Guam political and human rights activist Julian Aguon will speak to the UN General Assembly in opposition to the Bush Administrations latest move to deploy tens of thousands of US military personnel to Guam as part of Pentagon’s new hedge strategy aimed at containing China.
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense announced its agreement with Koizumi’s Japan to transfer to its tiny territory of Guam the 8,000 US Marines being ousted by Okinawa. Since the announcement, the estimated number of US troops and their dependents set to flood the 212 square mile island, which has endured 500 years of colonization, is 35,000.
Julian Aguon, author of the new book The Fire This Time: Essays on Life Under US Occupation says that while the world watches, South Koreans are defending their homes from bulldozers and Okinawans fighting on land and sea to stop the development of yet another base. But on Guam the Chamoru people remain the ghosts of this Pacific Theatre tragedy.
His book details how current US military realignment schemes threaten to destroy any hope for decolonization of the non-self-governing territory.
He will appeal to the UN body to pass a resolution condemning the transfer as the most vulgar breach of contract on the part of the US as the Administering Power charged with the responsibility to ensure the native Chamoru population of Guam exercise self-determination. Though since 1946 the US has been charged to aid the native population exercise self-determination, it has strategically denied every attempt at Chamoru sovereignty in the last half century.
Aguon plans to direct diplomatic attention also to a mass privatization campaign of the Guam Chamber of Commerce (consisting primarily of US mainlanders) to privatize every one of Guam’s public resources, i.e. the island’s only water provider, only power provider, only local telephone provider, public schools, and its only port, on an island that imports 85-90% of its food and where private monopolies of public goods would truly make the island captive to the “forces of the market.”
At 24, Aguon is fast-becoming a respected speaker throughout the Asia-Pacific region on issues of indigenous rights, self-determination, and cultural preservation in an era of corporate globalization. He has recently returned from Okinawa where he spoke before an international audience of human rights workers in the region on solidarity politics. After New York, he will leave for Korea at the invitation of the Hankyoreh Media Corporation to speak at its international symposium on “Peace, Development, and Solidarity among East Asian Cities.”
The Fire This Time: Essays on Life Under US Occupation
By Julian Aguon
Edition: First; Specifications: Softcover, 6 x 9, 124 pages;
November 2006, Price: $13.95;
The Fire This Time is one of the books in the blue ocean press ‘The Club of 1898’ Consciousness Studies – The Club of 1898 are areas affected by the 1898 Treaty of Paris that granted possession of Spanish colonies to the United States: The Philippine Islands, Guahan (Guam), Puerto Rico, and Cuba. These studies reveal similarities and differences in political and cultural consciousness between these countries and territories. At this time, blue ocean press has published four books that belong to this series:
Guahan (Guam): Just Left of the Setting Sun, and The Fire This Time: Essays on Life Under US Occupation
Cuba: Cuba is a State of Mind (The Spiritual Traveler Vol. I), Post-Revolutionary Cuban Spanish: A Glossary of Social, Political, and Common Terms (Glosario de terminos socio-politicos y autoctonos de actualidad (espanol-ingles))
Background on Guam
Guam is the southernmost island of the Marianas Island Chain, in Micronesia. The native people of Guam call themselves and their language Chamoru. Colonized by Spain for more than three hundred years, awarded to the U.S. after Spain’s defeat in 1898 as part of the Treaty of Paris (along with Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippine Islands), taken by Japan in the second world war only to be re-taken by the US at its close, Guam is one of the few remaining non-self-governing territories (colonies) of the world, and is subject to administration by the Office of Insular Affairs in the US Department of Interior.
Since World War II, this 212 square mile island, often referred to as “the tip of America’s military spear” has been vital in securing American military and economic interests throughout the Pacific and Asia. Recent downsizing and renegotiation of United States defense agreements in Asia will send more than 8,000 military personnel and 10,000 dependents from Okinawa and South Korea to Guam, significantly impacting the island whose current population is 160,000.
