In these identical forests, yo’åmte (healers) harvest medicinal vegetation to deal with a variety of illnesses, from anxiousness to bronchitis. Julian Aguon, a Chamorro human rights lawyer, activist, and scholar, is aware of many yo’åmte, together with his Auntie Frances Arriola Cabrera Meno, who—as he writes within the opening essay of his hybrid memoir The Properties of Perpetual Light—converses with the vegetation in a secret language as a part of the therapeutic course of.
“However such issues are inevitably misplaced in translation,” he writes. “No navy on earth is delicate sufficient to understand one thing as comfortable because the whisper of one other worldview.”
Whereas Aguon and an Indigenous-led resistance movement have fought for over a decade to halt the buildup of U.S. armed forces on Guam, they’ve solely succeeded in lowering the variety of troops and shifting the placement of sure navy installations from different historical Chamorro villages. Now, Aguon writes, “the bulldozers are again with a vengeance.”
The U.S. navy owns about 49,000 acres of land on Guam, roughly a 3rd of the island. Anderson Air Drive Base and Naval Base Guam are already put in there and the navy buildup will add a 3rd: Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz. Entry to a lot of those forests, together with websites vital to Chamorro cultural id, will probably be reduce off as soon as it turns into a “floor hazard zone” for the brand new base, threatening to sever a millennia-old cultural observe, amongst different issues.
After many years of protests in opposition to the U.S. presence on Okinawa (with a number of incidents throughout the years of servicemen raping native ladies and ladies), the U.S. and Japan signed a bilateral settlement in 2006 to relocate greater than 8,600 Marines from Japan to Guam, which was decided to be a extra preferable lilypad for U.S. pursuits. A 3-hour flight from Tokyo and Manila, Guam’s bases place U.S. troopers inside placing distance ought to a rising China, the U.S.’ fundamental rival within the area, get confrontational.
No representatives from Guam had been current throughout these negotiations, and neither was their permission wanted. As a U.S. territory, Guam’s land is taken into account U.S. soil, the westernmost level of the nation.
Not solely does the U.S. navy buildup pose an environmental menace to their homeland, it additionally immediately threatens Guam’s residents: The bottom’s new location alongside the northern shoreline sits dangerously near the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer, the island’s sole supply of consuming water. Additional restricted entry to the land and surrounding water would strangle Chamorro lifeways, reminiscent of fishing, foraging for medicinal vegetation, and visiting ancestral websites.
“I’m outraged and overcome,” Aguon stated. “Not simply due to what the militarization of this island means for us however what it means for everybody else, too.”
The buildup on Guam means increased militarization throughout the Mariana Islands, the Western Pacific archipelago that features Guam. Neighboring islands Pagan and Tinian, a part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), are notably focused: coral reefs round Tinian can be utilized as observe grounds for amphibious autos and Pagan can be used for bombing.
It may very well be one of many largest peacetime navy buildups in U.S. history, making it a hypervisible goal for the U.S.’ rivals within the area. The Protection Division reported in September that Beijing was present process its personal navy buildup as a part of its plans to “revise the international order.”
The engine-revving on this area, whereas nothing new, has been escalating lately. In the summertime of 2017, President Donald Trump’s warfare of bravado with Kim Jong Un led to the North Korean chief loudly boasting about firing four Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles near Guam, after Trump threatened (from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course) to unleash “fire and fury the world has never seen” in opposition to Kim. Guam is thrice nearer to Pyongyang than it’s to the U.S. mainland. These missiles would’ve taken solely 14 minutes to succeed in the island.
Aguon notes in his memoir that in Guam, residents got “spectacularly ineffective strategies” like, “Wash your hair with shampoo, or cleaning soap and water. Don’t use conditioner … as a result of it’s going to bind radioactive materials to your hair.”
“There isn’t a actual option to metal oneself for oblivion,” Aguon stated.
‘Separate however unequal’
As an unincorporated territory, Guam is a colonial possession of the US, a literal U.S. colony recognized by the United Nations. Whereas the individuals of Guam are U.S. residents, they don’t have full voting energy: Residents can not vote in presidential elections and have solely a non-voting delegate within the Home of Representatives. Congress can overturn any legislation handed by Guam’s legislature and may freely determine which elements of the Structure apply to the territory.
