Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Pursuit of Justice for Guam

The Forum held at the Legislature a few weeks back was both inspiring and disappointing.

It was disappointing because it was so poorly attended. You had two titans of community engagement and local leadership (hun) working together on holding a public forum and the room wasn't even filled half way. I got there in the afternoon ya nina'triste yu' nu i ti meggai na manmatto. As I wrote about last week, events that we have held at UOG on the same issue, with a much less star-studded line up of speakers are usually packed. Given that some of that is due to the fact that students are given credit to attend doesn't excuse the Legislature-UOG forum, since students still could have been given credit to attend this forum. In this regard it was almost pathetic to attend the forum, since despite all the senators being there, the people who the forum is partially supposed to exist for, were nowhere to be seen.

It was on the other hand inspiring because of the talent that was there and the strength through which the ideas were being shared. If you were to hang out in some spaces on Guam you might feel like self-determination for Chamorros is a myth, a dream, a racist nightmare, an indigenous fad or a silly native fantasy. It is something not to be taken seriously, and something that will never happen. But, if you attended that forum, you could not walk away with anything close to that level of apathy. Self-determination was defended, sometimes in very rationale and intellectual ways, other times in very passionate and aggressive ways. Some speakers refused to even consider the idea that Chamorros don't have the right to self-determination. Others chose to engage with critics of the Guam law on how a self-determination vote would be carried out. Other made appeals to decolonization of the mind and the way we see the island. As Robert Underwood, one of the speakers for the UOG-Legislature forum never tires of reminding us, self-determination is not something we are waiting for, or something that has to be given to us, it is something we always already have.

Komo Chamorro hao, esta gaige ennao na direcho gi kannai-mu. Sa' hafa manggagagao hao gi me'nan otro? Sa' hafa un nanangga i otro? Yanggen manaliligao hao ya ti un ripapara na esta gaige gi kannai-mu i inespihaha-mu, siempre dimalas hao. Umabak hao ya ni' ngai'an para un sodda' iyo-mu "self-determination."

These forums where the issue is not debated or left open, but rather affirmed in a variety of ways are important before of this point. Self-determination is already ours to exercise. There are those who wish to take it from us, but we do not need to ask anyone's permission to hold or use it.

From the Forum itself, one of the more passionate and wide-ranging appeals came from attorney Therese Terlaje. She provided a very comprehensive overview of recent events dealing with the military buildup and Federal Territorial relations. She talks about the historical struggles before for rights and for equality and how that connects to the struggles of today. It is a very good read for both those who are esta payon nu este na asunto siha, yan ayu lokkue' ni' mangadda' put este na klasin kuentos.

I've pasted her speech from the Forum below:

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Understanding Actions: Strengthening the Pursuit of Justice for Guam

Presented by Therese M. Terlaje
Forum on Guam’s Quest for Decolonization
I Liheslaturan Guahan

October 28, 2011
Buenas! I would like to greet and acknowledge that I am in the presence of distinguished members of our community, many who have been elected to office and who have served our quest for self determination with wisdom, dignity, courage, and excellence and have by their actions inspired the aspirations of my generation. I am humbled to be allowed by the Speaker and members of the 31st Guam Legislature to make a presentation to those who have actually been in negotiations on our behalf or have helped to get our leaders to the table by their diligent vocalization of the injustice. It is impossible to be more eloquent or entertaining than those before me and with me on this panel. I appreciate very much your indulgence in this humble effort to revitalize attention to these endeavors.

The impacts of historical injustices continue to plague the standard of living and quality of life for the people of Guam, manifested in medical, economic, environmental, and political aspects. The delay and denial of justice for the inhabitants of Guam have impeded past efforts to achieve a sustainable economy for Guam following World War II, and to this day contribute to an identity crisis in our children and overall crisis in families and in our government. Guam must urgently strive for Justice through Political Self Determination that incorporates a voice and authority to negate or halt the standard of living impacts from carte blanche military expansion and other federal plans for Guam, and from the negative consequences of blanket or unstudied imposition of U.S. laws on Guam. Without justice, sustainability will elude Guam. Without sustained efforts, justice will elude her people.

