Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #15: Media Discoveries

Every few years the issue of decolonization in Guam is taken up in a national or international context. This is always an interesting thing to witness, as so much of it depends on the attitude of the journalist. Guam is not something well-known in any context that is not centered around US military bases, Spam consumption or the travel of Japanese tourists. So, whenever a journalist has to take up the issue of covering Guam, either for a single instance or become the "beat" reporter for US territories, or the Western Pacific or for something else, it can be interesting to observe. Older analysts have referred to the constant rediscovery of Guam in this way, as every new journalist that is tasked with covering Guam has to undergo a short or very short process of learning about it and then making it known to their reading/viewing public.

Sometimes they take a securely American position in their crafting of their narrative, and as such Guam is simply a forgotten or disrespected corner of the United States. The presence of bases, the sacrifice of soldiers, the occupation during World War II all help to cement this impression, that Guam is just another part of the United States, in fact it is a hyper-loyal patriotic part of the United States, that is usually not being treated properly. This is often the frame that more progressive or liberal journalists or media take.

Taking the American context can also be very limiting and problematic as we see in the way more conservative writers will give Guam meaning as a cultural or political space. There are key issues whereby more conservative media will take up the issue of Guam, in particular around issues that lay outside the consciousness of most people in the United States and appear to conflict with a very narrow, whitewashed, taiisao conception of the United States as a nation. This will most prominently appear around two issues, the decolonization of Guam (in particular a vote in which only certain people, those who bear the wound of historical colonization can participate) and war reparations. On the first issue we have much discourse centered around the case of Arnold "Dave" Davis and his demands, that even though all rights in a territory are contingent around what the US Congress gives or withholds, that his rights are being infringed upon by the holding of a single political status plebiscite in which he cannot participate. This case has gotten caught up in minor conservative discussion circles because of how it fits in with narrative of white victimization and brown people taking power about from honest, hardworking and patriotic white Americans. On war reparations, so much of the angry, resentful coverage or message board traffic is due to the simple fact that your average American has no idea about what the United States has historically done around the world, and that it took on the responsibility ages ago, for compensating those who would seek damages against Japan for its mistreatment of various populations during WWII.

Other reporters will treat Guam in a more international context, not as something where the United States is the center of the world, but in a reality where there are many small nations, islands or otherwise, struggling to find their way in the world, Guam, may someday be one of them. This treatment is not necessarily respectful, because even if the United States is not at the center of a journalist's worldview, there are still the general pragmatics of size that have to be contended with. This this end, Guam movements for decolonization in this way, can be treated with sympathy or with disdain by different writers. They can be written of as if they are morons, or guerilla fighters, or serious, but sometimes crazy dreamers.

Such is the difficulty being a colony in the world where colonialism isn't supposed to exist, and attempting to gain independence where much of the world isn't quite sure what to do with theirs. It is the perennial problem of post-modernity. There is no possible way that what you represent can be new or different, so the question is what existing frame, whether sarcastic or sincere can be used to give you the "right" political meaning.

Below is the most recent piece by the Washington Post, which covers the issue of Guam's decolonization. What frame or frames do you see it invoking in its coverage?

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Some in Guam push for Independence from US as Marines prepare for buildup
by Anna Fifield
Washington Post
June 17, 2016

This tiny Pacific island has several nicknames. There is “the tip of the spear” because it is the closest U.S. territory to potential hot spots in Asia, such as North Korea and the South China Sea.

There is “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier,” because the island is home to a huge air force base. And then there is “Fortress Pacific,” because of the huge military buildup that is planned to take place over the next decade.

But Guam’s population calls it by another name: Ours. And a sizable portion wants a real say in how it is run.

“This American territory is not enjoying democracy, where citizens can determine who their leader will be and what laws will be put upon them,” said Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo, who has called a vote for November on Guam’s political status. “It’s up to our people to decide which way to go: whether to be fully in union with the United States or to chart a separate course.”

A “decolonization commission” is set to report to Calvo (R) next month on whether to proceed with the plebiscite, which would give Guamanians three alternatives to their current status as a U.S. territory. That status — shared by Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — confers U.S. citizenship on people born here but does not give them the right to vote in presidential elections or a voting representative in Congress.

“Guamanian soldiers have gone to fight in countries so they can have democracy and vote, yet we have never voted for the person who sends us to war,” the governor said.

The three alternatives under consideration are:

Statehood, which would give Guam all the rights (and burdens) of being a state, albeit a very small one, with a population less than one-third that of Wyoming.
●Free association with administrative power, like Palau and the Marshall Islands.
Independence, which would make Guam a (minuscule) sovereign state.
The vote would not be binding — only Congress can change Guam’s political status — but would be symbolic of the territory’s sentiment.
 
The issue has been simmering for years but returned to the political front burner with the Pentagon’s preparations to relocate thousands of troops stationed on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to here.

The U.S. military presence on Okinawa has long been a source of contention in a prefecture that complains of being treated as a second-class citizen by Tokyo. But there are similar complaints on Guam, a 30-mile-long tropical island of only 160,000 people, which is already home to large air force and naval bases.

Pockets of fierce opposition to the initial plan formulated a decade ago to move 10,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam led the Defense Department to halve the number coming here.

“The prospect of the military buildup caused a crack in the facade of American-ness on this island,” said Michael Lujan Bevacqua, who teaches the indigenous Chamorro language at the University of Guam.

Bevacqua is a strong advocate of breaking free from the United States. “Being independent and having the ability to determine our own policies is much better for us,” he said.

LisaLinda Natividad, another proponent of change, says the decision to move the Marines onto this island is the latest sign of Washington’s highhanded ways. “The whole Guam buildup was set in motion because we’re a U.S. colony, and they think they can do whatever they want with our land,” said Natividad, who sits on the decolonization commission. “Just drive around for 10 minutes and it’s obvious."

The issue of Guam’s political status is complicated. Some resent the U.S. military presence but do not want to give up their American passports. Some want greater independence but want their taxes to stay here on the island, as they do now, rather than going into the federal coffers. Some fear the lack of opportunity if they could no longer travel freely to the mainland.

It is also controversial. People who have lived here for half a century take issue with the way the vote is being structured, saying it unfairly favors the Chamorro people. Only people who can trace their roots on the island back to 1950, when the island became an unincorporated territory, will be allowed to vote.

Efforts to populate a voter registry have been slow-going — only 10,500 have registered so far, Calvo said — and the education campaign is barely existent.

“I believe that before we have a vote, we need to have a strong education effort where people can really see what each status would mean,” said Shannon Murphy, a local journalist who runs the Guampedia website. “I haven’t seen it laid out in a way where people can compare each option.”

Even advocates of political change, including Bevacqua, say the governor is rushing the plebiscite because he has his mind on his legacy. A vote can only be held in an election year, and term limits mean Calvo will be on his way out of office at the 2018 poll. Calvo, who prefers the statehood option, said he called the vote because the time was right.

For the vote to go ahead, the governor, the decolonization commission and the Election Commission all have to agree. The decolonization commission is due to decide whether to press ahead at its meeting next month.

Local business representatives think that moving to lessen or get rid of the military presence on Guam would be economic suicide.

“As a business person, I wonder if they have thought through the economic aspects of the decisions they want to make,” said Joe Arnett, an accountant who has lived on Guam for 32 years and runs the armed forces committee for the local chamber of commerce.

“The U.S. federal government puts $600 million a year into Guam through Social Security and taxes paid by military personnel stationed here. That’s not including food stamps and school lunches and things like that,” he said.

