Saturday, September 27, 2014

Impossible Seas

The way people conceive of Guam's economic health is mired in colonial feelings of inferiority and the contradictions that naturally emerge. As a small island in the middle of the ocean, Guam is naturally thought to have nothing according to the base epistemology of Europeans. Such a way of seeing the world and mapping its sense of value and naturalness is tied to the land. The land is safe, the land is secure, the land is what offers the chance to build, to horde, to make something. The ocean is the opposite. The ocean is the frightening infinite, the terrorizing endlessness, it holds the possibilities for imagining and perceiving that which is beyond the immediate and apparent, but the cost of this is that it cannot be trusted. The ocean and those places defined by it surrounding and connecting them, are the exceptions not the norm. Even if the land has its own inconsistencies and problems (kao manmaleffa todu put i linao siha?), the ocean is seen as impossible in contrast to the stable, reliable, sina un gacha', foundation of the land.

It is tragic the way this extends to islands and how islands are seen as lost and isolated, regardless of where in the world they are located. An island may be close by other islands, it may be close to large land masses, it may be in a place that is ideal for a variety of things, whether it be strategic or economic. But all of these things are considered to be valuable to those outside of the ocean. Those who come from elsewhere have the ability to take advantage of these things. The islands and the islanders themselves rarely see any of this ability. They exist to be taken advantage of by others, to have their resources used or their islands turned into refueling or coaling stations. The ocean robs them of all possible value that could be inherent, intrinsic or self-sustaining, all those things come from elsewhere.

So much of this is colonial common sense. It isn't true. It doesn't reflect reality. It is dangerous to adhere to and it serves the interests of outsiders if you do accept it. But it is for this reason (and a few other ti para bai hu pacha guini) that even mere conversations about the economy in Guam can be so frustrating. It is inundated with ideas that one must look outside in order to survive and in order to prosper. It is a conversation skewed towards giving oneself up in order to bring someone or something into the island to save you. Notions of prioritizing things such as food security or economic sustainability rarely come up, and even if they are mentioned are easily drowned out by demands for more and more and more. Rarely is the question really asked and never is it ever answered, as to whether more, more, more is ever actually better better better for islanders and their islands.

One of the most fascinating things that I see about the contradictions in Guam's economy, is how two things which are contradictory and eventually could cancel each other out, are nonetheless both argued for in very passionate and aggressive ways. Guam's economy today is dependent upon both the US military presence and tourism from different Asian markets. At present both of these things align in a way that Guam does benefit. But in our daily discourse we see political and economic leaders pushing hard for an expansion of both of these things. We see leaders lobbying for more military on the island. We also see them lobbying for more Asian tourists, especially from Russia and China. In this editorial from the PDN below, we can see them advocating clearly for the ability to attract and accept more tourists from China and cite a US national strategy (with regards to tourism). The PDN routinely publishes editorials about the military buildup and military spending, which cite a different US national strategy, which indicates that China is a threat and an enemy.

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Deliver: China visa waiver for Guam is in line with US tourism strategy.
July 5, 2014
The Pacific Daily News


The United States needs to live up to the goals of its National Travel and Tourism Strategy by approving a visa waiver for Chinese visitors to Guam.

In 2012, the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness stated: "Travel and tourism are critical to the American economy. This growing industry offers significant potential for job creation across all regions of the country."

To make that a reality, it came up with a strategy that federal agencies should take specific actions, including: reducing institutional barriers to the free flow of trade in travel services; and expanding the visa waiver program, among other initiatives.

Now is the time for the federal government to follow-through on this strategy by giving visa waivers to tourists from mainland China who want to travel to Guam. Doing so will greatly benefit the local economy and serve to introduce more Chinese to the United States. It also will open up other areas of Micronesia to China travel and benefit their economies.

According to Forbes, China had about 102 million outbound travelers from April 2013 to March 2014. Capturing even a small fraction of that would mean a huge boost to our visitor industry. And because tourism is the economic engine that drives the economy, that would translate into big benefits for the entire community.

The island's elected officials -- senators, the governor and the delegate -- need to work in concert to continually push for the federal government to finally make the China visa waiver for Guam a reality. They must press the matter with Congress, the White House, Homeland Security and other federal entities, reminding federal officials that the visa waiver falls in line with the National Travel and Tourism Strategy.

Welcoming more Chinese visitors is a major goal of the United States because of what it will mean for the economy, as well as relations between the two countries. And what better place to start making that happen than here in Guam, where America's day begins?

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