Guahan Country Report
Prepared by the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice
For the 8th Meeting of the
International Network of Women Against Militarism
February 19-25, 2012 in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hafa dai from Guahan! My island is located in the Mariana Islands in the Micronesian region of the Pacific Ocean. My people, the indigenous people of Guam or Chamorus, first populated the island over 4,000 years ago. Of the 156,000 people who live on the island; Chamorus make up roughly 37% of the population. Guam is 32 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest point. On our small island, the United States Department of Defense already controls 35,938 acres of land, which is about 27% of the entire island. The DoD controls more land than all private landowners combined (the EIS states that 33,238 acres on Guam are privately owned).
Guahan or Guam is an unincorporated territory of the US, listed as one of 16 non-self governing territories by the Special Committee on Decolonization of the United Nations. In the course of history, we have been governed, occupied, and colonized by administering powers that include Spain, Japan, the Americans, and the United States, who remains the island’s colonizer. Like Puerto Rico, we were also a war prize given to the United States from Spain as a result of the Spanish-American War via the Treaty of Paris in 1898. The people of the island are subject to the laws of the United States but are not fully protected by the Constitution of the United States. The Organic Act of Guam was passed by U.S. Congress and signed by President Harry S. Truman on August 1, 1950. This act organized a civilian government for the people of Guahan and transferred control of the government from the U. S. Navy to the Department of Interior.
The United States is currently proposing a massive “military buildup” on Guam that would move 4,700 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to the island. This number has been reduced from the figure given in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that stated it would be 10,500 Marines. Nonetheless, this move would increase the total population on Guam by about 13% in a very short period of time. The Marine relocation is just one of three parts of the proposed “buildup” on Guam. The other two parts of the “buildup” are the construction of a “Ballistic Missile Defense System” and the berthing of a nuclear aircraft carrier on Guam.
The release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, in November 2009 showed for the first time the full range of environmental and cultural impacts the proposed buildup would have on Guam. DOD plans on destroying over 2,000 acres of forest to build new housing for Marines and their dependents. DOD plans on destroying over 70 acres of coral reef to accommodate a nuclear aircraft carrier and “acquiring” approximately 1,800 acres of land and building a firing range complex over an ancient indigenous burial site called Pagat. This “firing range complex” would be operated along a major road and within a half-mile of homes. Local groups on Guahan lead a lawsuit against the Department of Defense on the use of Pagat ancient village, which we are happy to report we won; resulting in the need for a new Environmental Impact Statement to be completed. The crux of the plaintiffs’ arguments is that the Navy did not adequately evaluate or consider all of the alternative sites that could’ve been used as a firing range complex. A thorough evaluation of all potential sites is required by the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. The Navy had completed the internal review process and had determined that “additional analysis under the national environmental policy act is appropriate.” This means that the Navy will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to re-evaluate live fire training range complex alternatives based on application of probabilistic modeling and will likely take up to two years to complete. In addition, the Department of Defense is exploring other alternative to the ancient village site. Nonetheless, the alternative that is being discussed is the island’s Naval Magazine area, which also contains the sacred ancient CHamoru village site of Maipo. Scoping meetings are set to begin next month in March. In the proposed buildup, the DoD wants 680 more acres for housing and operations. Over 2,000 acres of jungle would be destroyed, 1300 acres being critical habitat. Most in our community are in agreement that DoD should not take anymore land and specifically, should not take our ancient village of Pågat.
There are a whole host of other issues that are of concern in addition to land “acquisition”, such as traffic and noise. The DoD admits in the EIS that “many of GovGuam public health agencies already show existing deficits in staff to service population ratios”. Our only local hospital is at 100% capacity several times throughout the month and is in jeopardy of losing its accreditation status. Out of the 42 schools on Guam, all are “low income”. Of the 31,000 students, 60-65% are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Each year, 300 more teachers are needed. Our local school system was found to provide inadequate education for military dependents that the Department of Defense has established it’s own school system, rather than investing in the Guahan school system to allow for equal access to good education. The bulk of the people coming to Guahan connected to the military build-up will not be serviced on the bases for their human needs such as health care, housing, and education. Hence, our local infrastructure outside the bases will absorb these services and become too saturated to sufficiently meet our people’s needs.
