U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Palau, May 1996
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Palau
Area: 458 sq. km (about 190 sq. mi.)
Terrain: About 200 islands varying geologically from the high,
mountainous main island of Babelthuap to low coral islands usually
fringed by large barrier reef.
Climate: Hot and humid with a rainy season from May to November.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Palauan(s).
Annual growth rate: 2.95%.
Ethnic groups: Palauan, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Korean,
Religions: Two-thirds are Christian (Catholics, Seventh-Day
Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Assembly of God, and Latter-Day
Saints); other one-third follow Modekngei (an indigenous religion).
Languages: English (an official language in all 16 states) and Palauan
both are spoken by most islanders; Sonsorolese, Angaur, Japanese,
Health: Infant mortality rate--15/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--
men 69 yrs., women 73 yrs.
Type: Constitutional government in free association with the U.S.
Independence: October 1, 1994.
Constitution: Approved by referendum July 9, 1979; entered into effect
January 1, 1981.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) and vice president.
Legislative--elected bicameral legislature and consultative Council of
Chiefs. Judicial--independent; Supreme Court, National Court, Court
of Common Pleas.
Administrative subdivisions: Sixteen state governments.
Political parties: Palau Nationalist Party (PNP), formed in 1996.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1994; number reflects U.S. spending): $81.8 million
Per capita GDP (1994): $5,000.
Natural resources: Marine resources.
Agriculture: Coconut, copra, cassava, sweet potatoes (subsistence
Industry: Tourism, craft items (shell, wood, pearl), some commercial
fishing and limited agriculture.
Trade (1989): Exports--$600,000. Imports--$246,000,000. Major
trading partners--U.S., Japan, Taiwan.
Official currency: U.S. dollar.
In 1947, the United States, as the post-World War II occupying power,
agreed to administer Palau as part of the U.N.-created Trust Territory
of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). In the 1960s, many U.S. federal
government programs were extended to the trust territory. In the 1970s,
the U.S. undertook a major capital improvement program, upgrading
facilities for such things as transportation, water, and sewage.
After many years of talks on a post-trust status for Palau, the U.S.
Congress in 1986 approved a Compact of Free Association agreed to
by U.S. and Palauan negotiators. While supported by a majority of
Palauan voters in each of seven referendums, compact proponents
failed to gain the 75% majority required by Palau's constitution to
approve issues with possible nuclear implications.
After adoption of a constitutional amendment, Palau's courts ruled that
the 68% pro-compact vote in an eighth referendum--held November 9,
1993--was sufficient to approve the compact. On October 1, 1994,
following a proclamation by President Clinton, Palau began its
independence in free association with the U.S.
Under the compact, the U.S. remains responsible for Palau's defense
for 50 years. The U.S. must approve the entry into Palauan territory of
any foreign military, may establish military bases there, and is
permitted to operate nuclear-capable warships there.
For 15 years, Palau receives financial assistance from the U.S. and is
eligible to participate in some 40 federal programs. It is estimated
the value of U.S. financial and program assistance will exceed $500
million during this period.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Richard Watkins
The address of the U.S. embassy in Koror is P.O. Box 6028, Republic
of Palau 96940; tel: 680-488-2920; fax: 680-488-2911.
The Republic of Palau comprises more than 200 Pacific Ocean islands,
only eight of which are permanently inhabited. It is believed that the
original settlers of Palau arrived from Indonesia as early as 2500 BC.
The Palauans are a composite of Polynesian, Malayan, and Melanesian
lineage. Kinship traditionally was and remains the major determinant
of social status. Traditional customs sustain a value system that
distinguishes between people on the basis of social status and sex.
In 1783, English explorer Captain Henry Wilson became the first
Westerner to visit Palau, beginning nearly 100 years of British trade
primacy. Spain's claim to the Caroline Islands, including Palau, was
upheld by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. In 1899, Spain sold the Carolines
and the Northern Marianas to Germany.
The German period (1899-1914) saw increased economic activity in
the form of coconut planting and phosphate mining. The Germans also
had success in battling longstanding epidemics of influenza and
dysentery that had reduced the population of Palau from 40,000 to
4,000 over the previous 120 years.
Japanese forces invaded Palau in 1914 in accordance with a secret
agreement with the British. Koror became the administrative center for
all Japanese possessions in Micronesia, and by 1935 the Japanese
civilian population in Palau reached almost 26,000. Japan made Palau a
closed military zone in 1938. During World War II, fighting between
U.S. and Japanese forces took place on the islands of Peleliu, Angaur,
From 1947 until independence in 1994, Palau was part of the Trust
Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the U.S. pursuant to an
agreement with the United Nations. The Compact of Free Association
between Palau and the United States entered into force on October 1,
Palau's population numbers about 17,000, with an annual growth rate
of almost 3%. Most Palauans live in Koror, the capital. The majority of
Palauan children attend free public schools. Palau Community College
provides the only post-secondary education available in the country.
Government operations dominate Palau's economy, subsidized largely
by the U.S. Some 60% of the Palauan work force is employed by the
government. It is estimated that 90% of the economy comes from
external revenue. In addition to U.S. assistance, other countries--
including Japan, Australia, and New Zealand--and international
organizations provide aid on a much smaller scale.
The internal portion of Palau's economy consists primarily of
subsistence agriculture and fishing. Tourism, growing at a rate of
nearly 18% annually, is an increasingly important source of income.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The citizens of Palau live with a relatively new democratic political
system combined with a hierarchical traditional culture. On July 9,
1979, a constitution was approved by referendum. After much legal
wrangling, it took effect on January 1, 1981. Palau held its first
elections in November 1980.
The president and vice president are elected by popular vote every four
years. The Council of Chiefs advises the president on issues concerning
traditional matters and custom.
The Olbiil Era Kelulau is the elected bicameral legislature and consists
of a House of Delegates and a Senate. The House of Delegates has of
one member from each of Palau's 16 states. The 14 senators represent
districts apportioned according to population.
The judicial branch of government consists of a Supreme Court,
National Court, and a lower Court of Common Pleas. All judges have
There are 16 state governments within Palau, each with an elected
governor and legislature.
While calm in recent years, Palau was troubled by several instances of
political violence in the 1980s. President Haruo Remeliik was
assassinated in 1985. In 1987, a special assistant to President Salii
convicted of firing shots into the home of the speaker of the House of
Delegates, Santos Olikong. President Salii's August 20, 1988 death
amid allegations of misuse of government funds was found to be a
Elections were last held in 1992 and are next scheduled for November
1996. In 1992, Kuniwo Nakamura was elected President and Tommy
Remengesau, Jr. was elected Vice President. The Palau Nationalist
Party (PNP), formed in 1996, is currently the only political party.
candidates run independently.
Principal Government Officials
Vice President--Tommy Remengesau, Jr.
Minister of State--Andres Uherbelau
Charge d'Affaires in U.S.--David Orrukem
Palau's embassy in the United States is at Suite 407, 2000 L Street NW,
Washington, DC 20036; tel: 202-452-6814; fax: 202-452-6281.
Palau is a sovereign nation and conducts its own foreign relations.
Since October 1994, Palau has established diplomatic relations with a
number of nations, including many of its neighbors in the Pacific.
Palau was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1994, and
has since joined several other international organizations.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
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Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
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