Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #13: In the Shadow of Davis

I wrote yesterday about the case Tuaua v. the United States, which deals with the issue of birthright citizenship, American Samoans and whether the US Constitution automatically follows wherever the American flag is flown. This case, which was recently declined by the US Supreme Court and won't be heard this year, has been casting an anxious shadow over Guam, as it could have serious ramifications for how the Government of Guam decides to forge ahead with its plans for decolonization.

I mentioned briefly another case that has cast an even larger shadow over the decolonization movement in Guam for the past few years and that is Davis v. The Government of Guam, which was filed by Dave Davis, who argues that the planned decolonization plebiscite and the Chamorro registry that will determine who can vote in it, violates his constitutional rights as a US citizen. The case has been going around in circles and so many have come to believe it is already over. It was initially dismissed in the local district court for not being ripe, but after appealing to the 9th Circuit Court it was reinstated and scheduled to resume sometime next month.

The case has had a paralyzing effect on the local decolonization movement, which due to lack of interest and support from political leaders, was already moving quite slowly. But political leaders have been even more unwilling to take seriously this issue, knowing that the possibility of a decision of "unconstitutionality" could be handed down soon.

Last year, while attending the UN Committee of 24 Regional Seminar in Nicaragua, I spoke about this problem:
In 2011, an ethnically white long-time resident of Guam, Arnold “Dave” Davis, filed a lawsuit claiming that the proposed decolonization plebiscite would violate his U.S. constitutional rights as he is not allowed to register for it. His lawsuit was dismissed in the courts of Guam on the basis that it was not “ripe,” as no plebiscite has been scheduled, although a Decolonization Commission is in place and is tasked with educating the island community and helping guide the plebiscite process. He appealed the decision in the Ninth Circuit District Court, a higher U.S. federal court.

Just last week, the Ninth Circuit Court announced their ruling that Davis’ case was indeed ripe and could be heard. The case so far has been, in my eyes, a twisted deformation of the arc of justice. In order to make his argument, Davis’ attorneys used the history of segregation and discrimination in the United States against the rights of the Chamorro people. They argued that Chamorros, in seeking to protect their right to self-determination, were akin to hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which had historically denied certain groups the right to vote through legal or illegal means. This case has become another means of hiding the contemporary realities of U.S. colonization.

The position of Davis is something that has also been mirrored by U.S. representatives, who have also argued that a self-determination vote must follow U.S. rules. This insistence is not genuine, however. Regardless of how the decolonization vote is set, the Administering Power has long refused to recognize that this vote is binding or that the U.S. has any obligation based upon its outcome. The sympathetic ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court shows a continued commitment on behalf of the Administering Power to ignore international conventions and force this process to conform to the comforts of the colonizer’s legal mazes and fictions.

Davis will most likely resume his challenge against the self-determination plebiscite. His case continues to chill discussion, in anticipation of the time when the merits of his argument will be heard in court. In truth, the merits of Davis’ case shouldn’t matter whatsoever. A decolonization process bound to the rules of the colonizer is anathema to the hope of justice and restitution that decolonization is meant to represent. Self-determination is meant to be a sacred right that all peoples possess. Here, we see a dangerous path ahead, where it appears the U.S. is insisting that it be allowed to determine how a colonized people decolonize.

For those of you who need a refresher in terms of the basics of the case, here are some articles to jog your memory:


Davis case continues, Paeste case may influence judgement
by Robert Tupaz
The Guam Daily Post

As the government prepares its response in the Arnold "Dave" Davis lawsuit relative to the political status plebiscite, it is again requesting a summary judgment for dismissal from the U.S. District Court.

In its filing, the Office of the Attorney General of Guam noted the tax case of Paeste v. Government of Guam which may be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to grant the petition. However, the issue raised in the petition is applicable to the case at bar where Mr. Davis has sued Guam officials for injunctive and declaratory relief. ... The issue raised in the petition is a substantial issue which I believe should be considered in this plebiscite litigation. Regardless of whether the U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari, I want to preserve this issue in the case at bar for possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court,” wrote Kenneth Orcutt for the Guam attorney general.

The amended language includes an argument that Davis’ claims should be barred as precedent in a 1990 case, Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, which resulted in an order that neither territories or officials of United States territories are persons.

Meanwhile, the attorney general asked the speaker of the Guam Legislature to provide responses to discovery requests by the Davis team as the case was directed to be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last June.

The bench trial is scheduled for July 25.

Questions posed by the Davis team, which since he filed on his own behalf, have earned the pro-bono attention of the Election Law Center and Center for Individual Rights include distinguishing and identifying individuals who by definition may vote.

Native inhabitant

Such instances include the local officials being asked to identify each “native inhabitant” who is eligible to register to vote in the plebiscite, but is not able to register on the Chamorro Registry or identify each Chamorro who is not eligible to register in the plebiscite vote as well as identify any international obligations of the United States relevant to Guam’s compliance with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Organic Act of Guam or the Voting Rights Act. Other such questions were listed to be answered to the best of the speaker’s ability for discovery.

Last November, Davis filed a response to the attorney general’s initial motion for summary judgment in his lawsuit claiming the right to vote in a Guam plebiscite.

Davis responded that Guam’s summary judgment motion should be denied because the Fifteenth Amendment and the Organic Act prohibit all voting qualifications based on ancestry or race. The prohibition applies because even if the definition of “native inhabitants of Guam” were not race-based, it is – by its plain terms – ancestry-based, Davis claims. Moreover, the racial origins of the phrase are so obvious, and the effort of the Guam Legislature to circumvent the Organic Act so transparent, that summary judgment should be denied to Guam, and granted to Davis, according to the response.


The response stated that classifying citizens into different groups with different political rights and permitting only one of those groups to register for and participate in a government-run election denies other groups the right to vote.

“The Guam Legislature perhaps might have thought that Congress wanted it to vest one race an ancestral group with special political powers not enjoyed by others citizens, but no such congressional action occurred,” Davis’s attorneys wrote. “When Congress did speak, it squarely prohibited the classifications contained in the plebiscite. Guam cannot change this basic fact by invoking opaque and fanciful notions of what Congress might instead have done.”

The attorney general also sought summary judgment on the grounds that the plebiscite does not violate Davis’s constitutional rights, even though it limits the ability to register and vote to “native inhabitants of Guam,” according to the response filed by Davis.

His attorneys also claimed the government’s motion does not address all of Davis’s claims, including a claim that the plebiscite’s restrictions on voting violate the Organic Act regardless of whether or not the restrictions are characterized as “racial.” Davis said in his motion that the court should grant summary judgment invalidating the plebiscite.

“While Guam asserts that Congress has authorized the plebiscite, it has, in fact, unambiguously prohibited it. Guam’s remaining arguments fail because the Ninth Circuit has rejected its argument that the plebiscite has inadequate import because it is supposedly nonbinding, and its discussion of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act simply misunderstands Davis’s claim under that provision,” the attorneys wrote in the response.


AG waiting on district court before making plebiscite opinion
by Ken Quintanilla
May 28, 2016

Governor Eddie Calvo last week wrote to the Attorney General of Guam, asking for her legal interpretation of what the 70% threshold means for the plebiscite. AG Elizabeth Barrett Anderson said, "What I'm concerned about, although I think it's a very good question and the question that's been on everyone's mind 'What is 70%?'. We are currently waiting on a hearing date from the District Court for our motion for summary judgment in the Davis case.

"So I'm not going to make any comment to the news media about responding to the governor's request. I haven't met with the governor, but my prime concern is that we have a very important motion to be argued in front of the District Court of Guam. We're hoping to have that argument sometime in early or mid-summer - that might be my question."

Several years ago Arnold "Dave" Davis filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from registering to vote on Guam's political status. The trial is set for this summer.


Appellate court issues opinion on plebiscite
by Ken Quintanilla
May 11, 2015

While the District Court of Guam dismissed the case over two years ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion reinstating a lawsuit challenging the voting restrictions for Guam's plebiscite on political status. Nearly five years ago, the Guam Election Commission had less than 1,000 people on the Guam Decolonization Registry. And according to executive director Maria Pangelinan, that number has increased dramatically.

"At this time, we are reporting there are 8,136 native inhabitants registered," she explained. The Decolonization Registry is needed in order to move forward with Guam's plebiscite election. "For this one, it would be the exercise of the native inhabitants of the people of the land on self-determination, what type of government they would wants," Pangelinan said.

