Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exceptional Ways

I've spent quite a bit of time this past week talking about the term native inhabitants. It is something which is at the crux of how decolonization law is written in Guam, but is confusing since it is different than the way that most people feel or talk about decolonization. There is a spiritual and human movement and process which is wide-reaching and brings together anger, resentment, dreams, hopes, practical concerns and justice. This is decolonization in general, and it is something that more and more people on Guam accept as being an important and necessary part of life. It has not been an easy conversation, many people resisted it in certain forms, such as cultural for a long time. But we can thank the last two generations of Chamorro/Guam activists for helping create the conditions whereby "self-determination" is an acceptable and positive part of daily discussion, wrapped up in the feelings that people have for an improved, more prosperous and better respected community. 

All this is different than decolonization as a political process and on political process in particular, the self-determination plebiscite or vote. This process is not as free-forming and not as inspirational. It is something guided by old Government of Guam rules, current Government of Guam commissions and is being challenged in a mass of contradictory and self-serving legal decisions. This is a process that can be changed, as laws change, but the wishes and dreams of people don't necessarily change it, although they can influence it. There are aspects of this that have to be attended to, even if people don't immediately understand it. 

There is a requirement that 70% of people who are eligible to vote in a decolonization plebiscite be registered for it, before the Guam Election Commission can set the date for a vote. There is the issue that this vote is written into law as being "non-binding" meaning that it isn't the action that will effect change or determine things, but just the expression of a wish. Finally there is the term "native inhabitant" which in general is used to mean Chamorro, but is actually much more complicated than that. 

While you could argue that Chamorros are the native inhabitants, the legal definition is not cultural and based on blood, but is determined based on the presence of one's family in Guam when the  United States took over, or when they passed the Organic Act. This includes mainly Chamorros, but is also filled with non-Chamorros. This legal category is the group of people who, according to international law and based on the decisions and laws the US as passed or agreed to, have been historically denied their right to self-determination. International law is clear on this issue, but US law, like many national legal mazes, is denied to protect the interests of the wider nation, not necessarily make the right decisions or act in order to right historical wrongs or even seek obvious forms of restitution. 

A case over whether the self-determination law and plebiscite is "unconstitutional" has been going on for years, with an appeal being heard now in the 9th Circuit Court of Guam. There are so many frustrating things involved with this case, most of them so obvious that anyone who isn't a manipulative, selfish child could see them. A self-determination plebiscite by definition isn't supposed to follow national laws, but international laws. But the US like many large powerful nations, only likes international laws when they conform to their interests, the rest of the time international laws are nothing but distant irritants. To have a "decolonization" vote follow the rules of the colonizer is so mind-bogglingly stupid it should make people go cross-eyed simply by thinking about it. All of this connects to the unfair and unjust nature of being a colony. As a colony, you are expected to play by the rules of another and follow all of their orders, while not being allowed to help make any of those rules. You are an exception, whereby the colonizer gets to pick and choose what applies to you. The colonizer has named you an exception, and so naturally, you should be treated in exceptional ways, especially in terms of fixing your colonial situation. 


Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 03:00am


SO, who exactly are the “native inhabitants” of Guam? Who are eligible to be listed in the Decolonization Registry?

As discussions on Guam’s quest for self-determination start taking center stage again, the recurring question as to who are eligible to vote in the self-determination plebiscite remains a hotspot of confusion, if not alienation.

Some refer to the decolonization process as a “Chamorro-only plebiscite.” This is pure misconception, according to University of Guam professor Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a columnist for Variety.

“The native inhabitants are maybe 95 percent Chamorros and maybe 5 percent non-Chamorros. If you look at the Decolonization Registry, you will find people with no Chamorro blood in them that are registered,” Bevacqua said, speaking before members of the Young Men’s League of Guam yesterday.

“If you look at all the laws, there’s nothing that says this (plebiscite) is for Chamorros only,” he said.

Under the Guam Decolonization Registry law, “native inhabitants” is defined as “those who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act and their blood descendants.”

But what exactly the definition means remains elusive to some.

“Is ‘native inhabitant’ the same as ‘native American Indian?’” one of the group members asked.

Bevacqua explained that “native inhabitants” has a specific application in the context of Guam decolonization.


The exclusive provision of the plebiscite law is among the key issues raised by Guam resident and Variety columnist Dave Davis in his lawsuit currently pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court.

Davis is challenging the Guam law, which he said is “racially discriminatory.”

“But what Dave Davis is complaining about is something that the United States created. Everything that the Guam law uses is what the United States created. The Chamorros have nothing to do with it,” Bevacqua said.


And yet, the “native inhabitant” reference can be more complex than it seems.

In an Aug. 12, 2012 letter to President Barack Obama, the U.S. Commission on Human Rights cited more plebiscite exclusions based on the Organic Act.

“The pertinent section of the Organic Act extended U.S. citizenship only to people who resided on Guam on April 11, 1899 and their descendants,” the commission wrote.

“Therefore, a person who was a resident of Guam in 1950 but who already held U.S. citizenship is excluded from registering. A person who moved to Guam between 1899 and 1950 and acquired American citizenship is excluded from registering.”

Likewise, the commission added, “a resident of Guam who acquired U.S. citizenship after June 27, 1952, when Section 4 of the Organic Act was repealed, is excluded from registering.”

By this definition, the commission said, “an American citizen soldier who fought to liberate Guam from Japanese occupation during World War II and who has continuously resided on Guam since the end of World War II would be ineligible to register to vote in the political status plebiscite.”


While the political status vote is restricted to native inhabitants, the process that will complete the decolonization of Guam will ultimately be an all-inclusive exercise, according to Ed Alvarez, executive director of the Guam Decolonization Commission.

“A lot of people don’t understand, but I have made it crystal clear: The plebiscite is reserved for native inhabitants, but everyone gets a chance to vote in the ratification of the Constitution, no matter where they are from,” Alvarez said.

“It is embarrassing that in this day and age, there are still colonies in the world. The list is increasing instead of decreasing,” Alvarez said, noting the recent inclusion of Tahiti that brought to 17 the number of colonized territories in the world.

While the commission’s awareness campaign has been gaining ground, Alvarez said the panel can do more if funding resources were available.

Education arm

Tony Rabon, public affairs officer of the Young Men’s League of Guam, said the organization is seeking to contribute to the government’s plebiscite education campaign.

“We are actually looking at the possibility of becoming an organization, whose efforts (the government) could use to promote awareness,” Rabon said. “We will decide what type of role we would like to play in furthering the decolonization effort.”

In the yet-to-be-scheduled plebiscite, voters will be asked to choose among three political status options: statehood, independence or free association.

Rabon said his organization will have to reach a consensus on what option it would seek to advocate.

“We will be making our official position known once we get a better gauge of where we stand as a group,” he said.

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