Almost $9 billion has been earmarked for the base expansion and support facilities, one-third of which will be moved from Japan. In the north of Guam, preparations are underway. The Pentagon has unlocked $309 million for the first phase of construction of the new Marine base, which will be built on existing military land lined with palm trees. Next door at the Andersen Air Force Base, where B-52 bombers were lined up on the runway this week, construction workers were building a new hangar that will be part of the expanded footprint.

But the buildup will be long and slow. The first wave of 2,500 Marines is expected here by 2022, with the remainder due by 2027.

The Marines are making sure to stay out of the local debate. “Guam needs to figure out what’s best for Guam,” said Col. Philip Zimmerman, the officer in charge of the 20-strong Marine contingent on Guam.

But, he said, from a military perspective, Guam is a crucial forward base, noting tensions with North Korea and with China around the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea in recent months. It is 2,500 miles to Beijing from here, but more than double that to Los Angeles.

The base itself would be good for the island’s economy, Zimmerman said. “We will be creating jobs during the buildup, then we’ll be creating civilian jobs to run the ranges and to run the base itself,” he said.

A military socioeconomic impact assessment study found that the new base would create more than 3,000 full-time civilian jobs in 2021, and tax revenues to the Guam government would increase by about $40 million a year from 2028.

For his part, the governor said he would “gladly” pay federal taxes so that Guam could be a full-fledged state. “But anything is better than being an unincorporated territory,” Calvo said. “That’s just another word for colony.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #14: A Colonial Crisis

It has become common to say and hear lately that Puerto Rico, a fellow colony of the United State is in crisis. Numbers I have come across cite more than $70 billion in debt, with the island suffering with an unemployment rate of 11.4% and a poverty rate of 45%. Basic public services in health care and education have been dramatically affected and the island is experiencing a rapid brain drain as those who have the means to leave, seem to be doing so.

But what type of crisis this is or the causes of it are almost always lost in the discussion. The usual colonial or developing nation narratives ties problems like this to why islanders can’t take care of themselves. In this way, the problems Puerto Rico is having are about local corruption, political immaturity and a cultural unwillingness to become more civilized. All of these things lead to the notion that Puerto Rico must therefore be saved by those who are politically or economically better than it. Curiously enough, throughout recent human history, this sort of discussion is largely self-serving and the saviors tend to be those who lust after the lands of others, or are already trying to justify their control.

More than 100 years of being a territory of the United States points, far more than anything, to the crisis in Puerto Rico as being a colony one. It is an example of how colonialism, that most wretched of human institutions, can still lurk beneath a façade of friendliness or benevolence. On Guam, this is something of which we must be wary. Even though there is a difference in name between Puerto Rico and Guam, with one being a Commonwealth and the other an unincorporated territory, we occupy the same basic subordinate status, as being possessions of the United States.

There are cries by some on Guam that we should enhance our current status by writing a new Constitution or even just rewriting parts of the Organic Act to serve as our foundational document. This debate was thought to be settled decades ago when voters decided na ti maolek anggen un na’fo’na i kareta kinu i karabao, but it continually resurfaces as a seemingly easy or simpler way of solving a complex problem. The crisis in Puerto Rico does not give much hope for this thinking, as the Constitution of the territory and the problem with crafting one while still a colony is the source of most of their problems.

Submitting a constitution to your colonizer doesn’t end the colonial relationship and doesn’t really improve it. It simply legitimizes it. It adds a veneer of formality and respectability to something the United Nations and the majority of the world’s nations have decried should be eradicated. Under Guam’s current status, any Constitution is supposed to be submitted to the US Congress for their approval. But far more than simply approve it, the US Congress would have the right to reject it or change it as they see fit. This is tragically true for Puerto Rico, which over the years has been restricted and hindered in its own ability to self-govern by various provisions that have been inserted into their foundational document.

In the Puerto Rican constitution, there is a clause that prioritizes the payments to the debtors of the territory over any other obligations. This means that instead of using what funds it has to protect the people of Puerto Rico and ensure that they are safe, healthy, educated, employed, the government is constitutionally required to take money away from all other needs to pay its debts first. Another issue is that according to US law, Puerto Rico is simply not allowed to file for Chapter 11 or declare bankruptcy in order to restructure its debt or its finances. The current representative has sought to gain this right from the US Congress, but the body has refused to consider it.

These restrictions are all tied to the island’s long-standing status as a laboratory of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Various predatory social and political policies that have become common in the ways in which First World and extra-national economic bodies deal with the developing world, were tested in Puerto Rico. These economic restraints are just another example of the ways the United States has sought to keep the island open and friendly to the interests of US corporations and hedge funds, even at the expense of the millions that live there.

Recently the US Congress proposed a bill named PROMESA which means Promise in both Spanish and Chamorro. It stands for “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act” and it is meant to stabilize Puerto Rico prior to its possible default on almost all of its debt at the start of next month. The key feature of this bill is the creation of a seven-member oversight board that could theoretically have control over the laws of the island and its public and natural resources. The bill itself empowers this oversight board, with authority that supersedes any local laws of Puerto Rico.

The use of the word PROMESA in the title of the bill is meant to refer to the obligation the United States is supposed to have to their poor Caribbean colony, to save it from itself and keep it a lucrative cash cow for US corporations and hedge funds. I find this to be ironic because the promise that the United States should be recalling and taking seriously, is their obligation as a nation that claims to stand for freedom and democracy, to decolonize their own territories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #14: A Colonial Crisis

It has become common to say and hear lately that Puerto Rico, a fellow colony of the United State is in crisis. Numbers I have come across cite more than $70 billion in debt, with the island suffering with an unemployment rate of 11.4% and a poverty rate of 45%. Basic public services in health care and education have been dramatically affected and the island is experiencing a rapid brain drain as those who have the means to leave, seem to be doing so.

But what type of crisis this is or the causes of it are almost always lost in the discussion. The usual colonial or developing nation narratives ties problems like this to why islanders can’t take care of themselves. In this way, the problems Puerto Rico is having are about local corruption, political immaturity and a cultural unwillingness to become more civilized. All of these things lead to the notion that Puerto Rico must therefore be saved by those who are politically or economically better than it. Curiously enough, throughout recent human history, this sort of discussion is largely self-serving and the saviors tend to be those who lust after the lands of others, or are already trying to justify their control.

More than 100 years of being a territory of the United States points, far more than anything, to the crisis in Puerto Rico as being a colony one. It is an example of how colonialism, that most wretched of human institutions, can still lurk beneath a façade of friendliness or benevolence. On Guam, this is something of which we must be wary. Even though there is a difference in name between Puerto Rico and Guam, with one being a Commonwealth and the other an unincorporated territory, we occupy the same basic subordinate status, as being possessions of the United States.

There are cries by some on Guam that we should enhance our current status by writing a new Constitution or even just rewriting parts of the Organic Act to serve as our foundational document. This debate was thought to be settled decades ago when voters decided na ti maolek anggen un na’fo’na i kareta kinu i karabao, but it continually resurfaces as a seemingly easy or simpler way of solving a complex problem. The crisis in Puerto Rico does not give much hope for this thinking, as the Constitution of the territory and the problem with crafting one while still a colony is the source of most of their problems.