One person not on that registry is Guam resident Arnold "Dave" Davis, who recently saw his lawsuit sent back to the District Court of Guam. "It was several years ago when Dave Davis filed a lawsuit after he was prohibited from registering to vote on Guam's political status. As it stands, Guam law only allows descendants of native inhabitants of the territory dating back to 1950 to participate in the plebiscite," she said.

Davis however argues that the constitution, the Organic Act, and the Voting Rights Act all provide that every citizen be treated equally and have the same political voice. It was back in early 2013 when District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood dismissed his case after agreeing with the government that no date had been set for the political status vote and therefore Davis had suffered no injury and that the case was not ripe for review.

In response, Davis filed an appeal. Davis is represented by Washington-based public interest law firm, the Center for Individual Rights, who announced the 9th Circuit had reversed Tydingco-Gatewood's decision. A 9th Circuit judge wrote that Davis not only had standing but that the "alleged denial of equal treatment to Davis is....a judicially cognizable injury." As for the latest development in the case, Pangelinan could not comment on the matter.

"We've become aware of it and we will work with legal counsel to see what are the next steps are for the Guam Election Commission," she said.

Meanwhile, Commission on Decolonization executive director Ed Alvarez tells KUAM the 9th Circuit's decision does not affect the commission's work as their mission will be to continue to educate the public. He does however say the process of moving forward the plebiscite should be "free-flowing without the coercion or influence of any party or entity. Personally, when you take it court, you isolate the process of self-determination." As for the threshold of the plebiscite, the law requires 70% of eligible voters - a mandate Alvarez says is "ambiguous" and needs to be clarified before any date is set.


AG Files Motion in Plebiscite Case
October 30, 2015,

Today, the Office of the Attorney General filed a motion for summary judgment in Davis v. Guam, requesting that the plebiscite lawsuit filed by Plaintiff Arnold "Dave" Davis in 2011 be dismissed on the grounds that Defendants Government of Guam, Guam Election Commission, and its members, are entitled to judgment.

"Plaintiff cannot make a case of discrimination under either the U.S. Constitution or the statutes of the United States," according to Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, and Special Assistant Attorney General Julian Aguon. The challenged Guam Decolonization Registry Law is facially neutral and does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race. The vote turns only on whether a person
gained his or her U.S. citizenship through the operation of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam.

Guam statutory definition of "native inhabitants of Guam” reflects Congress’ use if the term pursuant to the exercise of its plenary power in the unincorporated territories. The challenge to the plebiscite based on racial discrimination is unfounded. The plebiscite seeks only to allow "those persons whose citizenship was effectuated by the enactment of Guam's Organic Act" to express their desires regarding future political relationship with the United States. Neither the Fifteenth Amendment nor the Voting Rights Act was designed to prohibit this kind of political expression.

Carlina Charfauros
475-3324 ext 5020


Guam and Rice v. Cayetano
Letter to the Editor
The Marianas Variety
November 28, 2011
THERE has been much ado about Mr. Arnold “Dave” Davis’ misguided lawsuit against the Guam Election Commission on his denial to vote in the upcoming plebiscite, restricted to native inhabitants of Guam. Some have congratulated him for challenging the vote with this lawsuit.

Others have chastised him for wasting time and money with the complaint.

The U.S. Department of Justice refused to pursue it when he urged them to back in 2009. He has now gotten a non-profit organization, the so-called Center for Individual Rights, to back him in a lawsuit. The CIR is really just an anti-Obama conservative organization.

Mr. Davis and I disagree but we do so respectfully. He contends that this is a racially exclusive vote and it violates the 15th Amendment.

Mr. Davis and his “Big Guns” from Washington, D.C. are pretty confident about this lawsuit because of the Rice vs. Cayetano case from 2000. The Rice case involved a statewide election for trustees of a state agency. What they fail to recognize is that Rice vs. Cayetano had patently different facts from the Guam plebiscite. Oh wait, my mistake, Rice vs. Cayetano did have very similar facts to the Guam plebiscite, but it was another Rice vs. Cayetano case in 1996. That 1996 Rice case involved, guess what, a native Hawaiian plebiscite. It didn’t make it past the Federal District Court of Hawaii. The court analyzed the Native Hawaiian plebiscite under the 14th and 15th Amendments and found that due to special circumstances and the special nature of the vote, and relying on Supreme Court precedents, it did not offend the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

Of course Guam has its own unique circumstances and the 1996 Rice case only went to the Federal District Court. I have also stated based on the nature of this vote and Guam’s unincorporated territory status the federal judiciary does not have jurisdiction. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Ghazni, Afghanistan


Davis v. Guam
The Center for Individual Rights
November 2, 2015

CIR plaintiff Arnold Davis is back in the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam to continue his challenge to Guam’s race-exclusive plebiscite. In 2013, this same District Court dismissed Davis’ lawsuit by saying he had no standing to sue the government of Guam. However, with CIR’s help, Davis appealed his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit reinstated Davis’ case and instructed the District Court that Davis does in fact have standing to have his case considered.

Now Davis is back in the District Court and CIR has renewed the proceedings on his behalf. This week, CIR filed a motion for summary judgment that argues the Constitution unequivocally prohibits Guam from denying Davis – or anyone – the right to vote because of their race.

The Attorney General of Guam filed a motion for summary judgment as well, denying that the race-exclusive provision in this law is unconstitutional. In fact, the Attorney General’s brief goes so far as to argue that the Constitution does not control the actions of Guam’s government.
Here are some of the core arguments about voting rights from our motion:
  1. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is absolute when it says “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged… on account of race.” As the Supreme Court has explained, “race cannot qualify some and disqualify others from full participation in our democracy.”
  2. Racial voting restrictions violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Constitution’s promise that all citizens will be treated equally under the law has led the Supreme Court to say that “a citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.”
Read the full motion here.

CIR challenges Guam plebiscite

CIR is representing Guam resident Arnold Davis in a class action lawsuit challenging a race-exclusive plebiscite on the question of whether Guam should seek independence from the United States, statehood, or some other relationship.

Although a territory of the United States and subject to the Constitution’s guarantees of non-discrimination, Guam law permits only those who meet the definition of “Native Inhabitants of Guam” to vote in the plebiscite.  CIR’s complaint alleges that the definition of this term was designed to limit the vote to “Chamorros,” a racial designation referring to the original inhabitants of Guam and their descendants.  This group comprises about thirty-six percent of the population of Guam.  The law pointedly excludes most Caucasian, black, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino citizens of the United States living on Guam and otherwise registered to vote in Guam elections.

Having been a territory of the United States since 1898, Guam apparently has decided to hold a referendum on its future relation with the United States without allowing nearly two-thirds of its lawfully registered voters to vote — all of them citizens of the United States.

DOJ refuses to act

As troubling as this overtly discriminatory law is, even more difficult to comprehend is the Justice Department’s failure to take action against it.  Despite its clear authority to enforce federal laws prohibiting race discrimination in voting, the Justice Department declined to intervene when presented with a complaint by Guam resident Arnold Davis, the plaintiff in CIR’s suit. Davis, a retired officer in the U.S. Air Force, was told he couldn’t register because he was not descended from a native inhabitant; Davis communicated all this to Department officials, but the Department declined to pursue the matter.  According to sources, this decision came from political appointees in the Civil Rights Division.

The Guam plebiscite bears a strong similarity to Hawaiian laws that formerly limited certain elections to Native Hawaiians.  The Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional in Rice v. Cayetano in 2000.  Presumably to get around this problem, Guam claims its plebiscite is not limited by race, but only to native “inhabitants.”  But this turns out to be a pretext — the law defining “native inhabitant” excludes virtually everyone but “Chamorros.”  And even if “native inhabitant” didn’t exclude other racial groups, it would still violate the Constitution.  Voting cannot be conditioned on the accident of one’s descent.  It must be available to all residents on the same terms.

Racial politics

Guam’s status as a U.S. territory has enabled the island to attract individuals from many other countries, notably Korea and the Philippines, who now call Guam their home.  In addition, U.S. citizens, including retired members of the U.S. military, have become permanent residents of the island.  Yet now, almost two-thirds of the island’s residents face disenfranchisement at the hands of the controlling racial group.

The plebiscite is part of a political campaign being waged by a group of Chamorros intent on preserving their power over island affairs.  Their tactic is the odious one of building a racial identity for a favored “native” race in opposition to “other” races.  Understanding the irrationality of this kind of racial politics, the Constitution does not permit legal classifications built on race.

