Residents hope for Obama's reassurance
By Brett Kelman • Pacific Daily News • February 2, 2010
The most important part of President Obama's trip to Guam will be what he says -- and what he hears -- about the coming military buildup, said the leader of the Guam Democratic party yesterday.
Chairwoman Pilar Lujan said the buildup is the biggest issue in Guam's future and Obama's opinion could have the biggest sway on the buildup.
If he speaks to Guam, the buildup will have to come up and residents will hang on his words, she said. Hopefully, Obama will hang on theirs, too.
"I think this particular issue has really brought out the people of Guam much more than any issue we have ever had before," she said. "It has been so divided among the people and I think that will really bring them out again to discuss it with the president."
She added later: "He listens. We hope to see that."
Obama will travel to Guam in March as part of a trip to Asia, according to a press release from Delegate Madeleine Bordallo's office. No additional details were available yesterday, said local spokesman Matt Herrmann.
It is unknown how long the president's visit will be or if he will speak to the public while he is here.
Lujan said, although his visit may be brief, she expects it to be very open.
The local Democratic Party will pursue details about the trip immediately so they can plan meetings with local leaders. She expects Obama will give a public speech also, like President Clinton did in 1998.
If Obama does give a speech, John Chargualaf, 26, hopes he will be reassured. If the president tells him the buildup will be good for Guam, Chargualaf will rest easier.
But today, Chargualaf is on the fence.
He knows the economy needs help, but he worries the population surge from the buildup could bring conflict and crime.
Many others are also unsure about the massive change, he said. Obama might be able to change that, he said.
"I want him to reassure us that it is going to benefit the island ... I want to hear what is his opinion on how military buildup will help the economy here in Guam. You know a lot of us, especially the locals, they are not all for it," Chargualaf said.
Natassia Nave, of Dededo, thought Obama could comfort those who were looking forward to the military buildup and those who oppose it.
Much of Guam is looking forward to the jobs, income and economic boost that the buildup is expected to bring, she said. Others worry their island will change and leaders don't care, she said.
Nave hoped Obama would repair relations with the new leadership in Japan while traveling in Asia. Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister of Japan wants to renegotiate the relation of military forces in Japan, potentially delaying the buildup.
"It will bring a better economy for the island of Guam ... but of course there will be a negative effect. There will always be negatives when it comes to the military coming out to an island like this," Nave said.
Like Chargualaf, Nave felt many people with concerns about the buildup just need to be reassured by Obama that this shift is in their best interest.
Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz sent letters to Bordallo and the governor yesterday requesting a brand new draft Environmental Impact Statement be created to explain the buildup.
The draft EIS is a massive study that details the impacts and possibilities of the buildup. The document was released to the public in November.
According to a press release sent out yesterday, Cruz feels it is "grossly inadequate." He said the document is poorly researched and some buildup actions may violate federal laws.
"The people of Guam deserve a document on the proposed buildup that reflects truly and accurately the enormous impact that the buildup would have on their lives and on their island," he said.
Comments on the draft EIS could re-shape the military's plans for Guam. Currently the public has until Feb. 18 to submit comments, but Cruz feels the window to comment should be reset if the document is re-written.