In addition to the pursuit through International channels and the U.S. court system, Guam’s elected leaders, as they have in the past, must directly negotiate with the U.S. to reach binding improvements to its political status and aggressively seek the U.S. and U.N. endorsements of self determination for the Native Inhabitants of Guam. Notwithstanding the other roles given to our elected leaders by the Organic Act, we trust our Congressmen, Governors, and Senators to tirelessly advocate for a change in status and to be our first line of defense against further injustice by the U.S. government on the people of Guam.

Before the Organic Act, the Guam Congress served in an advisory capacity to the Naval Governors. They attempted to represent the best interests of the civilian inhabitants of Guam directly to naval governors who obviously had no problem addressing the needs of the military inhabitants of Guam. The inspiring words of the Guam Congress, including the Walkout, have been preserved for us, and they have even been summarized for our convenience. Guam Congress battled to move away from an all powerful Naval rule, and the ability of a naval governor to single handedly act against the desires of the people of Guam, especially in a time of peace. No student of Guam should graduate without the opportunity to be inspired by the eloquence, sincerity, and urgency in the pleas for justice by the members of the Guam Congress. Nor should they graduate without opportunity to be angered by the continued applicability of those pleas to the events of today.

One of the results of their efforts is the current Guam Legislature. Yet, even after the Organic Act, the Guam Legislature as the sole “voice” for the people of Guam battled an all-powerful appointed Governor and U.S. system which allowed one person or one agency of the U.S. to dole out or deny justice to the island and its people and to speak to the U.S. on matters concerning Guam and her people without regard for the desires of the civilian inhabitants. The Guam Legislature continued its efforts for fairness and justice and eventually attained an elected Governor.

It is incumbent on every leader who now sits in an elected office due to the efforts of those who went before us, to learn the passion, the strategies, and the sacrifice endured in these battles for justice lest they mistakenly believe that they were meant to sit in office as facilitators of the U.S efforts to control Guam.

The Elected Governor and the non-voting delegate to U.S. Congress allowed us to elect residents of Guam to join the Guam Legislature as ‘voices’ in Guam’s quest for justice from the U.S. and for a change in political status by exercising our right to self determination.

Notwithstanding the passage of the Organic Act, Task Forces and Commissions utilized the resources of the government of Guam in this quest, including the Guam Task Force on Political Status, the Commission on Political Status, the Guam Self Determination Commission and the entire Guam Commonwealth Draft Act process, and the current Guam Decolonization Commission. Each of these mechanisms extended beyond the Governor alone, for Guam’s quest has always been a multi-pronged and multi-voiced approach to justice, thus unifying diverse efforts and ensuring roles for each and every citizen in this pursuit.

Multiple voices strengthen the pursuit of political status by strengthening our negotiating position. Just as Legislators have been sending official requests via resolution to Congress and other U.S. officials, or enacting into law measures of subtle but more often outright resistance to colonialism, there have been many contributions from all sectors of society in pursuit of a change in political status.

Many of you were a part of the NGO’s and occasionally the government officials who represented Guam’s quest to the UN and its Committees for many years. Elected leaders and those appointed to Commissions or Task Forces, government workers, and volunteers traveled around the island to village meetings, government meetings, pocket meetings, and family meetings to discuss political status. They travelled sometimes at great expense to other countries and around the U.S. in order to be heard by officials of the U.S. government, and we are proud today of the growing record of official testimonies of war survivors like Beatrice Elmsley and Tom Barcinas, of the unity in message and eloquence at the Guam Commonwealth Hearings, and many more occasions. In many instances, the community banded together to raise money to send a few people as their representatives. Teachers, government agencies, and officials were enlisted in the Education of students and all resident as to our rights and our quest. The Guam Legislature enacted laws mandating the teaching of Guam History, and for awhile, the Organic Act of Guam. But the bulk of this education and preservation of our rights was done by private citizens, many of them landowners or anti-nuclear advocates, some were war survivors, but many were first and foremost proud Chamorros who were deemed “activists” by the media. It was the impatience of these “activists” that kept and continues to keep justice at the forefront of Guam’s quest. We should dedicate entire days to celebrating the accomplishments, sacrifice, and perseverance of Guam’s citizens in the pursuit of justice.

