Women for Genuine Security
Home About Us Projects Partners Resources Store Donate  

A WGS Quarterly Publication

country highlight june 2008

Ladrones de la Isla/Thieves of the Island
By Sabina Perez

In modern day expansionism of Empire, islands play a crucial role in the overall U.S. national military defense scheme. Geographical islands such as Guam, Diego Garcia, Okinawa, Puerto Rico that are situated near points of conflict or points of vital U.S. economic interests on neighboring continents have fallen prey to U.S. military interests. Moreover, the futures of indigenous peoples and the inhabitants of these islands which have become objectified as strategic military points have been over-determined by U.S. military interests rather than self-determined.

Historical context:

From the beginning of U.S. control of Guam after the 1898 Treaty of Paris, Chamorros, the indigenous inhabitants with an archeological history dating back at least 4000 years on Guahan, have been petitioning U.S. Congress for relief from military control and the establishment a permanent and stable government . It was not until the Guam Congress Walkout of 1949 that the U.S. Congress would address the naval rule of the island with the unilateral passage of the Organic Act, supported by Departments of Defense, State, Navy, Justice, and the Interior, as well as, the President of the United States.

Although the 1950 Organic Act of Guam provided relief from some of the abuses of the naval rule, it gave legal citizenship to Chamorros without legal representation in Congress i.e. creating second-class citizens. Some historians say that the Organic Act legitimized the land-takings post World-War II, which allowed the expansion of U.S. bases that occupied 63% of the island of 212 square miles. In fact, maps depicting “reservations” were created by military planners at one time.

At the United Nations , Chamorros have been advocating, for over twenty years, for the exercise for the rights to self-determination and to develop a government to call our own. To date, the U.S., as the administering power of Guam, has not set in motion steps to ensure the self-determination process. All attempts at improving the political status and power imbalance have been vocalized by Chamorros and our allies. However, the unavoidable fact is the realization of self-determination for the Chamorro people under the United Nations process requires the cooperation of the United States of America.

The U.S.’ lack of response, if not undermining the process, to fulfilling its legal and moral obligation to self-determination of the Chamorro people signify the exploitation of our political status as a colony. As one Captain Douglas bluntly states, the “people on Guam seem to forget that they are a possession, and not an equal partner…If California says that they want to do this, it is like my wife saying that she wants to move here or there: I’ll have to respect her wish and at least discuss it with her. If Guam says they want to do this or that, it is as if this cup here [he pointed at his coffee mug] expresses a wish: the answer will be, you belong to me and I can do with you as best I please.”

Throughout Guam’s history under U.S. possession, we find statements from policy makers and military personnel echoing this view and indicating how the need for Guam as a strategic interest evolved: from 1898, when Guam’s harbor provided a key nodal point to Asian economic possibilities, to post World War II idea that if key island groups, such as Micronesia, could be made into American colonies in order to guarantee safe, uncontested sites for military and non-military contexts (during the Vietnam and Korean wars), to today’s concept as a forward operating base, in which American military interests could not just be connected and defended but also projected .

Current Crisis:

The support for Chamorro sovereignty is more urgent than ever before as Chamorro people, as well as, Asian Pacific countries, are bracing for a new and violent wave of intensified militarization--one that has the feel as if it had been planned for some time but it’s implementation has been handled with the highest, swiftest, and unrelenting level of action and coordination of all federal agencies involved.

Initially unveiled publicly by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2005, the plan of intensified militarization slated to cost $10 to $15 billion will have large and potentially irreversible social, political, economic, and environmental impacts. Furthermore, these plans have been revealed in piecemeal and without the informed consent of the Chamorro people.

The plan includes the scheduled initial transfer this year of 8000 U.S. Marines and their 9000 dependents from Okinawa. The projected total influx of 35,000 military personnel, their families and support staff from other parts of Asia will result in a 23% population increase over the next 6 ½ years compared to the U.S. population growth of 5% from 2000 to 2005. With the current population at 167,000, the influx will radically alter the demography of the island, further marginalizing Chamorros with absolutely no guarantees that our right to self-determination will remain intact.

