For those who don't know, there are three political status options that are outlined per local and international law for Guam's future, integration (statehood), free association and independence. Each of these status has a task force that is mandated to educate the community about their status. These task forces are volunteer and have always been, although public law does indicate that the Commission on Decolonization is supposed to provide funding and support for their outreach.
But there is little written into the law about the structure of these task forces or details about their obligations. They are supposed to have a certain amount of members and they each have a chairperson who gets to serve and vote on the Commission itself, but other than that, they are amorphous and nebulous non-governmental organizations. The business of government usually moves slowly, unless there are electoral concerns that indicate a need to move more swiftly. When the Commonwealth movement died in the late 1990s, our political leaders tried to keep the movement for decolonization formalized and alive by housing it and placing responsibility over it in particular government agencies or entities, such as the Guam Election Commission and the Commission on Decolonization. But as interest at the executive level of government faded or the process become too complicated, things ground to a halt. If things move slowly when people are receiving a salary in order to maintain or advocate something, you can imagine what might happen to those whose role was based purely on passion and volunteerism. These task forces became largely inactive mirroring the inactivity of the government itself. Individuals on the task forces kept up their advocacy in their own way, but as groups, the task forces stopped engaging the public in educational outreach.
Under the current governor, little happened during Calvo's first term for the reasons we found in the previous two administrations. No money was provided for outreach, the Commission on Decolonization was not given enough autonomy or authority to work effectively. The governor and his team were not informed enough about the issue and had no workable plans or strategies in order conduct outreach effectively. In Calvo's second term however there has been a shift, a sometimes inconsistent shift, but still a promising one. Working with the Legislature he provided funding for the Commission and for the task forces. The Commission has become more active, even if appears to be more dysfunctional than anything at times.
But over the past year, only the Independence for Guahan Task Force has been making use of this shift and the money that has been provided. It has been a difficult process, as we are a volunteer organization that has to follow the laborious and sometime soul-draining government procurement process, lao para bei in singon ha'. We've been having meetings and undertaking social media campaigns to help get the word out and so far we've been fairly effective at promoting both decolonization in general and independence in particular to the island community.
The other two task forces, Free Association and Statehood have yet to spend their money or really even try. In our last Commission on Decolonization meeting the statehood task force surprised everyone present by insisting that they wouldn't do any education unless a date for the plebiscite had been set. They insisted they didn't have to do any education since they had reached out to people more than a decade and a half ago, and that they were certain that everyone still remembered they information they had disseminated back then. As their task force chair Eddie Duenas noted, without a date for a plebiscite, any activity to educate people on this issue would just be spinning our wheels. The Independence for Guahan Task Force challenged that idea and said that education is always important and is the key to empowerment, regardless of whether the purpose has been completely clarified.
A co-chair to the Statehood for Guam Task Force wrote a letter to the Guam Daily Post, in which he misrepresented so many things, including what happened at the most recent Commission on Decolonization meeting. Ray Lujan, a UOG student who attended the Independence for Guahan's last general meeting in August wrote a response. Both are included below.
Not Ready to Decide
by Ray Lujan
Letter to the Editor
Guam Daily Post
I am writing this letter in response to the statements by Mr. Eloy Hara on Sept. 3 in this newspaper. He represents the Statehood Task Force with the Commission on Decolonization. While I wholeheartedly respect and appreciate the historical reference to the work of the commission as offered in the letter, I think it’s equally important to point out that there indeed is a need for more in-depth education outreach from all three task forces and from the commission.
As Mr. Hara points out, each task force began conducting its outreach in 1989 – well before I was born. But now that I’m an adult, I think it’s fair for me to ask for updated information and re-energized conversations devoted to this issue. Although I was a little more hopeful with Gov. Calvo’s initial claims that his administration would actually address self-determination more seriously, the most helpful information I’ve received has come from the Independence Task Force.
I began taking special interest in this very important matter a couple of years ago. Since then, I have involved myself with the decolonization commission’s joint projects with the University of Guam. I was a student of Dr. Carlyle Corbin in a special topic area class titled "Democratic Governance in Non-self-governing Island Territories" and I have recently been in attendance at the Independence Task Force’s public meetings and forums. Even then, I, along with many others, feel the need for more research on the process as well as the implications all three statuses have for Guahan. After the most recent decolonization forum at the university, which hosted keynote speakers from Guahan and a journalist covering the process in New Caledonia, many left with more questions than they had answers. The questions posed to the keynote speakers from the audience, which consisted mostly of young adults, illustrated just how little is known among members of my generation about the process of political self- determination.
Much has changed since the position papers were produced by the three task forces over 15 years ago. We are realizing more and more how our current non-self-governing status has proven to be of grave consequence to our way of life. The cost of living continues to increase, and our natural resources are quickly being squandered away for military and foreign commercial interests. Like others, I have many questions that I feel should be addressed by the task forces.
