Monday, March 29, 2010

University of Hawaii Law School to Host Talk on Proposed Guam Buildup

Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura recently posted this notice of a discussion to be held at the UH Manoa Law School on April 1st. (And no, don't get your hopes up that the proposed buildup will be revealed as a massive April Fool's joke!) Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz of the 30th Guam Legislature is the keynote speaker. He will be joined by Dr. Wendy Wiltse of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).

The Guam Military Buildup:
Examining Potential Impacts on Culture, Environment, the Economy and the Larger Community

University of Hawai'i Law School Moot Court Room
Hawai'i Standard Time
Thursday, April 1, 2010 
12:45 – 1:55 p.m 

Chamorro Standard Time
Friday, April 2, 2010
8:45-9:55 a.m 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guam Buildup: Environmentally Unsatisfactory

The DoD's proposal to increase its already-massive footprint on the island of Guam recently received the EPA's lowest rating: Environmentally Unsatisfactory. While "unsatisfactory" to me calls up benign images of less-than-optimal spelling homework, this milquetoast language in fact represents a scathing indictment of the proposed buildup – and a serious roadblock to the military's expansionist plans.

We Are Guahan has posted a great ten-point summary of the EPA's findings on their website. The problems identified by the EPA include:
  • contaminated drinking water
  • "unacceptable," island-wide water shortages
  • endangerment of Guam's aquifer
  • "unprecedented" destruction of Guam's coral reefs
  • inadequate protection of endangered wetlands
  • lack of commitment to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and cleaner fuels
  • over eight TONS of hazardous waste generated
  • lack of mitigation to likely PCP contamination
  • no discussion of treatment of radioactive waste
  • significant noise impacts
  • invasive species introduction
 ... and the list goes on and on. You can read it yourself - the report is a handy 101-page download, with a succinct table of contents outlining the 1,001 reasons why THIS BUILDUP IS A REALLY BAD IDEA, from an environmental standpoint.
Of course, it's a really bad idea for a number of other reasons too. For instance, it threatens to overwhelm the island's indigenous population and to further erode the Chamoru culture and language. But the US government doesn't have an Indigenous Culture Protection Agency to make these points.

The current focus on environmental issues calls to mind a conversation I had, several years ago, with the late Carlos Taitano. He said that he was frustrated when the two-legged Guam Rail raised so much concern among environmentalists, who seemed to have no concern for the local population. "What about the two-legged Chamorro?" he asked.

Admittedly, it's frustrating when environmental concerns trump the concerns of a people, culture, and language. However, in the case of the Guam buildup, I think that environmental concerns may dovetail nicely with the needs of the local population – whose drinking water, air quality, and health are being so overwhelmingly threatened by the DoD's proposal. Since the US military wouldn't dream of trying to impose this kind of a project on mainland Americans, it's my hope as well that the proposed buildup will bring Guam's colonial status out into the light of day. Because sunshine is the best – and the most environmentally friendly – antiseptic .

(Photos courtesy of Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura at The Drowning Mermaid, and David Burdick at the US All Islands Coral Reef Committee)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama: The Velvet Imperialist

The ever-helpful Jean Downey just forwarded me this article in the Huffington Post by John Feffer.

In it, Feffer describes a recent Congressional hearing on currently-strained US-Japan relations - in which a Pentagon official was unable to come up with the number of US troops stationed in Japan (47,000), or to explain why the US needs more than 700 overseas bases worldwide. (I thought the number was just under 900, but who's counting?) Feffer writes:

"The Pentagon official couldn't satisfy either Rohrabacher's anti-China tirade or Faleomavaega's probing questions about the U.S. empire of bases. And that's precisely the problem with the Obama administration's Pacific policy. We are trying to maintain the exact same force posture as previous administrations but at the same time emphasizing our new commitment to multilateralism and our new status as a "global partner." It's like Arnold Schwarzenegger going from Terminator to Kindergarten Cop in the space of a year: Audiences above the age of seven are just not convinced."

Obama, Feffer argues, is trying to run an empire with velvet gloves - an approach that will be fruitless for either building or dismantling it. We shall have to wait, he says, for "an insider who knows the system," such as Andrew Bacevich, to "pull the plug" and offer real Pentagon reform.

I also really like the Swiftian 'modest proposal' that Feffer concludes with. What shall we do with all those US Marines in Futenma? Why, move them to Washington, DC!

"If the prospect of having U.S. Marines involved in promoting democracy, maintaining stability, and responding to humanitarian crises at home makes you squeamish," he concludes, "you can begin to understand how the Okinawans might feel."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Washington Post Finally Discovers Guam

It was bound to happen eventually - The Washington Post finally ran a comprehensive (and pretty critical, I might ad) article in tomorrow's paper on the proposed military buildup of Guam. (Yes, that's right. Tomorrow. Today is the 21st, and the by-line is the 22nd. Don't ask me. Maybe it's an international dateline thing.)

