Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Island of Snubs

The Marianas Variety has a habit lately of putting huge images of people talking on their front page. A few months back, when there was some back and forth debating between JGPO and We Are Guahan at the Rotary Club. The front page of the Variety first had a large, almost poster size image of i matan WAG and my Starcraft 2 bromance buddy Leevin Camacho, in the middle of a word. The week after, they had an image of Colonel Jackson from JGPO, also mid-word. The images weren't that interesting, since it was just people speaking, but the size of them caught me and others off guard.

In today's Marianas Variety there was another tall and large frontpage image, yet this time rather than merely representing the act of someone speaking, it was meant to convey deep and serious emotions. The Governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo is standing tall, his hands folded below his waist before him. Rather than the usual images of politicians that we find in the media, which show them staged as happy, blissful or concerned, Calvo's emotional portrait is very abstract. It is unclear what exactly he is thinking or what has happened. It is clear that there is much on his mind, a great deal weighing him down. His face is neither angry, nor sad, but pensive, and his face is shattered in such a way to appear as if wounded or hurt. It is a very serious looking picture, and the topic of the article it is attached to as well is also very serious, although the gap between the look on the Governor's face and the tone of the headline is interesting. The title says "Calvo angered by snub" but the image is Calvo looking more hurt than anything. He seems dejected and rejected.

The point of the article and image is that 15 US Senators were recently on Guam, to refuel their plane before continuing on their trip to Hong Kong. Although they were only on Guam for a short period they made no plans to meet with any local officials. Calvo only heard about their trip when he was asked by Congresswoman Bordallo if he would also be going to say hi to them. Calvo, was naturally upset by the snub, but also given Guam's dependent position in relation to the US, the anger was heavily tempered with sadness and feelings of being rejected. Such is life in one of the last remaining colonies in the world. It doesn't matter if you are the colony of the greatest country in the world, it still means that by definition you "get no respect."

But on one hand, Calvo should expect this. Stopovers happen all the time, and they are always by definition pointless, insulting and ridiculous. So many of the infamous visits that Presidents have made to Guam over the years were painfully short, even if they were jubilant. Although people remember fondly Bill Clinton's visit, with the thousands of people gathered in Adelup, and the promises that if Guam wants another political status then the White House would work with them to get the island there, it is important to remember that Bill Clinton was on Guam for about 3 hours. Memorable to the people of Guam, but in any real terms, barely anything. It was like a quick peck on the check from someone who you have just pledged eternal undying and unyielding devotion and loyalty to forever even should a cup of wrath freshly poured between you by the Archangel Michael flow and froth between you. Such is the wonderously frustrating gulf that is Guam's emotionationalism.

Richard Nixon's famous visit to Guam where he declared the Guam Doctrine was also a short visit. So was Dick Cheney's visit in 2007 where he famously never left the bases and while talking up the important work of the military stationed on the tip of the spear, forgot to mention the rest of us who get to live here. Even if you want to leave politics out of this issue, Guam as a stopover and a pointless transit point, like a rest stop in the middle of a horridly uninviting wasteland still holds true. I hate to remind people about Mariah Carey's visit to Guam, but I will do so nonetheless.

In 2000, Mariah Carey stopped in Guam not for a tour, but simply to stop and check out the snake stories she had heard. At this point in her career she was famous and rising in celebrity and conventional finayi says that pop and rock stars come to Guam as if brought here by the Charon on the River Styx taking them to the underworld (metaphorically the end of their careers). We get the acts which were once famous, on their way down from their height of glory, and they usually come for the troops and not much else.

Mariah Carey, according to legend, always had a fascination with the word Guam. I said the word "Guam" not the place Guam, not the state of mind Guam, but just the word. The way it sounds, the way it rolls around in your mouth and makes your jaw drop when you say the "ahhh" sound. Or perhaps the way your lips get smashed together when you bring home the word with the "mmmm" sound. Carey had heard about Guam's snake problem and supposedly wanted to have a concert there in order to give the people of Guam a certain type of dog which hunts snakes. She even named one of her many dogs "Guam." Her visit on Guam was short, brief, like a strange fever dream which you can never really get into because you aren't really sure if it has started yet or if you're just watching previews for upcoming hallucinations. She swam, signed some autographs and was pleasantly surprised when she didn't see snakes overflowing out of people's ear canals and eye sockets.

