Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Maga'låhi to Maga'låhi

Last year, Our Islands are Sacred and other local activist groups penned a joint letter to Governor of Guam Eddie Calvo, challenging his support for the US military buildup to Guam. In response to the letter, which made a significant splash on social media, the Governor met with some of the authors of the letter to discuss their concerns. Central to rhetoric invoked in the letter focused on how the Governor had made several statements to the media that he was excited about the military buildup and what it might mean to Guam economically. As the military buildup, even in its reduced form, will most likely negatively Guam's environment, economy, security and cultural properties, the writers of the letter were incredulous that Governor Calvo would speak of the buildup with such excitement when so many negative aspects were involved.

One of the suggestions that they made to Governor Calvo was that he invite the Governor of Okinawa to visit Guam with his staff and have a conversation or conference to discuss the problems with shouldering such a heavy burden of militarization. The Governor never acted on that proposal, although the current Governor of Okinawa Takeshi Onaga expressed that he could visit Guam if invited. Onaga has become notorious in Japanese politics because of the various ways that he has stood up against the expansion of US military facilities in his island and also angered Japanese government officials by speaking about Okinawans as indigenous people possibly needing self-determination or decolonization.

As with many things involving Guam's current Governor, I am often confused by the shifts in his rhetoric and ideological approach. Many people on Guam see the Governor as having no critical bones in his body. They see him as being someone who was born into privilege, and while he is a very nice person, lacks the type of passion that only comes from someone who has struggled against something in their lives and developed a real desire to see some sort of change in the world around him/her. While I can see how some might see the Governor in this way, in truth his prepared remarks, his speeches that he has given over the years, show that the Governor (or at least his speech-writers) are clearly thinking about tough issues around decolonization and political status. The Governor has made some very insightful statements and provided especially in his first year in office, some very incisive commentary on Guam's status and its relationship to the United States. His critical rhetoric represents a stark contrast to that of his immediate predecessor, Felix Camacho, who served two terms as Governor, but steered very clear of these issues, and chose not to engage with them. One thing that few people acknowledge, given the limitations that many have about how much historical knowledge they can access in themselves at any given moment, is that from previous Governors like Joseph Ada to Carl Gutierrez to the sons of Governors that we have had more recently, Camacho and Calvo, there was a massive shift and loss of political/discursive coordinates in ways of conceiving and understanding decolonization/self-determination. For Ada and Gutierrez, the conversation over political status change was difficult at times, but made easier by the fact that it was for the contradictory status of Commonwealth, which required Guam's government to negotiate with the US Congress. Although this movement failed, it followed the same structure through which most people on Guam imagine political change, that it comes via the United States, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If this is too abstract for you, it can be understood for example through the way in which issues that were at once considered to be immoral or inappropriate for Guam, can sometimes be completed overturned in terms of common sense assumptions based on changes in social meaning in the United States. We can also see it in the way in which local leaders will often times just copy bills from the United States and just adopt the rhetoric for Guam, without even thinking if its locally relevant. And often times, people don't even realize this sort of dynamic being in play and just assume that since it comes from the United States, it must be great for Guam.

Felix Camacho and Eddie Calvo came into power at a time where the focus for this activity had switched to the United Nations and the amorphous and nebulous world of international law and diplomacy, of which Guam as a colony is almost always excluded from. To his credit, Calvo has tried to push this issue in some ways, but the soaring quality of his rhetoric rarely matches his actions. His sometimes beautiful and powerful speeches rarely connect strongly to his policies and the activities of his office. I am hoping with the renewed community interest on this issue, that the Governor will continue to evolve and develop a stronger understanding of his potential role in this process as the island's highest elected leader.

As an example of one of the speeches that I was referring to above, read the text pasted below, in which Calvo, while speaking to Japanese media while traveling in Okinawa discusses the shared problems Okinawa and Guam face as being politically marginal islands with a heavy dose of militarization.

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Governor Calvo makes triangulated effort in policy speech in Okinawa
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Office of the Governor of Guam
May 23, 2012

In a triangulated effort to raise awareness in Washington and Tokyo about the practical and direct impact of the buildup, Governor Calvo spoke in front of a dozen Japanese news agencies in Okinawa and delivered a stirring policy speech. Japanese media are now carrying the message. The Governor and his remarks in English, with Japanese translation, are being broadcast in Okinawa.

The Governor’s main point – it’s important for leaders in Washington and Tokyo to recognize the practical and inescapable need to build infrastructure on Guam to support the buildup of forces. “These things need to happen for a successful buildup,” Governor Calvo said. “And the sooner it happens, the sooner Congress realizes the absolute need to fund these things, the sooner the buildup can happen and the sooner the troops can move from Okinawa to Guam. And the sooner this happens, the sooner the United States can keep its commitments to Japan.” This message resonated well with Okinawa.

