Military buildup forum draws huge crowd
Thursday, 20 November 2008
By Beau Hodai
Marianas Variety News Staff
THE forum called “A Critique of the Military Buildup on Guahan” held last night at the University of Guam College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Lecture Hall drew hundreds of participants who were seeking to know how Guam has been dealing with the preparation for the federal government’s Marines relocation plan.
Students and other members of the community filled the hall to hear statements made by an eight-member panel comprised in equal parts of representatives of community organizations and the Civilian-Military Taskforce under the Office of the Governor.
The CMTF provided presentations on the impact of the buildup on the island’s economy, infrastructure, public safety and environmental.
Several panelists and members of the audience expressed concern and frustration over the lack of input from the local community.
“I unequivocally object to the unilateral and arbitrary U.S. policy to hypermilitarize our home,” said Hope Cristobal, former Senator and founder of the Guam Decolonization Commission.
“The federal government never consulted the people of Guam as to the impact such a move would cause before a deal was made with the foreign Japanese government and that the U.S. military officials will not accommodate Guam’s needs in the already concluded bilateral agreement,” she added.
Chris Duenas, chairman of the CMTF public safety task force, said his committee has been working to improve the safety of Guam residents in years to come as the buildup begins to materialize.
He said there are some pre-construction concerns that the CMTF is working to address, such as port capacity and security and tightened customs security to handle the influx of traffic Guam is set to see in coming years.
In addition to increased port and customs security, Duenas said the Office of the Governor has requested $236 million in additional funding from the federal government for fiscal year 2010.
Of the requested amount, $14 million has already been earmarked for the Guam Police Department for recruitment of 60 new police officers.
He said another goal is to develop “fusion centers” to bring local and federal officials together to facilitate cooperation and coherency in government.
An open forum followed after the panels’ presentations.
“If the military buildup is so great, how come Okinawa wants them out?” Fanai Castro of the Guahan Indigenous Collective asked, rhetorically.
“One of the major drives as to why the people of Okinawa started organizing against the U.S. military was because a helicopter crashed at a university in Okinawa,” said Castro. “So, that question is kind of clever—it answers its self. It is because the U.S. military is so great, it is the reason why the people of Okinawa want the military out.”
John Benavente, Consolidated Commission on Utilities general manager and chairman of the CMTF committee on infrastructure, encouraged the students to take jobs in the environmental field, saying environmental workers on Guam now are overburdened.
Panelist Michael Lujan Bevacqua of Famoksaiyan said every resident of Guam—regardless of their position on the buildup—needs to realize that the buildup will affect them personally. He encouraged residents to take a more proactive roll in the course of their and Guam’s future.
“It (the buildup) is taking place because we are America, and it’s taking place because we’re not. It is not only something that takes place because of our geographic position, but our colonial status as well,” Bevacqua said.
“It is also taking place because we are one of the few American communities where a unilateral announcement by the DOD that it intends to drastically affect life in your community and cause a population increase of 34 percent is met with excitement, celebration and a frightening lack of questioning,” he added.
Whether one supports or opposes the troops buildup, Bevacqua said everyone “should care about the fact that you are a colony and this military buildup is predicated on the fact that you live in a colony and you can be treated as an object for the subject of the united states, as a weapon of the warrior of the United States military.”
“This is the United States military sharpening the tip of its spear,” he said.