Sunday, September 25, 2016

Setbisio Para i Publiko #33: The Question of Guam (2010)

The United Nations is a strange beast in Guam in turns of its place in the movement for decolonization. Prior to the failure of Commonwealth in 1997, the UN was always a quiet force in the background, but held little authority or played a very minor role in the consistency of arguments or political positions. Even when Chamorro activists were successful in getting people on Guam to recognize the Chamorro people as being indigenous, even though activists were successful in defeating a Constitutional movement on Guam, which would have trapped the island within an American framework, and both of these things rely heavily on discourses which find great potency in the UN and its history, they were not strongly international movements. The UN itself, although still a quiet presence on Guam, is still interpreted in a very American framework, and so regardless of how Guam's relationship to the UN is fundamentally different (it is a non-self-governing territory), people here tend to see it through a generic American, isolationist and anti-internationalism, Fox News lens. In this way, the UN is both something that is nefarious and far-reaching, which possesses so much insidious power, but also something that is useless and pointless and is stagnant and unequipped to deal with any problems today. The first point has little to do with reality and is a common fantasy that is tied to people feeling the sovereignty of their nation threatened by international law or agreements. The second is inaccurate, since the UN has little life of its own, but is successful or unsuccessful largely dependent upon whether the powerful nations of the world allow it to be. If the UN isn't successful at something, isn't moving on something, it is scarcely because of its own inability, but it is usually tied to certain key countries blocking any action since they feel it interferes with their interests in the world.

Because of this, it is common to hear a chorus of shots on Guam that the UN is useless and that we should just work with the US and do whatever they want. It is for this reason that we should hold onto the UN, even if it seems ineffective in the moment. Just letting the US do whatever it wants or playing by their rules doesn't lead to decolonization, it reinforces colonization. It ensures that even if whatever we become has a new fancy name, it will probably be the exact same status, perhaps with more American flags, stripes or stars. The UN is important, symbolically because it represents the link to the rest of the world, which due to colonization, Chamorros and others on Guam have trouble perceiving and relating to. We have become so accustomed to seeing the world through the United States, we forget that the US is just a fraction of the world and all that it holds. That as we look to the future, that simple ability to see the world, from our own location, from our own perspective is crucial so that we no longer nurture ourselves on the colonial Kool-Aid, but see the necessity or positive possibility in seeking a more self-determined future.

Another reason why we should continue to travel to the UN and make use of it, is because it is one of the few international outlets that is available to a colony such as Guam. Each year, representatives from Guam are invited to testify before various committees on what is happening in Guam. In the past, Guam has been able to use this more effectively in terms of negotiating and leveraging, however not in the past two decades. Here is a summary of the representatives who traveled to the UN on behalf of Guam in 2010.

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HEARING PETITIONERS ON THE QUESTION OF GUAM,
UN FOURTH COMMITTEE: SPECIAL POLITICAL AND DECOLONIZATION MEETING

OCTOBER 5-6, 2010
NEW YORK CITY, NY

On Tuesday October 5, 2010, the United Nations Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued their annual consideration of decolonization items. The General Assembly heard testimony from 22 petitioners on the questions of the 16 NON-SELF GOVERNING TERRITORIES, with special delegations from Guam and America Samoa.

On the question of Guam, several petitioners expressed concern about the United States planned military expansion on the island. Guam's Delegation also included teachers, researchers, social workers and business professionals. Michael Tuncap, Ph.D candidate  and researcher from the Pacific Islands Studies group at the University of California Berkeley. David Roberts, Researcher and Ph.D candidate from the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. Maria Roberts, Graduate Student from the City University of New York School of Business. Healthcare professional and Masters candidate Josette Marie Quinata represented the University of Southern California School of Social Work. Mylin Nguyen, a Graduate of UC Riverside and elementary public school teacher. Alfred Flores Perez, Doctoral researcher from the Department of History at the University of California Los Angeles.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met October 5 & 6, 2010 to continue its consideration of all decolonization issues. The Fourth Committee hears from the non-self governing petitioners including: Western Sahara, Turks and Caicos, U.S Virgin Islands and Guam. (Reports before the Committee are summarized in Press Release GA/SPD/422.) Statements from the Petitioners on Question of Guam