The Department of Defense, which occupies 30% of the island with the potential to expand, is rapidly increasing the offensive capability of both the Air Force and Navy, with plans to establish a Global Strike Force on Guam, involving rotating 48 F-22 and F-15E fighter jets, six B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, adding as many as 6 nuclear submarines to the 3 Guam already houses and plans to home port 60% of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet in the region.
The small island will become the “largest, most forward US military installation in the Pacific theatre,” which will make Guam a first-strike target in any altercation with China and/or North Korea.
The Chamoru people of Guam stand at the crosshairs of the U.S. military stage in the Pacific. They are confronted with nationally with a governing administration that purports to spread democracy while denying it for its territories, and locally by the Guam elite and Chamber of Commerce who, in hopes of lining their already over-stuffed pockets, use the media and resources at their disposal to push relentlessly for the privatization of all public assets and the increased militarization of Guam.
The Chamoru people continue to be subjected to the existence of toxic elements left by the U.S. military as a result of the storage of chemical agents, PCB-contamination in the waters, and down-winder’s radiation, as well as, radiation from the washing-down of airplanes and ships used in monitoring nuclear testing in the Pacific. Their telecommunications network is fully privatized, their power distributor partly privatized, and their water agency is under attack. The Port Authority of Guam, on an island that imports 85-90% of its food, is also being threatened by privatization.
Julian Aguon Speech to the Honorable Members of the Fourth Committee:
Guahu si Julian Aguon. Ati adeng-miyo and greetings from Guam.
I address you this afternoon on behalf of I Nasion Chamoru, which has commissioned me to convey to you the gravity of our current situation in light of the militarization convulsing the Asia-Pacific region.
As I speak, the indigenous people of the longest colonized island in the Pacific Ocean, the Chamorus of Guam, brace our selves against a storm of military buildup so volatile in nature, so irreversible in consequence, and set to begin next year. US military realignment in the region seeks to homeport sixty percent of its Pacific Fleet in and around our four-thousand-year-old island archipelago. With no input from the Chamoru people and over our deepening dissent, the US will flood its modern colony with 55,000 people as part of its realignment plans. This number includes the 8,000 US Marines and their 9,000 dependents being ousted by outraged folks in Okinawa. Joining the 35,000 US military personnel and their dependents is an outside labor force estimated upwards of 20,000 workers on construction contracts. The Navy recently suggested that six more nuclear submarines will be added to the three already stationed in Guam. There is talk of a sixth aircraft carrier and a monstrous Global Strike Force soon to be developed. Deputy Commander of the US Pacific Command Daniel Leaf informed us of other programs in the works to establish a strike and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance hub at Andersen Air Force Base. Though this expansionism is exaggerated, it only complements the impressive Air Force and Navy show of force on 1/3 of our island already. This influx will have devastating consequences on the Chamorus of Guam, who make up only 37% of the 171,000 people living in Guam and who already suffer the signature maladies of a colonial condition. It threatens to put out the fire of our half century struggle to attain some true measure of self-government, the fire of which you are the trusted guardians.
