Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Decolonization Debate Continues

The decolonization debate continues.

Lately it has been all over the Marianas Variety website. I've been writing a column for them for more than a year now, and so I can attest to how much of a ghost town their website used to be. To see some articles on their site today and yesterday reaching 50 and 60 comments within a single day is a miracle to behold. It is still nowhere near the level of the PDN, which can reach 100 comments sometimes on articles that barely say anything, just because so many trolls hang out there, but it is still impressive. It is no wonder that the paper won't stop the publishing of "The Outsider Perspective" by Dave Davis. The angry and racist rhetoric of Davis is key to making the Variety appear to be a competitor to the community discussion role that the PDN plays. To be fair the news coverage of the Variety is much more balanced than the PDN, but this balance is generally lost on the editorial page.

Key elements of this debate is whether or not a self-determination plebiscite is "constitutional." Whether or not it violates the US Constitution.

If we lived in a world where truth and justice mattered then this issue would be irrelevant. This is a decolonization plebiscite, and as such it must necessarily not be bound by the rules of the colonizer since that would be a blatantly colonial act. So the question of whether or not it is constitutional shouldn't be a question at all. It is something that someone asked us that point, we would all stare at them blankly and wonder why such a silly question is being asked.

But, we don't live in such a world. We live in a world where power dominates and truth and justice only come into play when it matches the interests of the powerful. As such, we must have the absurd discussion about whether or not taking an act of self-determination would violate the US constitution. It is a tricky conversation and one which is definitely not fair or balanced in any real sense, but definitely fair and balanced in the Fox News sense. US law is not built around the interests of justice in any way which might challenge the rights of the US, today or in the past. Even when things are recognized to have been unjust or wrong, US law, like most countries does not allow for much to take place.

Justice in the generic sense nowadays deals with an appropriate punishment being meted against an criminal or someone who has violated or broken some law. But justice in the more philosophical and moral sense is about how to provide some reparation or compensation for something for which there can be no equivalence. How does one compensate those who were enslaved for centuries? How does one compensate people who were colonized and their cultures brutalized for centuries? How does one compensate those who were the victims of discrimination, genocide, mass torture and legalized abuse? In most societies, the answer is simple. At some point, when it no longer becomes possible or profitable to oppress a people, you let them go, you relax the rules that held them down and turned them into objects of power rather than subjects. Once you do that, you do close to nothing to mention what happened before or compensate them for the terrifyingly inhuman ways they might have been treated for long periods of time. In fact, when the issue comes up in some way which might eventually turn into some claim that those who have been wronged should receive some sort of justice, you have to limit the ways in which they can receive it. You have to use the law to minimize it and to take away any reasonable avenues they might have to demand that something be done about the way they were treated before.

A case in point is the very famous Apology Resolution that the Native Hawaiians received from the US Government under President Clinton. Whether or not the US assisted in overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom is not under dispute, it can be proven, clearly proven beyond a doubt that the US assisted stealing Hawai'i. The US Congress investigated this issue itself and found that US private citizens and government employees overthrew a sovereign nation. The US, rather than stepping back and restoring the kingdom of Hawai'i, instead merely looked the other way and held on to Hawai'i, later annexing it. The Apology was a carefully worded "despensa yu'." The US, basically came forward and admitted it had done something terrible, that was unjust, immoral and illegal. You would think that given this revelation of something so obvious and so odious, that it might become the basis for Native Hawaiians getting some restitution or justice for what happened to them a little over a century ago.

You would be wrong. In 2009, the Supreme Court decided that the meat of the Apology Resolution, meaning the preamble where the US Government admits to doing bad things, has no legal effect, and does not provide the basis for anything. The Supreme Court decided that this admission of terrible guilt amounted to only a conciliatory gesture, one meant to make someone feel better, but not actually do anything.

This is why justice, for it to mean anything requires more than what the person who commits the offense, or benefits from the offense is willing to give. It has to take more, or else it does nothing. If you don't give more than you are willing, you risk continuing the cycle of abuse and oppression. You enjoy the privileges of the former oppression, and give those who were oppressed no closure or way of getting some payback for how they were treated. Rather than deal with and attempt to fix the disgusting history of the US in Hawai'i, it merely buries it deeper and deeper, hoping that at one point not one will remember the bones and the trauma beneath the layers of lies and fantasies.

You create more and more layers of laws, decisions and common sense, which says that even though that tragic history has damaged in so many ways certain people, you pretend that somehow they owe you for what you have given them. You make it so that somehow when people want to try to right that wrong, to seek some justice, as if they are being unreasonable and wanting to unfairly turn back the clock.

In Guam, the decolonization discussion is stuck in this place. You have local advocates who are stating clearly that this right, which is internationally recognized should be protected and should be manifested. If this means holding a vote in which only those who are legally allowed to according to Guam Public Law take place, then so be it. From this position, Spain, the US, and even Japan all deprived Guam of something fundamental, their right and ability to determine their own destiny. The people of Guam were not and are not alone, but as colonization took so much from so many, this right to self-determination is akin to a smidgen of justice for the world that was turned upside down for several centuries and so many people were wiped from the face of the earth to people the global pyramid of privilege that we have today. This is part of trying to deal with the tragic legacy the majority of the world's people were shoulder with through imperialism and colonization.

