Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Continuing Quest for Self-Determination

By Rlene Santos Steffy | For the Sunday Post

 Guam’s political status remains in perpetual limbo. What has been tried and where can we go from here?

 For the second part of “Guam’s continuing quest for self-determination,” the operative word is “continuing.” Here, I present the continuing moves and counter moves by a range of proponents of self-determination and describe their efforts to advance to decolonization after the 1995 Congressional stall. 

The fire that once drove the proponents of self-determination has died down in recent years. This is due to a combination of internal and external factors, including but not limited to: government bureaucracy; U.S. Congressional lack of will; differing federal government priorities; threat of unconstitutionality of a CHamoru only vote; filing of court cases and untimely rulings; lack of funding for public education campaign on status options; procedural use and application of international or domestic laws; and disagreement on whether to seek decolonization through the United Nations or change Guam’s political status through U.S. Congress. 
Years of inactivity has plagued the progression of the Commission on Decolonization because of these factors, but a lack of funding to pursue its purpose – to facilitate education and set the date for the plebiscite – has arguably been the prime culprit.
As chair on the Commission of Decolonization, Governor Eddie Calvo has suggested that the plebiscite take place in the 2018 election. But, three things must happen for that goal to occur: 1) A District Court of Guam ruling against Arnold Davis’ case; 2) The Office of the Attorney General must define an unclear “70 percent threshold” requirement; and 3) the Commission on Decolonization’s education campaign must be completed. 
The AG’s office has said it will wait on a ruling from District Court on the Davis vs. Guam case before issuing an opinion. The educational campaign by the Commission on Decolonization is underway and now focused on encouraging people to register to vote in an upcoming plebiscite. The task forces have united to do this because their efforts will continue to be frustrated without a vote.
Death of the Draft Commonwealth Act
The last significant endeavor on Guam’s quest for self-determination was the introduction of the Draft Commonwealth Act to the U.S. Congress’s House Resource Committee by former Guam Representative to Congress Vicente “Ben” Garrido Blaz. The Draft Commonwealth Act was a product of 10 years of hard work with the participation of Guam political leaders, political activists, public and business community members, hopeful that changing the non-self-governing territory’s political status would improve self-governance and economic prosperity for Guam.
Congressman Blaz sent letters requesting support and received commitments of support from Congressional members, but the Draft Commonwealth Act was not reported out of Committee for Congressional vote. The effort stalled and, aside from the annual submissions of Guam Legislative resolutions introduced to Congress by Congressman Robert Anacletus Underwood and Congresswoman Madeleine Zeien Bordallo to Congress, the political will on Guam has waned. Eventually, the regular submissions of resolutions to Congress discontinued. 
“The notion of a ‘Draft’ Commonwealth Act in Congress introduced to Congress was a sore spot for the Commission on Self-Determination,” said Leland Bettis, its third and last executive director. 
The political status initiatives of the past led to the establishment of the Commission on Decolonization, so it is difficult to write about decolonization efforts without its umbilical cord relationship to self-determination efforts. 
“Procedurally, there is a fundamental difference between the two, [U.S. Congress or the United Nations] and that’s a choice then Senator Cristobal and the Legislature needed to make,” at that time, said Attorney Michael Bordallo Phillips, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Guam and one of the writers of Bill NO. 76 that became PL23-147.  “It was actually me and then attorney Michael J. Bordallo who wrote the legislation for Senator Cristobal, at her direction. Her key advisor, the late Ron Rivera, had the most influence. He was an advocate of what might be considered true or literal self-determination.” 
“My recommendation was and is that the people of Guam are best served by going to Congress,” continued Phillips, in an interview with the Sunday Post. “That is the mechanism provided to us by the Treaty of Paris and the Charter of the United Nations, to both of which the United States subscribes. [It’s] the procedure provided to us and its one that we have the authority to invoke. Some people may be unaware of it, especially the subsequent generations who may intuitively ask, ‘how is going to Congress self-determination?’ That’s a natural question for those who have not been involved for 20 or 30 years. But those who have been involved for that long understand that it’s an empowering aspect of self-determination that you are able to bring the colonizing power to the table.” 
When the United States acquired Guam and other Spanish possessions through the Treaty of Paris in 1898 they became territories of the United States. The U.S. government embarked on a political education process with all its new territories, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, giving them the opportunity to create local governments – first at the municipal levels and, ultimately, with legislative bodies. The Guam Congress was created in the late 1920s. One of the first actions they took in the early 1930s was unanimously passing a resolution and appropriation to petition the U.S. Congress to become U.S. citizens. 