The main topic of concern by the Japanese reporters was whether the lack of funding or effort would cause a delay in the movement of U.S. troops. The Governor responded frankly that with the massive migration to Guam over the past 25 years from the U.S. treaty with the freely associated states, the infrastructure is already maxed out, so how could the island accept another migration without increasing the infrastructure capacity first. It is a very practical consideration that Congress must understand.

The buildup is the result of a strengthened Security Treaty between Japan and the U.S. In the past few decades, Okinawa absorbed 75 percent of the impact of U.S. forces in Japan. The Governor noted that the Japanese national government is now recognizing that impact and taking practical steps to absorb some of that direct impact on its air services, roads, and other infrastructure.

The Security Treaty now shifts its focus to Guam, which Governor Calvo lauded and supports. He said Guamanians are a patriotic people and welcome the Marines.

The Governor told Japanese reporters and the Governor of Okinawa that he is concerned there are some in Congress who do not yet understand that for the buildup to work effectively for the military, practical considerations like the building of capacity for water and wastewater services, roads, and other directly-impacted programs, must be addressed.

The Governor expressed hesitation to believe Congress will meet this practical obligation considering Congress’ annual failure for a quarter of a century now to offset the impact of a previous treaty it has entered elsewhere that affects Guam directly – the Compacts of Free Association. This is further exacerbated by the holdback of a promised $33 million in direct impact funding for Guam in last year’s federal budget. It was appropriated, but the federal government won’t allow the Department of Defense to spend it without further authorization. The Governor wrote this concern to the House Armed Services Committee, noting that this first appropriation would have sent a strong signal to Guam and Tokyo that the U.S. government is serious about this commitment.

This is why, the Governor said, it is important for Guam to find any way possible to get this message to Washington, D.C. and to Tokyo, in hopes that the leaders who make all the decisions will see how a strong Security Treaty will mean addressing the direct impacts.

The policy speech brings the Governor’s push for the military buildup to national Japanese attention that the administration believes is now reverberating in Washington, D.C.

The Governor’s policy speech is attached.

Please call Troy Torres at 475-9304 or 486-8887 to schedule interviews with the Governor or Arthur Clark.

END

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Policy Speech on Federal Unfunded Mandates, Practical Considerations of U.S. Government Policy on Guam

Delivered in Okinawa
By Guam Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
May 22, 2012

Hafa adai and thank you for inviting me today,

Guam has a long tradition of military service … so much so that our sons and daughters have the highest enlistment rate in the United States.  Since the Second World War, that generation of Guamanians passed down to the generation of today an unwavering patriotism and support for what the United States represents.  Since then, we, like Okinawa, have hosted a large U.S. military presence.  Okinawa accounts for less than 1% of the total area of Japan, yet 18% of your island is occupied by the U.S. military… and you host 75% of all the U.S. troops in the country.  Similarly, on Guam, one-third of our island is owned and occupied by the U.S. military.

Okinawa has done much to focus attention on the heavy burden that it has had to bear to support such a large U.S. military presence.  Guam has always welcomed the U.S. military.

Yet today, as our two islands move in opposite directions in their relationships with the U.S. military, recent events have marked a stark contrast in how our national governments view their relationships with each of us.  The Noda Government and the Diet have continued their entreaties to the people of Okinawa in return for the sacrifices you make as you bear the bulk of the burden of the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan.  The government of Japan is finally understanding your frustrations and reaching out to you. Your sovereign is helping you to build your infrastructure and to expand your tourism industry, not just to allay the impact of the treaty, but to help your economy grow.

Yet, on the other side of the Philippine Sea, on Guam, there is a certain irony in that, until recent, the only assurances we had that our infrastructure would be improved to absorb the military buildup came from Japan.  Now that the number of Marines coming to Guam has been reduced, and the financial commitments of both countries have been adjusted, what was once certain has now become uncertain and ambiguous. We on Guam are left wondering whether anyone, even our own sovereign, will give Guam the practical financial offsets it needs to absorb the impact of the coming troops.
While the government of Japan is offering you assistance with your economy as you seek to reduce the U.S. presence of troops in Okinawa, we have to petition our federal government to do the same as it seeks to increase the U.S. presence of troops on Guam.

Our commitment to our sovereign is undiminished. Yet, I can’t help but question our sovereign’s commitment to us when it has unfairly treated us in the past and even today saddles us with severe unfunded federal mandates.  Despite this, it has been slow to grant us the economic tools we need to improve our economy ourselves.  Okinawa has made clear to Tokyo its feelings about how you have been unfairly treated in the past. Guam is also trying to make its voice heard in Washington, D.C.
Because we are less than a State, the U.S. government has often ignored the impact of some of its national decisions on us.  As the most prominent example, over 25 years ago the United States signed a compact of free association with several Micronesian countries that created the most liberal immigration policy in recent memory.  That compact promised to improve the economies of these Micronesian countries so they could be self-sustaining members of the global community.  Instead, it created a rush of migration to Guam, without any significant assistance from our federal government to help us absorb the cost of this massive migration.

