23 June 2010

Mental Health Ramifications of Colonialism in Guam Examined

Statement by
Hope A. Cristobal, Psy.D.
before the
United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation
June 22, 2010


Hafa adei! Your Excellency Mr. Chairman and Members of the Special Committee on Decolonization, seminar delegations, UN staff and seminar attendees. Dangkolu na si Yu’os ma’ase’ for this opportunity to speak before the Special Committee. I am Dr. Hope Antoinette Cristobal. I am a Chamorro and a professional psychologist. Our delegation, here today, represents the second generation of Chamorros who have sought the assistance of the United Nations for over two decades to decolonize our home island and to protect our people’s right of self-determination.

We congratulate the UN for convening the Pacific seminar on decolonization in New Caledonia last month. We especially thank the Special Committee for its past work in decolonizing almost 100 non self-governing territories. It is our fervent hope to share in this same experience in the 21st century – a reality that is wrought with challenges and obstacles primarily due to Guam’s military strategic importance to the U.S. administering power.


It is well documented in the literature that colonized and marginalized communities suffer from a range of mental health issues resulting from their socio-political and socio-cultural oppression. Your Excellency, if the mental health and physical health of a people are direct indications of the health of a nation, I am here to testify that the indigenous people of Guam continue to suffer social, cultural, and environmental annihilation at the hands of our American oppressors.

As U.S. citizens in Guam, my Chamorro people are dying and suffering at disproportionate rates as compared to our U.S. counterparts. Our senior citizen rate is at a mere 5% in comparison to the U.S. standard of 12%. Your Excellency, the health concerns in Guam are not unlike those you are aware of with the Kanaky people of New Caledonia, where there is an over representation in problems related to depression, anxiety, alcohol, drug use, and violence, especially among the poorest male youths when compared to the larger French population. Most importantly, researchers note that these problems did not exist before their colonization (Goodfellow, Calandreau, Roelandt, 2010).

In Guam, Chamorros suffer from these same maladies (Rapadas, 2001; Untalan, 1991). It was found that young Chamorros, when compared to the general population, experienced the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse; reported more gang involvement; committed more crimes overall; and made up the majority of criminal recidivists (Rapadas, 2001). We have some of the highest rates of suicide in the world (Booth, 1999; Rubinstein, 2002) with 15 completed suicides for every 100,000 people in Guam. In addition, when considering suicide, 50% of Chamorro and Filipino youths in Guam were more likely to seek help outside their family or with nobody at all (Rubinstein, 1983; Schwab, 1998). Robust research suggests that these aggregate problems in our communities are a result of the cultural and social deterioration of our families and neighborhoods; the same families and neighborhoods that had previously sustained our health for generations prior to colonization (Hezel, 1987; Rubinstein, 1983; Schwab, 1998).

The hyper militarization plans for Guam will exacerbate these problems, above and beyond what is already considered to be of serious global concern. As the administering power of Guam for over six decades, the United States must bear responsibility for our tragic invisibility resulting in inadequate public health resources to assess or respond to our particular needs as a colonized, marginalized island society.


In 2005, our people were notified through the media that some 7,000 Marines were being transferred to Guam from Okinawa Island. The U.S. DOD (Department of Defense) refused any further information citing their plans as tentative until the release of their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) last November (2009). We knew nothing of what or how to prepare for this hyper militarization. The U.S. administering power had five years and over 85 million dollars to prepare their 11,000 page document detailing the destruction of our human and physical environment and thus our demise as a people of the land. Successively, our small resource-poor non self-governing island people were given exactly 90-days to respond. Today, six months after release of the military’s DEIS, the local government is struggling simply to get U.S. commitment of funds for anticipated impacts to our water, power, and sewer infrastructure and seaport facilities contained in the plans.

Your Excellency, it behooves the Special Committee to study this singular document that the U.S. plans for its irreversible destruction to Guam’s human and physical environment and its direct violation of numerous international human rights instruments including your UN Resolution 64/104 A and B; the UN Charter; the 1966 Human Rights Covenants (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights); the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples; the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the UN Charter [Resolution 2625 (XXV)]; and the recent Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Clearly, subjection of non self-governing territories to injustice, domination, and exploitation especially by the administering power’s military, constitutes a denial of our people’s fundamental human rights and is an affront to world peace and cooperation.

While the administering power is mandated to promote, strengthen, and diversify an independent economy as well as to promote the social development of the people of the territories, its already initiated militarization plans will further bind and embed Guam’s economic dependence on its administering power. Furthermore, the already initiated transfer of close to 80,000 new residents within the next four years directly threatens, rather than promotes, the social and cultural development of our people.

The UN mandates that all necessary measures be taken to protect and conserve the environment against degradation and requests specialized agencies to continue to monitor and assist with environmental concerns. Meanwhile, the U.S. is making plans to dredge 287,327 square meters of coral reef in Apra Harbor, Guam’s only natural deep harbor. Apra Harbor already has high traces of arsenic, lead, copper, mercury, tin, and PCBs (Szyfres, 2007) and disturbance of these chemicals will have devastating effects on our human environment.

While UN mandates clearly state that the U.S. is to continue to transfer land to the original landowners, in addition to transferring surplus Federal lands back to the Government of Guam, the U.S. military claims it needs 40% more land, private and public – this, in addition to the one-third of our island they already hold. Traditional lands that comprise a recently deemed National Historic Preservation site, the ancient village of Pagat, and sacred areas near Mount LamLam are scheduled for land takings through coercive procedures or outright purchase.


Despite the U.S. EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) lowest rating of the military DEIS and its basic rejection of DOD’s militarization plans, there is no indication for change. By the same token, there have been no indication nor plans that the U.S. will adhere to its responsibilities under the above stated UN resolutions, conventions, and treaties. However, without the Special Committee’s effective say and action on the key issue of Guam’s hyper militarization, Guam will remain a colony and the Chamorro people will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a consequence of our colonial status.

We offer the following recommendations:

That the Special Committee unequivocally declare that the militarization of Guam now underway constitutes a major impediment to the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

• That the Special Committee unequivocally declare and reaffirm that as a non self-governing territory, Guam has, under the UN Charter, a status separate and distinct from the territory of the administering power and such separate and distinct status under the UN Charter shall exist until the Chamorro people of Guam have exercised their right of self-determination.

• That the Special Committee reaffirm that the Chamorro people of Guam have the right freely to determine, without external interference their political status and to pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, and that the U.S. administering power has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter.

• That the Special Committee take affirmative formal steps to interface with

the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in reference to the

decolonization process for Guam (seeing as the UN Economic and Social

Council formally recommended that a seminar be held to specifically examine

the plight of the indigenous peoples of the remaining non-self-governing


• That the Special Committee take affirmative formal steps to request a UN

visiting mission to Guam as soon as possible in view of the active U.S.

hyper militarization now underway.

Si Yu’os ma’ase’ and thank you. I will be happy to respond to questions or comments that you may have.

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