The Explosive Growth of U.S. Military Power on Guam Confronts People Power: Experience of an island people under Spanish, Japanese and American colonial rule
LisaLinda S. Natividad and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero
The United States Department of Defense is planning a massive military build-up on Guahan (Guam) that threatens to change the entire make-up of the island. Guahan, nestled at the southern-most tip of the Marianas Archipelago in the Micronesian region of Oceania, is a mere 212 square miles in area, barely bigger than a dot in most world maps. The island is similarly small in the consciousness of most American and Japanese taxpayers, who will be funding the military expansion. Guahan, however, has a large and rich history. While the island and her people remained in relative isolation from the Western world for over 3,500 years from the earliest indications of settlement, its strategic location as a crossroad between East and West has resulted in colonization by successive maritime powers over the last six centuries.
Spanish Governor’s Palace from 1669
Spain became the island’s first colonizer after Ferdinand Magellan stumbled upon Guahan in 1521. The Spanish maintained control until they were defeated in the Spanish-American War in 1898.
The United States then took Guahan as a spoil of war and made the island a U.S. possession. Guahan was governed much like a naval ship with a naval governor at the helm. In 1941, the United States did not defend the island when Japan invaded on December 8. Guahan surrendered two days later and was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army from 1941-1944.
The United States returned and used the island to win the war with Japan. Guahan’s strategic military value was solidified and the United States secured its presence on the island.
Today, it remains a possession of the United States as an “unincorporated territory,” a colonial relic in a professed era of democratization and post-colonialism. As an unincorporated territory, island residents do not have the rights of full U.S. citizens – they are not eligible to vote in U.S. presidential elections, nor does their one elected congressional representative have the right to vote on the floor level of the U.S. Congress. Further, Guahan is limited in its ability to develop a viable economy as prescribed in specific federal-territorial policies like the Jones Act, which requires that all goods be carried to Guahan exclusively in U.S. ships. This increases the cost of shipping and diminishes the island’s ability to trade.
U.S. forces land on Guam in 1944
First flag on Guam . . . for the camera
Guahan was added to the United Nations’ list of non-self-governing territories in 1946, deeming the island a colony in need of self-determination. However, both the United States and the United Nations have done very little to decolonize Guahan. In fact, the U.S. has made concerted efforts to further colonize the island over the decades. The United States has consistently pointed to the U.S. Congress’ passage of an Organic Act for Guahan in 1950 as evidence of why international monitoring bodies such as the UN should not intervene to protect the rights of its people. However, Guahan’s Organic Act, which designed a government for the island and gave Guahan residents limited U.S. citizenship, is a far cry from decolonization. It is a proxy constitution that creates the illusion of local control over governance but grants the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Congress ultimate power over the island. The Act authorizes the Federal Government to use powers such as eminent domain, which continue to be considered illegal in international law. It also allows the United States to increase their military presence on the island without seeking consent from Guahan’s people.
Truman signs the Organic Act
Guahan’s ethnic make-up is incredibly diverse with a large population of immigrants from the Philippines and other countries throughout Asia, the surrounding Micronesian islands, and the continental United States. However, it is the island’s indigenous CHamoru people who have suffered most from Guahan’s colonial history. The CHamoru population went from 200,000 to 5,000 people at the beginning of Spain’s rule due to war and disease brought by the Spanish. Eventually, the population increased again, but was forced to learn another country’s language and policies under the United States. Then when Guahan was surrendered to Japan in 1941, the CHamorus suffered forced labor, massacres and other wartime atrocities. The United States completely destroyed the island with bombs in retaking it in 1944, leaving many CHamorus without their homes or land to return to. Manyof these families never got their land back as the United States continues to occupy nearly one-third of the island. Also, as a result of U.S. polices that require use of the English language in schools and public places, the native CHamoru language is facing extinction. The CHamorus maintain a slight majority of the island’s current population, but the impending military build-up, which will bring 80,000 new people to Guahan at its peak, threatens to make CHamorus an extreme minority in their homeland.
