Thursday, August 10, 2017

Solidarity and Self-Determination

As Guam is making international headlines once again, it is imperative that we use this moment in order to try to change the minute media frame that is used to give Guam meaning in moments like this. Guam is more than a military base and more than an island with a snake crisis. It is a contemporary colony in need of assistance in decolonizing and encouraging the United States to fulfill its obligation as a UN member to help make decolonization a reality. My last two columns for The Pacific Daily News focused on a letter that Governor Calvo, as the head of the Guam Commission on Decolonization sent recently to the Committee of 24 at the United Nations.

The letter provided some small details on the situation in Guam, in particular impediments that have been put in place by the United States and its courts. But more than anything it represented a request for the UN to send a visiting mission to Guam to help bring attention to our quest for decolonization. It remains to be seen if the UN will indeed send a visiting mission, like they did in 1979 on the eve of the draft constitution for the island being voted on. Time will tell, but in the meantime, my two columns give some of the context for international solidarity on the issue.


Solidarity Will Help With Self-Determination
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
August 4, 2017

The US flag can be found all over Guam, and because of this it can be easy to forget that just because this well-known configuration of red, white and blue colors flies over Guam, doesn’t mean that Guam is a part of the United States. We know this because there is over a century of court cases that reinforce this. We know this because even in the recent ruling of the Davis case, Justice Tydingco Gatewood argued that while some of the Constitution should apply to Guam, other parts shouldn’t. We also know this because as more than one non-voting delegate has reminded me interviews, their role in Congress is often to remind the US Congress about the territories and that it has control over them.

We know that our relationship to the United States and the rest of the world is defined by a broad grey sea of inclusions and exclusions. Sometimes Guam is allowed to participate in international or regional forums, sometimes it isn’t. The same ambiguity persists at the national level as well.

Because of this lack of a formal or stable place within the international or national systems of governance and recognition, the concept of solidarity is of critical importance. Without a formal place, you are invisible and without direct power over the structure around you. There was ways that you can fight for power, that you can seize it, but solidarity is an important part of changing your invisibility or your lack of visibility and therefore lack of relevance of standing, into something different, something more strategic, something from which a campaign to change the political structure can be launched.

As the movement for decolonization and independence grows in Guam, it is important that we find ways to connect it to other potentially similar movements, which can offer lessons or inspirations on the way forward. This was the case in the past, where members of Nasion Chamoru or OPI-R achieved a greater sense of their place in the world through interacting with people who were members of Black, Brown and Red Power movements in the US. It was also true in general from Chamorros who traveled to the US in the postwar years and felt affinity with African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans after seeing them struggle against segregation, racism and land displacement.

My last three appearances at the United Nations to testify before the Committee of 24 at its regional seminar have all reminded me of the importance of solidarity. For those of us who remain colonies, non-self-governing territories, the pieces that still don’t quite fit in the global order, we are often forgotten about or ignored by much of the world, including our own colonizers. Solidarity can be difficult as our experiences are so diverse and the geographic distance mirrors historical, cultural and political differences between these 17 colonies spread across the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. But those colonies that come to the United Nations and build alliances with nations willing to support their cause can make progress. Those who don’t remain stuck.

This week Governor Calvo and the Commission on Decolonization approved a formal letter to the UN, requesting that they send a visiting mission to Guam in order to ascertain the status of our quest for decolonization and also make clear what impediments the administering power is placing before us. Next week I will discuss more about what a UN visiting mission might mean, but in the meantime, I offer my thanks to the Commission and Governor Calvo for taking this important step in helping building greater international solidarity to support our efforts.


UN Visit Could Help Decolonization Effort
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
August 11, 2017

The United Nations is an institution that is meant to represent the bright future of humanity, the uniting of diverse peoples and countries under common causes for our collective betterment. But in contrast to conservative elements in certain countries that see the UN as floating above the world, infringing on national sovereignty, in truth the UN is simply a reflection of it. It can be no better and no worse than individual countries allow. As one US politician once noted, the purpose of the UN is not to take the world to heaven, but rather prevent the world from dragging itself down to hell.

As such, in terms of Guam’s continuing colonial status, blaming the UN, the Government of Guam or the people of Guam doesn’t make sense. We do not, thankfully live in the days where hundreds of millions of people around the world are fighting in bloody wars for their independence and decolonization. We live in the age after that, where given the harsh and tragic lessons of the past, all colonizers are now supposed to give up their colonies and faithfully support their aspirations for decolonization.

But this is the way the world should be, but not the way it is. The US has fallen far short of its obligation to assist Guam and its colonized people in moving a head on a process of decolonization. This is due to a mixture of imperial apathy, colonial ignorance and military strategic self-interest. For smaller countries, the UN and the international community has clear options to try to compel a recalcitrant nation to adhere to its commitments. But for larger countries, especially those with large militaries and permanent seats on the UN Security Council, the UN as a body is usually powerless.

As I wrote last week, for a place like Guam, international solidarity is key, as allies can advocate on your behalf and try to reason with countries like the US to stop their obstruction. But in terms of the UN infrastructure itself, one way that a long stagnant process of decolonization can hopefully be kick-started, is through the sending of visiting missions.

Since the 1960s several dozen UN visiting missions have been undertaken to visit various non-self-governing territories. These missions provide important on-the-ground information to the UN and draw international attention to issues that an administering power may want to keep hidden. One such mission visited Guam in 1979 in order to witness a vote on the proposed constitution for the island. The visiting mission consisted of three countries, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago and Syria. They spent eight days on the island meeting with government officials and community groups.

Much of what the community expressed to the visiting mission still persists today. The main issues of contention in Guam’s relationship to the US was lack of voting rights and democratic participation but also Guam’s inability to control the basics of its economy due to federal immigration control and federal policies such as The Jones Act. For a variety of reasons, the proposed constitution was rejected by a wide margin of voters.

A visiting mission will not solve our decolonization dilemmas, but it is a step in the right direction. We currently reside in a place of political invisibility. We have a great deal of military visibility, as we saw this past week in terms of North Korean threats to the island. But in political terms, as a place in need of assistance in moving to the next stage of our political development, we lack the allies and a presence in any international conversations. A visiting mission and the attention it might garner could help to fix that.

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