Though it would be theoretically possible for Guam to secede from the United States in order to pursue its campaign of racial identity, it is not acceptable for it to claim the authority and protection of the United States Constitution and its laws all the while flouting their fundamental principles.  And no principle is more fundamental to American democracy than the idea that all citizens have the right to vote regardless of race.

Case Status: Pending

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #12: American Mazes

For the past few years, two legal cases have overshadowed the quest for decolonization in Guam. One of them is the infamous Davis case or Arnold Dave Davis v. the Government of Guam, over the alleged violation of his constitutional rights, that a decolonization plebiscite would entail. Taya' ganas-hu para bei pacha este na suheto pa'go. Buente bei fangge' put este gi otro biahi pat tinige'.

The other case is Tuaua v. The United States, which represents a challenge to the Insular Cases, or the century's worth of legal cases in the United States that formalize their colonial control over their territories such as Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. 

American Samoa's relationship to the United States is perhaps even more interesting than Guam's. Although they are a territory and a colony as well, because of the particularity of their history, they are less intimately connected to the US than Guam is. They are technically an "unorganized unincorporated" territory, whereas Guam is a organized unincorporated territory.

Someone who is born in American Samoa is not automatically a US citizens but instead a national, as Chamorros were prior to the signing of the Organic Act. In American Samoa they have US passports that have a disclaimer that clarifies that they are not truly US citizens. They have a traditional government system that exists today alongside the government that has come through territorial status. They are not eligible to as many Federal programs as people in Guam, but they have more autonomy and local control.

Part of the team in Tuaua v. The United States is Neil Weare, a former resident of Guam and graduate of Yale Law School. He visits island regularly and presents on this case and also publicizes the group he is spearheading, "We the People Project," which is dedicated to getting equal rights as Americans for the people living in the territories.

For this case I am both very hopeful but also wary. I am excited and hopeful since it represents yet another challenge to the Insular Cases. These are what legal scholars and historians refer to as the set of racist legal arguments that create the framework for formal US colonialism. Part of the reason why US historians, legal scholars and American Studies people eagerly identify the Insular Cases as the basis for US colonialism, imperialism and Empire is because of the way it allows you to buy into the argument that the imperial and colonial actions of the US prior to 1898 then seems to have no clear productive meaning. It was stuff that just happened along the way while the US was figuring itself out. Only some Native Americans suffered, and not even that many. In truth, the US operated as a colonial power from the moment it was born. But by identifying the colonialism of 1898 as the foundation for critiques, it allows you to forget so much else and not think of it in a coherently critical context.

One of the many ways that I am disappointed in this island and in the Chamorro people is the way we do not educate ourselves about the things that truly matter. How we establish ourselves as political beings and collect texts in order to understand it, speaks more to how we wish we were, and how we have been effectively colonized, as opposed to what we really are. Our educational system teaches our students accept their relationship to the United States as being just like any state, like the Americans they see on TV. While the Constitution truly affects Guam, why don't we educate ourselves about the Insular Cases in the same way? These cases have more to do about what Guam is in relation to the United States, why do students not learn about them until they are in college?

But this is a critique I have long had since the days of the previous self-determination movements. There were grand plans about changing curriculum in schools to properly educate our children about the island's political status and their history. Nothing ever came from that except for the publication of the text books. Political status issues, the truth of Guam's place in the world today is relegated to something that some teachers can address, but don't really have to. As a result, even though we had some very strong movements for political status change in the 80's and 90's, we have little to show for it today except for an opening of the discursive space to make such conversations more possible.

As I've written about before, political status conversations are much more tolerated now than in the past. But in many cases this tolerance is articulated not within an actual acceptance of the right of Chamorros to self-determine or the need for Guam to decolonize, but rather because of the overarching right of "Americans" to freedom of speech. It is allowed more than before as a testament to how great American truly is since even speech that goes against it in this regard can be tolerated and can be aired in the public square.  Has the Guam community achieved a higher level of consciousness in terms of political status because of this greater freedom in discussing it? I would argue no. Leaders in the past and leaders in the present did not take advantage of much of anything to truly push this issue and so years have been wasted. At the level of government discourse there have been real changes. As Roland Stade argues in his book Pacific Passages, all would be leaders have to take a position or at least engage in some way with political status issues. It is not like the past when you could dismiss all of that as ridiculous to even discuss.

So challenging the Insular Cases can be a good way of raising our consciousness about our situation. Helping us understand the truth of Guam and its relationship to the US today. Although the case is not directly about Guam is can have huge effects on Guam, since the case is about how territories or unincorporated areas of the US relate to the sovereignty of the US. Do these places have any rights on their own? Do they have rights since the US controls them? Or are the Insular Cases right in claiming that all such rights only belong to the US Congress to determine?

Neil Weare has been criticized for this case both in Guam but mainly in American Samoa, since it may take the issue of self-determination out of the hands of the colonized people, and make it something that the courts will determine. Weare has responded that this isn't necessarily true. Para Guahu, siña dinanche gui', lao ti guaguaha mas ki ha sasangan. If the defendants from American Samoa win this case it doesn't automatically mean that the right of Chamorros to self-determination will disappear. It will most likely however make it more difficult.

There are many different ways to see the legal world. The ideal form of it however, it rarely what affects the world, especially for those populations and communities which are marginal, oppressed or weak politically. While the legal world may work in a just, ideal fashion for an individual, especially one that the embedded systems of classicism, sexism and racism infer as being a "normal" person, this is not the case for those that are abnormal, deviant, or unincorporated. For them, the legal world, even in its ideal form is formed through their potential exclusion. Or to use another phrase, you are not a subject within that legal world, but an object upon which the rules are built to make it possible. It is not made for you, but created through your exclusion.

This is the case for both Native Americans and for the unincorporated territories. The system isn't meant for you. It isn't meant to recognize your rights or protect your rights. The system has been built through a sometimes slow, sometimes quick process of legal engulfment. If we look at the origins of both communities in the US legal system, their inclusion is made possible through a primal subordination which no one ever wants to revisit. Native Americans were originally sovereign nations in relation to the US, but within a couple decades had been totally and completely re-imagined legally so that they now basically belong to the United States. The legal history there is shocking and despicable, but few people want to even understand it or fix it. The Insular Cases represents something similar for the unincorporated territories. These territories could have many possible paths, but the Insular Cases traps them in a particular form, where they belong to the US and have no inherent rights or destiny.

All hope is not lost for these communities, but as they try to find their way through these legal mazes, their hope is channeled in a particular direction, always towards being further engulfed and more included. It becomes impossible to argue that you deserve more autonomy and more sovereignty. The legal maze you are in does not allow movements in that direction, it only accepts arguments that bring you further into the fold of the United States and its control.

Because of this, the legal maze may not appear to be all that bad. For those who accept the colonial rule of the United States, the legal maze can appear to be a saving grace. If you accept the colonial rule of the United States, then the world becomes a game of becoming more American. It is all a slow, sometimes frustrating process of making yourself more American, and finding ways to include yourself and prove yourself. The courts and that legal maze, which is already fixed so that you can only move towards the United States can appear to be helpful and getting you there.

A number of former Guam leaders have shown interest in Weare's case because it does represent this potential. For many people resolving Guam's political status is not a neutral process, but about finally becoming part of the American family that people have craved for so long. This is the easiest way to approach decolonization since it is the only path that Guam's colonization really allows. The US has shown vague support for "self-determination" but has always made clear that this is "self-determination" within the US and would not allow/support anything that does not align with US laws and US interests.

As I said I am happy that the Insular Cases are being challenged, although I do wish that the challenge was not so much based on inclusion, but rather challenged the idea that the territories have no inherent rights. But I am in a serious minority in terms of how I see Guam and its colonial status. For most people they feel colonialism in terms of being a disrespected, excluded and incomplete American. They are drawn to Statehood not because they understand what it might mean for Guam, but because they hope that it can fulfill their long felt desires to become one with the United States. Support for Statehood is fueled by colonial feelings of dependency. I want something else for Guam, I believe that Guam should have the right to choose whatever it wants, and not be limited by what the US believes it should be, or what US courts or Congress pass laws and judgements that it should be.

It is possible that one day the legal maze that the US has created around Guam could suddenly be lifted or opened. It could be a single decision that basically creates an opening for more of a century of unilateral colonial authority to finally be weakened. It could even be this decision that does it. But it is unlikely. Legal mazes are not easily tampered with in this way. They generally have an organic way of sealing off any potential openings, to keep those trapped consistently trapped and only moving in one possible direction.