Despite this history, traditional CHamoru values are still practiced today. CHamoru society has always been matriarchal, and women are revered both for their ability to bear children and their nurturing influence as mothers. In ancient CHamoru society, women were the decision-makers and the transmitters of their clan’s land. CHamoru women continue to hold power in society and keep the family strong, ensuring that the beliefs of their people are passed on to future generations. CHamorus also have a deep connection to their ancestors for they believe their spirits, I taotaomo’na, are omnipresent in the air, land, ocean and all dimensions of life. Thus, CHamorus have always engaged in ancestral veneration. Other core CHamoru values that have been sustained include fa’taotao (treating others with deep respect as fellow members of humanity) and ina’fa’maolek (protecting the peace and harmony in the community by getting along). Traditional practices like chen’chule’ or reciprocity are also observed today. CHamorus help each other during significant life events like birth, marriage, or death with offerings of money, food, material goods, and other support. CHamorus are sustained by these values, and their very existence is a testament to their resilience. However, the planned U.S. mega-base build-up presents a grave threat to Guahan’s native population as the Department of Defense continues to ignore CHamoru beliefs in their quest to acquire more land, and to over-populate and militarize the island.
Militarization’s Impact on Guahan and Her People
Guahan’s colonial history is inextricably tangled with militarization beginning in the Spanish Era. The Spanish Era began in1668 when Father Diego Luis de San Vitores established a Catholic mission on the island and lasted until 1898. This period evidenced a multitude of Spanish-CHamoru wars, wherein CHamorus (typically led by their chiefs) resisted the Spanish and the ideology they preached. Maga’lahi (Chief) Hurao was one such chief who is remembered for his articulate speech capturing the essence of the time. Below is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Maga’lahi Hurao in 1671:
The Spaniards would have done better to remain in their own country. We have no need of their help to live happily. Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing. The knowledge, which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires. They find it evil that we do not dress. If that were necessary, nature would have provided us with clothes. They treat us as gross people and regard us as barbarians. But do we have to believe them? Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live.
They dare to take away our liberty, which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us had been blinded into believing their words. But can we have such sentiments if we reflect that we have been covered with misery and illness ever since those foreigners have come to disturb our peace? ...
The Spaniards reproach us because of our poverty, ignorance and lack of industry. But if we are poor, as they tell us, then what do they search for? If they didn’t have need of us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors? In a word, they try to make us unhappy in the hope of an ephemeral happiness, which can be enjoyed only after death…
Let us not lose courage in the presence of our misfortunes. They are only a handful. We can easily defeat them. Even though we don’t have their deadly weapons, which spread destruction all over, we can overcome them by our large numbers. We are stronger than we think! We can quickly free ourselves from these foreigners! We must regain our former freedom!
Maga’lahi Hurao’s eloquent words hold up a mirror to the subsequent centuries of Spanish rule and the dominion of Americans and Japanese that followed. The American Naval Era followed the Spanish Era from 1898 until wartime occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1941-44. The Naval Era on Guahan began when the island was purchased by the United States from Spain following the Spanish-American War. Guahan was (and continues to be) a perfect example of colonial control and non-democratization by America. Native CHamorus were afforded no form of representative government and were subjects of the rule of successive naval officers serving two-year terms in the capacity of governor. While some naval officers were more sympathetic to the local people than others, the relationship with the U.S. federal government was consistently disempowering. There were a number of initiatives on the part of ruling Naval administrators that sought to give people on Guahan a semblance of participation in government, such as the establishment of a Guam Congress in 1917, an exclusively advisory body to the Naval administrators, and the proposed Bill of Rights for the CHamoru people designed to establish government-recognized civil rights. In the case of the latter, the effort received no response from federal counterparts. Perhaps the most common experience of CHamorus during the Naval Era was the regulation of their lives by naval ordinances that prescribed daily living. Those who lived through this era described it as living on a Naval ship. Children were trained to march in schools, public health officials conducted village inspections to ensure that communities were properly sanitized, and those ill with leprosy were confined to a segregated part of the island and eventually exiled to the Philippines.