To date, no social or environmental impact study has been done to assess the burdens this buildup will place on the island. Recent fact-finding missions in Okinawa reveal alarmingly high rates of societal violence, including hundreds of rapes and acts of violence against the women of Okinawa. It is reasonable to think our women will face a similar fate. Meanwhile, US Department of Defense officials state nothing definite except that Guam is to be a faster response hub to the loose and alleged threats that are China and North Korea. A mysterious master plan said to detail the transfer has yet to be presented to Guam leaders though it has been promised three times. Our officials wait with bated breath. Of the 10.3 billion dollars settled upon by the US and Japan, nothing definite has been stated as to how this money will be used to improve our flailing infrastructure. The suggestion of late is that Guam is expected to foot the bill of this re-occupation. Meanwhile, virtually every public sector is being threatened with privatization. Meetings with defense officials have proved empty, as every military officer we have met with informs us of their inability to commit to anything. In effect, they repeat that they have no working plans to spend money on civilian projects, as dollars tied to this transfer have been allocated to development only within the bases. Two multimillion dollar contracts have been pre-awarded to two American-based companies; one from California, one Virginia. Money for education in the territory will again be allocated to schools for children of US military personnel and not ours. Meanwhile, public education in Guam is under biweekly duress; local teachers have been threatened with payless paydays for the last three months and counting. The burden on the Guam Public School System has been worsened by the US’ failure to justly compensate Guam for shouldering the costs of its compacts of free association with Micronesian states, which strain our limited resources. There is talk of US plans to condemn more of our land to accommodate its accelerated military needs, which would add to its occupation of 1/3 of our island already. In contrast, there is no talk of plans to clean up radioactive contaminations of Guam from toxins leftover from its World War II activities and its intense nuclear bombing campaign of the Marshall Islands only 1200 miles from Guam. No word either on whether or not it plans to pay war reparations due to us since it forgave Japan of its crimes of World War II. Bills seeking compensation for both our exposure to radioactive material and our endurance of Japanese concentration camps from World War II await congressional action. Our elders continue dying while they wait. It’s not terribly surprising. What is happening now – this vulgar re-occupation – is happening without our consent. Like an awful re-run of WWII, when the US unilaterally forgave Japan its horrific war crimes on our people, the US is at the table again with Japan, negotiating away our right to self-determination.
But beyond the B-2s in our skies, the ships playing war games in our waters, the increased amount of weapons of mass destruction stored in Guam, and contaminations that continue causing our people to suffer extraordinarily high rates of every kind of radioactivity related cancer, there is a growing desperation back home. A desperate lethargy in the wind. A realization that if the UN remains unable to slow the manic speed of US militarization, Chamorus as a people will pass.
Only last year we were here, informing you of two very frightening facts: 1) it was recently discovered that the US Department of Interior purposefully killed a presidential directive handed down in 1975, ordering that Guam be given a commonwealth status no less favorable than the one the US was negotiating with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands at that time; and 2) a campaign of the Guam Chamber of Commerce (primarily consisting of US Statesiders) to privatize every one of Guam’s public resources ( i.e. the island’s only water provider, only power provider, only local telephone provider, public schools, and its only port, on an island that imports 85-90% of its food and where private monopolies of public goods would truly make the island captive to the forces of the market) is undermining our indigenous civilization with violent speed.
Not much has changed since we last were here. Our power provider has been privatized, our telecommunications sold. Our only water provider and one port are under attack.
Honorable members: know this. The people of Guam are not unified around this military buildup despite dominant media representations. For all intents and purposes, there is no free press in Guam. Local media only makes noise of the re-occupation, not sense of it. The Pacific Daily News – the American subsidiary newspaper that dominates the discourse ・has been particularly effective at cutting off oxygen to civil society. Rather than debating this military buildup’s enormous sociopolitical, environmental and cultural consequences, it has framed the conversation around how best to ask the US (politely) for de facto consideration of our concerns, without appearing un-American. In its endless genuflection toward corporate America it has privileged potential short-term economic stimulus and forsaken every other sociological concern. Dismissed the dream of a decolonized Guam and the people courageous and loving enough to build it. In light of the purpose of the Fourth Committee, heed this deepening of opposition, uncertainty, and insecurity around this buildup. The US has provided no answers. We need your help to turn the world’s eye to Guam, so that, at the very least, our sisters and brothers can see us before we are ghosts.
The last few weeks on the General Assembly floor have tested our insides. Diplomats from all over have come addressing your body, many rightfully outraged at the imperial appetite of the US and how badly it starves human hearts of hope. We are here to echo this simple truth: the aggressive militarization of our world is laying humanity a premature grave. And we find that unacceptable.
We urge you to pass a resolution condemning this massive military transfer and buildup of Guam as a grave breach of duty on the part of the Administering Power, in no less explicit terms. But we come for another reason apart from our rage. As an indigenous people, we offer prayer. That you keep your moral courage close. That you continue to believe that what we are doing here, these words, are the better way . Even when cynicism is winning the day. Even, and especially, when words have lost so devastatingly much of their meaning.
I Nasion Chamoru
By Julian Aguon