Legislators have long understood and taken advantage of the great potential of the government of Guam, even under U.S. law, to resist the further imposition of injustices to which we are vulnerable while in a colonized status. There are many, many examples of this understanding. Some examples of what I call ‘resistance’ legislation include foremost the repeated empanelling of status commissions comprised of individuals in the community and representatives from all three branches of government and various sectors of our community. The Chamoro Land Trust Act reserved a home for Chamorros in perpetuity. The Legislature passed a law prohibiting the arrest of protestors by our local police. A law was passed mandating that excess federal property returned to the government of Guam be in turn transferred to the original landowners to right an injustice done by the U.S. and not the government of Guam. Prior legislators refused to be swayed in this attempt by the potential monetary boost to the government that a different use of the land would bring.

We too should stand firm against threats of economic doom and the lure of federal funds or contracts that have been used in all places where the colonial power wants easy access to resources. We must not forget that is was those with business interests who overthrew the independent Kingdom of Hawaii, while the U.S. government silently stood by and then pounced once the dirty work was done.

One final example from the numerous examples that time constrains us from celebrating today, is a recent one. Not wanting to be coerced into signing a Programmatic Agreement for the destruction of our historical and cultural sites, the Guam Legislature passed a bond to build a Guam museum with its own money that would be able to tell its own history, not beholden to the U.S. interpretation. Our museum, particularly, must be a source of resistance to colonialism. In contrast, the effectiveness of the government in the pursuit of a change in political status is vulnerable to the distraction and inconsistency of Special Interests, and derailed by the pursuit of narrow agendas for personal gain. We must all be extremely diligent to stay unified in the face of these competing and divisive agendas. We must be most diligent to ensure that no branch, no official, and no agency of our local government is distracted into facilitating U.S. control or further injustices.

The efforts of all agencies must be redirected at building our negotiating strength and all executive orders, memorandums, or unwritten agendas of facilitation of increased federal authority should be rescinded. Perhaps our Legislature and the especially the public could benefit from a policy similar to one of the first policies issued by President Obama’s Attorney General, announcing that he would not defend the denial of FOIA requests by government officials except in very limited circumstances.

Federal dollars by way of grants and loans have to be scrutinized and if appropriate, rejected, where they would usurp from Guam a commitment to a U.S. agenda which further impedes Guam’s self determination efforts and hinders our negotiating strength. There are many examples of the strings attached, and the late discoveries of their full implications, which make it reasonable and critical that we be extra cautious.

We all drive through Tiyan and are reminded of the airport’s refusal to return ancestral land based on bond covenants and the subsequent lease of that land to commercial interests. We recall the DoD and officials at various government agencies secretly entering into non-disclosure agreements that prevented the Guam agency personnel from informing the Legislature of preliminary EIS findings. Recently, the media has congratulated the Airport and the Port on their designations as special military institutions and we have learned of the Port’s battle to maintain control over its Master Plan as a result. We must check the final settlement between the Port and a private contractor who, pursuant to lease of the former Shipyard from GEDCA and contracts with the military, sued for exemption from Port Authority control and tariffs. We hear of the potential for U.S. DoD control of ships’ entry into Apra Harbor. We must be diligent that DoD funded research and other programs at any of our institutions are consistent with Guam’s priorities and with the basic socio-economic, political and cultural development goals sought by the people of Guam.

The U.S. made it very clear when they proposed the massive expansion of military activities and forces on Guam that they would do as they pleased, that they might take more land, and that there would be adverse effects to the people of Guam. They also announced the few needs that were within the control of the government of Guam: their need for fresh water, their need to give us their sewer and trash to manage and dispose of properly, and their need for massive amounts of H2 laborers to get their projects done according to their timetable.

