Natives of Guam Decry US Expansion Plan

A Pentagon plan for a massive military buildup on the Pacific island of Guam is meeting with resistance by ethnic Chamorros who live there and the Chamorro diaspora in the United States.

According to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, the Pentagon has already moved attack submarines and cruise missiles to Guam, where it is forming a strike force of six bombers and 48 fighters that have been deployed from bases in the continental U.S.

In addition, earlier this year, the U.S. Defense Department announced plans to move 8,000 Marines and 9,000 of their dependents from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam. Last week, the Air Force announced it plans to add 2,600 service members and their families to the island’s Andersen Air Force Base beginning next year.

The realignment is currently undergoing an environmental review. Pentagon officials say construction of the new bases should begin in 2010, with troop movements starting in 2011.

Activists believe the redeployment will result in a total influx of approximately 35,000 people, a number they say will overwhelm their small island, which has a population of just 168,000 people. The southernmost island in the Western Pacific Mariana chain, Guam has been a U.S. territory since the United States won the Spanish-American War in 1898.

"Guam has basically no say," said writer Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. "So the U.S. has the right to bring in whatever they want, and there is no framework that Guam can make demands or negotiate with the U.S. military. The Pentagon and the United States Congress are the sovereign owners, and they act like that. There is no relationship that says we have to listen to your feedback or we have to listen to your demands."

Bevacqua noted that the Pentagon’s decision to redeploy to Guam comes after large-scale protests against the United States military presence in South Korea and the Japanese island of Okinawa. In both countries, the U.S. military operates under rules negotiated between governments called a "status of forces agreement," or SOFA. But because Guam is a U.S. territory, no SOFA is required.

Indeed, the Japanese government is so keen to have the Marines leave Okinawa – where a number of U.S. servicemen have made headlines by raping local women – that Tokyo is underwriting most of the estimated $10 billion cost of the redeployment.

"Japan and South Korea make noises, the people there antagonize the U.S. military, so the U.S. responds," Bevacqua told IPS. "They say you don’t want us there, we’ll go to a place where people have no say over what we do, and that place is Guam."

Guam elects one non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. During U.S. presidential elections, citizens in Guam vote in a straw poll, but their choice for president is not counted toward the final outcome. Residents of Guam serve in the U.S. military and can be conscripted when there is a draft.

Not everyone on Guam agrees with the activists. The territory’s non-voting congressional representative, Madeleine Bardallo, is a big supporter of a stepped-up U.S. military presence on the island.

"When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they invaded Guam at the same time," she told IPS. "We were occupied by the Japanese for three and a half years. Now you’ve got South Korea-North Korea, Taiwan-China. There’s a lot of unrest. A lot of us remember the Japanese occupation and don’t want something like that to happen again."

People from Guam are very patriotic, she added, pointing out that Guam has the highest rate of enlistment in the National Guard and Army Reserves of any U.S. state or territory.

But the activists see the calculation differently. Though they grew up hearing horror stories of forced labor and mass murder under the Japanese emperor during World War II, they do not believe a large U.S. presence is in their interest.

"If there’s a confrontation between the United States and North Korea, the Koreans won’t look to bomb the U.S. mainland," Sabina Perez of the International Peoples Coalition against Military Pollution told IPS. "They’ll look for a place that’s closer and easier to hit, and that will be Guam."

It was in this political environment that a coalition of mostly young ethnic Chamorros traveled to the New York in October to address a special summit of the United Nations Committee on Decolonization. They told the panel, which was originally designed to eradicate colonialism in 10 years but is now in its second decade, to come out in favor of self-determination for the people of Guam.

But they said that while they were greeted with a positive response from countries like Venezuela, the United States, which holds a veto on the panel, refused to listen.

"From where we were sitting, the U.S. representative had to turn his head in order to look at us," Victoria Leon Guerrero of the Guahan Indigenous Collective told the community forum in Berkeley. "He never turned, never looked at us. That’s how the United States government relates to the people of Guam."

(Inter Press Service)

Read more by Aaron Glantz