Submitting a constitution to your colonizer doesn’t end the colonial relationship and doesn’t really improve it. It simply legitimizes it. It adds a veneer of formality and respectability to something the United Nations and the majority of the world’s nations have decried should be eradicated. Under Guam’s current status, any Constitution is supposed to be submitted to the US Congress for their approval. But far more than simply approve it, the US Congress would have the right to reject it or change it as they see fit. This is tragically true for Puerto Rico, which over the years has been restricted and hindered in its own ability to self-govern by various provisions that have been inserted into their foundational document.

In the Puerto Rican constitution, there is a clause that prioritizes the payments to the debtors of the territory over any other obligations. This means that instead of using what funds it has to protect the people of Puerto Rico and ensure that they are safe, healthy, educated, employed, the government is constitutionally required to take money away from all other needs to pay its debts first. Another issue is that according to US law, Puerto Rico is simply not allowed to file for Chapter 11 or declare bankruptcy in order to restructure its debt or its finances. The current representative has sought to gain this right from the US Congress, but the body has refused to consider it.

These restrictions are all tied to the island’s long-standing status as a laboratory of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Various predatory social and political policies that have become common in the ways in which First World and extra-national economic bodies deal with the developing world, were tested in Puerto Rico. These economic restraints are just another example of the ways the United States has sought to keep the island open and friendly to the interests of US corporations and hedge funds, even at the expense of the millions that live there.

Recently the US Congress proposed a bill named PROMESA which means Promise in both Spanish and Chamorro. It stands for “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act” and it is meant to stabilize Puerto Rico prior to its possible default on almost all of its debt at the start of next month. The key feature of this bill is the creation of a seven-member oversight board that could theoretically have control over the laws of the island and its public and natural resources. The bill itself empowers this oversight board, with authority that supersedes any local laws of Puerto Rico.

The use of the word PROMESA in the title of the bill is meant to refer to the obligation the United States is supposed to have to their poor Caribbean colony, to save it from itself and keep it a lucrative cash cow for US corporations and hedge funds. I find this to be ironic because the promise that the United States should be recalling and taking seriously, is their obligation as a nation that claims to stand for freedom and democracy, to decolonize their own territories.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #13: In the Shadow of Davis

I wrote yesterday about the case Tuaua v. the United States, which deals with the issue of birthright citizenship, American Samoans and whether the US Constitution automatically follows wherever the American flag is flown. This case, which was recently declined by the US Supreme Court and won't be heard this year, has been casting an anxious shadow over Guam, as it could have serious ramifications for how the Government of Guam decides to forge ahead with its plans for decolonization.

I mentioned briefly another case that has cast an even larger shadow over the decolonization movement in Guam for the past few years and that is Davis v. The Government of Guam, which was filed by Dave Davis, who argues that the planned decolonization plebiscite and the Chamorro registry that will determine who can vote in it, violates his constitutional rights as a US citizen. The case has been going around in circles and so many have come to believe it is already over. It was initially dismissed in the local district court for not being ripe, but after appealing to the 9th Circuit Court it was reinstated and scheduled to resume sometime next month.

The case has had a paralyzing effect on the local decolonization movement, which due to lack of interest and support from political leaders, was already moving quite slowly. But political leaders have been even more unwilling to take seriously this issue, knowing that the possibility of a decision of "unconstitutionality" could be handed down soon.

Last year, while attending the UN Committee of 24 Regional Seminar in Nicaragua, I spoke about this problem:
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In 2011, an ethnically white long-time resident of Guam, Arnold “Dave” Davis, filed a lawsuit claiming that the proposed decolonization plebiscite would violate his U.S. constitutional rights as he is not allowed to register for it. His lawsuit was dismissed in the courts of Guam on the basis that it was not “ripe,” as no plebiscite has been scheduled, although a Decolonization Commission is in place and is tasked with educating the island community and helping guide the plebiscite process. He appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit District Court, a higher U.S. federal court.

Just last week, the Ninth Circuit Court announced their ruling that Davis’ case was indeed ripe and could be heard. The case so far has been, in my eyes, a twisted deformation of the arc of justice. In order to make his argument, Davis’ attorneys used the history of segregation and discrimination in the United States against the rights of the Chamorro people. They argued that Chamorros, in seeking to protect their right to self-determination, were akin to hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which had historically denied certain groups the right to vote through legal or illegal means. This case has become another means of hiding the contemporary realities of U.S. colonization.

The position of Davis is something that has also been mirrored by U.S. representatives, who have also argued that a self-determination vote must follow U.S. rules. This insistence is not genuine, however. Regardless of how the decolonization vote is set, the Administering Power has long refused to recognize that this vote is binding or that the U.S. has any obligation based upon its outcome. The sympathetic ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court shows a continued commitment on behalf of the Administering Power to ignore international conventions and force this process to conform to the comforts of the colonizer’s legal mazes and fictions.

Davis will most likely resume his challenge against the self-determination plebiscite. His case continues to chill discussion, in anticipation of the time when the merits of his argument will be heard in court. In truth, the merits of Davis’ case shouldn’t matter whatsoever. A decolonization process bound to the rules of the colonizer is anathema to the hope of justice and restitution that decolonization is meant to represent. Self-determination is meant to be a sacred right that all peoples possess. Here, we see a dangerous path ahead, where it appears the U.S. is insisting that it be allowed to determine how a colonized people decolonize.

For those of you who need a refresher in terms of the basics of the case, here are some articles to jog your memory:

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Davis case continues, Paeste case may influence judgement
by Robert Tupaz
The Guam Daily Post
4/18/16

As the government prepares its response in the Arnold "Dave" Davis lawsuit relative to the political status plebiscite, it is again requesting a summary judgment for dismissal from the U.S. District Court.

In its filing, the Office of the Attorney General of Guam noted the tax case of Paeste v. Government of Guam which may be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to grant the petition. However, the issue raised in the petition is applicable to the case at bar where Mr. Davis has sued Guam officials for injunctive and declaratory relief. ... The issue raised in the petition is a substantial issue which I believe should be considered in this plebiscite litigation. Regardless of whether the U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari, I want to preserve this issue in the case at bar for possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court,” wrote Kenneth Orcutt for the Guam attorney general.

The amended language includes an argument that Davis’ claims should be barred as precedent in a 1990 case, Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, which resulted in an order that neither territories or officials of United States territories are persons.

Meanwhile, the attorney general asked the speaker of the Guam Legislature to provide responses to discovery requests by the Davis team as the case was directed to be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last June.

The bench trial is scheduled for July 25.

Questions posed by the Davis team, which since he filed on his own behalf, have earned the pro-bono attention of the Election Law Center and Center for Individual Rights include distinguishing and identifying individuals who by definition may vote.

Native inhabitant

Such instances include the local officials being asked to identify each “native inhabitant” who is eligible to register to vote in the plebiscite, but is not able to register on the Chamorro Registry or identify each Chamorro who is not eligible to register in the plebiscite vote as well as identify any international obligations of the United States relevant to Guam’s compliance with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Organic Act of Guam or the Voting Rights Act. Other such questions were listed to be answered to the best of the speaker’s ability for discovery.

Last November, Davis filed a response to the attorney general’s initial motion for summary judgment in his lawsuit claiming the right to vote in a Guam plebiscite.

Davis responded that Guam’s summary judgment motion should be denied because the Fifteenth Amendment and the Organic Act prohibit all voting qualifications based on ancestry or race. The prohibition applies because even if the definition of “native inhabitants of Guam” were not race-based, it is – by its plain terms – ancestry-based, Davis claims. Moreover, the racial origins of the phrase are so obvious, and the effort of the Guam Legislature to circumvent the Organic Act so transparent, that summary judgment should be denied to Guam, and granted to Davis, according to the response.