The Japanese Era followed Guahan’s Naval Era beginning in 1941, when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the island. The island’s native people suffered major atrocities of war; including numerous group massacres, rapes, work encampment, and the enslavement of palao’an guerra or comfort women to satisfy the sexual urges of Japanese soldiers. The war brought terrible destruction of life, and completely changed the face of the island and her people. When the United States returned in the summer of 1944, their bombs destroyed nearly the entire island and left people with nothing to return to when they were freed from a concentration camp on the southeastern side of the island. Since then, Guahan went from being a subsistence economy to becoming heavily reliant upon imports for food and other essential goods. The United States took much of the island’s pristine farmlands and turned them into Naval and Air Force bases.
Sixty-six years after the war, the island is still awaiting restitution from the United States. Guam’s quest for World War II reparations has been a drawn-out, emotional saga. All of the island’s non-voting delegates to the US Congress have introduced legislation for war reparations since 1983, but Congress refuses to approve these bills. The United States has an obligation to compensate the CHamorus because in a 1951 Peace Treaty with Japan, it agreed to pay for all wartime claims made by U.S. citizens and nationals against Japan. This included Guam because the island’s people were U.S. nationals during the war. The Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act (HR44) is Guahan’s most recent attempt to obtain compensation, but Congress still hesitates to approve it. Sadly, those who have awaited reparations the longest, the survivors of the war, are dying without seeing justice. More than 22,000 CHamorus survived the war on Guahan. Of that group, less than 1,000 are alive today. Congress’ refusal to grant them war reparations is a flagrant denial of CHamoru human rights. While CHamorus were only colonial subjects and non-U.S. citizens at the time of the war, Guahan was nevertheless invaded on account of being a U.S. possession.
Guahan’s World War II Era ended in 1944, when massive US bombardment paved the way for reoccupation of the island. The surviving people were then moved into concentration camps while the Navy rezoned the land, precisely the pattern that would be applied to Okinawa one year later. For example, those who lived in the coastal village of Sumay were relocated to the neighboring village of Santa Rita as Sumay was turned into the major U.S. Naval base in the southern part of the island. Following World War II, up to 82% of the island was taken by the Department of Defense for military purposes at the height of occupation. Since then, lands have been periodically returned resulting in the current dispensation in which the U.S. military controls roughly one-third of the island.
Another area of great concern for Guahan residents as a result of militarization is the impact of U.S. bases on the physical environment. In correspondence dated February 8, 2010 from the Department of the Navy’s Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO), Director John Jackson stated the following of the island’s military cleanup sites:
Of the 95 Air Force and Navy IRP [Installation Restoration Programs] sites on Guam, 41 have been cleaned up and the actions associated with those sites are complete; 22 sites have had all clean-up actions completed and are awaiting final administrative actions to be finalized before they are declared complete; 16 sites are in a long-term management status; 7 sites are undergoing clean-up; and 9 sites are undergoing feasibility studies or investigation to determine what future actions, if any, are required at those sites.
Upbeat claims of progress in detoxification aside, it is disconcerting to know that an island of 212 square miles contains 95 toxic sites. What is the meaning of the Department of Defense’s statement that 16 sites are in a long-term management status and that nine sites are “undergoing feasibility studies and investigation to determine what future actions, if any, are required at those sites.” What are the implications for the health status of the island’s people if no action is taken on such designated toxic sites? It is unfortunate that Guahan-based researchers and local NGOs do not have the resources to conduct independent research of the safety of their environment, thereby needing to rely on the data provided by U.S. government agencies.
While the island is riddled with military cleanup sites indicative of an ecological disaster area, its people also continue to live with the legacy of radiation exposure as a result of the U.S. atomic bomb testing that occurred in the nearby Marshall Islands between the 1940s and 1960s.
Atomic test in the Marshall Islands
According to Guahan’s Senator Ben Pangelinan, the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences have acknowledged that, "Guam did receive measurable fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific.” Yet no efforts to document or address radiation problems on Guahan have been made by the Department of Defense or the Guahan administration. While the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors (PARS) continues to advocate inclusion of Guahan on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of Congress as down winders, the island is only recognized in the compensation category of on-site participants. This means that only those connected to military service on the island qualify, not the total exposed population of the island as in the case of down winders’ compensation.