This action remains important because it establishes an early desire and precedent-setting vote by the elected leaders of Guam to become U.S. citizens. As it is today, the Guam Congress was a locally elected and representative body. Similar to its modern government, the people of Guam vote for representatives to the Guam Legislature, where senators pass resolutions and appropriate funds to carry out their decisions. Then and now, these elected leaders swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States when taking their oath of office.
Organic Act of Guam
With the creation of the United Nations after WWII, the U.S. voluntarily included Guam on the U.N.’s list of non-self-governing territories (NSGT). At that time, Guam again petitioned Congress for U.S. citizenship, prompting Washington to resurrect the 1930 Guam Congress Resolution and ultimately pass the 1950 Organic Act of Guam.
Following the Organic Act’s passage, why didn’t the United States government summarily remove Guam from the U.N. list of NSGTs?
“Since the will of the people [of Guam] was executed by Congress, yes, they should have,” said Edward J. Lynch, Retired U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) and former Assistant U.S. Attorney.
But, Congress did not petition the United Nations Security Council or General Assembly to remove Guam. “There were probably a lot of international reasons why they didn’t want to take Guam off the political status, because it would have provided some impetus in Eastern Europe and other areas of Asia for the superpowers to do that in their territories also,” said Lynch in a telephone interview from Hawaii. “It was a political decision then as to whether Guam was a self-governing part of the United States. So, it’s my position that Guam, in 1950, as a result of Congress passing the Organic Act based on the petition of Guam through their local elected leaders, became part of the United States. At that point, they clearly are under the Constitutional controls of the United States.”
Commission on Self-Determination
The 1980 creation of the Commission on Self-Determination resulted in the 1982 election for political status choice here on Guam, with 49 percent of the election results in favor of commonwealth. Another election in 1987 resulted in a jump to 73 percent in favor of commonwealth. Independence and free association received about 12 percent or less of the popular votes tabulated and reported by the Guam Election Commission. The 1987 election results were clearly influenced by attitudinal changes of Guam voters regarding the status quo after the CNMI obtained their commonwealth status with the “appearances” of self-governance.
Former Senator Hope Alvarez Cristobal and others like Difunto Ron Flores Rivera, who was chair of the Organization for People of Indigenous Rights (OPIR) and vice-chair of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, recognized that Guam was still listed as a non-self-governing territory on the U.N. list. This was the impetus of Guam’s quest for self-determination and its eventual move for decolonization. Rivera was a dedicated CHamoru rights advocate who believed that the United Nations forums offered a reasonable and objective way to focus on the political relationship of Guam to the United States. Rivera died on September 27, 2001. His death was a blow to those involved in the effort.
“I participated in discussions in Congress and the United Nations, and, at the same time, my staff were working on the issue of decolonization,” said Cristobal, a senator in the 23rd Guam Legislature (1995-1996) who chaired the committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs. “We needed to take the bull by its horns and say, ‘OK, the commonwealth is not acceptable to the United States; let’s then embark on our own legislation for decolonization.’”
In her statement at the 2006 U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization Seminar in Papua New Guinea, Cristobal stated that during a breakfast meeting on Guam, U.S. Ambassador Harvey Feldman suggested that Cristobal defer to the administrating power on issues of decolonization. Cristobal thought Feldman’s request odd at the time, but in retrospect said, “I am convinced that had it not been for our persistence at that time, Guam would have been removed from the U.N. list of NSGT by now, and colonialism would have succeeded in erasing and forever denying our people’s rights.”
OPIR was formed on the idea of protecting the indigenous rights of the CHamoru people. One important way to protect those rights was for them to be actively involved in the Draft Commonwealth Act after the voting of the five status choice elections. Out of the five, two were selected: statehood and commonwealth. In a later election the people chose commonwealth. It took 10 years to work out the details of the commonwealth and cost $10 million dollars.
Commonwealth Act
In 1994, Hope Alvarez Cristobal was elected to the Guam legislature. There, she kept an eye on the end stages of the Draft Commonwealth Act. She said the government of Guam invested a lot of money in the process of developing a draft and wanted “to participate in a meaningful way. But at the time, they didn’t know what it would be.” 
The impetus of Cristobal’s Bill was to counter the failure of the Draft Commonwealth Act in Congress. They were primarily concerned with other legal avenues to pursue decolonization because commonwealth effort had failed. So they spent their efforts considering legal ways to justify decolonization for Guam. 