Guam is small in so many ways in which you calculate importance and important so many ways which are only important to a very limited sector of any society, such as it's military. It has been a hub, a transit point for so long, and although a link in a chain can eventually take on a life of its own, it usually doesn't. It usually remains a place where people gas up, use the bathroom, or buy unhealthy snacks to keep themselves awake on the road. This is not a unique event, this is the normal course of events. By calling it normal I am not saying it's right, but I'm saying that given Guam's history and current political status this is the way things usually go. For the Governor to expect anything different he is believing too much of the rhetoric of Guam's inclusion and not spending enough time focusing on it's political reality.

The only thing which was strange about this is that usually these stops involve some hand shaking and face timing with the troops, but it seemed that in this trip none of that was planned as well. I could be wrong about this, but given what I read in the Variety article nothing was mentioned. So you could call this abnormal since both the troops and the people of Guam were snubbed.

Although I did kase' Calvo's image in the Variety, I was still impressed with the level of anti-Washington rhetoric that he brought to bear. His press release on the issue was both stirring and incoherent. His statements in the news were inconsistent and wounded, but nonetheless reached a level we haven't seen since the Governor before. But this is the reality of Calvo's term; he is a Governor of Guam in a post-Camacho era. He is a Governor on this island where the previous Governor let political status flounder and die for 8 years. He is a Governor on this island where the previous Governor appeared to employ a "wish for the best."

The Government of Guam exists in a very weird place in both political and philosophical terms. The case Sakamoto v. Duty Free Shoppers famously found that the Government of Guam is not really a government, but because of Guam's exceptional status actually acts as a part of the Federal Government. This explains why for example there is a constant pressure as Governor to be a simple extension of the Feds. Guam is a place which places alot more faith than most in the Federal Government. Most communities in the United States have a natural loathe and love relationship with the Feds, and see mandates from the Feds as out of touch and not connected to the needs of the local people. On Guam this is rarely the case, as you can find an almost hard chemically induced robust distrust of the local government, which is built through generic ideas that in the states nearly all forms of governments, state or Federal are fantastic and light years better than. Most people in a battle between the Feds would instinctively side with their local government because it is made up from their people. Their friends, relatives, neighbors and so on. Guam is very different in that people tend to side with the Feds because the local government is filled with their friends, relatives and neighbors. The lack of self-trust on Guam is very dangerous and is also indicative of colonization and how embedded it has become. There is an idea that the Feds have more money, know more, have done better things, are less corrupt, less lazy and so you should always put your faith and hope in them.

This was one of the reasons why the military buildup was left unquestioned or unanalyzed for so long by most of Guam. If the Government of Guam had come out with a massive proposal of similar size, it might have been shredded to pieces in a thousand ways. There was a blind faith similar to what historian Pedro Sanchez wrote deluded Chamorros in prewar Guam that America was going to protect them from the Japanese in 1941, in terms of the military buildup. It was the Feds, it was the military, and so it was assumed that even if they had a $15 billion proposal to destroy every form of life on the island, people still would have enthusiastically supported it around the watercoolers and the tanke' siha.

So given this tendency, you might think that the best approach for Guam's Chief Executive to take is to simply be a yes-man for the Federales or for the military. To simply nod and smile and hand out flower leis and let them do whatever they want. This is what Felix Camacho chose to portray for several years during the military buildup. Perhaps he was the most thinking person in the world, perhaps he had huge gigantic plans which mapped out every aspect and so his whole lack of action or engagement and critique was really just a supreme strategy. Mama'brodie gui', lao gi minagahet puru ha' finayi.

But the problem that Camacho soon found himself in, is that although people may feel like the Feds are the best and that they can run this island better than we can, and it would therefore seem logical that all they would want is a Governor who is more a figurehead than anything, this isn't the case. What is the point of having a Governor then, if all they are going to be is a smiling, patriotic, flag-waving pushover or rubber stamp? The Governor has to do something, it needs to exist for some reason, or else we should just have some other Federal agency administer the island and be in charge. Guam's Governors were not elected for the first 70 years of US control over the island. When this right was finally "given" to the people, it was celebrated as fantastic progress, as at last the US recognizing the right of the people of Guam to be politically mature enough to chose their own leader.

