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A map of Saipan, Tinian & Aguijan


Saipan ( ) is the largest island and capital of the United Statesmarker Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islandsmarker (CNMI), a chain of 15 tropical islands belonging to the Marianasmarker archipelago in the western Pacific Oceanmarker (15°10’51”N, 145°45’21”E) with a total area of . The 2000 census population was 62,392.

Located at latitude of 15.25° north and longitude of 145.75° east, about north of Guammarker, Saipan is about long and wide. It is a popular tourist destination in the Pacific.

The western side of the island is lined with sandy beaches and an offshore coral reef which creates a large lagoon. The eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs and a reef. Its highest point is a limestone covered mountain called Mount Tapochaumarker at . Many people consider Mount Tapochau to be an extinct volcano, but is in fact a limestone formation. To the north of Mount Tapochau towards Banzai Cliff is a ridge of hills. Mount Achugao, situated about 2 miles north, has been interpreted to be a remnant of a stratified composite volcanic cone whose Eocene center was not far north of the present peak.

Besides English, the indigenous Chamorro language is spoken by approximately 19 percent of the inhabitants. The current governor of the CNMI is Benigno Fitial, who is the successor of Juan Babauta. The island also has many other large, strongly defined lingual and ethnic groups because of the large percentage of contract workers (60% of total population, as of 2001) from China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In addition, a large percentage of the island's population includes first-generation immigrants from Japan, China, and Korea, and immigrants from many of the other Micronesian islands.

History

Saipan, along with neighboring Guammarker, Rota/Lutamarker, Tinianmarker, and to a lesser extent smaller islands northward, was first inhabited around 2000 BCE The Spanishmarker were the first Europeans to encounter the Chamorros and Spain eventually annexed Saipan as part of its claim to the Mariana Islandsmarker. Around 1815, many Carolinians from Satawal settled Saipan during a period when the Chamorros were imprisoned on Guam, which resulted in a significant loss of land and rights for the Chamorro natives. Germanymarker ruled Saipan from 1899 until World War I, when the Empire of Japanmarker took over the island, governing it under a League of Nations mandate from 1922. The Japanese developed both fishing and sugar industries, and in the 1930s garrisoned Saipan heavily, resulting in nearly 30,000 troops on the island by 1941. By December 1941, Saipan had a population of more than 30,000 people, including 25,000 Japanese settlers.

On June 15, 1944 during World War II, U.S. Marines landed on the beaches of the southwestern side of the island, and spent more than three weeks fighting the Battle of Saipan to secure it from the Japanese. Seabees of the U.S. Navy also landed to participate in construction projects. Nearly all of the 30,000 Japanese defenders were killed; thousands of Japanese civilians also died, many threw themselves off Banzai Cliff. The battle was dramatized in John Woo's 2002 film Windtalkers.

The CNMI joined the United States in November 1986. During negotiations, the CNMI and the USA agreed that the CNMI would be exempted from certain federal laws, including some concerning labor and immigration. One result was an increase in hotels and tourism. However, dozens of garment factories also opened; clothing manufacture became the island's chief economic force, employing thousands of foreign contract laborers while labeling their goods "made in the U.S.A.". They continue to supply the U.S. market with low cost garments exempt from US import tariffs. The working conditions and treatment experienced by employees in these factories have been the subject of controversy and criticism (see below).

Agriculture, flora and fauna



Undeveloped areas on the island are covered with sword grass meadows and dense, dry-forest jungle known as Tangan-Tangan. Coconuts, papayas, and Thai hot peppers – locally called "Donne Sali" or "Boonie Peppers" – are among the fruits that grow wild. Mango, taro root, and bananas are a few of the many foods cultivated by local families and farmers. Sportfishing is excellent offshore, with numerous small boats catching tuna, wahoo, billfish and many other species.

A number of native birds are easily visible to visitors: among them, Melanesian Honeyeaters; Pacific Reef Herons; and collared kingfishers.

The island used to have a large population of giant African land snails, introduced either deliberately as a food source, or accidentally by shipping. It became an agricultural pest. In the last few decades, its numbers have been substantially controlled by an introduced [flatworm, Platydemus manokwari http://www.issg.org/database/species/impact_info.asp?si=133&fr=1&sts=&ver=print&prtflag=false&lang=EN]. Unfortunately, possibly due to the flatworm, the endemic tree-snails also became extinct.

Music

Music on Saipan can generally be broken down into three branches: local, mainland American and Asian. Local consists of Chamorro, Carolinian and Micronesian traditional music and song, often with traditional dance for many occasions. Mainland American is many of the same varieties that can be found on U.S. radio; and Asian consists of Japanese, Koreanmarker, Thai and Philippinemarker music among others.