The militarization is in the process of transforming our island home into a forward operating base with a the construction of Patriot Ballistic Missile Defense System, the refurbishing of the Naval Base to port greater numbers of nuclear air craft carriers positioned in the Pacific Ocean, the expansion of Andersen Air Force base in order to establish Global Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Strike Capability. Increased trainings such as Valiant Shield, the largest joint-military exercises since Vietnam, are becoming an annual event.

The militarization of the land extends well beyond the fences of the bases, which currently occupy 30% of the island. The military needs a lot of space, physically and within the psyche of the people . Roads are being renamed to give the appearance of one that is welcoming the buildup with open arms. Generations of Chamorros have joined the military, a repayment for many for the liberation from the Japanese post World War II, and today as an expression of how the military is seen as a way to live and escape the lack of economic opportunities resulting partly from U.S. policy.

The military buildup is seen as inevitable, and government and business leaders, instead of debating whether the buildup is feasible for Guam, are debating how best to benefit from it. The most vocal and active proponents are aggressively pushing privatization-militarization agenda that would wrestle public control of the natural resources and vital economic assets and place it into private hands.

Chamorros are at a serious risk of losing control of their homeland. The high speculative market is enticing families with significant land holdings into cashing in. Large tracts of lands have been sold and developed into high-end beachfront condos. A single transaction has 1% of the island is up for sale. Green areas and significant ancestral burials are being bulldozed and developed for housing and tourism in anticipation of the military influx. Department of Interior has taken an active role in promoting foreign business to come to Guam to buildup the accompanying military-based economy.

Voices of resistance have been increasing steadily at all levels. Locally, indigenous groups who have been holding the line are being joined by women, youth, labor groups and are getting more media visibility. Regional allies in the Pacific are standing in solidarity by proclaiming no to bases in their countries and elsewhere. Internationally, one of Guahan’s proud sons received a standing ovation at the recent indigenous forum in support of Chamorro struggle for sovereignty.

The goal to ending foreign bases will require a paradigm shift from one of dependency and fear to self-sufficiency and mutual cooperation. Moreover, it must be based on the idea that genuine security does not come from military security but from healing and nurturing our communities. The current crisis of massive militarization that is destabilizing the Asia Pacific Region must be halted to prevent any nuclear war from happening. U.S. governmental and public support is essential in ensuring peace in our region and supporting and amplifying grassroots efforts currently taking place. Guam, in particular, has no political representation; it is critical that those with political rights in the U.S. give voice to those without.

For more information:
http://decolonizeguam.blogspot.com and www.guambuildupeis.us

Sign peace petition at: http://www.petitiononline.com/hasso/petition.html

- It is a reversal of the name, Islas de Ladrones/The Island of Thieves, given to Guam by Spanish colonizers upon their arrival to Guam, is an act of decolonization or a form of renaming our histories and futures. From an indigenous perspective, that moment of Western contact can be interpreted as part of practice of chen’chule or reciprocity after the Spanish were given badly needed food and water from their long voyage.
- Petition Relating to Permanent Government for the Island of Guam, House Document No. 419, (1902), petition written December 17, 1901
- Senate Report No. 2109, 1950, Legislative history of the Organic Act of Guam
- UN Founding Charter states, “the interests of those inhabitants of the territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government are paramount.” The administering powers that signed the charter accepted as “a sacred trust” the obligation to promote to the utmost the well being of the Territories under their administration.
Pacific Passages, World Culture and Local Politics in Guam, (Stockholm, Sweden Studies in Social Anthropology, 1998), 192-194
- Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Everything You Wanted to Know About Guam, But Were Afraid to Ask Zizek, Unpublished Mater’s Thesis, University of California, San Diego, 2007
- For more discussion on the militarization of land and its effects on the psyche of a people see Nicole Adapon Santos, The Paradox of Guam: Brief Essays on Culture, the Military, and a U.S. Pacific Territory, Unpublished Master’s Thesis, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2007
- Solomon report which details the intent of making Guam a welfare state


Home About Us Projects Partners Resources Store Donate