Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Fourth Kind

“The Fourth Kind”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

For those who follow the local decolonization conversation, you know that there are three options for Guam in terms of its future political status; statehood, free association and independence. These options are part of an internationally recognized United Nations’ process for taking territories or colonies and getting them to become self-determined entities. You could call these the Holy Trinity of status options.

These three options were not created arbitrarily, and are not perfect, but are meant to reflect the most basic ways in which a colonized people can reassess their relationship to their colonizer and get rid of the colonial elements of it. At this level, decolonization is about ridding your relationship to the colonizer of its unilateral and unequal aspects; you can do so by splitting them off entirely, by integrating into them, or by creating a new agreement through which your relationship is managed.

This is a daunting task, helping bring Guam to the next step in its political evolution. As such there is much fear in the process, and those who oppose it have no problem with spreading misinformation about what decolonization is. Guam, like many contemporary colonies is stuck in a decolonial deadlock. While it knows that its current position isn’t ideal, it is still fearful of changing it to something else. Although you could call these three options, the most perfect in the sense that they allow for three basic ways to decolonize a colony politically, there are not panaceas. They are not magical, and none have any inherent power over the other. Each comes with risks, costs or benefits and advantages. They do not solve all of your problems, but give you a way of moving forward, hopefully away from your colonial past.

In this miasma of apprehension and uncertainty, that some call "the decolonial deadlock," new breeds of prophets naturally emerge. I sometimes refer to them as the Fourth Kind Prophets, because of the gospels that they peddle. These mystics preach to the cowering people of Guam that the Holy Trinity of status options is not diverse enough, and that we should not limit ourselves to just these three possibilities alone. What they offer instead is a Fourth Kind of future. They call on people to abandon the empty shells of the statehood, independence and free association, and instead seek to conjure together a new option, one which will make the US government happy, but also the people of Guam happy. Its appeal comes from its pragmatic nature. Any of the three main options would be too difficult, both the US government and people of Guam don’t want any extreme changes. So we create a Fourth option that will solve a small part of all problems.

This Fourth Kind, like all quick fixes, looks very attractive, but actually changes nothing. The Fourth Kind, when it comes to political status is babarias. It is the illusion of something changing, when the colonial relationship remains obscured in some ways, but ultimately intact and untouched. They call for a blending of different options, a softening of things, a way of changing small, minute things, but leaving so much alone to not be messed with.

A case in point came from a former political science professor at UOG, who for years offered his gospel of a perfect solution to the problem of US colonialism. He began his argument as such; American colonialism in the Pacific and the Caribbean is deplorable and un-American, and that what the US has done to these places is completely against the Constitution. Now, given this admission and acceptance of the sins of the US, you might think he would have a truly radical proposal for how to fix this problem. You might think so, but you would be terribly wrong. The Fourth Kind for this professor was to pass a Constitutional amendment that would authorize the US to have colonies. It would create a new Constitutional category for places the US wanted to hold and control, but did not want to give full rights and integrate into the union. For him, the Fourth Kind was to avoid the issue all together, but instead find a way to simply say it is ok. Such is the cruel theology of the Fourth Kind; so much fuss is made, when nothing is truly changed.

Beware the lure of the Fourth Kind, as other territories have not and were sucked into believing them and converting to become disciples. A case in point is the idea of “commonwealth” as we have seen in Puerto Rico and even in the CNMI. Both Puerto Rico and the CNMI were given commonwealth and recognized as decolonized because of it. The problem with both of these is that their fundamental relationship to the US didn’t change. In the case of Puerto Rico it is different than Guam in name only, as the absolute power it has over both remains the same. The CNMI felt that their Covenant would keep them on equal footing with the US, but have since learned otherwise.

The CNMI may soon create a task force to examine how they have been duped into thinking the Covenant was truly an act of decolonization. They should do this, since their relationship to the US is very much up in the air, and looks to soon be just like Guam’s. The problem however, with recanting your belief in the Fourth Kind is that once you accept it as your savior, the US will work tirelessly to ensure you can never go back.

The Holy Trinity of status options won’t solve all your problems, but it at least guarantees that if you pick one of them, at the end of the process you can say you are decolonized. To dabble and tempt the power of the Fourth Kind, means to lose your chance at decolonization, by being trapped in its hypocritical and mocking embrace.

1 comment:

CarbonDate said...

Free association strikes me as the weakest of those three options. While functioning as a client state of the United States may be an improvement to colonization, I really don't feel that it amounts to full self-determination.

For full self-determination, independence and statehood are the only two real options. One allows Guam its own cultural identity and the right to live on its own terms, the other offers the opportunity to function as a fully-participating member of the most powerful nation on earth, with a voice not only in their own future, but that of the entire United States.

It's not an easy choice. Full independence for the first time in hundreds of years, or the promise of never being colonized again? I leave it to the people of Guam.


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