Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #18: 300,000 New Reasons

The United States has long ignored its obligation to Guam with regards to educating the people on their political status and enhancing their understanding of self-determination with the intent of pushing them towards a greater degree of self-government. For decades, activists and Government of Guam officials have called on the United States to fulfill this obligation, with little to no success. This past year however represented the first instance in recent memory of the United States accepting this obligation, as the Department of Interior has provided a grant of $300,000 to the Government of Guam to be used for political status education. Similar grants were also provided to other colonial possessions of the United States, with a similar educational purpose in mind.

This money is promising, however most likely unique. Previous attempts to get this type of funding were met with confused responses at multiple levels and didn't go anywhere. As of today it isn't clear what exactly happened to previous applications or requests. But all of that is beside the point. One thing that has to clear though is that this grant, is most likely unique. It comes at the very end of the Obama Administration's eight years, and is meant to show progress on an issue, namely the self-determination of the US insular areas, that is normally too complex for your average politician or bureaucrat to even comprehend, much less try to lead productively on. A sort of half conference was held earlier in the fiscal year on this topic, and this money is meant to show that a good faith, albeit perhaps late and last-minute effort was made to improve on a critical area for each possession of the United States. It remains to be seen whether or not whoever is president next will continue this type of support. Given the way in which US Federal Territorial bureaucrats tend to suffer from a constant mix of forgetfulness and ignorance, it is very unlikely.


As you can see from the press releases and articles below, when this money was first announced it was heavily praised locally. The Commission on Decolonization had sought this type of funding for year and it was exciting to finally have received it. News of the grant arrived just prior to Governor Calvo announcing his intend to circumvent Government of Guam law and hold a plebiscite this November. Although Calvo soon backed off his plan to hold a plebiscite using the public referendum law, the new energy that his push brought to the issue did not disappear. In fact, looking at recent months, through a combination of efforts from scholars at UOG, to community groups, to international media and even to the office of the Governor of Guam, this issue has been kept front and center. The Governor's proposal to hold a plebiscite this year has most likely disintegrated, although he has yet to state this officially. But what confuses me at this point is that despite the Governor still seeming to have a great passion for this issue, why hasn't any effort been made to spend this $300,000. If it belongs to the Commission on Decolonization, this hasn't been clarified as the Commission has been waiting for a sign from the Governor as to his intent. Even if the Governor's initial plans never saw fruit, that doesn't mean his passion or commitment to the issue should disappear, and in truth they should be funneled into determining the best use of this pot of money. The best option is most likely to give it to the University of Guam in order to create some sort of self-determination institute or working group, which can work on producing materials and programs in order to help the educational campaign. But this is just my suggestions, in truth it would be good for the Governor to take a more proactive position on this money, rather than have it sit for months without even a concrete thought or plan on how to spend it.

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Guam’s quest to decide its political status will receive help with a $300,000 federal grant that will fund efforts to inform the public about a future plebiscite.

In a release issued Tuesday, the Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs announced it awarded $300,000 to the island’s Commission on Decolonization for political status education.

The commission’s mission is to educate residents about Guam's political status options. The island could take three routes — statehood, free association or independence. Guam currently is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

The $300,000 grant is part of a $1.5 million sum of federal funds approved for Guam that will fund other island projects in fiscal 2016.

In a release, Gov. Eddie Calvo said the $300,000 grant would help fund the educational materials required before a self-determination vote. The federal funds are an addition to the $250,000 the local government has already set aside for educational efforts regarding the plebiscite, according to the governor’s release.

The commission was scheduled to meet Tuesday for a regular meeting, but the meeting was postponed because of the announcement of the funds.

“The governor, who is chairman of the commission, has ordered his staff to create a plan that will be presented to commission members at the next meeting,” the governor's office release states.
This is the second time this month a commission meeting has been postponed.

The governor postponed another meeting last week because of Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo’s annual speech at the Guam Legislature. Calvo, in a release, stated he wanted commission members to hear her remarks concerning decolonization and consider any solutions she offered.

In her speech, Bordallo mentioned she was working closely with Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina regarding the commission’s grant application.
“I hope that these funds will provide the initial investment needed to move this process along,” Bordallo stated in her address last week. “I will work to ensure that our island receives any additional federal support to promote our self-determination efforts.”