MICHAEL TUNCAP presented his research from the Pacific Islands Studies Institute of the University of California, Berkeley.  Tuncaps work looks at the impact of colonialism on the environment and indigenous health in the Marianas Islands. His testimony called upon the General Assembly to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Guam. According to Tuncap, the continued occupation of United States military forces in Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands represents a system of racial inequality between European Americans, Asian and Pacific settlers and the indigenous Chamorro people. Tuncap noted the existence of over one hundred toxic sites on the island which have had an impact on Guam's public health. He noted that modern colonialism prevents the people of Guam from exercising their inalienable right to self-determination.

Tuncap noted that colonial ideas of racial and gender superiority have shaped a long history of military violence and US economic security. The United States claims that its citizens in Guam (military personnel) have a human right to vote in the people's decolonization plebiscite. However, he said, the indigenous Chamorro people in the Marianas and the rest of Guam residents are denied the right to vote in United States elections. The United States also continued to deprive the people of Guam their right to land, even as they caused the toxic pollution that was irreparably damaging the environment. The United States military also threatened the integrity of the land through economic colonization, and colonialism had also caused irreparable harm to bodies of land and water. For those and other reasons, the Fourth Committee must immediately enact the process of decolonization for Guam in lieu of the severe, irreversible impacts of United States militarization. The process must include the maximum funding allowed to achieve a far-reaching education campaign informing all Chamorus from Guam of their right to self-determination and decolonization options, he said.

Historian ALFRED PEREDO FLORES, speaking on behalf of the Chamoru Nation chapter of the University of California Los Angeles, said instead of advancing the decolonization mandate of Guam, the United States was engaged in the largest military build-up in recent history, with plans that would bring, among other things, 50,000 people and six nuclear submarines. The United States pledge in 1946 to ensure its decolonization mandate on Guam remains on the margins half a century later. Flores noted that the Chamorro people continued to live in colonial conditions. That was why his delegation had come to New York, for over two decades, in effect, to speak against the violence and public health crisis in the Pacific Islands.

MYLIN NGUYEN, a second grade teacher from Whittier noted that self-determination, as outlined in the United Nations Charter and international conventions, was an inalienable right. As a Member State, the United States was bound to protect and advance the human rights articulated within the United Nations system.  Nguyen argued that Guam's residents need United Nations intervention that will address the increasingly poor human rights situation in Guam. She cited former Senator Hope Cristobal and noted that the hyper-militarization of Guam is illegal under any principled construction of international law. Nguyen said that as we end the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Guam unfortunately still remained a Non-Self-Governing Territory under the United States. Guam continued to be a possession of its colonizers, and the Chamorro people were still being denied their rights to land and political destiny.

Nguyen discussed the devastation wrought on the island and its people created an uphill climb for self-determination. Yet, with the impending military build-up on Guam that was to start in 2010, she asked that the United Nations uphold the promise and "sacred trust" set forth in General Assembly resolutions 1514 and 1542, and ultimately hold accountable Guam's administering Power in recognizing and respecting its quest for self-determination.

DAVID ROBERTS, PhD candidate in the Department of Geography of the University of Toronto, said that the United Nations must work for a just solution in Guam, based on the understanding that Guam's status as a non-self-governing entity effected the ability of the Chamorro people to make crucial decisions about their lives and where they lived. He maintained that Guam's virtual status as a colony should be abhorrent to those who champion democracy around the world.

Roberts urged the Committee to give top priority to the fulfillment of the right of Chamorro to self-determination through a decolonization process that included a fully-funded campaign informing all Chamorro from Guam of their rights and options. The Committee, with United Nations funding, must investigate the United States non-compliance with its international obligation to promote the economic, social and cultural well-being of Guam, and must send a team within the next six months to assess the effects of the past and future militarization of the island. Finally, he said the Committee must comply with the Indigenous Forum's request for an expert seminar to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonization process on indigenous peoples.