A surprise discovery
Cristobal was surprised but grateful when they discovered that the United States described the people of Guam when they listed Guam as a non-self-governing territory with the U.N. as being “of proto-Malay origins and spoke the CHamoru language of Austronesian base.” They also developed a census at that time, long before the Organic Act. “There was that explicit recognition [of Guam’s indigenous population], but it was also implicit in the policies of the U.S. Navy throughout their care of the nationals of Guam at that time. So, they had certain policies that led them to this path of recognizing that they were administering a colony under the United States.”
Cristobal said that she and her colleagues “seized that document and looked at our history. And we realized that almost all the policies that the U.S. Navy was embarking on was leading us toward the Organic Act – of course, not realizing that it was actually going to get passed. But they were preparing us, because all those policies were heading in that direction of a right of self-determination for the colonial peoples of Guam. We used the same definition the U.N. used – I believe it’s U.N. Resolution 66-01 – that gave us the basis from where we could begin to look at decolonization and our history and how over the years, post WWII, how our numbers [as CHamoru people] began to diminish, because of policies that were in place. [We] noticed this when we began to look through the U.S. Census and realized that [ethnic CHamoru inhabitants] were diminishing in numbers and that we needed to take care of this right” to self-determination.
“It was the inhabitants of Guam that were described on the U.S. document submitted to the U.N. [as those colonized]. And, of course, they did say that there were others [on Guam] than the CHamorus. But it was the CHamoru people whom they promised. I use the word promise because we were in the document. Although they didn’t say ‘We promise this right’ explicitly, they knew who we were as a people and our origins and our language. And they referred to the 1898 Treaty of Peace.”
Taking Guam’s case to the United Nations did pay off in some regards, said Bettis. When efforts through Congress proved unsatisfactory, they looked to the U.N.
“I can assure you that we got lots more attention in D.C. (from people that would not normally pay attention to Guam) after we embarked on this course,” Bettis said. “I also know the U.S. Mission spent a lot of political capital to try to block the language changes that we successfully secured – even close U.S. allies backed Guam over the pressure from the U.S. Mission to the U.N.”  
On February 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs held a panel discussion on Self-Determination in the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam.  According to University of Guam President Dr. Robert A. Underwood, who attended, Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina inquired about the status of Guam’s commonwealth effort in the U.S. Congress. He says she asked, “Is Commonwealth just not discussed anymore? Have the concerns that were relayed by the federal agencies just out of the question for movement on that front? Where is Guam on its evolution on political status?”
Underwood replied that he was there on his own behalf and not speaking on behalf of the government of Guam. “But, basically I believe that after the 1997 hearing people were pretty dispirited about the prospects for this new deal called Commonwealth. As a consequence, they’ve focused back on basically - I think elected officials want to focus more on political development issues, incremental political progress, increasing the level of financial existence, just doing the kind of day-to-day things. And, of course, there’s still a very small but vocal group that wants to pursue the issue of self-determination.”
Underwood told the panel that, in his view, the executive branch of the federal government has to take the lead. In that February meeting, he said, “I’m hoping that whoever is president next, you know, if it’s you Mr. Trump, please take this on. Don’t build a wall. Build a bridge to Guam. Or however you want to do it. Or, if it becomes another President Clinton – this really needs to be an executive initiative…because every successful initiative relative to the Territories has always been because the president did it…The Guam Organic Act was not an initiative coming out of Congress. It was an initiative coming out of the Truman administration. Which was then passed by Congress…And, of course it’s easy to say that Congress has plenary power – well Congress has plenary power on lots of things, you know. But, it doesn’t keep the executive branch from introducing an initiative.”
He continued: That goes back to the history of the Civil Rights movement here in the U.S. where they tried court action as opposed to passing laws in Congress. Of course people can secede sometimes when you go to court in order to challenge various laws. But most often, if you’re really trying to look for a transformational change, I think you have to go at it with an executive branch, articulating a point of view after direct consultation with the territories and then articulating that. And then, if that’s found to be wanting some way legally, then the court will do it. And maybe that will be the case that will actually take the place of the Insular Cases.”
Regarding the matter of secession, Ed Lynch said, “If you accept the fact that you are within the Constitutional controls because you voluntarily became part of the United States through petition, then the question is: Can you undo history and no longer be a U.S. citizen?’ My answer to that is, that’s what the Civil War was fought over. And in our history as a nation, it is determined that you cannot secede from the United States – it is not permitted. Remember that there were territories [and states] that fought on both sides of the Civil War, so it’s not like this is a new question that came up in the 20th century…They both fought in the Civil War and the decision was made, you cannot secede once you are a part of the United States.”