If a case like this has the ability to create those openings then I am all for it. But if it becomes just another way of trapping Guam, then of course I am wary. The benefit of opening things up for Guam is that it doesn't not mean that it puts Guam on the path to independence. The only thing it means is that the path ahead is clear, and isn't dominated by what the US wants or will allow. The right to self-determination is something that is sacred and should be taken more seriously by both people on Guam and in the United States. I hope that cases like this one can open the discussion up, but I fear that they will only limit it further, by deepening that legal maze and thickening the walls so there is no escape for Chamorros and for Guam, save for through the sovereignty of the United States.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #11: To Militarize? Or to Decolonize?

On August 28, 2015 the Department of Defense signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for their proposed military buildup to Guam. The military buildup and its impact on Guam has long been a topic of public debate. What has often been lost in the discussion of socioeconomic and environmental impacts is what effect a military increase of this magnitude may have on the Chamorro quest for self-determination and the decolonization of Guam.

Since 2011 I have been a member of the Commission on Decolonization, and although many people might think of issues of self-determination and military increases as being separate, we should think of them as being more closely connected. The overall mission of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the island community on issues of political status, in particular related to the holding of a political status plebiscite in which those who are legally qualified will vote on one of three future political statuses for Guam (integration, free association or independence). But how does our value as a base affect the willingness or unwillingness of our colonizer to support us in our decolonization?  

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all colonial powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to de-emphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. The expansion of bases and the establishing of new training areas as outlined in the ROD is precisely the type of increased military presence the United Nations has long cautioned against. The United Nations has also cautioned countries like the United States from using their colonies in offensive wars or actions against other nations as this could potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization. To illustrate this point the more that Guam is used for American military saber rattling in the Asia-Pacific region, the more it becomes a target for enemies of the United States today and should it ever achieve another political status.

The Department of Defense is aware of this concern and has acknowledged the potential for their military buildup to affect certain Chamorro issues or concerns, such as decolonization in their military buildup environmental impact studies. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

For those who think these matters are separate or that one doesn’t affect the other, that simply isn’t true. Our strategic military value to the United States has long affected what we can and cannot get from the United States. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

Tales of Decolonization #10: The Registry...of DOOM

Guam's decolonization movement has been stalled at the governmental level for many years, and even decades depending on how you perceive things. During the Gutierrez administration the quest for decolonization was taken seriously in a variety of ways, money was provided for education, the Commonwealth movement was in full swing, although it did eventually end in 1997, and several plebiscites were scheduled. The problem was that the plebiscite was scheduled and postponed multiple times, and no real educational campaign ever took place, although at one point basic materials were distributed on a mass scale. During the next administration, that of Felix Camacho, the issue almost died completely at the government level. Community groups and civil society took up the cause, but during the entire administration of Camacho, not a single meeting of the Commission on Decolonization was held, and the office itself was given little to no support. Part of this was the hesitancy of the administration to take up an issue that they didn't understand or were worried was anti-American, but part of it was also the minala'et gi pachot taotao as to the failure of Commonwealth, a movement that had in all lasted for several decades. When Eddie Calvo came into power, the rhetoric shifted, suddenly decolonization was being talked about again and statements made indicating it would be a priority. The Commission on Decolonization met again, after more than eight years. But this too was fairly hollow and pointless. For most of Camacho's term, although his administration didn't take this issue seriously, there was still funding to support the office of the Commission on Decolonization and keep an Executive Director and two staffers. But under Calvo, although he after a year hired an Executive Director, those who were working in the office, were there only in name, as they were actually detailed elsewhere. The Commission met for several years without any money for any of its activities and had no staff to support it in anyway. Calvo continued to randomly bring up the issue of decolonization and profess it was important to him, but his deeds showed that like his predecessor, he either didn't really seem to understand the issue or care about it. But unlike his predecessor who seemed fearful of talking about it, Calvo at least understood its rhetorical value and that invoking colonization and decolonization provided a particular way of talking about Guam's place in the world and place in subordinated place in relation to the United States. Eventually, Calvo's deeds began to catch up to his words, and he began to set aside funding for the Commission on Decolonization to undertake educational projects. This year, Calvo has become far more engaged than any other point, and appears to finally be actively taking up the cause of decolonization. In his 2016 State of the Island Address he made a bold and I would argue reckless proposal to hold a plebiscite this year, and instead of using the process mandated by law (in which the Commission on Decolonization, of which he is the chair, makes the decision on when a plebiscite will be held), he argued circumventing GovGuam law and using the private citizen referendum process, whereby any individual with enough community support can push a vote on a topic before the public. By doing this he would violate what has become a sacred part about this process, and that is that the vote should be limited to only those who are Guam's colonized people, which due to a somewhat complicated process we refer to today as "native inhabitants." If Calvo's plan was implemented, everyone would be able to vote in the plebiscite. Calvo's proposal made little sense for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here, as many of his arguments for taking this route were paper-thin to be generous. He is the chair of the Commission of Decolonization, and as the chair it was in his best interest to engage and guide the commission with his ideas, rather than just proposing a wild plan that violated a number of GovGuam laws and seemed to mock the people who have been fighting for this issue for years.

But the main reason that Governor Calvo gave for why he felt it necessary to take this alternative route, was due to an issue that has long haunted this process and caused a wide range of delays and defeats, and that is the Chamorro registry. Pasted below I have a number of random articles that deal with the status of the Chamorro registry over the years. Calvo explained that the Chamorro registry, with its ambiguous and vague rules was such an insurmountable obstacle that he foresaw only his radical action as getting us around it. The Chamorro registry should be something that strengthens the process, as this is the list of those who would be able to vote when a plebiscite is actually held. This list should represent something around which education and outreach and community organizing can take place. But instead successive administrations have treated it like an irritation that they don't have time for and don't want to put resources to support. They ignored it and did nothing to promote it or help it grow and as such it sat there collecting dust and negativity for far too long.

When I submitted my name for the Chamorro registry, there was just a few hundred people on the list, and there was almost no awareness about it and no attempts to get people to add their names to the list or convince them of the importance of participating. I did not even get a pamphlet with information, just a receipt indicating that I had registered.

But the registry has also caused delays and hesitancy for another reason, because of the way it and the vote itself have been accused of violating the US Constitution. This is found most famously in the case of Dave Davis, who is accusing GovGuam of violating his constitutional rights by proposing an election and a list of voters, both of which he is potentially ineligible for. Most recently, politicians from both sides of the island have expressed concern about moving forward with any plans for decolonization until the Davis case is settled, because we may find one day that Federal Courts are suddenly hacking apart our local laws on decolonization and telling us, in a very colonial way, how we should decolonize.

The past few months, have been different in terms of the rhetoric from the Calvo administration, but it remains to be seen how long this will last. May was declared Decolonization Registration month, but this was quickly lost amidst the deluge of selfies with Rapa Nui men for FESTPAC. Now that the dust from the thousands of grass skirts has settled, we shall see if the administration keeps the movement going, or if they drop it as others have in the past.


Guam Decolonization Supporters Back Chamorro Only Vote
By Lloyd Jojola
Pacific Daily News
August 4, 1990 

Minus a few changes, decolonization supporters yesterday endorsed legislation that would provide money to carry forward a Chamorro-only vote to determine political status for the island.

The Legislative Committee on Finance and Taxation yesterday held a public hearing on Bill 691. The proposal is expected to go before the Legislature during its next session. No date has been set.

Sponsored by Senators Willy Flores, D. Talofofo; Anothony Unpingco, R. Santa Rita; and Anthony Blaz, R. Chalan Pago/Ordot, the legislation provides funding for the Commission on Decolonization and the Chamorro Registry Advisory Board to conduct a decolonization plebiscite in October 1999, according to the proposed law.

The vote would come a decade after the people of Guam submitted the Draft Commonwealth Act to the federal government, asking to be able to determine their own political futures.

"By virtue of our being the colonized and also because we an indigenous people, we have the right to determine our political status and that of our homeland," Chris Peroz Howard, chairman of the Organization of the People for Indigenous Rights and a commission member, said as he endorsed the bill yesterday.

"We are people. And although our colonial history has altered our face and our actions, we can say with justified pride, "we are still alive after all these years," he said.

During his testimony yesterday, Howard asked that other sections be added to the bill. One mandating that Guam Del Robert Underwood withdraw the Commonwealth Act from Congress, and another that the Commission on Self-Determination be dissolved and its staff and funds be transferred to the decolonization commission. The Commission on Self-Determination was created to promote the draft Commonwealth Act.