Indications of serious health problems have long been reported for people on Guahan- particularly for native CHamorus. The 2003-2007 Cancer Facts and Figures publication reported “an 18% increase in the annual, age-adjusted incidence rates, and a minor increase in mortality rates per 100,000 population” over the past 10 years on the island (GCCCP, 2009, p. 2). It also indicated disproportionately high incidence rates of the following types of cancers for CHamorus: mouth and pharynx, nasopharynx, lung and bronchus, cervix, uterus, and liver. Scientific research has established the connection between exposure to toxic environmental sites and cancer. In addition, presentations from the Department of Public Health and Social Services personnel have indicated a rise in birth defects inclusive of the absence of eyeballs in babies and malformations of internal organs.
In the course of time, militarization has left indelible marks on the lives of Guahan’s people. Particularly heavy blows have fallen on cultural identity, indigenous practices, use of the CHamoru language, and belief in the capacity for competent self-government. While a strong sense of loyalty to the United States rose in response to Japanese invasion, CHamoru culture has suffered grievously under US rule. A recent survey of the CHamoru language conducted by Pa’a Taotao Tano’ in September 2010 found that only one in four CHamoru people on Guam can speak the language. It should be noted, however, that in the ancestral spirit of resilience, there are a number of programs that have been instituted to arrest CHamoru cultural atrophy. Programs include the Hurao Cultural Camp, Inetnon Gef’ Pago Cultural Arts Program, and the Konferensian CHamoru.
A fundamental byproduct of U.S. rule is deprivation of the inherent right of the CHamoru people to political self-determination. The continued semi-colonial status of Guahan affords the United States “maximum flexibility” for expansion of military projects, implying the non-consent of the people. As Captain Robert Lee puts it, “… Guam is ideal for us because it is a U.S. territory and therefore gives us maximum flexibility.” In the case of bases in foreign countries, the U.S. would have to enter into a Status of Forces Agreement governing the conduct of the military, however, this is not necessary in the case of Guahan. The population influx connected to increased military presence has contributed to the political minoritization of indigenous CHamorus. This process is consistent with the colonial experience of indigenous peoples in nations such as Hawai’i, the aboriginal peoples of Australia, Native American tribes in the U.S., and the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico. The process of political minoritization ensures the lack of political power for native peoples in their respective homelands.
The final impact of the militarization of Guahan to be discussed is the people of Guahan’s high rates of enlistment in the U.S. Armed Forces. A number of private and public high schools on the island, as well as the University of Guam, host J/ROTC programs. Two reasons for the high rate of enlistment are the limited economic opportunities on the island and the high level of patriotism toward the United States that came out of the World War II experience. High enlistment rates in the U.S. armed forces provides opportunities for employment, but it also is the source of significant number of local people returning home in body bags or disabled from wartime service.
U.S. Department of Defense Planned Military Build-Up for Guahan and the Community’s Response
In 2006, the governments of Japan and the United States entered into an accord outlining a number of changes in their current agreement, including the transfer of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guahan. The Pacific Command released the proposal indicating the following plans for the Military build-up on Guahan:
•Transfer of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa and 1,000 Army personnel from South Korea by 2014;
•Development of a Marine Corps. Base;
•Expansion of the Anderson Air Force Base as part of the Global Strike Force, including home-based B52s, and rotation of B1 Supersonic strike aircraft and B2 Stealth bombers from Hawaii, Alaska, and the continental United States;
•Expansion of the U.S. Naval Base for submarines and aircraft carrier groups. Expansion to include nuclear aircraft carrier transient operational capability; and
•A Ballistic Missile Defense System to intercept attack against assets.
U.S. military bases on Guam
While the Department of Defense had been orchestrating the build-up for years, they did little to share their plans with the local community, or include local leaders in any of the decisions that were made. Consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Department of Defense embarked on the environmental impact assessment process by hiring contractors to assess the potential impact of the proposed build-up. Guahan government leaders received periodic visits from contractors between 2006 and 2009. In addition, meetings were held in 2007 in village community centers of the island to obtain feedback and for local people to voice concerns. The meetings did not, however, allow for the verbal expression of concerns; rather, attendees were told to write their testimonies and place them in trashcan-like receptacles for submission. The result was to fragment criticisms and to deny local communities the opportunity to ascertain and convey community, as opposed to individual sentiment. The Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO) Director, General David Bice, reported that over 900 written comments were received in this process. Articulated concerns included the following: social, economic, and cultural factors; international safety; law enforcement; transportation and infrastructure issues; marine resources/ecology; air and water quality; and overtaxing limited resources and services.
