Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Decolonization Today

Decolonization today

(First of a two-part series)

ON JULY 21, Marine Corp Drive will be filled with parades to mark the day the U.S. Marines took Guam in a bloody 1944 battle that liberated the island from the Japanese forces during World War II.

Sixty-nine years since Guam’s liberation, political leaders are again seeking liberty – this time for self-governance.

“Our journey will never be complete unless we undertake to resolve our political status and to decolonize Guam,” Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said during her congressional address before the 32nd Legislature on May 30.

“We must renew our determination to take the necessary steps that will define our political relationship with the United States, and to give the people of Guam the political dignity that they deserve,” she added.

17 colonies

Guam is one of the 17 remaining colonies in the post-colonial period.

“The [United Nations] made an aggressive statement this year – that they want to rid the world of colonialism,” said Decolonization Commission Executive Director Edward Alvarez, who attended the UN decolonization meeting in Ecuador in May.

“For the first time in over 20 years, a U.S. delegate showed up at the decolonization meeting,” Alvarez said.

That’s a good start, he said, but Guam can’t get too excited too soon, Alvarez said.

“When we see the UN and the U.S. send a delegation to Guam, that’s when we get excited. Hopefully, that would start the whole process,” he added.

Guam looks to its sister territory, Puerto Rico, which is a step ahead. It held its own political status plebiscite last year and is now awaiting the next process. The action taken by its fellow colony has given Guam new impetus to calls for self-determination – a recurring buzzword that always hangs in limbo.

When he ran for office in 2010, Gov. Eddie Calvo set a goal to hold a self-determination plebiscite by 2012.

But the efforts toward decolonization are marred by a tortured process, challenged by a lack of information about what the yet-to-be scheduled plebiscite entails. The existing challenges are compounded by a pending appeal of a federal court’s dismissal of a lawsuit that seeks to nullify a public law that defines a “native inhabitants” vote.


“There has been a lot of misinformation about this whole issue,” Alvarez said.

“People have the impression that Chamorros are fighting for their right to self-determination; the right has already been given by the United Nations through the UN charter, which the United States signed off on, agreeing that places like Guam have the right to choose what kind of political relationship they want with the administering power (the U.S.).”

Guam has three political status options: statehood, independence, and free association with the U.S. – similar to the compacts with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

The plebiscite has been postponed indefinitely, pending completion of the Chamorro Registry which is the subject of the lawsuit filed by Arnold “Dave” Davis.

No funds

“Although a lot has been done, we are not yet at the level where we should be at. We need to start the education process,” Alvarez said.

But the Commission on Decolonization, which is in charge of public education, is financially handicapped and thus unable to perform its mission, he said.

The commission operates on a barebones budget, allocated for salaries and other necessities.

“We have no money for a public education program and governance study,” Alvarez said.

Besides, the education campaign would require at least $1 million. Alvarez also said the commission needs $30,000 for the governance study that would provide the United Nations with a complete overview of Guam’s situation as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

“When you talk about totem pole responsibilities in GovGuam, decolonization is not up there with health, public safety and education,” Alvarez said. “It should be just as important because political status sets forth the ground rules of engagements for our political relationship with the U.S. Otherwise, we will continue to be subjected to federal mandates.”

In his State of the Island address delivered Jan. 31, 2012, Gov. Calvo noted the limitations imposed by Guam’s colonial status, which he said restrict the island’s ability to acquire self-sufficiency.

“It is insane for the federal government to levy the most liberal immigration policy in the U.S. history on Guam, then throw peanuts to offset its impacts, then strangle us with penalties and takeovers when our capacity is breached by the population increase, and in the very same breaths, prohibits us from building jobs and growing our economy with onerous regulations that keep paying-visitors out,” Calvo said.

“My message to the federal government has less to deal with the financial assistance Guam has requested in the past; rather, it is this: We can be more self-sufficient if the U.S. government allows us to grow,” he added.


August 2015 self-determination plebiscite possible

Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Decolonization process requires multi-party effort

(Second of a two-part series)

IF A public education campaign begins soon and everything falls into place, a self-determination plebiscite is likely to happen in two years, according to Edward Alvarez, executive director of the Commission on Decolonization.

“Realistically, if we have the money and the money is given to us now, I can say comfortably that August 2015 will be the date,” Alvarez said.

Currently, the three task forces under the Decolonization Commission are drafting their individual position papers, each explaining and advocating the three political status options for Guam:  statehood, independence, and free association.

“These choices were set by the United Nations and based on the UN format that we are following now,” Alvarez said.

Prior to adopting the UN-based arrangement, Guam was following the congressional format that required engagement with the U.S. Congress to get a political status established for the island, Alvarez said.

In 1997, then-Sen. Hope Cristobal introduced a bill, now Public Law 23-147, which eliminated the requirement to seek congressional action.

Choices can expand

But choices are not limited to the three political status options, Alvarez said.

“There is nothing in the law that precludes voters from choosing any other status on the ballot,” Alvarez said. “They can start a drive for other options, such as commonwealth or incorporated status. They can start a petition and they must get a certain number of people to sign to get it on the ballot.”

Inclusive process

Alvarez said the plebiscite is exclusive to “native inhabitants” as set by precedents that upheld indigenous peoples' inalienable right to choose a political status for themselves.

But once the political status is selected, Alvarez said, the subsequent process, such as the ratification of a Guam Constitution, will involve everyone on island.

“People who have migrated to Guam, those who have made Guam their home and raised their children here, those who pay their taxes and contribute to the economy will not be left out,” Alvarez said. “Everyone will have the right to participate in a vote on the Constitution.”

Where does it begin?

The path to decolonization is not a one-way street, Alvarez said.

Instead, the process requires multi-party efforts – the local community, the United States and the United Nations.

“We need to work together. The UN needs to work with us, the U.S. need to work with us,” Alvarez said. “The UN cannot demand the U.S. The UN does not have the enforcement powers. Everybody needs to come to the table.”

On the local front, Alvarez said he has been conducting information campaigns in schools and public forums to educate the community of all aspects of the self-determination process.

The education campaign, he added, also requires a marketing strategy to expand the advocacy for Guam.

On the national level, he said, the plan includes teaming up with fellow territories and networking with Chamorros living in the U.S. mainland, who will lobby their senators and congressmen on behalf of Guam.

“I think if you have hundreds and thousands of voters calling their senators and congressmen, we will get some attention,” Alvarez said.

The local and national efforts must also be complemented by international support, he said.

“We are at the day and age when we should be partners with the U.S. and not anything below, which is the kind of relationship that we have with the U.S. now. We do not control much.”

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