A political status plebiscite for native inhabitants was originally scheduled to take place in 1998, but has been postponed several times, primarily because of a lack of resources committed to the effort and a failure to register and educate eligible voters about the three options.

Guam's plebiscite would be a non-binding vote, intended to measure the preferred political status of Guam among native inhabitants.

The Calvo administration has made decolonization a priority and has previously stated it would try to have a plebiscite by 2017. A press release from the Department of Interior issued Tuesday stated the plebiscite is planned for 2018.

A spokesperson from the governor’s office wasn’t immediately available Tuesday to explain the change to the planned date.

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Bordallo Statement on $300,000 Grant for Political Status Education
March 14, 2016
Press Release
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs’ award of $300,000 in technical assistance to the Commission on Decolonization for political status education. The grant will enable the Commission to begin outreach efforts to educate the public about legal status options for a future political status plebiscite. This award is part of the nearly $1.5 million in technical assistance funding that was recently awarded by the Office of Insular Affairs.

As Congresswoman Bordallo indicated in her Congressional address last week, she has been working closely with Assistant Secretary Kia’aina regarding the Commission’s grant application.
Congresswoman Bordallo underscored to Assistant Secretary Kia’aina the importance of this grant to moving forward with Guam’s efforts on self-determination. The grant follows a conference hosted by OIA last month to discuss the political statuses of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

“I am pleased that the Office of Insular Affairs has approved Guam’s application for $300,000 for an education campaign on political status. This grant will be critical to informing the public about the self-determination process, the legal status options that will be available to them, and the ramifications a change in political status may have on their daily lives. This grant is consistent with the intent of Congress and the provision that I passed in 2010 to clarify that OIA can use technical assistance for political status education in the territories. I greatly appreciate that Assistant Secretary Kia’aina fulfilled a commitment that she made to me to provide federal resources for political status education in Guam.

“I believe these funds will provide an initial investment in the self-determination effort.  I thank Assistant Secretary Kia’aina for her leadership within the Obama Administration to support our self-determination efforts. I also commend the Commission on Decolonization for their diligent work in putting together this grant application and continuing their work to advance this issue. As I said in my Congressional address last week, self-determination is the ultimate legacy that we can leave for our children, and it is an issue that we have waited far too long to resolve. I will continue to work with our local leaders and federal partners to build off the progress we have made and finally give our people an opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.”

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BREAKING: Self-determination education outreach provided $300,00
Press Releases
Office of the Governor of Guam
March 15, 2016  

“This grant, in addition to the $250,000 provided by the local government, will help fund the educational materials to our people as required before a self-determination vote. The request for this support was made about a year ago, in light of the federal government’s support for the Puerto Rico plebiscite but more importantly because we need to press forward.”
Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
$1.5M in Interior funds includes climate change, cultural preservation

Guam received word this morning that $1.5 million in federal funds will help pay for the self-determination public outreach campaign as well as climate change projects, natural and cultural resource preservation, and other programs.

Governor Calvo pushed for a $250,000 in local funds for the Office of Decolonization to help fund education outreach, providing information on the three status options as required by law. Those options are: free association, independence and statehood.

Last year, the Governor also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior requesting the courtesy extended to Puerto Rico be extended to Guam. The federal government has provided Puerto Rico with money for the U.S. territory’s plebiscite.

“It is essential that we, as a people, have the opportunity to determine for ourselves, and declare to the rest of the world, our political status,” Governor Calvo stated.

In a written statement, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Assistant Secretary Kia’aina, noted her appreciation of the island’s leaders to move Guam’s self-determination vote forward.

“This year’s funding reflects the priorities and issues of importance to the people of Guam including self-determination, public safety, climate change, natural and cultural resources, and capacity building for non-governmental organizations,” said U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas  Assistant Secretary Kia’aina.

The various Technical Assistance Program grants, including one Maintenance Assistance Program grant awarded for 2016 follow:

Guam Self-Determination Community Education Outreach Program – $300,000 to the Commission on Decolonization to implement a comprehensive community educational outreach program in preparation for a planned 2018 plebiscite.

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