Anyway. My favorite quote in the article is from Simon A. Sanchez II, chairman of Guam's commission on public utilities:"We don't mind being the tip of spear, but we don't want to get the shaft."

And I'm thrilled to report that the final quote is from none other than the fabulous Dr. Natividad:
"This is old-school colonialism all over again," said LisaLinda Natividad, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Guam and an activist opposing the buildup. "It boils down to our political status -- we are occupied territory."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taking the AFSC "Red Pill Tour" of O'ahu - Part One

I first met Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keiko'olani at a No Bases conference in Washington DC last spring. They form the small but effective office of DMZ Hawai'i and the Hawai'i branch of the American Friends Service Committee, and they were generous co-sponsors of The Insular Empire screening in Hawaii last month.

The day after the screening, they organized a peace action at Camp Smith (headquarters of the US Military Pacific Command). A group of about two dozen people were there (many of whom knew about the action because they had attended the screening the night before), including Dr. Hope Cristobal and Lino Olopai. We also had people there representing countries from as far away as Turkey and New Zealand, all gathered peacefully in solidarity with the people of Guahan to present the Base Commander with a request to cancel or mitigate the proposed military buildup.

A fool's errand, it might have seemed - and I confess to feeling scared as we all parked our cars on the road outside and unfurled our peace-declaring banners in front of the gate. But Kyle and Terri were calm and unflappable, and there was something empowering in being there, with a group of like-minded peace-loving people, simply stating our desire for peace and social and environmental justice to a group of heavily armed, very young American soldiers.

We were joined too by an amazing woman (whom I had also met briefly in DC last spring) named Mary Ann Wright. Ann is a former Army Colonel and diplomat, who resigned her high-level diplomatic post in protest over the Iraq war. She is now a committed peace activist, working with organizations like CodePink and US Military Violence Against Women. The soldiers at the gate to Camp Smith took our request to speak to the Base Commander seriously, most likely because of her presence (they were all very deferential when they found out she was a retired Colonel), and we stood outside for almost an hour while our request was taken at the gate and then passed up the line.

Despite press releases sent to all local media outlets on Oahu, the only ones documenting the event were ourselves -- and the military.  After we had been waiting a little while, a uniformed photographer came out and began taking pictures of us, laughing and claiming that he was from Guam. (We were all a bit confused by this, since he was clearly African-American, but he did seem to know the names of several local families.) He couldn't tell us which village he was from, though, so we eventually presumed that his saying the family names was simply a way of getting close enough to us to get some good photos. At any rate, for better or (more likely) for worse, all of us who were there that day have now been photo profiled by the US military.

Eventually, a military policeman came out and spoke with the representatives of Fight for Guahan (Hope Cristobal, Angela Cruz, and Kisha Borja-Kicho'cho). They collected the photos the group had prepared, showing the beautiful and historic places on Guam that the proposed buildup threatens to destroy. Ann asked them if they were Marines, and they responded that they were actually civilians 'who reported to the Marines' -- which we all found more than a bit creepy.

They were very polite and respectful, however, and took careful notes, and the whole event was quite civil. The exchange ended with Ann informing the policemen that we would be following up, to make sure the documents made their way up the chain of command, and with them assuring her that they would pass the documents up appropriately.

After the action, Kyle and Terri offered to take Hopie, Lino and me out to lunch, and to show us a few military landmarks on the way. But that story will have to wait for another post...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hawaii Panel Discussion

I've finally had the opportunity to post some of the video footage from the panel discussion at the Feb. 21 Honolulu screening. (Many thanks to Oren, AFSC, and PIC for making this video possible!) Here are a few highlights...

Dr. Jon Osorio really seemed to *get* the film, which was both a huge relief and a real honor. What I found particularly interesting was the parallels he drew between the people of the Marianas and the people of Hawaii (especially of his parents' generation, back when Hawaii was still a territory).

Kisha Borja-Kicho'cho, Chamoru poet, activist, and MA Candidate at the UH Center for Pacific Islands Studies, spoke eloquently about local responses to military colonization on Guam, and the Chamoru concept of 'inafamaolek'.

A former Peace Corps volunteer asked me why the film focused so much on Chamorus, and not on Carolinians. This was my response (in which, asking Lino's forgiveness, I misspoke: I meant to say 'no offense intended').

Dr. Hope Cristobal, Terri Keiko'olani, and Lino Olopai also made excellent remarks at the event - but unfortunately none of them were on the tape I received in the mail from Hawaii. :(

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Dog Does Not Hunt

Many thanks to Martha Duenas for forwarding me this interview with Richard P. Lawless, former deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Defense in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs. Anyone who doubts the seriousness of Japan's reluctance to agree to move the Futenma base from Okinawa should really read this article.

"This is not about a Marine air base," says Lawless, "it's about the United States' ability to sustain a critical military presence in Japan."