Denies

The response stated that classifying citizens into different groups with different political rights and permitting only one of those groups to register for and participate in a government-run election denies other groups the right to vote.

“The Guam Legislature perhaps might have thought that Congress wanted it to vest one race an ancestral group with special political powers not enjoyed by others citizens, but no such congressional action occurred,” Davis’s attorneys wrote. “When Congress did speak, it squarely prohibited the classifications contained in the plebiscite. Guam cannot change this basic fact by invoking opaque and fanciful notions of what Congress might instead have done.”

The attorney general also sought summary judgment on the grounds that the plebiscite does not violate Davis’s constitutional rights, even though it limits the ability to register and vote to “native inhabitants of Guam,” according to the response filed by Davis.

His attorneys also claimed the government’s motion does not address all of Davis’s claims, including a claim that the plebiscite’s restrictions on voting violate the Organic Act regardless of whether or not the restrictions are characterized as “racial.” Davis said in his motion that the court should grant summary judgment invalidating the plebiscite.

“While Guam asserts that Congress has authorized the plebiscite, it has, in fact, unambiguously prohibited it. Guam’s remaining arguments fail because the Ninth Circuit has rejected its argument that the plebiscite has inadequate import because it is supposedly nonbinding, and its discussion of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act simply misunderstands Davis’s claim under that provision,” the attorneys wrote in the response.

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AG waiting on district court before making plebiscite opinion
by Ken Quintanilla
KUAM News
May 28, 2016

Governor Eddie Calvo last week wrote to the Attorney General of Guam, asking for her legal interpretation of what the 70% threshold means for the plebiscite. AG Elizabeth Barrett Anderson said, "What I'm concerned about, although I think it's a very good question and the question that's been on everyone's mind 'What is 70%?'. We are currently waiting on a hearing date from the District Court for our motion for summary judgment in the Davis case.

"So I'm not going to make any comment to the news media about responding to the governor's request. I haven't met with the governor, but my prime concern is that we have a very important motion to be argued in front of the District Court of Guam. We're hoping to have that argument sometime in early or mid-summer - that might be my question."

Several years ago Arnold "Dave" Davis filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from registering to vote on Guam's political status. The trial is set for this summer.


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Appellate court issues opinion on plebiscite
by Ken Quintanilla
KUAM News
May 11, 2015
http://www.kuam.com/story/29027583/2015/05/11/appellate-court-issues-opinion-on-plebiscite

While the District Court of Guam dismissed the case over two years ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion reinstating a lawsuit challenging the voting restrictions for Guam's plebiscite on political status. Nearly five years ago, the Guam Election Commission had less than 1,000 people on the Guam Decolonization Registry. And according to executive director Maria Pangelinan, that number has increased dramatically.

"At this time, we are reporting there are 8,136 native inhabitants registered," she explained. The Decolonization Registry is needed in order to move forward with Guam's plebiscite election. "For this one, it would be the exercise of the native inhabitants of the people of the land on self-determination, what type of government they would wants," Pangelinan said.

One person not on that registry is Guam resident Arnold "Dave" Davis, who recently saw his lawsuit sent back to the District Court of Guam. "It was several years ago when Dave Davis filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from registering to vote on Guam's political status. As it stands, Guam law only allows descendants of native inhabitants of the territory dating back to 1950 to participate in the plebiscite," she said.

Davis however argues that the constitution, the Organic Act, and the Voting Rights Act all provide that every citizen be treated equally and have the same political voice. It was back in early 2013 when District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood dismissed his case after agreeing with the government that no date had been set for the political status vote and therefore Davis had suffered no injury and that the case was not ripe for review.

In response, Davis filed an appeal. Davis is represented by Washington-based public interest law firm, the Center for Individual Rights, who announced the 9th Circuit had reversed Tydingco-Gatewood's decision. A 9th Circuit judge wrote that Davis not only had standing but that the "alleged denial of equal treatment to Davis is....a judicially cognizable injury." As for the latest development in the case, Pangelinan could not comment on the matter.

"We've become aware of it and we will work with legal counsel to see what are the next steps are for the Guam Election Commission," she said.

Meanwhile, Commission on Decolonization executive director Ed Alvarez tells KUAM the 9th Circuit's decision does not affect the commission's work as their mission will be to continue to educate the public. He does however say the process of moving forward the plebiscite should be "free-flowing without the coercion or influence of any party or entity. Personally, when you take it court, you isolate the process of self-determination." As for the threshold of the plebiscite, the law requires 70% of eligible voters - a mandate Alvarez says is "ambiguous" and needs to be clarified before any date is set.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AG Files Motion in Plebiscite Case
October 30, 2015,
TAMUNING, GUAM

Today, the Office of the Attorney General filed a motion for summary judgment in Davis v. Guam, requesting that the plebiscite lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Arnold "Dave" Davis in 2011 be dismissed on the grounds that Defendants Government of Guam, Guam Election Commission, and its members, are entitled to judgment.

"Plaintiff cannot make a case of discrimination under either the U.S. Constitution or the statutes of the United States," according to Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, and Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Aguon. The challenged Guam Decolonization Registry Law is facially neutral and does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. The vote turns only on whether a person
gained his or her U.S. citizenship through the operation of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam.

Guam statutory definition of "native inhabitants of Guam” reflects Congress’ use if the term pursuant to the exercise of its plenary power in the unincorporated territories. The challenge to the plebiscite based on racial discrimination is unfounded. The plebiscite seeks only to allow "those persons whose citizenship was effectuated by the enactment of Guam's Organic Act" to express their desires regarding future political relationship with the United States. Neither the Fifteenth Amendment nor the Voting Rights Act was designed to prohibit this kind of political expression.

###
Contact:
Carlina Charfauros
475-3324 ext 5020
cchaarfauros@guamag.org

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Guam and Rice v. Cayetano
Letter to the Editor
The Marianas Variety
November 28, 2011
THERE has been much ado about Mr. Arnold “Dave” Davis’ misguided lawsuit against the Guam Election Commission on his denial to vote in the upcoming plebiscite, restricted to native inhabitants of Guam. Some have congratulated him for challenging the vote with this lawsuit.

Others have chastised him for wasting time and money with the complaint.

The U.S. Department of Justice refused to pursue it when he urged them to back in 2009. He has now gotten a non-profit organization, the so-called Center for Individual Rights, to back him in a lawsuit. The CIR is really just an anti-Obama conservative organization.

Mr. Davis and I disagree but we do so respectfully. He contends that this is a racially exclusive vote and it violates the 15th Amendment.

Mr. Davis and his “Big Guns” from Washington, D.C. are pretty confident about this lawsuit because of the Rice vs. Cayetano case from 2000. The Rice case involved a statewide election for trustees of a state agency. What they fail to recognize is that Rice vs. Cayetano had patently different facts from the Guam plebiscite. Oh wait, my mistake, Rice vs. Cayetano did have very similar facts to the Guam plebiscite, but it was another Rice vs. Cayetano case in 1996. That 1996 Rice case involved, guess what, a native Hawaiian plebiscite. It didn’t make it past the Federal District Court of Hawaii. The court analyzed the Native Hawaiian plebiscite under the 14th and 15th Amendments and found that due to special circumstances and the special nature of the vote, and relying on Supreme Court precedents, it did not offend the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

Of course Guam has its own unique circumstances and the 1996 Rice case only went to the Federal District Court. I have also stated based on the nature of this vote and Guam’s unincorporated territory status the federal judiciary does not have jurisdiction. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

PETER J. SANTOS
Ghazni, Afghanistan



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Davis v. Guam
The Center for Individual Rights
November 2, 2015

CIR plaintiff Arnold Davis is back in the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam to continue his challenge to Guam’s race-exclusive plebiscite. In 2013, this same District Court dismissed Davis’ lawsuit by saying he had no standing to sue the government of Guam. However, with CIR’s help, Davis appealed his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit reinstated Davis’ case and instructed the District Court that Davis does in fact have standing to have his case considered.

