Sunday, July 09, 2006

What Can Be Saved?

What Can Be Saved

talk given at the International Gathering of Human Rights Workers in the Asia-Pacific Region

Okinawa, Japan

Julian Aguon; June 22, 2006

I have been asked to speak on the current situation of the Chamoru people of Guam, in light of US military realignment schemes now underway in our region. I am here to report: not good.

Last month, US Department of Defense Undersecretary Richard Lawless paid Guam politicians a visit but shared no specifics about how the transfer of more than 8,000 marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam will impact our island. To date, defense officials state nothing definite except that Guam is to be a faster response hub to the loose and alleged threats that are China and North Korea. In addition to the marines, we have been informed that the Navy and the Air Force are also making plans to beef up their presence here. The latest is that the Navy may add as many as six additional nuclear submarines on Guam to the three we already house, expand and upgrade naval berthing barges as well as the wharf to accommodate more and bigger vessels. It plans to add a sixth aircraft carrier and to home port sixty percent of its Pacific Fleet in the region.

The Air Force is working to establish a Global Strike Force on Guam, which will include Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, deployed bombers, tankers, F/A-22 fighter jets and other aircraft. Deputy Commander of the US Pacific Command Daniel Leaf informed us of programs in work to establish a strike and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance hub at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern end of our island. Though this buildup is massive, it is only a complement to the already impressive Air Force and Navy show of force on 1/3 of the island, which now threatens to make Guam a first-strike target in any altercation with China and/or North Korea.

The recent announcement that the US and Japan finalized negotiations on the relocation of the marines that you here in Okinawa are kicking out, was greeted by the Guam elite with fanfare. They want them. Actually, they have been flagging them down. Our governor and his republican-led administration, the local Chamber of Commerce (consisting primarily of US statesiders), and the press have been up to their elbows in excitement ever since the announcement was made. The elite have launched a propaganda campaign to trick us into believing that the corporatization and militarization of Guam is in our community's best interest. Back home, editorials telling half-truths and little-to-none truths sound like trumpets in the territory. Articles that passionately support the privatization of virtually every public agency and that lay bare a blind faith in the benefits of military buildup rain down on the readership, as our little piece of Gannet, the Pacific Daily News, is up to its old habit: down on its knees in its endless genuflection toward corporate America.

Its reporters still pretend to report the news and the line, with little variation, remains: privatize everything – our one and only water provider, only power provider, only local telephone provider, and only port - on an island that imports 85-90% of its food and where private monopolies of public goods would truly make it captive to the forces of the market. To bring you up to speed, telecommunications were sold in full, our power distributor in part, and our water agency is still under attack. After an incompetent piece of legislation that would have had an American-based company profit off our water systems was defeated last year, the elite pushed an alternative mode of privatization. Recently, a private management contract was authorized to outsource the management of the agency's wastewater division. Meanwhile, the Port Authority of Guam has been taken to court by a private, foreign company for allegedly acting in bad faith with regard to its Request for Proposal. All this painted as part and parcel of readying Guam for an increased US military presence. A classic story of corporate globalization: the integrity of an ancient civilization on sale to the lowest bidder.

But the story of the 212 square mile island affectionately called the 'tip of the spear' in the US line of defense begs a bit more history.

Situated just north of the equator in the Western Pacific Ocean, Guam is the southernmost island of the Mariana Island Chain, in Micronesia. The native people of Guam call ourselves and our language Chamoru. We are descendents of the first group of Austronesians to move eastward into Oceania, populating our island archipelago long before others would reach island groups east of Micronesia. We were master navigators, matrilineal and, in 1521, Magellan's first Pacific contact. The plot, tragically, does not change much from here. Colonized by Spain for more than three hundred years, awarded to the US after Spain's defeat in 1898 as one of its Treaty of Paris prizes (its others being Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippine Islands), taken by Japan in the second world war only to be re-taken by the US at its close, Guam has since been subject to administration by the Office of Insular Affairs in the US Department of Interior.