Television

Local television stations on Saipan are the following:



Transportation

Beach Road
road
Travel to and from the island is available from several airlines via Saipan International Airportmarker. A ferry also operates between Saipan and Tinianmarker, its smaller neighboring island 5 miles to the south. Taxis are available.

One of the island's two main thoroughfares, Beach Road, is located on the western coast of Saipan. At some parts of the road, the beach is only a few feet away. Flame trees and pine trees line the street. The street also connects more than six villages that lie on the western coast of the island. Middle Road is the island's largest road and runs through its central section. Like Beach Road, Middle Road connects several villages throughout the island. Several offices, shops, hotels, and residences lie on or nearby these highways.

Economy

Tourism has long been a vital source of the island's revenue, although the industry has undergone a serious decline since the Asian Economic Crisis of the mid-to-late 1990s. Some major airlines have since ceased regular service to the island. Some internationally-known businesses which located to Saipan are struggling, and some have gone out of business.

In years past, the main economic driving force in Saipan was garment manufacturing, driven largely by foreign contract workers (mainly from China). As of March, 2007 19 companies manufactured garments on Saipan. In addition to many foreign-owned and -run companies, many well-known U.S. brands also operated garment factories in Saipan for much of the last three decades. Brands include Gap (as of 2000 operating 6 factories there), Levi Strauss, Phillips-Van Heusen, Abercrombie & Fitch, L'Oreal subsidiary Ralph Lauren (Polo), Lord & Taylor,, Tommy Hilfiger and Walmartmarker.

Currently, there are no garment manufacturers on the island, with the last one closing in February, 2009. On November 28, 2009, the federal government is scheduled to take control of immigration to the Northern Mariana Islands. It is unknown what effect this development will have on local contract workers.

Villages and towns

The island of Saipan has a total of 31 "official" villages. However, there are many sub-areas and neighborhoods located in certain villages such as Afetnas in San Antonio and Tapochau and I Denne in Capitol Hill. Those in italics are the sub-villages.



Controversy

Jack Abramoff CNMI scandal

Jack Abramoff and his law firm were paid at least $6.7 million by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islandsmarker (CNMI) from 1995 to 2001.

Later lobbying efforts involved mailings from a Ralph Reed marketing company to Christian conservative voters and bribery of Roger Stillwell, a Department of the Interior official who in 2006 pleaded guilty to accepting gifts from Abramoff.

Foreign contract labor abuse and exemptions from U.S. federal regulations

Entrance of a garment factory on Saipan, 2006.
Excerpted from "Immigration and the CNMI: A report of the US Commission on Immigration Reform", January 7, 1998:
"The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration system is antithetical to the principals that are at the core of the US immigration policy.
Over time, the CNMI has developed an immigration system dominated by the entry of foreign temporary contract workers.
These now outnumber US citizens but have few rights within the CNMI and are subject to serious labor and human rights abuses.
In contrast to US immigration policy, which admits immigrants for permanent residence and eventual citizenship, the CNMI admits aliens largely as temporary contract workers who are ineligible to gain either US citizenship or civil and social rights within the commonwealth.
Only a few countries and no democratic society have immigration policies similar to the CNMI.
The closest equivalent is Kuwait.


The end result of the CNMI policy is to have a minority population governing and severely limiting the rights of the majority population who are alien in every sense of the word."

On March 31, 1998, US Senator Daniel Akaka said:
The Commonwealth shares our American flag, but it does not share the American system of immigration.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues permits to recruiters, who in turn promise well-paying American jobs to foreigners in exchange for a $6,000 recruitment fee.
When the workers arrive in Saipan, they find their recruiter has vanished and there are no jobs in sight.
Hundreds of these destitute workers roam the streets of Saipan with little or no chance of employment and no hope of returning to their homeland.


The State Department has confirmed that the government of China is an active participant in the CNMI immigration system. There is something fundamentally wrong with an immigration system that allows the government of China to prohibit Chinese workers from exercising political or religious freedom while employed in the United States.Something is fundamentally wrong with a CNMI immigration system that issues entry permits for 12- and 13-year-old girls from the Philippines and other Asian nations, and allows their employers to use them for live sex shows and prostitution.
Worker barracks at a garment factory on Saipan, 2006.


