Testimony of Melvin Won Pat Borja (Guam)
Executive Director - Commission on Decolonization
2019 United Nations Regional Seminar
St. George, Grenada
May 2-4, 2019
"We look forward to building strong relationships with both the United Nations and our Administering Power to forge ahead on our path to restorative justice and the true liberation of Guåhan and her people."
Håfa Adai Your Excellency Chairman of the committee, distinguished delegates, and representatives from our fellow non-self governing territories. Guåhu si Melvin Won Pat-Borja. I am the Executive Director of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, I represent the Honorable Lou Leon Guerrero, i Maga’hågan Guåhan.
Today I will be providing updates on decolonization efforts in Guam and I will discuss some critical issues that impact our ability to move forward efficiently in this process.
In 2011, a retired U.S. Military captain sued the Government of Guam after his unsuccessful attempt to register as a voter in Guam’s decolonization plebiscite as he did not meet the “native inhabitant” requirement. The Chief United States District Judge ruled that Guam’s Plebiscite Law was unconstitutional and discriminated against the plaintiff and his civil rights as a U.S. citizen. My colleague, Dr. Michael Lujan Bevaqua, eloquently elaborated in his discussion paper for the 2017 Regional Seminar, “a process of decolonization that must follow the rules of the colonizer is not decolonization: it is an extension of colonization.”
Although the voter eligibility case is being appealed to the 9th Circuit Court, the implications of this case are divisive and counterproductive to the nature and essence of the UN Charter and Resolution 1514. Regardless of the outcome, the case can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court - a scenario that exhibits the reality in which the United States Judicial system is utilized to influence the terms of our decolonization and ultimately dictate the outcome.
In September of 2017, the U.S. Federal Government sued the Government of Guam for implementing a local law which created the CHamoru Land Trust Commission (CLTC). The Federal Government contends that the local program is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the Federal Fair Housing Act. Similar to the voter eligibility case, this suit against the CLTC is yet another example of our Administering Power’s use of its federal system to impede our progress toward native inhabitant recognition and decolonization.
In December of 2018, a federal judge ruled that at this time, the US Government failed to prove that the CLTC amounts to a racially discriminatory policy. This ruling was a victory - but how many more hoops must we jump through for the U.S. to honor its commitment under the Treaty of Paris to help advance the civil rights and political status of the people of Guam? Why must we constantly justify and defend the validity of this fundamental human right?
The aforementioned cases serve as reminders that Guam is a spoil of war, its people remain colonized, and that their self-determination is not prioritized by the U.S.. Worse is that laws passed by a legislative body, elected at large, are cast as racial with no recognition or critical examination of the racism inherent in our continued colonization. In fact, many indigenous and native inhabitants on Guam have a strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to the U.S. despite this history. No amount of patriotism, however, should warrant a blind eye to the inequity of our current unincorporated territory status.
Guam believes that self-determination must reflect the international community’s recognition that decolonization is realized through a choice for; 1) Independence, 2) Integration, or 3) Free Association. Further, we believe upholding the Treaty of Paris means to respect the local law defining native inhabitant as an individual and their descendants who gained U.S. citizenship resulting from the enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam, which is ironically a federal law.
Guam is eager and willing to pursue decolonization and to proclaim our political desires to the international community. We believe, like the majority of you here, that a decolonization process which adheres to the norms and expectations of the international community is the road that should be traveled.
With the election of Guam’s first woman Governor, along with her commitment to Guam’s decolonization, we believe that our journey has been reinvigorated. Add to this, that each branch of our republican form of government; the executive, legislative, and judicial, are led by women. This is not only a historical achievement for Guam, but a first for any State or Territory in the history of the United States. We are actively engaging our government, and our political leadership is a manifestation of our desire to address the inequities of our current situation and political status.
Given the theme of this year’s Regional Seminar, the United Nations and Guam’s Administering Power can assist in this endeavor by supporting our efforts to educate all members of our community. We are not blind that choices made for our island’s future will have an effect on anyone who has made Guam their home. Thus, all should understand the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead of us. Because of this, Guam is making a concerted effort to launch a sustained political status education campaign.
This year, the Commission on Decolonization will reignite its plans to conduct a Self-Determination Study, host a Regional Self-Determination Conference, and launch a Media Education Campaign. The Commission is able to fund these projects through the generosity of the Department of the Interior; they are the principal advocates and champions for U.S. territories in our relations with the federal government and we are committed to building deeper understanding between us in order to see this through.
The Self-Determination Study will be compiled in collaboration with the University of Guam and will assess Guam’s current political status and paint an accurate political portrait of the level of self-governance on Guam under the Status Quo. Further, it will analyze the three recognized political statuses to predict how each would impact various aspects of life on Guam to include the economy, trade, social services, education, defense, international relations, and others. The Self-Determination Study stands to be one of our most powerful tools to educate our community because it will answer many of the common questions and concerns of our people.
The Self-Determination Regional Conference will welcome regional leaders and decolonization experts to promote community conversation around the topic of decolonization. It will draw on the experiences and knowledge of other communities who have embarked on similar quests for decolonization. The conference will be open to the public and will be televised.
The Media Education Campaign will focus on developing educational content for mass media and social media distribution. We are working with the Public Broadcasting Station and the University of Guam to create a marketing plan that will leverage the educational content and allow us to engage with a large audience. These materials will also be repurposed for traditional educational texts.
There is a clear need for more resources if we are to conduct a sustained comprehensive and effective educational campaign on Guam. Our challenges are vast and we are working against over 450 years of colonial conditioning. However, we are a resilient and determined people. We will continue to be unrelenting to achieve our fundamental and basic human right to make a choice.
We urge the United Nations to uphold its annual commitment to support our cause and extend assistance to our efforts to educate our island and we invite and welcome a visiting mission to Guam to bear witness to 454 years of uninterrupted colonization by both Spain and the United States. We also invite our Administering Power to join us in reaffirming the principle that governments derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed.
We look forward to building strong relationships with both the United Nations and our Administering Power to forge ahead on our path to restorative justice and the true liberation of Guåhan and her people.
Saina ma’åse for your time and the opportunity to speak before the committee.