Tag Archives: self-determination

US Social Forum 2010: A commentary on the challenges facing our movement toward social justice

By: Dr. Hope Cristobal

This year’s US Social Forum was held in downtown Detroit, Michigan from June 22 to June 26.  As one of the 10,000 progressive activists registered for the Forum, my experience that week was both captivating and disenchanting.

I was part of a small group of indigenous Chamorus representing a local non-governmental organization (NGO).  Our group – four from Guam, one from California, and one from Boston – was well organized.   Each was strategically packed with a schedule of mandatory workshops and People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) in order to maximize our attendance at such an important forum.  Our goal was to bring home good solid knowledge and skills in addition to networking with strategic folks involved in issues of decolonization and self-determination.  I can tell you, in this respect, we certainly were NOT disappointed!

Our information table was also brimming with material for the American public about Guam, especially about the proposed hyper militarization of our island home by the Department of Defense.  The biggest draw to our table was this quote, spelled out in big bold white letters, “The indigenous Chamoru people of Guam who have already suffered near genocide and violent colonization for over 400 years will bear the burden of U.S. military buildup on Guam – and have been given no say in the process.”  Many people who passed by our table slowed to read the sign, shaking their heads in disbelief.  Manning the table was valuable experience for each of us.  We learned how fellow Americans knew little about what is happening in the westernmost U.S. territory of Guam.  Our efforts did not go unheeded; we received a few hundred signatures in support of our petition to stop the military buildup and to grant the Chamoru people the exercise of our legal and political Right of Self-Determination.  I do, however, wonder, “What does the American public understand about this Right and the struggles of colonized indigenous peoples in this world?”

I quickly realized through the week, that the terms “self-determination,” “anti-imperialism,” and “decolonization” appear to be the new ‘cool’ terms thrown into the political rhetoric.  I witnessed the term “self-determination” be reduced to anyone’s right to personal freedom. The truth of the matter is that self-determination in the case of the indigenous people of Guam is not just a “right,” but a “Right.”  Meaning, the Right of Self-Determination as recognized in the United Nations Charter of 1945 and other relevant United Nations documents—and further identified as “jus cogens” in the international sphere – is an inherent Right of indigenous peoples to simply exist independently from our colonial power.  This independent existence is made real through the expression of our right to freely choose our political status, or our Self-Determination.

On the third day, I was drawn toward a workshop strategizing a revolutionary movement from the left.  The workshop handout read, “building a more powerful movement and a stronger left that can defeat capitalism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, and gender oppression.”  What about political oppression?  The sad truth is even among revolutionaries, this struggle – familiar to many colonized indigenous people – goes unnoticed most of the time.  Colonized indigenous groups can’t yet deal with the struggles of racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, gender oppression, and other equality issues until they are allowed the basic Right to exist and have a voice.  Ultimately, an able-bodied, white, heterosexual, male can’t vote for the President of the United States or be protected under the U.S. Constitution as long as he is a resident of Guam!

There are two problems that I can see with our revolutionary movement so far.  First, when the term “self-determination” is loosely akin to anyone’s right to freely choose their future, it undermines the larger human rights struggle for indigenous people.  This struggle is a legitimate struggle for those living in colonies – indigenous or non-indigenous – especially the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories around the world who go to the United Nations multiple times a year, demanding their right to exist independently from their administering power.  Secondly, discussions on social transformation will continue to fall short as long as the left continues to be blind to their own political-privilege, ignoring the fact that there are politically disenfranchised groups that truly have no political voice in their future or how they choose to live their life.  I will define political-privilege as the political advantage, benefit, or immunity enjoyed by people who can freely choose or express their governmental, civic, legal, and constitutional options and who are exempt from the burden or liabilities incurred by people who lack this privilege. Political-privilege results in laws, regulations, and political viewpoints favoring the desires, needs, and perspectives of those who have this privilege over those who do not.

