Colonies are territories that have no independent representation and are under the political control of a state. Though colonies have been around since ancient times, the number grew during the Age of Exploration as a number of relatively small countries, such as Portugal and Great Britain, developed large colonial empires. Though colonies have ceased to exist in the traditional sense, a number of territories controlled by sovereign countries still lack the right of self-government.
America today owns 12 territories, known as possessions, and two commonwealths. Territories include American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each territory has a non-voting representative in Congress. The two commonwealths are Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas. Commonwealths are allowed a greater amount of freedom than territories but cannot vote in national elections even though citizens, subject to constitutional requirements, may run for president. Independence for Puerto Rico is an ongoing issue with Puerto Ricans on both sides of the issue.
The British Overseas Territories are comprised of 14 former colonies under the sovereignty of Great Britain but not part of the United Kingdom. Prominent territories include the Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St Helena, and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. The territories have no representation in Parliament but have the right of self-determination. Most have chosen to remain under British control due to small populations and dependence on British economic aid.
The French Overseas Departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French-Guyana, and Reunion have the same rights as Metropolitan (mainland) France and cannot be considered colonies as such. Mayotte, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis-et-Futuna, Austral Lands and French Antarctic Lands are French territories. The Southern and Antarctic Lands have no permanent residents. French Polynesia is officially an "Overseas Country" with its own democratic elections. New Caledonia plans to hold a referendum between 2014 and 2019 to decide whether to remain a French territory or seek independence.
Africa, exploited by world powers for centuries, is home today to only one, nominal, colony. The fate of Rio de Oro — located on the western edge of the Sahara Desert — has hung in the balance since Spain pulled out in 1976. The territory is claimed by Morocco, which invaded in 1979. A group known as the Polisario Front disputes Morocco's claim and hopes to one day self-govern the territory. Until the decades-long standoff is resolved, Rio de Oro is technically still a Spanish colony.
While colonies are typically associated with empires, the tiny colony of Tokelau belongs to New Zealand. Located 483 kilometers north of Western Samoa, the three atolls are governed under the 1948 Tokelau Islands Act. An administrator is appointed by the New Zealand Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the New Zealand flag flies over the atolls. In practice, the Tokelauan people govern everyday affairs through three councils of elders. New Zealand political and civil rights, international affairs and courts apply in Tokelau.
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