“Decolonization Momentum?”

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

The Guam Daily Post

July 20, 2016

As part of the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts, a series of panel discussions was organized by Dr. Lisa Natividad at the University of Guam, that focused on the three future political status options for Guam and different places around the Pacific that have already achieved them. A final panel discussion with representatives from the three political status task forces took place on June 2nd, 2016. Below are excerpts from a live-blog of the event that was recorded by Dr. Isa Kelley Bowman for the website “Mumun Linhayan.” This discussion between the task forces representatives was historic and emblematic of the new momentum that we are finding around Guam’s decolonization. I am optimistic that we will be able to maintain this momentum and continue to educate the island community about this issue.


First, Edward Ramirez Duenas, chair of the Statehood Task Force, is a former Republican senator with a distinguished career in the Guam Legislature and in U.S. military service. For Señot Duenas, this subject matter is of paramount importance to the people of Guam, our evolution politically and socially as an emerging people.  We must look back to 1898 and the beginning of Guam developing as a free society through naval and civilian governors following the take-over by the U.S.  Quo vadis?  Where do we go from here?  Señot Duenas asked us to consider the political emergence of Guam through the 1945 U.N. charter that provides for the “inhabitants” of Guam to determine their “ultimate” political status.

For Señot Duenas, statehood means clarity for Guam, full integration into the U.S. on equal footing — equal, just like the other fifty states in the Union now, with state sovereignty, which means independence, in a sense.  Total autonomy and control of all state affairs.  Due process of law; rights to bear arms; jury trial for civil litigation; etc.  National defense handled by the U.S. armed forces.  Free enterprise, free market, use of U.S. currency.  Private property rights guaranteed by the U.S. constitution.  Economic and political security would be assured.  Equality with all other states.  Be treated equally, just as New York or Hawaii or Oregon.  Right to vote for president and vice president, votes in Senate and House.  Permanent U.S. citizenship: what we now have was granted by Congress legislation and could be wiped out by Congress repealing that law if it should so decide.

Second, Señot Jose Ulloa Garrido, Chair of the Free Association Task Force, is a Manenggon concentration camp survivor who served (1964-67) in the U.S. military and is a historic preservation specialist in the Department of Parks and Recreation. He is an advocate for Chamorro self-determination, land rights, war reparations, status change, and the reunification of the Marianas.

For Señot Garrido, free association means an internationally recognized political status recognizing Guam’s political sovereignty.  Guam would delegate to the U.S. certain powers, usually security and defense matters, in return for foreign, economic, and security aid and obligations. Señot Garrido said that we have already seen what happened to all the indigenous peoples of the United States, and, closer to home, the Hawai’ians are still struggling for some form of sovereignty.

Free association is a political status established by the United Nations, somehow tailor-made for small nations, for small islands, who are still colonized by the world powers, the basis of the decolonization process that we know of today.  Guam fits that framework of that political status, the shared sovereignty.

Finally, Ms. Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero spoke, the co-chair with Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua of the Independence Task Force. She is the managing editor of the UOG press, teaches Women and Gender Studies, and has taught at UOG, Mills College, and Southern High School.  She is actively involved in engaging the community to fight for Chamorro self-determination and express their concerns about the U.S. military buildup.

Ms. Leon Guerrero said that there are close to 200 independent nations in the world today: many visiting during FestPac are independent and chose their independence.  More than eighty former colonies (750 million people) have gained independence since 1945 and the formation of the United Nations.  Most people in the world have chosen their own independence, their own citizenship, over statehood.  Since 1846, 88% of places chose independence, 92% of the voting populace chose independence. It really is the most desirable choice.

Independence is the most genuine decolonization you could achieve.  There exists a passionate yearning for freedom in all dependent peoples, according to the United Nations, and this is why the U.N. is working toward decolonization.  Tiny Nauru chose independence.  When one of their representatives was asked, “Do you regret choosing independence?” – he replied, “Absolutely not, why would anyone ever regret freedom?”  Singapore and Luxembourg are tiny independent nations and are extremely wealthy.  In many places, independence has equaled economic prosperity.

In Ms. Leon Guerrero’s view, we could have an “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ), and control over this would add many benefits, trade, sea, controlling who and what comes in and out of our port and airport, those fees charged to ships porting here or tourists would go to our people.  None of those fees currently go to our people. We could still have U.S. military bases, only with more local control.

Ms. Leon Guerrero concluded by saying that recently the U.S. gave the FSM jurisdiction over the deepest part of the Marianas Trench — and Guam wasn’t even invited to the discussion.  We need to ensure cultural survival as our own unique place. We must ensure that we teach the language to all, keep this island culture alive.  For most of our four-thousand-year-history, we were independent, and we spoke Chamorro.