In January 1997, public law 23-145 created the Commission on Decolonization. The commission's job ultimately is to determine what political relationship with the United States the Chamorro people of Guam now want -- independence, free association or statehood.

Three task forces set up by the commission are supposed to study each political status option. They will research their respective status option and come up with a position paper. The information will be used as part of a public information campaign before the plebiscite.

If Bill 691 passes, $475.000 in general fund money would be appropriated to the commission for the purpose of funding its operations.

The 1997 law originally set the plebiscite vote for this year. Bill 691 would push that date to October 5, 1999. Several supporters who testified yesterday urged that the date be pushed back even further.
Also under the proposed bill, $40,000 would be given to the Guam Election Commission to establish a plan for an awareness and voter registration drive. Commission chairman Joe Mesa questioned whether the money was necessary for planning purposes.

The law that created the decolonization commission defines Chamorros as inhabitants of Guam in 1898 and their descendants who have taken no steps to preserve or acquire foreign nationality. The Chamorro Registry Advisory Board, created the same year as the commission, would identify qualified voters.

As part of the proposed law, the board also would have to coordinate with the commission an intensive identification and awareness campaign and voter registration drive in preparation for the vote.

Several decolonization commission members yesterday said the education campaign is needed.
"We need a public relations effort that calls in those eligible to vote," Commission Executive Director Leland Bettis said, adding that unless eligible voters are "energized," the commission's efforts will fall on deaf ears.

Commission member Ron Rivera agreed.

"There are those who don't know a doggone thing about this, he said.


List of those eligible to vote in self-determination plebiscite increases
By Jasmine Stole
Marianas Variety

Since 2011, the Guam Decolonization Registry list has grown almost sevenfold, but the list still needs some work.

As of April 2014, according to Maria Pangelinan, executive director of the Guam Election Commission, the list now has 6,569 names.

Issues with duplicate names were discussed at last week’s commission meeting. A staff member presented the commission with an update of the list and the board questioned its organization.
Pangelinan said in an interview yesterday that sometimes registrars go out and encounter people who are unsure whether they are on the list. "What we do is go ahead and register them," she said.
"Throughout the years, we’ve had duplicates. And the biggest challenge we have is that, for the Chamorro Land Trust lessees, there’s ‘Mr. and Mrs.,’" Pangelinan said. "And we don’t have any information on Mrs. So, those are our challenges."

Prior to receiving funding for the registry in 2011, only 938 people had registered, she said.
Additionally, there is only one person in charge of going through the lists and removing duplicates and merging information, although at the commission meeting he said he has received help from temporarily employed staff members within the last few months. Pangelinan added that the same person is also in charge of information technology for her office.

She said the registry list had 938 names in 2011 and in August that same year, GEC was given a list of an additional 3,843 names to be added to the list from the Chamorro Land Trust.

"According to the law, anybody that gets a Chamorro Land Trust lease, by being a lessee, (gets) to be on the registry automatically," Pangelinan said.

During 2012, when P.L. 31-244 was enacted, the registry grew by another 319. The law intended to "enhance the registration process of the Guam Decolonization Registry" by adding decolonization registrars at every polling place. It was during that election that the 319 names were added to the list.
"Even though that’s a small number compared to the total number of native inhabitants, you’ve got to admit that’s quite a bigger number from 938, which took 11 years to put on," Pangelinan said of the 6,569 names.

Pangelinan added that the law for a decolonization registry came to be in 2000 and between then and 2011 there had only been 938 names added to the list.

Alice Taijeron, vice chairwoman of the commission, acknowledged the growth of the registry at last week’s meeting but said more progress is needed. "I do see a difference in the numbers and that is a lot for one individual considering our scope of work," Taijeron said. "I think for me ... I have greater expectations and ... we want it done now, we wanted it done yesterday."


Cruz signs up for Chamorro Registry
by Sabrina Salas Matanane
March 3, 2010 

Guam - Acting Governor Mike Cruz signed up for the Chamorro Registry, but hasn't just yet acted on Bill 184. The legislation provides additional clarification for the establishment dealing with the decolonization registry.  The acting governor signing up for the registry follows a letter and meeting with Senator Ben Pangelinan.

Pangelinan was requesting the acting Governor not only sign bill 184 but also reactivate the Commission on Decolonization which is responsible for spearheading a plebiscite on Chamorro Self Determination. He says now is the time to activate the group and spark dialogue about the political relationship between the U.S. and Guam.

The Chamorro Registry and the Guam Decolonization Registry
by Selina Onedera-Salas
Letter to the Editor
Marianas Variety
January 9, 2012

THERE are two registries that were created by law to delineate the people of Guam who are entitled to self-determination. These registries are the Chamorro Registry and the Guam Decolonization Registry — neither of which is “race-based.”
The marked difference between the two is the definition of native inhabitants. In short, the Chamorro Registry defines native inhabitants as those who were inhabitants of Guam by April 11, 1899; those who were temporarily absent from the island at that time; and those who were born on the island prior to 1800 and their descendants.
The Guam Decolonization Registry defines native inhabitants as those who became U.S. Citizens by virtue of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and their descendants.
When you hear “Chamorro-only,” keep in mind it is a phrase that is entirely inaccurate, misguided, undermining, and is a menacing misrepresentation of the mission of the Commission on Decolonization, the intent of the enabling legislation for both registries, and the many discussions that have taken place at various conferences and fora on-island and abroad.
Self-determination is not a synonym for any of the three status options, and the plebiscite is a mechanism by which the native inhabitants of Guam will now determine, for ourselves, what sort of relationship we wish to have with the United States.
Countless decisions have been made concerning our land, our water, and our airspace without sincere efforts at consultation with our people, who are left to deal with the aftermath of PCB-contamination, the effects of the Compact agreements, and wishy-washy buildup talks. These issues take effect as a result of the “status quo.” If it is change that you seek, the truest change we must impress upon is to the gray area that is beyond our Legislature and beyond Adelup — it is the gray area between the people of Guam and the government of the United States of America.
Never mind the rhetoric of how this vote is racially motivated or racially biased — that is simply ill-intended rhetoric that seeks to undermine the process of our right to self-determination. Rather than relying on false reports and/or news articles that contain strong opinions over facts, ask the right people your questions and continue to stay informed and educated on the three status options.
Regardless of your ethnic identity, you may be qualified to register for the Guam Decolonization Registry. Registration clerks are available at the Guam Election Commission and at the office of Sen. Ben Pangelinan in Hagåtña.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #9: Diplomatic Life in Pictures

For this year's Regional Seminar I wanted to accomplish a number of goals. First, the primary goal was to give my presentation as an expert on the decolonization situation in Guam. Second, was to meet with people from the other Non-Self-Governing Territories to try to develop the foundation for a solidarity network to increase awareness and communications. Third, to conduct interviews for the Guam public radio program Beyond the Fence. And finally, just to conduct research for my own academic work. For the first three, things went smoothly at the conference. In fact, other than some technical problems with my digital recorder and my struggles with jet lag, things went far better than I expected.

Interviewing people to learn more about the decolonization process, the diplomatic relations involved with it was a bit more difficult. Employees of the United Nations itself were politely mum when asked about things in any formal interview, saying that they had to clear things with those above them prior to speaking freely on any topic. Country representatives were polite, as us from the colonies don't even get the minimum amount of respect and recognition the smallest of nations get, but when I wanted to ask them things in a more formal context, suddenly had emails to answer and workout equipment to make use of.

International diplomacy is a game of trading favors. Something is given up, normally because something can be gained, if not immediately, at a future date. Those from the territories, the colonies have very little in the way of resources to bargain with. This is something that non-voting delegates in the US Congress experience as well. Even if you are treated with the trappings of inclusion and participation, fundamentally you cannot escape or color up fancily your exclusion and powerlessness. If you are included and not just a recipient of "state-like" or "country-like" treatment, then there is always the possibility that your inclusion alone can matter for something, this usually manifested in the form of public support or votes.

But I've found over the past few seminars that I do have something which can help get me, at least some access, and that is a decent digital camera and an enjoyment of taking pictures at events. At each seminar, people who work for the Decolonization Unit of the United Nations have access to a camera that they can use to take pictures, but as one of them told me "they aren't photographers" and usually don't take great looking pictures. The media shows up at the start and the close of the seminar, but usually to talk to the chair of any VIPs that are in attendance, not the experts and country representatives present. The people attending the conference take selfies and group photos, but rarely is anyone present to photograph them while they are testifying or debating.