Now Davis is back in the District Court and CIR has renewed the proceedings on his behalf. This week, CIR filed a motion for summary judgment that argues the Constitution unequivocally prohibits Guam from denying Davis – or anyone – the right to vote because of their race.

The Attorney General of Guam filed a motion for summary judgment as well, denying that the race-exclusive provision in this law is unconstitutional. In fact, the Attorney General’s brief goes so far as to argue that the Constitution does not control the actions of Guam’s government.
Here are some of the core arguments about voting rights from our motion:
  1. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is absolute when it says “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged… on account of race.” As the Supreme Court has explained, “race cannot qualify some and disqualify others from full participation in our democracy.”
  2. Racial voting restrictions violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Constitution’s promise that all citizens will be treated equally under the law has led the Supreme Court to say that “a citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.”
Read the full motion here.

CIR challenges Guam plebiscite

CIR is representing Guam resident Arnold Davis in a class action lawsuit challenging a race-exclusive plebiscite on the question of whether Guam should seek independence from the United States, statehood, or some other relationship.

Although a territory of the United States and subject to the Constitution’s guarantees of non-discrimination, Guam law permits only those who meet the definition of “Native Inhabitants of Guam” to vote in the plebiscite.  CIR’s complaint alleges that the definition of this term was designed to limit the vote to “Chamorros,” a racial designation referring to the original inhabitants of Guam and their descendants.  This group comprises about thirty-six percent of the population of Guam.  The law pointedly excludes most Caucasian, black, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino citizens of the United States living on Guam and otherwise registered to vote in Guam elections.

Having been a territory of the United States since 1898, Guam apparently has decided to hold a referendum on its future relation with the United States without allowing nearly two-thirds of its lawfully registered voters to vote — all of them citizens of the United States.

DOJ refuses to act

As troubling as this overtly discriminatory law is, even more difficult to comprehend is the Justice Department’s failure to take action against it.  Despite its clear authority to enforce federal laws prohibiting race discrimination in voting, the Justice Department declined to intervene when presented with a complaint by Guam resident Arnold Davis, the plaintiff in CIR’s suit. Davis, a retired officer in the U.S. Air Force, was told he couldn’t register because he was not descended from a native inhabitant; Davis communicated all this to Department officials, but the Department declined to pursue the matter.  According to sources, this decision came from political appointees in the Civil Rights Division.

The Guam plebiscite bears a strong similarity to Hawaiian laws that formerly limited certain elections to Native Hawaiians.  The Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional in Rice v. Cayetano in 2000.  Presumably to get around this problem, Guam claims its plebiscite is not limited by race, but only to native “inhabitants.”  But this turns out to be a pretext — the law defining “native inhabitant” excludes virtually everyone but “Chamorros.”  And even if “native inhabitant” didn’t exclude other racial groups, it would still violate the Constitution.  Voting cannot be conditioned on the accident of one’s descent.  It must be available to all residents on the same terms.

Racial politics

Guam’s status as a U.S. territory has enabled the island to attract individuals from many other countries, notably Korea and the Philippines, who now call Guam their home.  In addition, U.S. citizens, including retired members of the U.S. military, have become permanent residents of the island.  Yet now, almost two-thirds of the island’s residents face disenfranchisement at the hands of the controlling racial group.

The plebiscite is part of a political campaign being waged by a group of Chamorros intent on preserving their power over island affairs.  Their tactic is the odious one of building a racial identity for a favored “native” race in opposition to “other” races.  Understanding the irrationality of this kind of racial politics, the Constitution does not permit legal classifications built on race.

Though it would be theoretically possible for Guam to secede from the United States in order to pursue its campaign of racial identity, it is not acceptable for it to claim the authority and protection of the United States Constitution and its laws all the while flouting their fundamental principles.  And no principle is more fundamental to American democracy than the idea that all citizens have the right to vote regardless of race.

Case Status: Pending


Friday, June 17, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #12: American Mazes

For the past few years, two legal cases have overshadowed the quest for decolonization in Guam. One of them is the infamous Davis case or Arnold Dave Davis v. the Government of Guam, over the alleged violation of his constitutional rights, that a decolonization plebiscite would entail. Taya' ganas-hu para bei pacha este na suheto pa'go. Buente bei fangge' put este gi otro biahi pat tinige'.

The other case is Tuaua v. The United States, which represents a challenge to the Insular Cases, or the century's worth of legal cases in the United States that formalize their colonial control over their territories such as Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. 

American Samoa's relationship to the United States is perhaps even more interesting than Guam's. Although they are a territory and a colony as well, because of the particularity of their history, they are less intimately connected to the US than Guam is. They are technically an "unorganized unincorporated" territory, whereas Guam is a organized unincorporated territory.

Someone who is born in American Samoa is not automatically a US citizens but instead a national, as Chamorros were prior to the signing of the Organic Act. In American Samoa they have US passports that have a disclaimer that clarifies that they are not truly US citizens. They have a traditional government system that exists today alongside the government that has come through territorial status. They are not eligible to as many Federal programs as people in Guam, but they have more autonomy and local control.

Part of the team in Tuaua v. The United States is Neil Weare, a former resident of Guam and graduate of Yale Law School. He visits island regularly and presents on this case and also publicizes the group he is spearheading, "We the People Project," which is dedicated to getting equal rights as Americans for the people living in the territories.

For this case I am both very hopeful but also wary. I am excited and hopeful since it represents yet another challenge to the Insular Cases. These are what legal scholars and historians refer to as the set of racist legal arguments that create the framework for formal US colonialism. Part of the reason why US historians, legal scholars and American Studies people eagerly identify the Insular Cases as the basis for US colonialism, imperialism and Empire is because of the way it allows you to buy into the argument that the imperial and colonial actions of the US prior to 1898 then seems to have no clear productive meaning. It was stuff that just happened along the way while the US was figuring itself out. Only some Native Americans suffered, and not even that many. In truth, the US operated as a colonial power from the moment it was born. But by identifying the colonialism of 1898 as the foundation for critiques, it allows you to forget so much else and not think of it in a coherently critical context.

One of the many ways that I am disappointed in this island and in the Chamorro people is the way we do not educate ourselves about the things that truly matter. How we establish ourselves as political beings and collect texts in order to understand it, speaks more to how we wish we were, and how we have been effectively colonized, as opposed to what we really are. Our educational system teaches our students accept their relationship to the United States as being just like any state, like the Americans they see on TV. While the Constitution truly affects Guam, why don't we educate ourselves about the Insular Cases in the same way? These cases have more to do about what Guam is in relation to the United States, why do students not learn about them until they are in college?

But this is a critique I have long had since the days of the previous self-determination movements. There were grand plans about changing curriculum in schools to properly educate our children about the island's political status and their history. Nothing ever came from that except for the publication of the text books. Political status issues, the truth of Guam's place in the world today is relegated to something that some teachers can address, but don't really have to. As a result, even though we had some very strong movements for political status change in the 80's and 90's, we have little to show for it today except for an opening of the discursive space to make such conversations more possible.