This “separate but unequal” therapy was dictated by the Insular Instances, a sequence of Supreme Court docket choices from 1901 that has allowed the US to disclaim entry to federal packages, voting rights, and equal rights to individuals dwelling within the territories it acquired within the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which formalized the handover of Guam from Spain to the U.S. on the outset of the Spanish-American Struggle.
The Insular Instances argued that these dwelling within the territories had been “alien races” who didn’t perceive the idea of freedom and couldn’t be trusted to manipulate themselves, an argument Aguon says served “to offer constitutional cowl to the imperial venture.”
“Not as soon as since 1898—America’s imperial meridian—has this nation been capable of provide you with a passable authorized justification for sustaining its constellation of abroad colonial possessions,” he stated
On Could 13, a resolution was heard earlier than Congress to reject the applying of the Insular Instances to any present or future instances involving the territories, citing the racist doctrine upon which they’re premised. However the decision, as some have pointed out, received’t truly deal with the colonial relationship between Guam and its administering authority—which Guam can’t problem with out permission from the U.S.
The federal courtroom case of Davis v. Guam, for which Aguon argued on behalf of the Authorities of Guam earlier than a Ninth Circuit Court docket, successfully denied Guam’s authorities from making even a symbolic transfer to permit native inhabitants to specific what they wished their future political relationship with the U.S. to be. The go well with, filed by Arnold Davis, a white American and resident of Guam, claimed that Davis’ ineligibility to vote in a non-binding plebiscite violated his 14th and fifteenth Modification rights because it discriminated in opposition to him based mostly on his race.
“It’s not solely counter-historical, it’s absurd,” Aguon stated. “Decolonization is a treatment for the colonized, not those that hail squarely from the colonizer.”
Guam is likewise unable to deal with the existential local weather disaster earlier than it and its Pacific Island neighbors in the center of climate change’s premier arena. Marine life and coral within the area are already dying off with out the navy’s assist. At one level, the navy’s plans for Guam included the dredging and growth of Apra Harbor, the island’s fundamental port and the biggest deep-water port within the Western Pacific, to accommodate nuclear-powered plane carriers and submarines, which might have resulted in the destruction of more than 70 acres of coral reef. That is a part of an extended historical past of the navy remaking the topography in addition to the biodiversity of the island.
“Local weather change isn’t just on our doorstep; it’s banging down the door,” Aguon stated. However Guam can’t reply by itself, not least of all as a result of a 3rd of the island is below occupation by one of the largest polluters on the planet.
However whereas Guam seems to be dropping from each angle, centuries of dispossession have taught the Chamorro individuals to take a look at profitable otherwise. Even with the unsuccessful authorized consequence of Davis, Aguon famous that “it opened up an area not just for conversations about whose ancestors skilled the hurt of colonization (and whose didn’t) but additionally for a variety of essential authorized interventions on the worldwide degree.”
The UN Human Rights Council lately intervened, sending a joint allegation letter to the U.S. authorities in assist of each the Chamorro individuals’s opposition to the buildup and their proper to self-determination. Aguon’s agency, Blue Ocean Legislation, was one of many brokers that prompted the Council’s investigation. The federal government could ignore the letter totally, however Aguon stated that it’s extra useful to consider it as a strong reminder that “would possibly doesn’t make proper, and that the world is watching.” With an energized American public, which is reckoning with long-standing social and political points which have challenged the nation’s id and function on the worldwide stage, Aguon hopes that Guam and Chamorro traditions would possibly but survive.
“A part of our work as individuals who dare to imagine that something we love will be saved is to organize our wills to face up to some dropping, in order that we could lose and nonetheless set out once more, anyhow,” he stated.
Frances Nguyen is a contract author, editor of the Girls Below Siege part (which experiences on gender-based and sexualized violence in battle and different settings) on the Girls’s Media Heart, and a member of the editorial crew for Interruptr, a web-based area for girls specialists to disrupt discourse in historically male-dominated focus areas. She is at present engaged on a artistic nonfiction portfolio on race, id, and the American Dream.