As one of the few remaining non-self-governing territories (colonies) of the world, Guam today waits on a miracle - on US compliance with international law. Current US military operations in our region are a continuation of a long disregard for international law, which holds the US, as our Administering Power, legally responsible to protect the Chamoru people until the right to self-determination is exercised. As a signatory of the United Nations Charter, the US accepted as "a sacred trust" the obligation to see that the native inhabitants of Guam attain a full measure of self-government. More than forty years ago, UN Resolution 1514 was passed, declaring that 'all peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.' It declared further that "immediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire."

The last forty six years have slowly stripped the words of their weight.

Back home, war games are afoot. As I speak, three US aircraft carriers - the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS Kitty Hawk, and the USS Ronald Reagan – are playing what have been casually called war games. To date, no information has been released to the government of Guam on the contents of these games. As these ships engage in military exercise Valiant Shield, doing only God knows what, local leaders are simply waiting on word as to whether or not one of the three flattops will make a port call. Pump dollars into the local economy. The only thing we know about the exercise is that it is not the only one. The latest estimate released by defense officials is that 22,000 U.S. military personnel, 30 ships and 280 aircraft will partake in related exercises off our waters.

In all this, our leaders are nowhere to be found, except maybe in the private homes of the Guam elite, making toasts to the triumph of the free market. Shamelessly usurping the patriotism of a war-worn people. Or maybe they are busy missing meetings. Our governor is notorious for this. Last month, after snubbing a politician from Okinawa who visited Guam to discuss the transfer of the marines, Governor Camacho canceled two meetings with the Japanese government. Mikio Shimoji, member of both Japan Diet's Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Security, tried in vain to meet with him. When pressed for an answer, he said that he was taking a "conservative approach." He publicly admitted that he was waiting on a response from US federal officials, who he asked to establish a protocol for visits by foreign officials, so that he doesn't "step over any lines."

Earlier in his term, our governor missed the UN regional seminar on decolonization. In a letter to the UN Special Committee on Decolonization Chairman Julian Hunte, he implied that Guam was working with the US on its self-determination at the domestic level and that there was no pressing need to work with the international community on this matter.

He is not the only one who dodged meetings with Japan last month. He and our non-voting representative to Congress, Madeleine Bordallo, agreed not to meet with any foreign officials until after they had met with Undersecretary of Defense Lawless. Bordallo told reporters that the rationale behind the decision not to entertain foreign guests was that "this is the time when we're working on details." She must know something no one else does. The same day, US defense officials made it clear that no details could be shared with the people of Guam because no details were yet known.

So, what do we know?

That the Navy now playing war games off our waters is the same one that contaminated our waters, our lands and our livers with an older version of the same game.

Almost immediately after the last world war, the US conducted a series of nuclear experiments in Micronesia. A report released by the committee commissioned by the 26th Guam Legislature to investigate how Guam was affected by the US bombing of the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, detailed strong evidence of potential radioactive contaminations of our home. Guam, 1200 miles west of the Marshalls, received nuclear fallout from more than ten of the sixty-six bombs dropped on Enewetak alone. US military vessels flown above the plumes of Enewetak to measure radioactivity were flown to Guam and flushed out. To date, the toxics at Apra Habor and Cocos Lagoon on Guam have yet to be cleaned. The Guam Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a public warning to refrain from eating fish in that area due to dangerous levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the water. Just last year, east of us, four Marshallese babies born without eyeballs reminded the world of these transgressions.

Reports of related contamination are coming in from all over. Recently in Harris County, Texas, a retired US-Navy Lieutenant - riddled with a fifty-year-old guilt – declared before a Notary Public that Guam received radioactive fallout from the first hydrogen bomb test done in the Marshall Islands. Bert Schreiber, the Atomic, Biological, and Chemical Warfare Defense Officer stationed in Guam at the time of the first series of bombings, gave written testimony that on the morning of November 3, 1952, after discovering radioactive material from an H-bomb dropped on Enewetak atoll two days prior, his superior ordered him to keep his mouth shut. The deadly dust fell on a people who could have taken at least some precautionary measures. Only last month, another defense official informed us of how the US kept about 5,000 drums of Agent Purple in Guam in an undisclosed area in 1952 in anticipation of use on the Korean peninsula. According to a researcher who participated in a military experiment in Guam in the sixties, the amount of dioxin at Andersen Air Force Base alone (19,000 ppm) indicates a disturbing degree of US military irresponsibility (or is it indifference?) Further investigation awaits commission.