As I've written about before, political status conversations are much more tolerated now than in the past. But in many cases this tolerance is articulated not within an actual acceptance of the right of Chamorros to self-determine or the need for Guam to decolonize, but rather because of the overarching right of "Americans" to freedom of speech. It is allowed more than before as a testament to how great American truly is since even speech that goes against it in this regard can be tolerated and can be aired in the public square.  Has the Guam community achieved a higher level of consciousness in terms of political status because of this greater freedom in discussing it? I would argue no. Leaders in the past and leaders in the present did not take advantage of much of anything to truly push this issue and so years have been wasted. At the level of government discourse there have been real changes. As Roland Stade argues in his book Pacific Passages, all would be leaders have to take a position or at least engage in some way with political status issues. It is not like the past when you could dismiss all of that as ridiculous to even discuss.

So challenging the Insular Cases can be a good way of raising our consciousness about our situation. Helping us understand the truth of Guam and its relationship to the US today. Although the case is not directly about Guam is can have huge effects on Guam, since the case is about how territories or unincorporated areas of the US relate to the sovereignty of the US. Do these places have any rights on their own? Do they have rights since the US controls them? Or are the Insular Cases right in claiming that all such rights only belong to the US Congress to determine?

Neil Weare has been criticized for this case both in Guam but mainly in American Samoa, since it may take the issue of self-determination out of the hands of the colonized people, and make it something that the courts will determine. Weare has responded that this isn't necessarily true. Para Guahu, siña dinanche gui', lao ti guaguaha mas ki ha sasangan. If the defendants from American Samoa win this case it doesn't automatically mean that the right of Chamorros to self-determination will disappear. It will most likely however make it more difficult.

There are many different ways to see the legal world. The ideal form of it however, it rarely what affects the world, especially for those populations and communities which are marginal, oppressed or weak politically. While the legal world may work in a just, ideal fashion for an individual, especially one that the embedded systems of classicism, sexism and racism infer as being a "normal" person, this is not the case for those that are abnormal, deviant, or unincorporated. For them, the legal world, even in its ideal form is formed through their potential exclusion. Or to use another phrase, you are not a subject within that legal world, but an object upon which the rules are built to make it possible. It is not made for you, but created through your exclusion.

This is the case for both Native Americans and for the unincorporated territories. The system isn't meant for you. It isn't meant to recognize your rights or protect your rights. The system has been built through a sometimes slow, sometimes quick process of legal engulfment. If we look at the origins of both communities in the US legal system, their inclusion is made possible through a primal subordination which no one ever wants to revisit. Native Americans were originally sovereign nations in relation to the US, but within a couple decades had been totally and completely re-imagined legally so that they now basically belong to the United States. The legal history there is shocking and despicable, but few people want to even understand it or fix it. The Insular Cases represents something similar for the unincorporated territories. These territories could have many possible paths, but the Insular Cases traps them in a particular form, where they belong to the US and have no inherent rights or destiny.

All hope is not lost for these communities, but as they try to find their way through these legal mazes, their hope is channeled in a particular direction, always towards being further engulfed and more included. It becomes impossible to argue that you deserve more autonomy and more sovereignty. The legal maze you are in does not allow movements in that direction, it only accepts arguments that bring you further into the fold of the United States and its control.

Because of this, the legal maze may not appear to be all that bad. For those who accept the colonial rule of the United States, the legal maze can appear to be a saving grace. If you accept the colonial rule of the United States, then the world becomes a game of becoming more American. It is all a slow, sometimes frustrating process of making yourself more American, and finding ways to include yourself and prove yourself. The courts and that legal maze, which is already fixed so that you can only move towards the United States can appear to be helpful and getting you there.

A number of former Guam leaders have shown interest in Weare's case because it does represent this potential. For many people resolving Guam's political status is not a neutral process, but about finally becoming part of the American family that people have craved for so long. This is the easiest way to approach decolonization since it is the only path that Guam's colonization really allows. The US has shown vague support for "self-determination" but has always made clear that this is "self-determination" within the US and would not allow/support anything that does not align with US laws and US interests.

As I said I am happy that the Insular Cases are being challenged, although I do wish that the challenge was not so much based on inclusion, but rather challenged the idea that the territories have no inherent rights. But I am in a serious minority in terms of how I see Guam and its colonial status. For most people they feel colonialism in terms of being a disrespected, excluded and incomplete American. They are drawn to Statehood not because they understand what it might mean for Guam, but because they hope that it can fulfill their long felt desires to become one with the United States. Support for Statehood is fueled by colonial feelings of dependency. I want something else for Guam, I believe that Guam should have the right to choose whatever it wants, and not be limited by what the US believes it should be, or what US courts or Congress pass laws and judgements that it should be.

It is possible that one day the legal maze that the US has created around Guam could suddenly be lifted or opened. It could be a single decision that basically creates an opening for more of a century of unilateral colonial authority to finally be weakened. It could even be this decision that does it. But it is unlikely. Legal mazes are not easily tampered with in this way. They generally have an organic way of sealing off any potential openings, to keep those trapped consistently trapped and only moving in one possible direction.

If a case like this has the ability to create those openings then I am all for it. But if it becomes just another way of trapping Guam, then of course I am wary. The benefit of opening things up for Guam is that it doesn't not mean that it puts Guam on the path to independence. The only thing it means is that the path ahead is clear, and isn't dominated by what the US wants or will allow. The right to self-determination is something that is sacred and should be taken more seriously by both people on Guam and in the United States. I hope that cases like this one can open the discussion up, but I fear that they will only limit it further, by deepening that legal maze and thickening the walls so there is no escape for Chamorros and for Guam, save for through the sovereignty of the United States.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #11: To Militarize? Or to Decolonize?

On August 28, 2015 the Department of Defense signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for their proposed military buildup to Guam. The military buildup and its impact on Guam has long been a topic of public debate. What has often been lost in the discussion of socioeconomic and environmental impacts is what effect a military increase of this magnitude may have on the Chamorro quest for self-determination and the decolonization of Guam.

Since 2011 I have been a member of the Commission on Decolonization, and although many people might think of issues of self-determination and military increases as being separate, we should think of them as being more closely connected. The overall mission of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the island community on issues of political status, in particular related to the holding of a political status plebiscite in which those who are legally qualified will vote on one of three future political statuses for Guam (integration, free association or independence). But how does our value as a base affect the willingness or unwillingness of our colonizer to support us in our decolonization?  

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all colonial powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to de-emphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. The expansion of bases and the establishing of new training areas as outlined in the ROD is precisely the type of increased military presence the United Nations has long cautioned against. The United Nations has also cautioned countries like the United States from using their colonies in offensive wars or actions against other nations as this could potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization. To illustrate this point the more that Guam is used for American military saber rattling in the Asia-Pacific region, the more it becomes a target for enemies of the United States today and should it ever achieve another political status.