Other events related to the proposed Military build-up followed. In 2008, a Congressional hearing convened by Congresswoman Donna Christianson was held on the island. In the following year, the Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO) held a number of island-wide public meetings, providing another opportunity for community members to articulate their concerns in the form of written comments.
In November 2009 a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released. The Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice coordinated a protest on the day of the release of the DEIS themed, “Bogus EIS.” The protest highlighted the lack of genuine consultation with the local population in the preparation of the document. For the first time, the DEIS - in roughly 11,000 pages - revealed the Department of Defense’s plan for the Military build-up to the people of the island. While island leaders had been pleading to be part of the planning process - particularly the development of the Civilian-Military Task Force - it was only with the release of the DEIS that the specific contours of the DOD plan became transparent. The document laid out alternatives for each of its recommendations, as well as indicated its “preferred” alternatives. The public was given a mere 90 days to read 11,000 pages spread across nine volumes and provide comments. The DEIS revealed the following plans:
•Construction of facilities & infrastructure to support full spectrum training for 8,600 U.S. Marines and their 9,000 dependents being relocated from Okinawa to Guam;
•Construction of a deep-draft wharf in Apra Harbor to provide for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, destroying 72 acres of healthy & endangered coral reef;
•Construction of an Army Missile Defense Task Force to practice intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles;
•Land “acquisition” of an additional 2,200 acres from private and government land increasing federal landholding to about 40% of the island;
•Use of Pågat, one of Guam’s oldest ancient villages with sacred burial grounds, latte stones, and ancient artifacts dating back to 2,000 BC for a live firing range complex. Pågat is currently registered by the Department of Historic Preservation as an archeological site and is on the list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the Washington-based National Trust for Historic Preservation;
•Over-tapping of Guam’s water system through the drilling of 22 additional wells;
•Total population increase of over 79,000 people, accounting for a nearly 47% population increase in five years or less, which includes the importation of a foreign labor force of roughly 20,000 to serve in the construction industry;
•Money earmarked for the military build-up will be spent to upgrade infrastructure and construction within the military bases with the exception of a road that will connect the bases, to which it is unclear whether non-military persons will have access.
The release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) provoked a tremendous community response. Hundreds of community members showed up at each of the DEIS public hearings resulting in the submission of over 10,000 public written comments and testimonies. The consistent theme raised by community members was the lack of consultation with the local people asking whether with the proposed build-up was acceptable. Concerns related to the effect of the build-up on the lives of people was emphasized- particularly with respect to the fact that the DEIS virtually ignored the social and cultural implications of the plans.. Further, there was no integrated plan to address the social and health care needs of non-active duty connected personnel and their families (such as contract workers and the foreign labor force to meet the construction demands of the island). Public anger erupted over the planned desecration of Pågat, the “acquisition” of an additional 2,200 acres of private and public lands. Frustration was a product of having articulating many of these concerns throughout the NEPA public meeting process only to have them fall on deaf ears.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency flagged some of the glaring flaws in the Department of Defense’s plan contained in the DEIS. The USEPA, in its more than 100-paged report rated the DOD plan as “environmentally unsatisfactory” giving it the lowest possible rating of EU-3. Of particular concern was the lack of a plan to address the secondary impact of the projected population explosion. More specifically, the issues of wastewater treatment and water supply needs of the additional population, as well as the dredging of over 70 acres of live coral in Apra Harbor to create a deep-water wharf were of grave concern.
The release of the DEIS sparked the creation of We Are Guahan, a new local organization whose aim is to “inform and engage our community on the various issues concerning the impending military build up. We Are Guahan aims to unite and mobilize our people to protect and defend our resources and our culture…” The new organization developed a website to serve as a central place for information related to the Military build-up. It was able to cut through the complex verbiage of the DEIS and present information in a way that was easy to understand and to engage the people of the island, throughout the region, as well among members of the Guahan Diaspora. The organization also hosted public events to educate the community about the impacts of the build-up and met with local leaders urging them to voice the community’s concerns to the federal government. They also collected more than 11,000 signatures on a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to visit the island and meet with the community about the build-up. President Obama has not indicated when he will visit the island, nor has he addressed the community’s concerns.