Continuing, Tuncap's testimony notes the physical and emotional consequences that colonization had had on the remaining Chamorro who lived on Guahan pointed to a positive answer. Among other things, Chamorro people had been exposed to radiation, Agent Orange and Agent Purple as a result of the island being a decontamination site for the United States in the 1970s. He stated that the indigenous community was also deprived of their cultural and natural resources. The effects of colonialism on the Chamorro people had travelled along with them in the forced migration and assimilation. He noted that forced migration was not self-determination.

Tuncap and Roberts agree that the Committee should give top priority to the fulfillment of her people's inalienable right to self-determination and immediately enact the process of decolonization of Guahan in lieu of severe, irreversible impacts of United States militarization. The process must include a fully-funded and far-reaching education campaign informing all Chamorro from Guahan of their right to self-determination and decolonization options.

MARIA ROBERTS recommended that the committee send United Nations representatives to the island within the next six months to assess the impacts of United States military plans on the decolonization of Guahan and the human rights implications of the United States military presence. She noted that the Fourth Committee must comply with the recommendations of other United Nations agencies, especially the Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues, which had recently requested an expert seminar to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonization process on indigenous peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

JOSETTE MARIE QUINATA, Southern California Chapter of Famoksaiyan, said her homeland was threatened by the impending United States military build-up on Guam that was scheduled to begin in 2010. Yet Guam continued to be excluded from decisions that would affect the very people whose environment would be destroyed, and whose concerns were second to militarization and colonialism. The question of Guam was not solely based on political turmoil and chaos among those who claimed Guam as a United States possession, but also a reflection of Guam's identity, which continued to suffer from political hegemony and an administering Power that failed to recognize and respect political rights. Quinata recounted a dream in which she saw her ancestors, and spoke about revitalizing the Chamorro people and preserving their language and culture. She said that a powerful calling had kept her passion alive in understanding Guam's heritage and struggle for self-determination. She looked forward to creating a future moved by education, healthcare, and social programs to reaffirm that the question of Guam was a question of decolonization and the eradication of militarism and colonialism. MARIA ROBERTS noted that the people of Guam were strong, and had a resilient culture that had continued to prevail amidst agonies of political disarray, militarism and colonial dominance. Yet, the people's voices for choosing their own political destiny had been silenced, ignore and marginalized from democratic participation.

This year's Guam Delegation continues the work and legacy of former senator HOPE ALVAREZ CRISTOBAL, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice. Each Guam delegate provided citations from Cristobal's human rights scholarship. In her last UN testimony in 2008, Cristobal noted that the Chamorro people of Guam had a long history as a free and independent people, interrupted by over 450 years of colonization by outside nations beginning in the sixteenth century. She said that earlier United Nations resolutions had addressed military issues in the operative clause calling on the administering Power to ensure that the presence of military bases and installations would not constitute an obstacle to decolonization. However, she said the United Nations today seemed satisfied with obscure reference to the military -- the single most serious impediment to decolonization. Those types of changes undermined the intent and purpose of the United Nations Charter, especially Chapter 11, devoted to the territories whose people had not attained a full measure of self-government.

The administering Power of Guam had in the past cited the issue of its military activities as one of the reasons why that Power would no longer cooperate with the Committee. She noted the positive light used to describe the massive militarization of Guam in the working paper, which said its inhabitants generally welcomed the build-up, and the Guam Delegation said nothing could be further from the truth. The colonization of the Chamorro people through the militarization of Guam, combined with over a century of United States immigration policies, was a flagrant violation by the administering Power of accepted standards in its fiduciary responsibilities. Guam's administering Power had neglected the people's right as an indigenous people, and the people had long suffered at the hands of outside influences and decisions that neglected their voices and interests.

The 2010 Guam delegation to the United Nations will participate in a series of Pacific Islands Studies events (November-January) to share their research findings. Guam United Nations events will take place at the University of California Berkeley, the University of Toronto, the University of Washington, the University of Washington Seattle and the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California.


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