Guam belongs to a brotherhood of Pacific Islands, and we are a welcoming people.  But when the unreimbursed cost of helping the migrants with public housing, public welfare, employment programs, education, and medical care exceeds 15% of our local government revenues, we can’t help but be angered. And this is not anger aimed at our island brothers and sisters, but at a national sovereign who fails to recognize the practical implications of its unmet obligations.  How can any local government survive a 15% drain of its local revenues?  How would Okinawa feel, how would it fare, if Tokyo imposed an immigration policy that immediately drained 15% of your local government revenues?

Our public programs are falling short in providing services to our residents because of this immigration policy. Instead of providing Guam with the corresponding funds to offset this impact, the U.S. government limits what we receive for federal social programs far below what it provides to every other State in the nation on a per-capita basis.  And as we struggle to provide basic public services because of the federal burdens placed on us, , the U.S. government sues us for not providing such basic services as trash collection and disposal, water and waste water treatment, mental health care, and even housing prison inmates. This has forced us to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars, over a billion dollars in total, to meet the U.S. government’s demand on what is a minimally acceptable level of service for our people.

We, like you, have gone to our federal government asking it to treat us fairly…  Asking it to help us absorb the cost of these federal mandates and immigration policies that drain so much of our local revenues.  For over a decade, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.  Now we are being asked to absorb the additional cost of the U.S. Marines coming from Okinawa. You will understand the skepticism that I have when I am being told by the same government not to worry… to trust it to take care of the cost and the impact of the buildup.  This is the same government that has ignored the financial impact of its previous mandates… that reduced our federal benefits to a fraction of what other citizens of the United States receive.  My skepticism is such that I must tell you that I had more confidence in Japan’s commitment to help us improve our infrastructure than I have now in our own government.
But, still, we are a patriotic people.  We love our country, and we are proud to be Americans.  We are proud to play a role in preserving the security of our country, Japan, Asia and even the world.  We just need our government to listen to our pleas to treat us fairly, as your government has begun to listen to your pleas.

As this buildup moves forward and you transition your economy to one less reliant on the U.S. military, we are transitioning ours to one that considers increased military spending. There are limitless opportunities between our communities.

Our sovereigns may have complete control over this buildup, but our economy is mature enough to ensure the viability of our island, if our government would let us control our own destiny.
Last summer, I testified before our U.S. Congress, and last week I wrote a letter to our President, asking them to help us by allowing us to help ourselves.  Since taking office last year, I and my administration have worked unceasingly in trying to get our government to approve a China visa waiver program. This will allow Chinese visitors to come to Guam visa-free so that we can expand our tourism industry.  So it was with great interest that I observed the Japan government’s efforts to help Okinawa expand its tourism industry by approving a multiple-entry China visa for Okinawa.  Yet, on Guam, we continue to wait for our government to take action…  To give us the opportunity to improve our economy ourselves. If we have to continue to absorb the cost of the existing unfunded federal mandates, and if we have to absorb the cost of the military buildup, we at least have a fighting chance with tourism.

As I have done in earlier trade missions to other parts of Asia, I am here to encourage all Okinawans, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Russians, and everyone else in Asia, to visit our shores.  I know that some will see Guam and Okinawa as competitors in the same tourism market.  I prefer to see us as kin, sharing a common bond and a common aspiration.  Sharing common experiences and frustrations with our respective national government.  Sharing a similar history of an independent people who were first colonized and then incorporated into another nation.  Sharing a similar identity of a people who are part of a larger country, yet who even after hundreds of years, still have a unique language and culture that distinguishes us from our parent country.  On Guam, instead of saying “Welcome” we say “Hafa Adai.”  In Okinawa, instead of saying “Yokoso” you say “Mensore.”  We are an island culture – you are an island culture.  There is something in being an islander that I think makes us more welcoming – maybe it’s the year-round sun and the sand that makes a people friendlier.

We have a lot in common, and perhaps that is what makes the economic potential between our communities so great.  The geopolitical importance we’ve shared for the past half-a-century, though on separate sides of the Philippine Sea, can help shape a relationship and a mutual understanding of where we can go.  We should seize this day as two communities who have been subjects of a sovereign, and who are proving to the world that we can build futures more reliant on what we can do for ourselves than what our national governments can do for us.

Thank you so much for your hospitality and for your time today.  This will go down as one of the most memorable days of my tenure.

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