What should the left do?  First of all, acknowledge that political-privilege exists in this country and the fact that there are people who are not politically recognized as legitimate entities, is an equity issue and a human rights issue.  Secondly, be aware, understand, and make distinction between the Right of Self-Determination and the right of the politically-privileged to make personal choices in their lives.  Political-privilege will continue as long as those who have it remain ignorant to the true political meaning of “Self-Determination.”  Lastly, any revolutionary strategy needs to be inclusive of the politically-underprivileged and disenfranchised.  By this inclusion, privileged folks discourage the reenactment of colonial marginalization already committed by administering Powers of colonial territories and peoples.

Ultimately, until indigenous people living in this country can be afforded our right to political equity, there can be no legitimate fight for equality.

About the author:  As an indigenous Chamoru and active member of Famoksaiyan, Dr. Hope Cristobal was born and raised on the island-territory of Guahan.  She is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment and assessment of indigenous and marginalized populations, focusing on the unique situation for colonized Chamorus from Guahan. She is a community advocate at the local, national, and international levels. She has presented at a number of workshops and conferences regarding the psychosocial problems currently facing the Chamoru people in Guahan and abroad.  Her testimonies to the United Nations’ Committee on Decolonization is highlighted in a documentary film, The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas Islands. You can contact Dr. Cristobal at hope.cristobal@gmail.com.

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Filed under Asia - Pacific, Events, General Information, Military/Military Build-up, Petition, Uncategorized

Christina Illarmo: USSF Presentation at the ‘American Lake’ or Ka Moana Nui?: Demilitarization Movements in the Asia-Pacific Workshop

Presentation at the
USSF – United States Social Forum
24 June 2010

‘American Lake’ or Ka Moana Nui?: Demilitarization Movements in the Asia-Pacific

The Pacific island of Guahan, where I was born and raised, has been touted to mainstream audiences as “the tip of the spear,” “the unsinkable aircraft carrier,” or as a kind of  “gas station” for U.S troops.  But this island is more than a military outpost, it’s place of waterfalls, fresh water caves, thick jungles, and warm sandy beaches. It’s also home to a loving and resilient native people who after surviving centuries of Western colonization have yet to receive their inherent right to self-determination.

We’ve been citizens since the 50’s, yet we still can’t vote for President, we aren’t represented in the senate, and our one Congressional Delegate can’t vote on the floor; but our voices are valid and our concerns are real.

This massive military buildup, which will realign troops from Okinawa to Guahan, puts our culture, environment, and our ­quality of life at risk while simultaneously violating our human rights. While Okinawa, Hawai’i, California, Philippines, and Korea have said no- we have not; and it is not because we say “yes”; it is because we were never ASKED. Our political status as a US Territory provides the United States a place wherein they may implement their plans with “no restrictions,” meaning: they can do whatever is in their best interest. When our local leaders voiced concerns during realignment negotiations, they were told that this was a “nation-to-nation” conversation.  This response reminds our people that we have never been equals within this country.  We are Americans; but then we are not.

Why does the US go so far out of its way to subjugate a peaceful little island 30 miles long and 7 miles wide with a population of 171,000?

In a simple word: LOCATION.

Any military official will tell you as a US Territory, Guahan is the only location of its kind in the Pacific, from which long-range bombers can strike nearly any target in Northeast, East and Southeast Asia. They see us as the “Diego Garcia of the Pacific”.

But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter how important the Pentagon thinks we are, this costly, immoral and unsustainable practice of forcing bases on unwilling soil has a huge price tag ($4 billion) and it is breaking the backs of the American working class while destroying the lives of native peoples abroad.

