- The Guardian
- Issue #2063
“As a colonised people, its not glamorous … you look at all the social indicators from poverty to homelessness to drug and alcohol addition, abuse, domestic violence. We top the chart in all of those issues,” says Lisa Natividad, an Indigenous Chamoru woman who is a daughter of the Se’mon and Senen clans from Mangilao in Guahan (called Guam by its US colonisers).
Lisa is convenor of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice and professor of social work at the University of Guam. She is a leading fighter in the new movement against militarisation, inspired by a Chamoru cultural revival, with an emphasis on reclaiming history, language, literature, and traditions.
Guahan, an exquisite Pacific atoll, is only 50 kms long and 20 kms wide. It is the southern-most island in the Marianas chain that includes Tinian, and Saipan. It is the homeland of the Chamoru people whose ancestors first came to the islands nearly 4,000 years ago.
Its position 2700 kms east of Taiwan and about 2000 kms north of Papua New Guinea make it strategically important, and it is a prime example of the appalling impact of US militarisation on the Pacific peoples.
With a population of almost 174,000, two-thirds of Guam’s residents are outsiders, many attached to the military.
Guahan is a power projection hub, called by the US the “tip of the spear,” and “America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier.”
The US military now owns one third of Guahan.
It uses Guahan for nuclear missile submarines, long-range bombers, satellite, underwater cable communications, electronic intelligence gathering, ship repair facilities, a missile defence system, and stockpiles of conventional and nuclear weapons.
Sprawling over 18,000 acres at the northern end of the island, Andersen Air Force base hosts 8000 service personnel, family members and contractors. The base looks like small-town America with duplex houses, a hospital, school, and a mall serving Taco Bell, and Subway.
Australia’s increasing reliance on the US includes Guahan. Earlier this year US General Birch reported “I had an Australian command and control aircraft on my ramp, I had an Australian tanker, I had Australian fighters that were all coming back from yet another exercise in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Guahan is one of 16 non-self-governing territories listed by the United Nations, and represented by a single non-voting delegate in the US Congress.
The island’s status as an unincorporated US territory means the Chamoru are at the mercy of decision-makers in Washington. Residents are not eligible to vote in US national elections.
The negative impact of the US military on Guam is manifested in poor health, radiation exposure, contaminated and toxic sites, and curbing of traditional practices such as fishing. The incidence of cancer in Guahan is high, and Chamoru have significantly higher rates than other groups. Additional problems include failing water supply and sewage system, increased noise, worse traffic congestion, higher rents, and increased crime and prostitution.
Andersen base is a source of toxic contamination through dumpsites and leaching of chemicals into the underground aquifer beneath the base. Some toxic sites on the bases are being cleaned up, but this is not being done outside the bases.
25 per cent of the population are defined as poor. The hospital and schools are underfunded and there are few opportunities for training on the island.
Increased militarisation is devastating the environment. When the military introduced snakes into Guahan in the mid 20th Century, for example, it led to the virtual eradication of 10 of the 12 forest bird species. The loss of the seed-dispensing birds, together with military destruction, has decimated the atoll’s native limestone forests.
The military hospital and on-base schools have better facilities than the civilian hospital and public schools, water use by the large military population creates shortages for local people, and private military beaches deny the local community access to their ancestral heritage.
Despite their economic dependence on the US military, people in Guahan have expressed strong opposition to the operations of the US military on their land. Victoria-Lola Guerrero, a prominent Chamoru activist, says, “We do not want the destruction of our land. We do not want the destruction of our cultural resources.”