Finally, something is fundamentally wrong when a Chinese construction worker asks if he can sell one of his kidneys for enough money to return to China and escape the deplorable working conditions in the Commonwealth and the immigration system that brought him there.There are voices in the CNMI telling us that the cases of worker abuse we keep hearing about are isolated examples, that the system is improving, and that worker abuse is a thing of the past. These are the same voices that reap the economic benefits of a system of indentured labor that enslaves thousands of foreign workers – a system described in a bi-partisan study as "an unsustainable economic, social and political system that is antithetical to most American values." There is overwhelming evidence that abuse in the CNMI occurs on a grand scale and the problems are far from isolated.

In 1991, Levi Strauss & Co. was embarrassed by a scandal involving six subsidiary factories run on Saipan by the Tan Holdings Corporation. It was revealed that Chinese laborers in those factories suffered under what the U.S. Department of Labor called "slavelike" conditions. Cited for sub-minimal wages, seven-day work week schedules with twelve-hour shifts, poor living conditions and other indignities (including the alleged removal of passports and the virtual imprisonment of workers), Tan would eventually pay what was then the largest fines in U.S. labor history, distributing more than $9 million in restitution to some 1200 employees.[1] [2] [3] At the time, Tan factories produced 3% of Levi's jeans with the "Made in the U.S.A." label. Levi Strauss claimed that it had no knowledge of the offenses, severed ties to the Tan family, and instituted labor reforms and inspection practices in its offshore facilities.
A loading ramp of a garment factory on Saipan, 2006.
In 1999, Sweatshop Watch, Global Exchange, Asian Law Caucus, Unite, and the garment workers themselves filed three separate lawsuits in class-action suits on behalf of roughly 30,000 garment workers in Saipan. The defendants included 27 U.S. retailers and 23 Saipan garment factories. By 2004, they had won a 20 million dollar settlement against all but one of the defendants.

Levi Strauss & Co. was the only successful defendant, winning the case against them in 2004.

In 2005–2006, the issue of immigration and labor practices on Saipan was brought up during the American political scandals of Congressman Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who visited the island on numerous occasions. Ms. magazine has followed the issue and published a major expose in their Spring 2006 article "Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortion and Right-Wing Moralists".

On February 8, 2007, the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources received testimony about federalizing CNMI labor and immigration.

On July 19, 2007, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs David B. Cohen testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Regarding S. 1634 (The Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act). He said:
Congress has the authority to make immigration and naturalization laws applicable to the CNMI.
Through the bill that we are discussing today, Congress is proposing to take this legislative step to bring the immigration system of the CNMI under Federal administration.
[...] [S]erious problems continue to plague the CNMI’s administration of its immigration system, and we remain concerned that the CNMI’s rapidly deteriorating fiscal situation may make it even more difficult for the CNMI government to devote the resources necessary to effectively administer its immigration system and to properly investigate and prosecute labor abuse.
[...] While we congratulate the CNMI for its recent successful prosecution of a case in which foreign women were pressured into prostitution, human trafficking remains far more prevalent in the CNMI than it is in the rest of the U.S.
During the twelve-month period ending on April 30, 2007, 36 female victims of human trafficking were admitted to or otherwise served by Guma’ Esperansa, a women’s shelter operated by a Catholic nonprofit organization.
All of these victims were in the sex trade.
Secretary Kempthorne personally visited the shelter and met with a number of women from the Philippines who were underage when they were trafficked into the CNMI for the sex industry.
[...I]t is clear that local control over CNMI immigration has resulted in a human trafficking problem that is proportionally much greater than the problem in the rest of the U.S.
A number of foreign nationals have come to the Federal Ombudsman’s office complaining that they were promised a job in the CNMI after paying a recruiter thousands of dollars to come there, only to find, upon arrival in the CNMI, that there was no job. Secretary Kempthorne met personally with a young lady from China who was the victim of such a scam and who was pressured to become a prostitute; she was able to report her situation and obtain help in the Federal Ombudsman’s office. We believe that steps need to be taken to protect women from such terrible predicaments.We are also concerned about recent attempts to smuggle foreign nationals, in particular Chinese nationals, from the CNMI into Guam by boat. A woman was recently sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to smuggle over 30 Chinese nationals from the CNMI into Guam.

Contract laborers arriving from China are usually required to pay their (Chinese National) recruitment agents fees equal to a year's total salary (roughly $3,500) and occasionally as high as two years' salary, though the contracts are only one-year contracts, renewable at the employer's discretion.

60% of the population of the CNMI is contract workers. These workers cannot vote. They are not represented, and can be deported if they lose their jobs. Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains well below that on the U.S. mainland, and abuses of vulnerable workers are commonplace.

In John Bowe's 2007 book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, he provides a focus on Saipan, exploring how its culture, isolation and American ties have made it a favorable environment for exploitative garment manufacturers and corrupt politicos. Bowe additionally describes the factories, karaoke bars, and strip joints with ties to politicos. Bowe depicts Saipan as a vulnerable, truly suffering community, where poverty rates have climbed as high as 35 percent.