But the bands play on and we are expected to believe that the danger is China, North Korea. Iran too. I almost forgot: we should forget the fact that every single reason the US used to justify it's going to war with Iraq has turned out a lie. While we're at it, we might as well hate Cuba and downplay the acts of political bravery rippling across leftist Latin America, lest we see them for what they are: shining acts of self-determination hurled at the myth of free market inevitability. But I am getting a little ahead of myself. Contemporary politics back home doesn't have that wide a reach. In the Guam of today, political science is more a story of mirrors and a people's facelessness in them.

But what we really came to say is simple. The Chamoru Nation is here because we intend to survive. We are also here to renew our pact with you to actively encourage the withdrawal of the exaggerated US military presence from all – not some – of our communities. To declare to the world what we know: that the aggressive militarization of our region is laying humanity a premature grave. And we find that unacceptable.

Solidarity is not our best bet. It is our only one. As an international gathering of peace and justice activists, we are building momentum for the global demilitarization movement. In the process, I hope we are building a better bridge across the world we are working toward and the weed of cynicism gaining too much ground in human hearts.

I pray for the builders. That we keep our courage close. This world we are building from the bones of ideas that have failed humanity has set us out on an unkind wind. Our sisters and brothers here from the Philippines know this better than most. All across that country, democracy is under attack, civil liberties are being curtailed, death squads kill freely and the administration of President Arroyo practically sanctions them. Since 2001, more than six hundred people – human rights workers, journalists, priests, lawyers, teachers, labor leaders, students – have been murdered. More than a hundred and fifty disappeared. Their crime?Thinking. And having the courage to align a life with their hunger for justice. Doing its part in the vague 'global war on terror', the Arroyo administration has Oplan Bantay Laya, a program aimed at neutralizing (destroying) what is really the people's progressive movement. For its counterinsurgency efforts, the US gave that government $30 million dollars in one year alone.
You folks in Okinawa have shouldered your share of suffering. As Washington's top ally (alley) cat in East Asia, Japan continues to negotiate away your freedom from harm, bodily and otherwise. Japan leadership has yet to listen to the logic living in your rage. Playing host to 75% of the total US troops stationed in Japan has pushed your patience – and your nonviolence – to its limits.

As you scream about the noise and the rape and the alcoholism and the violence of the US military presence in your cramped home, US defense officials tell senators back home that the marines being moved to Guam are family-oriented. That the feds will work with us to ensure the transfer is a "win-win" situation. The Boston Herald reports that even after the 8,000 troops are transferred, about 15,500 will remain here.

But in the end this is not our end. The proponents of justice will outlast the proponents of privatization, militarization, and death. Because all empires fall. Because enough of us realize or will realize that a choice must be made. Either we pursue justice or we perish.

And because we know the truth: what we love we can save, including each other, even when we are afraid.


Si Mateo said...

Well said. Thank you for this site and for voicing the other side. If more than ever, now is the time for Chamorus to stand strong and keep our culture alive.

si Mateo

Yvonne said...

I agree with transferring military personnel to Guam, but what I don't agree on is the amount of people allocated there. Just like in Texas with the Katrina evacuees, most Texans treated them with abrasiveness and hostility. Even though the military personnel are of similar minds with the people on Guam, history has shown that the situation is like playing with fire, someone is bound to get hurt. I think the only solution to that would be to downsize the amount allocating to Guam. Is it for the people to decide or do we not have a say in the matter? I know when it comes to politics many cringe at the very mention of the word. How do you get very anti-political, unmotivated people to truly stand up for what is better for them?