Friday, March 04, 2016

Mensahi Ginen i Gehilo' #11: Commission on Decolonization

Decolonization is the most important issue on Guam, that few people want to really talk about.

I mean this in terms of average people and their relationship to it, but also political and community leaders, who may mention it and take stands on it, but still don't show a real commitment to getting us to the point of formal decolonization, or an evolved political status change.

The Commission on Decolonization is the part of the Government of Guam that is supposed to help educate the island community, both Chamorros and non-Chamorros about this formal process of decolonization, which involves a political status plebiscite, or vote.

Unfortunately, a number of governors in recent years have either ignored this Commission or severely underfunded it and taken resources away from it to the point where it is keyao yan kana' taisetbe. The Legislature hasn't moved things very far forward either. Even though individual senators may so strong things in support of decolonization, in terms of agenda setting or making it a priority, that consciousness has been lacking as well.

The Commission on Decolonization, of which I am a member (through the Independence Task Force for Guam), is only as good as the support it receives. For several years, under Governor Calvo, only salaries for employees, most of whom never actually worked for the Commission on Decolonization was provided. This meant no money for what the purpose of the Commission is supposed to be, education. Minimal outreach was provided through forums at the University of Guam, speeches to Rotary Clubs and school presentations, but scarcely enough to enlighten the island on statehood, free association or independence. For the past year however, we have received a modest budget to be focused on education, and $30,000 for each of the three task forces to be used as seed/startup money.

Despite this shift, the truth I mentioned earlier remains the same. The Commission on Decolonization is only as effective as the level of support it receives. If people or politicians care little about it, or provide little support for it, then little will most likely happen. Some segments of the community have to proactively take up this issue and force a change, a shifting of priorities, and then the others will respond.

Last month, long-time decolonization activist, former member of the US Congress and current President of UOG Robert Underwood penned an article titled "Dies Mit" for a special edition of the journal Micronesian Educator edited by myself and Victoria Leon Guerrero. In it he discussed the need to mobilize people on a large scale, if the decolonization movement will ever succeed. He challenged the existing movement to work towards getting a show of supportive force, as in 10,000 or dies mit na taotao, gathering or marching for Chamorro Self-Determination. Duru manhasso yu' put este na asunto: taimanu na sina ta na'fankalamten i taotao-ta? 

While I ponder this, I am sharing below some article about the Commission on Decolonization and both its activities and inactivity over the past few years. 


Commission on Decolonization Fights for Guam's Rights
By Ken Quintanilla
March 21, 2015

 Just as "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" shed light on major issues affecting US territories, talk of Guam's political status have been pushed to the forefront more than ever.  Back in 2011, the Commission of Decolonization reconvened after nearly a decade. Executive director Ed Alvarez says the goal of the commission has since aimed to educate the public on the island's political status.

"Mainly what the commission has been doing is outreach," he explained. "I have gone to all the high schools in the last three years and I do that consistently, and the reason why I choose the high schools and the students is because their messaging and knowledge base of decolonization was innocent. They really didn't have much information, so it was a good target audience to reach out to because they weren't distorted or misinformed as are the adults in this issues."

Alvarez says just as the commission was recently allocated $100,000 within this current fiscal year's budget, he can now move forward with other outreach efforts. "As you may know, we finally got some money after almost 20 years without any money and with that money we're going to be doing some TV programs with PBS. That's what we plan to do, do some mobile apps for decolonization information, and we'll finally get our websites up," he added.

And while these outlook efforts sound promising, what's the status of the plebiscite - the vote on Guam's political status of either independence, statehood, or free association? Alvarez said, "We don't know, it depends on the momentum, if we see the momentum rise this year, let's say as a result of the programming, then we'll probably call for the vote this year."

At one point, the plebiscite was proposed to take place in 2014. As far as momentum comes, the piece by John Oliver on voting rights in the US territories definitely helped and it has peaked the public's interest. Over a million people viewed the Oliver clip. "But the reality is true, what he got across to the audience was correct it was right on spot. Everything about how we can't vote, how the mandates are imposed upon us," he said.

He says decolonization is just as key not only when it comes to Guam's political status but also the buildup, tourism, and economic development. "And I think this is a front and center issue, this is something that needs to be taken care because its set the ground rules of our political relationship with the United States, and it tells us what we can and can't do," he said.

The commission in the meantime has met three times so far this year and will meet again next month.


Clynt Ridgell
09 June 2011 
Guam - Commission on Decolonization Director Ed Alvarez is back on Guam after traveling to St. Vincent last week for a seminar on decolonization held by the United Nations.

Guam - Commission on Decolonization Director Ed Alvarez is back on Guam after traveling to St. Vincent last week for a seminar on decolonization held by the United Nations.

 The U.N. paid for the trip to the seminar in order to hear from non-self governing territories from throughout the world on what their goals and expectations are with regards to decolonization.

Alvarez presented what Guam has done over the last four months to advance it's push for self-determination and decolonization. Alvarez says that to improve Guam's chances of decolonization the island needs to get national and international attention.

"We need to have a media campaign both nationally and globally for us to get the attention in order for the pressure to be put on our administering powers in order for us to get our right to self-determination."

 Alvarez says that there have been a few documentaries about Guam's quest for self-determination but no real media campaign by the island to garner the national and international support that it needs.