Militarization has also had devastating effects on the physical environment of the island. The Department of Defense has reported the presence of 95 toxic sites on its Naval and Air Force bases. Toxins have reportedly included: arsenic, dioxins, pesticides, and heavy metals. The island also has had 19 superfund sites, which are, “the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites” with all sites either directly or historically used by the Department of Defense. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense plans to dredge roughly 70 acres of live coral reef to create a birthing for nuclear submarines as part of its military build-up (DEIS, 2009). Part of these plans include the destruction of over 1,300 acres of recovery habitat for endangered species on Guahan that include the Marianas fruit bat or fanihi, the Mariana crow, and the Micronesian kingfisher. Also, the island and its people were exposed to radiation fallout between the 1940s and 1960s as a result of nuclear testing conducted in the Marshall Islands by the U.S.. Despite advocacy efforts of groups on Guahan for compensation for radiation exposure as “downwinders”, they remain ineligible for compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of U.S. Congress. The health of the people is reflected in the health of the land, for it is from the land that people derive their livelihood. Another example is neighboring communities having to cope with exposure to harmful jet fumes. Students of Upi Elementary School located alongside Anderson Air Force Base in the northern part of the island reported smelling jet fumes and as a result were not allowed outdoors. Hence, the health status of people is typically compromised when the land is not healthy and whole. The people of Vieques know this reality all to well.
According to reports from the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, cancer has been determined to be the second leading cause of death on Guahan (GCCCP, 2009). The Guam Comprehensive Cancer Control Program released the Guam Cancer Facts and Figures for 2003-2007. The publication indicated that, “There has been an 18% increase in the annual, age-adjusted incidence rates, and a minor increase in mortality rates per 100,000 population” (GCCCP, 2009, p. 2). This trend is opposite what is reported in the U.S. for cancer incidence and prevalence for the same time period. Chamorros were noted to manifest the highest percentage of new cancer cases at 48% (756) and 57% (410) of cancer deaths. These percentages indicate overrepresentation in comparison to 37% of Guahan’s total population base on the 2000 U.S. Census report. In addition to this, all ethnic groups on Guahan manifested alarmingly higher rates than the national average for cancer in the mouth and pharynx, nasopharynx, liver, and the uterus (Ibid.). The following is a chart comparing Guam and the U.S. Mean Annual Age-Adjusted Cancer Incidence Rates by Ethnicity for the periods 1998-2002 and 2003-2007:
Table1: Cancer Incidence Rates by Ethnicity; 1998-2002, 2003-2007
CANCER SITE CHAMORRO FILIPINO MICRONESIAN ASIAN CAUCASIAN U.S.
Mouth & Pharynx 24.4*
*Years 1998-2002 **Years 2003-2007
Source: Guam Cancer Facts and Figures 2003-2007
This chart clearly illustrates how Chamorros and others living on Guahan struggle with higher rates of disease as compared to U.S. averages. This gleans the possibility of environmental factors on the island that may be contributing to poor health status.
Prior to the reports made available by the Guam Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition, a number of studies examined cancer on Guahan. Haddock and Naval (1997) examined cancer mortality on Guam between the years 1971 and 1995 (a 25-year period) by reviewing a total of 11,120 death certificates. Findings indicated that, “the incidence of cancer on Guam is high and that it may be increasing” (p. 75). Haddock and Naval (1997) also stated, “Both male and female Chamorros appear to have significantly higher rates of cancer than other ethnic groups on Guam” (p. 74). Further, researchers adjusted the annual incidence rates to the World Health Organization standard population to assess the incidence of cancer by village and discovered that the villages of Yigo and Santa Rita had the highest incidence rates. This is a serious consideration because these two villages are home to the largest military populations on Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the southern part of the island. This is consistent with other military-base communities throughout the world, wherein community members manifest higher levels of diseases due to exposure to toxic chemicals that are consistent with military practices (e.g., dioxins, arsenic, radiation exposure, and agent orange).
The Guam Build-Up places a significant strain on my people and our ability to survive in our colonial context. We stand in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico, the Asia Pacific, and throughout the world as we all work towards the closure of foreign military bases and the ill effects of militarism.
Si Yu’os ma’ase/thank-you!