Julian Aguon at the Guam Forum on Decolonization

Julian Aguon at the Guam Forum on Decolonization

October 26, 2011

I am continually impressed by Julian Aguon. He has a razor-sharp mind and a lightning tongue and a strong heart that beats for justice. In his recent presentation at the University of Guam, he discussed how US Constitutional Law and International Law apply to the question of Guam’s political status. Perhaps not surprisingly, he is now being attacked in the local Marianas press, as an advocate for armed violent struggle. Knowing Julian personally, I found this hard to believe – so I watched his entire presentation just to see for myself. As always, watching Julian was a real pleasure. A few of my favorite quotes (with links to video):

“The right of self-determination legally enjoys the same exalted status as the rule prohibiting genocide. As the rule prohibiting torture. To international lawyers, this is a crime. Colonialism is a crime.” [see the video]

“The whole world has spoken on some of these issues. Why not lift our heads out of the sand, and realize that perhaps, just perhaps, one country’s interpretation of international law isn’t the only game in town?[See the video]

Aguon ended by asserting that, according to international law, ‘colonialism is a crime, and you’re allowed to fight back.’ Not being an international lawyer myself, I have no means for judging the veracity of this statement; but I did note that he then took great pains to honor the peaceful, non-violent contributions of Hope Cristobal, and her many trips to the United Nations on behalf of Guam. “She illustrates a belief, a conviction, on the part of the colonized population on Guam, that words are the better way.”

An advocate for armed struggle? I don’t think so. A brilliant young indigenous lawyer who’s justifiably pissed-off? Absolutely. More power to him.

Guam Public Forum on Decolonization

October 10, 2011

Dr. Carlyle Corbin and Attorney Julian Aguon will be speaking at an upcoming public forum on political decolonization, presented by the University of Guam and Guahan Coalition for Peace & Justice. To me, the very fact of this forum is a sign of how high the political collective consciousness has been raised on Guam over the past few years. For those who are not on Guam, the event will also be streamed live over the Internet.

PUBLIC FORUM on Political Decolonization

Wednesday, October 19, 5:30 – 8:30 pm Chamorro Standard Time (GMT + 10 hrs)

(LIVE STREAM: Tuesday, October 18, 12:30am PST (GMT – 8 hrs))

University of Guam
CLASS Lecture Hall

Dr. Carlyle Corbin
United Nations Advisor and Internationally recognized expert on decolonization
“The Role of the United Nations in the Self-Determination Process”

Attorney Julian Aguon
Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice
“Defrosting the Self-Determination Imagination: The Trajectory of Right Under International Law”

As Build-up Cools Down, Self-Determination Heats Up

As Build-up Cools Down, Self-Determination Heats Up

July 6, 2011

Chamoru protesting proposed military buildupI can barely keep up with the news coming out of Guam lately: Dispatch Japan‘s article “Dead Plan Walking” and KUAM’s report that “Talks Indicate Delays for Buildup” point to the inevitable demise of the ill-conceived military buildup on Guam. In the (repurposed) words of General MacArthur, “old military land-grabs don’t die, they just fade away…”

But the proposed buildup’s legacy – if a plan can have a legacy – is a renewed focus on self-determination on Guam. Julian Aguon’s “Legal Appraisal of Self-Determination” in last week’s Marianas Variety points out how murky the term still seems to those in America’s far-west colony, even as it clarifies what the right of self-determination means, in a legal context.

Wikileaking on Guam

May 25, 2011


Lately, Guam has been appearing in the annals of Wikileaks – Julian Assange’s non-profit whistleblowing information website. Evidently, the US has been using Guam not only as the ‘tip of the spear,’ but also as a diplomatic tool. Today, the Mainichi Daily News reported on the latest revelation: evidently the US Assistant Secretary of Defense proposed last year to the Japanese government that they might use Guam for joint training purposes, and that “a permanent JSDF presence on Guam to support the training would be appropriate.”

This revelation is troubling for a long list of reasons. At the top of that list might be the fact that this diplomatic discussion was held without any input from Guam’s leaders. (How would the residents of, say, New Hampshire feel if they found out the DoD was negotiating with Germany to station German troops in their neighborhoods – without informing New Hampshire’s Representatives or Senators?)

Next on the list might be the fact that – unlike New Hampshire, which was never occupied by the Germans – Guam has a particularly long and troubled relationship with the Japanese military: the people of Guam were subject to a brutal Japanese occupation during World War II, the effects of which were so deep and so painful that they have been carried over several generations. Equally troubling is the fact that while these recent diplomatic talks were happening, the United States federal government was simultaneously denying Guam’s requests for reparations for their wartime suffering. (These requests have been ongoing for decades, and have continued to be ignored by consecutive US administrations.)