After agreeing to provide people with pictures, suddenly people were more willing to sit down and talk to me, and even informally discuss things with me they weren't willing to earlier. As a special honor, the United Nations Decolonization Unit, has for each regional seminar I've attended, asked me to be their "unofficial" photographer and they've even used some of my images in their reports and on their website.

Tales of Decolonization #8: Serenity and Calm

Today is the first day of the United Nations Committee of 24 Regional Seminar in Managua, Nicaragua.  Although the seminar started 90 minutes late, once we began things seemed to be fine, although the seminar chair Rafael Ramirez from Venezuela called upon people to help create a serene and calm atmosphere today. Speakers who followed him also requested that our discussions today be filled with serenity and calm. These comments struck me as strange at first, although I soon learned what was compelling this emphasis on comity.

The first time I attended a United Nations regional seminar it was for the most part uneventful. After I presented, there were no questions for me. My presentation didn't come up again for the rest of the seminar and so formally, my contribution boiled down to seven minutes of talking, the electricity to run the mics and translation devices, and the paper and ink on which each attendee was given a copy of my remarks. The second time I attended a regional seminar there was much more going on. The Chairman at that time Lasso Mendoza instituted a more open form of discussion and encouraged participants to ask questions and as such I received several questions after I was finished. Although my visits to both seminars was quiet serene, there were portions of the discussion which grew heated.

There are two main points in the discussions of Non-Self-Governing Territories that cause fireworks at these regional seminar and in the United Nations infrastructure in general, the first is Western Sahara, the second is the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands). The rest of the Non-Self-Governing Territories either don't attend the regional seminars or their administering powers refuse to recognize their obligation to decolonize anything. So when people from Guam or the Virgin Islands or American Samoa testify no one really challenges us, in truth they use our statements to poke diplomatic fun at the United States for claiming to be about democracy and freedom, while refusing to support such things in their own possessions.

But for Malvinas and Western Sahara, there are countries involved who are clear interests and seek to use the Committee of 24 and other diplomatic means to secure or protect it. I'll write about the Malvinas in another post, but the United Kingdom and Argentina fight regularly over that, all the way down to the name. In all United Nations documents both Malvinas and Falkland Islands appear with a footnote indicating that there is a dispute over that territory. As such, when Argentina and the United Kingdom (with their allies) battle over it during the seminar, it leads many to whisper that this isn't really a decolonization issue, but a territorial one that should really be handled elsewhere.

The Western Sahara is different. Technically it has no administering power, but Morocco has occupied parts of it and is very invested in denying that there is any form of colonialism present.
Usually the debate over whether or not Morocco is colonizing the Sawari people comes about in the middle of the seminar when we move from the Pacific, which is relatively quiet, to the Atlantic, but this seminar was different.

As soon as we began, something was amiss. In addition to being late, there was no agenda. The initial introductions were made, but soon after a number of member states asked to speak, the first being Morocco. There had been whispers as we waited that Morocco and their allies on the Committee of 24 were holding up the start of the seminar because of the representative who was speaking for the Western Sahara in the agenda.

Spain colonized the Western Sahara region in the 19th century, by that time their time as a global power was already waning. After World War II, Spain joined other imperial powers in giving up (willingly or after being forced to) their colonial possessions. It negotiated to give up control over Western Sahara to the neighboring nations of Morocco and Mauritania, but did not acknowledge the will of the people in the region, who the United Nations identified as having the right to self-determination. A political group POLISARIO Front formed at the time proclaiming the Western Saharan to be an independent republic. Fighting ensued and Mauritania withdrew, but Morocco did not. They invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and continue to occupy much of it up until this day. The Human Rights record of Morocco in Western Sahara has been atrocious as Amnesty International recently rated Morocco as one of the worst five nations in the world for torture.

Since 1975, there have been a number of attempts to broker a peace and get Morocco to withdraw as much of the world disagrees with their claims to be the legitimate rulers of the territory. But the government of Morocco stands firm in their unwillingness to relinquish control, as the King of Morocco said more than a decade ago "We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of sand." There have been attempts by Morocco to erase the realities or their occupation of Western Sahara and enhance and authorize their claims to being there. They have created programs to negotiate or offer "autonomy" to the region, although always under their circumstances and with the condition that their claim to the land we recognized. This leads to a complicated set of conditions, as former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annon noted in 2002.
The Security Council would not be able to invite parties to negotiate about Western Saharan autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, for such wording would imply recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, which was out of the question as long as no States Member of the United Nations had recognized that sovereignty." Spain is still considered as the administrative power, but Morocco however is the de facto administrating power since it controls most of the territory.
Morocco has some allies, but countries stop short of recognizing their claim outright. Instead a group of more then three dozen nations have declared their support for the Polisario Front and for the Sawahari Republic. Since 1979, the UN has recognized the Polisario Front as the representatives of the Non-Self-Governing-Territory of Western Sahara. As a result of this, when the regional seminar is held each year, representatives from the Polisario are the invitees, who get to speak on behalf of the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territory. At the larger meeting of the Fourth Committee, which is open to anyone to attend, the government of Morocco sometimes sends dozens of people each year to testify in support of their occupation.

The delay at the start of this year's seminar was due to Morocco and its allies trying to protest and prevent the invited representative from Western Sahara, Ahmed Boukhari (Polisario Front) from testifying. In their minds, a puppet government that they have set up are the real representatives and so they should be the ones to come and talk about what the people of Western Sahara want and what is best for their future. Morocco holds elections in the parts of Western Sahara that they control, and argued to the regional seminar that these are the true representatives of the people of Western Sahara and that they should be sitting at the table talking about the state of affairs.

A representative of Morocco spoke very forcefully at the start of the seminar, precluding quite quickly any notion of serenity and calm. But as Morocco is not a member of the Committee of 24, but rather just an observer at the proceedings his voice, however loud, couldn't travel very far. But a number of country, primarily small Caribbean island states spoke up in favor of Morocco's position, calling on the chair of the session, to be sure to respect the voices of everyone and work to form a consensus. I asked some of the other experts why it was that all these small nations from across the Atlantic seemed to in favor of the position of Morocco, even though it is at odds with what most of the diplomatic community might argue. No one wanted to state explicitly what was going on, although several of them whispered the word "money" as they hedged, indicating that Morocco might be providing aid to small island nations in exchange for their support with their Western Sahara policies.

All in all this debate pushed the start of the seminar back several hours, until eventually the chair of the session had the rules of procedure read to those gathered, making clear that the invitations to the regional seminar were at the discretion of the chair. Even though it was considered best practice to listen to the feedback of other countries, the ultimate decision was the chair of the session. There was more debate over this, before eventually the matter was set aside. Serenity and calm reigned over the session for a day, until the issue of Western Sahara came up again later.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #7: Timor Leste

There are currently 17 entities on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories that the United Nations keeps track of and is mandated to help see through to self-government and decolonization. Although there was a great deal of activity around decolonization in previous decades, both within the United Nations and without, but lately, especially at the level of the United Nation's, fairly little has happened. The last territory to be de-listed, meaning it went through a legitimate and recognized process of decolonization is Timor Leste or as it was known as a colony, East Timor. 

East Timor had been a colony under the Portuguese until 1975. A small civil war followed the Portuguese releasing of their colony, in which the neighboring country of Indonesia helped to instigate the conflict. On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, killing more than a hundred thousand people in just two years. They occupied East Timor for more than two decades despite international efforts to end the occupation and stop the killing and oppression. The United States was a key ally in terms of blocking and intervention, as they not only saw Indonesia as an important anti-communist ally in general, but were also supplying the country with weapons and training the officers who were massacring the people of East Timor. 

In 1999, Indonesian President Suharto stepped down and this at last led to an opening for East Timor. The new Indonesian regime with the Portuguese coordinated a referendum which would determine the future of East Timor. Anti-independence forces harassed the populace supported by the Indonesian military and kidnappings and massacres took place. Despite the intimidation more than 75% of the population chose to become independent. Indonesian forces killed hundreds more civilians in retaliation, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. In September of 1999 the United Nations sent in forces and governed the island under transitional authority until it became fully independent in 2002.

