Northern Mariana Islands History Infoplease
Northern Mariana Islands

Northern Mariana Islands (mârēâ'nâ) [key], commonwealth associated with the United States (2005 est. pop. 80,400), c.185 sq mi (479 sq km), comprising 16 islands (6 inhabited) of the Marianas chain (all except Guam), in the W Pacific Ocean; formerly part of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The islands lie E of the Philippines and S of Japan and extend 350 mi (563 km) from north to south. The most important are Saipan (capital), Rota, and Tinian. The northern islands are composed of volcanic rock, the southern islands of madrepore limestone covering a volcanic base. All the islands are mountainous, with the highest peak (3,166 ft/965 m) on Agrihan; there are active volcanoes on the islands. The islands are subject to typhoons. Most of the inhabitants are Chamorro, but there are some Carolinians and other Micronesians.

Livestock, sugarcane, coffee, coconuts, and citrus fruits are the chief agricultural products. There are deposits of phosphate, sulfur, manganese ore, and pozzuolana. Tourism, especially from Japan, is a major industry, employing roughly 10% of the workforce. Garment manufacturing and construction are also critical to the economy. Clothing is the major export, but the liberaliztion of U.S. garment import restrictions in 2005 has severly hurt the sector. The Northern Marianas receive substantial financial assistance from the United States.

The islands were explored in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, who named them the Ladrones Islands (Thieves Islands). They were renamed the Marianas by Spanish Jesuits who arrived in 1668. Nominally a possession of Spain until 1898, the islands were sold to Germany in 1899, except for Guam, which was ceded to the United States. The islands belonging to Germany were seized by Japan in 1914 and were mandated to Japan by the League of Nations in 1920. U.S. forces occupied the Marianas (1944) during World War II, and in 1947 the group (exclusive of Guam) was included in the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Residents approved separate status for the islands as a U.S. commonwealth in 1975. They became internally self-governing under U.S. military protection in 1978, and trust territory status was officially ended in 1986. The islands are governed by an elected governor and lieutenant governor, both serving four-year terms, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a 9-member Senate and a 15-member House of Representatives. Benigno Fitial became governor in Jan., 2006. Residents are U.S. citizens but do not vote in U.S. presidential elections.
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