One of the many unfortunate effects of World War II was that the Chamorro people of Guam saw the US military as ‘saviors’ – and because of this they have been willing to forgive the American military for a long list of subsequent transgressions against Chamorro lands, people, and culture. But what will the people of Guam think now, when they see that the US has been trying – behind their backs – to station Japanese troops once again on Guam soil?

Calvo: “Let’s end five centuries of colonialism”

May 2, 2011

Things on Guam are hopping. Guam’s Governor Eddie Baza Calvo has begun the process of appointing members to the island’s recently reinvigorated Commission on Decolonization (first established by Hope Cristobal during her tenure in the Guam Senate).

Calvo’s first appointment? None other than Dr. Lisa Natividad, advisor to The Insular Empire and champion of Guam’s Chamorro people and their right to self-determination. Travis Coffman interviewed her on Guam’s K57 to get her thoughts on decolonization. Dr. Natividad explains in this interview that the governor has “an aggressive plan for when to hold a plebiscite.” She also points out the pressing need for public education and a ‘social marketing campaign’ to make people aware of what they are voting on.

Travis Coffman: And so, in this plebiscite, what will the choices be?

Lisa Natividad: There will be three options on the ballot: independence, free association, and assimilation into the administering power – often referred to as ‘statehood’, though voting for this option doesn’t guarantee statehood.

Travis Coffman: I see. So… we wouldn’t necessarily get statehood, we might get some form of assimilation that feels a lot like being a territory?

Lisa Natividad: Exactly. There is no guarantee that the US will be in support of what we decide for ourselves… clearly we’re going to have to rely on the international community to put pressure on the US to honor this process that is long overdue.

The Mermaid, the Trickster and the Admiral

April 11, 2011

The Guam PDN recently published an article about USN Rear Admiral Bushong’s recent talk at the Guam Rotary Club. The Admiral noted the recent increase in anti-militarist sentiment on the island, and exhorted the nice folks of Guam to ‘tone down the rhetoric a bit’. After all, he said, military personnel on Guam take their kids to Chuck E. Cheese & hang out with the locals. “We love it here,” he said. The military and the local community are just one big happy family. So why was everyone so upset?

I read this article and my first thought was – duh – you guys have taken over a third of the island! You’ve taken the water, you’re threatening to dredge 70 acres of coral reef, and you want to take over one of the last holy places left on the island and turn it into a live firing range. You don’t shop with the locals, you don’t send your kids to schools with the locals – because you’ve drained all their resources and those shops and schools are now sub-standard. You’ve treated the local government like a nuisance, rather than incorporating them into the decision-making process. You issued an 11,000 page document outlining your drastic plans for the island, and gave the public only 90 days to read it and respond. When the EPA told you your ideas were unsatisfactory (i.e. toxic, unfair, unsustainable, and illegal), you just came back again with the same bad ideas. If you pulled that kind of thing in California, you’d have a US Senator breathing down your neck before you could say ‘pass the finadene’.

But my next thought was: Good. This means the Navy is starting to get concerned that they might not be able to just ram through their stupid ideas this time. The rest of the American media might not be paying much attention to Guam, but at least the DoD is picking up on the fact that the natives appear to be getting a wee bit restless.

And then – to my delight – I received word of two responses to the Admiral’s talk from the restless natives themselves: Dr. Desiree Taimanglo, who has a doctorate in rhetoric, wrote a scathing reply in her blog, The Drowning Mermaid. She clearly articulated the widespread undercurrent of resentment on Guam, of which the Admiral seems to blithely unaware. She also quoted another response, this one from Chamorro poet Craig Santos Perez. Since I haven’t been able to find Dr. Santos Perez’s brilliant riposte anywhere else online, I will repost (reriposte?) it here – hoping that the honorable poet will graciously allow me the honor of sharing his work.

(Note: for those of you not familiar with Chamorro folklore – Juan Malo is an archetypal figure in Chamorro folk tales, a prankster who often plays tricks on Guam’s Spanish colonial officers. Santos Perez’s revival of Juan Malo under these circumstances is both apt and brilliant.)

Juan Malo: Keep Your Enemies Close

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”–Sun Tzu

There’s no reason for the colonized of Guahan and their colonizers to be enemies, according to a low-ranking poet from Guahan.

Really amicable Juan Malo, author of The Tales of Juan Malo & Other Poems, said the island’s colonizer and colonized population together make up the island community.

“Many of us have been colonized multiple times on Guahan and we stay by choice because we love being colonized here,” he told the Rosarians during a “Rosary Club of Central Guam Canned Meat Luncheon” held yesterday at the Outrigger Resort and Spa.

Malo, who was the unpaid guest poet at the event, said he’s heard worries about the colonization of the island and hears gossip that sends a combative postcard between the colonizers and the colonized.

“I don’t even notice it anymore. The colonizers on Guahan are the people sitting next to you at mass on Sunday, taking their whole clan to Shirley’s for a big occasion, selling their ‘insurance,’ or buying an Asian Settler food plate in Chamorro village on Wednesday night,” he said.