On the the other side you have the American apologists, nationalists and exceptionalists. The ones who continue to argue that the US, even if it did so many terrible things in the past and continues to do so many hypocritical things today, it is nonetheless still something that has the moral high ground and cannot be transgressed. Despite the fact that the US has violated its own constitution plenty of times in the way it has treated its colonies, has no bearing on the fact that perhaps once or twice or a few times, you should violate the constitution in the name of something greater. Sadly, while the phrase two wrongs don't make a right, feels like it might be true, when used in cases like this, it is a defense of the wrongdoers and their right to determine what counts as right or wrong after the fact. It is actually a sad sad thing to behold. In very practical terms, it doesn’t make any sense.

There's more to say, but I have papers to grade. I've decided to paste below one of the recent letters to the editor for the Variety.


"Keep an Open Mind"
Letter to the Editor
Marianas Variety

I REVIEWED a recording of Julian Aguon’s presentation during the Political Decolonization forum that was held on Oct. 19. I am impressed with his knowledge of international law, the historical overview and examples of self-determination efforts by other countries he provided.

Keeping an open mind is helpful. It allows us to question things, in hopes that positive change may result. With that, I offer my perspective.

Granted, the U.S. Constitution is a very powerful document that we have been traditionally taught to be the supreme. Frankly, if one scrutinizes its history, one will find that it has been morally flawed since its inception. Just review the history, the number of attempts and amendments to the Constitution. There have been thousands of proposals to amend the Constitution, yet only 33 have obtained the necessary two-third vote and yet the required three-fourths of states have ratified only 27 amendments. I leave that to you to decide if that’s achievable for Guam to enhance our interests.

The self-determination law clearly defines voting eligibility as ‘Native Inhabitants’ and their descendants within a certain time period. It DOES NOT restrict voting based on account of race or color. Rather it restricts voting to a special status group of people, recognized by the Treaty of Paris and Organic Act. Eligible voters include Chamorus, Filipinos, Japanese, and races that were ‘native inhabitants’ at the time. There is NO VIOLATION of the U.S. Voting Rights Act or Constitution, as some would like us to believe. The argument that the law is racial seems like an attempt to diffuse or marginalize the self-determination effort.

The Chamoru people have become a minority population on Guam. Inclusion of all U.S. citizen residents of Guam is ABSURD and immoral because it will likely yield predictable outcomes that can result in status quo or other form of territorial status, no matter the political title.

Migrants have a choice coming to Guam and beyond the control of the indigenous people. This seems more like guaranteed annexation rather than self-determination. It distorts the true sentiment of the indigenous population. If this all seems racial, there is a history that is well-rooted and developed without the Chamoru people’s interest. This predicament resulted from wars and imperialism objectives. It benefited the interest of others, primarily without regard to the Chamoru people.

I have read some online comments about the fear of being ousted from their house and possessions if Guam’s political status changes. Such comments are insulting to our culture and intelligence, which do not deserve a response. Those comments indeed are self-serving and seem to care less about the future of the Chamoru people. Many of us and our descendants will stay because it is truly and has always been our home, and we will have to make things work no matter the outcome. As with any other locality of residence elsewhere in this world, like it or not, you can stay or leave. Even you have a choice for your self-determination.

Bernard Punzalan,
Washington State

1 comment:

ChamorroRoots said...

Hafa Adai Michael,

I just wanted to thank you for all that you do, your passion, efforts and resilience on behalf of the Chamoru people's interest. I am honored that you have included my letter to the Marianas Variety Guam Editor in your blog.

I must admit, I'm a late bloomer on studying in depth our Chamoru issues with the U.S. But over the years, I have read and monitored your literature that you have written and published, as well as those from Julian Aguon's perspectives, my extensive talks with Peter Santos when he was going to law school here in Washington State, and several others within your generation that I have finally connected with personally or over the internet.

You folks are a very intelligent generation and a quite compelling agent of change for the Chamoru people; something, I have yearned for but had difficulty expressing in the past because my generation became so assimilated to the American culture. For the past several years I have begun my re-immersion back into our Chamoru culture. It has been a painful and difficult process and awakening for me to make this transition; perhaps more painful each time I read and learn more history - the ugly and bitter truth that is camouflaged with deception.

However, I am finally beyond the bitterness and have accepted that there is a greater reason why things are the way they were; and perhaps it is because many are not ready to accept these hard facts just yet. That is quite understandable after hundreds of years of assimilation and acculturation. But I will also let you know that you guys are not alone. I am reaching out to our Chamoru people as well and trying to educate them of what we now know and why Guam’s political status must change for the best interests of our people and for a sustainable future for generations to come. I am not out to advocate, which is the best of the three self-determination options; but, more so explaining the importance of our people collectively making a decision, before that decision is made for us and seals the fate of the next generations to come.

Although it has been long over due for our people, because of the actions and voices from your generation, we must find the best possible outcome that helps us to preserve, protect, promote and perpetuate, our language, culture, islands and the interests of the Chamoru. I have every faith and confidence that together we can make positive changes. It will not be an easy or fast road to change, but we can certainly make it happen and do it!

I am proud of you and what you do!


Bernard Punzalan


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