With a new United States president, there is a lot of talk about change, including a change in Guam’s political status.
Ed Alvarez, executive director of Guam’s Commission on Decolonization, told me he has heard more talk, especially from young people, about the need to consider Guam’s political status now.
According to the U.S. agreement as a member of the United Nations, Guam’s status will change; there is just no specific time commitment for it to be done. Decolonization, or letting a people determine their own government, is something that the countries of the United Nations have agreed is a basic human right.
“It’s a raw deal,” says Alvarez of the current territorial status. “In trade, environment, taxation, military build-up, we are not having a say.”
It has been 66 years since the rights of Guamanians have been considered by the federal government. The current definitions established in the Organic Act in 1950 leave the island with its hands tied.
When the time comes for the citizens of Guam to vote on status, it will be the native inhabitants of the island and their descendants that make the decision. So, in 1997, Law 23-147 authored by Sen. Hope Cristobal and supported by Sen. Ben Pangelinan established a registry. A majority of native inhabitants of Guam would have to be registered in order for there to be a vote.
The decolonization effort lay dormant for many years until Gov. Eddie Calvo gave it new life in 2011. The movement has gained further strength with the award of a recent federal grant to the commission, the first of its kind. This is being used for registry efforts and education efforts.
“We had to educate about misinformation that was put out there,” Alvarez says. “People thought they would lose their passports, or welfare benefits, or not be able to survive without the U.S.”
He says that all of that is simply not true.
Alvarez has long gone into the high schools, but has more recently cooperated with the Department of Education and the Independence for Guam Task Force to organize a high school debate on the subject.
The Commission on Decolonization, together with the Guam Election Commission, has registered about 13,000 so far. Alvarez would like to see a number closer to 18,000. He will be increasing efforts on the island and now will expand it to the mainland where there are large concentrations of Chamorros. He will target community organizations as well as the military population.
“We need to modernize the political relationship,” states Alvarez.