December 8, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
(Tokyo) On December 7, more than 100 Diet members, academics, artists, civil society groups and the like submitted an urgent open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama demanding a stop to the construction of helipads in Okinawa with disregard to the environmental burden and the will of the people. The helipads are being built in conjunction with the return of roughly half of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area, which spans Higashi Village and Kunigami Village. The letter calls for an immediate halt to the construction, stating, “Time is running out for Takae. We request you to make an honorable decision as soon as possible.”
As of December 7, signatories to the letter include film director Isao Takahata, Doshisha University professor Noriko Hama, nonfiction writer Satoshi Kamata, and sociologist Chizuko Ueno.
The idea to submit a letter was proposed by Uchinada Town Councilwoman Hiroko Mizuguchi, 68, of Ichikawa Prefecture. On the 7th, she announced the letter at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. Uchinada Town was the site of the “Uchinada struggle”, one of the earliest anti-U.S. base construction movements on the Japanese mainland in the 1950s, which led to the closure of a U.S. military firing range. Councilwoman Mizuguchi, who takes part in activities to teach younger generations about the struggle, revealed her reason for wanting to send the letter to President Obama, saying, “Bases became concentrated in Okinawa because of the spread of the anti-base movement [on the mainland]. It was a shock.”
The letter explains that the Japanese government is hurrying to finish the helipads and their process lacks consideration for environmental conservation, pointing out that “Suppression by riot police has therefore become increasingly violent and persistent.” It calls on President Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, saying, “The Japanese government shows little interest in [Okinawans’] plight. As the President of the United States of America, you are now the only person who can save the Takae district in Okinawa.”
Also present at the press conference were Kanna Mitsuta of the international NGO “FoE Japan” and Akino Miyagi, who studies animal and plant life in the Yambaru forests.
(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)