Friday, February 21, 2014

Solidarity Networks

I have been working for the past week on answering some questions for an antibase group in Italy. Through David Vine, best known for his book Islands of Shame about Diego Garcia, they held a virtual meeting amongst demilitarization activists from around the Pacific and Europe. A physical gathering of antibase activists in Italy coordinated virtual presentations from speakers representing struggles in Guam, Okinawa, South Korea, Hawai'i, Diego Garcia and elsewhere. It was an inspiring and invigorating moment even though because of time differences I was hunched over my computer at 2 in the morning. The group found the exchange of information so interesting they decided to produce a book that would give a road map to the struggles that are happening around the world, to help us better see how we are connected.

Here is the text for the short presentation that I made during last year's demilitarization network solidarity meeting. 

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I apologize that there is no one else from Guam to greet all of you. It is 1 am here right now and so most people are asleep. But they are here in spirit, in sleeping spirit.

My name is Michael Lujan Bevacqua, I am a professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam and a decolonization and demilitarization activist.

I am from Guam, an island in the Western Pacific that has long hosted several bases that are integral for US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. My island of 212 miles is 28% US military bases. The United States has referred to our island by many names, “the tip of the spear” “fortress Guam” and “the USS Guam.” All of which are connected to Guam being transformed from an island of peace into a weapon of war. Whether it wants to be or not, Guam has been involved in every major US conflict or project of force projection in Asia, primarily as a transmit point for weapons or victims of war. Soldiers, weapons and bombs pass through Guam on their way to Asia, and refugees leaving conflicts in Vietnam, Burma and Iraq pass through Guam on their way to the United States.

Since 2005, Guam has lived under the shadow of a dramatic military increase primarily Marines and their dependents from bases in Okinawa. In 2009, the US Department of Defense released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for their “military buildup” to Guam. What they proposed would require their leasing of more than 1000 acres of new lands in order to build firing ranges and the destruction of dozens of acres of coral reef in order to build a berth for aircraft carriers. If their plans were carried out the Department of Defense estimated that Guam’s population could increase by 75,000 in just four years. Guam’s population is around 170,000.

The community responded to this proposal with concern and anger. The DEIS comment period was filled with public meetings and forums in which those critical of the buildup came out in full force and changed the public discussion on the issue. While the Department of Defense informally stated that they were only expecting around 500 comments from the community on their plans, public campaigns and protests ensured that more than 10,000 comments were submitted.

A lawsuit was filed in order to protect a sacred site in northern Guam called Pagat that would become part of a firing range complex. These community protests and the lawsuit combined have delayed the military buildup for several years. The Department of Defense is currently reformatting their plans but is likely to come up with a new round of proposals next year.

Guam is the southernmost and largest island in the Marinas Island Archipelago. The northern islands are known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and together Guam and the CNMI make up the what the Department of Defense refers to as its “Marianas Range Complex.” The US not only utilizes Guam but vast areas of ocean for holding war games, such as Valiant Shield and Valiant Shield 2. They also own substantial portions of the island of Tinian, which is notorious historically as being the island from which the planes that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki left from. Another northern island Farallon de Medinilla has been used for bombing practice.

The Department of Defense is currently making plans to transform a beautiful and largely pristine island of Pagan into a site for massive amphibious and aerial assault training and for bombing practice. 

Just yesterday we held a first meeting of activists from the northern islands and Guam, who are concerned about the militarization of the Marianas. We hope to build on this network and connect our islands together not through their strategic importance but through a shared desire for peace and for the protection of our islands.

As a final note, Guam, like other island bases provide a good lesson of how militarization works. The value of places like Guam that are small and faraway, is that they are small and faraway and therefore to much of the world they are invisible and appear to be meaningless. This smallness and this distance is part of the strategic value of island bases, it is something that militaries count on in order to protect their training and their other activities. When visible places protest and demand that training be reduced or bases be closed, they often go to invisible islands like Guam, which most of the world could care less about. It is important in developing a global network to resist militarism that we keep this dynamic and the strategic importance of smallness and invisibility in mind.

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