At this year's Regional Seminar Timor Leste was brought up several times, especially the words of one of its political pioneers Jose Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with a Bishop from East Timor because of their activism there. Ramos-Horta had been exiled from East Timor when it had been a colony under Portugal because of his efforts at awakening the decolonial consciousness of the people. He returned to East Timor after the Portuguese relinquished control joining the discussion over the future. He left for New York to travel to the UN, just three days prior to the Indonesian invasion. He became a voice for the people of East Timor for the next two decades around the world. 

I've been spending tonight looking for some of his statements made at the United Nations over the years, as several people referred to them in our conversations. I came across this interview from 1999 from the show Common Ground that I thought I'd share:


Air Date: April 27, 1999
Program 9917
Freedom for East Timor
Guest: Jose Ramos-Horta, winner of the 1996 Novel Peace Prize

JOSé RAMOS-HORTA: The conflict is essentially a political one between the people of East Timor and a brutal, thuggish army—the Indonesia Army—that is a law unto itself for the past 32 years in Indonesia under the Suharto dictatorship and is a law unto themselves in East Timor in the last 23 years. 

KRISTIN MC HUGH: This week on Common Ground, Nobel Peace laureate José Ramos-Horta. 

RAMOS-HORTA: I envy the Kosovars. I envy the Palestinians. I envy the Tibetans. For the visibility they have—the space, the attention—they have in the American media. 

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter. 

MC HUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. José Ramos-Horta has been advocating a peaceful solution to the conflict in ET since fleeing his homeland in the mid-`70s. He says the violent battle for independence in the former Portuguese colony spans nearly 25 years. 

RAMOS-HORTA: ET was a Portuguese colony, predominantly Catholic, of a population of 800,000, colonized by Portugal for almost 500 years. Then in 1974 the Portuguese Empire simply collapsed. The new government in Lisbon that took over from the 50-year-old dictatorship of Salazar changed policies and recognized that right of all the peoples in its colonies to independence, East Timor included. It was then that Indonesia came in. There was a brief civil war in ET, but provoked, instigated by the Indonesian side. That civil war paved the ground for the invasion on December 7, 1975. So that is more than 23 years ago. Two hundred thousand people died within the first 2-3 years of the invasion. Massacre of entire communities, even ethnic Chinese who had been living peacefully in ET for at least 200 years—generations and generations of traders—who lived peacefully, harmoniously, with the East Timorese, was slaughtered. 

And what has been the role the of the Western countries? United States: the primary supplier of weapons to the Indonesian dictatorship. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, President Gerald Ford, were in Jakarta hours before the invasion. And basically gave the green light for the invasion. But the United States is not the only culprit. Great Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Japan—all the major powers—are accomplices in one of the greatest genocides of a small nation in post-World War II. 

MC HUGH: But this is not a religious struggle? 

RAMOS-HORTA: No, it is not a religious struggle because fortunately we the East Timorese, though predominantly Catholic—devout Catholics—we are also extremely tolerant. Because, as I mentioned earlier we had a Chinese community that lived there for generations. Never once there was an ethnic dispute, ethnic conflict. There was never once one single Chinese living in Timor was murdered by the East Timorese. We also had a very small Islamic community of no more than 1,000 people, descendants of Yemeni, Yemen traders who came to Timor 200 years ago. Never once, one single member of that Arabic Islamic community was ever attacked by the Catholic majority. The conflict is essentially a political one between the people of East Timor and a brutal, thuggish army—the Indonesia Army—that is a law unto itself for the past 32 years in Indonesia under the Suharto dictatorship and is a law unto themselves in East Timor in the last 23 years. 

MC HUGH: You have often talked about and have campaigned for, the right to self-determination. Over the years you have indicated that you have certain types of peace plans in your head that would be good for ET. What is your latest plan? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I have been, I would say, modestly consistent in my approach to the ET conflict. Contrary to what you might read coming out of the Indonesian Embassy in Washington or their mission in New York, going back to 1974 I traveled to Indonesia. I was only 24, 25 years old. No experience whatsoever in international diplomacy. Paying my own way, traveled to Jakarta, and met with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, the late Adam Malik, and offered a hand of friendship; while the same time I argue for our right to self-determination I offered a hand of friendship to the Indonesian side. That an independent ET would be a close friend of Indonesia. 

But of course I was utterly naïve, innocent. I was dealing essentially with corrupt crooks in Indonesian politics and Indonesian Army. In ’92 I presented a modest peace plan in a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels and at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. I put forward a modest, two page or so document which we can all it in grandiose terms a peace plan. But it was essentially a set of ideas whereby I suggested that we move slowly, step-by-step, starting with demilitarization of the territory, bring in the UN—not peacekeeping, just UNDP, United Nations development agencies, UNICEF, international observers—in a non-threatening atmosphere in the territory. Indonesia grants genuine autonomy to the territory, similar to other experiences—maybe Puerto Rico is a model. The Basque country in Spain another. 

This autonomy would last for five years, extended for another five. This would be, would create a positive atmosphere in the territory. The Indonesian Army would have changed behavior. We would not call for the total withdrawal of the Indonesian Army from the territory. They would just reduce their numbers, keeping only maybe a thousand in entire territory. And only at the end of ten years or so we would have a referendum whereby the people of ET would decide whether they want this autonomy arrangement permanently with Indonesia, or want independence. 

I tell you frankly what I proposed in `92 is, have far better advantages for Indonesia than the current proposal they are putting now on the table. Because the current proposal they are putting on the table is in such a politically and violently charged atmosphere that the people of ET will reject outright their autonomy plan, while my plan, if you have it over a period of ten years, where Indonesia has withdrawn their troops, where Indonesia would have become as well democratic—because I said, I said in `92, "Who knows what is going to happen in five years from now. Indonesia could have changed beyond recognition; more democratic more open"—and in fact it is changing. `92 to `97 Indonesia began to change. In these circumstances of genuine autonomy over a period of time, you stabilize the territory, the Indonesian behavior has changed—well then you go and ask the people, "What do you want? Independence or autonomy?" Chances are the people said, "Well let’s stay with autonomy" it’s greater. 

So, ironically what I proposed in `92, has had more advantages and more chances of success for Indonesia than the current autonomy plan of their own initiative. 

MC HUGH: And you talk about this autonomy plan, in January President Habibie in Indonesia, major reversal of policy, indicated that he would allow independence for ET. Setting the stage for a possible July vote on autonomy vs. independence. Are you hopeful that that vote will decide the issue? Finally? 

RAMOS-HORTA: You know, unfortunately, tragically, time and again my own predictions and forecasts and assessments of Indonesian situation, their intentions, their policies, turn out to be always tragically true. In some aspects my forecast are accurate and fortunately so. Like for instance in an interview with CNN in May `96 I predicted that within 2-3 years Suharto’s regime would fold. I said Suharto would collapse within 2-3 years under the weight of corruption, nepotism, cronyism. And that in the post-Suharto era negotiations would be easier. 

Well, May `98, two years later he did collapse, exactly in the scenario that I described. So in that regard, fortunately I was deadly accurate. What it has not been so fortunate, but again I was accurate, is what when I said, when Habibie announced the new policies in January this year. I said, "I do not trust them. I remain extremely skeptical. I judge them by their actions on the ground and not by their promises in Jakarta or made in New York that time and again have been broken." I wish, Madam, that I would be thoroughly disproved, proved wrong in my cynicism, skepticism, about Indonesian side.
So I really don’t know. Maybe President Habibie is a pragmatist. I believe him to be so. He has good people around him. Dowi Fortuna Anwar??, his foreign policy advisor, a very influential lady, and a few other people around him. He has, they know the costs of the problem of ET for Indonesia. They know that Indonesia, to recover economically must proceed with the political reforms. They know that for Indonesia to regain credibility it cannot in one hand say "We have democracy in Indonesia" but then have a military occupation in ET where people are slaughtered. Like in Iraq among the Kurdish or in Kosovo by Milosovec or like in Burma by the SLORC (State Law and Order Restitution Council), slaughtering the Burmese people. They know that. So these people they want to resolve the problem of ET. 

But old habits die hard. The hard-liners in the Indonesian military, they do not consider any compromise. They don’t conceive of the notion of having to lose ET. So they try, once more, to roll back this process that has been unfolded by President Habibie. 

MC HUGH: Is a peaceful solution possible? Especially after 23 years of struggle on both sides? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, it is possible. The case of ET does not have the complexity of Kosovo. It does not have the complexity of the Middle East conflict that pits Israel against Palestinians and vice-versa. We do not have an overlapping territorial, historical, religious, ethnic dispute. You look at the Balkans and that is an extraordinarily complex mixture of religion, ethnicity, history, myths and so on. The same happening in the Middle East. Overlapping of interests that pull in different directions. 

