Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Road to Nowhere

"The Road to Nowhere"
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

Last week I wrote about “decolonization stagnation” on Guam and how for a variety of reasons the quest for decolonization, at the level of the world, the UN and the United States isn’t moving very quickly. This week I wanted to discuss more about the role of the United Nations and the United States in decolonizing Guam.

Despite the fact that most people have become accustomed to speaking in universals, and speaking about this world that we inhabit, most on earth see themselves in a national framework, as attached first and foremost not to this planet, but to an imagined territory upon its surface. Because of this the United Nations can have great power symbolically, representing the world’s international potential, but has little practical value.

Nowhere is this more true than for those 17 territories that the UN recognizes as still being colonized and still requiring a process of decolonization for them to join the contemporary world. Although the world has come to a consensus that colonialism was and is wrong, there is little international effort to decolonize these places. There is even less understanding about the role of the UN in decolonization.

On Guam your average person can sound like the most ignorant, paranoid Fox News viewer when the topic of the UN in relation to Guam comes up. They portray it as hopelessly corrupt, inept, wasteful and useless, but also potentially evil in the way it interferes with what the United States is doing in the world and doing with its colonies.

The UN has to balance a contradictory role in both protecting the rights of sovereign nations, but also pushing for the rights of those who are marginalized, stateless, colonized and without voice or sovereignty. It has to push for the rights of colonized peoples, but also has to respect the rights of the nations that claims them. What I find very interesting is the way that many people ascribe the failure of Guam to decolonize already as somehow the United Nation's fault. I regularly hear people tell me that the UN route is not the way to go since they haven't done anything for Guam even though we have been testifying there for more than 30 years. They argue that this is something we should leave up to the US and trust them to carry out.

This might make sense if it had any bearing on reality. It is so intriguing to see the multiple ways in which people see the UN, as both a terrible, gathering threat and a pointless and wasteful bureaucratic hydra. The UN infringes on your sovereignty and tries to legislate how everyone should live their lives. When the US wants to invade or bomb a country if the UN supports this, then it is an important vehicle for international diplomacy and cooperation. If the UN does not support it then it is a dinosaur that serves no purpose and is simply corrupt and trying to hold back the US.

One chapter of my dissertation was on the United Nations and Guam's minute place there. One of my favorite quotes to help understand the UN was from former US Ambassador to it Henry Cabot Lodge Jr, "This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn't created to take you to heaven." The UN is can only do as much as the nations that comprise it allow and some nations hold far more sway than others. If Swaziland wants to dominate the UN agenda, it might be pretty difficult to accomplish. But if nations like the US, Russia, China, France or the UK want to, they can. They might not be able to push through any resolutions or actions they might want, but they do have the power to prevent any substantive change from taking place. If the powerful nations don't want anything to happen or change, the majority of the world's countries can do little to stop them. What Lodge’s quote implies is that the UN can never solve all the problems of the world, but if countries can cooperate and set aside some of their own interests, they can prevent the worst from happening.

In terms of Guam's decolonization the problem is not with the UN process or with the UN. Every year the UN makes recommendations about Guam and other non-self-governing territories. The problem is that the US ignores them. The UN process assumes that the colonizing country, or the administering power is willing to work with the colonized territory in order to help them decolonize. The US has shown a very clear unwillingness to support any such change. Every administration for decades, whether Democrat or Republican takes the same basic position. Guam is ours to determine what we want for it, the UN and the people of Guam have no right to interfere with this power. This position means that Guam isn’t going to heaven or hell, it will just remain stuck in the road going nowhere.

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