Somber, quiet days followed the deadline for public comment on the DEIS on February 17, 2010. Having manifested the combined energy fields of an empowered community having found its voice, a sense of popular exhaustion followed attempts to speak up against the world’s most powerful empire. Nonetheless, many committed to see the resistance movement.
A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released on July 28, 2010. The senior Department of Defense official overseeing the Military build-up, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, stated:
The Department of Defense is committed to respecting and preserving the Chamorro culture and the spirit of the Guam community… We will not exceed the capacity of Guam’s infrastructure as we construct the new military facilities. The Environmental Impact Statement makes clear that we have many ways of controlling the pace of this endeavor.
The words are fine, but a review of the FEIS’s many volumes reveals that little attention was paid to the massive concerns raised by community members and government personnel. The FEIS indicated that a more accurate figure for the number of Marines being relocated to Guahan was 10,500, up from 8,000 and not including 1,000 Army personnel also being sent to the island. While the FEIS presents a modified plan for the population influx from the DEIS, it still culminates in the combined total of about 79,000 by the year 2014 as in the DEIS. This influx is projected to far exceed the total Guam population of less than 70,000 as recently as 1960. The staggered approach of the buildup was a response to concerns raised by the USEPA and the needed infrastructural components that Guahan currently lacks. A representative from the local Guam EPA office, Jesse Cruz, stated, “What the military offered as mitigation measures are nothing new, most- if not all- are GEPA requirements.” In the FEIS, DOD revealed that the Japanese government would fund improvements to the island’s power, waste water systems, and wastewater treatment plants. But it does little to address the deep concerns about the massive increases in population and construction.
Guam population of 177,718 in 2009
One particularly contentious issue concerns the Department of Defense insistence on pursuing its “preferred alternative” of Pågat village for a live firing range complex. We Are Guahan organized a community gathering in July in which a human chain was formed to protect Pågat and to demonstrate to federal officials firm opposition to their plan.
Since then, We Are Guåhan has joined the Guam Preservation Trust and National Trust for Historic Preservation in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense for violating federal environmental and historic preservation laws by choosing the ancient site for a live firing range. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
Following the release of the FEIS was the signing of the Record of Decision (ROD) by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations, and Environment) Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. The ROD allows awarding defense contracts for construction and other projects. The “Record of Decision for Guam and CNMI Military Relocation including Relocating Marines from Okinawa, Transient Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Berth, [and] Air and Missile Defense Task Force” was signed and released on September 20, 2010. The following actions were confirmed and reiterated, the only concession being a slight slowing the pace of buildup:
•The Navy will construct the Marine Corps main base at NCTS Finegayan and family housing at the former FAA property/South Finegayan;
•Marine Corps aviation activities will be located at Andersen Air Force Base North Ramp and waterfront operations at Apra Harbor;
•The Navy will defer a decision on a specific location for a transient CVN berth in Apra Harbor and voluntarily collect additional data on marine resources in the two alternative site locations;
•The Army will implement its preferred alternative for placement of an Air Missile Defense Task Force should it be assigned this mission on Guam;
•The pace and sequencing of construction will be adjusted to ensure that construction activities stay within the limitations of Guam’s infrastructure;
•The arrival of Marine Corps forces will be timed with the availability of their required facilities.
•The ROD notes that a decision regarding the placement of training ranges for the relocated Marines will be deferred pending completion of the Section 106 consultation process under the National Historic Preservation Act.
Source: Pacific News Center News Release (September 21, 2010)
An estimated $1 billion has reportedly been awarded to begin the construction phase of the Military build-up.
