Wednesday, November 06, 2013

A Post-Commonwealth Movement

The past few weeks have been rough for the Commission on Decolonization. Actually, funas enao gi minagahet, the past few years have been rough. After years of nothing happening at the governmental level, we have had three years of something happening. Something is better than nothing I supposed, but when that something amounts to so little, it is hard to find solace. For several years now under the Calvo Administration we have had almost nothing substantive to show for our meeting and our time spent. The Executive Director Ed Alvarez has used free media as best as he can and given presentations both locally and elsewhere about the issue, but as a Commission, it has nothing to be proud of or happy with.

The Commission is trapped between the Legislature and the Governor's office. Neither side wants to be the one to fund an educational campaign, since the political payoff for sticking your neck out in this regard is minute. Neither wants to fund anything since there is a potential that your opponent may be the one who gets to profit from it, even if it was you that assumed the risk. We have Commission members who have been at this for so long, they have gotten too used to the stagnation and refuse to do anything. Taya' esperansa guini. Guaha meggai "atkagueti" lao taya' diniseha.

In many other examples of decolonization it seems silly to place the responsibility for transformative action in the government, much less Guam's local government. But in Guam, because the prospects for decolonization and political evolution after never been too confrontational, but always twinged with a great deal of politeness, the government makes the most sense. As a result decolonization, in the most political sense doesn't take on an exciting character, but just feels like some mind-numbing layer of pointless bureaucracy.

But historically what we see is that when a Governor does take this issue seriously, things tend to happen. Under both Gutierrez and Ada there was definitely some progress on this issue. Both of them felt that this was an important subject and even if others did not see the importance, in the long run it would be in the island's interest to take this seriously. You cannot claim that this is a Republican or Democrat issue alone since these two Governors came from both parties.

However under the past two Republican Governors, we have seen little to nothing. Part of the problem is that both Camacho and Calvo don't really seem to understand the issue, or even if they do understand it, just simply don't know what to do with it. They don't understand the importance of their position as being the Executive leader of the island and so it is them most of all who has to push this issue. Even if no one else can make the connections and see the need for Guam to evolve and change politically the Governor himself must at least have some vision on this. 

Part of the problem for both Camacho and Calvo is that they are dealing with decolonization in a post-Commonwealth island. Commonwealth was a very popular sort of status option because it was forged by the contradicting desires of the Chamorro people. Normally when contradictions come into conflict they have so be resolved somehow or else like explosive binary elements they will destroy everything around them. Commonwealth packaged the conflicting desires of Chamorros to be both sovereign and colonized, and then simply hoped for the best that the universe would not come back to spank them.

But Commonwealth was easier because it was something that was negotiated between GovGuam and the United States. Because of this you can easily argue that it wasn't truly self-determination or wouldn't have led to decolonization, but this was part of the lure of Commonwealth. As a pretty effectively colonized place, the future of the people here feels colonized by the colonizer. This is why for a while I called decolonization a form of "future fighting." Because you are fighting for the possibility to see the future for yourself and not just take the colonizer's word for how you are supposed to exist and evolve over time. So even as decolonization was being discussed and the path to postcolonialism was being paved, people still felt that the United States needs to be in charge of it, or that it should be the US it approve it and let's us know its ok to decolonize.

Calvo and Camacho live in the era after the failure of Commonwealth. Negotiating directly with the United States proved fruitless or forced people on Guam to confront the impossibility of their desire, and so decolonization has since focused on international efforts.Working with the UN and focusing on moving the island and its native population to the point where it can vote in a political status plebiscite. Without the colonizer sitting at the middle of how people understanding this negotiation and unfolding of the future, people become even more indifferent, resistant and fearful of this issue. To lead now on this issue would require a leader who is truly akli'e' and matatnga.

What the Government of Guam should do is leave the education up to someone else. A recent letter to the editor of the PDN makes a good point, that it should be UOG who does it.


Have UOG Lead Political Status Education
by Joaquin Perez
Letter to the Editor

With much work to be done to educate qualified voters, it is difficult to understand the need to seek the opinion of any attorney on any matter pertaining to a future plebiscite on political status. The primary responsibility of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the voters on the meaning of each status option. Even before planning to schedule a plebiscite, the real work is to ensure that the voters understand their choices.

At this time, the commission should focus time, energy and money on a comprehensive educational process to define and explain the meanings, advantages and disadvantages of the three status options. The educational process must reach out to all villages, individual homes and, literally, every individual who intends to make Guam their home.

The benefits of meeting with any attorney, even with the intent to clarify legal issues, is questionable at best. Questions of who can vote, and when, will be brought before the courts and Congress in due time. So why waste valuable time conjecturing or second-guessing what Congress or the courts will do?
When discussions of securing federal funds for a status education program began, a suggestion was made to recommend that the University of Guam be commissioned to develop and conduct that program, for several reasons:

• UOG has very qualified personnel and the resources needed to develop and conduct the program. Discussions on the issues inherent in each status option are essentially deliberations on the political, economic and social ramifications of each option.

• These discussions, and educational processes, will last beyond the terms of any elected official and are too important to relegate to unpredictable political lifespans. Should Gov. Eddie Calvo win in 2014 and is able to conduct a plebiscite in his second term, the work of making the decision of the people a reality will still continue well beyond his last day in office.

• As an institution, UOG -- and its cadre of academics -- will be here long after politicians fade away or are pastured by the electorate. From the 1975 status commission, only two commissioners are still living. But UOG continues to grow and thrive; its humanities and liberal sciences programs and resources continue to expand and mature beyond the short lifespans of local, as well as national, politicians.

If the $300,000 authorization, secured by Guam Delegate Bordallo, still exists within the U.S. Department of the Interior's grant authorizations, would it not be more effective to commission UOG to develop and begin the status education program, rather than the commission continuing monthly ... meetings with questionable results?

UOG's program should be regularly reviewed and, if necessary, modified by the commission, and when the program is ready to take to the villages for townhall meetings and public hearings, the commission will call and conduct those forums, staffed by UOG professionals prepared to field questions. Likewise, if the educational process is developed by UOG, they also can be tasked to write grant requests for additional funding, not only through the Department of the Interior, but perhaps through ... the United Nations or other like sources.

Real action on political status education is long overdue. The decolonization mandate became law in 1996. It's been 17 years and we have nothing to show for it. Listening to the opinion of any attorney again does nothing to further the education of those who really matter -- those who will vote on the options.

More can be accomplished and money will be better spent by challenging UOG's academic professionals and resources and by finally getting off the pot.
Joaquin Perez is a resident of Santa Rita.

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