I'm on a solidarity trip to South Korea right now. As the delegate from Guam I'm joining delegates from Okinawa, the United States and the Philippines in meeting with local peace, antiwar, demilitarization and reunification organizations. I have a crazy schedule of non-stop protests, workshops, tours and meetings for the next week, which includes a two-day visit to Jeju Island off the southern coast of South Korea.
After spending one day here, para bai hu sangani hamyo, there is plenty to write and blog about. But the question remains, as to whether or not I'll have the time, energy or decent enough connection to keep posting.
In the meantime I just wanted to share a short report that I just typed up, at the very last minute to be translated into Korean and be distributed at the different meetings I'm going to. Each of the delegates prepared their own as well. Just as a warning to those who read the below report, it was written at the very last second, and since it had to be translated very quickly and since I wanted to make the translator's life easier, I simplified things a little bit, and don't go into as much details as I would have wanted to. Despite these flaws, its still a nice little snapshot of the past few months and years on Guam in terms of the military buildup.
2010 South Korea "No Bases" Solidarity Trip
1. Guam was first notified in October of 2005 that as few as 7,000 US Marines and their dependents would be transferred to the island from Okinawa. Guam was not involved in the discussions or negotiations about this transfer.
2. For five years, the Department of Defense gave Guam little to no information about what exactly its plans were for its buildup of troops there. The military claimed that this was necessary since nothing was absolutely decided yet, and they would not share any information until it was absolutely certain. As a result, Guam for five years has known that something big is coming to the horizon, but is not sure how or what to prepare for.
3. In November of 2009, the military finally released its plans for Guam, called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) , this document is meant to outline all the plans and construction which will take place as part of the buildup and also what the possible negative impacts might happen. The document was also supposed to outline any possible alternative or means mitigations practices which could avoid of diminish the negative impact.
4. This document was 11,000 pages long, and the people of Guam were given 90 days in order to read it and respond to it.
5. At last, the people of Guam knew what exactly the military was planning. Their buildup consisted of three main actions.
a. The transfer of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam along with their 9,000 dependents. Billions of dollars worth of facilities would have to be built to house, train and entertain these transfers.
b. A massive dredging of Guam’s primary harbor, Apra, in order to allow for nuclear powered aircraft carriers to berth on Guam for several weeks of the year.
c. An Army Missile Ballistic Force, consisting of around 600 Army personnel, who would shot missiles out of the sky as they passed over Guam.
6. The DEIS is a document which the military writes itself based on studies and research they do. Typically, the DEIS is a document which while mentioning some negatives ultimately supports the action. In the case of this DEIS, while overall providing support for the military buildup to Guam, it also revealed that the military anticipated that a wave of negative impacts would also hit Guam.
7. The military buildup to Guam would bring within 5 years, 80,000 more people onto the island, 30,000 of whom would be foreign contract workers.
8. Although the military buildup would create in their estimation 20,000 new jobs, only less than 25% of those would go to Guam residents, the rest going to foreign contract workers or military dependents.
9. The military admitted that the buildup may have long terms impacts on Chamorros and their place on Guam, by furthering making them a minority in their own land, and weakening their political and cultural power.
10. The DEIS foresaw that Guam would need to increase the capacity of its health care system, educational system, utility and infrastructure system at an incredible rate in order to not have the buildup destroy the island. Initial GovGuam estimates for how much it would cost for Guam in order to hire and train the teachers, doctors, nurses needed for the buildup as well as improve roads and utilities was anywhere from 2 – 3 billion dollars.
11. As early as 2006, the military has promised not to seek any new lands for their buildup, as they already control close to 1/3 of Guam’s land base. However in the DEIS, the military now claimed that they needed 2300 new acres of land, from both private and public hands in order to create proper training facilities for the Marines being transferred.
12. The dredging of Apra Harbor would lead to the destruction of several acres of coral and endanger the natural habitat of a number of already endangered local species of turtle, shark and coral.
13. The military admits, that while for certain sectors of society on Guam they may reap a great deal of financial benefits from the buildup, the island as a whole will undergo a boom and bust cycle, leaving the island’s economy in a more precarious position after the main construction phase is done, then it currently is in now. The cost of living would rise sharply, but the wages would not rise as well.
14. People on Guam, recognizing the dangers that this buildup now represented, came out in record numbers to speak out their minds on this buildup.
15. The DEIS public comment period lasted from November 2009 – February 2010. During that period, public meetings were packed with people who showed that they were upset, confused and wanted this buildup either slowed down, stopped or renegotiated with Guam at the table.
16. The Department of Defense had been hoping that the people of Guam would not ask any questions or criticize this buildup, and were very shocked when they ended up receiving almost 10,000 comments from people about the military buildup.
17. The buildup cause such an uproar that a new grassroots group, made up of primarily young people, was started called We Are Guahan. This group collected an email list of 5,000 who all had concerns about the buildup and organized different public events to inform the public about the negative impacts of the buildup, and gathered 10,000 signatures for a petition to be sent to President Obama asking that he meet with the people of Guam to hear their concerns about the buildup.
18. One of the sites threatened by the buildup was Pagat Cave, an area full of ancient artifacts which has become a favorite site for hikers and schools to visit. The military proposed leasing that area and restricting access to it in order to build a firing training range nearby, where machine guns and grenades would be used. This caused a huge protest in the community, as teachers, hikers, students, artists and politicians all joined together to protect this site and ensure that it wasn’t taken for military use. This work paid off when in May 2010, Pagat was chosen by the National Trust (a historical and environmental preservation organization) as one of its 11 most endangered historical sites in the world.
19. The negative outcry over the buildup even helped shift the opinions of regulatory agencies, locally and nationally. Whereas just a year before, these agencies which are in charge of natural resources and the environment might have approved of the DEIS and the buildup, now in response to the public protests, agencies which do have power over whether or not the buildup can happen, began to report very negatively about the buildup, threatening to stall or stop the entire project. The largest criticism came from the national Environmental Protection Agency, which read the DEIS and gave it the lowest grade possible, saying that it represented a very clear danger to Guam and that the military did not adequately provide alternative or mitigation practices to ensure that Guam and its people are protected.
20. Right now, the people of Guam are again waiting. They have made it clear to the US military that this buildup, as it is being planned now represents a very serious danger to Guam. In July 2010, the military will respond with its final version of the Environmental Impact State. We are waiting to hear what their response is, will they listen to what people have said and stop the buildup or agree to start over? Or will they just try to push ahead and force it on Guam?