landtenure and matai systems. Although it is possible that Congress would grant Commonwealth status with a proviso that the Samoan Constitution could protect the Samoan land and matai systems, this is unlikely. Without such a reservation, any person could buy and hold land and complete in business with Samoans.

2. If Samoa were to become a Commonwealth, the level of federal support would become uncertain. Since, at the present economic level, federal support provides a major prop of the economy, its removal would have serious, immediate consequences for the Samoan standard of living. Commonwealth status would not create any other source of funds to compensate for this loss, until industrialization (if any) became well advanced.

3. If Samoa became industrialized and “developed" under Commonwealth status (and a certain amount of this would be inevitable), Samoan identity and culture would increasingly become submerged in the pool of American culture. By asking for Commonwealth status, Samoans are asking to be made more a part of the United States and (inevitably) its way of life.


The Commission cannot recommend Commonwealth status at this time. The losses to Samoan culture and the social structure would be too great. The Commission, however, does recommend that Commonwealth be seriously considered by the proposed (see Final Recommendations) Joint Commission on Samoa's political future.


From time to time, certain politicians, both in Washington and in Pago Pago, have suggested that American Samoa become a county within the State of Hawaii. Americans who concern themselves with American Samoa often consider Hawaii a tree into which a small twig called American Samoa is attached.

According to the Samoan legend, people from Manu's sailed north one day and eventually reached a group of islands they called “Sa vaii”. (In time, this was corrupted into “Hawaii"). After discovery, cultural exchange between Samoa and Hawaii was limited and later become non-existent. Today, after centuries of cultural divergence (particularly within the past 100 years) there are few similarities between the two people. Advantages

1. If American Samoa became a county within the State of Hawaii, it would be fully integrated into the United States of America. Samoans would be citizens of the United States and have the same privileges, protections, and responsibili. ties as other United States citizens. They could vote in national elections and would be eligible for positions where citizenship is a prequisite.

2. As a county of Hawaii, Samoa would share equally with Hawaii in the vast resources of that state. The economic, employment, health, education and myriad other problems of Samoa would become problems of the State of Hawaii as well. Samoa would be laying its burdens on broader shoulders.

3. As citizens of Hawaii, Samoans could have a voice in the selection of Hawaii':; Governor and representatives to Congress. Samoa would not have its own Legis. lature, but would have a seat or two in the state legislature. As a county, Samoa would have a county council or assembly which would be concerned with local needs in much the same manner as the present legislature. But problems beyond the capacity of the county government would be referred to the state legislature.

4. Hawaii today has many doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators and other skilled professionals. The services of these people would become available to Samoans if Samoa were a county of Hawaii. Today American Samoa cannot afford much of this expensive, but valuable, talent. Disadvantages

1. If Samoa joins Hawaii, Samoans will lose their identity. They will no longer be Samoans, but just plain Americans. Samoans will be a small minority in a state of minorities. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Hawaiians, Portuguese, Samoans, and palagis are all residents of Hawaii. Each minority tries very hard to maintain its own identity. Samoans will be able to maintain their identity for a while because of geography. But money is no respecter of geography and culture. Samoans will soon be living in the high-rises of Honolulu, working in the pineapple fields of Maui and driving tourists up the canyons of Kauai. There will be more inter-racial marriages, and Samoans may cease to exist as a separate ethnic group.

2. Politically, American Samoa will be overwhelmed by Hawaii. While Samoans will have a direct line to Congress through their elected representatives, they will no longer be able to go there as Samoans. Most of our problems will be referred to Honolulu where they will be considered no more important than the other pressing needs of Hawaii. Samoa has less than 8,000 qualified voters. What politician of statewide or national stature would be interested in such a small constituency? It would take years to develop political leaders who could achieve statewide acceptance and once in office pay heed to Samoa.

3. Samoan customs and traditions would soon be practiced only for the tourists' cameras. The land-tenure system would be undercut by the removal of legal protection and the pressure of entrepreneurs, both of which would follow in the wake of union with Hawaii.

4. Merger with Hawaii will create serious problems of adjustment. Many Samoans are not completely ready to compete. Samoan businesses may be

engulfed by large-scale Hawaii enterprise. Hawaii's faster-paced way of life will be a jolt to the traditional Samoan outlook. Recommendation

After reviewing this alternative, the Commission cannot recommend it for American Samoa.


At present, American Samoa is an unincorporated insular possession of the United States (see Appendix). Although this basic status has remained constant since cession, Samoans have progressively exercised more authority over their own affairs. Under the Revised Constitution of American Samoa, the elected Legislature of American Samoa may "pass legislation with respect to subjects of local application" (Art. II, Sec. 1) not inconsistent with applicable United States law and treaties. Neither the Legislature nor the people, however, have any say in the appointment of the Governor and Secretary of American Samoa or in the selection of the Judiciary. Likewise, the Governor, and not the Legislature, is the final arbiter of the all-important budget requests for Federal funds which are presented annually to Congress.

While in recent years the Legislature has become a respected source of authority recognized by both the people and the Governor, the same period has seen the inexorable pressures of the modern world chipping away at the scope and depth of tradition among the Samoan people. While social ceremonies and functions of traditional origin continue, the real meaning is often-times absent and the crucial role of tradition in the present political system is diminishing.