The community did its part through effective use of the EIS and Section 106 processes, public hearings, town hall meetings, and rallies, and responded with overwhelming opposition, with active comments and educational campaigns. Teachers, social workers, and government agencies responded. Many legislators responded and the Legislature as a whole was in firm opposition. Yet the military did not need the consent of the community, had found a way around the Legislature, and was even able to pit the executive branch agencies against each other in battles for mitigation money.

A potentially great negotiating opportunity resulted, instead, in the announcement of the creation of an entity that would consist of military and Guam agency personnel to facilitate and expedite the processing of military permits. They announced the Programmatic Agreement which purportedly gave them Guam’s consent and the freedom to move forward despite the adverse impacts to our historical and cultural sites. They have moved forward with the fencing and clearing of miles of forests at Northwest Field, with the relocation and expansion of their dog kennels to avoid dog stress from construction noise on the upcoming projects. They have successfully directed DPW to use federal highway funds to prioritize construction of the bridges crucial to the military road haul network before any projects strictly for the benefit of our local community.

As a solution to a dump that was violating the federal Clean Water Act by leaching contaminates into U.S. waters such as the Lonfit River and Pago Bay, they have most recently announced that Guam has agreed to take DoD trash, to fill our brand new landfill built by bond payments exacted from future generations, and to dispose of the leachate in the shores of Inarajan. Their work needs are met by the Congressional lifting of the caps on H-2 visas that our Governor will have the sole authority to grant.
Guam has a plan identifying 11 additional water wells for Guam’s growth. The U.S. requires 22 additional wells to meet its expansion. Our own CCU has agreed to allow the U.S. to take its water from 22 additional wells, for free, before we address the wells needed for our own needs and stripping our community of the possibility of addressing our needs first and selling the excess to the military. Power and water formerly in control of the Legislature as part of the entire government of Guam, are run by ‘independent’ boards like our other autonomous agencies. A huge chunk of Guam’s overall interest is being negotiated piecemeal, and we are vulnerable to the potential influence on these boards by business interests who aim to do or are doing business with the military or its contractors.

Ironically, it is a local agency that also insists over federal EPA objection, that Guam can handle the wastewater from additional H-2 barracks. The U.S. kept the H-2 barracks off their bases, and now washes its hands of adverse impacts to wastewater, health care, and recreational facilities. There has been little opposition and the TLUC has continued to grant variances.

A hope for greater justice has been preserved for each of us by those visionaries, those with the gift of oratory, those writers, those lawmakers, those artists and activists with courage and voice, and those citizens who took the time and made the sacrifice to learn their own history, their own plight, and to work together in the solutions.

Anyone involved in negotiation will tell you that skills and motivation are important, but timing can dictate your success. We must continue to be prepared at all times, and ensure that the next generation, those in college and high school are prepared after us for any opportunity that we can create, perhaps the ideal opportunity. All of us must urgently fill many roles. We must all teach the pursuit of justice that has been engrained in us. We must each use our voices to comment, protest, write, create art, and even sue. We must support each other and celebrate our successes.

We must stay focused on strengthening the pursuit of justice and strengthening our negotiating position for a change in status, but through very carefully selected means. By carefully selected means, we can cure the identity crisis of our youth, re-empower our women and families, and restore the pursuit of justice as a goal of our community paramount to the pursuit of individual, family, business, or single industry wealth.

We can and must prepare ourselves and our youth to be able to lead the various groups necessary to continue or culminate this quest. I have no doubt leaders will emerge to continue this quest as time marches on. Even more critical than the emergence of these leaders is the support structure of critical “first followers” instilled with courage of the actions we take today who will lend critical mass and direction to all efforts.

Our success at this moment in time need not be measured by whether we reach our ultimate destination in the next year or even decade. It may be measured by ensuring we leave no impediments to the next generation’s opportunity for success.

1 comment:

Drea said...

Thank you so much for sharing attorney Terlaje's presentation. It made me cry at the forum. And reading it now still made me cry.

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