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Northern Mariana Islands

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

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 West Pacific Ocean. It consists of 14 islands about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. Together with Guam to the South, a United States territory, the Northern Mariana Islands make up the Island Arc of 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.

The islands have over 350 kilometers of highways, three airports with paved runways (one some 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) long, two around 2,000 (6560 feet) meters), three airports with unpaved runways (one about 3,000 meters long, two under 1,000 (3280 feet) meters), and one heliport.

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 at about 5:00 p.m. on May 10, 2003.

The first European in these waters was Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain. Angry at larcenous natives, he first dubbed the islands "Las Islas de los Ladrones", (The Islands of the Thieves), but in 1668 their name was changed to Las Marianas after Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain's Philip IV. Nearly all of the islands' native population died out during Spanish rule, but new settlers from modern-day Micronesia repopulated them to some extent. Sold to Germany in 1899, the Japanese took over in 1914 and turned the island into a military garrison. 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.

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.

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.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Northern Mariana Islands".