The interviewer astutely points out to Lawless at one point in the interview that he appears to be more hard-line than the Obama administration... to which Lawless responds "My views are my own, but they are informed by eight years of determined work trying to make the alliance better and sustainable. My comments are further informed by active dialogue with senior serving U.S. officials... Frustration with Japan is broad and deep."

"On the flexibility of the Obama administration," he goes on to say, "the suggestion here seems to be that the U.S. must now find a way to compromise on this issue to accommodate Japanese domestic politics, and that once flexible, we will be on our way to a better alliance relationship. As we say back in Illinois, 'That dog does not hunt.'"

In reading this interview, and other coverage of the US-Japan alliance, I am continually struck by how the fundamental premise always seems to be fear - one of the basest and least constructive of human emotions.

"Is there any evidence that the reduction of our capabilities in Japan and the weakening of the alliance, which will happen, in any way increases security for Japan?" asks Lawless. "The actual result will be different. It will embolden China. And it will embolden any country, such as North Korea, that wants to pick a fight or do something negative related to Japan."

In other words - if we don't flex our muscles, spend a staggering amount of money on weapons we can't afford, and destroy an irreplaceable coral reef and entire species in order to have some runways for our military aircraft, someone else might do something bad to our 'friends' in Japan. (Who, by the way, are trying to politely say they'd like us to leave.) Something about this just doesn't add up. And it isn't just the US federal deficit I'm thinking about.

Clearly, simply shutting down the base and leaving is not enough. We have to do something - maybe even spend a tiny fraction of the $6 billion earmarked for the Okinawa move - to build trust and peace in the region. But agreeing to simply shut down the base sounds, to me, like a really good start.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I'm way behind in my blogging... every day I come across something else I want to share with the world - but I'm in the middle of a gigantic move (home and office), plus my pre-schooler son is sick with a nasty cold and my husband is back to work full-time plus. Which helps to explain why I haven't yet even posted any of the amazing material I collected in Hawaii...

But in the meantime, I have five minutes this morning to share one of the many cool things I've recently come across.

It's becoming increasingly clear to me is that the Marianas military buildup is not happening in a vacuum - there is a much wider Asia-Pacific militarisation happening, which is (like Guam) part of a long-standing US military approach to the Pacific Ocean as an "American Lake". Linda Hoaglund is making a film about Japan and Okinawa, and the role of US military bases there, called ANPO. Check out the ANPO website and blog for more info and a long but very compelling trailer...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Craig Santos Perez Is Not an Activist

It truly is a small world. A friend of mine in Vancouver just stumbled upon this poetry website featuring the work of Craig Santos Perez -- and the speech he read aloud as a panelist at the San Francisco screening of The Insular Empire. What are the chances?

Reading Craig's speech made me appreciate all over again his talents as a writer. If you want to know what's happening on Guam, you should really read this speech - the part that he read at the UN, and the part he read at my screening. In a few minutes he managed to link past with present, and to draw metaphors with deft precision. You kind of have to read the whole thing to appreciate his skill, but here's a paragraph I found particularly moving:

"Instead of the DEIS marking the end of our people, it has ignited our strength and united so many of us. Despite being caged by colonialism and militarization for so long, we are rising up. We are Guahan. When we do finally achieve sovereignty, we will look back at this time as a pivotal point towards our decolonization. We reject the future the military plans to cage us in. The voice of a decolonized Guahan has become too strong."

I remember him reading these words, surrounded by people united in their concern for these islands, and feeling - for once - a sense of hope. Because it's true: this buildup has galvanized people. Dr. Vince Diaz once told me, "The Japanese military did more to help the US colonize these islands than the US ever could"... and now the US military is doing more to help decolonize Guam than anyone ever thought possible. Push hard enough, I guess, and the people are bound to rise up and push back.

Craig's two books of poetry ("from unincorporated territory" - volumes 1 and 2) are available here and here. You can check out his blog here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bay Area Screenings a Big Success

I confess to being pretty anxious beforehand - but both Bay Area screenings went off without a hitch. It couldn't have happened, though, without Famoksaiyan. They put together two amazing screenings - one at the very last minute, both on a shoe-string budget, and all with grace, yummy food, lots of information, and an incredible turn-out. Here are some of the organizers at the Feb. 14 Valentine's Day screening in Oakland:

The San Francisco venue was smaller, but we managed to pack folks into the screening room, and the gallery space also housed Martha Duenas ever-expanding exhibit on Marianas history and political status. I call it her 'museum in a suitcase' - one friend of mine who attended the San Francisco screening didn't realize (until she saw Martha dismantling it at the end of the night) that the display wasn't a permanent fixture at the Galeria!

I even got (after a nail-biting weekend) the long-awaited DVD's -- and managed to sell all of them! I also got the Insular Empire t-shirts, which look and feel amazing (and make great gifts).
After San Francisco, we packed up our bags, and headed off to Hawai'i...