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Guam Wants to Host US Aircraft Carrier - 2004-08-16

For more than a year, officials on Guam have been lobbying the Pentagon to base an aircraft carrier on the U.S. territory. That is a big change from the 1980's, when the people of Guam pushed the military to close some of its bases on the island.

The U.S. Department of Defense is considering basing a second aircraft carrier battle group in the Pacific, to put more weapons and troops closer to the world's hot spots.

Both the state of Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam are lobbying to be the new home port for the carrier. Currently, the only Pacific-based carrier outside the United States is in Japan.

Joaquin Perez, the district director for Madeleine Bordallo, Guam's representative in the U.S. Congress, says that so far, Navy officials will only say that they are considering the idea.

"As of now, there has been no decision, and the military doesn't want to release any information as to whether a decision is going to be made anytime in the near future," he said.

A carrier and six or seven support ships would bring as many as 10,000 sailors to Guam, along with thousands of family members.

The result would be hundreds of new jobs for Guam's civilians, and thousands of newcomers filling the island's shops.

Fifteen years ago, Guam officials successfully pushed Washington to close some military bases on the island. The number of troops on Guam plunged from nearly 20,000 in the mid-1980's to about 8,000 now.

A lot has changed since then: In the 1980's, tourists from nearby Japan crowded Guam's tropical beaches and golf courses. But in the 1990's, the Japanese economy weakened and tourism slumped, just as the troop numbers were falling.

Mr. Perez says that Guam's tax revenues have fallen by half since 1990.

"A lot of our local people who worked for the Navy left," he said. "Our annual revenue for the government, tax revenue for the government, went from 660 million [dollars] down to 300 million [dollars]."

Mr. Perez says there is one issue that could work against Guam's request.

In the next few years, the 120,000 residents of the territory are expected to vote on whether to change the island's political status. One option would be independence from the United States.

Mr. Perez says such an outcome is unlikely. Still, he says, the prospect of such a vote might encourage the Navy to base the new carrier in the state of Hawaii, which would present no such complications.