Dual sovereignty
This all hinges on the issue of dual sovereignty, said Ed Lynch: “If you are part of the United States, because we are a dual sovereign system of government there are different types of sovereign governments that you can have within the dual sovereignty system of the United States; Unincorporated territory of Guam is one of those dual statuses with oversight from the federal government. Commonwealth is a dual status with oversight from the federal government. Incorporated Territory is a dual status with oversight from the federal government. The ultimate dual status is statehood with oversight from the federal government.” 
Eddie Duenas and Eloy Hara, as co-chairs of the Statehood Task Force, have a clear advantage in this case because statehood is the ultimate dual status relationship with the federal government and accompanying benefits. As replacement options are concerned, statehood is the clearest model that the people of Guam understand.  
This point was clearly made in a discussion last week with former Senator Robert Klitzkie about a Supreme Court decision stating that Puerto Rico was not a sovereign, despite its commonwealth status. The decision listed a similar but different interpretation to Lynch’s list of which types of governments can have a dual sovereignty relationship with the federal government. 
Original activists
On the local front, the desire for self-determination has continued with many of the original activists still alive and finding ways to keep the hope alive. 
Dr. Laura “Loling” M. Torres Souder is one example. In a recent testimony in favor of the re-establishment of the CHamoru Language Commission, she said: “As an advocate in the 1970s and beyond, I was part of a great political movement that clamored for CHamoru self-determination…Here on Guam, young activists, myself included, rose up to join forces with the great political leaders of the post-World War II era on Guam to become the CHamoru Generation…We clearly defined and articulated who we were to the powers of the world and ushered in a revolution of thought and acted boldly to put ourselves on the indigenous world map. We would not be denied.”
She continued: “Guam, unlike Puerto Rico, would not be seduced or bullied into accepting the tools of colonialism disguised as self-determination. Young and old, Democrats and Republicans rallied together to protest and petition the U.S. Congress to deliver on its promise. Politicians were held accountable for their rhetoric. The Commission on Self-Determination, which still exists, if renamed and somewhat more somber, was established by law to facilitate the process. The tragedy is that if we do not take steps to maintain our language and heritage as the people of this land, winning these battles would have been in vain.”
Many struggles and challenges characterized the years of dealings that Leland Bettis had with the federal government as executive director of the Commission on Self-Determination. She had this to say about the CHamoru people’s struggle for self-determination: “The Department of Justice and the Department of Interior espouse the view that Guam is self-governing. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. usually uses modifiers like ‘essentially’ or ‘internally’ self-governing. These are artifices of their colonial power. Ultimately, there are Chamorro people whose homeland is Guam. These Chamorro people have never exercised self-determination with respect to a self-governing status of their home. They have that right. No one else can unilaterally exercise that right for them. No amount of denying it, or obfuscating it, or pretending that it is something else will change the fact that it is their right.”
Calvo’s reason
Similarly, Ed Alavarez, the current executive director of the Commission on Decolonization, had this to say about why he was willing to chair the Commission for over a year without receiving a salary or equipment for his Commission office at Adelup. “When Governor Eddie Calvo won the 2010 election, I was asked to take on this job.” As a childhood friend and classmate, Governor Calvo remembered discussions that indicated Ed’s passion for self-determination and offered him the job. “I had followed the developments of political status since the 1970s and saw first-hand what my good friend Leland Bettis fought for and I got an awakening in the last 1970s. I read a report, (“The Solomon Report; America's ruthless blueprint for the assimilation of Micronesia”) and I was infuriated by what I read. Because up until that time, I wanted to be American. I wanted to talk American, look American.”
Why did Governor Calvo decide to revive this issue leading up to the 2016 election?
“As a governor, I believe that the People of Guam [have] waited too long to take control of their own destiny,” Calvo told the Sunday Post. “There were obstacles that were holding us up [in 2016]; an ongoing court case, and the definition of the 70 percent,” regarding the voting registry. “How do we move ahead on those obstacles? The simplest thing for me was, well let’s get a referendum.”
To get past the complications of the yet to be decided court case, and the still lacking opinion of the attorney general on definition of the 70 percent issue pertaining to the voter registry, Governor Calvo suggested using dual ballots – one designated for those defined by law as CHamoru and another ballot for anyone with voting rights on Guam.
“I put that forward to move the process along that had been stagnated for so long,” he said. But, he said, the members of the Commission on Decolonization had many issues about the idea and the 2016 election came and went.
New blood
Internal struggles and disagreements like this have been obstacle in the progress for the goal of the Commission on Self-Determination and the Commission on Decolonization.Many years and many tears of frustration have characterized the establishment of peoplehood desired on Guam. Still, a new generation keeps the effort alive in hopes that the CHamoru will one day be able to vote for self-determination.

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