Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Democracy and Defense

I should be writing my dissertation, and dumiddide' dumiddide' I am, but there is so much going on Guam right now that always seems to keep me from it. So much of it is related to the military buildup that has been looming on the island's horizon since 2005.

A little more than a year from now, in the summer of 2010, the construction for the proposed military buildup of Guam will "officially" begin. The next few months are thus crucial since the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for that construction will soon be released and a short period will be provided during which we can make comments on the DEIS, and whether or not its realistic, whether or not its comprehensive or detailed enough and lastly whether or not their mitigation suggestions for the impacts that will be caused are worth the ink they are printed with.

Until the DEIS is released, there is plenty to do in terms of organizing events or possibly even protests. Getting the word out in different ways and hoping to educate people to imagine their island and its place in the world beyond the equation of "more military = more money." I'm involved in the planning of several things, most of which I can't mention yet, at least not until some of the plans become more concrete.

One recent Bill (#66) submitted to the Guam Legislature by Senator BJ Cruz is something that everyone should be paying attention to. The Bill calls for a special election to take place within 90 days from the bill's passage, whose intent would be to capture the overall public's opinion on the buildup. The ballot would feature two questions, the first, a short, simple, and yet still incredibly vague and ambiguous question as to whether you support the buildup or not. The second is a question much more focused and useful which asks, whether or not you believe that Chamorro Land Trust Land or Government of Guam land should be leased for use by the military.

The whole saga for the land use issue is a long one. At the early stages of this buildup process, the Department of Defense was adamant that they would stay within their existing footprint and not seek to acquire any new properties on the island. They already have close to 30%, they don't really need any more. In the first two years, following the announcement, this was one of the ways that the Camacho Administration would deflect criticism based on its weak-kneed and compliant position in relation to the military. As if Camacho could somehow take credit for something the military was claiming from the very start.

As time passed, and military, like some bileng burn out, started to really look at its footprint, and realize how small it is and how bigs it plans were, it started to think that it might need some new lands after all. The first land that they were assessing was in Finegayan as that will be a major site for the new construction for the incoming Marines' various facilities. Ironically one of the parcels that they would need was reportedly one that had just been returned to the family which had lost it sixty years earlier. Right now, the military is asking to lease 950 acres of government owned land in Yigo and Mangilao in order to establish at the minimum a live fire training range. This is a huge shift in their policy and this will most likely be followed by many more, as the date for the start of construction is getting closer and the planners and decision makers involved start to actually look at what they are proposing and what they need.

Be on the look out for legislative hearings on this bill in the coming weeks. I'll be sure to post them on this blog once I know.

Guam has always been one of those funny battlegrounds where America fights out the ideological debate between democracy and defense. In prewar Guam, Chamorros were deprived of the formalization of even the most basic civil rights because it was thought that giving them those privileges and rights would threaten America's military mission in the island and region. Today, Guam's ability to get money from the Federales, and its biggest obstruction in terms of decolonization is that military importance.

This referendum represents another battleground between defense and democracy in Guam. Does the American military have the right to do whatever it wants with Guam? Can you run a military, can you defend a nation, democratically? Should communities have the right to determine whether or not military and military weapons should be stationed or stored in their areas? In my opinion, absolutely, I don't see any problem with having this referendum and with letting the people decide if they want nuclear subs or 8,000 Marines in their territory, especially since any military presence, no matter how many computers it donates to local civilian schools, still has an adverse affect on the health and the environment of the people on and around the bases. Guam, as a small island which so many ongoing environmental disasters that the military plays a key historical and contemporary role in starting, should know this best of all.

But this sort of thinking is certainly not commonsensical or widely accepted. After all, there is no clear road map of what would happen next should the referendum on the buildup be negative. If its positive, everything continues to roll ahead. But if its negative, there's no readily available framework for what to do next. You can take the results to Obama, which is what the Bill in its first draft form requires, but thats all the weight that democracy has in this case? If this is so, then there really isn't any legitimacy to the vote, if it cannot in someway be expected to shape or dictate reality, then its pointless. Its a straw poll, its a public opinon poll, it is certainly not democracy in any governmental or meaningful sense.


Friday, February 20, 2009
Guam referendum needed on military buildup, lawmaker says
Friday, Feb. 20, 2009

AGANA (Kyodo) A Guam legislator has filed a bill calling for a referendum to ascertain whether the people of Guam approve the relocation of some 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory.

Vice Speaker Benjamin J. F. Cruz introduced a measure this week that will give the people of Guam a voice on the U.S. military's plan to build up its forces on the island.

Cruz also said the referendum will determine whether to allow the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission to lease Ancestral and Spanish Crown lands and the Chamorro Land Trust Commission to lease Land Trust land to the U.S. armed forces.

"The legislature finds the people of Guam demand greater participation in matters that affect them," says Bill 66, which calls for a vote on military expansion.

The bill also calls for a special election to be conducted by the Guam Election Commission within 90 days from enactment of the measure.

Under the bill, the people of Guam will be asked only two "Yes-No" questions: "Do you support the military buildup on Guam?" and "Shall authority be given to GALC and CLTC to lease lands to the military?"

"My sense is there are many who support the military buildup but do not support the leasing of additional public lands belonging to our people,' Cruz said.

Sen. Judith Paulette Guthertz has also voiced concern over the plan to relocate some 8,000 U.S. Marines and their dependents from Japan by 2014 as part of the U.S. forces reorganization.

"Our primary responsibility will be to make sure that Guam truly benefits from the buildup, and the people receive the benefits and assistance that they deserve," she said. "We must not be forced into a situation that will end up hurting our people."

Guam Gov. Felix Camacho meanwhile said, "The buildup, I've always believed, will benefit Guam greatly."


Drea said...

No more land for the military. My family is starting to get back land on the cliff line that they've been fighting for since I was a little girl. My grandmother is gone and won't get the chance to be on the land she was raised on. It took too long for families to get their land back and I don't think we can just sit back and have the military take it back.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

I hear you Drea. I think that our island would be very different if all families knew the pain of that loss or that struggle. You and your family have experienced the other side of militarization on Guam, the less than liberating side. The side not worth celebrating, but always worth protesting.


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