Today, Samoans are better educated than ever before, and a new degree to sophistication is obvious. Samoan political opinion has shifted from passive acceptance of an appointed government to a strong desire for self-government within the American framework. A glance at recent legislative activity will make this new awareness apparent.

With these general comments as background, the advantages and disadvantages of the status quo can be articulated. Advantages

1. The present system has the great advantage of familiarity. While not perfect, it is tried and true. In a developing country, like American Samoa, this is of tremendous importance. Radical changes in Samoa's traditionally oriented society may have serious consequences.

2. The present system honors and protects the traditional social structure. Thus, Samoans have been able to retain control over their communal lands and the "Matai" system has been preserved. If the political status of American Samoa became such that the United States Constitution had full force and effect, these two bases of traditional Samoan society might well be undercut. Such a decision would create a major rift in Samoan society and might eventuate the loss of Samoan ownership of Samoan land. In many ways, the Samoan of today is still the master of his own way of life, although not of his own house.

3. The present system allows Samoans to incorporate their traditional method of government into the framework of democratic institutions. Members of the Senate are chosen by "Samoan custom by the County Councils" (Art. II, Sec. 4, Revised Constitution of American Samoa) and many local officials are appointed with an eye towards Samoan custom.

4. While not U.S. citizens by birth. American Samoans are still entitled to a number of privileges as members of the American family-for example, they are protected against foreign attack or exploitation, allowed free entry into the United States, and are included in financial and economic assistance programs made available by the federal government. Disadvantages

1. On the other hand, it may be argued that a major disadvantage of the present system is that it is not truly democratic. The Senate is chosen from the ranks of registered Matais, and a number of other officials, from the Governor and Chief Justice on down, are appointed by persons not responsible to the Samoan electorate. This is perhaps the major disadvantage of the status quo. While the method of selecting Senators is sanctioned by traditional Samoan custom, and the matais who elect Senators are acting as representatives of their families, there is no excuse for an appointed Governor. When the chief executive is chosen by fiat and imposed upon, rather than elected by the people, democracy is necessarily sacrificed. While an appointed Governor may have the noblest of intentions, his appointment without the consent of the governed, is antithetical to the very principles upon which America was founded.

2. At this time, “all civil, judicial, and limitary” power in American Samoa is vested in the Secretary of the Interior. It is he, not the President or Congress, who "approved" the present Constitution of American Samoa, and presumably he could alter the present form of government by decree. Although such action would raise serious legal and moral questions, the possibility remains a threat to the present political status of American Samoa.

3. Since, in the last analysis, it is the Congress of the United States which is responsible for American Samoa's destiny, the people of American Samoa should have some means whereby they may present their desires directly to Congress. The status quo provides no direct channel comparable to that provided by the delegates other territories have sent to Congress. Perhaps as a result of this lack of a full-time Congressional delegate, the people of Samoa have not been able to adequately expose their real needs to Congress.

4. The present system is essentially "colonial”. The Governor is appointed by the Secretary of the Interior and the number of instances in which these two men are of differing political persuasions is not great. Thus, Samoans now know that if the national administration should change hands, they can expect that a new Governor (with all the "breaking-in" problems any novice experiences) will soon be arriving.

5. Another weakness of the present system was illustrated recently when the Chief Justice was replaced by the Secretary of the Interior, despite the strong protests of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. Under the present system neither the Governor nor the judges are truly independent. The Secretary of the Interior may hire and fire without consulting the very people whose daily lives are affected by his decision.

6. The present practice of appointing top officials gives rise to many potential abuses of the principle that power should be separated, checked and balanced. Not only do all the department heads owe their appointment to the Governor, who need not consult the Legislature before exercising his discretion, but the Governor could, because of his relationship with the Secretary of the Interior, cow much of the opposition to a controversial proposal, which might arise if the Governor's powers were more circumscribed. Final recommendations

1. After carefully reviewing, comparing, and contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of the political alternatives consideredalways with conditions in present day American Samoa in mindthe Commission believes that the most suitable political status for American Samoa at this time, is to continue as an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States. The Commission feels that continuation of the present political status is the most desirable alternative if certain changes are made in the current methods of selecting the Governor and Legislature of American Samoa.

What American Samoa needs most at this moment is to maintain its traditional culture, which is embodied in its communal-land and matai systems. Major change in the political and social order would abruptly deprive Samoa of its strong traditional foundation and thrust it into a position it is not yet ready to occupy. It is inevitable, however, that the old ways must make room for the new, and the Commission fully recognizes the need and importance of aiming for more complete democracy. Only with the time can people move from one social order to another. American Samoa has taken long strides along the road to full democracy in the recent past and an orderly and painless transition is far more desirable than the arbitrary imposition of new political and social order. The modern world has found, much to its sorrow, that the sudden imposition of new forms of government upon people who are not socially and mentally prepared for such changes, can lead only to chaos or dictatorship. The Territorial Motto is : "Proceed With Caution"-our forefathers, when stuck on the vast Pacific, confused and without force to push their canoes, would say: "Wait for the wind".

The Commission is fully aware that the world cannot be kept away from American Samoa. Neither can American Samoa continue to stand apart forever from the rest of the world. New ideas can not and must not be suppressed. Today,

« PreviousContinue »