Chinese national, Chun Yu Wang, in her 2009 book, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan, provides the only known first-hand account of factory work conditions and life in the barracks, and provides revealing insights from a Chinese perspective into the experience typical of many of the garment factory workers on Saipan.

Other local issues

Despite an annual rainfall of , the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC), the local government-run water utility company on Saipan, is unable to deliver 24-hour-a-day potable water to its customers in certain areas. As a result, several large hotels use reverse osmosis to produce fresh water for their customers. In addition, many homes and small businesses augment the sporadic and sometimes brackish water provided by CUC with rainwater collected and stored in cisterns. Most locals buy drinking water from water distributors and use tap water only for bathing or washing.

Saipan also has a place in many Irish people's minds, after “Roy Keane Incident”, a bitter and public falling-out between Republic of Ireland football star Roy Keane and Ireland manager Mick McCarthy which took place before the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Saipansucks.com, an anonymously-written website which criticizes the government, culture, and indigenous residents of the island, gained the attention of the local media in 2001 and regional and international media in 2006.

Demographics

Commonwealth Health Center, Saipan, 2006, the islands only hospital.
According to the last census in 2000, the population of Saipan was 62,392. Mono-racial people totaled 56,355, and their demographic breakdown in descending order by category was as follows:

Asians numbered 35,985, comprising 57.7% of the population. Pacific Islanders numbered 18,781, comprising 30.1% of the population.

People of two or more races or ethnic groups numbered 6,037, comprising 9.7% of the population.

Whites numbered 1,121, comprising 1.8% of the population.

Other races/ethnic groups numbered 435, comprising 0.7% of the population.

Blacks numbered 33, comprising 0.1% of the population.

45.2% of the population was male, 54.8% was female. The median age of the island's population was 28.7, which is higher than in most other Oceanic regions due to its volume of foreign workers.

The population rose 18% (9,694) since the previous census in 1995.

Education

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System serves Saipan.

Northern Marianas College is a two-year community college serving the Northern Mariana Islands.

Notable residents from the mainland United States



Appearances in fiction

Saipan was a major part of the plot in the Tom Clancy novel Debt of Honor. The island is invaded by Japanmarker, as part of a systematic attack on the United Statesmarker.

Much of the action in 2002 film Windtalkers takes place during the invasion of Saipan during World War II.

A significant part of the novel Amrita by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto takes place in Saipan with regular references to the landscape and spirituality of the island.

Appearances in television

Saipan was the main site for a South Koreanmarker dating reality TV show "Kko Kko Tour".

See also



Notes

  1. Census Bureau Releases, Census 2000 Population Counts for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, July 3, 2001.
  2. Geological sections across Saipan (see section B), from Robert L. Carruth (2003), Ground-Water Resources of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. USGS Water-Resources Investigation Report 03-4178, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  3. Robert L. Carruth (2003), Ground-Water Resources of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. USGS Water-Resources Investigation Report 03-4178, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  4. http://www.oddcast.com/witness/saipan/saipan_story5.html
  5. CNMI: Tanapag - Arrival: Come Ashore
  6. Carolinian-Marianas Voyaging, Continuing the Tradition
  7. " A Go: Another Battle for Sapian"
  8. " Battle of Saipan". Historynet.com.
  9. Howard P. Willens and Deanne C. Siemer. An Honorable Accord: the Covenant between the Northern Marianas and the United States. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press (Pacific Islands Monograph Series 18), 2003.
  10. Saipan Tribune
  11. Women and Global Human Rights
  12. Co-op America: Printer friendly page
  13. Responsible Shopper Profile: Phillips-Van Heusen
  14. Responsible Shopper Profile: Abercrombie & Fitch
  15. Responsible Shopper Profile: L'Oreal
  16. Responsible Shopper Profile: Lord & Taylor
  17. Child Labor Wal-Mart
  18. Daniel Kahikina Akaka, U.S. Senator of Hawaii: Statements and Speeches
  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tan_Holdings_Corporation
  20. Saipan Sweatshop Lawsuit Ends with Important Gains for Workers and Lessons for Activists
  21. DOI Office of Insular Affairs (OIA)- Statement of David B. Cohen Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Regarding S. 1634, The Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act July 19, 2007
  22. http://www.oddcast.com/witness/saipan/saipan_story3a.html
  23. CNMI profile from the U.S. Census Bureau
  24. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data based on 2000 CNMI census
  25. "CNMI census 2000 update", 10 July 2001


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