Many colonizers’ families live in the community, and colonizers often volunteer in the community, either teaching Political Science at UOG, coaching ROTC in high schools, or picking up trash as part of an island-wide tourism beauty pageant.

Malo said around January 2010, which was when the colonized were overwhelmed by the 11,000 page guidebook How to Colonize Guam Even More, several colonizers beat the tip of their spears in Tumon outside a massage parlor.

“The last Governor of Guam and the new Governor both talked to me about this,…they were very gossipy,” Malo said. “I think the masterbatings were a result of the inadvertent message that the colonized want them to come here. Even though this message was perpetrated by only a few, the colonizers are going to come anyways.”

And every day, gossip and petitions and testimonies are sent to our Uncles within the Defense Department and the United Nations, Malo said.

The rare poet didn’t specify where the gossip surfaced. However, local support groups for the colonized, supported by several of their ancestors, have often spoken negatively on the colonizer’s plan.

“My concern is that the gossip will not stop the colonizer’s devastation in Guam,” Malo said. “It would be helpful to our survival if they toned down the colonizing a bit or at least offered us a measure of self-determination.”

Fight to Save Pagat Village “Far From Over”

March 10, 2011

Yesterday, Guam’s governor Eddie Calvo signed a “Programmatic Agreement” allowing the US Dept. of Defense to begin work on a project to turn historic Pagat village into five live-firing ranges. This undeveloped area is of great cultural, historic, and environmental significance, and is listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s Most Endangered Places.

Guam’s Pacific News Center published an uncharacteristically well-written (and hard-hitting) article yesterday on what this means for Guam, and for the lawsuit recently filed against the DoD to save Pagat. It ends with a poignant quote from Cara Flores-Mays, a prominent member of the community group We Are Guahan:

At some point, we all have to ask ourselves: what kind of Guam do we want to leave for our children and for our grandchildren? Times may be hard.  But there is no amount of money that can buy back our land or our culture.”

Travis Coffman Interview

December 15, 2010


When I was on Guam this summer, Travis Coffman interviewed me for his radio talk show on Guam K57. He asked a lot of good questions – like how I became involved in the project to begin with, and how I came to choose the four characters in the film. If you missed the broadcast, here at last is the podcast of that interview:

http://www.pacificnewscenter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6162:filmmaker-vanessa-warheit-on-the-big-show-with-travis-coffman&catid=52:k57-interviews&Itemid=151

Video “Modules” and Upcoming Study Guide

December 2, 2010

The Insular Empire is an essential educational tool – and to make that tool even more useful, we are creating a Study Guide to help teachers and facilitators get the most out of their screenings. As part of this effort, we are making video ‘modules’ for the film: short video clips that highlight a particular issue or focus on a particular subject covered in the film. Some modules are actual scenes from The Insular Empire – others are out-takes, often in-depth interviews with experts about a specific subject.

The Study Guide will offer suggestions for ways to use these modules. We hope to have the Guide available online early in 2011 – but in the meantime, modules can be viewed on this website in the “More Video” section. Please contact us if you would like to test-drive the Study Guide – instructors who provide us with feedback will get 15% off the standard institutional DVD price!

Guam War Survivor Exhibit

November 23, 2010
Street scene, Guam, 1944

Those on Guam over the next couple of weeks might be interested in this upcoming exhibit at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum in Hagatna. To understand Guam’s relationship with the US (and the US military), it’s critical to understand how World War II affected this community, and the role the Catholic church played in its survival.

When Guam was invaded by Japan on December 8, 1941, hundreds of island residents were attending church services at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral in honor of their patron saint Santa Marian Kamalen. They were praying as the war began. To remember that history, the Guam War Survivor Memorial Foundation and the Archdiocese of Agana, in collaboration with several community groups, are hosting a photo exhibit at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum entitled, “Take My Hand: Remembering How the War Began, Promoting Peace in Our Land.”

The exhibit will feature photo collections provided by the Notan Museo, National Museum of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica; the Guam Humanities Council; the National Park Service; the Department of Parks & Recreation; the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) and the Office of Senator Frank F. Blas, Jr.

“We must remember that the strength and sprit of our manåmko’ helped them survive the war and shaped who we’ve become today,” said Sen. Frank F. Blas, Jr. “This exhibit displays the photos and stories of our war survivors, and reminds us that they are truly our island’s heroes.”

The exhibit will open with a press conference at the Cathedral-Basilica Museum at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 29, 2010. It will run until Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

Exhibit Hours of Operations (November 29 – December 8, 2010)

Monday-Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Saturday: 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Sunday: 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

December 8: 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

For more information contact Senator Blas at 687-1483 or 472-2527 or visit: www.guamwarsurvivorstory.com.