Before signing the ROD, the Department of Defense pressured the island’s State Historic Preservation Officer, Lynda Aguon, to sign a Programmatic Agreement outlining how historic and archeological resources will be addressed as part of the build-up, a requirement of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). However, under public pressure, and with the passage of a legislative resolution critical of the terms of the agreement, she deferred signing, which forced revision of the document. Even after revisions were made, however, the document still failed to adequately address the issue of protection of the island’s historic and archeological resources. In late September, Aguon sent a letter to the Deputy Assistant to the Navy on Environment, Donald Schregardus asking that the reference to the realignment of Route 15 by the Federal Highway Administration be removed since Pågat village is located along this highway. She also pointed out that the revision of the document indicating that the DOD would request $5 million from Congress to compensate for the cumulative effects of the build-up for the island’s loss of historic properties is inadequate compensation and is insufficient for the protection of these important sites. Aguon has said that she will not sign the Programmatic Agreement as long as Pågat is included in plans for the firing range. Aguon and leadership from the local Department of Parks and Recreation called for further public hearings involving the community on the terms before considering signing the document. More recent initiatives on the part of DOD involve an Open House on the Programmatic Agreement at a local school, as well as convening a meeting of consulting parties as part of the consultative process. Local Senator Benjamin F. Cruz voiced disgust that the $5 million is equivalent to one-third the amount that DOD is investing in upgrading a local DOD base’s dog kennel. Because the Programmatic Agreement was not signed before the release of the ROD, a final decision on the development of Pågat for use as a live firing range has not been made. Rather, the issue of Pågat has been deferred to the Section 106 consultative process as required by the NHPA.
The Exercise of People Power
Guahan has experienced successive stages of colonial exploitation for over 350 years. Nonetheless, the island’s indigenous CHamorus and those who have come to call Guahan home are faced with a modern-day historical marker in the military build-up that has the capacity to profoundly alter life on the island. Various groups throughout the island including I Nasion CHamoru, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, Fuetsan Famala’oan, Taotao-mona Native Rights, Sinagan-ta, The Guam Historic Preservation Trust, and We Are Guahan have raised their voices to express concern and dissent with respect to the planned massive military build-up. A deeply rooted colonial history inevitably results in the disempowerment of a people. The island’s people have nevertheless risen to reclaim Guahan, in defiance of the colonial power, and continue to raise their voices to protect the legacy of Guahan for generations to come.
Since the release of the DEIS, various groups have organized to increase awareness of the build-up. We Are Guahan (WAG) has been working to coordinate educational and action campaigns on the devastating effects of the build-up. Through their website and outreach, the group has made available information for people internationally. In addition, they have coordinated various community improvement programs for Pågat village, as well as educational activities informing participants about the importance of protecting the ocean and land. Both WAG and the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice have been working with national and international groups and participated in the US Social Forum in June 2010 to bring information about the Military build-up to the international peace and justice movement. On Guahan, Fuetsan Famalao’an, a group of prominent women in the community embarked on a project titled, Tinigo’ Famalao’an or women’s knowledge that highlighted the very wisdom of the island’s feminist leaders on the issue of the build-up in a media campaign. Another project is the development of a weekly radio show by University of Guam and Guam Community College faculty and students titled, Beyond the Fence. The show presents a deeper analysis of militarism and the interplay between the base community and our local community. The recent release of the documentary, Insular Empire has been a tremendous resource for educational purposes in helping audiences to understand how Guahan’s colonial arrangement with the United States renders the people of the island- particularly native CHamorus- powerless. The film has been shown publicly on Guahan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and in the United States and Canada. These efforts have increased Guahan’s visibility in American and International press, and in the past year there have been more reports and articles written about the build-up that are critical of the Department of Defense’s plans.
The Department of Defense has on several occasions discussed the possibility of expanding its reach deeper into Micronesia as a tactic to reduce resistance to the build-up on Guahan. Jurisdictions such as Tinian in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and the Republic of Belau have offered the Department of Defense land for military development. For this reason, the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice has prioritized the development of a regional network against militarism. This agenda emerged from the 7th Meeting of the International Network Against Militarism on Guahan in September 2009. The meeting hosted over 60 delegates from 12 countries. A number of delegates were from Micronesia and the need for developing a regional posture to military development was identified. A second project of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice of regional significance is the movement to counter military recruitment. This is necessary in light of the high military enlistment rates of Micronesians and the injuries and deaths suffered by many that are a product of limited economic opportunities.