The Governor of Guam, despite all the rhetoric cannot be the lap dancer for the Feds. He can be agreeable, he can be friendly and nice, but he cannot appear to be on the sides of the Federal Government. There is that residue that every community longs for in some way, even if they find a multitude of schemes for talking themselves out of it, which is that they should take care of themselves, that they should take responsibility for things and not just depend on others to do everything for them. No matter what on the surface a community appears to represent or feel, its leaders, by definition are meant to represent them and not someone else. And so on Guam there has long been an expectation that the Governor does not exist to hug, kiss, wax or polish the daggan of the Feds. This does not mean that he should be a raving kaduku na independence advocate, who is burning American flags at Adelup each day. But it does mean that even if he wants to support something like the military buildup, he has to do so, not with a gushing and overflowing heart of glee and subordination, but rather with the steely temperament who may see something which appears to be good for his people, but would be willing to throw it all away if it wasn't in the best interests of Guam.

This was one of the weaknesses of Camacho during the early military buildup years, was that while he may have been acting in such a way that he thought was best for the island, what he was doing did not appear to be leading. He was leading, but he was doing so in such a way that he there was almost no point to his existence. If he wasn't willing to stand up to something, to challenge, question something, to throw some monkey wrench into the machine in order to give himself a purpose, then why have him at all? Camacho could have supported the buildup all he wanted to, but still lead on the issue. He could have done what no one actually has done to date, which is an adequate and objective study of the buildup. He could have been more proactive working with the Legislature to ensure that Guam maximizes its benefits from the buildup, even if that means making the deal less sweet for certain contractors. He could have come up with some incredible radical ideas, but he did not. Instead his ideas seemed limited to going with the flow, hoping for the best and finding banal ways of telling people that the train is moving ahead and you can either get on board of get left behind. It is interesting to note and to remember for future reference that the past six years on Guam have been a great lesson in how believing in something or supporting something which you believe will make the island a lot of money, has little to no direct correlation with the actual making of money.

Although you cannot call Camacho a failed Governor, since anyone, including G.W. Bush who is at least re-elected is successful, but one reason why Camacho may never get the type of legacy that he feels he deserved is because he didn't play the game so many other Governors of Guam have learned and turned into their own artforms. That while it may be prudent to kiss the daggan or the Feds to their faces and in meetings, but it serves no real purpose to have that be your public persona or your public position. All Governors, not just in Guam have to use the local against the national or the Federal. It is part of their particular games of politics. Even if it is cynical, fake and pointless, it is how you assure people that you are doing your job. It can be a game of good guys and bad guys, connected and disconnected ideas, or even a simple matter of a community's spirit being protected, but that rhetoric is essential in ensuring that people understand that you are truly leading them.

Calvo is Governor of Guam after Camacho and so he is fortunate that he gets to learn from the lame duck mistakes of his predecessor. As we see today in the news with his wounded but also angry rhetoric at being snubbed by the 15 Senators, we are seeing him creating that rhetorical position from which he'll need to constantly return to throughout his term.


"Calvo Angered by Snub"
Therese Hart
April 19, 2011
The Marianas Variety

GOVERNOR Eddie Baza Calvo said the 15 United States senators who stopped on Guam yesterday – to refuel as they headed to Hong Kong – without the courtesy of informing him was a slap in the face.

He warned that the senators’ thumbing their noses at the island and its government can severely affect Guam’s relations with the federal government as the U.S. pushes the $15 billion agreement to relocate the U.S. Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam.

The U.S. delegation included: Sen. Harry Reid, Majority Leader, a Democrat from Neveda; Sen. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader, a Republican from Kentucky; Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Democrat from New Jersey; Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama; Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California; Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois; Sen. Michael Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming; Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York; Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia; Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon; Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado; Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska; Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas; Sen. Robert Portman, a Republican from Ohio; and Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota.

“These U.S. Senators, both Democrat and Republican, have decided to thumb their noses at the island and its government,” said Calvo. “I want Guamanians living in the [U.S. mainland] where these U.S. senators are from to remember what these U.S. senators did to Guam in the next national elections,” he added.

The governor said he was extremely upset that no one in the federal establishment informed Guam about their visit.

“We called the Navy to verify this stopover and we were told the U.S. senators will not entertain any meeting or discussion with Guam leaders or the Guamanian people. Instead of landing at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, they have decided to shield their visit in secrecy and land within the confines of Andersen Air Force Base,” said Calvo.

The 15 lawmakers make up 15 percent of the U.S. Senate – powerful members of Congress who make decisions about Guam’s future without any input from its local leaders, said Calvo.

“You’re talking about 15 percent of the U.S. Senate and the kind of power they have, and for America’s westernmost soil, they look at it as a pit stop – with no regard to discussing issues, especially in light of decisions they have made and the decisions they will make that are so impactful for our people,” said Calvo.