By Mar-Vic Cagurangan 
Marianas Variety
24 Jun 2013

HAGÅTÑA — The Commission on Decolonization wants to start a public information campaign to educate voters about the process leading to a self-determination plebiscite and the options available for Guam.

However, Ed Alvarez, the commission’s executive director, said the plebiscite education program will cost $30,000, which he said the agency doesn’t have.

“We have to find a way to make money for this education program,” Alvarez said at yesterday’s meeting with commission members in Adelup.

“I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to start educating the masses about this issue. It’s about time we make this happen,” Alvarez added.

Alvarez suggested that the commission ask the Legislature to prepare a measure that would allow the commission to accept donations in all forms.

He suggested, for example, a tax credit for any media outlet that donates air time or print space for the commission’s education program-related advertisements.

Eddie Duenas, representative of the Statehood Task Force, suggested that the commission ask Gov. Eddie Calvo to provide the funds for the education campaign since the body falls under the governor’s office.

Commission members agreed to set up a meeting with the governor and members of the Legislature to find a way to fund the plebiscite education campaign.

Alvarez said the United Nations has begun accelerating its efforts bring self-rule to 17 colonized territories all over the world.

“There’s a big push now in the U.N. to delist these colonies. There seems to be an urgency because it’s an embarrassment for the U.N. that in the 21st century, we still have colonies,” Alvarez said. 


Day two of the UN decolonization conference
Variety News Staff
Jun 2, 2011
The Marianas Variety

DELEGATES to the Caribbean regional seminar on decolonization, being held on the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, got aglimpse of how the issue is being viewed on Guam. Ed Alvarez, the executive director of Guam’s Commission on Decolonization, opened with a statement outlining the progress being made toward the determination of a political status under the leadership of Governor Eddie Calvo.
“Our newly-elected governor has begun his four-year term on an aggressive plan to pursue the exercise of the fundamental human right of the colonized people of Guam, the Chamorro people,” Alvarez told the delegates.  However, he said, “there are several challenges we face in this endeavor.”

Alvarez went on to say most people on Guam do not understand what decolonization is all about. Most non-Chamorro people who have migrated to Guam, he said, do not accept that they have “been sovereigned” in another country, and thus have no inherent right to be sovereigned twice, just because they contribute to the economy, pay taxes, and have laid roots on Guam.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message to the seminar, urged the delegates to “work towards an action-oriented dialogue at all levels with elected representatives of the 16 Non-Self Governing Territories (NSGTs) and administering powers alike.” This is the beginning of the third international decade for the eradication of colonialism; and during the last 10 years, only one dependent territory, Timor-Leste, became independent.

Fresh ideas
“In today’s world, fresh ideas are needed to carry out the United Nations mandate,” said Chairman of the Decolonization Committee Carrion-Mena, Ambassador of Ecuador.

Noting that seven of the remaining 16 NSGTs are in the Caribbean, the host country’s Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, said in opening remarks: “There is no nation so small that its people forfeit the right to make a sovereign determination as to their own destiny and their relationship with colonial powers.”  

In addition to Alvarez, Guam is also represented at the meeting by University of Guam Professor Dr. Ron McNinch, who insisted he is not there representing anyone but himself. He prefaced his formal remarks by saying his role is technical. “I was invited by this committee to attend and I was not sent by the government of Guam or an NGO on Guam. I am pleased to be a part of this seminar and appreciate the invitation.”

He suggested the United Nations might be able to assist or improve political status efforts on Guam by possibly broadening the boundaries that define independence, free association and full integration with the metropolitan power. He said the United States should also be encouraged by all parties to examine and update the so-called insular cases, which legally defined the relationship between the U.S. federal government and American territories 100 years or more ago.  He also told the UN delegates that Guam would benefit from a voice in the United States Senate, an idea which he has put forward on Guam, engendering at least one proposed bill in the Guam Legislature to bring that about.

New status

Dr. McNinch is also suggesting a new status category similar to the relationship that has been established between New Caledonia and France.  Called “sui generis,” the status has not yet been recognized by the decolonization committee as a satisfactory form of self-government for New Caledonia, which remains among the 16 NSGTs.  Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is an unincorporated, organized commonwealth of the United States, similar to Guam, but listed by the committee as having “gained self-rule,” a status which one of the committee members, Cuba, questions.

The three-day seminar is being held under the theme of “Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism” and is due to wrap up tomorrow.  The host leader, Mr. Gonsalves, cautioned that the committee’s work not lapse into “endless repetitions of tired positions” or “boilerplate language” on decolonization.  He challenged the Special Committee to be bold in drafting tailored solutions for all peoples still living under some form of colonial rule.

The Special Committee members were sent a letter from the Colonized Chamoru Coalition, purportedly written by Ed Benavente, which asked the UN to “nullify” the selection of McNinch to attend the seminar. “Please be informed that this gentleman does not in any way represent the government of the territory nor does he represent the colonized people of the territory.”

“If,” said the letter, “our plea has come too late, we then ask that any statement that this individual makes at the seminar is construed as non-binding,” and “with absolute certainty not reflective of the territorial government and the colonized people of Guam.” It is not clear whether the letter, which was mailed to the chairman of the Decolonization Committee, was actually received prior to the start of the seminar.

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