The Department of Defense is aware of this concern and has acknowledged the potential for their military buildup to affect certain Chamorro issues or concerns, such as decolonization in their military buildup environmental impact studies. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

For those who think these matters are separate or that one doesn’t affect the other, that simply isn’t true. Our strategic military value to the United States has long affected what we can and cannot get from the United States. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

Tales of Decolonization #10: The Registry...of DOOM

Guam's decolonization movement has been stalled at the governmental level for many years, and even decades depending on how you perceive things. During the Gutierrez administration the quest for decolonization was taken seriously in a variety of ways, money was provided for education, the Commonwealth movement was in full swing, although it did eventually end in 1997, and several plebiscites were scheduled. The problem was that the plebiscite was scheduled and postponed multiple times, and no real educational campaign ever took place, although at one point basic materials were distributed on a mass scale. During the next administration, that of Felix Camacho, the issue almost died completely at the government level. Community groups and civil society took up the cause, but during the entire administration of Camacho, not a single meeting of the Commission on Decolonization was held, and the office itself was given little to no support. Part of this was the hesitancy of the administration to take up an issue that they didn't understand or were worried was anti-American, but part of it was also the minala'et gi pachot taotao as to the failure of Commonwealth, a movement that had in all lasted for several decades. When Eddie Calvo came into power, the rhetoric shifted, suddenly decolonization was being talked about again and statements made indicating it would be a priority. The Commission on Decolonization met again, after more than eight years. But this too was fairly hollow and pointless. For most of Camacho's term, although his administration didn't take this issue seriously, there was still funding to support the office of the Commission on Decolonization and keep an Executive Director and two staffers. But under Calvo, although he after a year hired an Executive Director, those who were working in the office, were there only in name, as they were actually detailed elsewhere. The Commission met for several years without any money for any of its activities and had no staff to support it in anyway. Calvo continued to randomly bring up the issue of decolonization and profess it was important to him, but his deeds showed that like his predecessor, he either didn't really seem to understand the issue or care about it. But unlike his predecessor who seemed fearful of talking about it, Calvo at least understood its rhetorical value and that invoking colonization and decolonization provided a particular way of talking about Guam's place in the world and place in subordinated place in relation to the United States. Eventually, Calvo's deeds began to catch up to his words, and he began to set aside funding for the Commission on Decolonization to undertake educational projects. This year, Calvo has become far more engaged than any other point, and appears to finally be actively taking up the cause of decolonization. In his 2016 State of the Island Address he made a bold and I would argue reckless proposal to hold a plebiscite this year, and instead of using the process mandated by law (in which the Commission on Decolonization, of which he is the chair, makes the decision on when a plebiscite will be held), he argued circumventing GovGuam law and using the private citizen referendum process, whereby any individual with enough community support can push a vote on a topic before the public. By doing this he would violate what has become a sacred part about this process, and that is that the vote should be limited to only those who are Guam's colonized people, which due to a somewhat complicated process we refer to today as "native inhabitants." If Calvo's plan was implemented, everyone would be able to vote in the plebiscite. Calvo's proposal made little sense for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here, as many of his arguments for taking this route were paper-thin to be generous. He is the chair of the Commission of Decolonization, and as the chair it was in his best interest to engage and guide the commission with his ideas, rather than just proposing a wild plan that violated a number of GovGuam laws and seemed to mock the people who have been fighting for this issue for years.

But the main reason that Governor Calvo gave for why he felt it necessary to take this alternative route, was due to an issue that has long haunted this process and caused a wide range of delays and defeats, and that is the Chamorro registry. Pasted below I have a number of random articles that deal with the status of the Chamorro registry over the years. Calvo explained that the Chamorro registry, with its ambiguous and vague rules was such an insurmountable obstacle that he foresaw only his radical action as getting us around it. The Chamorro registry should be something that strengthens the process, as this is the list of those who would be able to vote when a plebiscite is actually held. This list should represent something around which education and outreach and community organizing can take place. But instead successive administrations have treated it like an irritation that they don't have time for and don't want to put resources to support. They ignored it and did nothing to promote it or help it grow and as such it sat there collecting dust and negativity for far too long.

When I submitted my name for the Chamorro registry, there was just a few hundred people on the list, and there was almost no awareness about it and no attempts to get people to add their names to the list or convince them of the importance of participating. I did not even get a pamphlet with information, just a receipt indicating that I had registered.

But the registry has also caused delays and hesitancy for another reason, because of the way it and the vote itself have been accused of violating the US Constitution. This is found most famously in the case of Dave Davis, who is accusing GovGuam of violating his constitutional rights by proposing an election and a list of voters, both of which he is potentially ineligible for. Most recently, politicians from both sides of the island have expressed concern about moving forward with any plans for decolonization until the Davis case is settled, because we may find one day that Federal Courts are suddenly hacking apart our local laws on decolonization and telling us, in a very colonial way, how we should decolonize.

The past few months, have been different in terms of the rhetoric from the Calvo administration, but it remains to be seen how long this will last. May was declared Decolonization Registration month, but this was quickly lost amidst the deluge of selfies with Rapa Nui men for FESTPAC. Now that the dust from the thousands of grass skirts has settled, we shall see if the administration keeps the movement going, or if they drop it as others have in the past.

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Guam Decolonization Supporters Back Chamorro Only Vote
By Lloyd Jojola
Pacific Daily News
August 4, 1990 

Minus a few changes, decolonization supporters yesterday endorsed legislation that would provide money to carry forward a Chamorro-only vote to determine political status for the island.

The Legislative Committee on Finance and Taxation yesterday held a public hearing on Bill 691. The proposal is expected to go before the Legislature during its next session. No date has been set.

Sponsored by Senators Willy Flores, D. Talofofo; Anothony Unpingco, R. Santa Rita; and Anthony Blaz, R. Chalan Pago/Ordot, the legislation provides funding for the Commission on Decolonization and the Chamorro Registry Advisory Board to conduct a decolonization plebiscite in October 1999, according to the proposed law.

The vote would come a decade after the people of Guam submitted the Draft Commonwealth Act to the federal government, asking to be able to determine their own political futures.

"By virtue of our being the colonized and also because we an indigenous people, we have the right to determine our political status and that of our homeland," Chris Peroz Howard, chairman of the Organization of the People for Indigenous Rights and a commission member, said as he endorsed the bill yesterday.

"We are people. And although our colonial history has altered our face and our actions, we can say with justified pride, "we are still alive after all these years," he said.

During his testimony yesterday, Howard asked that other sections be added to the bill. One mandating that Guam Del Robert Underwood withdraw the Commonwealth Act from Congress, and another that the Commission on Self-Determination be dissolved and its staff and funds be transferred to the decolonization commission. The Commission on Self-Determination was created to promote the draft Commonwealth Act.

In January 1997, public law 23-145 created the Commission on Decolonization. The commission's job ultimately is to determine what political relationship with the United States the Chamorro people of Guam now want -- independence, free association or statehood.

Three task forces set up by the commission are supposed to study each political status option. They will research their respective status option and come up with a position paper. The information will be used as part of a public information campaign before the plebiscite.

If Bill 691 passes, $475.000 in general fund money would be appropriated to the commission for the purpose of funding its operations.

The 1997 law originally set the plebiscite vote for this year. Bill 691 would push that date to October 5, 1999. Several supporters who testified yesterday urged that the date be pushed back even further.
Also under the proposed bill, $40,000 would be given to the Guam Election Commission to establish a plan for an awareness and voter registration drive. Commission chairman Joe Mesa questioned whether the money was necessary for planning purposes.

The law that created the decolonization commission defines Chamorros as inhabitants of Guam in 1898 and their descendants who have taken no steps to preserve or acquire foreign nationality. The Chamorro Registry Advisory Board, created the same year as the commission, would identify qualified voters.

As part of the proposed law, the board also would have to coordinate with the commission an intensive identification and awareness campaign and voter registration drive in preparation for the vote.

Several decolonization commission members yesterday said the education campaign is needed.
"We need a public relations effort that calls in those eligible to vote," Commission Executive Director Leland Bettis said, adding that unless eligible voters are "energized," the commission's efforts will fall on deaf ears.

