Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #4: Tano'

I've quoted this passage before, but its so helpful in explaining Guam's history and contemporary reality, that I have to quote it again. In Robert Underwood's afterword for the book Campaign For Political Rights on the Island of Guam (1899-1950) written by Penelope Bordallo Hofschneider, he makes a crucial point in understanding postwar Chamorro activism or radicalism in Guam. Prior to World War II, the ways in which Chamorros were radicalized, in particular against the United States were far and few between. Individuals who were vocally or openly critical of the United States Navy and its policies were very rare, and only in a handful of families was this critique passed down and became a party of their legacy or identity.

Everything changed however in postwar Guam and the reason was tano' or land. The trauma of the postwar massive landtakings by the United States military became something which could radicalize any Chamorro, from a soldier, to a nurse, a teacher or a student and turn them into not just a single activist, but part of family of activists or part of multiple generations of activists within a clan, who were all openly critical of the United States military and government.

I wrote three years ago in a post titled "The Federal Bitchalism" that in the minds of many the land struggles of the postwar era are finished, manmunhayan. Thousands of acres of excess Federal lands have been returned over the decades. The Chamorro Land Trust act was written and eventually implemented, and so was the Ancestral Lands Commission. But despite these small gains, land still continues to be a contentious issue on Guam.

According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the military buildup, the military plans to try to lease at least 2300 acres of privately and publicly held land. The document claims that the majority of any land which will be taken is not privately owned, but owned by the Government of Guam through the Chamorro Land Trust. These 2300 acres would be added to the amount that the military already controls on island, which is over 40,000 acres, roughly 28% of all land on Guam.

Landowners, their families and businesses on the eastern coast of Guam, around the areas of Sasahayan Valley, Pagat, Marbo Caves, Laguna and the Guam Raceway Park have all been very vocal lately about their desire to not have their land leased or taken from them. It is this area of the island where most of the new lands would be acquired in order to make way for a live-fire training range for the newly transferred Marines.

Last month I attended the public hearing at the Legislature for a resolution which would strongly oppose the military condemning any new properties. Over the course of the day more than 100 people attended, with more than 30 speaking in favor of the resolution and arguing that the military does not need anymore land on Guam. This was the first, very real indication for me that the island was starting to shift on the buildup, that people who weren't just maladjusted activists like myself, were starting to see how it would affect them, or how it might be an unfair process.

Although I should note, that the landowners who become a part of the public resistance to the buildup and critique of it, are part of the same coalition I wrote of yesterday, and give it an aura of strength, diversity and concreteness, but also make it more delicate and sensitive. The rhetoric of the majority of landowners who have been publicly critical of this buildup is that they support the buildup, but that they just don't want their land to be taken. Or as former Guam Senator Ted Nelson argued, that they support the buildup, but that it should happen within their own fences.

It is very possible that if JGPO announced that no new lands would be taken by the buildup, most of those landowners would disappear in the struggle, once their interest in it had been protected or resolved. But we still should not discount the power that even their temporary presence has in terms of creating a more abstract argument, more concrete for the rest of us. By hearing their stories, by seeing them in public speaking out, some people see them as self-interested people, only protecting themselves and their assets, but others make a larger connection to Guam and what it is. They use those families and their stories as evidence to support an argument that Guam is small and that the military already has too much land and doesn't need anymore. And that if Guam's population is going to increase as much as they say it is, then that land should be available to the people outside the fences. Even if, their only critique is mungga mahakot i tano'-hu, it still gives a very real face to the issue, to the problem, it revives a traumatic history of displacement and land loss for Chamorros.

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Military negotiates with 3 landowners

By Brett Kelman
Pacific Daily News
January 11, 2010

The military is already negotiating with the three landowners whose property will most likely be absorbed into the new firing range on Guam's northeast coast.

On Thursday night, retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, said he was certain the landowners and the Department of Defense will reach an agreement that benefits everyone.

"We've talked to those landowners, and I am very confident that we can reach an agreement," Bice said. "I'm a landowner, I'm a farmer. I know about land rights and property rights ... I am not going to be involved with any process that takes other people's land."

Bice was so certain an agreement would be reached that he declined to discuss what would happen if parties didn't see eye to eye. He would not discuss "speculation."

Sen. Judith Guthertz, who is chairwoman of the Legislature's buildup committee, is not so confident the landowners will part with their property.

"I think he's wrong," Guthertz said. "I know some of the families he is speaking of."

Although Bice said only three landowners are likely to be affected by the construction of the firing range, land acquisition has quickly become one of the most combative issues brought on by the coming military buildup.

Pagat Cave

The buildup will require the Department of Defense to expand its borders and place access restrictions for civilians to some land it owns. At the center of this issue is a large tract of land near Pagat Cave where a firing range will be built.

On Dec. 29, 2009, more than 50 people attended a public hearing on a legislative resolution against the condemnation of local property. More than 30 of them spoke in favor of the resolution, while only one spoke against it.

Some of them are concerned residents who have land in the valley area near Marbo Cave, Bice said. They are "inappropriately worried" their land will be acquired, but it's unlikely, he added.

The ridgeline is the primary site for the firing range and the valley is the backup. And the ridgeline is preferred by a wide margin, Bice said.

According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all of the land on the ridgeline belongs to GovGuam, not individuals.

Community concern

On Friday, Guthertz said it didn't matter if the military wanted the land of one family or a thousand. They had an island full of support, she said.

Many of Guam's residents are still angry the military took land from local people after World War II and didn't fairly compensate them, she said. The island felt indebted and the military took advantage of them, she said.

This frustration runs deep, she said.

"They just really hate the idea because they feel there was a lot of injustice done," Guthertz said.
Although some protesters may not own any land that will be acquired for the coming military buildup, they are still concerned their fellow islanders will be taken advantage of again, Guthertz said.

"(Bice) shouldn't assume because it's only one to three families they will voluntarily agree to sell or lease their land, even if he has a hammer over their head ..." Guthertz said.

If the military makes an offer that the private landowners actually want, no one should object to the transfer of land, Guthertz said.

Public lands

The military must also acquire some public land from GovGuam that isn't owned by any single resident but is shared by the community.

The Defense Department is already discussing the acquisition of this land with local leaders, like the governor and senators, to broker a deal, Bice said.

"Everyone is looking for the highest and best use in terms of any potential compensation for that," Bice said. "Having had discussions with everyone -- with all stakeholders -- I am convinced that we are going to reach an agreement."

For John Sarmiento, a discussion with local leaders isn't good enough.

Sarmiento, 17, is a member of We Are Guahan, a group protesting the buildup and draft EIS.

During a public hearing on Thursday night, Sarmiento said the buildup hadn't been planned on the terms of average citizens.

The buildup became inevitable before it was ever discussed with the public, he said.

"It was an order handed down, and then we were informed. We were never part of the dialogue like they say we were," Sarmiento said. "Even if the Legislature or the governor do represent the people, I think they failed on their part to really connect with us."

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