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Issue #1914      May 11, 2020

“WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER” BUT ARE WE?:

A GUAM CASE STUDY

“We’re all in this together” is a mantra we hear constantly in this pandemic but it is only partially true. In Australia, Aborigines, the poor, and the homeless that is, those who are less able to self-isolate and survive, are coming off worst. Around the world, the poor, the marginalised, and refugees have higher rates of infection and death. The divisions within capitalism are reproduced in the medical crisis.

The same is true in our region where Pacific Islands with the highest rates of infection are all under colonial administration, lacking full control of borders, health budgets, and political governance. The latest developments in Guam illustrate this.

One of the US Seventh Fleet’s largest nuclear-powered aircraft carriers the USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Guam in March after visiting Vietnam. By late March, more than 100 sailors had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The warship’s commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, wanted to put nearly 3,000 sailors onshore in order to limit the rate of infection among the 5,000 crew members in the cramped below-deck quarters. The story hit the media and Crozier was sacked.

Despite controlling a third of Guam’s landmass, the US Department of Defense moved the sailors to luxury hotels, angering many residents who wanted them to stay at US military bases.

Protests came from indigenous Chamoru people, who make up forty per cent of the population. They pointed out that there are only two civilian hospitals on the atoll. One has fourteen ICU beds, the other even less, while in March there were already 112 COVID-19 cases on this island.

This crisis has caused debate and division in the community. Local businesses derive income from sailors and marines on rest and recreation, most Chamoru families have members serving in the US military, and Micronesian culture prides itself on hospitality to visitors.

On 1 st April, community organisations wrote to Governor Leon Guerrero saying he “must keep in mind that the average sailor aboard the USS Roosevelt is in their early twenties and are not considered an at-risk age group, while our large manamko [elderly] community are the most vulnerable to serious illness or death.

“A decision to house infected military personnel off-base is one that will impact the health and safety of us all, especially the immuno-compromised and our manamko.”

Much information in this article came from “Coronavirus Carrier” by Nic MacLellan in Inside Story, 8 April 2020. For readers interested in developments in the Pacific region, follow articles written by Nic MacLellan.

Next article – SA BOSSES COULD HEAVE WORKERS ONTO THE BARBIE

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