Currently, the military is Guahan’s largest landowner, occupying roughly 1/3 of the land. Air force and naval bases restricted to the civilian public have not only displaced thousands of people, they have created a unique form of racial and socioeconomic segregation in which the service people behind the fence have their own hospitals, schools, homes, parks, churches, shopping centers, camping grounds, and beaches- all on land which was mostly stolen or forcibly bought for insultingly low prices from the indigenous Chamoru people. Besides the trauma of displacement, and being forced to use the English language in place of our own, our quality of life has seen other impacts. Before much of our rich and fertile ancestral farmlands were confiscated we had sustainable agriculture. Our farmers produced over 90% of our food. Today we must rely on expensive importing with our own local production reduced to 5%.

Last November the required draft environmental impact was released, outlining plans for the buildup. Those familiar with environmental impact statements and NEPA regulations will quickly tell you that the typical length of these types of documents run somewhere around 350 pages.  However, the DEIS detailing US plans to realign Okinawan troops to Guam was over 11,000 pages and contained three separate projects (all three of which contained plans large enough to justify their own formal commenting period).  This forced residents of Guam to digest, understand, and critique this massive document within a 90 day period. Residents were welcome to submit written comments but each were only given 3 minutes to testify at a series of only 3 hearings. You can see a few of these testimonies on the Voice of Guam Youtube Channel.

At first, attention and most discussion on the buildup was about how it was going to help our economy and create more jobs. But as the inadequacy of plans became apparent during the formal comment period, a shift in the island’s attitude occurred as agencies, such as the Guam Water Authority, began to speak out in concern, worried that the expected population boom of 80,000 people would overwhelm our already outdated and stressed sewage system and threaten our freshwater source.

Other organizations such as the Boonie Stompers, a club of hiking enthusiasts, began doing outreach, revealing that the military intended to acquire more land to create live firing ranges in pristine jungles. One such site for a proposed firing range is on the Northeastern shore between Anderson Air Force Base and another base we call “Andy-South”. This site includes the ancient Chamoru village of Pagat, considered to not only hold archeological and historical significance- to us it is a truly spiritual place- one of the few left intact that we still have access to. A firing range in Pagat would be no less an outrage than when the Taliban blew up the treasured, ancient Buddhas carved into the cliffs of Afghanistan.

The Guam’s Fisherman Coop helped make the public aware that the military wants to dredge 73 acres of thriving coral reef at Apra Harbor to make another parking spot for a nuclear aircraft carrier. Against the wishes of our people, local leaders, and the urging of the EPA and Center for Biological Diversity, they want to slam the reef with giant weights where the spinner dolphin plays, scalloped hammer head sharks pup, sea turtles swim, and giant blue elephant ear sponge grow. Then they want to scoop the remains out with giant cranes and dispose the equivalent of 50,000 dump truck loads several miles off the coast of the island.

Now, thanks to the work and dedication of local agencies and organizations, and help from off-island folks, our local people have chosen to reject the sense that all of these sacrifices are worth the false promise of economic security from an increased military presence.

It has been truly inspiring to see this grassroots movement explode. And this is where you come in.

First, commit to further educating yourself on the what is happening in the Pacific. Peruse the newsletter, “Stop the military buildup” produced by Famoksaiyan, a group of Chamoru activist based out of California. On it you will find more background on the issue and links to awesome resources such as “No Rest for the Awake” and the “Drowning Mermaid Blog”. Both blogs are written by University of Guam instructors, bright minds who are very active in youth work and are driving forces behind this movement. There is also an amazing podcast you can subscribe to for free on Itunes called “Beyond the Fence”. This is a weekly radio show on the islands NPR station which discuses different aspects of the buildup on every episode.

Next I implore you to stand in solidarity with us and take action. Spread the word about what you’ve learned. Tell your leaders that you don’t support your tax money being used on any more excessive military expenditures. Join the movement to close the base on Okinawa and other sites abroad. Because whether we are talking about Guam, Okinawa or Hawai’i… it’s no different, our suffering and our commitment to oppose the militarization of our homelands is the same.

– Christina Illarmo

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Filed under Asia - Pacific, Military/Military Build-up