Thursday, March 05, 2009

60 years later, feds still lord over people of Guam

By Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero • March 6, 2009

On March 5, 1949, members of the Guam Congress made history for resisting federal control over local governance. They adjourned their session and walked out on the premise that the people of Guam deserved the right to govern themselves. They made international headlines and helped the island attain some form of self-government with the Organic Act.

At the time of the walkout, Guam was under naval rule and the local government had no real power to govern the people. "Let us not hide behind doors, but let us come right out and tell our people that we cannot do things they wish, because we have somebody to tell us what to do," said then-Congressman Frank D. Perez on the day of the walkout.

Sixty years later, we sit idle as the history they fought repeats itself.

We have a federal judge ordering our local government to spend $1 million a week on the landfill, while two high schools share one campus, our only hospital struggles to meet the needs of its patients and our government employees live with the fear of looming pay cuts, payless paydays and layoffs.

We are also expected to meet the demands of the federal government as it expands its military presence on our island -- a decision that was made without our consent. This military buildup will make the native Chamorro people an extreme minority in our homeland, where we still haven't exercised our human right to self-determination.

And with construction for the buildup set to begin in a just over a year, our community is left with a long list of unanswered questions. At the top of the list is exactly how much money and resources will the people of Guam sacrifice to accommodate the infrastructural strain of a massive population boom and increased military presence?

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As our island constantly takes on the burden of supporting the military and following federal orders, what do we lose in the process? Aren't we, the people of Guam, worthy of the dignity and right to govern ourselves and decide our future?

The recent battle over the landfill proves that the federal government still assumes it has ultimate control over the island. The federal judge stated in her order earlier this week that the federal court could have the power to raise our taxes and sell our assets, including the Chamorro Land Trust properties we fought hard for.

In response to the federal judge's statements, Speaker Judith Won Pat accurately made the connection to our history. "The court's actions remind me of the day(s) of the naval government, where we had no rights whatsoever," said the speaker.

During the days of the naval government, it was made explicit that the interests of the military would always take precedence over the needs of the people of Guam. For example, in a 1946 naval report to Washington it was written that, "The economic development (of Guam) must be geared to meet the demands of (Navy) service and service connected personnel, and cannot be geared to the financial, technical, or business ability of the Guamanian entrepreneur."

As the military buildup plays out, it is not hard to see how this is still the case. What worries me is that not enough people are making the historical connection, or fighting against it. In the case of the landfill, the governor has shown a clear lack of leadership as his office publicly ponders what to follow: local law or federal orders.

In order for us to change our fate, we must fight for our right to govern ourselves. It is time to follow in the bold footsteps taken by the Guam Congress 60 years ago, and celebrate the parts of our history that obligate us to fight for our land and our people. We must support leaders who are determined to put our island first, and not allow our people to be taken advantage of any longer.

Victoria-Lola M. Leon Guerrero, a middle school teacher, lives in Toto.

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