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America's half-forgotten islands

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Sixty years ago, residents of this small tropical island had access to electricity, running water, paved roads, good schools, competent health care, and a regular ferry service to the main town on a nearby island of the Chuuk archipelago.

But after 40 years as a US trust territory - and another 15 years of US-funded development - Uman has none of these things.

The roads built by the Japanese before World War II have been reduced to slender footpaths. Japanese-era industrial machinery rusts in the jungles, and shrubs grow on the main dock.

With no jobs and no future, young men drift to the district center, Weno, where many regularly drink themselves into a violent rage, then attack anyone or anything around them. The neglected, supply-starved hospital has such a poor reputation that even those seriously injured in attacks prefer not to be treated.

All this in a nation of 130,000 that has received more than $1.3 billion in US grants - $10,000 per person - over the past 13 years.

This is America's half-forgotten former Trust Territory of Pacific Islands - a vast swath of the Central Pacific captured from the Japanese during World War II - a place where the contradictions of US foreign policy are laid bare.

Washington ruled this region with a mix of starry-eyed idealism and cold-hearted self-interest, a combination that lives on in its post-independence policies toward the region. The result has been disastrous for places like Uman, Weno, and hundreds of other islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

"Our policy has been a complete failure," says William Bodde, former US ambassador to the Marshall Islands. "A great deal of US taxpayers' money has been wasted."


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