Independence for Guam Task Force



Independence for Guam

What independence would mean for Guam

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Pacific Daily News

September 22, 2016

Per United Nations Resolution 1541 (1960), the colonized people of non-self-governing territories such as Guam have three options to choose from when deciding a path for their decolonized future. The first is integration with their colonizer, which is commonly known in Guam as statehood. The second, free association is to form a foundational agreement and share parts of your sovereignty with another power, which is usually your former colonizer. Finally, there is independence, which contrary to common misconceptions does not mean isolation from the world, but rather joining it as a sovereign and equal entity.

As I have experienced over the past decade, discussing decolonization in Guam can move from inspiring to frustrating quite quickly. People seem to resist decolonization in general and independence in particular as being impossible or dangerous. Although I have met few people on Guam who have read the work of Francis Fukuyama, most notably his book “The End of History and the Last Man,” when broaching topics of decolonization and status change, many people seem to be acolytes to his thesis.

The main thrust of Fukuyama’s argument is that history, a dialectical process that moves humanity forward through regular conflict, ended with the fall of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War. Liberal democracy and capitalism appeared to have prevailed and have since become deeply ingrained in human understandings of what was best and progressive for the world. As a result, Fukuyama stated that there would be no more great ideological battles, no more real re-ordering of the world or of human understanding.

This has relevance for us in Guam, because if history is over, we were left behind. In that context, decolonization was something for the 1960s, a time of great political and cultural upheaval where people on almost every continent and island were fighting for their independence against colonizers and imperialists. But that era is over and we are supposed to look at dreams such as the Non-Aligned Movement or The Third World Hope as being nothing but political nightmares.

In this thinking, Guam missed the decolonization såkman and we were fortunate, because that ship just keeps on sinking slowly dragging the people of the world’s developing nations down into miserable watery graves. When you look at the list of 17 non-self-governing territories that are monitored by the United Nations, they seem to prove this point as nearly all of them are small islands, which common sense might tell us can never survive on their own and should be grateful that they have colonizers taking care of them.

In this context, Independence as a possible political status for Guam seems frightening. It seems to smack of biting the hand that so generously feeds us. It seems to spit in the face of history, which has clearly moved on from this sort of thing. It seems to recklessly take a course that no sensible people would ever go down, disconnecting themselves from their colonizer and seeking to determine their own destiny. In Guam this may feel right, but it isn’t. And one only need open a book or even look at a map to see this isn’t true.

According to the United Nations, in the 20th century more than 80 colonies decolonized, and the overwhelming majority of them did not choose to be states or freely associated nations, they chose to be independent countries. In 2014 The Guardian/UK studied 50 votes that were taken in colonies and territories just like Guam over the course of 150 years. The overwhelming majority voted to become independent, and this is why we have close to 200 independent countries in the world today.

Far from being terrifying, independence for colonized people is a normal and standard course. Billions of people in the world today do not live in terror since they are independent countries. It only feels that way in Guam, because people have accepted certain myths and misunderstandings about the status. For example, independence does not mean that suddenly we’d have to grow all our own food or give back everything that has been integrated into the culture since colonization. It doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help, make deals or learn from other countries. It does not mean cutting all ties with the United States.

Independence would not mean the end of the road, but rather a new beginning. One in which Guam is no longer owned by another, but can instead work with countries such as the United States and others as an equal, no longer bound to serve the interests of another, but rather negotiate and associate with its own interests in mind, as part of our goal of realizing its own long deferred destiny.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist and assistant professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam.

Federal funding creates stagnancy

Opinion: Federal funding creates stagnancy

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Victoria Leon Guerrero

Pacific Daily News

July 9, 2016

The Pacific Daily News’ recent article on the impossibility of independence for Guam given the amount of federal money the island receives was distorted and grossly incomplete in terms of representing Guam’s current economic situation, as well as possibilities for economic growth as an independent nation.

Too often, people say that Guam cannot afford to be independent, but the real truth of our situation is that Guam cannot afford to remain an unincorporated territory (or status quo), both politically and economically.

The most important point that was left out of the article was the simple fact that this money is far from guaranteed. As the Obama administration has recently argued, the relationship between the United States and its territories is one of owner and owned. This means that the owner (through acts of Congress) decides the nature of the relationship, determining what rights, if any, we have and how much money, if any, we will receive. There are always calls in Congress to reduce the funding of Guam and other territories. If any of those reductions were to take place, no amount of votes for statehood in a PDN poll would be able to prevent it.

For the PDN to report these figures without mention of the most basic nature of this funding is part of the overall way in which this island denies its colonial status. It contributes to the fear that so many have about changing our political status.

Instead of really looking at the types of funding Guam receives, the stipulations and regulations attached to this funding, and the subsequent dependency and stagnancy it creates, the article seemed to infer that GovGuam receives a great basket loaded with salape’ that we should just be grateful for and not analyze. In Chamorro there is a saying, “ti annok i yapapapa’,” which refers to how you should be cautious about accepting a basket if you cannot see what is at the bottom.

A closer look at the $550 million in federal funds Guam received reveals that close to half of that money went to two programs: food stamps and Medicaid. According to the article, $109 million was spent purchasing food that is overwhelmingly imported and many would argue is not very healthy for Pacific islander populations. This diet in large part has led to an epidemic of health problems on the island, for which the federal government then provides $117 million dollars to help people receive health care in an overly expensive system modeled after the United States.

Imagine what it would be like if even a fraction of that money was spent instead on supporting local agriculture and decreasing our dependency on imports and processed foods. Although this money comes in, it does not necessarily mean that it can be used in ways that align with our specific needs as a community.

Rather than scaring people into complacency and dependency, the PDN and the local officials and “experts” interviewed on such topics should facilitate a more critical discussion about Guam’s relationship with the U.S. and whether or not it hinders or advances our island’s economic growth and possibilities. While federal money helps to improve lives in some ways, it also causes harm in other ways, by keeping us ensnared in unsustainable ways of living.

The community regularly criticizes how Guam has become a welfare state heavily reliant on food stamps and Medicaid. Yet in this discussion on Guam’s political future, instead of encouraging greater possibilities for the island, the recent article implied that if Guam cannot afford to fund these programs as the U.S. does, then we should just stay as we are.

But there are many ways in which Guam could grow its economy to make up this shortfall, or simply reorganize its government and economy in order to replace these programs. In addition, several independent nations that host U.S. military bases receive far more than the $550 million the PDN reported Guam received in federal funds. Independent countries that are deemed to be strategically important to the United States and host a significant amount of bases, sometimes receive more than $1 billion in general and military aid annually.

Many continue to ask why status quo is not an option in choosing Guam’s future political status. Status quo, even with its millions of dollars in federal funding, keeps Guam stagnant as a colony rather than propelling the island and our people into a greater political and economic future determined by us. In order to truly make this decision, however, Guam needs responsible media coverage on this matter, and information that is not based on assumptions, but rather solid research and evidence.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Ph.D., and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, MFA are co-chairs of the Independence for Guam Task Force.

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