At the very core of the Department of Defense’s strategy to utilize Guahan is the reality that as an unincorporated territory, Guahan and her people lack the political power to make, or even to fundamentally influence, these decisions. Hence, groups on the ground are cognizant of the need to address the question of Guahan’s political status and to insist that indigenous CHamorus be permitted to exercise their right to political self-determination. The military build-up has inevitably resurrected conversations about self-determination. In November of 2009, United Nations expert on decolonization, Carlyle Corbin, visited the island sponsored by the Division of Social Work at the University of Guam and the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice. His visit allowed for consultation with Guahan-based activists to deepen their collaborative work towards this end. Every year since 2006, representatives from Guahan have testified before the United Nations on the negative impact of DOD’s plans on the human rights of CHamorus on Guahan.
On October 1, 2010, We Are Guahan hosted an event entitled “Realizing Our Destiny” in response to the signing of the build-up’s Record of Decision. They drafted the following statement, which was signed by local leaders. It reveals the path they are charting for Guahan’s people to take, and their desires for their island and future. It reads as follows:
As people of the land and sea, we look to our past in order to shape our destiny. We are guided by the wisdom and ways handed down from our ancestors, and carried on through our children. We have the power within us to thrive in the land we inherit and to ensure that our culture and beliefs are respected. We have an obligation as people of Guahan to enrich our future for generations to come.
We have reached a crucial point in our history, and we must come together to lift our voices and spirits, and shape the fate of our home and people.
We come together, as a united people, ready to protect our resources – our land, our air, our ocean, our culture, our families, our spirits and our beliefs. We will not allow them to be taken away.
Together, as children of the Marianas, we acknowledge the historical injustices that continue to plague our islands, and we promise to pave a path toward a more just history. We will tell our own stories of ourselves and ensure that our children know their past.
A history of empowerment requires a willingness to look deep into our past, reclaiming the values, ways and beliefs that have been lost in our rush toward a destiny not designed by ourselves.
The language and culture that have shaped our identity continue to be threatened. We have been told that we are lost, but we will not make this our destiny. Our ancestors fought against the oppression of our unique people and home, and we must continue their legacy. They have taught us to continue the traditions that sustained them despite the famine, disease, and violence brought to our shores. Like our ancient women, who kept our culture alive, we pledge to do the same.
We commit to guiding our island toward a destiny that refuses to accept that our people, culture, and history have disappeared.
We unite, across the generations, to guarantee that our children will not inherit a world that reminds them they are inferior or non-existent.
We unite to realize that our destiny can and must be shaped by ourselves.
While the contours of the Department of Defense’s plans for the Military build-up, and its blatant disregard for the wishes of the Guahan population, render the reader breathless, there is renewed hope in the growing synergy of interests in these issues among the people. The engagement - particularly of the island’s youth - evidences that while the Department of Defense plans to expand its footprint on the island, a bigger and more expansive counter-recruitment of people’s consciousness and knowledge is underway. In the time honored beliefs of our ancestors, we will continue to protect and fight for Guahan or what “we have.”
LisaLinda Natividad is an Assistant Professor with the Division of Social Work at the University of Guam and President of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice.
Victoria Lola Leon-Guerrero has been a writer and editor for several newspapers and websites, including Guam’s Pacific Daily News, The Oregonian and the San Francisco Foghorn, USF’s student-run newspaper. She is the author of a children’s book, Lola’s Journey Home illustrated by Guam artist Maria Yatar McDonald. In 2006, as part of the Chamoru coalition, she testified before the United Nations Special Political and Decolonization Committee.
Recommended citation: LisaLinda Natividad and Victoria Lola Leon-Guerrero, "The Explosive Growth of U.S. Military Power on Guam Confronts People Power: Experience of an island people under Spanish, Japanese and American colonial rule," The Asia-Pacific Journal, 49-3-10, December 6, 2010.
Bohane, B., America’s Pacific Speartip, The Diplomat, Sept/Oct 2007.
Delgado, Nick. 2010. “Lynda Aguon Sends Letter to Navy,” KUAM News, September 28, 2010.
Guampedia. Hurao speech. October 21, 2010.
Guam Cancer Facts and Figures 2003-2007, published by the Department of Public Health and Social Services Guam Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition (October 2009).
Kerrigan, Kevin. 2010. “PARS Pushes for Inclusion of Guam in RECA,” Pacific News Center, October 14, 2010.