Calvo said that as Guam moves forward as America’s tip of the spear, “very powerful elected officials cannot overlook the people of Guam. They’ve gotta hear us and if they don’t hear us, we’re going to continue to speak even louder and louder.”


Calvo said he loved America and described the United States as “the greatest democracy in the world.” At the same time, however, Calvo said he sometimes views the U.S. with disgust and distain.

“I am disgusted by some of the actions made by some of the most powerful people. The Senate is an august body and a powerful body. And for 15 of them to come to our territory ... they can blame it on the scheduler; or they can blame it on their travel plans, but folks, we’re not interstate 5. We are far from the continental United States.”

“Whether they are coming or going to Tokyo or Seoul, or Taipei or Australia, this is American soil. At this point, all it was, was a pit stop, and that’s unacceptable,” he added.

“This is a sad state of affairs. This is the third time in the last year that Congress has made it clear that we are of no importance to the nation,” said Calvo, mentioning Congress trying to sell Fena back to Guam, and Congress taking away Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo’s voting power in House committees.

“These U.S. Senators are only hurting American interests abroad. Look at the great relationship we’ve built with the U.S. military. Congress’s actions only undermine that work. Why? If Guam was so important to U.S. strategic interests, then why would the nation’s leaders continue snubbing Guamanians?” queried the governor.

Political status

The snub, said Calvo, further fortified his standpoint on Guam’s political status. Calvo vowed to work with the legislature and the whole community to bring closure to Guam’s quest for political self-determination.

“We can really never exercise our ability to govern ourselves without a change in status and that either means they will accept us as full-fledged partners or we’ll have to go on our own. But this is typical, being a territory and we don’t have any representation with the Senate – not even a non-voting delegate – and as far as I’m concerned, we are nothing but either an asset or a liability depending on what the situation is,” said Calvo.

Calvo is determined to call for a vote of self-determination and said Guam cannot go on as a colony of the United States.

“We should either be a part of the U.S., with voting membership in the House and Senate and the right to vote for President, or we should govern ourselves. This is a message we will share with U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Carl Levin when they visit with us next week. At least these gentlemen have the consideration and decency to meet with their fellow Americans in Guam.”

The governor said for those in Congress who want to work with Guam – the One Guam approach – he will continue to push those issues forward.

And for those who don’t care?

“It’s clear these U.S. senators have no intention of uniting our best interests. To them, there is an American inside a military fenceline, and an American colony outside of it. They want nothing to do with that colony,” said Calvo.

Calvo said if the Senate wanted to thumb its nose at the people of Guam, “then perhaps it is time for Guamanians to call in every injustice ever committed upon our people by the U.S. government. For every slap in our face, those old wounds just open up a little bit more.”

Calvo said he had no idea the delegation was coming and was only informed yesterday morning, when he received a phone call from Bordallo. She knew about the delegation and was invited to meet with them.

Bordallo responded, saying she understood the governor’s concern.

“I appreciate the governor’s concerns regarding the notification of visits by federal officials to Guam. I will do what I can to ensure that future congressional delegations give proper notification to the governor regarding their visits. I can also appreciate that any congressional delegation’s plans are usually tentative until military planes can be confirmed. The governor’s point is well taken and I will work with military officials and appropriate committees to ensure proper notification and all due respect are given to the governor and other local leaders,” Bordallo said.

Sen. Judi Guthertz, oversight chair of the military buildup said she has expressed similar concerns in the past regarding disrespectful treatment of Guam by the federal government.

“Sometimes we don’t get the respect for the island, not for us as individuals, just because we’re elected officials – no, I’m talking about the people of Guam. They’re coming to our home ... sometimes it seems that they’re coming through our home, and to disrespect the governor, that at times it seems that they’re coming through our home, and to disrespect the governor, that’s very bad, that’s not nice. I understand how the governor feels, I feel badly for him and I hope he understands that this has been my concern in the past and I’ve been vocal about it. Respect the island, respect the people, give us the time of day. They could have at least invited the governor to be at Andersen,” said Guthertz.

“They just don’t get it. All these years, all of our efforts, and they still don’t get it. They just don’t take us seriously and they make us feel that we have no value, but I want to remind these senators that we are Americans, too. We are Americans, too,” she added.

1 comment:

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura said...

This entry had me cracking up Miget. I love the connection with Mariah Carey's visit. lol.


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