Commission member Ron Rivera agreed.

"There are those who don't know a doggone thing about this, he said.


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List of those eligible to vote in self-determination plebiscite increases
By Jasmine Stole
Marianas Variety
5/23/14

Since 2011, the Guam Decolonization Registry list has grown almost sevenfold, but the list still needs some work.

As of April 2014, according to Maria Pangelinan, executive director of the Guam Election Commission, the list now has 6,569 names.

Issues with duplicate names were discussed at last week’s commission meeting. A staff member presented the commission with an update of the list and the board questioned its organization.
Pangelinan said in an interview yesterday that sometimes registrars go out and encounter people who are unsure whether they are on the list. "What we do is go ahead and register them," she said.
"Throughout the years, we’ve had duplicates. And the biggest challenge we have is that, for the Chamorro Land Trust lessees, there’s ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’" Pangelinan said. "And we don’t have any information on Mrs. So, those are our challenges."

Prior to receiving funding for the registry in 2011, only 938 people had registered, she said.
Additionally, there is only one person in charge of going through the lists and removing duplicates and merging information, although at the commission meeting he said he has received help from temporarily employed staff members within the last few months. Pangelinan added that the same person is also in charge of information technology for her office.

She said the registry list had 938 names in 2011 and in August that same year, GEC was given a list of an additional 3,843 names to be added to the list from the Chamorro Land Trust.

"According to the law, anybody that gets a Chamorro Land Trust lease, by being a lessee, (gets) to be on the registry automatically," Pangelinan said.

During 2012, when P.L. 31-244 was enacted, the registry grew by another 319. The law intended to "enhance the registration process of the Guam Decolonization Registry" by adding decolonization registrars at every polling place. It was during that election that the 319 names were added to the list.
"Even though that’s a small number compared to the total number of native inhabitants, you’ve got to admit that’s quite a bigger number from 938, which took 11 years to put on," Pangelinan said of the 6,569 names.

Pangelinan added that the law for a decolonization registry came to be in 2000 and between then and 2011 there had only been 938 names added to the list.

Alice Taijeron, vice chairwoman of the commission, acknowledged the growth of the registry at last week’s meeting but said more progress is needed. "I do see a difference in the numbers and that is a lot for one individual considering our scope of work," Taijeron said. "I think for me ... I have greater expectations and ... we want it done now, we wanted it done yesterday."

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Cruz signs up for Chamorro Registry
by Sabrina Salas Matanane
KUAM News
March 3, 2010 

Guam - Acting Governor Mike Cruz signed up for the Chamorro Registry, but hasn't just yet acted on Bill 184. The legislation provides additional clarification for the establishment dealing with the decolonization registry.  The acting governor signing up for the registry follows a letter and meeting with Senator Ben Pangelinan.

Pangelinan was requesting the acting Governor not only sign bill 184 but also reactivate the Commission on Decolonization which is responsible for spearheading a plebiscite on Chamorro Self Determination. He says now is the time to activate the group and spark dialogue about the political relationship between the U.S. and Guam.

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The Chamorro Registry and the Guam Decolonization Registry
by Selina Onedera-Salas
Letter to the Editor
Marianas Variety
January 9, 2012

THERE are two registries that were created by law to delineate the people of Guam who are entitled to self-determination. These registries are the Chamorro Registry and the Guam Decolonization Registry — neither of which is “race-based.”
The marked difference between the two is the definition of native inhabitants. In short, the Chamorro Registry defines native inhabitants as those who were inhabitants of Guam by April 11, 1899; those who were temporarily absent from the island at that time; and those who were born on the island prior to 1800 and their descendants.
The Guam Decolonization Registry defines native inhabitants as those who became U.S. Citizens by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and their descendants.
When you hear “Chamorro-only,” keep in mind it is a phrase that is entirely inaccurate, misguided, undermining, and is a menacing misrepresentation of the mission of the Commission on Decolonization, the intent of the enabling legislation for both registries, and the many discussions that have taken place at various conferences and fora on-island and abroad.
Self-determination is not a synonym for any of the three status options, and the plebiscite is a mechanism by which the native inhabitants of Guam will now determine, for ourselves, what sort of relationship we wish to have with the United States.
Countless decisions have been made concerning our land, our water, and our airspace without sincere efforts at consultation with our people, who are left to deal with the aftermath of PCB-contamination, the effects of the Compact agreements, and wishy-washy buildup talks. These issues take effect as a result of the “status quo.” If it is change that you seek, the truest change we must impress upon is to the gray area that is beyond our Legislature and beyond Adelup — it is the gray area between the people of Guam and the government of the United States of America.
Never mind the rhetoric of how this vote is racially motivated or racially biased — that is simply ill-intended rhetoric that seeks to undermine the process of our right to self-determination. Rather than relying on false reports and/or news articles that contain strong opinions over facts, ask the right people your questions and continue to stay informed and educated on the three status options.
Regardless of your ethnic identity, you may be qualified to register for the Guam Decolonization Registry. Registration clerks are available at the Guam Election Commission and at the office of Sen. Ben Pangelinan in Hagåtña.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #9: Diplomatic Life in Pictures

For this year's Regional Seminar I wanted to accomplish a number of goals. First, the primary goal was to give my presentation as an expert on the decolonization situation in Guam. Second, was to meet with people from the other Non-Self-Governing Territories to try to develop the foundation for a solidarity network to increase awareness and communications. Third, to conduct interviews for the Guam public radio program Beyond the Fence. And finally, just to conduct research for my own academic work. For the first three, things went smoothly at the conference. In fact, other than some technical problems with my digital recorder and my struggles with jet lag, things went far better than I expected.

Interviewing people to learn more about the decolonization process, the diplomatic relations involved with it was a bit more difficult. Employees of the United Nations itself were politely mum when asked about things in any formal interview, saying that they had to clear things with those above them prior to speaking freely on any topic. Country representatives were polite, as us from the colonies don't even get the minimum amount of respect and recognition the smallest of nations get, but when I wanted to ask them things in a more formal context, suddenly had emails to answer and workout equipment to make use of.

International diplomacy is a game of trading favors. Something is given up, normally because something can be gained, if not immediately, at a future date. Those from the territories, the colonies have very little in the way of resources to bargain with. This is something that non-voting delegates in the US Congress experience as well. Even if you are treated with the trappings of inclusion and participation, fundamentally you cannot escape or color up fancily your exclusion and powerlessness. If you are included and not just a recipient of "state-like" or "country-like" treatment, then there is always the possibility that your inclusion alone can matter for something, this usually manifested in the form of public support or votes.

But I've found over the past few seminars that I do have something which can help get me, at least some access, and that is a decent digital camera and an enjoyment of taking pictures at events. At each seminar, people who work for the Decolonization Unit of the United Nations have access to a camera that they can use to take pictures, but as one of them told me "they aren't photographers" and usually don't take great looking pictures. The media shows up at the start and the close of the seminar, but usually to talk to the chair of any VIPs that are in attendance, not the experts and country representatives present. The people attending the conference take selfies and group photos, but rarely is anyone present to photograph them while they are testifying or debating.

After agreeing to provide people with pictures, suddenly people were more willing to sit down and talk to me, and even informally discuss things with me they weren't willing to earlier. As a special honor, the United Nations Decolonization Unit, has for each regional seminar I've attended, asked me to be their "unofficial" photographer and they've even used some of my images in their reports and on their website.

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