THE QUESTION OF GUAM
GUAHAN COALITION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
BY: LISALINDA NATIVIDAD, PHD
UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION
Hafa dai (greetings) your Excellency Mr. Chairman Carrion-Mena and distinguished members of the Special Committee on Decolonization. Un dangkulo na si Yu’os ma’ase (a sincere thank-you) for the opportunity to share perspectives relative to the progress of decolonization and priority areas on the Question of Guam to this most esteemed committee.
I am Dr. LisaLinda Natividad, a Chamorro professor at the University of Guam and a recently appointed member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization. However, I present testimony today in my capacity as President of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice; a Guam-based coalition comprised of grassroots organizations advocating for the political, cultural, social, environmental, and human rights of the people of Guam.
Our coalition is an active member of various regional and global networks related to militarism and has been a consistent voice of dissent for Guam relative to the hyper-militarization plans of our administering power, the United States. In 2006, the U.S. entered into a bilateral agreement with the government of Japan that revealed the U.S.’s plans to transfer 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam. This process occurred without any consultation of Guam leaders or the Chamorro people; rather, was learnt about through U.S. mainstream media sources. The unresolved political status of Guam is the underlying condition that allows for such policy development. In the words of U.S. military Captain Robert Lee, “We’re seeing a realignment of forces away from Cold War theatres to Pacific theatres and Guam is ideal for us because it is a US territory and therefore gives us maximum flexibility.”1 These telling words validate how Guam’s current colonial condition sets the stage for the exploitation of our land and the rights of the Chamorro people in support of the U.S. militarist agenda.
Militarization of Guam
It was the announcement of the planned military build-up of our island that prompted a return of our people to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization after a nearly 10 year absence to evoke your support and advocacy in the face of major plans for the further exploitation of Guam. Our absence of 10 years is indicative of the lack of faith and hope that we had come to know of the United Nations. Since the announcement of the Guam military build-up in 2006, we have ensured that every single year, members of our Chamorro community have come before the United Nations pleading for your intervention. So the story I will share today is not a new one. It is one that you have heard annually for the past six years and echoes the same calls to action from the United Nations that has been requested for three generations of Chamorros at this forum, yet nonetheless; our political status remains unresolved.
As I speak, my son of eleven years, Atdao-mami, sits in this hall and if the past is a predictor of the future- his generation of Chamorros will continue to revisit this place as though our words are falling on deaf ears today. So as you hear the dismal realities of our island home, we ask that you do something different. We ask that you focus on the specific actions that can be taken by the United Nations and this esteemed committee to bring about change and resolution to the question of Guam.
The most recently passed United Nations Resolution on the Universal Realization of the Right of Peoples to Self-Determination states:
"The General Assembly…Welcoming the progressive exercise of the right to self-determination by peoples under colonial, foreign or alien occupation and their emergence into sovereign statehood and independence,
Deeply concerned at the continuation of acts or threats of foreign military intervention and occupation that are threatening to suppress, or have already suppressed, the right to self-determination of peoples and nations,
Declares its firm opposition to acts of foreign military intervention, aggression and occupation, since these have resulted in the suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination and other human rights in certain parts of the world [and]
Calls upon those States responsible to cease immediately their military intervention in and occupation of foreign countries and territories and all acts of repression, discrimination, exploitation and maltreatment…”
While these firm words express support for our circumstances, our Guam experience has been that it is not coupled with the authority to bring about change in such circumstances. On September 20, 2010, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations, and Environment), Jackalyne Pfannensteil, signed and released the Record of Decision on the Guam build-up, setting into motion the awarding of Department of Defense contracts for construction and other projects. This occurred even after approximately 10,000 comments were submitted by members of our community on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) raising concerns about the social, cultural, and economic impacts to those living outside military fences.
In spite of the intensity of community outcry during the DEIS process, the only changes reflected in the U.S. Department of Defense Final Environmental Impact Statement was to spread out the plan of implementation to comply with United States Environmental Protection Agency concerns about the overtaxing of the island’s utility and wastewater system and treatment plants.
Our resistance to the increased military presence on Guam is rooted in an exploitative relationship with the U.S. military. Militarism has historically been used as the imperial hammer that ensures the suppression of Guam’s colonized peoples. As one of the longest colonized peoples in the world, Chamorros have experienced the ill effects of militarization for many centuries. In particular, U.S. military presence in Guam and Micronesia has resulted in radiation exposure, environmental devastation, and toxic contamination of the island and its people. These catastrophic effects are evidenced in the poor health outcomes of Chamorros. Despite advocacy efforts of groups on Guam for compensation for radiation exposure as a result of downwinds from atomic testing between the 1940s and the 1960s in the Marshall Islands, Guam residents are still not eligible for compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of U.S. Congress.
In addition, the island has had 19 superfund sites, which are, “the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.”2 In addition to Superfund sites, there are 95 Installation Restoration Program sites located on the island’s current military bases. Consistent with pervasive exposure to these toxic sites, Chamorros have manifested excessively disproportionately higher rates of cancer as compared to many other ethnic groups on Guam, as well as compared to U.S. national averages. The 2003-2007 Guam Cancer Facts and Figures reported, “an 18% increase in the annual age-adjusted incidence rates”.3 Further, excessively high rates of rare types of cancer such as cancer of the nasopharynx and oral cancer are also manifested by Chamorros.
There are a myriad of other concerns connected to the militarization of Guam. For example, it has resulted in a segregated school system as a result of the Guam Department of Education being found to provide substandard education. Rather than providing additional resources to ensure access to adequate education for all children on Guam, the Department of Defense established its own premiere school system. In addition, the U.S. military has taken land under its control with its current footprint of approximately 33% of Guam today. However, there is great controversy over the additional landtaking of 2,200 acres in the north of the island intended for the construction of a live firing range complex in the ancient historical and sacred Chamorro village of Pagat. There is currently a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Defense on this issue. With the acquisition of Pagat, the U.S. military will increase its presence on Guam to roughly 45% of the island. Lastly, increased militarization of Guam will result in the continued political minoritization of the Chamorro people when a self-determination plebiscite is realized.
In light of these concerns, the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice offers the following recommendations:
1. That Guam remain on the list of Non-Self Governing Territories until Chamorros have had an opportunity to exercise our inalienable human right to political self-determination;
2. That the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization reaffirms and declares that Guam’s militarization plans by the administering power, the United States, poses an impediment to the exercise of the Chamorro peoples’ human right to self-determination and decolonization;
3. That the United Nations provide both financial and technical assistance for an educational campaign for all people of Guam relative to the political status plebiscite in the near future;
4. That the United Nations sends a Visiting Mission to observe the plebiscite that should occur in the next five years; and
5. That the United Nations adopt a Resolution that reflects a case by case decolonization plan for each of the non-self governing territory to be achieved in the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
In closing, un dangkulo na si Yu’os ma’ase (many thanks) for the opportunity to share the experience of Guam and the Chamorro people with U.S. militarism. We evoke members of this committee to exercise its authority to hold administering powers of the world accountable to the principles of decolonization and true self-determination.
1 Bohane, B. America’s Pacific Speartip, The Diplomat, Sept/Oct 2007.
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from www.epa.gov/superfund/ on June 16, 2011.
3 Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services Guam Comprehensive Cancer Coalition. 2003-2007 Guam Cancer Facts and Figures published in October 2009.