In ET it is us, the East Timorese, 95% Catholics, and Indonesia, our neighbor, the largest power in the region and the largest Islamic country in the world. The issue could be resolved very easily if the Indonesian side, particularly the military, can be persuaded that they don’t have to lose face by conceding that ET should be independent. 

I have said on numerous occasions, this whole notion of losing face is a totally wrong debate. Would I say that Nixon and that Kissinger lost face by orchestrating US pulling out of Vietnam? Or it was a show of statesmanship? Did Charles de Gaulle lose face by pulling France out of the Algerian war? Or it was, he was a man of courage? When Yitzhak Rabin and Yassar Arafat shook hands, forgetting what they had said about each other a few months earlier, was that weakness or courage? So someone has to tell the Indonesian side that whoever in Indonesia have the courage to say "Let’s break with the past, let’s acknowledge the East Timorese people’s right to independence," that they must be commended, even proposed for a Nobel Peace Prize. Then yes, maybe, if someone call tell them, talk face-to-face with them, to see the advantages, for Indonesia, for themselves—then yes, we could resolve the problem. And it is as simple as that. 

I do not buy the notion that there is people in Timor who want integration with Indonesia. Of course, like in Canada you have many Canadians who want Quebec to secede, but they lose their effort and they accept "we are part of Canada" and continue on. In Portugal itself you have some people in the Azores Islands who want, once dreamed of having Azores independent. Majority don’t want and they happily continue as Portuguese citizens. In Spain you still have many people who want to secede from Spain. Tragically, unfortunately, you know, some people in the Basque country use violence. But majority in the Basque country, they are happy with the current autonomous status within Spain.
In the case of ET we have no historical, cultural links with Indonesia. There is a very small minority that has benefited from the invasion and occupation. All I can say is that these people will have a place in an independent ET. They need no fear an independent ET. There will be no revenge, no reprisals, from our side. 

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs. 

MC HUGH: Do you think the West has turned its back on ET? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Well, it was not only turn its back. If it was only turning back—it’s back, if it was only indifference, neglect, it was already good enough. The problem is they have been active accomplices in the invasion and occupation. Through military sales, military training, through cover-ups, even outright lies about the tragedy in ET. When I look at the Western intervention in Kosovo, very similar situation. Yes, of course I’m happy for the Kosovars, that a small ethnic, religious minority has been helped by the major powers of this world within, that are part of the NATO security agreement. And I cannot but be sad, you know, how selective Western policies have always been. 

But we are not even asking, not for one-tenth of the Western military intervention in ET. We can ask for sort of a military intervention—and I mark my words, "sort of military intervention"—but in the positive sense. They need only to scale down the military supplies, weapons they sell to Indonesia. They need only to tell the Indonesians, "Well, pull out your troops from ET." Because Indonesia is entirely dependent on the West for weapons, provisions, military training. Indonesia now is thoroughly vulnerable because it’s thoroughly bankrupt. The US can only say, in very firm words—and it can be discrete, it cannot, it does not have to make a big noise about, it can just tell the Indonesian side—"You don’t pull out of ET, you don’t disarm the paramilitary, we are going to withhold IMF/World Bank funds for your economy." This would work. 

MC HUGH: You have said that the US is really the only power that has the ability to end this struggle. 

RAMOS-HORTA: It has the decisive power, ability to do it. Of course, there are other countries that can help, such as Australia, Canada, the Europeans; but it is United States that holds the key. I’m of course very grateful by the concerns that President Clinton, Secretary Madeline Albright, Thomas Pickering, and other people in the State Department; such as Stan Roth the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia/Pacific Affairs. I have to acknowledge, to say, that you know, in the last few months there has been a remarkable shift in US official stance on the issue of ET. The fact that Secretary of State Madeline Albright met with the Timorese resistance leader, who is in prison, when she visited Indonesia a few weeks ago, that is a symbolic historical shift. But much more has to be done quick enough, firm enough, before the violence escalates and the more hundreds of people join the death toll of the past 23 years. 

MC HUGH: As the Western world has shifted its policy towards ET you have always advocated a peaceful solution. And yet the pro-independence movement, just within the last few days in ET, is now advocating a return to violence. Does that, first of all, surprise you? And do you think that that’s going to derail plans for peace? 

RAMOS-HORTA: I hope not. I know that of course the Indonesian side would seize on this excuse to do what they always wanted and that is no vote in July for the people to decide what they want about the future, because this whole violence in the territory in the last few months has been orchestrated by the Indonesian military, by the hard-liners. They are the ones who have been arming the paramilitary. They are the ones who have been killing civilians. And of course Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader, was left with no option but call for self-defense. 

You know, sometimes I find it really extraordinary that for instance the West that provides the weapons to Indonesia, which enables Indonesia to commit a genocide in ET, criticize the East Timorese when they take up arms, the small arms they capture or even they buy in the black market from the Indonesian Army itself, they criticize them when they defend themselves. 

The Kosovo Liberation Army is like, you know, a gallant army for the West. They are now the symbol of the struggle against Serbia. And I tell you the Kosovo Liberation Army doesn’t use the gentle methods that the Timorese resistance uses. They go also after Serbian civilian population. The East Timorese resistance never once in its 23 years of history, never once kidnap, abduct, kill Indonesian civilians. It is not a bunch of angels but they operate under a strict code of conduct of no kidnappings, no attacking Indonesian civilians. The Indonesians cannot display one single Indonesian civilian that has been deliberately killed by the ET resistance. 

So I tell you I fully sympathize, understand, and support Xanana’s call for self-defense. And I underline my words, self-defense. He did not call for all-out war. His statement was overly exaggerated by certain media because of lack of communication or understanding. He called for self-defense. 

And I continue to say, there is no way out of this conflict but through dialogue. The Secretary General of the UN is doing an outstanding job. Kofi Anan is the best Secretary General we have had in 30 year or more of UN history. We are grateful to him and his dedicated staff of what they are trying to do. He can succeed, he can prevail, if the US more firmly back him up in his efforts to defuse the tension in the territory, in his dialogue with Indonesian side, to disarm the paramilitary. I still believe that yes, we can reach a peaceful settlement, achieve freedom for ET, without having to resort to violence. 

MC HUGH: You mentioned the media. You are a trained journalist. How has the…. 

RAMOS-HORTA: Poorly, poorly trained. 

MC HUGH: [laughing] How has the international media coverage of ET’s struggle been? Has it been good? Have they paid attention? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Not much really, for the exception of some newspapers around the world, in the US. I wouldn’t want to be too critical of the major media. Because you know, The New York Times and Washington Post, time to time, they have had decent principled editorials on the issue of ET. But I tell you, you know, I envy the Kosovars. I envy the Palestinians. I envy the Tibetans. For the visibility they have—the space, the attention—they have in the American media. 

I do not complain, there is no resentment. When you are a small nation, when you are a small country, well, you know, what can you do? So, instead of being resentful I just very grateful for the little space, the little time they give us. 

MC HUGH: Do you think your shared 1996 Nobel Peace Prize turned the tide for international recognition of ET? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, absolutely. We are eternally grateful to the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having chosen us, the East Timorese, for the Nobel Peace Prize `96. Yes, it has brought enormous visibility to issue of ET. It broke the silence, indifference by many governments. It was a historical turning point. 

MC HUGH: One final question. You have been living in exile for 23 years. Do you think you will return to your homeland? 

RAMOS-HORTA: Oh yes, soon. I intend to return in the next few months. I am very optimistic. Some time next year I believe that in spite of the current turmoil and even the possibility of even more violence in the next few months, I believe that in the end the voices of reason, of moderation, will prevail. Both in Indonesia and in ET. Fortunately, on the Timorese side we do not have extremists in the leadership, both church and political bodies. Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader, is a unique individual, outstanding. Moderate, sensitive, brilliant at strategies. We have, we are also fortunate in having a Catholic church that is powerful, is popular, and is also for peace.
So in, on the Indonesian side, there are also voices of reason and moderation. With the help of the US and the UN and the Europeans, the Australians, on these two sides, the moderates in Indonesia and ET, I believe we can reach a solution. And I definitely look for, to go back. 

MC HUGH: That is José Ramos-Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh. 

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Be sure to refer to program No. 9917. To order by credit card you can call us at 319.264.1500. Transcripts are also available on our web site. It’s Our e-mail address is 

MC HUGH: B.J. Leiderman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


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