Although I have yet to make up my mind, I applaud the work of the Independence Task Force and their team for putting out the information they have shared. They have offered comparative analyses, they have invited other people who have experienced independence in their own countries to share with us, and they have asked for input from the community to be able to develop a more balanced outreach. This grassroots approach seeks to hear the issues and concerns from the people, myself included, in the hope of potentially providing answers. In addition, their monthly general meetings serve to inform those in attendance about a different component of the process. Even with its limited resources, this one task force has managed to organize very well thought-out events and meetings for those of us who aren’t old enough to have been involved since 1989.
I feel there is a moral and ethical obligation to educate the younger generation and to provide the knowledge necessary so they can make an informed and competent decision about the island’s political future. We, too, will live with what those eligible to vote decide for the future of our island. Our voices matter in this process and we are saying we need more information and time.
I hope to see more of this type of work from all three task forces as well as from the commission.
Until I do, I agree with the commission’s decision to delay the plebiscite.
I absolutely agree with anyone who says that our community is not ready for this plebiscite until each of the three task forces has exhausted all means necessary to fully engage our people in widespread discussion of the benefits and the consequences of each status. Our people must not be too hasty in making this decision until we understand what each status could mean for us – regardless of how Congress could potentially respond.
Decolonization As I See It
Letter to the Editor of the Guam Daily Post
From Eloy Hara
September 3, 2016
After I read the Aug. 24 article on page 8 of The Guam Daily Post, titled “Independence Task Force Faults Calvo for Plebiscite Delay,” I became very upset! Again Gov. Calvo is being blamed for what the Independence Task Force created by their continued insistence to the commission that they and the people of Guam are “not ready.”
In 1989, Gov. Joseph F. Ada appointed former Sen. Edward R. Duenas and myself as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, for the Statehood Task Force. Regularly scheduled meetings were held and the three task forces - statehood, independence and free association - were tasked to research their respective statuses on how to proceed with the plebiscite. They must point out the various “pros & cons” and start an educational process on the plebiscite with “Eligible Guam Voters.”
A few months ago, Gov. Calvo went to the Guam Election Commission and Registered the Decolonization Commission for the November General Election Plebiscite. For that bold move, he was chastised by the Decolonization Commission and the Independence Task Force for taking things into his own hands. However, that move sparked things up and attendance at meetings was revitalized with strong forward movement until the Independence Task Force stalled the progress again.
At that time, I decided to start attending decolonization meetings again. I have not attended any since Gov. Calvo started the meetings knowing that it would have been a complete waste of my time. The Decolonization Commission had been going around in circles and continues to do so, thanks to the new Independence Task Force co-chairpersons.
Move to delay plebiscite
During the very first meeting I attended, it was obvious who was actually running the meetings. Some of the Decolonization Commission members, at the insistence of the Independence Task Force, moved that the plebiscite be delayed yet again until sometime in the future because they were not ready for the November election. Mr. Joe Garrido of the Free Association Task Force objected and stated that he was ready and would not be able to continue if there is further delay and even offered to give the $80,000 of his education money to the Independence Task Force. Sen. Edward Duenas and I objected and stated that we have been ready and have in fact already completed a full round of educating the island community until such time that Gov. Gutierrez cancelled the whole process during his administration.
Sometime in 1997, Sen. Hope Cristobal established by local law the Guam Decolonization Commission to research the three terminal status options (statehood, independence and free association) as endorsed by the United Nations. In 2000, the Decolonization Plebiscite was scheduled to be held in conjunction with the 2000 general election. However a separate voter registration was required for the plebiscite and adequate public education on the three options and funding were lacking, thus postponing the plebiscite, which has languished since then.
Encountering one obstacle after another, here we go again! This process for granting Guam a permanent civil government, which was signed by 30 Chamorro leaders, has been going on since 1901.
Here we are some 115 years later still going around in circles that we must first educate everyone in Guam. If the law had intended that “all” the people of Guam should be educated, the separate voter registration would not have been necessary. Since my first day of participating in the Decolonization Commission meetings, the three task forces understanding are for us to research and educate the “eligible” plebiscite voters only. The bottleneck issue regarding the “70-percent need” should never have been an issue at all. The way I see this issue is simple: Have the Legislature repeal this law.
Obstacles at every meeting
Another obstacle that recently surfaced is the new co-chairs of the Independence Task Force dominated all of the conversations at every meeting. They talked whenever they desire, never following any parliamentary procedures by raising their hands and waiting for the chairperson’s recognition. When we, the statehood chair and vice chair, raise our hands we don’t get recognized. Even our objections to postponing the plebiscite were not recognized, right along with the free association chairman’s objection.
The Statehood and Free Association Task Forces never agreed that the governor’s Troy Torres head the educational process. The educational process has always been the respective task forces' job and facilitated by the Decolonization Commission. Both the Free Association and Statehood Task Forces suggest that we not waste time and money to continue the education process until within one year of a scheduled plebiscite. We further recommend that the next plebiscite be held the very next gubernatorial election on November 2018.
My personal contact is 688-0504 for those that may desire to question me.